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."

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


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


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.


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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