Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

August 26, 2013
California Senate approves change to drug law

State law would go easier on people who are busted for carrying illegal drugs for personal use under a bill approved by the California Senate today.

Assembly Bill 721 changes the definition of "transporting" a drug to mean transporting it for sale, eliminating an additional charge for someone who might otherwise only be charged with drug possession.

"If you're in possession of a drug and you're walking down the street, you could be charged with transporting a drug even though your 'transporting' is just walking," said Sen. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood, as he presented the bill on the Senate floor.

The bill by Assemblyman Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, would not make it harder to prosecute drug dealers, Wright said, who would still be charged with transporting illegal drugs for sale.

"It simply says that... walking down the street does not qualify as transporting," Wright said.

"What this bill is intended to fix is that someone who would have been charged with simple possession, because their quantity was small, not end up with transportation for sale because (prosecutors) wanted to add charges."

Republicans argued against the bill, saying it would be too soft on criminals.

"This bill gives you a greater chance to get away with it or have it go easy on you," said Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber. "It is not a step in the right direction."

Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, countered that the bill could help chip away at the problem of crowding in California prisons.

"We're talking about a universe of people who will still be charged with one or more felonies. They will likely be going to state prison," Leno said. "The question is, do we want them to take up limited bed space for two or three years, or five or ten or 15 years?"

The state Senate passed the bill on a vote of 24-15. It now heads back to the Assembly for a concurrence vote before heading to Gov. Jerry Brown.

PHOTO: Assemblyman Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, in the Assembly chambers in March 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

August 26, 2013
Biosimilar drug bill wins overwhelming Assembly support

jerryhill.JPGA controversial and heavily lobbied bill establishing a protocol for when pharmacists may substitute a "biosimilar" drug passed 58-4 in the Assembly on Monday.

Senate Bill 598 is supported by drug companies and some labor groups who say regulation will protect consumers once biosimilars are approved by the federal government. The bill would allow pharmacists to substitute biosimilars in the same way they currently substitute generic drugs for name brands.

However, unlike generic medicines, a biosimilar is not identical to the brand name drug being replaced.

Opponents of the bill, which include health plans and the state Board of Pharmacy, say it sets arbitrary barriers to providing affordable replacements.

The bill, by Democrat Sen. Jerry Hill of San Mateo heads back to the Senate later this week for concurrence in amendments.

PHOTO: Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, in a 2008 file photo with Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Davis. The Sacramento Bee / Brian Baer

August 26, 2013
California Senate approves bill to expand abortion access


It would be easier for California women to get abortions under a bill the state Senate approved today.

Assembly Bill 154 expands the types of medical providers that can offer abortions by allowing nurse practitioners, certified nurse-midwives and physician assistants to perform the procedure during the first trimester of pregnancy.

The bill by Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, cleared the Senate on a vote of 25-11. Supporters, all Democrats, argued that the policy is necessary because remote parts of California do not have many doctors, requiring women who seek an abortion to travel for hours.

"The growing shortage of abortion providers creates a significant barrier for women," said Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara.

Opponents, mostly Republicans, said the proposal puts women at risk.

"It is a leveling down of health care for women," said Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber. "The individuals here do not have the training, do not have the experience.... that doctors do."

AB 154 now heads back to the Assembly for a vote on Senate amendments before heading to Gov. Jerry Brown.

Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, and Assembly Speaker John A. Perez, D- Los Angeles, in June 2012. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

August 26, 2013
California's firefighting costs hit $44 million

fire.jpgThe Rim fire raging near Yosemite is contributing to a run-up in California's firefighting expenses early in the season.

The Department of Finance estimated this morning that the state has spent $44 million fighting fires thus far. Lawmakers budgeted $172 million for the entire season.

"We're eight weeks in (the fiscal year) and we've spent roughly a quarter of what's budgeted," said H.D. Palmer, the spokesman for the department.

Palmer noted that the budget also includes a $1.1 billion reserve that the state can tap if costs exceed what has been budgeted. And the state can expect some reimbursement from the federal government once the fires have subsided and officials sort out how many resources state and federal teams expended on fires on state and federal lands.

The $172 million budgeted for firefighting this fiscal year is more than has been set aside the last four years, but costs exceeded the budget last year. The state budgeted $92.7 million last year, but costs have hit $221 million and 4th quarter expenses are still being reconciled, Palmer said.

On Sunday, President Barack Obama called Gov. Jerry Brown and committed federal resources to help the state, according to a statement form the White House.

Following that telephone call, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced today it had authorized federal funds to help fund the firefight. The agency said it would reimburse the state for as much as 75 percent of eligible costs, including expenses for field camps, materials and supplies and mobilization and demobilization efforts.

This post was updated at 1:35 p.m. Monday to include information about the Federal Emergency Management Agency's funding announcement.

August 26, 2013
AM Alert: Biosimilars, abortion bills ready for votes

jerryhill.jpgBoth houses of the Legislature start the week with floor sessions at noon, with a controversial bill on "biosimilars" eligible for a vote as early as today in the Assembly.

Senate Bill 598, by Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, would establish conditions under which pharmacists may distribute the new type of drugs once they are approved by the federal government. Like generic versions of brand-name pain relievers, biosimilars are used in Europe to substitute for band-name biologic products, including vaccines and complex medications for diseases such as cancer.

Unlike everyday generics, biosimilars are not identical to the brand-name drugs they are intended to replace.

As with similar legislation in other states, the bill is supported by drug companies and opposed by several health plans and manufacturers of generic drugs. Supporters say regulation will protect consumers, while opponents say it will hinder access to lower-cost replacements.

VIDEO: Dan Walters wonders if Gov. Jerry Brown isn't happy to be missing next week's opening of the new eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

ABORTION: In the upper house, senators could take action as early as today on a bill that would allow nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives and physician assistants to conduct a type of early abortion using a method called aspiration.

The legislation, Assembly Bill 154, by Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, is eligible for a vote.

WOMEN: Senators are expected to vote on a resolution by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, to encourage publicly held companies to include more women on their boards of directors.

SHEEHAN: Antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan is preparing to formally announce her longshot candidacy for governor in 2014. Sheehan, of the Peace and Freedom Party, has scheduled a news conference for Tuesday at the Capitol. Sheehan ran a failed campaign for vice president last year alongside Roseanne Barr.

FRESHMAN FACTS: Read our little-known fun facts about freshmen legislators on the Capitol Alert Insider Edition. Today's subject: Assemblyman Bill Quirk.

PHOTO: State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, left, talks with Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, at the Capitol on Monday, Aug. 19, 2013. AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

August 26, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: Michigan looking good to Gov. Jerry Brown

Dan thinks it's a little too convenient that Gov. Jerry Brown will miss the Bay Bridge opening.

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

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.


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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