Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

September 17, 2013
Ravel's FEC nomination heads to floor of U.S. Senate


Ann Ravel, chair of the state's ethics watchdog, today received unanimous approval from a U.S. Senate panel in her quest to join the Federal Election Commission.

The Senate Rules and Administration Committee's action on two of President Obama's nominees clears the way for vote of the full Senate.

"It's nice that it was unanimous, that there weren't any issues today," Ravel told The Bee. "But who knows what's going to happen once it gets to the floor, especially given all of the other issues swirling around."

Ravel's nomination was supported by several California Democrats, including U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Reps. Zoe Lofgren and Mike Honda. Support also came from former FPPC Commissioner Ronald Rotunda, a law professor at Chapman University.

Rotunda was among Ravel's harshest public critics upon her nomination to the FPPC.

"I have read criticisms that the FEC staff sometimes exceeds its powers under the law when they initiate investigations without FEC approval," Rotunda wrote in a letter to Rep. Charles Schumer, D-New York, and chairman of the rules committee. "If that criticism is true, I am confident that Ann will treat the staff with the utmost respect while not supporting unsanctioned investigations."

As chair of the California Fair Political Practices Commission, Ravel waged a tough legal battle to uncover the source of an $11 million donation from a mysterious Arizona group. She later backed a stack of unsuccessful bills to curb the practice after the entity in question donated money to a committee opposing Gov. Jerry Brown's tax measure and supporting an initiative targeting labor unions.

Ravel worked as a U.S. Justice Department official in Washington when Brown appointed her chair three years ago. The six-member Federal Election Commission administers and enforces the Federal Election Campaign Act.

Ann Ravel, chair of the Fair Political Practices Commission, in her office in December 2012. The Sacramento Bee / Renée C. Byer

September 17, 2013
Better pay for home care workers under U.S. labor rule, CA bill

t.perez.JPGThe U.S. Department of Labor announced Tuesday that federal minimum wage and overtime requirements will be extended to home health aides, certified nursing assistants and other workers who provide home care to the elderly, injured and disabled.

California currently requires employers, including individuals and families who privately pay for the services, to pay minimum wage, but not overtime. The federal rule change would require overtime at time and a half for those workers who log more than 40 hours a week beginning in 2015.

U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez said Tuesday's announcement will ensure home care workers are paid a fair wage and "no longer treated like teenage baby-sitters."

Of the nearly 2 million people employed as home health care workers, approximately 90 percent are women and 40 percent rely on some type of public assistance.

"It's really a simple matter of fairness," said Henry Claypool, executive vice president of the American Association of People with Disabilities.

The federal mandate comes on the heels of a California bill calling for some domestic workers - in-home nannies and caregivers - to receive overtime pay for working more than nine hours a day or 45 hours in a week.

Assembly Bill 241 by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, passed the Legislature last week and is awaiting consideration by Gov. Jerry Brown. While there is overlap between the two, Ammiano's office said they are still urging Brown to sign their bill because there are some differences in who and when a person is eligible for overtime.

If signed, Ammiano's bill would be on the books in January and provide overtime protections beyond nine hours a day, instead of the weekly threshold under the federal rule. Ammiano's bill includes in home child care workers, whereas the federal law does not.

PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez in a 2013 file photo. Associated Press/Molly Riley.

September 17, 2013
Linda Ronstadt recalls Jerry Brown who lived with discipline, repurposed flowers

brownronstadt.jpgLinda Ronstadt says in her new memoir, "Simple Dreams," that she and Gov. Jerry Brown "had a lot of fun for a number of years," but that they never thought they would spend their lives together.

Ronstadt, whose memoir was released today by Simon & Schuster, dated Brown when he was governor before, from 1975 to 1983. He is mentioned a handful of times in the book, including in a dinner scene that will ring true for anyone familiar with his scheduling habits and frugality today.

Ronstadt writes she was preparing to leave for a dinner with Rosemary Clooney when Brown stopped by unexpectedly, "said he was hungry and wanted to go too." As they were about to leave, he noticed a box of roses someone had sent Ronstadt.

"Probably feeling a little sheepish about inviting himself to dinner, and being a person who is notoriously tight with a dollar, he picked them up and said, 'We can take these to Rosemary,'" she writes.

When she protested, "He shot me a mischievous grin. 'If I take the card out, they'll be hers.'"

Ronstadt says Brown was different from many men she knew in rock and roll.

"Jerry Brown and I had a lot of fun for a number of years," she writes. "He was smart and funny, not interested in drinking or drugs, and lived his life carefully, with a great deal of discipline."

She says, "Neither of us ever suffered under the delusion that we would like to share each other's lives. I would have found his life too restrictive, and he would have found mine entirely chaotic."

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown and rock singer Linda Ronstadt arrive in Monrovia, Liberia on April 8, 1979. UPI/S.Black

September 17, 2013
Parcel tax vote change may not change much, PPIC concludes

school.jpgParcel taxes are applied evenly to property parcels regardless of value, unlike regular property taxes, and thus don't run afoul of Proposition 13's constitutional limit.

Some affluent school districts have gained voter approval for parcel taxes. However, they require two-thirds approval and there's been a movement in the Legislature to lower that threshold to either a simple majority or the 55 percent level required of school bonds, saying it would provide much-needed funds for schools.

Legislative leaders have postponed any consideration of a constitutional amendment on parcel taxes at least until next year because changing the vote margin would itself require a two-thirds legislative vote and then statewide voter approval.

Anti-tax groups are geared up for a battle on parcel taxes in the Legislature and, if necessary, at the ballot, while school employee unions and their allies would finance a campaign for change.

It may be much ado about nothing, a new study by the Public Policy Institute of California indicates.

PPIC's researchers studied parcel tax and school bond election results and concluded that even with a lower vote threshold, it's unlikely that many new taxes would be imposed in poor communities, where the need is greatest.

Parcel taxes have been approved in relatively small, affluent districts, mostly in the San Francisco Bay Area but tend to be rejected by strong margins in poorer communities, whose residents are less willing to tax themselves.

"A lower vote threshold for parcel tax passage is unlikely to do much to bridge these basic inequalities," PPIC's study team said.

"It is hard to say that lowering the vote threshold for parcel tax passage would expand their reach into new areas of the state or to more disadvantaged students," researcher Eric McGhee said. "This change would likely make it easier for more of the same kind of districts to pass parcel taxes and for districts that already have them to pass more."

PHOTO: At right, Maiya Miller, 8, hugs Principal Shana Henry on the first day of school at Pacific Elementary school in Sacramento on Tuesday, September 3, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Renee C. Byer

September 17, 2013
Democrats target Denham, Valadao in robocalls

Thumbnail image for HA_denham.JPGDemocrats today are launching a flurry of robocalls charging two Republican San Joaquin Valley congressmen with contemplating shutting down the government and withholding financial support to implement the new federal health care law.

The automated calls targeting Reps. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, and David Valadao, R-Hanford, implore the recipients to ask their representatives to "stop the nonsense and focus on common sense solutions that protect our health care and grow our economy."

In a statement Tuesday, Valadao said he strongly opposed a government shutdown.

"The federal government has a responsibility to seniors who depend on Social Security and Medicare. Most importantly, we must fulfill commitments to those in the military and their families," he said.

"Congress should continue to debate the problems facing this country, including ObamaCare, with the intent on finding solutions and compromise, but we should not hold the most vulnerable, our military, and our economy hostage."

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's paid effort continues through the end of the week and mirrors a nationwide attempt to target vulnerable incumbents. The calls come as top Democrats in Washington predict a protracted fight to avert a partial government shutdown come Oct. 1.

PHOTO: Then-state Sen. Jeff Denham attends a presentation of seven housing bills by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in Merced on Monday, October 19, 2009, THe Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

Editor's note: This post was updated at 3:40 to reflect Valadao's statement.

September 17, 2013
California seeks to turn public gaze to fake seeing-eye dogs

AOC_BODRuthComp_318w.JPGA public policy-related joke:

Two men approach a bar with their dogs and notice a "no pets allowed" sign outside. The first man, not wanting to find a new watering hole, gets an idea: he puts on some sunglasses, walks up with his golden retriever and explains it's his guide dog. They let him in.

His friend attempts the same thing with his pet chihuahua. The skeptical bouncer says, "your seeing-eye dog is a chihuahua?" To which the man replies:

"They gave me a CHIHUAHUA?"

Having trouble spotting the public policy angle? Well, as it turns out, seeing-eye dog fraud represents a real problem -- so much so that a division of the California Department of Consumer Affairs plans to launch a public information campaign to combat the issue of seeing-eye shysters.

"For guide dog users in particular they are impacted, because some people pose their pets as service animals and those dogs may end up impeding a dog going from point A to point B, or distracting or getting in the way of a guide dog that's working with their partner," said Antonette Sorrick, an executive officer at the State Board of Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Basically, dog owners want to bring their beloved pooches into normally prohibited areas -- "the benefit is you get to dress up Fifi in a vest that says service animal and you get to bring him to restaurants, hotels, airlines what have you," Sorrick explained.

The issue has become widespread enough that guide dog users have suffered detrimental effects, Sorrick said, including establishments treating helper dogs skeptically. The state board heard from a legitimate helper dog owner who had stayed at a hotel and was charged a pet fee.

"The hotel person said 'look, I'm sorry, but there's so many people who say their pets are service dogs,'" Sorrick said.

Misrepresenting a pet as a service dog is already a misdemeanor in California, but the State Board of Guide Dogs for the Blind wants to add a public education campaign. The seven-member board decided on Monday to pursue the project and will begin exploring what comes next, from mulling some potential slogans to seeing if an actual policy change, perhaps enacted via the Legislature, would be necessary.

PHOTOS: Ruth Welland gets a treat and some water out for her guide dog, Sylvia, after classes at Sacramento City College. November 9, 2010. The Sacramento Bee/Autumn Cruz.

September 17, 2013
California unemployment checks delayed amid computer upgrade

unemployment.jpgThe state Employment Development Department said today that about 50,000 unemployed Californians have had their benefit checks delayed as the department struggles to implement a computer system upgrade.

An EDD spokeswoman, Loree Levy, said the department processed about 15,000 of those claims overnight and hopes to finish the rest by the end of the week. The delayed claims are from the first two weeks of September.

"We really are all hands on deck to get these folks taken care of," Levy said.

The department said on its website Monday that delays affected about 16 percent of bi-weekly claim forms received in the first two weeks of the month. It said there had been "some payment delays for a subset of our customers with more complexity associated with their claims."

The statement said employees are "working around the clock and through the weekends to try and get these payments issued for the customers eligible and waiting for benefits."

EDD said it has been working for months to upgrade its 30-year-old payment processing system. The department pays benefits to about 800,000 Californians, Levy said.

PHOTO: Sergio Fuentes, right, gets some help from a state worker at the state Employment Development Department in San Jose on Sept. 1, 2009. AP Photo/Paul Sakuma

September 17, 2013
AM Alert: Special elections reshuffle California Legislature


For you political junkies and journalists ruing the fallow months between now and the Legislature's return in January, thank goodness for special elections.

Today we get a pair of primaries, part of the never-ending cascade of open seats begetting special elections begetting open seats -- in this case, both vacant posts stemming from Los Angeles City Council elections that saw two former state legislators swap jobs.

Over in the 26th Senate District, Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, remains the odds-on favorite to replace former senator and now L.A. council member Curren Price -- so much so that Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles, essentially bid Mitchell farewell during an end-of-session monologue late on Thursday night's session finale.

The race to replace former Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield in the 45th Assembly District presents more of a puzzle. We have a packed Democratic field that includes: Matt Dababneh, an aide to Rep. Brad Sherman; longtime political staffer Damian Carroll, who worked most recently for L.A. Councilmember Paul Krekorian; Jeff Ebenstein, who works for L.A. City Councilmember Paul Koretz; and Glendale College professor of politics Andra Hoffman, who has Blumenfield's blessing and the backing of the California Federation of Teachers. On the Republican side are constitutional scholar Susan Shelley and engineer Chris Kolski.

VIDEO: California's uneven economic recovery could falter along for years, Dan Walters says.

REGENTS: The University of California Board of Regents kicks off a three-day meeting at UCSF Mission Bay today. No word on whether Gov. Jerry Brown will reprise his heavily-involved presence from earlier this year, when he alighted on regents meetings to push a new program of online learning.

SAN-BANKRUPT-DINO: San Bernardino's bankruptcy case gets examined today during a meeting of the California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank, which will take a look at where the proceedings stand. From 2 p.m. at 980 9th Street.

CELEBRATIONS: A few different lawmakers advance in age today. Assemblywoman Beth Gaines, R-Rocklin, turns 54; Assemblyman Ed Chau, D-Monterey Park, celebrates his 52nd; and Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, D-Fullerton, rings in her 51st year.

PHOTO: Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, listens during a Legislative informational hearing on gun laws at the State Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

September 17, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: California not done singing recession blues

Despite California's gradual economic recovery, Dan says, the results have varied widely across the state.

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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