Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

September 4, 2013
Bera says he's still not convinced U.S. should strike Syria

US_NEWS_CONGRESS_Ami_BERA_MCT.JPGRep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, told Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at a hearing Wednesday that neither he nor his constituents are yet convinced that the United States should launch a military assault on the Syrian regime over its use of chemical weapons in the country's ongoing civil war.

Bera, a freshman lawmaker who serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said his war-weary constituents have told him they oppose a U.S. strike. The House and Senate are set to vote next week on whether to authorize such a move, though President Barack Obama could give the order anyway.

Bera told the panel's witnesses, including Hagel, Secretary of State John Kerry and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that Syria was too far away from the problems of people in Sacramento County.

"People don't want us to strike Syria," he said. "They're fatigued."

Bera asked Hagel, a former senator from Nebraska, how he could make his case in his district that a military operation in Syria was vital to the country's interests.

Hagel's answer: 9/11.

"There's a clear living example of how we are not insulated from the rest of the world," he said.

Hagel asked Bera how many of their constituents even knew where Afghanistan was prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, or what al Qaeda was.

Hagel added that the use of chemical weapons by any country has never been accepted in modern warfare, and that letting the Syrian regime off the hook would embolden other enemies of the United States, including Iran and North Korea.

"We've got to stay ahead of these things," he said.

Bera said he understood the universal condemnation of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, but that sending a message to the regime would do little to stop further attacks if the weapons stockpiles were left unsecured.

"My constituents and I still need to be convinced," Bera said. "We need to know exactly what our goals are."

PHOTO: U.S. Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, attends the California State Society's inaugural luncheon on Jan. 19, 2013, in Washington, D.C. McClatchy Tribune/Tish Wells

September 4, 2013
Darrell Steinberg says he's willing to spend some on prison beds

prison.JPGSenate leader Darrell Steinberg signaled willingness to compromise Wednesday on plans for reducing California prison overcrowding as Gov. Jerry Brown continued to criticize his fellow Democrat's approach.

"The plan approved by the Senate Budget Committee is an inmate release plan by another name, totally dependent on an illusory legal settlement," Brown said in a statement following a party-line committee vote approving a bill reflecting Steinberg plan.

"I will not turn over our criminal justice system to lawyers who operate at the behest of their inmate clients, and not the people, whose interests we are sworn to uphold," the governor said. "Moreover, the plan adds huge burdens to local government, which threaten to undo the remarkable progress we've made in realignment."

September 4, 2013
California schools may dump decade-old standardized tests

HA_SCHOOL_BUS2565.JPGCalifornia leaders are proposing to immediately suspend the state's standardized tests that have become a routine part of assessing its schools for the past decade.

New amendments to Assembly Bill 484 would end the use of STAR tests in math and English for the school year now underway. In its place, schools could opt in to new assessments aligned to Common Core Standards.

The bill originally called for 20 percent of the state's schools to participate in a trial run of the new tests. Now, any district can opt in to test the computer-based test this school year.

"I believe that will allow classroom time to be focused correctly on Common Core," said Democratic Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, a former high school teacher from Concord, who authored the bill.

September 4, 2013
Legislative analyst says Brown's prison plan just short-term

prison.jpgGov. Jerry Brown's plan to relieve state prison overcrowding may comply with federal court orders in the short run, but not in the long run, the Legislature's budget analyst said in an analysis.

The Legislative Analyst's Office report was released as the state Senate's budget committee opened a hearing on Brown's plan and an alternate being offered by the upper house's Democratic majority. Both are aimed at avoiding outright releases of inmates.

Brown would relieve overcrowding by using out-of-state and private prisons and local facilities to reduce the state prison population by about 10,000 inmates, as the courts have ordered.

September 4, 2013
Role reversal: Republicans beat Dems, take legislative softball game

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Republican lawmakers rallied from a two-run deficit to win a charity game 4-2 against their Democratic counterparts on Wednesday night.

Democrats opened the scoring with a run in the fifth and crossed the plate once more in the sixth, but Republicans knotted the score in the seventh before tacking on a two-run lead an inning later to secure the win.

Press access to the game, which was held at Sacramento's Raley Field, proved tricky. The office of Assemblyman Ian Calderon, which coordinated logistics for the game, rebuffed requests for credentials, including from a Bee photographer.

"Republicans" and "victory" seldom occupy the same sentence in California these days -- a fact lost on neither team. Reflecting their resounding majority in the Legislature, Democrats had noticeably more representatives in the dugout (naturally, Dems got the home team's dugout) and in the stands.

September 4, 2013
AM Alert: Prison plans scrutinized as legislative clock ticks

20121106_HA_Prop300506.JPGWe're down to single digits: Nine calendar days now remain before the deadline to send bills to Gov. Jerry Brown's desk, with this week's abbreviated schedule speeding things along and leaving two days for legislative business this week. (Thanks to Rosh Hashanah, there's no session scheduled for tomorrow.)

And adding to the fun, Senate floor session will get started at 11 a.m. today to accommodate a 9 a.m. Senate Budget and Fiscal Review committee hearing comparing the contending prison plans floated, respectively, by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and by Gov. Jerry Brown, with the support of Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez and Republican legislative leaders.

Steinberg's plan may get a vote today. The parallel Assembly/gubernatorial plan flew through Assembly Budget last week without a single "no" vote, so it should be interesting to see how Steinberg's plan fares given the intrigue surrounding whether Senate Democrats will remain loyal to Steinberg's plan or defect to support the Assembly bill. Steinberg has flatly rejected Pérez's assertion that he would have Senate votes for the governor's plan.

VIDEO: Dan Walters says that the Legislature needs answers on why the new Bay Bridge span cost so much.

September 4, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: Legislature needs answers on Bay Bridge

Dan says hearings in the California Senate should get to the bottom of the cost overruns and delays with the just-opened eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

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

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.



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Capitol Alert Staff


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

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

Dan Smith Dan Smith is Capitol bureau chief for The Sacramento Bee. smith@sacbee.com

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

Micaela Massimino Micaela Massimino edits Capitol Alert. mmassimino@sacbee.com

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

David Siders David Siders covers the Brown administration. dsiders@sacbee.com. Twitter: @davidsiders

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

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