Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

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:


Capitol Alert Staff

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

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

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

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

Micaela Massimino Micaela Massimino edits Capitol Alert.

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

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

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

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