Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

October 6, 2011
Utilities commission to work on extending public goods charge

The California Public Utilities Commission has agreed to take up Gov. Jerry Brown's request to figure out how to continue funding clean energy projects paid for by a soon-to-expire utility tax known as the "public goods charge."

The roughly 1.5 percent tax on electricity bills expires on January 1, eliminating roughly $400 million a year that goes toward research and technology development, renewable energy sources and encouraging energy efficiency. Legislation to extend the charge failed to get the necessary two-thirds approval.

Following the Legislature's decision not to extend the tax, Brown asked the PUC last month to find another way to keep it going. Today, the commission announced that it's set up a process to "consider whether and how" to continue funding for clean energy projects associated with the public goods charge.

"Today the CPUC is taking the first formal step in response to the Governor's request that there be no hiatus in funding the several vital programs that make up the Public Goods Charge and that have helped to make California a world leader in energy research and energy efficiency," Commission President Michael R. Peevey said in a statement.

The PUC plans to issue its first decision on the issue by Dec. 15, but expects to continue fine-tuning the program in 2012.

The PUC's full proposal is here.

October 6, 2011
Black-listed in Azerbaijan a 'disappointment I can live with'

State Sen. Joe Simitian, black-listed by the Azerbaijani government after traveling to a separatist region while on a diplomatic visit, was back at his Palo Alto office today, not entirely crestfallen.

"Let me put it to you this way," the Democrat said. "It's a disappointment I can live with."

Simitian was among a group of California senators visiting Azerbaijani officials in Baku, Azerbaijan's capital city, when he went on his own to Nagorno-Karabakh, a predominately ethnic Armenian region and the center of a longstanding dispute.

The visit violated Azerbaijani rules restricting travel in the region - though the United States does not restrict travel there - and Elin Suleymanov, Azerbaijan's consul general in Los Angeles, said Tuesday that Simitian was "basically black-listed ... will not be allowed back."

No one in Azerbaijan told Simitian, apparently. The news, first reported by local media, reached the senator via Google alert.

"I have not actually heard directly from anyone in Azerbaijan," he said.

Simitian said that after listening to Azerbaijani officials' concerns about Nagorno-Karabakh, he felt compelled to hear from the other side.

"I was trying to get a better sense of the dynamic," Simitian said. "My view was that since I was halfway around the world, I would just continue on. ... Fundamentally, my view is that the public is better served by elected officials with a broader world view rather than a narrower world view."

The Senate Rules Committee said lawmakers paid their own way. The only public resources involved were travel expenses for two staffers on the trip.

October 6, 2011
Lobbyists' golf tourney raises $25K for Capitol kids

Lobbyists are used to hitting the golf course to help their clients give to political campaigns and schmooze with lawmakers.

But this week, more than two dozen lobbyists and other Capitol advocates hit the links with a different purpose: to raise money for the children of two deceased Capitol staff members and a foundation that gives scholarships to students pursuing careers in government.

Monday's game at Morgan Creek in Roseville raised $25,000, said Matt Back, a lobbyist with Ackler & Associates who organized the event. The money is going toward education funds for the children of Will Smith, former Sen. George Runner's chief of staff who died of a heart attack last year at age 41, and Parrish Collins, an adviser to former Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñezwho died unexpectedly in 2009 at age 30. Contributions are also going to the Bob Moretti Memorial Scholarship Foundation, which helps students interested in careers in government or politics pay for school.

"Well over a year ago I had the idea of having a fun golf competition between friends in the Capitol community," Back said. "In talking to my friends and colleagues we had the idea to make it a worthwhile event to raise money for these families."

The game pitted contract lobbyists against in-house lobbyists, all of whom had to give at least $250 to participate. (The contractors won.) The rest of the money raised came from some well-heeled corporate sponsors, including PG&E, Chevron and Anheuser-Busch.

October 6, 2011
Jerry Brown signs bill requiring insurers to cover maternity care

Gov. Jerry Brown has signed legislation requiring health insurance plans in California to cover childbirth and other maternity services, eliminating an exception that allowed some smaller plans to exclude those services.

Federal law requires employers who offer health insurance and who have 15 or more employees to cover maternity services, and California since 1975 has required HMOs and large group health insurance plans to do so.

Two bills Brown announced signing this afternoon, Senate Bill 222 and Assembly Bill 210, require individual and small group plans to provide coverage for maternity services starting in July 2012.

"Healthy mothers mean healthy babies," Brown said in a prepared statement. "I want the next generation of Californians to get the best possible start in life."

The legislation was supported by Kaiser Permanente and Blue Shield of California. It was opposed by the California Chamber of Commerce, which said the requirement would deter insurers from offering discounted plans.

Brown's Republican predecessor, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, vetoed similar legislation.

October 6, 2011
Assembly underreporting personal staff costs, study concludes

The California Assembly underreports spending on personal staff in a way that clouds how the lower house spends its $146.7 million budget, a computer analysis by a Stanford-based nonprofit group announced today.

The findings by California Common Sense mirror a similar analysis by The Bee, which concluded that more than 170 personal staff salaries are being paid by committee funds and an additional 70 by leadership stipends. The augmentations exceeded $10 million for the first eight months of the legislative year.

Under the Assembly's method of accounting for salaries and reporting expenditures to the public, personal staff salary is "artificially inflated," California Common Sense said in a written statement.

"As more data comes to light, it becomes clearer that Assembly leadership is not presenting an accurate account of spending," said Dakin Sloss, executive director of the Stanford-based watchdog group.

Jon Waldie, Assembly administrator, has said that placing various Capitol office aides on a committee payroll is neither unreasonable nor unusual because duties tend to overlap at the Capitol.

California Common Sense analyzed roster and payroll data covering the first eight months of the current legislative year, from December 2010 through July 2011.

The Assembly balked recently at releasing member-by-member budgets, sparking a lawsuit by The Bee and the Los Angeles Times in an attempt to force disclosure.

Sloss characterized his group as nonpartisan. Its chairman is Joe Lonsdale, a Bay Area investor and entrepreneur. Donors include the Passport Foundation, Matthew Fournier, Processing Pledge, Koret Foundation, Draper Foundation and Charles T. Munger Jr.

The Bee found that the transfer of personal aides to committee payrolls allows some legislators to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars more to run their offices than are reported as member expenditures.

October 6, 2011
Jerry Brown signs bill nixing fingerprinting of food stamp recipients

Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation this morning eliminating the state's requirement that food stamp applicants be fingerprinted, a bid to increase participation in the federally-funded CalFresh program.

Supporters said fingerprinting deterred participation, with just half of eligible Californians receiving assistance. California is one of three states and one city that require applicants to be fingerprinted, according to a legislative analysis.

Assembly Bill 6, by Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, D-Los Angeles, was among a batch of food-related bills Brown signed today. He also signed Assembly Bill 152, also by Fuentes, that provides a tax credit to California growers for the cost of fresh fruits or vegetables they donate to food banks.

The Senate Appropriations Committee estimated the tax credit will initially cost the state General Fund $200,000 a year.

"These bills will help bring food to the nearly 7 million Californians who go hungry each and every day," Fuentes said in a prepared statement. "The hunger relief package will reduce the burden on the neediest Californians to ensure that they can get the food they need."

Editor's note: This post updated at 11:36 a.m. to include remarks by Fuentes.

October 6, 2011
California's home-ownership rate second lowest

California's housing market is still in turmoil with foreclosures, short sales and only a relative handful of new homes being built.

The bottom line, at least as shown by the 2010 census, is that California wound up with the nation's second lowest rate of home ownership, just ahead of New York, or third lowest if the District of Columbia is included, according to a new Census Bureau report.

California had 12.2 million housing units in 2000, the Census Bureau says, and while its population was growing by 10 percent during the succeeding decade, housing units rose by 12 percent to 13.7 million, of which 12.6 million were occupied. But those occupied by owners increased by just 7.5 percent.

That meant that 55.9 percent of California's houses, apartments, condominiums and other forms of housing were occupied by owners, barely higher than New York's 53.3 percent. Washington D.C.'s rate was 42 percent.

West Virginia, one of the nation's poorest states, had the highest rate of home ownership at 73.4 percent. The national rate was 65.1 percent. Overall, the Census Bureau said, the South and the West, which are the nation's fastest growing regions in population, also led in housing growth.

October 6, 2011
Foreign immigration slows, but impact increases

The surge of foreign immigration into the United States - and especially into California - during the last few decades has slowed markedly, thanks largely to prolonged economic downturn, but immigration will continue to have major effects, thanks to the burgeoning second generations, a new demographic study indicates.

The percentage of U.S. residents who are foreign-born or children of immigrants will increase from 22.5 percent in 2010 to 30.5 percent by 2040, the study issued by the University of Southern California's Population Dynamics Research Group forecasts. And by 2030, the researchers found, a majority of the nation's foreign-born residents will have lived in the country for at least two decades.

Previous research by the same group determined that immigration has had more than twice the impact on California as it has on the nation as a whole, and thus immigrants, who are mostly from Mexico and other Latin American countries, and their children are already more than half of California's population. Latinos alone are expected to be the largest single ethnic group in California by mid-decade.

"We're marking a major transformation in America," said Dowell Myers, a professor in USC's School of Policy, Planning and Development and co-author of the report.

The USC report estimates the foreign-born population in 2010 based on a detailed demographic accounting of annual population changes through births, deaths and migration. These estimates provide information not available in the 2010 Census, the first census in over a century that did not record residents' place of birth.

October 6, 2011
Jerry Brown signs prison cellphone bill

Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation this morning toughening restrictions on illicit cellphones in prisons, and he ordered prison officials to step up efforts to confiscate smuggled phones.

Senate Bill 26, by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, makes it a misdemeanor to deliver a cellphone to a prison inmate, among other things. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed similar legislation last year, saying it was too soft on inmates who carry phones and on guards and others who smuggle them.

Brown also issued an executive order instructing the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to increase physical searches of people who enter prisons and to develop a system to interrupt unauthorized cellphone calls.

Brown said in his order that prison staff discovered nearly 10,700 contraband cellular devices in 2010, and 7,300 in the first half of this year.

"Prisons exist to remove individuals from our communities who would otherwise do harm to their fellow citizens," Brown said in a prepared statement. "When criminals in prison get possession of a cell phone, it subverts the very purpose of incarceration. They use these phones to organize gang activity, intimidate witnesses and commit crimes. Today's action will help to break up an expanding criminal network and protect law-abiding Californians."

October 6, 2011
California elected officials respond to death of Steve Jobs

California's top elected officials have responded to the death of Apple CEO and co-founder Steve Jobs with statements celebrating and reflecting on the life and contributions of the Golden State resident.

"Steve Jobs was a great California innovator who demonstrated what a totally independent and creative mind can accomplish," Gov. Jerry Brown said in a statement. "Few people have made such a powerful and elegant imprint on our lives."

Jobs, who suffered from pancreatic cancer, died Wednesday at age 56.

Statements from other current and former statewide elected officials are posted after the jump. Share your own thoughts on Jobs' passing in the comments field below or on the Capitol Alert Facebook page.

October 6, 2011
AM Alert: 'Trigger cuts' up for discussion

What can California expect if the "trigger" cuts built into the budget materialize?

Finance officials will determine in mid-December whether California is on track to receive $4 billion more in revenue this fiscal year.

As much as $2.5 billion in cuts to K-12 schools, higher education, public safety and social services are on the horizon if it doesn't.

A Skype summit today from 4 to 6 p.m. will consider the consequences.

":Reviving California's Community Summit III: New Reality, New Possibilities" will take place simultaneously in the Bay Area, Central Valley and Los Angeles. Partners include the American Leadership Forum - Silicon Valley, California Forward and the Southern California Leadership Network.

Among the speakers: state Treasurer Bill Lockyer, state Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor, journalist Joe Mathews and Santa Cruz County Treasurer Fred Keeley.
Click here for more information and registration.

Crowd alert: The Occupy Wall Street movement comes to Sacramento today, as those suffering from the recession rally to call attention to the crisis that has cost them homes and jobs.

People are expected to begin gathering at 9 a.m. in Cesar Chavez Park. Organizers say they expect at least 900 to attend. Read more about the effort here.

Sacramento will also serve as a stop Thursday on the Americans for Prosperity "Cut Spending Now Tour," an effort aimed at convincing Congress to do just that. The group kicked off its tour this week in Washington, the home state of "super committee" co-chair Sen. Patty Murray.

The traveling troupe will gather at noon at the KTKZ parking lot on River Park Drive.


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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