Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

October 15, 2013
California health exchange reports nearly 100K application starts


Two weeks after opening its doors, the state insurance marketplace announced today that nearly 1.6 million individual visitors had come to its online portal and more than 104,000 customers called into its service center through Saturday.

Covered California began enrolling customers on Oct. 1 for insurance plans that start Jan. 1. Average wait times at call centers improved significantly - to less than two minutes from 15 minutes - and roughly 94,500 applications were started at through Saturday.

Last week, Executive Director Peter V. Lee said he wasn't inclined to release data so early but began doing so to counter persistent criticism of the agency's initial performance.

The state health insurance exchange also has made progress on certifying those tasked with enrolling new customers - although in some cases not as quickly as officials wanted. The agency reported certified 279 enrollment counselors, 1,295 insurance agents and 5,287 county eligibility workers in the first 12 days.

Some 3,824 enrollment counselors, 3,382 insurance agents and 5,421 county workers were in the process. In all, 17,768 insurance agents have registered to sell plans on the state exchange. Licensed insurance agents must receive training through Covered California.

On Monday, Lee told The Bee that fewer than half of the registered agents have been through the training because of technological snags.

"We've had sticky wickets on our IT system for training," Lee said, adding that the problem was being addressed to remove the logjam.

PHOTO: The executive director of Covered California, Peter V. Lee, speaks to members of the media during the launch of Covered California in Rancho Cordova on Oct. 1. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton.

October 15, 2013
VIDEO: Auburn woman urges McClintock to help end shutdown

7aSIX.St.4.jpegA Sacramento area cancer survivor whose potential treatment has been delayed by the partial federal government shutdown joined other activists Tuesday afternoon to deliver more than 140,000 signatures urging a compromise to GOP Rep. Tom McClintock's district office in Granite Bay.

Michelle Langbehn, whose ultimately unfruitful struggle to seek cancer treatment from the National Institutes of Health has received worldwide attention, said that thousands of fellow constituents in McClintock's Sacramento area district have been affected by the shutdown. She urged the congressman to put aside partisanship and break the stalemate.

"This needs to end tonight," said Langbehn, 30, of Auburn. "This needs to end right now."

McClintock, R-Elk Grove, said he appreciated Langbehn's leadership in trying end the impasse.

"She really has been an inspiration to a lot of people who want to see the government function as it was designed," McClintock said by phone from Washington.

Still, he noted that House Republicans earlier this month sent the Senate a continuing resolution that reopened the National Institutes of Health. The so-called "Research for Lifesavings Cures Act," passed 254-171. The Senate did not take up the measure, one of several piecemeal funding bills the House has passed.

"That's been supremely frustrating," McClintock said.

Langbehn and her allies say they want an "up or down" vote to end the shutdown.

VIDEO: The Sacramento Bee/Christopher Cadelago.

PHOTO: Cancer patient Michelle Langbehn receives a kiss from her daughter Lula as her grandfather Juan Torres and other family member surround her after speaking about the federal government shutdown at Rep. Tom McClintock's district office Tuesday in Granite Bay. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton.

October 15, 2013
Willie Brown representing new cardroom group


Former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown has a new gig. He recently signed a one-year contract to represent an association of cardrooms, said the group's executive director Jarhett Blonien.

Blonien, a Sacramento lobbyist, is the son of the late Rodney Blonien, who lobbied on behalf of cardrooms for 25 years before he passed away in 2012. Jarhett Blonien took over his dad's business and formed Communities for California Cardrooms earlier this year.

Blonien said he retained Brown to help the cardroom group build up its membership and salve tensions among frequently sparring gambling interests.

"That's what he does," Blonien said. "He's the ultimate peace broker."

Blonien said his relationship with Brown goes back to childhood, when he made the rounds at political fundraisers with his dad. Blonien and Brown traveled to China together earlier this year, he said, to visit gambling operations in Macau.

Last year, Brown represented a different group that was pushing for a bill to allow internet poker in California. It has since disbanded.

Brown will serve as a behind-the-scenes consultant to the cardroom group, Blonien said. The former speaker is not a registered lobbyist so his work on behalf of the cardrooms will not be evident in the public record. Unlike lobbyists, consultants do not have to publicly report who pays them or how much.

An investigation by The Bee this year documented a severe lack of detail in California's lobbying reports. Interest groups that spend the most money to influence policy in the Capitol spend the bulk of it in secret, The Bee found, including hiring former politicians as consultants and launching ad campaigns to push their agenda with virtually no financial disclosure.

Brown is among a cadre of former government officials -- including former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez -- who represent private sector clients without registering as lobbyists. The Fair Political Practices Commission recently fined three highly-connected consultants for engaging in lobbying without registering.

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

October 15, 2013
AM Alert: California dreamin' of future energy consumption

RBTurbines2.JPGThe post-legislative lull has descended over Sacramento, but there's still energy in the air. By that, of course, we mean crafting policies around California's future energy consumption. Two different state entities charged with considering such matters will be seeking public input today.

Over at the Air Resources Board, staff members will be sparking discussion on a new blueprint for achieving the emissions reduction goals set out in 2006's landmark AB 32. The last framework emerged in 2008, and under the terms of the law, policymakers must come up every five years with a new map for cutting emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. The public workshop gets underway at the Cal-EPA Headquarters starting at 1 p.m.

And the California Energy Commission continues to cobble together its biennial, comprehensive overview of California's future energy needs and the attendant demands on sources of power, from nuclear energy to renewables to natural gas. The Integrated Energy Policy Report will also include data on updating buildings to enhance energy efficiency, transportation-related energy costs and how climate change will affect energy infrastructure. Today's workshop, featuring Commissioner Andrew McAllister, kicks off at 9 a.m. at the California Energy Commission building on Ninth Street.

VIDEO: New characters performed a familiar plot, Dan Walters says, as officials sought to deflect blame for yet another buggy technology project.

CHIEFS OF STAFF: Curious about the daily duties of the chiefs of staff serving California lawmakers? Several current No. 2's will be detailing their experiences at a 1:30 p.m. event sponsored by, as the "Jefe de Jefes" name suggests, the California Latino Capitol Association. In room 113 of the State Capitol building.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to Senate President Pro Tem and Sacramento's own Darrell Steinberg, who turns 54 today. Maybe someone will get him season tickets for that new Kings arena?

PHOTO: Sheep graze among wind turbines near Rio Vista on May 1, 2012. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton.

October 15, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: California flubs another technology project

An unemployment benefits backlog shows California's latest blunder in rolling out a state computer system, Dan says.

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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