Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

September 10, 2013
Jerry Brown opposes naming bridge for Willie Brown

WillieBrown3.jpgGov. Jerry Brown has come out against a proposal to rename part of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge for former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, as the measure makes its way through the Legislature.

"Governor Brown believes that the iconic Bay Bridge should keep the name it has had for nearly 77 years, a name that lives in the hearts and minds of all Californians," Brown spokesman Evan Westrup said in an email this afternoon. "And he feels the same way about the Golden Gate Bridge. "

The Democratic governor typically refrains from commenting on pending action in the Legislature. But unlike with a bill that he could veto, Brown may have no final say on the effort to rename the bridge. The proposal to rename the western span of the bridge for Willie Brown, the former mayor of San Francisco, is contained in a concurrent resolution that does not require the governor's approval.

The measure, Assembly Concurrent Resolution 65, sailed through the Assembly without opposition, and it is expected to reach the Senate floor before session ends this week.

The resolution touts Willie Brown's contributions to transportation, affordable housing and higher education in San Francisco, among other accomplishments. It says he "is widely regarded as one of the most influential politicians of the late 20th century, and has been at the center of California politics, government and civic life for an astonishing four decades."

Three former presidents of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors last month sent a letter to Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg opposing the measure, saying it does not "reflect a community consensus" that naming the bridge for Willie Brown is appropriate.

The airing of the governor's opinion on the matter follows the Labor Day opening of the bridge's new eastern span, a $6.4 billion project that came in years late and billions of dollars over budget.

PHOTO: Former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown in 2010. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

September 10, 2013
California Public Records Act amendment going to June ballot

MC_LEGIS_16.JPGCalifornia voters will get a chance to weigh in on whether local governments must comply with, and pay for, public records requests.

The Assembly passed a constitutional amendment on Wednesday that would enshrine the 1968 California Public Records Act in the state's constitution, clarifying that local agencies cannot reject requests for publicly available documents. The proposed amendment will appear on the June 2014 ballot.

Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, authored the measure in response to the fallout from a budget trailer bill that would have made providing some information optional for local governments.

Part of the issue -- and the reason the matter surfaced in a budget bill -- involved the state's costs for reimbursing local governments for their response to public records requests. The constitutional amendment headed to the ballot would require that local governments pay for those inquiries in full.

"Today's action by the Assembly allows California voters to debate the importance of strengthening the state's most critical open government laws by requiring compliance in the Constitution," Leno said in a statement. "If approved by voters, SCA 3 would permanently uphold and protect a person's right to inspect public records and attend public meetings, which are principles we all respect and treasure."

PHOTO: Sen. Mark Leno hugs then-state Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod after a vote on pension reform during session at Senate chambers at the state Capitol on Aug. 31, 2012. The Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo.

September 10, 2013
California tree-cutting measure raises environmentalist hackles

SIERRA_LOGGER.JPGA late-blooming bill allowing Californians to topple larger trees has pitted environmental groups against lawmakers citing the need to combat forest fires.

As things now stand, the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection must review timber plans before cutting can begin -- unless the chopping relates to specific ends such as fire prevention. Those exemptions come with guidelines stipulating that the trees can be no larger than 18 inches in diameter.

Legislators want to expand the maximum diameter to 24 inches through 2019 via gut-and-amend legislation, introduced by Assemblymen Brian Dahle, R-Bieber, and Rich Gordon,D-Menlo Park, and co-authored by Sens. Ted Gaines, R-Rocklin, and Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, that looks similar to a timber-harvesting bill that died in the Assembly Natural Resources Committee, its first stop, back in April.

A series of massive fires, including the ravenous Rim fire that swept across hundreds of acres of California in recent weeks, prompted the bill, according to Josh Cook, Dahle's chief of staff. He stressed that the bill creates a five-year pilot program to see if facilitating the process for harvesting larger trees would help stymie catastrophic blazes.

"With climate change we have drier years and need to adapt our practices," Cook said. "Clearly we have a problem. With the amount of structures being lost and watershed destruction, this is clearly the biggest environmental issue in the state."

Six inches may seem like a small difference, but environmentalists say the bill carries large implications for complex forest ecosystems and the habitats they contain.

"The bill would actually focus the cutting on the large, merchantable trees, which are not the trees that are the biggest part of fuel load in fire risk," said Brian Nowicki of the Center for Biological Diversity. "Large trees are the more fire-resistant trees."

PHOTO: A logger working in the Tahoe National Forest trims off branches and cuts trunks to the proper length for loading onto a logging truck in 1992. The Sacramento Bee/Jay Mather.

September 10, 2013
Brown backs school-test measure despite federal opposition

RP_School_TEST_SCORES_JENNIFER.JPGGov. Jerry Brown says he'll push forward with school-testing legislation despite U.S. Department of Education threats to withhold federal funds.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said California's request for a one-year reprieve from using STAR tests in math and English for the current school year is unacceptable and may force his department to "take action."

"No one wants to over-test, but if you are going to support all students' achievement, you need to know how all students are doing," Duncan said in a statement Monday night.

Assembly Bill 484 by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, was amended last week to allow all schools to opt in to computer-based assessments aligned to new curriculum standards called Common Core, while ending the 14-year-old STAR tests.

Jim Evans, a spokesman for Brown, said Tuesday in a statement, "We support the legislation."

"There is no reason to double-test students using outdated, ineffective standards disconnected from what's taught in the classroom," Evans added.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, who is sponsoring Bonilla's bill, was in the Capitol on Tuesday talking to lawmakers about the importance of AB 484. The former legislator said it is a better investment to redirect the $25 million used to give the outdated STAR tests to instead allow more students to try new computer-based assessments.

"I'm disappointed someone in Washington would want to interfere in the legislative process in California," Torlakson told The Bee.

"We are all for accountability and measuring student achievement," he said. "This is a transition year."

September 10, 2013
Jerry Brown signs anti-swatting, rape impersonation bills

brownsigns.jpgLawmakers trudging through the final days of session are getting regular doses of good news from Gov. Jerry Brown, who on Monday alone signed more than 50 of their bills.

Since the first of the year, the Democratic governor had signed 314 bills and vetoed just five.

Brown's veto rate so far this year, 1.6 percent, is far lower than in the first two years of his term - 14 percent in 2011 and 12 percent in 2012.

That may change, of course, when Brown looks over the flurry of bills heading his way this week. End-of-session bills are sometimes late in coming because they are the more controversial, harder ones to pass.

Among a raft of bills Brown signed Monday were laws expanding the scope of practice for physician's assistants, stiffening penalties for "swatting," or filing a false emergency report, and closing a loophole in the state's rape law to cover attackers who impersonate people victims know to coerce them into having sex.

The governor also announced a rarity, a veto.

Assembly Bill 902, by Assemblywoman Beth Gaines, R-Rocklin, would have doubled the fine for motorists who fail to move over or slow down for stopped emergency or service vehicles on freeways.

"No showing has been made that piling on an additional $252 will protect anybody," Brown wrote in a veto message. "This enhanced amount strikes me as more punitive than deterrent."

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown and his legislative affairs secretary, Gareth Elliot, right, at the Capitol on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013. Brown is pouring over dozens of bills awaiting his signature or veto. AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

September 10, 2013
Legislature sending Jerry Brown bill making drug possession a 'wobbler'

ha_Mark_LENO_2011.JPGThe California Legislature is sending Gov. Jerry Brown a bill to change drug sentencing laws in the state.

Under Senate Bill 649, local prosecutors would have discretion to decide whether a person charged with possessing a small amount of illegal drugs should be charged with a felony or a misdemeanor.

"It gives district attorneys more authority than they have today," said Sen. Mark Leno, a San Francisco Democrat who wrote the bill.

The Senate passed the bill today on a concurrence vote of 23-13. It now heads to the governor for consideration.

PHOTO: Sen. Mark Leno in 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

September 10, 2013
Hollywood Park wins skirmish over card room bill

Thumbnail image for RBGambling5.JPG

No legislative end-of-session would be complete without at least one clash over gambling. This year's appears to be a bill that would allow Hollywood Park, a storied Southern California horse racing track, to shut down racing but continue to host wagering as a card room.

The legislation, Senate Bill 472, would give Hollywood Park a temporary exemption from California laws governing ownership and operation of a cardroom.

Hollywood Park intends to shut down horse racing at the end of the current season, but its continued use as a card room site runs afoul of state laws that bar the owners of a California casino from also owning a gambling operation that offers gambling games that are banned in California.

The public pension funds that own Hollywood Park also own the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas, which is now closed for remodeling, so the owners would have three years, under state law, to divest itself of one operation or the other.

AB 472, carried by Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, would give a three-year divestment period that would begin only after the Sahara reopens.

It drew opposition from other Southern California card rooms and Indian tribal casinos, which said Hollywood Park shouldn't receive special treatment, but the measure was sent to the Senate floor for a final vote on a 6-0 vote of the Senate Governmental Operations Committee.

September 10, 2013
Teacher dismissal bill, once stalled, moves to Senate floor


Union-backed legislation to revise how teachers can be dismissed, which had been rejected by the Senate Education Committee in July, was resurrected Tuesday, two days before the Legislature's scheduled adjournment.

It moved to the Senate floor after several committee members changed their votes.

Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, made some minor revisions to the legislation, Assembly Bill 375, last week and then asked the committee to consider it again.

The Buchanan bill was introduced as an alternative to a much-tougher measure that Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, had written in response to a sex abuse case involving a Los Angeles teacher.

Opposed by the California Teachers Association and other unions, the Padilla bill was blocked in the Assembly after clearing the Senate. But Buchanan's measure, which she said would streamline dismissal procedures, was stalled in the Senate committee after winning Assembly approval.

Last week's amendments didn't seem to change the lineup of supporters - unions and state schools Supt. Tom Torlakson - or opponents, a coalition of school districts, administrators and school reform groups.

The latter complained that although the measure changes procedures, it would make some aspects of teacher dismissal, especially in sex cases and other criminal and moral matters, more difficult.

However, Padilla told the committee that he's supporting AB 375, even though it is "a slightly different approach than my bill."

In July, four Democrats voted for AB 375, but three other Democrats, including the committee's chairwoman, Carol Liu, refused to vote, thus leaving it one vote short of passage. On Tuesday Liu voted for the bill, and with other vote changes, it got the five votes it needed to move to the floor.

September 10, 2013
Kathleen Brown won't 'disintermediate' Sutter Brown

Thumbnail image for sutterbrown.jpgThe big question about Kathleen Brown's return to California, announced Monday, was whether the former state treasurer and gubernatorial candidate might run again for public office.

She won't, she said.

"No, no thank you."

But then there is that other matter - the family dog.

When Brown left California for Chicago following her brother's election to be governor in 2010, she was moving to an apartment and a "pretty brutal winter," so she left her Pembroke Welsh corgi, Sutter, in her brother's care.

The dog became a fixture at the Capitol, and the governor's office began referring to him as California's "first dog."

Kathleen Brown, who is moving to Los Angeles for a job at the law firm of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips LLP, was asked if she would be taking him back.

She won't, she said.

"The dog is happily situated," Brown said, "and I wouldn't presume to disintermediate his celebrity status and special relationship with the first lady and the governor."

PHOTO: Sutter Brown makes an appearance at the Capitol on Feb. 14, 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

September 10, 2013
AM Alert: California braces for another dry year in 2014

JV_071913_WATER_Folsom_124.JPGDry and getting drier. That's the potential prognosis for the coming year, according to California Department of Water Resources officials, who have warned that 2014 could continue a recently parched pattern for California.

The repercussions could ripple across the state, from diminished agricultural yields to reduced reservoirs to increased risk of wildfires to heightened conflict over precious and dwindling groundwater. A meeting today jointly administered by the State Board of Food and Agriculture and the California Water Commission will examine the potential implications.

Expected speakers include Mark Cowin of the Department of Water Resources, Randy Record of the Association of California Water Agencies, Mike Wade of the California Farm Water Coalition, Karla Nemeth of the California Natural Resources Agency, and Victoria Whitney of the State Water Resources Control Board. Starting at 10 a.m. at the Department of Food and Agriculture building on N Street.

VIDEO: There are plenty of contingencies and caveats in the prison overcrowding deal struck Monday, Dan Walters says.

September 10, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: Inmate lawyers control prison plan's fate

California legislative leaders and Gov. Jerry Brown are touting a compromise on prison overcrowding, but Dan says that the issue looks likely to be around for a long time.

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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