Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

September 24, 2013
Nonprofit takes California lawmakers to Scandinavia


In an annual tradition, a union-and-corporate-backed nonprofit has spirited recessing California lawmakers away to Sweden, Norway and Denmark for an educational trip.

The California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy has faced scrutiny in the past for furnishing lawmakers with paid trips abroad. In recent years, that has included jaunts to Spain, Brazil, Italy, Japan and South Africa.

This year, legislators and officials are touring Scandinavia. Scheduled participants include Sens. Kevin de León, Anthony Cannella, Ricardo Lara and Bill Emmerson; Assembly members Travis Allen, Cristina Garcia, Steven Bradford, Kristin Olsen and Shirley Weber; and a collection of board members representing energy companies, labor groups and environmental organizations.

The California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy chose Scandinavia because the region -- Sweden especially -- has emerged as a leader in encouraging the use of renewable energy, said P.J. Johnston, a spokesman for the organization. Johnston said the organization has come to anticipate criticism of such trips but emphasized that the focus remains on developing thoughtful public policy.

"I know there are critics of any kind of travel but the fact is this organization was founded a long time ago ago and has been doing essentially the same thing for all those years, which is having working trips to places around the world that can give insight with regard to best practices," Johnston said. "These are not golf trips to Maui."

A lawsuit filed this week by a Pacific Gas & Electric Company shareholder would beg to differ. The lawsuit linked alleged negligence leading up to the deadly San Bruno pipeline explosion to past California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy trips, saying they allowed state regulators to become cozy with industries they are responsible for overseeing.

The complaint faults California Public Utilities Commission president Michael Peevey for participating in "lavish junkets that are represented as necessary excursions to improve California's energy situation" but that in fact serve to "reduce the amount of regulation PG&E is under."

PHOTO: Sen. Kevin de León posted this photo of himself shaking hands with U.S. Ambassador to Sweden Mark Brzezinski on Twitter.

September 24, 2013
Jerry Brown signs paparazzi, earthquake-warning bills

Jerry_Brown_Online_Education.jpgGov. Jerry Brown has signed legislation backed by actress Halle Berry to restrict paparazzi access to children, his office announced Tuesday afternoon.

Senate Bill 606, by Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, clarifies that misdemeanor harassment of a child based on parents' profession includes attempting to record the child's image or voice.

The bill was opposed on First Amendment grounds by the California Newspaper Publishers Association, the Motion Picture Association of America and the California Broadcasters Association.

Berry gave emotional testimony at the Capitol about the need to restrict overzealous photographers, and some law enforcement officers said it would protect their children from harassment and threats made because of their parents' work in law enforcement.

The bill was one of 12 Brown announced signing Tuesday.

He also signed Senate Bill 135, by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, which provides for the development of a statewide earthquake early warning system.

In a prepared statement, Padilla said that with Brown's signature, "the process of developing a statewide earthquake early warning system has begun."

Presumably, Brown studied up before signing the bill. When asked for his position on the bill earlier this month, the Democratic governor said, "I couldn't give you a stance on that because I don't know what the hell it is."

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at a news conference in San Francisco on March 13, 2013. AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

September 24, 2013
Birman gets nod over Ose from FreedomWorks PAC in Sacramento race

Birman.jpgRepublican jockeying to unseat Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, continued Tuesday, with Washington-based FreedomWorks PAC endorsing former congressional aide Igor Birman over former Rep. Doug Ose in the 7th district.

Birman, the ex-chief of staff to Republican Rep. Tom McClintock, is taking on Ose, who relinquished his seat after serving three terms in the House, and autism activist Elizabeth Emken, who last year finished a distant second to Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

The support of FreedomWorks, which typically backs tea party candidates and causes, could help Birman brandish his conservative credentials in the suburban district that's nearly evenly divided between registered Republicans and Democrats. The group spent $19.6 million in the 2012 election cycle, nearly all of it supporting Republicans or opposing Democrats.

Birman was the clear choice for limited-government voters looking to preserve economic freedom and rein in Washington's out-of-control spending, FreedomWorks PAC President Matt Kibbe said in a release.

"Congress has been auctioning off our rights for years, and both Republicans and Democrats are to blame. The constituents of California deserve better than a rank and file follower or a recycled politician searching for another turn in the spotlight," Kibbe said. "Igor is a policy expert who understands exactly what needs to be done to get our country back on track and he has the spine to stand up and make sure it happens."

Ose noted the unanimous support he's received from elected councilmembers in Folsom and Citrus Heights.

"I offer real solutions for the people here in the greater Sacramento area and have a proven record of cutting taxes, budget reform and creating jobs," he said. "This is why I have earned the support of so many local leaders who want their community's interests well served in Washington DC."

The district has been described as a virtual toss-up and is again expected to produce one of the most expensive races in the country.

Birman, who with his family emigrated from Russia to the U.S. in 1994, has largely framed his campaign as a fight for freedom.

"His personal experience with central government control of daily life gives him a unique and valuable perspective that too few others in Congress have," Kibbe added.

Editor's note: This post was updated at 2:25 p.m. with Ose's response.

PHOTO: Igor Birman, left, poses with his former boss, Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, at Birman's campaign kick-off this month. The Sacramento Bee/Christopher Cadelago.

September 24, 2013
AM Alert: Election inches Legislature closer to full strength

20121106_AOC_YoloVote_178w.JPGPoliticians love trumpeting California's uniqueness. Given the number of special elections this year, the state -- or at least its politics -- seems to be very special indeed.

Today's contest will fill the 52nd Assembly District seat that Sen. Norma Torres, D-Pomona, bid farewell to once she won election to the Senate, and its outcome could get Assembly Democrats within a seat of reclaiming their two-thirds supermajority. If Democrat Freddie Rodriguez prevails over Ontario Mayor Paul Leon (an avowed Republican candidate in prior races, Leon decided to ditch party affiliations for this one), Dems will hold 53 Assembly seats.

After the victor of today's race gets sworn in, the Assembly will still be two members away from maximum occupancy, thanks to two seats opening after former Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield and former Sen. Curren Price gravitated to the Los Angeles City Council, as Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell just won Price's old seat.

BONDING TIME: As the 2014 ballot creeps closer, talk of a planned water bond measure is approaching a low boil. Today a joint hearing of the Senate Environmental Quality and Senate Natural Resources and Water committees takes a look, with Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, and Assemblyman Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, presenting legislation -- one bill by Rendon and another bill by Wolk -- that would drastically change the content of the bond. (In a related development, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan folks just rolled out a revamped website.) From 9 a.m. in the Capitol's room 4203.

SUICIDE STUDIED: In another out-of-session hearing, the Select Committee On Mental Health will be discussing suicide at the State Building in San Francisco. Witnesses will include Sgt. Kevin Briggs of the California Highway Patrol, a couple of suicide survivors and a prevention advocate whose son died by suicide, Lilyana Hudson of San Francisco Suicide Prevention and Rajeev Ramchand, a behavioral scientist at the RAND Corp.

ENERGY INFO: Sophisticated data analysis has come to pervade everything from baseball to presidential campaigns, and today a talk hosted by the California Energy Commission and Assemblyman Bill Quirk, D-Hayward, will examine how to apply data analysis to energy goals. Speakers will include CPUC Commissioner Carla Peterman, California Energy Commission chief Andrew McAllister and Ken Alex, director of the Governor's Office of Planning and Research. From 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. in the Capitol's room 4202.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who turns 62 today.

PHOTO: A UC Davis freshman votes for the first time at a polling place set up at the university's Memorial Union on Nov. 6, 2012. The Sacramento Bee/Autumn Payne.


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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