Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

January 13, 2012
Assembly kills legislation to regulate high-interest car title loans

Legislation to regulate high-interest loans in which borrowers use their vehicles as collateral died this week in the Assembly.

Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, said he was disappointed by the Assembly Banking and Finance Committee's rejection of his Assembly Bill 336 but will try again next year.

"(AB 336) would have offered at least some minimal protections to consumers for these loans, which have outrageous interest rates," he said.

Dickinson's bill targeted loans offered at annual interest rates ranging from 72 percent to 180 percent to car owners who have very low credit scores, need quick cash, and have few other options for borrowing money.

Lenders take title to the borrower's car as collateral and typically loan less money than the vehicle is worth. Thus, lenders are left with little financial risk because they benefit whether the borrower pays or the car is repossessed, Dickinson said.

State law does not restrict the interest rates charged on car-title loans of more than $2,.500.

AB 336 would have imposed additional disclosure requirements on lenders, including informing borrowers of total costs over the life of the loan. The bill also would have banned structuring car-title loans as a combination sale and leaseback.

Under Dickinson's measure, lenders would have been barred from making such loans if payments would exceed 50 percent of a borrower's gross monthly income.

Opponents of AB 336 contended that cracking down on car-title loans would leave borrowers with few other options and that high interest rates were necessary, in part, to cover costs of repossessing, handling and selling vehicles when defaults occur.

January 13, 2012
California GOP taps Jennifer Kerns as communications director

The California Republican Party has a new spokesperson heading into the 2012 elections.

Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro announced today that it has hired GOP political consultant Jennifer Kerns as its communications director. She replaces outgoing communications director Mark Standriff, who is leaving the post after two years to work as a communications adviser and consultant to candidate campaigns.

Kerns, who runs K Street Communications, has represented the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association, the 2008 ballot measure banning same-sex marriage and the campaign against a failed 2009 tax initiative in recent years.

Del Beccaro said in a statement that she "brings not only an unrelenting desire for our Party and for its goals to succeed, but also a great deal of creativity that will help us drive our message in 2012."

Standriff will remain a consultant to the party. Del Beccaro said his "tireless" work to help the state GOP reach more voters has helped the party in "immeasurable ways."

January 13, 2012
Sacramento premiere set for film on same-sex marriage ballot fight

Question One - Sacramento from Fly On The Wall Productions on Vimeo.

Don't bother asking Sacramento political consultant Frank Schubert what he thinks of the movie "Question One -- The Battle for Same-Sex Marriage in America."

He hasn't seen it. And he has no plans to.

The documentary, set to premiere on the West Coast at Sacramento's Crest Theater on Feb. 1, depicts the 2009 ballot war in Maine over same-sex marriage. Maine lawmakers approved same sex marriage. Maine voters, with urging from Schubert and partner Jeff Flint of Schubert Flint Public Affairs, repealed it. Schubert Flint took the Maine job in the aftermath of guiding Proposition 8's gay marriage ban to victory in California in 2008.

"I have no plans to see the movie, and I already know how it ends," Schubert said Friday. He said he is skeptical that the film constitutes an even-handed portrayal of the campaign, particularly because one of his allies in the campaign -- Catholic diocese official Marc Mutty -- "is portrayed as being upset with me."

New York filmmaker Joseph Fox, who raised eyebrows when he publicly came out as gay after the campaign, said the movie is simply a "mirror" on what transpired in both war rooms.

"We set out to make a movie right down the middle, and we were granted access from both sides," Fox said in an interview Friday.

The movie premiered in Maine in November, and the filmmakers are just beginning to market the showing in Sacramento, Schubert Flint's home turf. The trailer (above) prominently features Schubert speaking to supporters of the marriage ban.

"The covering of the process of campaigns is something the media likes to do, but I don't think it's particularly interesting or particularly informing," Schubert said.

Fox would like to Schubert to reconsider. "I would be delighted," Fox said, "to have him see it."

January 13, 2012
Assembly kills bill to require legislative vote on peripheral canal

A bill to require legislative approval before any new peripheral canal could be built to divert water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to other parts of the state died this week in the California Assembly.

Democratic Assemblywoman Alyson Huber of El Dorado Hills proposed the measure, Assembly Bill 550, which was rejected Tuesday by the Assembly's Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee by a vote of five yes, seven no.

The measure would have barred construction of such a canal if it would impact the Delta or its residents in ways ranging from imposing a financial burden to negatively affecting water rights, quality or supply.

Huber said Friday she will not try to revive AB 550 this year, but she will continue to push a provision calling for an independent analysis of financial feasibility prior to construction of any canal.

The Legislature, as part of a package of water legislation in 2009, created a Delta stewardship to develop a plan for long-term water supply and Delta protection. Four of its seven voting members are appointed by the governor.

Water exporters, business interests and Southern California officials have long supported construction of a new water canal to help stabilize California water supplies.

Huber contends that the stewardship council is moving toward approving such a project and that lawmakers, not appointees, should make the decision on "one of the largest infrastructure projects in California history."

"Ultimately my view lost," she said.

Tackling California's water problems pits powerful interests against each other, sparking political headaches.

"Ultimately, I think that the Legislature is afraid to be involved in decisions involving water," Huber said.

Two Republicans on the Assembly water committee opposed Huber's bill, along with five Democrats, including four from Southern California.

Assemblywoman Linda Halderman, a Fresno Republican who voted against AB 550, said that the Legislature should not renege on the commitment it made in 2009 to form the stewardship council.

"I don't believe in breaking promises," Halderman said Friday.

"In my view, once we start down that road, we create a body that's guaranteed to be dysfunctional," she said.

January 13, 2012
Assemblywoman Linda Halderman moves into tiny 'doghouse'

Assemblywoman Linda Halderman already is in the "doghouse," less than two weeks after the new legislative year began.

The 43-year-old Fresno Republican and medical surgeon was chosen by Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez to replace GOP colleague Beth Gaines of Roseville in the shoebox-size Capitol office known as the doghouse.

Halderman declined substantive comment Friday, but said with a smile that the tiny office suits her fine and offers a nice view.

Though not always used as punishment, the cramped fifth-floor office attracted the nickname "doghouse" because Assembly speakers through the years have tended to assign it to lawmakers who angered them.

Pérez's office did not comment on why Halderman was assigned to the 391-square-foot office, which is 135 square feet smaller than the next smallest Assembly office and about 300 square feet less than the norm.

Pérez spokesman John Vigna said only that speakers shift member office assignments every year.

Halderman is known as one of the most conservative lawmakers in an Assembly dominated by liberal Democrats.

Privately, colleagues say that Halderman also raised eyebrows last year by joining in a failed behind-the-scenes effort to prod Connie Conway to step down as Assembly Republican leader. Halderman characterized such reports Friday as rumors.

January 13, 2012
Jerry Brown vows to push forward with high-speed rail

Less than 24 hours after the chief administrator of California's troubled high-speed rail project resigned, Gov. Jerry Brown this morning defended the $98.5 billion project and said he will push it forward.

The resignation of Roelof van Ark, the chief executive officer of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, and an announcement the same day of the planned installation of Brown adviser Dan Richard as chairman of the rail board, were viewed by many as an effort by Brown to recast the project ahead of legislative hearings this year.

"I'm putting my own stamp on state government, slowly but surely," the Democratic governor told reporters after an event in Elk Grove.

He said Richard "knows his material."

The Legislature is highly skeptical of the project, and public opinion has turned against it, according to a recent Field Poll.

"We're pushing forward," Brown said. "We're going to build, but we're not going to be stupid ... We're going to be very careful and build incrementally as we go."

He said, "A lot of people want to turn off the lights. I'm not one of them. We're going to build, we're going to invest, and California is going to stay up among the great states and the great political jurisdictions of the world."

Brown was asked what people might expect to hear from him in his State of the State address next week.

He said, "You're going to hear so much that I wouldn't miss it if I were you."

January 13, 2012
FPPC sues United States Postal Service over records request

The state political watchdog agency has delivered a lawsuit to the United States Postal Service in an ongoing dispute over public records.

The lawsuit, filed in United States District Court for the Eastern District of California, stems from a Fair Political Practices Commission investigation into whether a campaign mailing sent in a 2008 local recall campaign violated the state Political Reform Act.

The agency sought to obtain from the USPS records showing how many mail pieces were sent to determine whether the mailing was large enough to trigger mandatory disclosures.Though it has provided similar information in the past, according to the FPPC, the USPS denied the agency's request.

FPPC Chair Ann Ravel said in a statement that the agency felt "compelled to take action" out of concern that the USPS' "refusal to provide this simple information will result in shutting down the enforcement of all similar laws in every State."

"The Post Office's unreasonable refusal to provide the information and bizarre use of FOIA to prevent the release of basic information prohibits the Commission from executing its mission," she said in a statement. "The Commission is left with no other choice but to bring a cause of action against the Post Office to compel disclosure."

A spokesman for the postal service declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying attorneys are still reviewing the complaint.

USPS FOIA Complaint 1-5-12

Editor's note: This post has been updated with the USPS response.

January 13, 2012
California Legislature has first 'per diem session' of the year

The California Legislature conducted its first "per diem session" of the year Friday -- brief meetings of both legislative houses that allowed their members to take off a three-day holiday weekend without losing their $141.86 per day, tax-free expense payments.

Had the Legislature not met Friday -- the Senate for less than 30 minutes, the Assembly for slightly over an hour -- and observed Monday's Martin Luther King Jr. Day, members would have lost the payments for four days, totaling nearly $70,000.

The per diem payments average more than $25,000 per year per legislator on top of their salaries, although a few members don't take the money. Per diem is supposed to compensate legislators for housing and meals in Sacramento. The state constitution says that the payments continue seven days a week, as long as the Legislature is not out of session for more than three consecutive days.

The Legislature's long-standing practice is to meet from Monday to Thursday - the latter having been dubbed "getaway day" -- unless there's a crunch of business, but when there's a Monday holiday such as MLK Jr. Day, it routinely has brief sessions on Fridays to avoid running afoul of the three-day rule.

Both houses devoted much of their brief meetings to speeches commemorating King, the civil rights leader who was assassinated in 1968.

Although technically it's a three-day holiday, it's more than four days for the Legislature, since it convened at 9 a.m. Friday and won't reconvene in the Capitol until midday Tuesday.

January 13, 2012
AM Alert: Jerry Brown, Ken Salazar follow the sun to Elk Grove

Gov. Jerry Brown is heading to Elk Grove today to talk up green jobs for California.

Brown and U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar are announcing a federal-state agreement billed as advancing the state's goals on renewable energy as well as creating clean-energy jobs in the Golden State.

The presser starts at 11 a.m. at solar farms now run by Recurrent Energy, which is selling them to Google Inc., as The Bee's Rick Daysog mentioned in this story earlier this week. Recurrent Energy's CEO, Arno Harris, is also expected to be on hand.

Salazar was in Los Angeles on Thursday and is scheduled to visit Fort Ord in Monterey County this afternoon. It's all part of his swing this week through California and Arizona touting the economic benefits of clean energy, tourism and conservation.

The governor, meanwhile, will be in Los Angeles this weekend for an appearance at a 11th annual multifaith prayer breakfast put on by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Executive Clergy Council. Brown's talk Saturday is scheduled to start at 9 a.m. at the Power of Love Church on West Manchester Avenue.

As for the Legislature, it's a per diem day in the Senate and the Assembly. Both houses have scheduled sessions, which aren't expected to be lengthy, in advance of Monday's legislative holiday marking Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Committee hearings start up again on Tuesday, with the Senate Appropriations Committee set to take up Sen. Mark Leno's Senate Bill 810 on single-payer health coverage starting at noon. For the record, the measure lists 29 co-authors -- all Democrats.

WATCH LIST: Governing magazine has named Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, one of the nation's 12 state lawmakers to watch this year. Lieu is "that rare Democratic political figure who combines it all," Democratic strategist Garry South told the Washington, D.C.-based monthly. He was the only Californian to make the list. Read the full article at this link.

MEMORIAL: A public memorial service will be held Saturday in Montebello to celebrate the life of Marcella Calderon, former Assemblyman Tom Calderon's wife, who died earlier this month. The memorial begins at 1 p.m. at the Applied Technology Center at 1200 W. Mines Ave.

STATE BUDGET: Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor says Gov. Jerry Brown's budget would help bring the state's spending in line but relies on volatile income, as The Bee's Kevin Yamamura reported earlier this week. The Assembly Republican Caucus has also launched a website giving its take on the governor's proposal. You'll find it at this link.

CAKE AND CANDLES: Assemblyman Jim Silva, R-Huntington Beach, celebrates his 68th birthday on Sunday.


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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