Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

November 11, 2013
It's 'aloha, Maui' for California lawmakers


The weather is cooling in Sacramento, but a warmer climate beckons for a group California lawmakers headed to Hawaii this week.

Sixteen California lawmakers and their legislative counterparts from Illinois, Hawaii and Texas will fly to Maui on Sunday for a policy conference organized by the Independent Voter Project, a group that draws donations from organized labor and corporations.

Sponsors who have plunked down $7,000 apiece for the privilege of attending will preside over a series of panels on topics like health care, economic development and public safety. Independent Voter Project board member Dan Howle declined to divulge the identities of donors or legislators attending but cited ground rules in place to protect against sponsors lobbying lawmakers.

"We have some specific rules about what you can do in the panels," Howle said. "You cannot have any discussion about specific legislation or pending legislation."

Legislators can have their hotel and airfare covered, although Howle said not all of the attendees accept reimbursements. Howle said that no legislative leaders are attending and noted that some members have backed out in the aftermath of a leaked affidavit alleging that Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, accepted bribes from an undercover FBI agent. Calderon, who attended in past years and had expressed interest to Howle in this year's conference, also decided not to attend.

"I don't think it's wise for me to go," Howle said, paraphrasing lawmakers who have dropped out. "There's too much scrutiny."

Founded by former state lawmaker Steve Peace and others, the Independent Voter Project's declared mission is to guide voters by providing nonpartisan civic information. As a 501(c)(4) nonprofit it does not have to disclose the identity of its donors, but filings show that its backers have included the state's powerful corrections union and its website lists pharmaceutical titan Eli Lilly and conservative benefactor Charles Munger as prominent backers.

Howle currently works for Eli Lilly, and he said that the conference will feature a presentation on a Lilly-backed website that addresses counterfeit medications.

A separate group of California lawmakers -- sponsored by the Pacific Policy Research Foundation, -- is also meeting in Hawaii this week, Howle said.

Travels abroad during the legislative recess are commonplace for legislators, from a trip to Switzerland that lawmakers paid for themselves to a Scandinavian jaunt subsidized by a union-and-corporate funded nonprofit.

That doesn't sit well with government transparency advocates, who say such trips expose elected officials to undue influence.

"It's become an unwelcome tradition for California voters," Phillip Ung of Common Cause said of the annual Maui pilgrimage. "Every year they read about it and every year they're sickened by it."

PHOTO: A surfer comes ashore, left, along with a green sea turtle, right, at Maui's Hookipa Beach. The Seattle Times/Brian J. Cantwell.

November 11, 2013
California's 'realignment' of some felons gets mixed reaction

CaliforniaPrisonsRealignment.jpgCalifornia's "realignment" of responsibilities for handling felons deemed to present little threat to the public is getting a decidedly mixed reaction from local law enforcement and judicial officials who are most intimately involved, according to a series of interviews conducted by the Stanford University Criminal Justice Center.

The report is the second in a projected series on realignment, the two-year-old program under which local agencies, rather than the state prison system, are incarcerating, supervising and supposedly treating low-level felons.

Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature enacted the program in response to federal court pressure to reduce overcrowding in the state prison system and it has dropped the prison population almost to the level decreed by the courts by diverting some new felons into local jails and stepping up parole of others into local care.

November 11, 2013
Contributions flow to help repeal CA transgender rights bill

US_NEWS_GAYMARRIAGE_1_OC.jpgCalifornia activists targeting a law that aims to protect transgender students were aided by a flurry of late contributions, according to campaign finance reports filed with the state Monday.

Privacy For All Students, proponents of the referendum to overturn Assembly Bill 1266, announced this weekend they had submitted 620,000 signatures - roughly 115,000 more than the minimum - to qualify for the 2014 ballot. Organizers previously said they were confident about reaching the requisite number of signatures but endeavored to get thousands more to serve as a cushion.

Campaign Manager Frank Schubert said he believed the referendum had a good chance of qualifying for the ballot, but he expects it to be close either way.

"The validity rate of volunteer signatures is considerably higher than those for a paid signature drive," Schubert said in an emailed statement. "Historically, elections officials invalidate a significant percentage of signatures but many of our volunteer petitions have a validity rate of over 90 percent. We will be completing our internal validity checks over the next few days, but we believe the referendum has a good chance of qualifying. It's likely going to be very close one way or another."

November 11, 2013
Possible candidates eye soon-to-be vacant CA Senate seat

emmerson_budget.jpgState Sen. Bill Emmerson's surprise announcement Friday that he was resigning effective Dec. 1 has created an unexpected opportunity for would-be senators.

First out of the gate is Assemblyman Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga, whose 40th Assembly District includes about one-half of Emmerson's 23rd Senate District. Morrell said he has been lining up endorsements and plans to announce his candidacy Tuesday.

"Everything looks like a go," Morrell said Monday.

The vacancy in the safely Republican 23rd Senate District presents a political stroke of luck for Morrell -- and perhaps Democrats who think they have a shot at picking up Morrell's 40th Assembly District seat.

November 11, 2013
Poll shows support for Jerry Brown's re-election below one-third

brownoaklandport.jpgDespite giving Gov. Jerry Brown a public approval rating of 55 percent, less than one-third of California voters say they are inclined to re-elect the Democratic governor next year, according to a new USC/Los Angeles Times poll.

Thirty-two percent of registered voters say they probably or definitely will vote for Brown, while 37 percent of voters say they probably or definitely vote for someone else, according to the poll.

The poll, released Monday, did not compare Brown to any potential Republican candidate in this heavily Democratic state. If it had, poll director Dan Schnur said in a release, "We probably would have seen significantly different results."

The poll comes a year before next year's gubernatorial general election. Brown has not yet said if he will run for a fourth term next year, but he is widely expected to.

The poll's findings differ from a measure conducted by the Field Poll in July. In that poll Brown showed a lower public approval rating, 51 percent, while a plurality of the electorate - 43 percent to 38 percent - was inclined to re-elect him.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at an event in Oakland on Nov. 1, 2013. Associated Press/Marcio Jose Sanchez

November 11, 2013
California's unemployment insurance deficit shrinking slowly

unemployed_blog.jpgAlthough California's once-dismal employment picture is slowly improving, the state's Unemployment Insurance Fund is not only plagued by digital glitches, but is still paying out more in benefits than employers are paying into the UIF in taxes, according to a new report from the state Department of Employment Development.

Some other revenue, including earnings on fund balances, are offsetting the shortfall, so the immense deficit in the UIF, $10.2 billion at the end of 2012, will decline fractionally to $9.7 billion by the end of this year, the EDD report predicts, then continue to decline as employment improves and insurance benefit payouts drop.

The UIF deficit has been covered by loans from the federal government, on which the state is now paying interest, and the feds have also boosted their share of employers' payroll taxes to begin repaying the debt.

The department predicts that the UIF deficit will shrink to $7 billion by the end of 2015 as unemployment drops from 1.9 million workers in 2012 to 1.3 million in 2015 and payouts decline from $6.6 billion in 2012 to $5.7 billion in 2015.

Employers paid $5.4 billion into the UIF in 2012 and that is expected to increase to $6.2 billion in 2015. Additionally, the boost in federal taxes to repay the debt is expected to surpass $600 million this year and $1 billion by 2015.

The UIF pays basic benefits to unemployed workers and benefit extensions have been financed by the federal government. But due to the state's improving job picture, the 100 percent federally financed extension, which paid out $7.2 billion to jobless Californians in 2012, and $4.6 billion this year, will end on Dec. 31.

Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed changes in the unemployment insurance program to improve its ability to cope with economic downturns, but the Legislature has so far refused to act.

PHOTO: Former and current high school students attend a junior college exploration workshop sponsored by the Greater Sacramento Urban League. One of every three new high school graduates not going to college in the Sacramento region couldn't find work last year, census figures showed. The high school classes of 2009 and 2010 were about 40 percent less likely to find jobs out of school than their counterparts from three years prior. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

November 11, 2013
AM Alert: Veterans Day celebrated across California

JV_052113_VETERANS033.JPGCalifornia state workers have today off in honor of Veterans Day, but public officials around the state will be busy marking the occasion.

Here in Sacramento, a special ceremony put on by California Mexican-American Veterans Memorial Inc. will gather a rifle guard and speakers, including former Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante and Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, outside of the Mexican American Veterans Memorial on 10th Street.

After labor leaders and lawmakers announced some veteran-centric policy proposals on Friday, unions are organizing various service projects for vets today. Some electrical workers unions have also banded together to create a five-year apprentice program for vets.

The California Commission on the Status of Women and Girls will be unveiling a new program aimed at mentoring female veterans and military spouses. Rebecca Blanton, the commission's executive director, and Deborah Frett of the Business and Professional Women's Foundation will detail the project during a 10 a.m. presser at the California Military History Museum.

VIDEO: Stockton may be staggering towards solid ground, but Dan Walters identifies a financial pit still looming before cities.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, who turns 73 today, and to Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, who celebrates No. 65.

PHOTO: A veteran holds his World War II cap during an Operation Recognition Diploma ceremony on May 21, 2013, at the Sacramento County of Education in Rancho Cordova. The Sacramento Bee/José Luis Villegas.

November 11, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: Stockton not only California city in trouble

Rising pension costs continue to imperil California's cities, 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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