Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

September 25, 2013
Californians back prison plan but are wary of overcrowding fixes

20130918_PK_SAN QUENTIN_0037.JPGCalifornians narrowly favor Gov. Jerry Brown's new prison plan but remain anxious about the consequences of prison reform, a new Public Policy Institute of California poll finds.

When asked about the recent deal between Brown and legislative leaders, 52 percent of adults and likely voters gave their approval. The recently signed plan will spend $315 million more on prisons while asking for a three-year extension on lowering inmate numbers. Federal judges just granted the state a brief extension.

But when reflecting on the strategy of shifting lower-level inmates from state prisons to county jails, 57 percent of adults and 61 percent of likely voters said they were "not too confident" or "not at all confident" that local governments have the capacity to absorb new inmates under what's known as "realignment." In addition, more than three-quarters of the respondents -- 78 percent of adults and 77 percent of likely voters -- were either "very" or "somewhat" concerned about early prisoner releases.

The poll also gauged residents' opinions on many other issues ranging from violence to health care to marijuana.

September 25, 2013
Boxer-Vitter dispute could make things bumpy on highway bill

vitter.jpgSens. Barbara Boxer and David Vitter rarely agree on much. But the California Democrat and Louisiana Republican have proved they can cross party lines and work together on transportation and water-infrastructure issues.

On Wednesday, however, in a hearing of the Environment and Public Works Committee, there was awkwardness in the air, after the Senate Select Committee on Ethics dismissed a complaint filed last week by Vitter against Boxer.

Boxer leads both committees.

Vitter is the ranking member of the environmental committee and sits next to Boxer during hearings. As most committee leaders do, they frequently lean over to talk to each other during testimony. But Wednesday, Boxer acknowledged Vitter's arrival, then focused her attention on the testimony from a large panel of transportation officials.

Vitter rocked uncomfortably back and forth in his chair.

September 25, 2013
Freddie Rodriguez bests independent in tight Assembly race

RBVoters2.JPGDemocratic Pomona Councilman Freddie Rodriguez narrowly defeated independent Paul Leon to claim an open Southern California Assembly seat.

The Associated Press called the race Wednesday as Rodriguez clung to a 345-vote lead. Leon, the mayor of Ontario, would have needed to secure more than two-thirds of the roughly 1,000 uncounted votes to stage a come-from-behind victory.

"I look forward to being a voice for all of the people of the Inland Empire, and for safer neighborhoods, at the State Capitol," Rodriguez said in a prepared statement.

The tight margin gave Democrats little breathing room despite party voters commanding a 20-percentage point registration edge in a district that takes in parts of Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties.

Leon switched his party affiliation to "no party preference" from Republican after losing the Senate race to Norma Torres, D-Pacoima.

Rodriguez's win moves Democrats a seat away from reclaiming a veto-proof supermajority in the Assembly after Holly Mitchell of Los Angeles claims her seat in the Senate.

Democrats could pick up another seat on Nov. 19 if Matt Dababneh defeats Republican Susan Shelley to fill the San Fernando Valley seat vacated by Bob Blumenfield.

PHOTO: Voters cast their ballots on Nov. 6, 2012. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

September 25, 2013
VIDEO: Jerry Brown, labor secretary address jobless backlog

morgensternreporters.jpgOAKLAND - The Brown administration said Wednesday afternoon it hopes to finish paying thousands of backlogged claims for jobless benefits by next Tuesday, after ordering the Employment Development Department to begin paying backlogged claims for continued benefits before determining if they are eligible for payment.

"I just felt it was an intolerable situation, and we've got to get people their money," Marty Morgenstern, secretary of the state Labor and Workforce Development Agency, told reporters before an event in Oakland to celebrate Gov. Jerry Brown's enactment of a bill to raise California's minimum wage to $10 an hour by 2016.

EDD, which is upgrading its 30-year-old unemployment insurance processing system, said Friday that about 185,000 of the state's nearly 800,000 people receiving benefits had been affected by a computer problem that started during the Labor Day weekend. The department said earlier this week that about 80,000 backlogged claims had yet to be cleared.

Asked whether the administration had moved quickly enough to intervene, Brown said, "I think they're moving fast."

The Democratic governor said EDD has been hampered by federal budget cuts.

"We all know about computers, they do break down," he said. "The department will get those checks out just as quickly as they can."

State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, said his office has fielded numerous telephone calls from claimants waiting for checks.

For those people who are unemployed, he said, "It's awful."

PHOTO: Marty Morgenstern, secretary of the state Labor and Workforce Development Agency, speaks with reporters in Oakland on Sept. 25, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

VIDEO: Gov. Jerry Brown talks to reporters in Oakland on Sept. 25, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

September 25, 2013
Democrat Rodriguez controls small lead in Assembly special election

Rodriguez.jpgDemocrat Freddie Rodriguez was clinging to a slim lead Wednesday over independent Paul Leon for the inland Southern California Assembly seat formerly held by Sen. Norma Torres, D-Pomona.

Rodriguez, who declared victory late Tuesday, was leading with 51.3 percent of the vote, with all precincts reporting. But Leon, the mayor of Ontario, had yet to concede the race.

The margin separating the candidates was 365 votes in a district where Democratic voters hold a roughly 20-percentage point registration edge.

As of Wednesday, there were nearly 800 ballots left to be counted in San Bernardino County and another 273 in Los Angeles County, according to registrars of voters in both counties.

Leon switched his party affiliation from Republican to no party preference after losing the Senate race to Torres. In the primary to fill her 52nd district seat, Democrats and their allies in organized labor were forced to commit considerable resources to get Rodriguez into the top-two.

A victory for the Pomona city councilman would move Democrats a seat away from reclaiming a two-thirds supermajority in the lower chamber after Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell of Los Angeles claims her seat in the state Senate. They could pick-up another seat on Nov. 19 if Democrat Matt Dababneh defeats Republican Susan Shelley to fill the seat vacated by Bob Blumenfield in the San Fernando Valley.

PHOTO: Freddie Rodriguez. Photo courtesy of Freddie Rodriguez for Assembly.

September 25, 2013
Jerry Brown signs bill to raise California minimum wage

jerrybrownstate.jpgGov. Jerry Brown this morning signed legislation to raise California's minimum wage by 25 percent, from $8 an hour to $10 an hour by 2016.

The bill, celebrated by Brown and his labor union allies at an event in Los Angeles, promises the first increase in California's hourly minimum since 2008, when the minimum wage was raised 50 cents to $8.

After appearing in the state's biggest media market this morning, the Democratic governor is scheduled to fly to Oakland to promote the bill at a second event this afternoon.

Assembly Bill 10, by Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, will raise the minimum wage from $8 to $9 an hour on July 1, 2014, and to $10 on Jan. 1, 2016.

The bill was the only one of 38 bills designated by the California Chamber of Commerce as a "jobs killers" to make it out of the Legislature this year.

The chamber and other business groups said raising the hourly minimum would unfairly increase business costs and jeopardize California's economic recovery.

California is one of 18 states and the District of Columbia that have minimum wages above the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, and California's $10 minimum is likely to be among the highest in the nation in 2016.

Washington currently has the nation's highest state minimum wage, at $9.19 an hour, but that state is one of 10 that provide for automatic adjustments to their minimum wages based on cost of living measures, a provision eliminated from an earlier version of the bill Brown signed.

September 25, 2013
AM Alert: Jerry Brown to sign California's minimum wage bill

LSBUDGETSIGNING3.JPGWith a scrawl of Gov. Jerry Brown's pen, California's minimum wage will be set to begin rising incrementally for the first time in years, eventually to $10 an hour.

Democrats advanced Assembly Bill 10, by Watsonville Democrat Luis Alejo, over the protestations of Republicans warning about a detrimental effect on California's economy, with Brown taking the rare step of signaling his plans for a bill while the Legislature was still debating it.

The governor will attend two signing ceremonies today, something for which lawmakers who plan to be photographed next to the governor will no doubt be thankful: first in Los Angeles' Ronald Reagan State Building at 9 a.m., and then during a noon event at the Cypress Mandela Training Center in Oakland.

RURAL REPS: The Bee's Dan Walters has written about the perceived gulf between the urban lawmaker-dominated state Legislature and the concerns of rural residents. Similar topics will surface at a three-day conference of the Rural County Representatives of California that begins today in South Lake Tahoe. Expected speakers include Board of Equalization members Betty Yee and George Runner, California Republican Party chair Jim Brulte and former state Sen. Gloria Romero.

GOLF TOGETHER NOW: A quick scan of today's fundraisers reaffirms an important fact: lawmakers of opposing parties may differ on legislation, but they can agree on the cash-generating power of golf. Democratic Assemblywoman Nora Campos and Republican Sen. Tom Berryhill are inviting supporters to tee off in support of their 2014 bids today. Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, will host his own golf classic.

RESPECT YOUR ELDERS: A meeting of the California Commission on Aging meeting convenes today at the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Sacramento. After going through the day's business, commission members will meet with representatives of the California Elder Justice Coalition, which is hosting a day-long summit Thursday on preventing elder abuse.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare, who turns 63 today.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown signs the state budget during a ceremony at the Capitol, Thursday, June 27, 2013, in Sacramento. The Sacramento Bee/Lezlie Sterling.

September 25, 2013
Brown official orders EDD to pay jobless claims first, check eligibility later

unemploymentdelay.jpgWith thousands of Californians still waiting for unemployment checks because of a computer problem that has delayed payments for weeks, the Brown administration on Tuesday ordered the Employment Development Department to begin paying backlogged claims for continued benefits before determining if they are eligible for payment.

Calling the backlog "unacceptable," Marty Morgenstern, secretary of the state Labor and Workforce Development Agency, told EDD Chief Deputy Director Sharon Hilliard in a memorandum that without such action "it is unlikely that the claims backlog will be reduced quickly enough to respond to the very real financial hardship now being experienced by too many of our residents relying on timely payment of their UI benefits."

Morgenstern said, "Consequently, I am directing EDD to immediately begin the process of paying backlogged claims for continued UI benefits prior to a final determination of eligibility."

Final determinations of eligibility for backlogged claims "will have to be completed later and at that time EDD will act to recover any resulting overpayments that might occur," the memo said.

Loree Levy, an EDD spokeswoman, said in an email late Tuesday night that Hilliard received Morgenstern's memo and that EDD "will begin paying all backlogged UI claims without any further delays."

She said claimants who currently have claims in the backlog will begin receiving payments as soon as Thursday.


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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