Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

April 30, 2013
CA bills seek to give more protections to immigrant workers

steinbergimmigration.JPGAs Congress continues to work towards a federal immigration overhaul, lawmakers in California's Capitol are considering proposals aimed at strengthening the rights of immigrant workers in the state.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg highlighted two of his bills in a news conference today, saying it's important to ensure that workers are treated with dignity and respect regardless of their legal status.

"California's immigrant workers make a valuable contribution to our economy and the American dream," Steinberg said. "If we're going to be serious about immigration reform in this country and hopefully establish a path to citizenship for people who are currently undocumented, it begins by treating those people and all people with respect in the workplace."

Steinberg's bills, which are to be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee today, target employers who use threats related to immigration status to coerce or abuse employees and foreign labor contractors that recruit workers from overseas and help them gain legal employment status.

April 30, 2013
California insurers, Commissioner Jones headed for showdown

RP_INSURANCE_AUTO_BODY_BUFF.JPGCalifornia Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones and the state's insurance companies are headed for a legal showdown over whether his power to regulate premiums includes a responsibility to provide insurers with a fair profit.

A suit filed against Jones by Mercury General Corp., one of the state's most aggressive issuers of auto and other personal insurance, is the latest skirmish in the 25-year-long legal and political maneuvering over the impact of Proposition 103, the 1988 ballot measure giving the insurance commissioner more rate-setting authority and making it an elective position.

On Tuesday, five national and state insurance trade organizations asked permission to intervene in the Sacramento Superior Court case, saying its outcome could affect the premiums paid by millions of Californians.

April 30, 2013
Frogs 'have a lot on the line' in annual Capitol jumping contest

frogcooley.JPG Democracy! One of its greatest aspirations is treating elected representatives and the everyday people who elected them equally -- a leveling that, once a year in Sacramento, includes California lawmakers trying to grasp slimy frogs and then dancing around and stomping to encourage said frogs to hop.

Tuesday was the 39th annual Capitol Frog Jump day, a hallowed occasion that honors Mark Twain's well-known story, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County."

Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Oakdale, whose district encompasses Calaveras County, emceed the festivities.

"These frogs have a lot on the line here -- if they lose they could end up in the frying pan," Berryhill announced. A staffer told him, "We don't bite the leg that feeds us."

The results of today's festivities: A 10-foot-5-inch hop secured the longest jump title for "Notorious H.O.P." on behalf of Morgan Morales with the office of Assemblyman Eric Linder, R-Corona. On the opposite end of the spectrum was the amphibian coached by Theresa Pena of the office of Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica-- "Herkimer" managed only 1 foot, 4 inches. The Media Jump award went to defending champ Joe Michaels of Newstalk 1530 KFBK's "Christopher Ribbit II.

For the record, Capitol Alert's favorite frog names were a tie between M.C. Hopper and Betty Croaker. But enough talk, here's some videos of lawmakers and frogs.

Frog wrangler D.W. Elley was very helpful -- here he is giving Assemblyman Steve Fox, D-Lancaster, some positive reinforcement. (Elley's technique summed up: "Set him on the pad, and scare him and make him hop.")

Fox's frog, by the way, was named El Zorro. "Zorro means fox in Spanish," the assemblyman explained to Capitol Alert.

Assemblyman Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova, is a freshman but has been around the Capitol for a while, so he seemed pretty confident in his technique.

Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown, D-San Bernardino, was less enthused...

...although ultimately she got into it. Her frog, Larry B., though, remained indifferent.

PHOTO CREDIT: Sadly, Assemblyman Ken Cooley -- seen here with Tenaya -- did not find his prince. April 30, 2013 by Jeremy B. White/The Sacramento Bee.

April 30, 2013
Bill setting 'zero tolerance' for driving on drugs stalls in Senate

Correadrugs.JPGA proposal to create a "zero tolerance" policy for driving under the influence of drugs stalled in the California Senate on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 289, by Democratic Sen. Lou Correa of Santa Ana would make it illegal to drive if the driver's blood contains any trace of drugs, including cocaine, heroin, marijuana and painkillers. Medications that have been lawfully prescribed, excluding medicinal marijuana, would be exempted.

Supporters say the law is needed to protect motorists in light of what they say is an increase in driving under the influence of drugs. Critics, including several senators, raised questions at a Tuesday hearing about whether the bill goes too far by setting the tolerance level at zero.

"I wonder if you are, if this bill, as they say in constitutional law, is overly inclusive, that it captures people who may not be impaired but have some trace in their system. That's the question," Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said during a hearing of the Senate Public Safety Committee.

Those concerns led the committee to hold off on a vote on the bill, as Correa agreed to work to reach an agreement on language that was less broad. Because Friday is the deadline for bills that have a fiscal impact to clear policy committees in their house of origin, debate on the issue will likely be continued into the second year of the 2013-2014 legislative session.

"I would like to hold this bill in committee and I would like to work with you on this," said Democratic Sen. Loni Hancock, who chairs the Senate Public Safety Committee."I think we want to zero in on impairment and levels and do this carefully and do it well. But I also agree we don't want people driving around with enough of any controlled substance in their system to make them a danger to themselves and others."

RELATED POSTS:
California bill targets drug users behind the wheel
California legislation often 'sponsored' -- or even written -- by interest groups

PHOTO CREDIT: Sen. Lou Correa touts his "zero-tolerance" measure for driving under the influence of drugs at a news conference at the California Capitol on Feb. 19, 2013. Renee C. Byer / Sacramento Bee

April 30, 2013
Report: California governments could be $1.1 trillion in debt

BrownDebt.JPGCalifornia's state and local governments are at least $648 billion in debt and the total could surpass $1.1 trillion -- depending on how pension liabilities are calculated -- according to a data compilation by a conservative think tank.

The report was published by the California Public Policy Center, which is based in Southern California and concentrates its work on public employee unions and public pension liabilities. It's also a target of criticism by unions and other liberal groups, which accuse it of being part of a right-wing conspiracy to attack unions and public employees.

Anticipating that criticism, the organization took great pains to base its debt calculations on official data, including pension funds' own estimates of their unfunded liabilities, deviating from that methodology only on speculating about potentially higher pension debts.

The heavily footnoted report says the state's official debt stands at $132.6 billion, with general obligation bonds more than half the total. Other state debts include $27.8 billion in "budgetary borrowings" that Gov. Jerry Brown has described as a "wall of debt," $10.9 billion owed to the federal government for unemployment insurance benefits, and $11.3 billion in lease-revenue bonds.

April 30, 2013
Former California first lady Maria Shriver returning to NBC

shriver.jpgFormer first lady Maria Shriver is returning to NBC News as a special anchor, the network announced today.

Shriver, who left her career at NBC after her husband, Arnold Schwarzenegger, was elected governor in 2003, will report on the "shifting roles, emerging power and evolving needs of women in modern life," the network said in a prepared statement.

Shriver described the career move in a blog post a "move forward into the next phase of my life."

"I'm going forward by doing what I love to do - telling stories that I feel are important to bring to life - and doing it in some new ways," she wrote.

Shriver, niece of President John F. Kennedy, filed for divorce from Schwarzenegger and moved out of the family's Brentwood home in 2011, after Schwarzenegger acknowledged keeping secret for more than a decade an extramarital affair resulting in a child.

Shriver worked on poverty and women's issues while first lady. She will be based in Los Angeles.

PHOTO CREDIT: Maria Shriver speaks at an event in Beverly Hills May 2012. AP Photo / Matt Sayles

April 30, 2013
Trio of California fracking-ban bills advances

frack.jpg

In the latest sign of Democrats' determination to rein in the disputed extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, an Assembly committee on Monday advanced three bills that would halt the practice in California for the foreseeable future.

They were not the first fracking bills to make it out of committee this year, but they go further than other fracking legislation by calling for a moratorium to allow more time to study the impacts of hydraulic fracturing, which involves blasting a mix of chemicals and water deep underground. A bill by Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, for instance, would prohibit the state from issuing new new fracking permits only if a study on fracking was not completed by Jan. 1, 2015.

Paul Deiro, a lobbyist testifying on behalf of the Western States Petroleum Association, said previous bills were "far more reasonable than the three moratorium bills you hear today" and argued that there is no evidence that fracking is unsafe.

"The proponents of a moratorium have often said we don't know, we need to collect information and find out," but there are no cases of proven well failure or groundwater contamination in California, Deiro said. He added that a fracking ban would mean the energy-rich Central Valley "loses the potential of creating millions of jobs."

But lawmakers said they were responding to constituents who were alarmed by the fact that fracking is moving forward in California with seemingly little oversight or regulation.

"It's clear that we must heed the call from our concerned constituents and demand answers about the safety of fracking," said Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, author of Assembly Bill 1323.

A branch of the Department of Conservation has released some draft regulations that would govern fracking, but lawmakers have criticized the proposed rules as too vague and lambasted the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources for moving too slowly.

"The lack of regulations in an environment that should be regulated is a recurrent theme," said Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, author of Assembly Bill 1301. "Public and scientific concerns have increase exponentially yet regulatory oversight lags behind."

Bloom said a moratorium would offer a needed window for study and would "get everyone to the table" to craft a framework for fracking.

"We must identify the risks and assure the public that we are doing everything in our control to protect them," Bloom said, "but to date the state has failed to do that."

The third fracking bill moved by the committee was Assembly Bill 649, by Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian, D-Burbank.

PHOTO CREDIT: Rig workers drill a saltwater well to get fluids to be used in hydraulic fracturing or fracking in Anthony, Kansas, in February 2012. Bo Rader/Wichita Eagle.

April 30, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: Little hope for lawmaking reforms

Dan chastises the Legislature for shying away from measures that would require bills to be in print for three days before a vote, keeping lawmakers from rushing through bills with little oversight.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

April 30, 2013
AM Alert: It's frog jump day at California's Capitol

ribbit.JPG

And now, back to real news: the highly anticipated 39th annual Capitol Frog Jump comes to Sacramento today, where ambitious amphibians will compete for the honors of shortest hop, longest hop and media winner (a designation that of course applies to frogs specifically, since the title for the media's overall favorite California animal is pretty well locked up).

Sponsored by Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Oakdale, the event starts at 11 a.m. on the east lawn and will feature entrants such as Notorious H.O.P., Term Ribbits II and The Frog Formally known as Prince. To read the Mark Twain tale "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" that was the inspiration for the event (Berryhill's district includes Calaveras County), click here.

VIDEO: Proposals that would require bills to be in print three days before a vote test the Democratic supermajority's commitment to an open process, Dan Walters says.

MUSLIM ADVOCACY: Today is also Muslim Day at the State Capitol, organized by the Council on American-Islamic Relations. CAIR informs Capitol Alert that they'll be focusing on three specific priorities: Assemblyman Tom Ammiano's immigration bill AB 4, Ammiano's domestic workers rights bill AB 241, and a CAIR-authored resolution, currently without a carrier, that would underscore the need to protect free speech on college campuses.

DELTA PLAN: Gov. Jerry Brown's complex and contentious plan to overhaul water delivery and environmental preservation in the Delta gets a hearing today before the Senate's Select Committee on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Starting at 9:30 a.m. in room 112.

IMMIGRANT WORKERS: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, is holding a press conference this morning to promote bills that would enshrine new labor protections for immigrants. SB 666 would prohibit suppressing workplace claims by threatening to report the status of immigrants who speak up; SB 516 would tighten regulations of foreign contractors. The presser is at 11.30 a.m. in room 211.

IMMIGRATION STARS ALIGN: There's an impressive roster of current and former elected officials on tap for a talk about immigration reform today at the University of Southern California. Expected to attend are Sen. John McCain, R-AZ and Sen. Michael Bennet, D-CO, members of the bipartisan "gang of 8" that recently produced an immigration overhaul bill; former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, former U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and former president of Mexico Vicente Fox, whose once worked with President George W. Bush on an immigration overhaul. From 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at USC's Town and Gown ballroom.

ANOTHER FRACKING HEARING: Part of the Legislature's stated reason for pursuing new rules on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has been that the draft regulations proposed by a Department of Conservation agency aren't strong or clear enough. The last in a statewide series of public hearings on the proposed fracking rules is today, at the Hilton Garden Inn in Monterey, starting at noon.

PHOTO CREDIT: Calaveras County champion frog handler Brent Bloom shows a youngster how to hold a frog at last year's Capitol Frog Jump. On May 2, 2012 by Manny Crisostomo/The Sacramento Bee.

April 29, 2013
Head of conservative group defeated in election following remarks about rape

greig.jpgCeleste Greig, the Republican activist who said this spring that rape rarely results in pregnancy, has lost her position atop the California Republican Assembly, organizers of the conservative group said.

By an 84-78 vote, CRA members at a convention over the weekend selected John W. Briscoe, of Fountain Valley, to be president, said Aaron Park, the conservative blogger and CRA official who ran Briscoe's campaign.

Park faulted Greig for "embarrassing headlines" and shrinking membership in the decades-old CRA, and he said the group "took decisive action to change course."

Park said membership in the CRA, which Ronald Reagan once called the "the conscience of the Republican Party," has declined to "several thousand statewide." He declined to be more specific.

Greig did not immediately return a telephone call Monday for comment.

She suggested to a San Jose Mercury News reporter in the run-up to last month's California Republican Party convention that a woman is less likely to become pregnant if she is raped because "the body is traumatized." At the time, she was criticizing a Missouri U.S. Senate candidate who made a similar remark.

PHOTO CREDIT: Celeste Greig, then president of the California Republican Assembly, speaks to reporters at the California Republican Convention in San Diego on Friday, August 20, 2010. Hector Amezcua / Sacramento Bee

April 29, 2013
Handful of lawmakers wants to end 'gut-and-amend' bills

Olsen.JPG

A bipartisan handful of legislators is trying to stop the Sacramento tradition known as the "gut-and-amend" bill -- the last-minute, late-night law-making that has become the summertime norm in the Capitol.

Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, a Modesto Republican, and two Democratic senators - Lois Wolk of Davis and Mark DeSaulnier of Concord - have introduced constitutional amendments that would require bills be in print for at least three days before lawmakers can vote on them. Similar measures have failed in the past.

"The halls of the state Capitol are desperate for governance reforms that will increase transparency, facilitate good decision making and strengthen the ability of citizens to actively participate in their state government," Olsen said today during a news conference to promote her ACA 4.

The proposal, she said, "would allow legislators to thoroughly analyze measures before voting and end the midnight votes on backroom deals."

In past years, Olsen said, lawmakers have passed budget deals that were written just 15 minutes earlier. Legislators have also used the gut-and-amend process to write bills about abortion, immigration, tax policy, and union organizing for child care workers.

DeSaulnier said he'd signed on as a co-author because in his seven years as a legislator "there have been frequent times at the end of session where I wasn't able to read the content of a bill that was extremely important."

"It empowers the public and all (lawmakers) more when you have the time to actually digest and read the content before you," he said. "Strange concept."

The measure is sponsored by California Common Cause, an advocacy group that promotes government transparency.

"Seventy-two hours is not a long time," said Phillip Ung, a Common Cause advocate. "But it's enough time to put some thought into these bills and to hear from constituents, which is exactly what legislators are supposed to be doing."

The measures require approval by two-thirds of each house. ACA 4 gets its first committee hearing tomorrow.

PHOTO CREDIT: Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, during her news conference today. Behind her are, from left to right: Ron Costa, Superintendent of Eascalon Unified School District; Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord; and Phillip Ung, policy advocate with California Common Cause. Sacramento Bee/Laurel Rosenhall

April 29, 2013
AM Alert: LGBT youth converge on California capital

ammianopride.JPG

It's Queer Youth Advocacy Day at the State Capitol, which means lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youngsters will be rallying at a 10:45 a.m. press conference on the north steps. They are expected to be joined by Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles, Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, and Assemblymembers Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, Richard Gordon, D-Menlo Park, and Susan Eggman, D-Stockton.

The advocates are focusing on two bills in particular: AB 420, a student discipline bill, and AB 1266, which would allow students to participate in sex-segregated activities and use school facilities in accordance with their gender identities.

WOMEN'S EMPOWERMENT: Friday brought the latest installment in a recurring dispute over women being under-represented in Sacramento politics panels. An event today by the organization California Women Lead, an organization devoted to getting more women into leadership positions, aims to help reduce those discrepancies in the ranks of public officeholders.

A daylong conference at the Residence Inn Sacramento Downtown will feature a morning panel with Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo and Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, a lunchtime address from State Board of Equalization member Betty Yee and an evening reception expected to be attended by nearly 20 female lawmakers.

DIAL M FOR MORATORIUM: The contentious national debate over hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," has been bubbling to the surface in Sacramento this session. Today, the Assembly Natural Resources Committee is taking on a trio of bills that would nix the practice for the foreseeable future -- a controversial proposition, considering how energy industry advocates worried about a potential moratorium measure embedded in a bill by Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills. 1:30 p.m. in room 447.

ENERGY EFFICIENCY: Also before an Assembly committee today is a raft of bills dealing with how California, per Proposition 39, will channel new revenue from eliminating a corporate tax break towards energy efficiency upgrade projects. The Utilities And Commerce Committee is hearing proposals starting at 3 p.m. in room 437.

PHOTO CREDIT: Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, delivers the Pledge of Allegiance during LGBT Pride Month. June 14, 2010 by Hector Amezcua/The Sacramento Bee.

April 26, 2013
Ex-lawmaker hired; GOP communications guru departs Senate

ha_hector_barajas10519.JPGCalifornia Senate Republicans are saying goodbye to one communications guru as they bring a former member back to the building as a part-time aide.

Caucus Communications Director Hector Barajas, a political consultant known for his work trying to strengthen the GOP's image with Latino voters, is leaving his post after just over a year to pursue a yet-to-be-announced opportunity. His last day will be April 30.

"What I can say is I'm going to be doing a bit more of TV analyst for Spanish language (programming)," said Barajas, who said he hopes to continue to advise Senate GOP leader Bob Huff and other members on political strategy outside of the Capitol.

The caucus is also bringing on a former state senator to focus on issues related to women.

Former Sen. Sharon Runner, R-Lancaster, has been hired as a part-time staff member for the caucus. The Lancaster Republican, who is married to Board of Equalization member George Runner, will be paid $2,530 a month to work at least 17.5 a week, Senate GOP staff and Secretary of the Senate Greg Schmidt confirmed today.

April 26, 2013
Getting ready for sandals? Fish pedicures not a California option

APTOPIX_Fish_Pedicures.jpgA California state board that enforces health and safety standards for beauty services is renewing a warning against one approach for getting Californians' toes ready for the coming sandal season.

The California Board of Cosmetology and Barbering recently reissued a bulletin banning nail salons from offering a spa treatment that uses live fish to smooth patrons' soles.

Health officials have for years been raising concerns about salons that let imported fish nibble dead skin off the feet as part of a pedicure, leading some states to ban the practice altogether. The state's Board of Cosmetology and Barbering announced several years ago amid questions about legality here that the practice runs afoul of health rules requiring that tools are disinfected between each patron.

April 26, 2013
California politics forum faulted for not inviting enough women

IGS.jpgIt was six in the morning Friday when Robin Swanson started receiving emails from female friends pointing out that, once again, women were under-represented at a California politics event organized by the University of California, Berkeley's Institute of Governmental Studies.

"We have given notice to this old boys club many times about continuing to host almost exclusively male political panels," said Swanson, a political consultant and former spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez. "This is a business that has incredibly successful and insightful women ready to share their views, and we're getting tired of being polite about reminding them."

Criticizing the absence of women at Institute of Governmental Studies events has become something of a ritual for Swanson and other prominent female political operatives in California. Two years ago, a video in which a cartoon woman tries unsuccessfully to explain the issue to a male colleague went viral.

Of the 13 scheduled speakers at Friday's event in Sacramento -- a daylong discussion of California's revived fortunes entitled "California: Are we back?" -- two are women.

April 26, 2013
AM Alert: Is California back? UC event looks at money, politics

RP_HIGHWAY_49_SIGN.JPGThe notion of California being transformed from national poster state for dysfunction to leader was a recurring theme during the California Democratic Party convention, and talk of California getting back on the road to prosperity has become even more popular as we get reports of fiscal stability. A symposium today is taking a more rigorous look at such sunny claims.

The UC Berkeley's Institute of Governmental Studies is hosting the day-long event at the University of California Sacramento Center, 1130 K St. Listed speakers include Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor, the Department of Finance's H.D. Palmer and a bushel of political scientists. Shameless plug: Bee political editor Amy Chance will also be moderating a morning panel on the budget. Click here for more information.

LINKED LEARNING: The concept of educational pathways tailored to specific careers is back in the spotlight during a conference on a linked learning pilot program created by legislation in 2011. Educators from some of the 63 districts participating in the program will be at the Sheraton Grand today -- Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, who earlier this year spearheaded (and evidently really enjoyed) a Senate expedition to check out linked learning in Long Beach, will not be there, but we're told he recorded a video.

STUDENT AID: The California Student Aid Commission is meeting in Rancho Cordova, where its audit committee will be discussing Cal Grants, among other things, starting at noon at 11040 White Rock Road.

THIS LAND IS OUR LAND: The California State Lands Commission is also meeting today. In addition to sorting through lease applications, they will be considering where to stand on some federal legislation and on a few bills before the state Legislature, including single-use bag ban bills by Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, and by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles. Starting at 10 a.m. at 828 I St.

BEACH BONFIRES: Controversy has been swirling around the California tradition of beach bonfires -- William A. Burke stepped down from the California Coastal Commission last week amid questions about his role in a debate over banning the shoreline blazes. Assemblyman Travis Allen, R-Huntington Beach, is drawing a charred line in the sand this Sunday with a Huntington Beach bonfire rally aimed at ensuring such bonfire rallies remain legal. From 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

PHOTO CREDIT: California Highway 49 sign. Randy Pench / Sacramento Bee file, 2002

April 25, 2013
Assembly approves bill allowing immigrants to serve on juries

juryduty.JPGNon-citizen immigrants lawfully residing in California would be eligible for jury duty under a bill that cleared the Assembly on Thursday.

Current state law allows only United States citizens to serve on juries. However, the state Constitution does not restrict immigrants residing legally in California from being summoned. Assembly Bill 1401 would no longer exclude "lawfully present immigrants" from jury lists drawn in part by the Department of Motor Vehicles records. The bill was written by seven Democrats on the Assembly Judiciary Committee, including the chairman, Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont.

"You are not required to be a citizen to participate in the judicial process as a party, as a witness, to work for the courts or even be a judge," said another author, Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville. "It's only a requirement to be a juror. It's not a requirement to be a citizen to serve in the military, either."

AB 1401 does not affect other provisions of state law for jury eligibility, including residing in the jurisdiction of the summons and English language proficiency.

The measure passed 45-25 and now heads to the Senate.

Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, argued against the bill, saying jury duty is a privilege that should be afforded only to citizens.

April 25, 2013
Senate Democrats defend education plan as 'civil rights' issue, too

steinbergpresser.JPGOne day after Gov. Jerry Brown called his education financing plan a civil rights issue and promised opponents "the battle of their lives," Senate Democrats today said their counter-proposal is better for low-income students.

"The governor, obviously, came out firing yesterday, and we take it all in stride," Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg told reporters at the Capitol. "But I do want to say that no group is more committed to civil rights and the cause of low income kids than my colleagues."

In a proposal to dramatically overhaul California's education financing system, Brown is seeking to give local school districts greater flexibility in how they spend state money, while also directing more money to school districts with higher proportions of students who are poor or learning English.

While offering conceptual support for Brown's plan, Senate Democrats would eliminate a proposal by the Democratic governor to award districts additional money if more than half of their students are low income or meet other criteria, instead distributing that money partly on a per-pupil basis for all students and partly on a per-pupil basis for disadvantaged students.

April 25, 2013
Bowen rebuffs call for direct Web access to campaign database

DEBRABOWEN.JPGSecretary of State Debra Bowen has rebuffed a request from advocacy and news organizations to allow direct, daily Internet access to her office's campaign finance database, citing legal hurdles that would make it prohibitively expensive.

Data on the flow of political money is readily available on the secretary of state's website, but it is broken up into discrete forms for different transactions. There is no comprehensive document or file online that includes all the information -- the full database is available only on a CD-ROM that costs $5.

Several organizations pushing for more transparency in politics, including MapLight and California Common Cause, sent Bowen a letter asking that Bowen's office upload a single copy of the database online every day. The Sacramento Bee, the Los Angeles Times and the California Newspaper Publishers Association also signed the letter, as did Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco.

April 25, 2013
AM Alert: Fisheries panel hears from scientists, conservationists

Salmons.JPGSwordfish, salmon, crustaceans and sea urchins are some of the agenda items before the Legislature today. The 40th annual Fisheries Forum is in town, and lawmakers who sit on the Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture will hear from scientists, conservationists and fishermen representing locales from San Diego to San Mateo County.

Also appearing before the committee will be John Laird, secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency and chair of its Ocean Protection Council; Charlton Bonham, director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife; and Sonke Mastrup, executive director of the California Fish and Game Commission. The hearing starts at 10 a.m. in the Capitol's room 447.

Four Senate budget subcommittees are also meeting to consider elements of Gov. Jerry Brown's budget plan. The one on education, for instance, will be looking at his proposals for the University of California, California State University and California Community Colleges systems. Click here for the Senate daily file.

April 24, 2013
Covert PUC recording spurs calls for ratepayer group autonomy

San_Bruno_Broken_Pipeline_Explosion.jpgA covert and illegal recording earlier this month by a California Public Utilities Commission director was an effort to intimidate the Division of Ratepayer Advocates, according to a staff report for an Assembly Budget Subcommittee on resources and transportation hearing today.

PUC Energy Division Director Edward Randolph was caught earlier this month recording a briefing for a Senate budget subcommittee hearing at the state Capitol when his smartphone interrupted with an announcement that the recording space on his device was full.

Many of the attendees were surprised and angered that Randolph was recording the off-the-record, private meeting that included representatives of the office of Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, the Department of Finance and the DRA, which has clashed with PUC leadership.

According to the subcommittee staff report, those in attendance said Randolph was attempting to record DRA officials' interpretation of their responsibilities regarding audit obligations. PUC officials lately have faced continued scrutiny, including from members of the Assembly, over the agency's handling of several special funds.

April 24, 2013
Smartphone app lets CA lawmakers track special interest gifts

Screenshot_2013-04-12-12-09-39.pngHaving trouble keeping track of all those concert tickets, reception tabs and bottles of wine you have to report as gifts as a California elected official or legislative staffer?

There's an app for that.

The Fair Political Practices Commission is set to unveil a new smartphone app to let officials record receipts of reportable gifts from special interests in real time. The log could be exported when the time comes to file an annual statement of economic interest form detailing all the gifts from the past year, a function FPPC officials hope will make complying with the disclosure rules easier.

"If you're at an event, if you're at a meeting, if you're giving a speech, if you're in a reception, you can just log in what the gift is," FPPC Enforcement Division Chief Gary Winuk said.

The Gift Tracker app was built by a staff member who joined the agency after participating in a "hackathon" event promoting open government data. The app allows the user to enter information about the gift and the giver and track how close they are to hitting the $440 annual limit on gifts from that specific source.

While the logs won't be available for public review immediately, Winuk said the app goes a long way in reaching the commission's goal of using technology to increase disclosure and make it easier for people to meet requirements of the state Political Reform Act.

The app is initially available only for Google devices, but Winuk said the FPPC is hoping to have an iPhone and iPad version approved and available through the Apple store soon.

FPPC Chair Ann Ravel called the app "a win for everyone" in a statement.

"It is important that it is not too burdensome to comply with our rules, so that people are encouraged to participate in government," she said. "And, it is important for the public that the information disclosed to them is accurate."

RELATED POSTS:
Trips, beer and crystal ducks: California lawmakers report gifts
DATABASE: See every gift given to state leaders, aides

Editor's note: This post was updated at 5:27 to include a quote from Ravel.

PHOTO CREDIT: Screenshot of the new FPPC app. Courtesy of the FPPC.

April 24, 2013
Unlikely coalition vows joint battle against Medi-Cal rate cuts

JS_Medi-Cal_pic.JPGA veritable army of politically powerful but unlikely partners vowed today to jointly fight California's planned rate cut to Medi-Cal providers.

The broad-based coalition includes groups representing physicians, health plans, hospitals, dentists, first responders, and the state's largest labor union of health-care workers - Service Employees International Union.

Dr. Paul R. Phinney, president of the California Medical Association, described the gathering as an "unprecented coalition of providers of health care in our state to make sure that the Affordable Care Act is implemented in a smart and sensible way."

"Quality health care is going to be less available and less affordable in California if we continue to cut our system to the bone," Phinney said.

April 24, 2013
Jerry Brown promises opponents 'battle of their lives' on education overhaul

RCB_20130424_SCHOOLS_0342.JPGFacing resistance at the Capitol to his proposal to overhaul California's school financing formula and to shift more money to poor and English-learning students, Gov. Jerry Brown said today he considers the matter one of civil rights and will give opponents "the battle of their lives."

"This is a matter of equity and civil rights," the Democratic governor told reporters at the Capitol. "So if people are going to fight it, they're going to get the battle of their lives, because I'm not going to give up until the last hour, and I'm going to fight with everything I have, and whatever we have to bring to bear in this battle, we're bringing it."

Brown's appearance featured appeals by school superintendents from Los Angeles, Sacramento and Santa Ana and comes as Assembly Democrats prepare to debate the merits of his proposal at a committee hearing this afternoon.

Senate Democrats less than 24 hours ago suggested reservations about major parts of Brown's plan, announcing they will propose an alternative measure Thursday.

Brown is seeking in his annual budget proposal to give K-12 school districts greater flexibility over how they spend their money, while also directing more money to districts that serve poorer students and English learners.

April 24, 2013
Mark Vargas fills California Coastal Commission vacancy

COASTAL COMMISSION.jpgAssembly Speaker John A. Pérez has named a green building specialist to the California Coastal Commission.

Mark Vargas's appointment to the 12-member commission begins today. Vargas, an alumnus of the Gov. Gray Davis administration and the secretary of state's office, resigned from the Little Hoover Commission yesterday to take this new post.

"California's coast is one of our most important environmental and economic assets," Pérez said in a statement. "Mr. Vargas will provide an important voice in the Commission's ongoing work to ensure the sustainability of this vital resource."

Vargas replaces former commissioner William Burke, who stepped down last week amid controversy over remarks he made about a proposal to ban beach bonfires and questions about whether it was proper for him to serve on both the Coastal Commission and the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

PHOTO CREDIT: The Albion River, lower left, flows into the Pacific Ocean in Albion, Calif., in this 2002 file photo. AP Photo/ Eric Risberg, File)

April 24, 2013
Man outside Jerry Brown's home cited for needle possession in 2011

brownpresser.JPGIn an incident predating the arrest of a suspected prowler at his Sacramento loft building over the weekend, Gov. Jerry Brown expressed frustration Tuesday with officials' handling of three men found lurking at his home in the Oakland hills in late 2011.

In a speech at a Crime Victims United rally at the Capitol, Brown said his wife, Anne Gust Brown, was home alone when "three gentlemen show up ... about 1 o'clock trying to break in." Brown said California Highway Patrol officers detained the men but let them go after consulting with Oakland police.

"They said they were looking ... to buy real estate in the neighborhood, and the Oakland police let them go, because the CHP deferred to them," said Brown, a former mayor of Oakland. "Well, that's not going to happen anymore."

In an email to The Bee, Oakland Police Sgt. Chris Bolton said three people in a vehicle were stopped at Brown's home on Nov. 30, 2011 and that one of suspects was issued a citation for possession of a hypodermic needle. Bolton described the circumstances of the vehicle's presence on the property as suspicious but did not elaborate.

Bolton said the three people were released from the scene following a preliminary investigation.

PHOTO CREDIT: Gov. Jerry Brown speaks to reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday.The Sacramento Bee/ David Siders

April 24, 2013
AM Alert: California lawmakers don denim for abuse awareness

AOC_Jeans2_007a.JPGIf you're getting the impression that things are more casual at the California Capitol today, it may be because some lawmakers are wearing jeans in honor of Denim Day, a part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month intended intended to highlight that outfit choices are never an excuse for sexual assault.

A 10 a.m. rally on the west steps is expected to feature Democratic Sens. Noreen Evans of Santa Rosa, Mark DeSaulnier of Concord, Ellen Corbett of San Leandro, Hannah-Beth Jackson of Santa Barbara and Kevin de León of Los Angeles, and Democratic Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia of Bell Gardens.

INDIAN CASINOS: The Governmental Organization Committee is holding an informational hearing today on where two Native American tribes should be allowed to build their casinos, an issue that has sparked debate about whether tribes should be able to operate casinos far from their land. The hearing begins after the committee wraps up its business on other bills, which it will dig into at 1:30 p.m. in room 4202.

STUDENTS FIRST: Also on our radar today is a bill by Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, that deals with teacher evaluation. We brought you news earlier of how education reform crusader Michelle Rhee's Sacramento-based organization StudentsFirst has had a light legislative fingerprint thus far, but StudentsFirst advises us that it's supporting Calderon's Senate Bill 441. It comes up for a vote in the Senate Education Committee, which meets at 9 a.m. in room 4203.

SUPERINTENDENTS GET AUDIENCE: Speaking of education, Gov. Jerry Brown is meeting this morning with school superintendents from across California to discuss his plan for overhauling how school funding is doled out. The closed-door meeting is happening at the state Capitol.

IMMIGRATION REFORM: Several Catholic bishops and archbishops -- including Sacramento Bishop Jaime Soto and Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez -- will be talking (in English and in Spanish) about federal immigration reform and its impact in California at a news conference at Sacramento's Citizen Hotel. The event starts at 11:30 a.m. in the hotel's Library Room at 10th and J streets.

DOMESTIC WORKERS: It's been a big week for rallies related to bills carried by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco. Homeless Californians gathered Monday to support his so-called homeless "bill of rights," and today domestic workers rally at 10:30 a.m. on the east steps in support of his Assembly Bill 241, which would set labor standards for domestic workers.

EDUCATION LAWSUIT: The American Civil Liberties Union of California and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center are announcing a lawsuit against the state for allegedly falling short in instructing English language learners at public schools. The news conference starts at 10:30 a.m. at the ACLU of Southern California's Los Angeles offices.

SWINGERS: How do you get lawmakers to participate in your event? Incorporating golf can't hurt. The California Physical Therapy Association is offering free screenings to elected officials and their staff on the east lawn of the Capitol today, including a chance to gauge their grip strength and swing mechanics.

PHOTO CREDIT: Jeans, the iconic denimwear. Autumn Payne / Sacramento Bee file, 2006

April 23, 2013
Senate Democrats to propose alternative education plan

steinberged.jpgSenate Democrats today suggested reservations about major elements of Gov. Jerry Brown's bid to overhaul California's school funding system, saying they will announce an alternative plan this week.

Brown is seeking in his annual budget proposal to give K-12 school districts greater control over how they spend money they receive, while also directing more money to districts that serve poorer students and English learners.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg's office said in a prepared statement today that Senate Democrats agree with the "fundamental goals and concepts" included in Brown's proposal, but differences between Brown's plan and the one lawmakers are expected to propose are significant.

Steinberg's office said Senate Democrats on Thursday will propose a bill that would eliminate a proposal by Brown, a Democrat, to award districts additional money if more than half of their students are low income or meet other criteria. The lawmakers' proposal would instead distribute that money partly on a per-pupil basis for all students and partly on a per-pupil basis for certain disadvantaged students.

April 23, 2013
Jerry Brown urges budget restraint despite strong revenue

jerrybrownpostcrimepresser.JPGDespite relatively robust income tax returns and a projection that the state will finish April billions of dollars ahead of estimates, Gov. Jerry Brown today dismissed a reporter's suggestion he must be "pretty happy," suggesting any overage may be tied up by Proposition 98, California's school-funding guarantee.

"The revenues, guys, wait 'til the May revise," the Democratic governor told reporters at the Capitol. "We have a very complicated mechanism called Prop. 98, and depending upon how the money flows, it may ... not be as available as many people are now thinking."

April is typically the most significant month for personal income tax collections, and state budget watchers track revenue daily. The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office estimated today that the state's personal income tax collections will end the month about $4 billion above the administration's estimates.

By the end of the fiscal year, the LAO said, revenue may be "a few billion dollars" above estimates. Like Brown, however, the LAO was restrained in its assessment of the significance of any additional revenue.

The report said "much or all of the revenue gain could be required to be allocated to schools and community colleges under Proposition 98, which means that this fiscal year's strong revenue performance may have little, if any, positive effect for the state's financial bottom line."

PHOTO CREDIT: Gov. Jerry Brown speaks to reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday, April 23, 2013. David Siders / Sacramento Bee

April 23, 2013
Ever-fewer California employers offering health insurance

RB Scope 1.JPGAs the federal Affordable Care Act begins to take effect, ever-fewer California employers are offering medical insurance to their workers, according to an annual survey by the California Healthcare Foundation.

From 2002 to 2012, the proportion of employers offering such coverage declined from 71 percent to 60 percent. Meanwhile, the costs of health care insurance have risen by just under 170 percent since 2002, more than five times the overall inflation rate.

The average premium for single-person coverage was $545 per month in 2012, substantially more than the national average of $468, while family coverage cost an average of $1,386 in California and $1,312 nationally, the foundation said.

The survey also found that larger employers with high proportions of full-time workers were most likely to offer health insurance to workers and that deductibles tended to be much higher among small employers than among large ones.

Finally, 21 percent of employers reported that they had increased the share of insurance costs borne by employees during the preceding year, while 17 percent either reduced workers' costs or absorbed increases.

PHOTO CREDIT: Optometrist Aaron Lech, right, examines patient Melanie Kearns of Rocklin in his office in Roseville on April 11., 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

April 23, 2013
StubHub-backed ticket bill gutted in Assembly committee

pan.JPGA bill pushed by StubHub to lift restrictions on reselling sports and entertainment tickets was gutted in an Assembly committee today.

Assembly Bill 329 by Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, would have made it illegal for companies such as Ticketmaster to use ticketing methods that prohibit fans from reselling their seats.

The bill was backed by StubHub's advocacy group Fan Freedom and opposed by Live Nation Entertainment, owner of Ticketmaster.

Assembly Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism and Internet Media committee members said key provisions needed to be cut in order for the bill to move forward. The bill was stripped of the provision to make it a misdemeanor for ticketing companies to use restrictive tickets that are non-transferable.

Restrictive tickets are paperless and require the purchaser to show ID and the credit card used for payment to enter a venue, as highlighted in this story. Pan said this effectively prevents ticket-holders from giving them as gifts, donating them to charities or selling them when they can't attend an event.

Opponents of the bill, including a Live Nation representative, said venues and artists ask to use the non-transferable tickets in order to protect consumers from scalpers' marked-up prices.

Committee members said it was unclear what the effects on consumers would be if Pan's bill passed as is. However, they said there was agreement on AB 329's provision to ban robotic ticket-buying software. "Bots" flood online box offices with thousands of simultaneous purchases purporting to be different buyers in order to resell tickets at higher prices on other sites.

PHOTO CREDIT: Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, during the first day of session at the state Capitol in Sacramento on Dec. 3. Hector Amezcua / Sacramento Bee file, 2012

April 23, 2013
CA lawmaker's brother to challenge GOP Rep. Jeff Denham

Eggman Box.jpgA beekeeper who is the younger brother of a Democratic state legislator has announced plans to run against GOP Rep. Jeff Denham in a Central Valley swing seat next year.

Turlock Democrat Michael Eggman, whose sister is Stockton Assemblywoman Susan Eggman, has managed finances for his family's Turlock farm for 10 years. In a news release about his candidacy, he emphasized his longtime ties to communities in the 10th Congressional District and his experience as a farmer.

"Farmers, small businesses and our Valley families are hurting and we are really disgusted about the inability of our elected leaders to work together on the issues facing us," he said in a statement. "I'm not a politician, I'm a small family farmer so people will know where I stand and can trust that I'll put our communities first."

Denham, a former state legislator, defeated Democrat Jose Hernandez, who was considered a strong recruit by many political observers, by about five percentage points in 2012, a year that delivered victories to California Democrats in several other swing districts in the state.

Still, Democrats believe a slight registration advantage and winning performance by President Barack Obama in the district, which covers all of Stanislaus and part of San Joaquin counties, put the seat in play. The National Republican Congressional Committee recently added the GOP congressman to its incumbent protection program for the 2014 election.

Denham's camp didn't seem too concerned Tuesday.

"Jeff was only CA Rep on Dem target list in 2012 who didn't lose," Denham adviser Dave Gilliard tweeted. "If they cant beat him in 12, they cant beat him."

Editor's note: This post was updated with a comment from Dave Gilliard.

PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Eggman, courtesy of the campaign.

April 23, 2013
Jerry Brown says man arrested trying to break into his loft building

browncrimevictims.JPGGov. Jerry Brown said today that a man was arrested "a couple of days ago" trying to break into his Sacramento loft building.

Brown said he was not home at the time and did not think the intruder knew he lived in the building.

"A guy ... got in, got up to the roof, jumped down on the balcony and was trying to break in," Brown told reporters after mentioning the incident in a speech today at a Crime Victims United rally at the Capitol. "One of my neighbors called the police, and he was arrested, and I think he's out on his own recognizance."

The Sacramento Police Department's daily activity log lists an arrest on a prowling charge in the 1500 block of J Street on Sunday night. The one-bedroom unit Brown rents is in the 1530 J St. building across from Memorial Auditorium.

Police said Jamal Johnson, 26, was arrested on suspicion of prowling.

johnsonmug.JPG

In a separate incident, Brown said three men were found "trying to break in" to his house in Oakland early one morning about a year ago, while his wife, first lady Anne Gust Brown, was home alone.

Brown said California Highway Patrol officers held the three men for about 40 minutes before deferring to Oakland police and deciding to let them go. He said the men claimed they were looking to buy real estate in the neighborhood.

Editor's note: Post was updated at 5:20 p.m. to include information about Jamal Johnson.

PHOTO CREDIT: Gov. Jerry Brown speaks with a participant at a Crime Victims United rally at the Capitol following a speech on Tuesday, April 23, 2013. David Siders / Sacramento Bee

PHOTO CREDIT: Jamal Johnson booking photo, provided by Sacramento Police Department

April 23, 2013
Updated homeless 'bill of rights' passes CA legislative committee

homeless.JPGAn amended version of a bill that would extend new protections to California's homeless population cleared the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Tuesday morning.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, framed Assembly Bill 5 as an attempt to create a statewide baseline of homeless civil rights, citing a proliferation of municipal ordinances cracking down on behavior like lying or sleeping on the sidewalk as examples of the "criminalization of poor people."

"Today numerous laws infringe on poor peoples' ability to exist in public space, to acquire housing, employment and basic services and to equal protection under the laws," Ammiano said at a Tuesday morning hearing.

Ammiano's legislation faced a backlash from critics who said the bill would sanction behavior like urinating in public while exposing businesses to new litigation, undercutting the will of voters who had passed local ordinances and handcuffing city-level efforts to deal with homelessness. The California Chamber of Commerce included AB 5 on its annual list of "job killers" because it imposes "costly and unreasonable mandates on employers."

The amendments addressed those concerns, Ammiano and supporters of the bill argued. A widely derided provision establishing "the right to engage in life sustaining activities" including "urinating" was deleted. Another amendment jettisoned language prohibiting discrimination by business establishments.

April 23, 2013
California Senate committee rejects bill to allow a later 'last call'

JV_022113_ HOOK_LADDER 242.JPGCalifornia lawmakers today cut off a push to keep booze flowing at bars, clubs and restaurants until 4 a.m.

Senate Bill 635, by state Sen. Mark Leno, creates a process to extend the hours of on-site liquor sales from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. The bill failed to clear the Senate Governmental Organization Committee on a vote of 4-6, with several Democrats voting no or laying off.

Supporters touted the potential economic benefits of the bill, arguing that allowing cities to keep their bars open later could attract tourists and be a boom for restaurants, entertainment venues and other businesses.

"We hear a lot about our 24-7 society, meaning that we're open for business every hour of every day, but when you think about it we haven't really made any changes to accommodate that fact," Leno, a San Francisco Democrat, said.

Opponents said they were concerned about the effects on quality of life and public safety that could come with an extension of alcohol sale hours, including an increase in drunk driving in the early hours of the morning when commuters are already on the road.

PHOTO CREDIT: Sacramento Bee file photo. Jose Luis Villegas.

April 23, 2013
Acting Gov. Gavin Newsom declares official California foods

AVOCADOES.JPGAs it turns out, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom did make some momentous decisions when he was serving as acting governor during Gov. Jerry Brown's jaunt to China.

Newsom did not mention them during his crowd-rousing speech at the California Democratic Party convention in Sacramento earlier this month.

(He did tout other "remarkable achievements" including having appointed someone else to walk first dog Sutter Brown and boosting the state's hair gel industry).

But a proclamation dated April 9, a few days before the convention, corrected a "glaring absence of agricultural products from the list of our officially adopted icons."

Yes, Newsom has established a quartet of previously undeclared state-honored foods. For the duration of 2013, avocados are the state fruit, almonds are the state nut, artichokes are the state vegetable and rice is the state grain.

Newsom is a frequent guest on San Francisco radio station KGO's morning show. After the show's hosts learned that California had failed to fill its state-food void, they held a contest soliciting listeners' views on deserving candidates and then encouraged Newsom to make it official.

KGO listeners had selected the artichoke, prompting Newsom to defend the avocado on air and ask if people had rigged the vote, citing broad support in a survey on his Facebook page for the avocado.

"I think we need to call Jerry Brown," Newsom joked during a broadcast.

But he ultimately obliged with a solution that accommodated four of California's main agricultural products. Newsom read an on-air proclamation heralding the honors during an April 10 broadcast.

"I know this is not education reform, water policy," Newsom said, but he argued that the distinction was meaningful given that "we are the breadbasket in the world" and that California has a state fossil.

You can read the proclamation here:

LG Proclamation Statefood

PHOTO CREDIT: Avocado, California's state fruit. It's what's official. Owen Brewer / Sacramento Bee file, 2005.

April 23, 2013
Republican leader of policy institute to run for secretary of state

p_peterson_1.jpgA Southern California Republican who runs a public policy institute is getting in the race to succeed outgoing Secretary of State Debra Bowen as the state's chief elections official.

Pete Peterson, executive director of Pepperdine University's Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership, announced his candidacy in a statement released today, saying the state "is in desperate need of reform."

"With many Californians struggling to make ends meet or worrying about their economic future, it is crucial we encourage public engagement inside and outside of the voting booth," Peterson said in the statement. "Using technology to encourage voter registration, voter turnout, and government transparency will increase public involvement in the democratic process."

Peterson is the first Republican to formally announce his candidacy for the office, which will be up for grabs in 2014 when Bowen steps down due to term limits. Democratic state Sens. Alex Padilla and Leland Yee have already joined the race, while campaign finance reform advocate Derek Cressman, also a Democrat, is considering a bid. Several other current and former Democratic legislators have filed paperwork for a potential run.

Peterson, who lives in Santa Monica, took a dig at the political resumes of those rivals, saying he sees "this office as a means to change the direction of California, not as a stepping stone for professional politicians."

RELATED POSTS:

Citizens United critic weighs run for California secretary of state

Padilla declares Secretary of State candidacy, will take on Yee

Democrat Leland Yee announces 2014 CA secretary of state bid

Editor's note: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Peterson is a first-time candidate. He ran for a local position in New Jersey in 2005.

PHOTO: File photo of Pete Peterson via Associated Press.

April 23, 2013
AM Alert: Gov. Jerry Brown addresses crime victims at Capitol

CaliforniaPrisonsRealignment.jpg

Crime and punishment is in the spotlight today. Against a backdrop of lawmakers seeking to limit the scope of prison realignment and Gov. Jerry Brown insisting California's prisons now pass constitutional muster, the relatives of crime victims are rallying in Sacramento.

The event is organized by the organization Crime Victims United, honoring National Crime Victims Rights Week. They'll be setting up booths and holding a press conference on the west steps of the State Capitol building this morning. Brown, who has challenged federal rulings holding that California's prisons still do not pass constitutional muster, is set to deliver a keynote address around 12:15 p.m.

Several realignment-related bills, governing things like parole and crimes that would carry a state prison sentence, are also going before the Senate Public Safety Committee, which convenes for a hearing at 9 a.m. in room 3191, and the Assembly Public Safety Committee in (room 126, 9 a.m.).

Topping it off will be a public hearing on the repercussions of realignment in Sacramento County featuring Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully, and Sacramento County Supervisors Susan Peters and Roberta MacGlashan. At the Carmichael Clubhouse from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

OBAMACARE INCOMING: The board of Covered California, the fledgling health insurance exchange the state is setting up per the Affordable Care Act, is holding a meeting at the Secretary of State Office Auditorium on 11th street.

VETERANS SERVICES The Little Hoover Commission is conducting a hearing today on the state of veteran's services in California. 9:30 a.m. at the Employment Development Department Auditorium, 722 Capitol Mall.

A few other bills of note on the agenda at today:

TICKET TACTICS: We brought you news earlier of a ticket tussle pitting Ticketmaster against StubHub, with the two ticket titans vying over the rules that govern resale. Assembly Bill 329 goes before the Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism, and Internet Media Committee today.

DRUGGED DRIVING: You may also recall a bill by Sen. Lou Correa that seeks to establish a zero-tolerance policy for anyone caught driving with a detectable amount of drugs in their system. Senate Bill 289 goes before the Public Safety Committee committee today.

PRESCRIPTION PROMPTS: The California Medical Association has sponsored a bill, carried by Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, that would block pharmacists from recommending their patients switch drugs because of financial incentives to make the swap. Assembly Bill 670 bill goes before the Business, Professions and Consumer Protection committee today.

Happy birthday to Assemblywoman Norma Torres, D-Pomona, who is 48 today.

PHOTO CREDIT: Sacramento County Deputy Sheriff Chris Carroll opens a cell at a formerly closed housing unit at the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center, in Elk Grove, California. Sept. 27, 2011, by Rich Pedroncelli/AP Photo.

April 22, 2013
Bill Lockyer cuts deal over bond agencies' conflict issue

RP BILL LOCKYER 4.JPGState Treasurer Bill Lockyer has reached agreement with two municipal finance agencies he says were operating with clear conflicts of interest.

The California Statewide Communities Development Authority and the California Municipal Finance Authority are joint powers authorities that serve as "conduit financiers" between hundreds of local public agencies and investors. The JPAs make project decisions based on recommendations from private companies that serve as their staff.

The problem, Lockyer has asserted, is that because the companies are paid based on the tax-exempt bonds they issue, they have an inherent conflict of interest.

A state audit last year, which Lockyer requested, said the practice "raises concerns."

Lockyer had sponsored Assembly Bill 1059 to tighten conflict of interest rules, but agreed to drop it Monday in exchange for concessions from the two JPAs. The JPAs will have to hire executive directors - paid a fixed amount - to make recommendations. And the groups will have to competitively bid and contracts for outside project advisers.

In a statement, Lockyer said the deal components represent "major steps forward."

PHOTO CREDIT: Bill Lockyer in 2012. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

April 22, 2013
California Senate approves bill to close loophole in rape law

HA_noreen_evans.JPGThe California state Senate moved today to change what has been called "historical anomalies in the law" that led a rape conviction to be overturned in Southern California.

Senate Bill 59, by Democratic Sen. Noreen Evans, was introduced in response to the Los Angeles-based 2nd District Court of Appeal's decision to throw out the conviction of a man who was accused of raping a woman while she was asleep in bed. The court's ruling was based on defendant Julio Morales' claim that the victim was awake and could have been under the impression that he was her boyfriend. Current law, the court said, provides protections for victims raped by someone impersonating their spouse, but not other sexual partners.

"Justice should not be conditioned on a person's marital status or sexual orientation," Evans said in introducing the bill on the floor.

Republican Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian is carrying a second bill on the same issue. The San Luis Obispo Republican authored similar legislation in 2011 that failed to clear the Senate Public Safety Committee.

Evans' version passed the Senate on a bipartisan 37-0 vote. Senate GOP leader Bob Huff spoke in support of the measure. He raised questions about a Public Safety Committee policy to hold bills that could cause the prison population to rise.

The bill, which requires a two-thirds vote so it can take effect immediately, now heads to the Assembly for consideration.

RELATED POSTS:

Legislators vow to shut legal loophole in Los Angeles rape case

PHOTO CREDIT: Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, in a 2009 file photo. Hector Amezcua, Sacramento Bee.

April 22, 2013
AM Alert: California lawmakers celebrate Earth Day

SURF.PNGHappy Earth Day! The annual celebration of all things nature may have lost some of its luster since its debut back in 1970, but it still gets attention in environmentally conscious California.

Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, and former Gov. Jerry Brown adviser Michael Picker, now with SMUD, are using the occasion to showcase programs reducing energy consumption at the Capitol building and the Legislative Office Building, including heating and cooling upgrades and the installation of 1,500 LED lights. The event starts at 10:30 a.m. in the Capitol's room 317. Skinner will also be installing a new, more energy-efficient LED light in the Assembly chambers.

VIDEO INTERLUDE: Members of the Assembly "Surf Caucus" -- that would be Democrats Das Williams , Ian Calderon, and Al Muratsuchi (pictured above) -- surf, talk about surfing, and encourage Californians to participate in Earth Day festivities, all to soothing music. Paid for by the Assembly.

SCOPE OF PRACTICE: We've been chronicling how, with the Affordable Care Act poised to produce a surge of newly-insured patients, medical professionals are scrambling for a slice of the pie. A trio of scope-of-practice bills that would expand the professional spheres of nurse practitioners, optometrists and pharmacists, respectively -- all sponsored by Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina -- go before the Business, Professions And Economic Development Committee today.

UNDOCUMENTED DRIVERS: Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, has been a vocal supporter of the push in Congress for an immigration overhaul. He has sponsored a bill that revives the debate over giving driver's licenses to undocumented workers. Assembly Bill 60 goes before the Assembly Transportation Committee today at 1 p.m. in room 4202.

WORKING SOCIAL: It's lobby day for the California chapter of the National Association of Social Workers. That includes an 11 a.m. rally on the north steps, expected to include Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Davis, and Assemblywoman Susan Eggman, D-Stockton, -- both licensed social workers -- as well as Assembly members Richard Gordon, D-Menlo Park, Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles, Alejo, Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, and Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, and Sens. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, and Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara.

Social work students will fan out across the Capitol to make the case for AB 252, which concerns social worker credentialing, SB 61, which limits the use of solitary confinement with juveniles, and AB 663, which concerns residential care facility administrators.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, who is 58 today.

PHOTO CREDIT: Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance, appears in a video celebrating Earth Day Screenshot from a video produced by the California Assembly.

April 19, 2013
California senator continues push to strip Boy Scout tax status

20130311_HA_LEGISLATORS1424.JPGThe Boy Scouts of America's announcement that it is proposing to lift a ban on gay youth scouts hasn't persuaded a California state senator to drop his bid to repeal the organization's nonprofit tax status in the state.

Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, has introduced legislation to repeal the state tax-exempt status of any youth organization that discriminates based on gender identity, sexual orientation or religious affiliation. The proposal, Senate Bill 323, cleared its first Senate Committee last week.

Lara said in a statement that while he is encouraged that the group is "working to put an end to their discriminatory practices of excluding LGBT youth," the proposed change announced today, which does not include gay scout leaders or adults, "falls short from implementing a truly inclusive policy."

April 19, 2013
Poll: What should Darrell Steinberg's next job be?

LS KJ AIRPORT 2.JPGSenate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg is weighing what to do once his final term in the state Senate comes to an end in 2014. Let us know what you think the Sacramento Democrat's next job should be in this poll:


PHOTO CREDIT California state Sen. Darrell Steinberg, left, and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson speak to the press at the Sacramento International Airport, Thursday, April 4, 2013, after returning home from a meeting with the NBA in New York about the possible relocation of the Sacramento Kings to Seattle.: The Sacramento Bee/Lezlie Sterling

April 19, 2013
Senator calls on CPUC president to testify at budget hearing

HA_michael_peevey253.JPGThe California Legislature's ongoing public battle with the state agency that regulates oil and gas pipelines continued to escalate this week, with one senator asking CPUC President Michael Peevey to "justify your continued appointment" in front of a Senate subcommittee next week.

The request came one day after another budget subcommittee held a public hearing on a report detailing a perception among employees that the California Public Utilities Commission does not prioritize safety and is too cozy with the utility companies it regulates.

The letter, sent Thursday by Democratic state Sen. Jerry Hill, also notes other reports raising concerns about the agency's commitment to safety conducted in the wake of the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion.

"For all of the shortcomings under your leadership at the CPUC over the last ten years as documented by independent reports, it's critical that you testify before the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Subcommittee hearing next week to justify your continued appointment as president of the California Public Utilities Commission," Hill, who represents San Bruno and is a vocal critic of CPUC leadership, wrote in the letter.

A CPUC spokesperson has not responded to The Bee's inquiry about whether Peevey plans to attend the April 25 hearing.

Peevey, who is married to Democratic state Sen. Carol Liu of La Cañada Flintridge, was first appointed to the commission by then-Gov. Gray Davis in 2002. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed him to another six-year term in 2008.

Gov. Jerry Brown's office released the following statement via email in response to a request for comment from The Bee: "Commissioner Peevey's term is up on January 1, 2015. If something changes before then, we'll let you know."

PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Peevey of the California Public Utilities Commission waits to speak to Senate Rules Committee members as they consider his confirmation in December 2009 as his wife, state Sen. Carol Liu, sits behind him. Hector Amezcua / Sacramento Bee file, 2009

04-18-13 - Letter to Peevey

April 19, 2013
District Attorney Darrell Steinberg? Senator 'may look at it'

SteinbergCalifornia Budget.jpgWith less than 20 months left in Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg's final term in the state Legislature, political circles are buzzing with speculation about what the Sacramento Democrat will do next.

One of the latest theories is that the former assemblyman and city councilman will seek a return to local office by running for Sacramento County district attorney when he is termed out of the state Senate in 2014. Longtime District Attorney Jan Scully announced earlier this year that she will step down at the end of her current term, creating an opening in the office,.

Steinberg, an attorney, hasn't ruled out a run for that seat, but says he's keeping his options open for now.

"I'm at that point now where I'm beginning to look at what I might do next in life, and hopefully I'm going to have all kinds of options," he said Thursday. "A few people are talking about that and I may look at it. I may look at it, but I'm not close to making any decisions."

Other possibilities floated by political insiders include future runs for mayor or Congress, a judicial appointment or a return to private law practice.

Steinberg has plenty of political cash stored away to fuel whatever path he pursues. He had more than $1.4 million in two campaign accounts, including one opened for a 2018 lieutenant governor run, as of the end of last year.

PHOTO CREDIT: State Sen. President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, left, discusses the agreement reached with Gov. Jerry Brown to finalize California's budget, at a Capitol news conference in 2012. Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli)

April 19, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: Lawmakers and their 'feel-good' causes

Giving to charity may feel nice, but Dan says the inept administration of special license plate funds suggests that California lawmakers should spend less time making their constituents feel good and more time taking care of state business.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

April 19, 2013
AM Alert: California DMV wants input on rules for robot cars

20120925_zaf_m67_029.jpg.jpgYou might associate automated cars with futuristic movies starring a certain former California governor, but they're closer to becoming a reality. Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill to regulate the fledgling industry in September, and today the California Department of Motor Vehicles is seeking public input.

The DMV workshop will be the first of its kind, an opportunity for participants to weigh in and offer comments on what forthcoming regulations on driverless cars should contain. Starting at 10 a.m. in the Department of General Services auditorium, located at 707 Third Street in West Sacramento.

VIDEO: Lawmakers should spend a little less time brainstorming Tax Day perks for their constituents and a little more time on state business, Dan Walters says.

April 18, 2013
For Mike Rossi, it isn't easy finding Beijing's Duck de Chine

rossi.JPGOne remarkable thing about Gov. Jerry Brown's trip to China this past week is that, for a governor who can be difficult to keep organized and on schedule, it was largely a logistical success.

That is with one minor exception: getting Mike Rossi to dinner at Duck de Chine.

One night last week, Brown was dining at the Beijing restaurant when a text went out that he was looking for Rossi, his unpaid senior jobs adviser.

Rossi - "My man, Rossi," occasionally, in the governor's vernacular - was miles across town, his six-foot-two, 210-pound frame sandwiched between two reporters in the back seat of a cab. A mix-up had sent Rossi and several other members of Brown's trade mission in a bus from the U.S. embassy to the wrong restaurant, a second, considerably less famous Duck de Chine.

Back at the hotel, Rossi's deputy, Brook Taylor, thought they still could catch up to Brown.

"It's 10 after 8, it takes 20 minutes to get there," Taylor said. "Yeah, we should go."

Rossi ordered a car, and he and Taylor piled in. Twenty minutes later, the scenery began to look familiar and they pulled out a map. The driver glanced at it and nodded confidently, though the map was upside down.

Once more, Rossi had been delivered to the same, wrong Duck de Chine. The driver's cell phone rang, emitting an otherworldly sound, and the 69-year-old former bank executive started laughing.

He said, "You can't get upset about these things."

PHOTO CREDIT: Mike Rossi, Gov. Jerry Brown's senior jobs adviser, rides a delegate bus in Beijing as Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, looks on. David Siders / Sacramento Bee

April 18, 2013
CA lawmakers OK funds to take guns from prohibited owners

RB_Gunshops.JPGA day after Congress rejected a package of bills aimed at tightening restrictions on gun ownership, California lawmakers moved in the opposite direction, increasing funds for a program that confiscates weapons from people who are prohibited from owning them because of mental illness or violent criminal pasts.

The state Assembly voted 57-10 to approve Senate Bill 140, which devotes $24 million to the state Department of Justice for its Armed Prohibited Persons Program. The program compares databases of gun buyers to others listing people who have committed crimes that make them ineligible to own guns. Law enforcement agents then go to the homes of people on both lists and confiscate their weapons.

April 18, 2013
Auditor: CA special license plate money not collected, misspent

BB TERROR PLATE 0009.JPGCalifornia's state auditor has found shortcomings in management and oversight of special license plate programs meant to provide funding for causes like Lake Tahoe, anti-terrorism efforts and state parks.

The report, released today, found that the state has failed to collect more than $22 million in revenue that should be generated by the special plate holders in the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 fiscal years. In some cases, agencies appeared to spend the money they did receive on "unallowable or unsupported" expenditures.

California motorists can elect to order special plates benefiting one of 11 causes. Revenue from the sales go to state-run accounts like the Yosemite Fund.

But that hasn't always happened, for instance, with a fund intended to "fight threats of terrorism in the Golden State." The audit found cases where revenue collected for that fund as well as money meant to benefit environmental programs was not used for the designated purposes.

Fixing the problems, the Department of Motor Vehicles responded, may require such a costly computer upgrade that the program may not be financially viable.

April 18, 2013
UC admits more out-of-state students

MC_CHINESE_UCDAVIS_01.JPGUniversity of California campuses admitted a record high number of students for this fall, data released today show, including fewer in-state residents than last year and more students from other states and countries.

Across campuses statewide, UC admitted 82,850 students for fall enrollment as freshmen, amounting to an acceptance rate of 59.2 percent. Although UC admitted more students than it did last year, it also received more applications, so the statewide acceptance rate was down, meaning a smaller portion of those who applied have been invited to attend. The admissions include 1,354 fewer California residents than last year and 3,915 more non-Californians.

"California students continued to make up the lion's share of admitted students - 60,089. The overall number of admitted state residents varied slightly by campus -- some increased, a few decreased, and others stayed the same," says a statement from UC's Office of the President.

"The slight decline in the number and proportion of admitted students who are Californians reflects the fallout from years of severe budget cuts to UC, which has enrolled thousands of California students for whom it received no state funding."

April 18, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: Jerry Brown keeping questionable company?

Dan notes that the Pulitzer committee honored a New York Times story on the excesses of Chinese officials just as Gov. Jerry Brown was concluding his China trip, casting a shadow on Brown's praise for Chinese officials.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

April 18, 2013
AM Alert: Lawmakers tell Gov. Brown to get back to work

ChinaUSCalifornia.jpg

Nothing like returning from travel abroad to a reminder of the deadlines that drew closer while you were gone. With Gov. Jerry Brown returning from his business-bolstering voyage to China, the leaders of health committees from both houses will be pushing him today to move on expanding Medi-Cal.

Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, and Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, are holding a press conference this morning urging the governor to move quickly on enlarging California's Medi-Cal rolls (the federal health care law ensures that, for the first few years, the federal government picks up the tab for the expansion). They will be joined by Laphonza Butler, president of SEIU California, and Anthony Wright of Health Access California. 11 a.m. in room 317.

VIDEO: Brown seemed impressed by the speed with which the Chinese government is able to tackle some projects. Dan Walters says that praise is probably misplaced.

LABOR LAWS: Members of the California Society for Human Resource Management will be at the Capitol today promoting a pair of bills, SB 607 and AB 907, that would exempt employers from the requirement to pay overtime after eight hours of work in a day.

SHINE ON: The University of California Center Sacramento is hosting a talk today on the sun's role in climate change -- like most relationships, it's more complicated than you think. From noon to 1:30 at 1130 K Street, featuring Dan Lubin of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

EDUCATION VIEWS: The governor's plan to overhaul school funding has been pretty well dissected in the Legislature by now -- today the Public Policy Institute of California takes a look at how the constituents feel with a lunchtime talk examining Californians' perspectives on education. From noon to 1:30 p.m. in the basement of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament on 11th and K streets.

EDUCATION SUMMIT: Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, is also delving into education today with a conference at Fullerton College. From 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the Campus Theatre facility.

SAC STATE SENATORS: A couple of high-powered alums are attending a "Hornets Policy and Politics" event for former Sacramento State University students tonight. Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, and Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton will be hosting the get together -- Assemblywoman Susan Eggman, D-Stockton, who is not an alum but taught at Sac State, will also be there. Starting at 5:30 p.m. at Cafeteria 15L.

JOB MOVE: Former assemblyman, state senator and California Community Colleges chancellor Jack Scott has been appointed to the California Student Aid Commission.

Happy birthday to Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, who is 66 today.

PHOTO CREDIT: "They're doing what in Sacramento without me?" April 16, 2013 by Vincent Yu/The Associated Press.

April 17, 2013
Brown's school funding plan gets thumbs up in statewide poll

jbbudget.jpgKey elements of Gov. Jerry Brown's school-funding proposal are getting passing grades from Californians, a new statewide poll shows.

Brown's push to eliminate most state-driven earmarks and to direct more money to districts with impoverished students was supported by more than two of every three adults surveyed, according to the Public Policy Institute of California poll.

The nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank polled 1,705 adults on weekend days and weekday nights from April 2-9 on landlines and cellphones.

Brown's goal of giving school districts more spending flexibility by eliminating most state education earmarks -- funding restricted to specific programs -- was supported by 78 percent of adults surveyed.

Support dropped only slightly, to 71 percent, when pollsters asked about the governor's plan to direct more funding to districts with large numbers of impoverished students and English learners.

April 17, 2013
CA Legislature kills bill to shield identities of armed teachers

20130311_HA_TIM_DONNELLY.JPGA bill pushed by Assemblyman Tim Donnelly to train and shield armed "school marshals" failed to make it out of the Assembly Education Committee today after a 5-1 vote.

Assembly Bill 202 would exempt from public disclosure information on school employees authorized by a superintendent to carry a concealed weapon on campus. Under current law, the California Public Records Act requires disclosure of concealed weapon permit holders.

"It is disappointing at best that the committee members chose to lend their ears to anti-gun hysteria, rather than truly work to protect our kids and teachers," Donnelly said in a statement.

April 17, 2013
California senator proposes $2-a-pack increase in cigarette tax

Troubled Vernon.jpgA California state lawmaker is proposing a new $2-a-pack increase in cigarette taxes to pay for health-care programs.

Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, has amended his Senate Bill 768 to serve as the vehicle for the tax hike.

The estimated $1.2 billion in annual revenues from the increase would go to yet-to-be-specified health programs and causes, including promoting access to care and tobacco-related health services.

"The underlying direction will be absolutely on extending health care access," said Greg Hayes, de León's communications director.

The bill, which will be in print Thursday, is backed by a coalition that includes longtime proponents of increasing cigarette taxes, such as the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association and the American Cancer Society, as well as Service Employees International Union and the advocacy group Health Access California, Hayes said.

Anti-smoking advocates have struggled to persuade lawmakers and voters to raise California's 87-cent cigarette tax, even as per-pack tax rates have risen in states across the nation. By a narrow margin, voters rejected a ballot measure in June 2012 that would have enacted a $1-a-pack hike for cancer research and other programs. Efforts in the Legislature have repeatedly fallen short of the two-thirds vote needed to win approval.

Hayes said the senator hopes that Democrats' supermajority control in both houses -- as well as growing concern that smoking-related medical costs are adding to what he called the state's "institutional debt" -- will lead to a different outcome this year.

"It's not going to be a small challenge, but right now this body is one of the reasons that we face deficits," Hayes said. "It's because we are completely upside down in health care costs related to tobacco."

PHOTO CREDIT: State Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, speaks on the Senate floor on Aug. 29, 2011. Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press file, 2011

April 17, 2013
Feinstein vows to keep fighting for ban on assault weapons

Feinstein_022713.jpgBy Curtis Tate
ctate@mcclatchydc.com

WASHINGTON -- A ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines fell well short of the votes needed to pass the Senate Wednesday, but Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., vowed to continue her long fight for such legislation.

"I'm disappointed by today's vote, but I always knew this was an uphill battle," Feinstein said in a statement after her amendment garnered only 40 votes. "I believe the American people are far ahead of their elected officials on this issue, and I will continue to fight for a renewed ban on assault weapons."

Feinstein's amendment was part of a series of gun-related provisions the Senate considered Wednesday. But as victims of recent mass shootings and their family members watched from the visitors gallery, all seven amendments failed to get the 60 votes needed for approval, including a carefully crafted compromise on background checks for gun shows and online sales, as well as a crackdown on gun trafficking.

Before the vote on Feinstein's assault weapons ban, she stood and implored her colleagues to "show some guts."

But her amendment drew support from only one Republican, Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois. Fifteen of Feinstein's fellow Democrats voted against it.

In a speech Wednesday morning on the Senate floor, Feinstein all but conceded that her effort, spurred by December's mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six adults were killed, would not succeed.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photos of Sandy Hook Elementary School victims are displayed behind Sen. Dianne Feinstein as she speaks Feb. 27 about her proposal to ban assault weapons. Susan Walsh / Associated Press file

April 17, 2013
Feinstein concedes likely failure of assault weapon ban

Gun_Control_Feinstein.jpgBy Curtis Tate
ctate@mcclatchydc.com

WASHINGTON -- In a speech to a mostly empty Senate chamber, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., all but conceded Wednesday that her long push to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines would not succeed.

The Senate was to vote Wednesday on a series of amendments to a broader gun bill spurred by December's mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six adults were killed.

"Not every issue we vote on in the Senate is a life or death matter -- I believe this is," Feinstein said. "I urge my colleagues to stand tall and support this amendment."

But few senators were present during Feinstein's 30-minute speech. One was Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a North Dakota Democrat who was presiding over the empty chamber. She opposed Feinstein's amendment.

Other amendments, including a measure to expand criminal background checks to gun shows and Internet sales, were also expected to fail, as was an effort by gun-rights supporters to require states to respect concealed-carry gun permits issued by other states.

Feinstein, who led a successful push for an assault weapons ban nearly 20 years ago, said that if the Senate didn't act, states would, creating a patchwork of laws.

"If this bill goes, down, I believe states will pass other legislation," she said. "It is only a question of time."

PHOTO CREDIT: This video frame grab provided by Senate Television shows Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., as she speaks about gun legislation, Wednesday, April 17, 2013, on the floor of the Senate in Washington. (AP Photo/ Senate Television)

April 17, 2013
Bill to bar apartment smoking goes down in flames at Capitol

marclevine.jpgLegislation to bar millions of Californians from smoking inside their own homes was rejected today by an Assembly committee.

Assembly Bill 746 would have made California the first state to venture into personal bedrooms and living rooms with smoking restrictions. It targeted condominiums, duplexes and apartments.

Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, proposed the measure to ensure that people who live in structures that share walls, ceilings, floors or ventilation systems with neighboring units are not subject to second-hand smoke.

The bill was rejected 5-2 by the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee today despite several amendments, including one that would have delayed fines from being issued until January 2015.

Voting no were Democrats Norma Torres, Toni Atkins and Cheryl R. Brown and Republicans Beth Gaines and Brian Maienschein, according to Levine's office, and Democrats Ed Chau and Kevin Mullin voted yes.

April 17, 2013
Controversial animal cruelty bill killed before Assembly hearing

LS PUPPY STORE 3(2).JPGA controversial animal cruelty bill was killed today, just hours before it was scheduled to be heard by the Assembly Committee on Agriculture.

Assembly Bill 343 by Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, would have required any person who willfully or knowingly documents animal cruelty to provide a copy of the evidence to law enforcement within 120 hours.

The proposed legislation, however, was seen as an attempt to make it harder for animal welfare advocates to investigate abuses in undercover food safety cases.

"My intention with this bill was - and remains to be - the prevention of animal cruelty," Patterson said in a statement. "The Chair of the Agriculture Committee, myself and the California Cattlemen's Association have agreed to hold a hearing in the future to discuss how we can move forward our goals of a safe food supply, strong agricultural industry and the humane treatment of livestock."

"We appreciate Mr. Patterson avoiding the glare of a hearing where a lot of concerns would have been voiced from a wide range of stakeholders," said the Humane Society's Jennifer Fearing. "Our biggest concern was that it seemed clearly aimed at stifling the documentation of animal cruelty and not stopping animal cruelty itself."

April 17, 2013
LA County porn condom law brings production to near halt

AHF REP Isadore Hall Condom Law Press Conference.jpgApplications for permits to film pornographic films and videos "have all but ceased in Los Angeles County" due to a new ordinance requiring porn actors to wear condoms, the Los Angles Daily News reports.

The Daily News article bolsters opposition to a current bill in the state Legislature that would make the condom requirement a statewide law.

Assemblyman Isadore Hall, D-Compton, is carrying Assembly Bill 332, which is patterned after the Los Angeles County ordinance approved by voters last year, and like the local law, is backed by anti-AIDS and public health groups.

"This is a workforce safety bill," Hall told an Assembly committee prior to its 5-1 vote for it. "We have to protect our workforce."

The Daily News covers the San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles, where porn production is a major industry and where local boosters are worried that production will move to other counties due to the ordinance. They and the industry also have told legislators that a state condom law would push production to other states.

The Daily News said Film LA, a non-profit organization that processes film and video permits, has received only two applications for porn shoots this year. In the past, about 500 such permits have been sought each year.

The newspaper quotes Diane Duke, who heads the Free Speech Coalition, a porn trade group, that "most production companies have ceased shooting in LA County." Meanwhile,it says, city officials in Camarillo, which is just across the county line in Ventura County, have been bombarded with inquiries from porn producers - so many that the city council has imposed a 45-day moratorium on porn production while it decides what to do about the situation.

PHOTO CREDIT: Assemblymember Isadore Hall, III, right, speaks while Michael Weinstein, President, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, looks during a press conference hosted by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation to introduce AB 332, a statewide law requiring condom use by adult film performers. (Bret Hartman / AP Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation).

April 17, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: How much has changed with death penalty?

Very few death row inmates have been executed in California in the past 35 years, Dan says, calling into question whether much has really changed since the state reinstated the death penalty in 1978.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

April 17, 2013
AM Alert: Autism awareness day comes to California Capitol

HA_AUTISM_MASK.JPGThe avalanche of advocacy days continues today with "Stand Up, Speak Out," a push for policies that affect disabled and autistic Californians.

Things kick off with an 11 a.m. press conference on the Capitol's west steps featuring autism and special needs advocates alongside Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana and Sen. Curren Price, D-Los Angeles.

VIDEO: Given how few inmates have been executed in California, Dan Walters wonders whether reinstating the death penalty has really altered the status quo.

GAY THERAPY: The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco is hearing arguments in a case challenging Senate Bill 1172, a 2012 measure that prohibits counseling aimed at "curing" minors of their homosexual urges.

April 16, 2013
Villaraigosa drops Romney's name, wants 'friends to be bolder'

Villaraigosa_Press_Club.jpgWhen it came to fielding a question Tuesday on whether he's going to endorse someone to succeed him as Los Angeles mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa dropped a name that surprised many attending his lunch address at the Sacramento Press Club.

It wasn't Eric Garcetti or Wendy Greuel.

"You know, I said this to Mitt Romney yesterday on the telephone and I actually said it to him a couple months ago at a dinner right after the election, I have a lot of respect for people who are willing to put their name on the ballot, run for president of the United States, in this case run for mayor, so I hold both individuals in high regard."

Reporters in the room were abuzz -- and atwitter -- with speculation about why Villaraigosa has been dining and talking with last year's GOP nominee.

The Los Angeles Democrat -- a Democratic National Convention chairman and President Barack Obama campaign surrogate rumored on the short list for an administration appointment -- didn't give much more detail after his speech, except that he had previously met the former Massachusetts governor at a dinner with a guest list of mostly Republican leaders.

"You know, I have a couple of Republican friends who kind of think that I'm challenging my friends from time to time, and they like it," said Villaraigosa.

Villaraigosa didn't shy from challenging his friends during his remarks Tuesday, urging fellow Democrats in the California Legislature to get behind the education policies he supports that are largely opposed by powerful teachers' unions.

"I want to work the Democrats and Republicans alike," he said. "President Obama, Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton, anybody who wants to move our country, our state, our cities to a better place."

And, for the record, Villaraigosa isn't endorsing Garcetti or Greuel -- the two Democrats competing in next month's runoff election -- for now.

"I did, after all, encourage my friends to be bolder and to speak out on the issue of education reform," Villaraigosa said. "And I'd like to see them swing to the fences."

PHOTO CREDIT: Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa speaks before the Sacramento Press Club, in Sacramento on Tuesday, April 16, 2013. (AP Photo/ Rich Pedroncelli).

April 16, 2013
Lawmakers to probe CA utilities regulator's safety commitment

Pipeline Explosion NTSB.jpgState lawmakers are poised to blast the California Public Utilities Commission on Wednesday in light of a scathing report that questions the agency's commitment to safety.

The report, completed for the PUC by the Folsom-based Business Advantage Consulting, found that the commission's staff lack the leadership and tools needed to make safety a priority. Staff interviewed by the consultants detailed multiple issues stemming from what they called an "anti-safety" attitude held by the executive director, including "resistance to challenging utilities" and "resistance to leveling fines."

The 24-page report also blames a workplace culture that gives regulated industries too much "access to the PUC building, documents and personnel" for "sending the wrong message to both staff and regulated industries about accountability."

"The regulated industries and lobbyists come to the PUC and see how casual the attitude and culture is here," the report quotes one employee as saying. "As a result; they don't feel that they have to comply -- they are not worried. The message to them is that we are not paying attention."

April 16, 2013
CA Assembly committee OKs bill setting up statewide bail guide

hagman.JPGA bill establishing a statewide guide for bail amounts passed the Assembly Public Safety Committee on Tuesday with a bipartisan 6-0 vote.

Assembly Bill 1118 was introduced by Assemblyman Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills, who owns Apex Bail Bonds. The firm has three offices in Southern California.

Hagman said the bill is needed to address inequities in bail amounts set for the same crimes. He said bail on a felony charge of grand theft could range from $5,000 in Placer County to $50,000 in San Bernardino County.

"This disparity creates unequal protection under the law," Hagman said.

Hagman's bill would give counties the option of adopting the advisory statewide bail schedule. The bail bonds industry would benefit from counties with high bail adopting a schedule that is affordable to people seeking bonds.

AB 1118 would require the Judicial Council to prepare, adopt and annually revise a statewide bail schedule by 2015 for all bailable felony, misdemeanor and infraction offenses, except for vehicular code infractions.

The California District Attorneys Association opposes the bill, saying that prosecutors agree with current law, which lets superior court judges in each county set their own bail schedule.

PHOTO CREDIT: Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills, after a joint session in the Assembly chambers in Sacramento, Calif. on Monday, March 11, 2013. Hector Amezcua / The Sacramento Bee

April 16, 2013
Jerry Brown to comply with prison order if appeals fail

IMG_1636[1].JPGSHENZHEN, China - Gov. Jerry Brown said Tuesday his administration will prepare to release as many as 10,000 state prisoners if the state is unable to get out from under a court order demanding it reduce California's prison population.

Brown had said last week that he would not comply with the order "until the Supreme Court tells us that we're not on the right track," despite a federal court's threat to hold him and top prison officials in contempt of court.

"We certainly will appeal whatever we can appeal, and I think there is a lot of room there," the Democratic governor told reporters in Shenzhen, where he is concluding a week-long trade mission to China. "But at the same time, with the court threatening contempt at every level, when the Supreme Court gives these three judges the green light, then we have to do what they tell us, and we'll have a list of 9,000 or 10,000 of our finer inmates that will be ready for neighborhood visitations throughout California."

Brown said, "We're going to try to find the nicest of the nice, but I have to tell you, it's harder to get into prison now, there's not as many people hanging around."

A special, three-judge panel ordered the state in 2009 to reduce its prison population to improve health care conditions in the prison system, and U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton this month denied Brown's bid to move prison health care out from under federal control.

Brown has refused to decrease the prison population by the required 9,000 inmates to reach the court-ordered level.

PHOTO CREDIT: Gov. Jerry Brown tours the Shenzhen, China, headquarters of BYD Co., an electric car maker, on Tuesday, April 16, 2013.

April 16, 2013
Jerry Brown says environmental law overhaul unlikely for now

IMG_1628[1].JPGSHENZHEN, China - Gov. Jerry Brown acknowledged Tuesday he likely won't be able to overhaul California's signature environmental law in the current legislative session, citing overwhelming opposition from fellow Democrats.

The California Environmental Quality Act, Brown told reporters here, "is supported by some key groups within the Democratic Party, and I think it would be difficult for the Legislature to move that process forward."

Brown said he remains committed relaxing provisions of the law but that he has a large agenda, including the state budget, water infrastructure and high-speed rail. He said "the appetite for CEQA reform is much stronger outside the state Capitol than it is inside."

April 16, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: Liberals unhappy with Jerry Brown's agenda

While Gov. Jerry Brown was enjoying a warm reception in China, his agenda got the cold shoulder from the liberal faithful at the California Democratic Party convention in Sacramento. Dan wonders if the timing of the governor's trip was a coincidence.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

April 16, 2013
AM Alert: Doctors, pharmacists, labor, Latinos lobby Sacramento

STATUECOINS.JPGIt's a busy day for interest groups at the California Capitol today, with a few heavy hitters marshaling their allies and meeting with lawmakers. Here's a quick rundown:

LABOR GETS SAUCY: It's the second day of the California Labor Federation's "joint legislative conference." Today's planned events include an 11 a.m. rally on the north steps of the State Capitol, featuring giant vats of gravy symbolizing corporate tax breaks. Addressing the crowd will be Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, Board of Equalization member Betty Yee, Art Pulaski of the California Labor Federation, Yvonne Walker of SEIU Local 1000 and Willie L. Pelote Sr. of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Participants will fan out after to meet lawmakers and hand them jars of gravy.

DOCTORS DIAGNOSE SHORTAGE: The California Medical Association is hosting its "legislative leadership conference" at the Sheraton Grand, which will feature addresses from executive director of Covered California Peter Lee, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, California Republican Party chair Jim Brulte and former Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, whose Mercury Public Affairs has been retained by the California Medical Association.

April 15, 2013
Controversial bills to repeal fire fee pass Assembly committee

fire.JPGTwo Republican-backed measures to repeal a fire prevention fee levied on some rural California residents cleared an Assembly committee Monday.

Similar bills by Assemblymen Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga (Assembly Bill 124), and Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks (Assembly Bill 23), passed on bipartisan 5-2 votes in the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources, but their prospects are already being questioned.

Revenue from a fee must be spent to benefit those who pay it. Otherwise, it is considered a tax requiring a two-thirds vote. The fire fee was approved on a majority vote in 2011.

Morrell and Donnelly contend that the fee is actually a tax. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has sued the state on those grounds.

"Because this fee was approved in a budget trailer bill, it did not receive proper scrutiny by the Legislature during the committee process. ... The public was once again denied their right to weigh in on this important public policy change," Morrell said.

April 15, 2013
NFL players speak out against Perea's workers comp bill

FootballPlayers.JPG
Legislation that seeks to limit the ability of professional athletes in other states to file workers compensation claims in California is meeting push back from the National Football League Players Association, which held a press conference on the Capitol steps today denouncing Assembly Bill 1309.

"This bill is about trying to make a small group of people richer, at the expense of people who got hurt at work," DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, said during the event, as he was surrounded by former players including Reggie Williams, a linebacker for the Cincinnati Bengals, and Lorenzo Neal, a fullback for the San Diego Chargers.

The bill by Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno, pits players and other labor unions against team owners and league management. It is being pushed by the five professional sports leagues - football, basketball, baseball, hockey and soccer - and is the subject of heavy lobbying in the Capitol.

April 15, 2013
CA pushes to fine 'independent' campaign committee for supporting lawmaker

luis_alejo.jpgFor perhaps the first time, California's political watchdog agency is cracking down on an independent expenditure committee for illegally coordinating donations with a legislative candidate's campaign.

Joaquin Ross and an IE committee he helped run, Respondent Voters for a New California, have agreed to pay a $6,500 fine, according to the Fair Political Practices Commission, which will consider the settlement April 25.

Ross is the son of veteran Democratic political consultant Richie Ross, and the IE involved in the case was the recipient of funds raised by an official of the California Latino Legislative Caucus in hopes of boosting Latino candidates.

Ross did not immediately return a call for comment Monday and Gary Winuk, FPPC enforcement officer, said he could not discuss the case before FPPC action on it next week.

Independent expenditure committees are not bound by contribution limits that apply to donations made directly to candidates, but they are not allowed to coordinate campaign activities with the candidates they are supporting.

Capitol watchdogs have long suspected illegal coordination between IEs and candidates, but such accusations are hard to prove. The Ross case may be the first in which the agency has negotiated a fine over such a violation.

Ross acknowledged being the conduit for illegally spending $28,892 for three mass mailings in support of Luis Alejo during a primary election for an Assembly seat stretching from Santa Clara to Monterey counties.

Alejo, a Watsonville Democrat, beat two party challengers in the June 2010 primary for the open seat, and he won the general election by 25 percentage points.

April 15, 2013
Sen. Padilla pushes plastic bag ban, says business on board

bagspresser.JPGStores across California would need to ditch single-use plastic bags under legislation authored by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, that has drawn some interest from a key business lobby.

Dozens of municipalities have already adopted ordinances prohibiting stores from offering the bags, citing the environmental costs of proliferating plastic. Padilla said his bill would build on that process with a needed statewide standard.

"There's no such thing as a free lunch, and there's no such thing as a free bag," Padilla said at a Monday morning press conference on the steps of the State Capitol building.

And while the Legislature has fallen short in its attempts to institute a ban before, Padilla said his bill's prospects were brighter given "the business community that's coming around and seeing the wisdom in a statewide policy."

The California Grocers Association has not yet taken a formal position on the bill, but president and CEO Ronald Fong endorsed a statewide approach that would offer "consistency and predictability" both to consumers and to businesses trying to navigate a patchwork of varying county and city rules.

"We're looking for competitive fairness for retailers," Fong said at Monday's press conference. "Retailers don't want to be in a position where they need to abide by 70 to 85 different local ordinances."

April 15, 2013
Jerry Brown toasts delegates on last night in China

IMG_1624[1].JPGGUANGZHOU, China - On the final night of his trade mission to China, Gov. Jerry Brown walked into the Four Seasons Hotel Guangzhou, looked up 30 stories from an atrium on the 70th floor and said, "Wow, this must be expensive."

The businesspeople, campaign donors and friends accompanying Brown on the trip assembled over a lavish dinner of sushi and Australian beef sirloin in a hotel restaurant overlooking this humid city of more than 12 million people.

The Democratic governor offered a toast.

"To all you people who came on this trip not quite knowing what you were going to get, I think we've all seen more than we expected and maybe more than we deserve," he said.

Brown went on, "To all our California and Chinese friends, many years of prosperity and happiness and good fortune."

IMG_1619[1].JPGWine flowed throughout the evening, and the Bay Area Council, the business group helping organize the trade mission, gave Brown a likeness of himself in traditional garb.

Brown's office gave staff members California license plates that read, "DREAMER." They were signed by Brown and his wife, first lady Anne Gust Brown.

The event marked the end for most delegates of the week-long trade mission to China. Brown and his advisers are planning to make one more stop on Tuesday, in Shenzhen, before flying home later this week from Hong Kong.

PHOTO CREDIT: A California license plate Gov. Jerry Brown's office gave staff members on his trade mission to China (top) and a figure given to Brown by the Bay Area Council (bottom). David Siders / The Sacramento Bee

April 15, 2013
Brown administration signs carbon-reduction agreement in China

IMG_1574.JPGGUANGZHOU, China - In a cab ride this morning through the muggy streets of Guangzhou, Thomas Peterson, president and chief executive officer of the nonprofit Center for Climate Strategies, acknowledged skepticism in China about the friendly agreements government officials sign promising to combat climate change.

The country is the world's largest emitter of carbon dioxide, and while Gov. Jerry Brown is in the country promoting greenhouse gas reduction policies, pollution fills the skies. Brown and members of his trade mission took a cruise on Saturday down the Huangpu River in Shanghai, where an army of barges ferried coal down the river earlier in the day.

Yet good may come of an agreement signed today between California state officials and representatives of Guangdong, a South Chinese province of about 105 million people, said Peterson, whose group helped develop the accord. The non-binding agreement calls for cooperation in efforts to increase energy conservation, to expand the use of green energy and to promote carbon-reducing technologies, among other things.

April 15, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: Gov. Brown's prison pushback plan

History does not favor Gov. Jerry Brown winning his fight against federal rulings on California prisons, Dan says, but the governor may be making a savvy political move.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

April 15, 2013
AM Alert: California lawmakers target prescription drug abuse

RCB_20130311_MEDBOARD_0098.JPGThere has already been a fair amount of attention in Sacramento to prescription drug abuse -- earlier this year, grieving parents testified that the California Medical Board hasn't done enough to crack down on unscrupulous doctors who overprescribe. Today the Legislature is taking up bills to deal with the issue.

First comes an 11 a.m. press conference trumpeting Senate Bill 809, by Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, which would bolster a Department of Justice program that allows pharmacists and prescribers to better track prescription data and identify patterns of abuse. Attorney General Kamala Harris is sponsoring the bill and will be at the press conference, in room 3191 of the State Capitol, after which the bill will go before the Senate Committee on Business, Professions, and Economic Development.

The committee will also take up Senate Bill 62, by Sen. Curren Price, D-Los Angeles, which would require coroners to file a report with the state Medical Board if they uncover information linking a death to prescription drugs.

VIDEO: What do Gov. Jerry Brown and George Wallace, the segregation-era governor of Alabama, have in common? Dan Walters will tell you.

FOOTBALL INJURIES: DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the National Football League Players Association, and a special team of retired and active professional athletes are in town to lobby against Assembly Bill 1309, a bill that would exempt athletes who play for non-California teams from being covered by California's workers' compensation laws. They will be holding a press conference on the north steps at 1 p.m.

AMMO TAX: Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, is holding a press conference for a bill that would impose a 5-cents-a-bullet tax on ammunition sold in California and use the proceeds to fund school-based mental health programs. Dickinson will be urging passage of Assembly Bill 760 at an 11 a.m. event at the William Land Elementary School library.

FIRE FEE: Republicans are taking another shot at repealing a fire fee on rural residents after a bill by Sen. Ted Gaines, R-Rocklin, died in committee last week. This time measures by Assemblyman Mike Morrell (Assembly Bill 124) and Assemblyman Tim Donnelly (Assembly Bill 23) are scheduled to go before the Assembly Natural Resources Committee at 2 p.m. during its hearing this afternoon. Also on tap is Assembly Bill 468 by the committee's chairman, Democrat Wesley Chesbro, which would repeal the fire fee and impose a surcharge on commercial and residential insurance policies.

D.C. DELEGATION: Elected officials and business types from the Sacramento region are holding meetings in Washington, D.C. this week for a "Capitol-to-Capitol" program hosted by the Sacramento Metro Chamber.

PHOTO CREDIT: Bereaved families who lost a loved one to prescription drug overuse rallied on the steps of the Sacramento State Capitol after asking for the California Medical Board to be disbanded on March 11, 2013. By Renée C. Byer/The Sacramento Bee.

April 14, 2013
CA Democrats take aim at efforts to overhaul education, CEQA

RP RALLY TORLAKSON.JPGCalifornia Democrats took aim at efforts to overhaul the state's education system and environmental review laws, issuing sharp words and resolutions on both topics during the final day of the state party's convention in Sacramento.

Much of the fiery rhetoric during Sunday's general session was focused on StudentsFirst, the education policy advocacy group founded by Michelle Rhee, and Democrats for Education Reform, which has backing from former Democratic state Sen. Gloria Romero.

"They sound like good names, but let's be perfectly clear. These organizations are backed by moneyed interests, Republican operatives and out-of-state Wall Street billionaires dedicated to school privatization and trampling on teacher and worker rights," California Teachers Association President Dean Vogel told delegates Sunday. "And we're not going to stand for that."

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson criticized the same groups by name, saying they do not "lift a finger to prevent the cuts to education."

"In my book, you're not a reformer, you're not helping education and you're sure not much of a Democrat," he said.

April 14, 2013
Sutter Brown fills in for dad at California Democratic Convention

photo (39).JPGThe ongoing trade mission in China kept Gov. Jerry Brown and first lady Anne Gust Brown from attending this weekend's Caliornia Democratic Party convention in Sacramento, but California's first family didn't go completely unrepresented at the three-day event.

Sutter Brown, the Pembroke Welsh corgi that has been in the care of the Browns since soon after the 2010 election, made a scheduled appearance on a convention center terrance this morning for a photo opportunity with delegates and other attendees.

The set up was reminiscent of the photo lines erected for photo opportunities with high-profile fundraiser guests, with staff to keep the line moving and hold guests' bags during the shoot, a professional photographer and security on hand. These photos, however, were free for the more than 50 Sutter fans who filed through Sunday morning.

Many guests giddily gave Sutter scratches as the camera snapped. One woman asked if she could give him a hug.

Sutter seemed to be enjoying the attention, as well as the warmth of the blue fur-covered tablecloth serving as a backdrop for photos, though he wasn't as interested in striking a pose for the camera. His preferred position as the appearance came to an end was belly up.

Convention-goers seemed to understand Sutter's lazy Sunday attitude.

"I know you were working the convention last night," Andra Hoffman, a candidate for a Democratic Assembly seat in the San Fernando Valley, said as she gave Sutter a belly rub. "You're tired, too."

April 13, 2013
Environmentalist Tom Steyer calls for new oil tax in California

photo (38).JPGA wealthy environmentalist who has become an increasingly prominent force in California politics called on Democratic lawmakers today to use their supermajority powers to enact a new tax on oil pumped in the state.

Tom Steyer, the San Francisco billionaire who recently left his job as a hedge fund firm to focus on political and environmental activism, called the oil severance tax the one area of energy policy where California lags other states in the nation in a speech at the California Democratic Party convention Saturday.

"This isn't just a question of our taking a fair share from huge, hugely profitable oil companies," Steyer told delegates. "This is about doing the simple task - the walk and chew gum of government - to showing us that we can do the right thing for the citizens of California in opposition of some very, very big companies."

Previous attempts to set a tax on oil extracted in the state has failed to attract enough votes to win approval in the state Legislature. Steyer said the legislative supermajorities, which could allow Democrats to pass new taxes without GOP votes, and the potential that hydraulic fracking will lead to more oil production in the state make now the right time to act.

"We've missed a couple to chances over the last 150 years, but let's not miss another if we can afford it," he said.

Steyer has waged major battles over environmental policy on the ballot in recent years, spending $32 million in the November election on a successful attempt to change a corporate tax formula to raise revenue for green energy and conservation projects.

He declined to directly address whether he'll go to the ballot himself if the Legislature fails to act, saying he believes lawmakers will take action. He did, however, offer to provide any financial or other support needed to make the proposal a reality. That support could be key if lawmakers chose to put the issue in front of Californians to comply with Gov. Jerry Brown's pledge to put any new taxes up or a vote of the people.

April 13, 2013
Jerry Brown censored, lights up Shanghai skyline

IMG_1471.JPGSHANGHAI - Gov. Jerry Brown has enjoyed a relatively warm reception from Communist party officials while in China, but they also manage his exposure.

On Saturday, lights on the Citibank building in Shanghai lit up over the Huangpu River to "welcome Jerry & Anne Brown and California delegates to Shanghai."

The message required the approval of local publicity officials, and in the original script was one word to which they objected: governor.

For purposes of the massive Shanghai skyline, the governor and first lady of California would just be "Jerry & Anne Brown."

PHOTO CREDIT: A message welcoming Gov. Jerry Brown's trade mission to China lights up the Citibank building in Shanghai on Saturday, April 13, 2013. David Siders / Sacramento Bee

April 13, 2013
Pelosi says immigration farmworker deal reached

pelosi.jpgA House of Representatives working group has reached a deal on agricultural workers in the immigration bill it is crafting, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, said on Saturday morning.

Immigration has emerged as a key focus for Congress after the November elections, and much of the attention has focused on a Senate overhaul bill. But Pelosi, speaking at a press conference during the California Democratic Party convention in Sacramento, noted that a House group has also been at work on the issue. She said she received an early morning phone call on Saturday from Arturo Rodriguez, president of the United Farm Workers, saying an agreement had been reached on the part of the legislation dealing with farm workers.

The Senate immigration group reportedly reached a tentative pact on farm workers earlier this week. When asked whether the provision in the House bill was aligned with the Senate piece, Pelosi said only that "it satisfies Arturo." She added that she would like to see Congress pass an immigration bill by the August recess.

April 13, 2013
VIDEO: Democrats get hands dirty in support of child care

IMG_3476.jpgThe second day of the California Democratic Party's spring convention was barely underway when state Sen. Curren Price got his hands dirty in the name of politics.

"Oooh squishy," the Los Angeles Democrat quipped as green paint was rolled over his palm.

Price was one of at least half a dozen Democratic officials who made handprint signs today to show their support for efforts to provide increased access to affordable child care and universal preschool Saturday morning. The art booth was sponsored by a coalition that includes Service Employees International Union, which is reviving a push to allow child care providers to unionize.

Previous attempts to unionize child care workers in California have fallen short, including a 2011 bill vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown. Sen. Kevin de León, who authored similar legislation that was vetoed by former GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said he thinks this year's effort could have a chance to make it through.

"I think it's a strong possibility," he said. "If we can invest in our children then we can reap the benefits later on and create a quality workforce in California."

And as for the paint?

"It's fun to get messy," de León joked as he made a purple handprint.

PHOTO CREDIT: Sen. Curren Price gets his hand painted at The California Democratic Party convention in support of child care workers. The Sacramento Bee/Torey Van Oot

April 13, 2013
Betsy Butler will seek seat of termed out assemblyman

20120118_ha_state_of_state0463.JPGAfter a close loss last year, former Democratic Assemblywoman Betsy Butler announced she will seek the 62nd Assembly District seat of termed out Assemblyman Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, in 2014.

In a letter to friends and supporters, Butler said she moved back to her home in Marina del Rey after losing last year in the 50th Assembly District to Richard Bloom.

Butler is in Sacramento this weekend for the California Democratic Party convention.

Butler was elected to the 53rd Assembly District in 2010, but under 2011 redistricting, her district was chopped in thirds and she opted to run for re-election in the newly opened 50th Assembly District that includes Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Malibu and Beverly Hills. Bloom was Mayor of Santa Monica. Butler was backed by Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez.

The 62nd District Butler will run in includes Venice, Playa del Rey, El Segundo, Inglewood and Westchester. Butler said in her letter that she has lived in the 62nd District for more than two decades.

"It would be an honor to return to the Assembly to build on the work we did to create healthier, safer, more fair communities and give a voice to the unheard," Butler said in the letter. "...We fought for consumer rights, regulations for the dangerous practice of fracking and for safe working conditions for our farmworkers."

PHOTO CREDIT: Assemblywoman Betsy Butler, D-Marina del Rey listens to Gov. Jerry Brown, as he delivers his State of the State address in 2012. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

April 13, 2013
VIDEO: Jerry Brown meets Yao Ming, cruises Huangpu River

IMG_1453.JPGSHANGHAI - In a week in which Gov. Jerry Brown has demonstrated a significant degree of diplomatic acuity, it will likely not go down as an international incident.

On the other hand, the retired Chinese basketball player Yao Ming is a national icon, so it might have helped to know how injury prone Ming was before asking if he'd ever been hurt.

"Did you ever get injured?" Brown asked the former Houston Rockets standout before a dinner cruise on the Huangpu River on Saturday.

In fact, Ming said, injury was the reason he retired.

And no, it was not his knees, Ming said when Brown suggested basketball can be hard on them, but his ankle.

Ming, who owns a Napa Valley winery, met with Brown and posed for photographs before the governor and other members of his week-long trade mission to China left the dock.

Following the Brown-Ming injury exchange, Brown's wife, Anne Gust Brown, stepped in, a compliment coming.

"What do you do now to keep in shape?" she said.

When Ming said he isn't in shape, she replied, "You look in shape to me."

"OK," Ming said. "Thank you."

PHOTO CREDIT: Gov. Jerry Brown and retired Chinese basketball player Yao Ming meet in Shanghai on Saturday, April 13, 2013. David Siders / Sacramento Bee

April 13, 2013
Chinese newspapers cover 'brief but eloquent' Jerry Brown

IMG_1333.JPGSHANGHAI - Gov. Jerry Brown is making the papers in China.

On Saturday, the Shanghai Daily reported Brown made a "brief but eloquent speech" at the opening of a foreign trade office in Shanghai.

The state-run China Daily ran a story Thursday about the non-binding trade agreement Brown and Chinese commerce officials signed in Beijing, and on Friday the newspaper published a photograph of the meeting between Brown and the Chinese premier, Li Keqiang.

Just more than halfway through a week-long trade mission to China, Brown is scheduled to leave Shanghai on Sunday for Nanjing, before flying later in the day to Guangzhou, a southern Chinese city on the Pearl River.

The Democratic governor spent his last day in Shanghai meeting with Han Zheng, the local Communist party secretary, and joining members of the governor's trade mission on a Huangpu River cruise. Brown's meeting with Han included a discussion of acupuncture and harmony, while on the river he had more basic ideas in mind.

"Thank you very much," Brown said. "Now, nobody fall overboard, OK?"

PHOTO CREDIT: Photographers gather around Gov. Jerry Brown before he speaks at the opening of a trade office in Shanghai on Friday, April 12, 2013. David Siders / Sacramento Bee

April 12, 2013
California Democratic chairman's still brooding over broccoli

RP BURTON HAND.JPGCalifornia Democratic Party Chairman John Burton doesn't seem too concerned about the possibility that Republican Abel Maldonado will challenge Gov. Jerry Brown in 2014.

"I bet Jerry Brown's wetting his pants," Burton quipped at a reception to kick off the party's annual convention in Sacramento.

Maldonado, a former state legislator and farmer from Santa Maria who was appointed lieutenant governor by GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2010, recently filed paperwork to start raising money for a gubernatorial run. Some GOP strategists think Maldonado's candidacy could be key in helping the embattled California Republican Party woo Latino voters.

Burton's thoughts about the potential challenger, however, were limited to an incident involving some bad smelling broccoli.

April 12, 2013
Citizens United critic weighs run for California secretary of state

cressman.JPGThe field of possible contenders to succeed Debra Bowen as the state's chief elections officer is growing by the day.

Derek Cressman, an activist with the nonprofit Common Cause, told The Bee today he is "seriously considering" running for secretary of state in 2014, when Bowen will step down because of term limits.

Cressman said he is currently looking at whether he can fulfill existing commitments at the political watchdog group, which advocates for stricter campaign finance rules and increased transparency in politics, in time to launch a campaign for next year's election.

The Sacramento Democrat, a longtime critic of the role of money in politics, is currently leading a national effort to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision on campaign spending. He said his experience with Common Cause has prepared him to tackle problems with the state's campaign finance, voter and business filing system.

"Working over the last several years to improve California's voting systems and campaign finance issues, I have come to realize that the next secretary of state is going to be a really important job, probably more important than that job usually is, because there are a number of improvements that need to be made," Cressman said, adding he finds it "embarrassing for the home state of Silicon Valley to be so behind the times in the technology."

Democratic state Sens. Alex Padilla and Leland Yee have already announced plans to run, while several other Democrats have opened campaign committees to raise money for a possible 2014 campaign. Cressman, who ran for a spot on a proposed Sacramento Charter Commission that voters opted not to create last year, said he believes his role as an outsider will give him credibility with voters should he decide to run.

"California needs somebody who actually wants to be secretary of state, rather than using that office as a stepping stone for higher office or just a place to land after term limits," he said.

RELATED:
Padilla declares Secretary of State candidacy, will take on Yee
Democrat Leland Yee announces 2014 CA secretary of state bid

PHOTO CREDIT: Derek Cressman. Sacramento Bee file photo.

April 12, 2013
California state revenue up $254 million in March, officials say

RBBudget2.JPGSunny indeed - and not just the weather.

Spring is getting off to a good start in California's state budget, too, with general fund revenue for March exceeding Gov. Jerry Brown's budget forecast by $254 million, state finance officials announced Friday.

Year-to-date revenues are slightly $5 billion above the forecast of $59.645 billion, records show.

Employment and housing are helping to lead the way.

California's unemployment rate fell to 9.6 percent in February, its lowest level in more than four years, finance officials said.

Home prices in the state rose for the 12th consecutive month. The median price of an existing single-family home sold in February was $333,880, an increase of 24 percent over the past year, according to the California Association of Realtors.

PHOTO CREDIT: Gov. Jerry Brown explains his 2013-2014 budget proposal at a news conference in January. Randall Benton / Sacramento Bee file

April 12, 2013
VIDEO: For Jerry Brown in China, tourism kickoff is a party

IMG_1399.JPGSHANGHAI - If the strobe lights and house music did not make clear this was an unusual place for Gov. Jerry Brown, the host's introduction certainly did.

"It's not a press conference," he said Friday. "It's a party!"

In an auditorium at the Ritz Carlton in this city of more than 23 million people, Brown joined Caroline Beteta, president and chief executive officer of the tourism group Visit California, to announce a $1.6 million campaign to draw more Chinese tourists to the Golden State.

There were drawings for prizes, appeals to "shake" and "let's do it," and a countdown to a ceremonial launch that involved Brown, Beteta and a button on stage. The tourism group said it will promote California in online ads and on a dozen electronic billboards around Shanghai.

The 75-year-old governor, in China for a week-long trade mission, acknowledged the event was a "bit more glitzy than I'm used to," but he said, "it pales in comparison to the sparkle of California."

Earlier Friday, Chinese officials hosted Brown at a banquet at the government-owned WH Ming Hotel. Brown's hosts set up a massive, red banner in the banquet hall: "Welcome the delegation from California, USA headed by Governor Brown," and a march played as Brown walked to the podium to offer remarks.

Lighter music was playing as Brown left. He stopped for a moment to listen to the string trio.

PHOTO CREDIT: Gov. Jerry Brown participates in the announcement of a tourism campaign in China involving electronic billboards on Friday, April 12, 2013. David Siders / Sacramento Bee

April 12, 2013
Jerry Brown opens trade office, links family to Shanghai Communiqué

IMG_1348.JPGSHANGHAI - Presiding over the opening of a foreign trade office here Friday, Gov. Jerry Brown suggested his family participated in a far more significant event in the improvement of U.S.-China relations - or what the governor called "the Brown family's contribution to the Shanghai Communiqué."

"As we open and look to the future, it's well that we keep grounded in the past," Brown said. "And as I was sitting there looking at 2013, I couldn't help but think of 1972, when Richard Nixon signed the Shanghai Communiqué that broke the logjam and opened the doors of friendship between China and the United States."

Ten years before Nixon made his historic visit to China and signed the diplomatic paper, he ran unsuccessfully for governor of California.

"He was unsuccessful because my father beat him," Brown said, causing a roomful of Chinese and American businesspeople to burst into laughter. "But that was not the end of Richard Nixon. He decided to leave California and move to New York, where a few years later he became president. And then as president, he was the first American to break so many years of antagonism and going against so much of the political thinking in America at that time to sign the Shanghai Communiqué."

IMG_1357.JPGThe trade office's opening was a central event of Brown's week-long trade mission to China. The Democratic governor is seeking to lure Chinese investment into the Golden State. The privately-funded office is California's first official presence in China since the state closed its 12 trade offices amid controversy in 2003.

"I would like to think in just a small way," Brown said, "that we are continuing that history of breaking new ground, opening doors and recognizing that while different, China and America, we still have certain key elements in common."

PHOTO CREDIT: Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at an event celebrating the opening of a trade office in Shanghai on Friday, April 12, 2013. David Siders / Sacramento Bee

April 12, 2013
Jerry Brown defiant of contempt of court threat in prison case

IMG_1342.JPGSHANGHAI - Gov. Jerry Brown said Friday his administration will not comply with a federal court order rejecting his effort to avoid reducing California's prison population, pledging to litigate "until the Supreme Court tells us that we're not on the right track."

The Democratic governor, in China for a week-long trade mission, said he was unaware that a three-judge federal court on Thursday had threatened to hold him and top prison officials in contempt of court, though he appeared unfazed by the prospect.

"I'm sure the people in L.A. would like to see more prisoners out on the streets," Brown said. "See, we have two problems here: Some are saying there are too many people being let loose, and then we have the judges saying, not enough, we need another 10,000 out there. So somewhere we're going to find the golden mean, and I will do my best to make it work."

April 12, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: California's health-care boom

California's economy is dominated by health care, and Dan says the Affordable Care Act's imminent implementation will expand that domination.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

April 12, 2013
AM Alert: California Democratic Party throws itself a party

ha_dem_convent25170.JPGYou might have already gathered this from a certain buzz in the air around the Sacramento Convention Center and the Sheraton Grand Hotel, but delegates are arriving in Sacramento today from across the state for the California Democratic Party's annual convention.

The list of speakers for the weekend confab runs long. It includes Controller John Chiang, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Attorney General Kamala Harris, Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

Also on the agenda are Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Treasurer Bill Lockyer, Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, Democratic National Committee Vice-Chair Maria Elena Durazo, the California Labor Federation's Art Pulaski, California Teachers Association President Dean Vogel, Secretary of State Debra Bowen and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.

The schedule doesn't portend much drama, but it will include an election to determine the party's next secretary. The man now holding the post, first-term Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer of Los Angeles, is not seeking re-election.

Things kick off with a couple of shindigs tonight. The Pro Active Democrats are hosting a party, featuring DJ Quik, in the Sheraton's magnolia ballroom. Rep. Tony Cardenas, state Sen. Alex Padilla, and Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra are expected to attend. There will also be a "live from the blue carpet" party (get it?) honoring Newsom and his wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, at the Assembly Night Club on K Street, with DJ Spinderella of Salt-n-Pepa.

VIDEO: Dan Walters takes a look at the single largest chunk of California's economy -- a sector that he expects to keep growing.

April 11, 2013
Refilling that beer growler? California lawmaker has a plan

BeerGrowler.JPGBeer drinkers, take note: A California lawmaker wants to make it easier for beer enthusiasts to reuse "growlers" from one brewery when buying beer at another.

The glass and ceramic jugs have become a popular way to buy take-out beer from microbreweries. They typically come in half-gallons and are adorned with a brewery's logo.

When people finish the beer, they can bring them back for a refill. But current law, a legislative analysis says, only permits breweries to refill growlers from their own shop.

Enter Assembly Bill 647.

"The problem is that consumers would like to reuse their containers, not just at the original brewery but to use it to sample beers from many breweries," Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro said in a hearing this week on his bill.

The Arcata Democrat represents a huge swath of northern California that is home to many craft breweries. Among them: Lost Coast, Six Rivers, Anderson Valley, Bear Republic and Russian River, where beer lovers line up for hours at the annual release of the Pliny the Younger IPA.

Chesbro's bill would allow breweries to refill a growler from another brewery by covering the old logo with a sticker reflecting the new beer inside.

"This bill is good for the industry; it's good for our consumers," said Chris Walker, a lobbyist representing the California Craft Brewers Association.

The pleasure of cracking open a cold one appears to be a bipartisan issue: The bill cleared the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee on Wednesday on a unanimous vote.

And instead of the usual "aye" while voting, Republican Brian Jones of Santee said, "Cheers."

PHOTO CREDIT: A bottle, known among beer enthusiasts as a growler, is filled at the Swamp Head Brewery in Gainesville, Fla., on March 29, 2013. California lawmaker Wesley Chesbro wants to make it easier to reuse growlers from one microbrewery when buying beer at another. Brendan Farrington / Associated Press

April 11, 2013
For Jerry Brown in China, it's strictly business class

IMG_1288.JPGSHANGHAI - When Gov. Jerry Brown boarded a bullet train from Beijing to Shanghai on Thursday afternoon, it marked the second time in less than a week that the Southwest Airlines-flying governor rode in a class that wasn't coach.

Brown sat in business class, as he did on his United Airlines flight arriving Tuesday in Beijing.

For a governor who has long used his mode of travel to highlight his frugality (when governor before, he was riding in a Plymouth), the latest seat assignments have been a departure.

The 75-year-old, third-term governor visited reporters Thursday in their section of the train and offered an explanation.

"I need it," he said. "My back's been a little sore, guys."

The ticket class is of no consequence to California taxpayers. Fees paid by business delegates joining Brown on his week-long trade mission to China are covering Brown's travel costs.

PHOTO CREDIT: Gov. Jerry Brown speaks with reporters on the bullet train from Beijing to Shanghai on Thursday, April 11, 2013. David Siders / Sacramento Bee

April 11, 2013
Steinberg: Banning digital-map use for drivers takes law too far

California_Hands_Free.jpgCalifornia lawmakers may give motorists the green light to use a smartphone map while behind the wheel in light of a recent Fresno County court ruling.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said this week that a three-judge panel in Fresno County took California's traffic laws too far when it ruled that a man using his smartphone to check a map at a stoplight violated the state's bans on talking on the phone without a hands-free device or texting while driving.

"Knowing where you're going while driving is actually a good way to avoid having accidents, as opposed to 'Shoot! I missed my turnoff. I better swerve three lanes and try to catch it before I drive by,' " the Sacramento Democrat said. "If that requires some clean-up legislation, I'm sure we can accomplish that."

The court found that the use of a smartphone for other reasons than talking or texting qualifies as the type of driver distraction that is the "primary evil sought to be avoided" by the laws. While the ruling applies only in Fresno County, the opinion suggests that lawmakers change the law to clarify their intent if they believe digital map use is OK.

RELATED STORIES:
Court: Fresno motorist can't use hand-held map

PHOTO CREDIT: A driver wears a hands-free ear piece for a mobile phone while waiting in traffic at the Bay Bridge toll plaza in Oakland. Jeff Chiu / Associated Press file, 2008

April 11, 2013
Jerry Brown presses for high speed rail while riding Chinese train

IMG_1293.JPGSHANGHAI - Gov. Jerry Brown, who has made building a high-speed rail system a priority of his administration, arrived in Shanghai on the bullet train from Beijing on Thursday night, admiring the station as he alighted.

"Yeah, it's good," he said. "Look at all this space, the trains, people moving."

The Democratic governor and senior officials traveled more than 800 miles in about five hours on the train, part of China's rapidly expanding high-speed rail network. Brown told reporters en route that "we've got to step up the pace in California," where officials plan to begin construction on a $68 billion high-speed rail system this summer.

California High-Speed Rail Authority officials traveling with the governor met privately this week with potential Chinese investors in the rail project, including the Chinese Investment Corporation, a major sovereign wealth fund. Brown was accompanied on the train by representatives of Tangshan Railway Vehicle Co., a Chinese company that designs and builds train-sets in China.

"What they've done here is impressive," said Dan Richard, chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority board

The Chinese government has built more than 5,000 miles of high-speed rail track in just more than five years, vastly expanding China's transportation infrastructure.

April 11, 2013
Padilla declares Secretary of State candidacy, will take on Yee

Padilla.JPG

It's official: Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, formally announced his candidacy to be California's next secretary of state.

In a press release, Padilla emphasized boosting election turnout and called for tougher campaign finance laws. He also mentioned reducing a backlog in new business filings that has been hovering over the secretary of state's office.

"The strength of our democracy depends on the active involvement of all of our citizens," Padilla said. "Last November, more than 10 MILLION Californians did not vote. I'm running for Secretary of State to change that."

The announcement isn't a big surprise. The term-limited veteran legislator had already opened a committee seeking the office that current Secretary of State Debra Bowen will vacate at the end of her second term in 2014.

Padilla also has a campaign website up and running.

He will be vying with Sen. Leland Yee, a San Francisco Democrat who is also taking aim at the secretary of state gig. Yee got the jump on Padilla in terms of campaign launches, declaring his candidacy back in November. Yee struck a collegial tone in a Thursday morning press release.

"I welcome my colleague from Pacoima to the race for Secretary of State," Yee said. "I look forward to this campaign and discussing with Alex ways we can modernize the office of Secretary of State, improve our elections, and bring a more transparent government to California."

PHOTO CREDIT: Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, during a floor debate on Feb. 18, 2009. The Sacramento Bee/Brian Baer

Editor's note: An initial version of this post incorrectly spelled Pacoima.

April 11, 2013
VIDEO: Jerry Brown opens with Confucius, closes with eggs

IMG_1214.JPGBEIJING - Gov. Jerry Brown appeared to have put some thought into his big environmental speech at Tsinghua University in Beijing on Thursday, largely staying on point and book-ending his remarks with readings from the Chinese philosopher Confucius.

And then there was the encore.

Following a panel discussion at the Chinese university, Brown took the stage to offer closing remarks - Confucius out and eggs in.

"Anytime we make progress, we have to push opposition out of the way," Brown said. "So, what is the saying? 'You can't make an omelet unless you crack the egg.'"

The Democratic governor paused for just a moment and looked out at the audience.

"So that'll be my last statement," he said, before returning to his chair.

PHOTO CREDIT: Gov. Jerry Brown speaks about climate change at Tsinghua University in Beijing on Thursday. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

April 11, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: Legislators shredding Brown's school plan

While Gov. Jerry Brown tours China looking for business partners, lawmakers back in California have been taking apart his school finance plan, Dan says.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

April 11, 2013
AM Alert: Torlakson, Molly Munger talk at education conference

RCB_20110622_SALVATION_ARMY_0009.JPGEarly childhood education has gained some traction as a strategy for reducing schooling discrepancies -- President Barack Obama called for universal pre-K in his State of the Union speech this year -- and advocates are hosting a conference on the issue this week at the Sheraton Hotel in Sacramento.

Today is the second day of the symposium, co-hosted by the Advancement Project, Proposition 38 backer Molly Munger's group. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson gives opening remarks this morning after former state schools chief Delaine Eastin welcomes the group.

Other listed speakers include Erin Gabel of the California Department of Education, Thomas Schultz of the Council of Chief State School Officers, California Teachers Association President Dean Vogel, Democratic Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell of Los Angeles, and Republican Assemblyman Brian Nestande of Palm Desert. Munger moderates an afternoon panel on funding priorities.

VIDEO While Gov. Jerry Brown is making his case in China, his agenda is starting to unravel in Sacramento, Dan Walters says.

April 10, 2013
Jerry Brown tells Chinese media he works to 'cleanse the Augean stables'

IMG_1177.JPGBEIJING - Gov. Jerry Brown met the Chinese media Wednesday, and his fondness for Greek mythology and for prickling the press appeared to have survived the flight from California intact.

At a news conference at the Hunan Hotel in Beijing, the Democratic governor compared his work in California to that of cleaning stables full of dung.

"I'm going to go home from China with renewed zest to, if I could use a classical allusion, cleanse the Augean stables," Brown said. "That's Hercules. Of course it's not a very good idea because no matter how much he cleaned it, it got dirty again."

Brown was accompanied by an interpreter, and his characteristically meandering answers and questioning of reporters did her no favors. One of Brown's advisers suggested at one point that the interpreter stand closer to Brown so he could see her and remember to pause.

April 10, 2013
FPPC solidifies stance on campaign finance bills

ravel.jpgThe California Fair Political Practices Commission on Wednesday morning formally backed several bills aimed at strengthening the state's campaign finance rules.

Members of the political watchdog examined proposals before the Legislature to change the scope of the Political Reform Act of 1974, which is the source of the commission's authority.

The panel voted unanimously to sponsor Senate Bill 27, by Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, to require more disclosure in certain situations from donors who make contributions intended to influence California politics.

The bill is an attempt to expose to sunlight the increasingly murky world of political spending, where out-of-state organizations have poured money into California through intermediary entities, concealing the original source of the funds. One notorious example involved an Arizona-based nonprofit called Americans for Responsible Leadership, which deployed $11 million during the last election cycle in an effort to defeat some key Democratic initiatives.

Also receiving unanimous votes for sponsorship were Assembly Bill 552 and Assembly Bill 1090, by Assemblyman Paul Fong, D-Cupertino and Assembly Bill 914, by Assemblyman Richard Gordon, D-Menlo Park.

AB 552 would fortify FPPC's enforcement authority by giving it more power to collect unpaid fines and penalties. AB 914 would have the FPPC develop a new disclosure form to track the money certain politically active nonprofits take in and spend, and AB 1090 would crack down on conflicts of interest.

The FPPC also voted 5-0 to support Gordon's Assembly Bill 800 and Assembly Bill 45, by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento. Supporting is not as strong an endorsement as sponsoring.

All of the bills require a two-thirds vote for passage.

PHOTO CREDIT: Ann Ravel, chairwoman of the Fair Political Practices Commission, testifies at a hearing in Sacramento, on Dec. 8, 2011. Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press file.

April 10, 2013
Jerry Brown touts major Chinese investment in Oakland project

IMG_1173.JPGBEIJING - A Chinese investment group said Wednesday it will finance the majority of a $1.5 billion mixed-use development project in Oakland, an unusually large investment by a Chinese company in California, especially in real estate.

The agreement was finalized ahead of Gov. Jerry Brown's week-long trade mission to China, and he used it to promote foreign investment in the Golden State. It was also a personal victory of sorts for Brown, who was mayor of Oakland when the project - the subject of litigation in recent years - was first approved by city officials in 2006.

"We're going to announce a major investment by China ... in where else than Oakland, of course," Brown said at a reception at the U.S. embassy in Beijing.

The investment by China-based Zarsion Holdings Group Co., Ltd., is estimated to be worth more than $1 billion over eight to 10 years. That is compared to a total of $1.3 billion in investment deals from China that California did from 2000 to 2011, according to an October report for the Asia Society by the research firm Rhodium Group.

April 10, 2013
Jerry Brown on the clock in China, signing MOUs

IMG_1156.JPGBEIJING - Of all the things the Chinese government appears to take seriously, one of the most innocuous is the memorandum of understanding, known in city halls and state houses in the United States as the lowly MOU.

On Wednesday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the first of a series of non-binding agreements he is expected to make with Chinese commerce officials while on a week-long trade mission. They pledged to establish a "Chinese Provinces and US California Joint Working Group on Trade and Investment Cooperation."

According to the agreement, "The two parties will set up an annual meeting mechanism in the forms of video conference or meeting in person."

For the detail-oriented, the agreement provides that "the time of each meeting will be decided by the two parties through consultation."

On Wednesday, the time was determined by China's commerce minister, Gao Hucheng. He met with Brown about 8 a.m. at the Ministry of Commerce before the MOU was signed that afternoon.

"First of all, I'd like to offer you my apologies for the fact that I had to move this meeting to 8 o'clock," the busy commerce minister said through an interpreter, "considering that you might still suffer from jet lag from the United States."

Sitting across from Gao in a conference room, Brown suggested he didn't mind.

"Thank you for receiving me at 8 o'clock," Brown said. "We have a saying that the early bird gets the worm."

The two men exchanged hopeful remarks about their partnership before the clock again was on Gao's mind.

"In the interest of time," he said, he had to go.

PHOTO CREDIT: Gov. Jerry Brown and first lady Anne Gust Brown meet with China's commerce minister, Gao Hucheng, in Beijing on Wednesday, April 10, 2013. David Siders / Sacramento Bee

April 10, 2013
Steinberg: 2013 isn't the year for changing Proposition 13

DSteinbergJPG.JPGThose worried that legislative Democrats will use their supermajority power to make changes to Proposition 13 can breathe a sigh of relief -- for now, at least.

Some Democrats, emboldened by a two-thirds control that allows them to approve taxes or put measures on the ballot without GOP votes, have introduced legislation this year targeting different aspects of the landmark tax changes approved by voters in 1978.

But Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg told reporters today that 2013 is not the time to tinker with Proposition 13, which is often referred to as the "third rail" of California politics because of the perceived political risk of changing the law.

The Sacramento Democrat said lawmakers should instead make 2013 "a year of producing in a whole host of areas unrelated to taxes," including tightening gun control laws, working to implement the state insurance marketplace created by the federal health care law and passing major education policy changes.

Steinberg said, however, that he is open to some of the proposed changes down the road, including proposals that would change vote requirements for local tax measures. Even if the Legislature acted this year, any constitutional amendments approved by the Legislature wouldn't be able to go to the voters until 2014.

"The question of lowering voter thresholds for the specific taxes on the local level, which is really the beginning of that conversation ... definitely should be had and probably will be had at some point in this two-year session," Steinberg said. "But let's have 2013 be a year where we are focused on bread and butter."

Click here to read a list of related bills that have been introduced in the current legislative session.

PHOTO CREDIT: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, during the first day of session at the state Capitol in Sacramento on Monday, Dec. 3, 2012. Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

April 10, 2013
Bill targeting Boy Scouts' nonprofit status clears committee

LS_MUSIC_FESTIVAL11.JPGCalifornia Boy Scout troops that ban openly gay members could lose their nonprofit tax status under legislation that advanced in the state Senate today.

Senate Bill 323, by Democratic Sen. Ricardo Lara, would repeal the state tax-exempt status of any youth organization that discriminates based on gender identity, sexual orientation or religious affiliation.

Lara said the bill is intended to "make sure all our youth get to participate in our youth programs."

The legislation comes amid increased public pressure for the Boy Scouts of America to change its blanket ban on openly gay troops. A former president said the organization has been reviewing that policy in an ongoing effort to stay relevant with families, but opposes the legislation because of the potential financial impact on troops across the state.

"You're talking about taxing revenue that is very important, especially to the local scouts," Rick Cronk, a former president of the Boy Scouts of America, told the committee.

Critics also raised concerns about the constitutionality of the legislation, citing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling affirming the private organization's right to make membership decisions, and safety issues they said could arise when straight and gay scouts and leaders go on camping trips or other outings.

Still, supporters said the change, which would not impact churches that charter scout troops, would send an important message about equality.

"(Senate Bill 323 will) let the scouts and other groups know that at least in the state of California, we will not support any organization that thinks it can get away with discrimination" said Ryan Andersen, who has become an advocate for lifting the policy int the wake of his gay son's experience with the Boy Scouts.

The bill cleared the Senate Governance and Finance Committee on a party-line vote of 5-2. It will now be scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

PHOTO: Members of the Boy Scouts of America march in a parade at the Sacramento Music Festival in Old Sacramento in May 2012. Lezlie Sterling / Sacramento Bee file.

April 10, 2013
California's per capita spending on health care relatively low

Prescription_Drugs.jpgCalifornia may have high housing, fuel and electric power prices, but Californians' spending on health care is below the national average, according to a new data compilation by the Wall Street Journal.

California was spending $6,258 per resident on health care - doctors, hospitals, prescription drugs - in 2009, the latest year for which complete data were available, the Wall Street Journal study found.

That was about $600 less than the national average, with spending ranging from a high of $10,349 in Washington, D.C., to a low of $5,031 in Utah.

Overall, the data indicated that California was spending about $225 billion on health care from private and public funds in 2009, more than 10 percent of the state's economy and the largest single sector of its economy.

The number has grown since and is likely to jump sharply once billions of additional dollars begin flowing into the state's health sector from the federal Affordable Care Act. It will provide coverage to at least half of the state's estimated 7 million medically uninsured residents, much of it coming from the federal government but some from individuals and private employers.

The Wall Street Journal said that California's per capita spending on hospitals, the biggest single chunk of health care expense, was particularly low in 2009 - $2,077 or sixth lowest among the states. Its spending on prescription drugs was also among the nation's lowest, as was its level of obesity, at 23.8 percent of the adult population.

PHOTO CREDIT: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press file

April 10, 2013
In China, Jerry Brown laments California's red tape

IMG_1181.JPGBEIJING - Gov. Jerry Brown was participating in a luncheon discussion hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Beijing on Wednesday when a businessman asked about the rules and regulations businesses encounter in foreign trade.

"What would you say to those people who say, 'Oh, it's just too difficult, too much red tape, don't understand the foreign culture, you know, protectionist feelings and things like that," Chris Davies, of HSBC bank, asked the Democratic governor.

"Where?" Brown said. "In China or in California?"

The audience laughed.

"We've got more damn laws than you can think of," Brown said, lamenting litigation and other obstacles to business in California.

He said there are "endless ideas" about how to add more rules and regulations but that part of his job is "to find a way to cut through that."

"To the extent you have any red tape, there's no one more anxious to reduce it," Brown said.

At a news conference earlier Wednesday, Brown marveled at the amount of construction China has managed in the past several years.

The governor was asked if that didn't have something to do with China's one-party rule.

"While we don't have one-party rule in California, at least we have a diminished opposition," Brown said of California, where Democrats now hold supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature. "And hopefully that will bode well."

PHOTO CREDIT: Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at a news conference in Beijing on Wednesday, April 10, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

April 10, 2013
With Jerry Brown in China, it helps to 'know all the gates'

IMG_1162.JPGBEIJING - The longest way to cross the street in China, it would seem, is in a car full of reporters bound for government talks.

A van arranged by Gov. Jerry Brown's administration to ferry journalists on Wednesday to the Ministry of Commerce, directly across the street from the Grand Hyatt Beijing, left the hotel about 7:45 a.m., snaked around several back streets and, upon arriving at the destination, was halted at the gate.

There the van sat while Brown's office tried first to get the license plate cleared, and then - through Chinese-speaking reporters inside the van - to direct the driver to another entrance. Brown, on a week-long trade mission to China, was about to meet with the country's commerce minister, Gao Hucheng.

Eventually the driver pulled around, just in time to see Brown's motorcade arrive.
"China is very complicated," one of the local reporters said. "You have to know all the gates."

PHOTO CREDIT: Gov. Jerry Brown meets with China's commerce minister, Gao Hucheng, in Beijing on Wednesday, April 10, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/ David Siders

April 10, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: High school graduation rates raise questions

Despite good news about California's rising high school graduation rates, Dan says that huge differences between school districts suggest that ethnicity and poverty don't hold the key to understanding why those differences exist.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

April 10, 2013
AM Alert: Bipartisan group pushing to undo Medi-Cal cuts

AOC_Medi-Cal_024a.JPGLawmakers from both parties are joining a press conference this morning to back Assembly Bill 900, by Democrat Luis Alejo of Watsonville, which would undo Medi-Cal cuts to hospital-based skilled nursing services.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway of Tulare, Assemblyman Brian Dahle, R-Bieber, and Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, are also expected to attend the event, which starts at 10 a.m. in the Capitol's room 317.

VIDEO: Encouraging data about high school graduation rates also contains some puzzling discrepancies, Dan Walters says.

Online privacy: Attorney General Kamala Harris is speaking at a symposium on consumer privacy and app development, exploring safeguards for personal information collected online and via mobile apps. Her talk starts at 9:15 a.m. at the Runway SF in San Francisco, 1355 Market St.

April 9, 2013
PUC official in hot water for trying to secretly record meeting

CAP3.JPG.JPGA routine staff meeting at the Capitol turned controversial last week when a California Public Utilities Commission official was allegedly caught trying to secretly record the conversation.

A briefing on an upcoming Senate budget subcommittee hearing was underway Friday when a smart phone belonging to PUC Energy Division Director Edward Randolph interrupted with an announcement that the recording space on his device was full, several sources told The Bee. The discovery surprised -- and angered -- many of the more than a dozen attendees of the off-the-record, private meeting, which was quickly called to an end.

Randolph initially denied that he was trying to covertly record the meeting, but later apologized to some attendees. The meeting included members of the Senate subcommittee staff, the office of Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, the Department of Finance and the PUC's Division of Ratepayer Advocates, an office that has clashed with PUC leadership.

Now, officials are reviewing whether Randolph's actions broke California law, which requires consent of all parties involved to tape private conversations. Steinberg spokesman Rhys Williams said the senator's office is aware of the issue and is looking into "whether any rules or laws have been broken and any appropriate recourse based on that."

April 9, 2013
Proposal to repeal California's rural fire fee fails in committee

antifee.JPGA Republican-authored bill to eliminate a fire prevention fee levied on some California residents failed to make it out of committee Tuesday morning.

Senate Bill 17, by Sen. Ted Gaines, R-Rocklin, fell on a 4-3 vote in the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee.

Supporters wearing bright red T-shirts bearing the phrase "Burned by the Fire Tax" packed the hearing room and lined up to register their support, joining fire officials and advocates for taxpayers and homeowners. No one appeared to voice opposition.

The state Office of Legislative Council has questioned how the administration of Gov. Jerry Brown spends revenue from the fee, which is assessed on property in rural areas. Lawmakers approved the fee in 2011 on a majority vote, rather than the two-thirds vote required for new taxes. Revenue from a fee must be spent to benefit those who pay it.

Opponents of the fee have argued that it has been used for other purposes. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has sued the state on those grounds, arguing that the fee is in fact an unconstitutional tax.

But some committee members said the fee was warranted to guard against blazes spreading from rural areas where they are more likely to start.

Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, who voted against the bill, endorsed awaiting the results of the lawsuit before moving to a legislative fix.

"The issue of tax vs. fee, I'm sure the courts will straighten this out," Jackson said.

PHOTO CREDIT: Opponents of California's fire fee wait to testify at an April 9, 2013, hearing before a Senate committee. Jeremy B. White / Sacramento Bee

April 9, 2013
Bill to let non-doctors perform early abortions clears committee

SPECIAL_ELECTION_ABORTION.JPGA proposal to let medical professionals other than doctors perform an early abortion procedure advanced Tuesday in the California Legislature.

Assembly Bill 154, by Democratic Assemblywoman Toni Atkins of San Diego, authorizes nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives, and physician assistants who undergo training to conduct aspiration abortions, a procedure that uses a suction method to remove a fetus early in a pregnancy.

The bill cleared the Assembly Business and Professions Committee on a 8-4 party-line vote.

The measure would expand a state pilot program that's been in effect since 2007, and supporters say it would ensure women have early and safe access to abortion providers in their communities. They cite a University of California, San Francisco Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health study that found low rates of mostly minor complications related to the first trimester abortions performed by pilot participants.

"The goal is to ensure that there are providers, qualified and trained, throughout every county in the state," Atkins said.

Critics at the hearing raised concerns about safety, training and expanding access to abortion in general, especially among teenage women.

"I don't think we should treat it as taking a pill or anything like that," said Assemblyman Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills. "This is a very complex situation."

An earlier attempt to allow non-doctors to perform the procedure fell short last year. The California Nurses Association opposed that proposal, raising concerns that a full study of the pilot program had not been completed. The bill also ran into opposition in a key Senate committee, whose members included two Democrats who opposed abortion rights.

PHOTO CREDIT: An intake worker waits for paperwork from a teenage client at a family planning and abortion clinic in San Francisco. Julie Plasencia / Associated Press file, 2005

April 9, 2013
Fracking bill passes CA Senate committee

frack.jpgA bill to more tightly regulate the drilling process called hydraulic fracturing passed the California Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee on a 6-2 vote Tuesday.

Fracking, as the extraction technique is commonly called, has become a flash point for environmental advocates as the process has become more commonplace in recent years.

California is in the incipient stages of regulating fracking -- shooting a mix of chemicals, sand and water deep underground.

Skeptics argue that fracking could endanger public health by contaminating water public water supplies. Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, the author of Senate Bill 4, called the bill a needed mechanism for holding the energy industry accountable.

"We need to at the minimum ensure that someone, some public agency, is monitoring the public health and safety of Californians," Pavley said.

The legislation would require the energy industry to disclose more information about the amount of water and types of chemicals it uses. It would also set up a permitting process, create a framework for tracking waste water and dictate that communities are notified 30 days in advance of a new well being constructed.

April 9, 2013
California's high school graduation rate rises sharply

PK_CHRISTORY 0259.JPGCalifornia's high school graduation rate rose sharply last year with Latino and black students showing gains higher than those of white and Asian students, state schools chief Tom Torlakson announced Tuesday.

Overall, the Department of Education's annual report said, 78.5 percent of those who started high school in the 2008-09 school year had graduated by 2012, up 1.4 percentage points from the previous year.

Latinos, who were nearly half of the Class of 2012, saw their graduation rate jump by 1.8 percentage points to 73.2 percent and black students' graduation rate rose by 2.9 percentage points to 65.7 percent, still the lowest of any major ethnic group.

The graduation rate among white high-schoolers was 86.4 percent, up 0.7 percent, and that of Asians was 91 percent, also up 0.7 percent.

Not surprisingly, as the graduation rate rose, the dropout rate declined, Torlakson said, to 13.2 percent, down 1.56 percentage points. Another 8.3 percent "are neither graduates or dropouts" and most are still enrolled in school, the report said.

Statistics on individual school districts can be found at the Department of Education's DataQuest website.

PHOTO CREDIT: Students wait to line up the first graduation ceremony of Cristo Rey High School at St Ignatius Loyola Church in Sacramento in 2010. The Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.

April 9, 2013
Assembly committee OKs porn movie condom mandate

LS_STD_1_CONDOM.JPGLegislation that would require actors in pornographic films to wear condoms during sex acts won approval of an Assembly committee Tuesday despite warnings that it would drive the multi-billion-dollar adult film industry out of the state.

"This is a workforce safety bill," Assemblyman Isadore Hall, D-Compton, told the Assembly Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism and Internet Media Committee prior to its 5-1 vote. "We have to protect our workforce."

Assembly Bill 332's provisions are similar to those of a ballot measure that won approval of Los Angeles County voters last year.

Industry representatives told the committee that the Los Angeles ordinance has already pushed some production to other California counties and predicted that if AB 332 becomes law, it will flee to other states.

Hall's measure has support from anti-AIDS groups and one former porn actor, Darren James, who was the center of an outbreak of HIV in the industry nearly a decade ago. But a still-working porn actress, Alana Evans, testified that the industry's testing program is more effective than a condom requirement.

PHOTO CREDIT: Nick Mori, a health educator with Sacramento County opens a packet that includes condoms and information to get tested for STDs during a public health fair in 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Lezlie Sterling

April 9, 2013
Jerry Brown arrives in China, looking for 'greenbacks'

IMG_1139.JPGBEIJING - Gov. Jerry Brown arrived in Beijing on Tuesday evening for his week-long trade mission to China, marveling at the pace of construction under China's one-party rule and suggesting - however wistfully - it is a lesson he could apply in California.

"Boy, you've done a lot of building," the Democratic governor said. "When I get back to California, the bulldozers are going to roll."

Brown last visited China in 1986. He has praised China for its construction of more than 5,000 miles of high-speed rail infrastructure in recent years, while he has spent decades calling for a high-speed rail system in California, only about to begin construction this year.

April 9, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: UC Irvine law school and the lawyer surplus

UC Irvine went ahead with building a law school despite warnings that it was unnecessary -- and now, Dan says, a glut of lawyers proves the school's folly.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

April 9, 2013
AM Alert: California Federation of Teachers lobbies lawmakers

MAJ_CALIFORNIA_STATE_CAPITOL_2008.JPGIt's lobby day for the California Federation of Teachers, which means members of the state's second-biggest teachers union (after the California Teachers Association) are in Sacramento to petition lawmakers.

Among the bills that union members will emphasize are a teacher dismissal bill by Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, AB 375; as well as CFT-sponsored bills SB 657, a teacher evaluation bill by Sen. Marty Block, D-San Diego; AB 1199, a community college funding bill by Assemblyman Paul Fong, D-Cupertino; and AB 507, a retirement bill by Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens.

VIDEO: California has too many lawyers and not enough nurses -- so why, Dan Walters wonders, did UC Irvine persist in its plan to build a law school?

A few other notable bills that are going to committee today:

April 8, 2013
Assembly passes bill limiting use of controversial school bonds

bonds.JPGThe California Assembly passed a bill today that will limit the use of a controversial facilities improvement bond that allows school districts to delay repayment for decades while hefty interest obligations accumulate.

Capital Appreciation Bonds came to the spotlight in August when Voice of San Diego outlined a deal in the Poway Unified School District that put taxpayers on the book for almost $1 billion on a loan of $105 million.

Several stories followed, including two in which The Bee found the Yuba Community College District will pay $59 million to retire $4.6 million in bonds and Folsom Cordova Unified will pay $9.1 million to retire $514,000 in debt.

"This bill would protect taxpayers from terrible bond deals while maintaining school districts' ability to provide their parents and children needed facilities," state Treasurer Bill Lockyer said in a statement. "Today's vote reflects widespread agreement that AB 182 offers a reasoned, balanced approach to addressing this important issue."

Assembly Bill 182 by Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, and Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, passed 73-0. The bill would limit the term of the bonds to 25 years, instead of 40 years. The bill also sets a four-to-one limit on the ratio of total debt to principal for each bond.

In the case of Folsom Cordova, the school district will pay $18 for every $1 borrowed.

The bill now heads to the Senate.

PHOTO CREDIT: Isleton Elementary School in 2006. The Sacramento Bee/Brian Baer

April 8, 2013
CalChamber calls out 32 "job killer" bills this year

Zaremberg.JPGThe California Chamber of Commerce is out with its annual list of "job killer" bills today, bestowing the title on 32 pieces of legislation authored by legislative Democrats.

Measures to raise the minimum wage, increase penalties on polluters, ban disposable food containers, put a stop to hydraulic fracturing and lower the vote requirement for tax increases were among those CalChamber has labeled "job killers."

"California policy makers should keep their focus on the number one issues affecting their constituents - economic recovery and job creation," said a statement from the group's president Allan Zaremberg, who is in China this week with Gov. Jerry Brown.

"Each of these proposed 'job killer' bills would increase uncertainty for employers and investors and lead to higher costs of doing business, which will undermine the economic health of the state."

The Chamber has been labeling bills as "job killers" since 1997, and the moniker has become an effective lobbying tool for the organization over the years. Typically, the Chamber slaps the label on a few dozen bills and only a small handful wind up signed into law -- even though, as Dan Walters noted last year, the Legislature is dominated by Democrats aligned with the labor unions and environmentalists who push for the bills.

For a full list of the Chamber's 2013 "job killers," click here.

PHOTO CREDIT: Allan Zaremberg, President of the California Chamber of Commerce, in 2010. Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

April 8, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: Kings arena deal and parking revenue

The apparent enthusiasm for keeping the Kings in Sacramento aside, Dan calls a proposed arena deal in California's capital city "a bit of a shell game."

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

April 8, 2013
AM Alert: State Athletic Commission gets legislative scrutiny

MC_WECprimer.01.JPGA joint legislative hearing this morning looks at California's State Athletic Commission, the embattled regulatory body that State Auditor Elaine Howle recently flagged as a candidate for the ax.

The auditor's report faulted the commission, which is responsible for regulating sports like boxing and mixed martial arts, for mishandling its finances and doing a shoddy job of reporting and documenting inspections.

(For an excellent tale of the inherent risks of the violent sport of mixed martial arts, also called MMA, by The Bee's Melody Gutierrez, click here.)

The commission has traveled a winding road in recent years -- the Legislature briefly allowed it to sunset in 2006 before recreating it as an independent board -- and it again faces potential dissolution.

Sen. Curren Price, D-Los Angeles, cited "significant and ongoing" concerns when he announced today's hearing, a joint affair conducted by the Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee; the Assembly Business, Professions and Consumer Protection Committee; and the Assembly Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism, and Internet Media Committee. The hearing starts at 10 a.m. in the Capitol's room 4203.

VIDEO: A plan to entice the Kings into staying in Sacramento contradicts voters' will, Dan Walters says.

ACLU: Today is the last day of the American Civil Liberties Union of California's lobby day conference in Sacramento. It will feature a noon rally for immigration reform (north steps), which Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, is expected to attend, followed by afternoon meetings with lawmakers.

The focus there will be on three ACLU sponsored bills: Assembly Bill 4, an immigration bill by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco; Assembly Bill 649, by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, which would give district attorneys more flexibility to charge drug offenses as misdemeanors rather than felonies; Assembly Bill 154, by Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, which would allow non-doctor medical professionals to perform abortions; and Assembly Bill 420 from Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, which deals with student discipline.

No smoking: Hundreds of young Californians are converging on the state Capitol today for a rally against tobacco. Assemblyman Das Williams, D- Santa Barbara, is joining them for a 1 p.m. rally on the west steps. The event is sponsored by the California Youth Advocacy Network, which is holding an annual advocacy in Sacramento today with a focus on clean air.

Student loans: Representatives of the youth vote are also going to be present on the south steps for an 11:30 a.m. rally for bills that take on mounting student debt. Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, who will be speaking, has authored a package of legislation which he's collectively referring to as the Student Bill of Rights.

He's back: Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is in southern California today, joining scientists and researchers on a panel about tackling climate change. From 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the University of Southern California's Lewis Hall.

PHOTO CREDIT: A World Extreme Cagefighting fighter works out in Sacramento on June 4, 2009. Manny Crisostomo / Sacramento Bee.

April 5, 2013
Abel Maldonado moves closer to 2014 run against Jerry Brown

California GOP.jpg Former Lt. Gov Abel Maldonado has secured a contribution - but not an endorsement - from one of California's most influential GOP donors as he moves closer to a possible 2014 run for governor.

Charles T. Munger, Jr. confirmed today that he plans to contribute an undisclosed amount to a committee Maldonado is opening to explore a gubernatorial bid, but said he is refraining from endorsing any of the possible GOP candidates at this point because of his role as chairman of the Santa Clara County Republican Party.