Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

October 3, 2011
Jerry Brown signs clemency notification law

Nine months after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger controversially shortened the prison sentence of a political ally's son, Gov. Jerry Brown this afternoon announced that he has signed legislation requiring victim notification in such cases.

Assembly Bill 648, by Assemblyman Marty Block, D-San Diego, requires the governor to give written notice to local prosecutors in most cases at least 10 days before acting on an application to commute a prisoner's sentence. District attorneys must then try notifying victims in the case.

In a last-minute commutation, Schwarzenegger in January reduced the prison sentence of Esteban Núñez from 16 years to seven in a 2008 case in which Núñez, the son of former Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and assault with a deadly weapon.

The bill was one of 16 the Democratic governor announced signing this afternoon.

He vetoed three others, including legislation seeking to modify the state's overhaul of redevelopment agencies, the subject of pending litigation.

"Until the court issues its ruling in this case," Brown wrote, "it would be premature to consider the modifications proposed in this bill."

October 3, 2011
First regional domino falls in Assembly musical chairs

DICKINSON.jpgDemocratic Assemblyman Roger Dickinson said today he will remain in his Sacramento-based Assembly District, and his endorsement from Assembly leadership suggests that fellow Assemblyman Richard Pan is looking elsewhere.

The state's new independent redistricting process placed Dickinson, a North Sacramento resident, in the same new 7th Assembly district as Pan, who lives in Natomas. Both are freshman Democratic lawmakers, and one has to move to avoid an intraparty showdown.

Dickinson's announcement came with endorsements from Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, as well as Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, who previously held Dickinson's seat.

Two nearby Assembly districts are possible landing spots for Pan because they lack incumbents at the moment - the 9th District that encompasses Elk Grove and South Sacramento; and the 8th District that stretches across eastern Sacramento County from Citrus Heights down to Herald.

A Pan representative was not immediately available to comment.

The new 9th District is more palatable for Democrats with a nearly 14 percentage point registration advantage, according to a map generated by redistricting consultant Matt Rexroad. The 8th District is considered a swing seat, with only a 2.5 percentage point edge for Democrats.

One problem for Pan: Assemblywoman Alyson Huber, an El Dorado Hills Democrat, is also looking for an open seat in the region after her district became significantly more Republican.

Clarified to note that Dickinson has declared his candidacy for the new 7th District, which contains much of his current 9th District.

PHOTO: Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento listens during a Gov.-elect Jerry Brown session on the budget on Dec. 8, 2010. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

October 3, 2011
Assembly to transfer $1.2 million to secretary of state's office

The California Assembly announced today that it will use a $1.2 million budget surplus to help the office of Secretary of State Debra Bowen speed up the processing of business filings.

The funding shift will be used to "confront the massive delay in the processing of business filings" by helping the office tackle a backlog of nearly 200,000 documents, according to a release from Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez.

"This money will pay for my staff to work overtime on weekends to reduce this backlog, and help new and existing businesses do what they need to do to comply with state law," Bowen said in a statement.

Pérez touted move as an example of the lower house's ongoing effort to "find ways to tighten our belt and spend what funding we have on smart, value-driven solutions that create jobs and increase California's economic output."

October 3, 2011
Nathan Barankin named chief of staff to Kamala Harris

A top aide to Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg is leaving the dome to become chief of staff to state Attorney General Kamala Harris.

Nathan Barankin, who currently serves as Steinberg's communications director, will start the new job next week.

It won't be Barankin's first time working for the state's top cop. Barankin, a former deputy attorney general, served as communications director for two former attorneys general: Gov. Jerry Brown and Bill Lockyer, the current state treasurer.

October 3, 2011
Doctors, pharmacists sue California over Medi-Cal cuts data

Doctors and pharmacists are suing California over the latest round of Medi-Cal budget cuts, saying the state has refused to show what impact the reductions would have on health care for low-income patients.

The state Department of Health Care Services must document that Medi-Cal cuts will not undermine access to care to receive federal approval. As part of the state budget this year, Gov. Jerry Brown and state lawmakers approved a 10 percent cut in reimbursements to Medi-Cal, mandatory co-pays and a soft cap on doctor visits.

The state told the Obama administration this summer it would show how the cuts maintain care for Medi-Cal patients consistent with federal law.

But state officials have refused to make public any such findings, rejecting a Public Records Act request filed by the California Medical Association and the California Pharmacists Association. DHCS rejected a similar request from The Bee in August.

October 3, 2011
Wall Street Journal mag gets it all wrong about California finances

A monthly magazine published by Wall Street Journal takes a stab this month at explaining California's complex and perhaps dysfunctional budgetary politics - and gets it dead wrong.

The description of the machinations over the state budget is contained in an article about Nicolas Berggruen, the 50-year-old billionaire who, through his private foundation, is financing "Think Long California," a consortium of civic and political leaders seeking solutions to governance roadblocks.

As writer Stacy Meichtry describes it in WSJ Magazine, Berggruen convened the group a year ago as part of his interest in global governance issues, and it responded thusly:

"The group recommended creating a 'rainy day fund' requiring the state to set up reserves when tax revenues are running high. Another suggestion: Allow California's gridlocked assembly to approve the state's budget with a simple majority rather than a two-thirds majority. With some arm-twisting from Berggruen's group, the assembly passed both initiatives into law. Tax hikes and budget cuts passed under the simple majority rule have so far helped California to cut its deficit by nearly two-thirds."

Say what?

The "rainy day fund" is contained within a ballot measure that was part of the 2010 budget deal, but the Legislature's Democrats have passed a bill that, among other things, would postpone the vote until 2014 (and make no bones that they'd like to kill it altogether). The simple-majority vote wasn't approved by the "assembly," which Meichtry apparently uses as the name for the Legislature, but rather by voters in 2010 in a ballot measure sponsored mostly by public employee unions. And it didn't result in any tax hikes, nor has the state's budget deficit been cut by two-thirds.

That's about three strikes and you're out in the accuracy department.

We've yet to see any recommendations from "Think Long California," but it will reportedly unveil some proposed reforms later this fall.

October 3, 2011
UC Berkeley report sees tough times for California retirees

California workers are less likely than most Americans to have employer-sponsored retirement plans, according to a new academic report, and nearly half of them will retire in or near poverty status.

The report was issued Monday by the Center for Labor Research at the University of California, Berkeley. Among other thing, the researchers, Sylvia Allegretto and Nari Rhee, found that California's retirees are overwhelmingly dependent on Social Security for retirement income because of the relative lack of supplemental retirement benefits.

Social Security, they said, provides 79.1 percent of retirement income for those in the bottom quartile of retirees by income, and 70.3 percent for the middle 50 percent.

Employer-sponsored pension systems account for just 15.5 percent of income for the middle 50 percent, but only 52 percent of California employers offer pension plans, markedly lower than the 58 percent nationwide. And of those California plans, 61 percent are defined-contribution systems such as a 401k, rather than traditional defined-benefit plans.

The researchers project that 46.7 percent of California's workers aged 25-64 will have retirement incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty threshold.

"Our research shows how important Social Security is to the middle class," Rhee said in a statement that accompanied release of the study, "and in order for today's workers to retire in dignity, they also need access to a supplemental plan that can provide secure income in retirement."

October 3, 2011
Rex Babin: Bill action by Jerry (and Sutter) Brown


Rex Babin is the political cartoonist for The Bee. Click here to see a collection of his work.

October 3, 2011
Jerry Brown's seals safe in GOP hands after car wrecked

Two of Gov. Jerry Brown's official seals were in the care of a Republican legislative staffer after a car belonging to Brown's chief deputy press secretary, Elizabeth Ashford, was totaled in a crash on Saturday near the Capitol.

The Democratic governor's shiny seals - affixed to podiums at public events - were in a suitcase in the trunk of Ashford's silver Honda Accord when the driver of an oncoming vehicle ran a red light at 10th and N streets about 6 p.m., striking Ashford's car, said Ashford and Trisha Richins, acting director of member services for the Assembly Republican Caucus.

Before being loaded into an ambulance, Ashford said she told firefighters, "Listen, there's this suitcase in the back of the car."

Richins, who saw the crash and stopped to help, said firefighters were putting the suitcase into the ambulance with Ashford when she offered to take it for her, worried it might otherwise be lost.

A firefighter remarked on the bipartisan spirit of it all, Richins said.

So did Ashford.

"She was reaching across party lines," Ashford said, "as they're loading me onto the ambulance."

Richins said Sunday evening that the seals are unharmed and will be returned to the governor's office today. Ashford, who was treated and released Saturday, said, "I'm a little banged up, but I'm OK."

The Sacramento Police Department did not immediately return a telephone call for comment.

October 3, 2011
AM Alert: U.S. Supreme Court takes up proposed Medi-Cal cuts

The U.S. Supreme Court takes up California's proposed Medi-Cal reimbursement cuts today, with the top court hearing arguments in a high-stakes matter that could affect millions of patients as well as the doctors who treat them.

As Michael Doyle reported last week, one of the Obama administration's top lawyers will help argue on the state's behalf in three related cases being closely watched nationwide.

The state has proposed to cut doctor reimbursement for Medi-Cal patients, limit the times patients can see a doctor each year, and require patient co-pays. The administration contends that those challenging the cuts don't have the authority to do so. Medi-Cal is California's version of the federal program Medicaid.

Lyle Denniston of the Scotusblog reports that Karin S. Schwartz of San Francisco, a senior deputy state attorney general, will represent the state during the hourlong argument. She'll share 10 minutes of a 30-minute slot with Deputy U.S. Solicitor General Edwin S. Kneedler. Carter G. Phillips of the Sidley Austin law firm is representing health care providers.

Click here to read Denniston's background and analysis. Here's what he writes about the possible impact: "These three cases may be of most immediate consequence for the massive federal Medicaid program, but their potential looms very large, indeed. ... The outcome has the promise of producing one of the new Term's most important decisions for the structure of government, and for the future of the social 'safety net.' "

Thirty-one states, several associations representing governors and other state and local officials, and the public policy advocacy group APA Watch have backed California in the matter, Denniston says.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking for Gov. Jerry Brown, who has until 11:59 p.m. Sunday to work through the bills that legislators sent him last month. This means lawmakers' lobbying window is closing as well.

Brown's office estimated that, as of Friday, the mountain of measures on the governor's desk had shrunk but was still no molehill, with about 440 bills to go.

CAKE AND CANDLES: Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, turns 61 today.


Capitol Alert Staff

Jeremy White Jeremy B. White covers California politics and edits Capitol Alert's mobile Insider Edition. Twitter: @capitolalert

Amy Chance Amy Chance is political editor for The Sacramento Bee. Twitter: @Amy_Chance

Dan Smith Dan Smith is Capitol bureau chief for The Sacramento Bee.

Christopher Cadelago Christopher Cadelago covers California politics and health care. Twitter: @ccadelago

Micaela Massimino Micaela Massimino edits Capitol Alert.

Laurel Rosenhall Laurel Rosenhall covers the Legislature, the lobbying community and higher education. Twitter: @LaurelRosenhall

David Siders David Siders covers the Brown administration. Twitter: @davidsiders

Dan Walters Dan Walters is a columnist for The Sacramento Bee. Twitter: @WaltersBee

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