Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

August 28, 2013
Jerry Brown, John Perez reject Darrell Steinberg's prison plan


Gov. Jerry Brown and Assembly Speaker John A. Perez do not appear receptive to Senate leader Darrell Steinberg's proposal to settle the lawsuit inmate advocates have brought against the state over crowding in California prisons.

Brown's prepared response to Steinberg's settlement proposal says, "It would not be responsible to turn over California's criminal justice policy to inmate lawyers who are not accountable to the people."

He defended his own plan to spend $315 million on new prison beds, saying it "avoids early releases of thousands of prisoners and lays the foundation for longer-term changes, and that's why local officials and law enforcement support it."

Perez criticized Steinberg's proposal and said Brown's "is the right plan given our circumstances."

It keeps inmates behind bars and develops long-term cost-effective solutions that protect public safety," said a prepared statement from Perez.

"The Governor's plan achieves what the Senate says they want--without kicking the can down the road to achieve it. Some of the elements of Senator Steinberg's proposal are already included in our bipartisan plan, but I am deeply skeptical about Senator Steinberg's approach that gives prisoner plaintiffs who favor mass release of prisoners the power to set our prison population and effectively takes the people's elected representatives out of the equation. Safe communities shouldn't be the hope for Californians - -they should be the reality, and our bipartisan plan, supported by law enforcement, keeps communities safe."

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown delivers his State of the State speech on Jan. 24, 2013. Assembly Speaker John A. Perez, D-Los Angeles, is at left and Senate President Pro Temp Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, is at right. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

August 28, 2013
Judge tentatively sides with California in carbon auction challenge

smokestack.jpgCalifornia's cap-and-trade carbon auctions are within the authority of the state Air Resources Board under a seven-year-old law aimed at addressing global warming, a Sacramento judge has tentatively ruled.

Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Timothy M. Frawley said in the ruling that Assembly Bill 32 gave the Air Resources Board discretion to decide whether to adopt a cap-and-trade program and design the method for distributing pollution allowances.

The program subjects hundreds of large-scale polluters to an annual "cap" on the amount of carbon they can emit; with the cap declining slightly each year. Companies exceeding the cap can either reduce their pollution or purchase additional emissions credits -- from the state or other companies.

A small percentage of the credits are being auctioned every three months. Frawley stopped short of ruling on whether the multibillion dollar program constitutes an illegal tax.

The judge heard arguments Wednesday from attorneys for the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation and the California Chamber of Commerce, which filed similar lawsuits earlier this year and last fall as the carbon program was getting underway.

"That was one of the major aspects of our lawsuits -- that CARB did not have the authority," PLF attorney Ted Hadzi-Antich said outside the courthouse. "We are hopeful that the final ruling will be different, but it's difficult to guess what it's going to say."

The organizations argue the program is unconstitutional because it was not passed by at least a two-thirds majority of the Legislature. Attorneys for the state and environmental groups contend it isn't a tax and was not put in place to raise money.

Auction participants are walking away with something of value, David Clegern, a climate change spokesman for the Air Resources Board, said at the courthouse.

"The people who get them, if they reduce their emissions enough, they have the ability to sell or trade these things," Clegern said. "There is value there."

PHOTO: This Jan. 10, 2009 file photo shows a flock of geese flying past a smokestack at the Jeffery Energy Center coal power plant near Emmitt, Kan. Associated Press/Charlie Riedel, File

August 28, 2013
Under pressure, Bowen puts California raw finance data online


After months of pressure from open government advocates, the California Secretary of State's office has made a mountain of campaign finance data available online.

While the secretary's office already puts some data online, the information had been broken up into discreet, separate filings. Anyone seeking to get all the information in a single digital forum had to request a CD-ROM.

Transparency watchdogs like Common Cause argued that system made it difficult to search through and organize the voluminous amounts of campaign finance and lobbying data that flows through the secretary of state's office. Secretary of State Debra Bowen pushed back, arguing that the process of putting that amount of data online would be overly costly and time-consuming.

Now Bowen's office has reversed its stance, putting the raw data online. That will make it easier to plug information on political money into sophisticated databases able to find trends and patterns.

"Following the money in politics and government is essential for making informed decisions at the ballot box," Bowen said in a press release. "The Secretary of State website is always evolving to ensure that everyone, from the occasional user to the information technology expert, can obtain public information in the way most useful to them."

Phillip Ung, a policy advocate for the California branch of Common Cause, called the change a "stark improvement," saying it "brings full access to behind the scenes raw data."

"We're always happy whenever a public agency is willing to embrace the 21st century," Ung said.

PHOTO: Secretary of State Debra Brown presents her argument during a legislative hearing on Tuesday, March 13, 2012. The Sacramento Bee/Lezlie Sterling

August 28, 2013
Steinberg's prison plan asks for 3 more years to reduce population


California would get three more years to reduce its prison population to court-mandated levels while counties would get $200 million a year to expand drug treatment and mental health care for criminal offenders under a proposal Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg unveiled today that calls for settling a long-standing lawsuit against the state over its crowded prisons.

Steinberg presented the plan a day after Gov. Jerry Brown introduced legislation that calls for spending $315 million on additional prison beds to meet a federal court order to reduce crowding in the state's prisons by the end of this year. Brown's plan has the support of Republican leaders in the Legislature, Sen. Bob Huff and Assemblywoman Connie Conway, as well as Democratic Assembly Speaker John A. Perez.

But Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat, is advancing a counter proposal that seeks to address the problem of crowded prisons without paying for more prison space or the early release of inmates. More than a dozen Democratic state senators stood behind Steinberg as he presented his plan to the media this morning, including a spectrum of liberal and moderate Democrats.

In addition to the grants, Steinberg's plan also calls for creating an an Advisory Commission on Public Safety to examine changing California's sentencing laws and suggests that an independent state panel should evaluate and determine the appropriate population for California prisons based on prison practices across the country.

"We cannot build or rent our way out of overcrowded prisons," Steinberg said in a statement.

"Relying solely on more prison beds is repeating the same failed investments of the past. We need solutions rooted in effective strategies to reduce crime, and we need the time to implement these real reforms. That's where I hope the Governor and the plaintiffs will find common ground."

Steinberg's plan calls on the inmate advocates who sued the state over prison crowding to settle their lawsuit against the state by Sept. 13, the last day of the legislative session. His proposal is being put into a bill that will be heard in the Senate budget committee next week.

The legislative wrangling follow court rulings that prison conditions are inhumane, and an order that the state to alleviate crowding. Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an effort by Brown to delay a 2009 order that the state reduce its prison population to 137.5 percent of capacity. Steinberg's plan asks the plaintiffs in the lawsuit to give the state three more years to get the prison population down to that number.

He says his proposal to give counties grants for drug treatment and mental health care is modeled after a 2009 effort that reduced new prison admissions by more than 9,500 and saved $536 million over three years.

Lawyers representing the plaintiffs in the overcrowding cases issued a joint statement praising Steinberg's plan, saying they were "open to an extension of the date for compliance with the three judge court's order if an agreement produces an effective and sustainable approach that will resolve the chronic overcrowding problem in the state's prisons."

PHOTO: Senate President Pro Temp Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, in the Senate chambers on Monday, March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

August 28, 2013
AM Alert: California cities, counties fight ballot bill


In the 2013 Gut-and-Amend-Games, a bill regulating how nonprofits disclose and spend campaign cash has become a flashpoint. Organizations who would be affected, like the California State Association of Counties and the League of California Cities, argue the bill would handicap their ability to fight or back ballot measures and have marshaled an assault on the legislation (full disclosure: the Bee's Editorial Board has linked arms with the bill's opponents).

Today they bring the fight to the State Capitol with an 11 a.m. rally at the fish pond. Expected speakers include Matt Cate of the California State Association of Counties, Nick Warner of the California State Sheriffs Association, Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully, Brian Rivas of the California School Boards Association and Jose Cisneros of the League of California Cities.

VIDEO: A freshly proposed prison plan injects some fresh drama into the waning legislative session, Dan Walters says.

STEINBERG'S PRISON PLAN: Gov. Jerry Brown sought to project bipartisan backing yesterday when he announced a new prison spending plan while flanked by leaders from both parties, but one legislative bigwig was glaringly absent. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, had already faulted Brown's plan as a shortsighted attempt to provide extra capacity that would inevitably fill up, and at 10 a.m. today he'll offer his counterproposal. Check back in for updates.

CAP-AND-TRADE CHALLENGE: A lawsuit labeling California's recently inaugurated carbon auction system an unconstitutional tax appears on the Sacramento County Superior Court's docket today. An attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation, which filed the challenge on behalf of a range of business groups, will present the arguments for nullifying the landmark emission permit market.

ATMOSPHERICS: Speaking of air pollution, lawmakers are rallying today to urge California to clear the air in some of the more polluted places identified by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego will be speaking on the west steps at noon.

MLK: Gov. Jerry Brown and several lawmakers will mark the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr's "I Have A Dream" speech with a noon rally on the south steps.

DUELING DOCS: The Crest Theater has a crowded agenda today. It's showing "Assaulted: Civil Rights Under Fire," a documentary casting a skeptical eye on gun control (Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, is hosting a screening in the State Capitol at noon) and hosting the premier of the documentary "Through the Heart of Tango" after a reception that Steinberg plans to attend.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Westlake Village, who turns 61 today.

PHOTO: The weather was cloudy and bright at the California State Capitol Building, Sacramento, Thursday, Dec. 25, 2008. The Sacramento Bee/Michael Allen Jones.

August 28, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: Prisons fight caps California legislative session

An end-of-session plan to reduce prison overcrowding faces a rocky path through the Senate, Dan says.

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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