Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

December 31, 2013
California Latino Caucus closes one of its fundraising PACs

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The Legislature's Latino Caucus is ringing in the new year by severing ties to a political action committee that has attracted the attention of the FBI.

Yes We Can, one of two political fundraising accounts affiliated with the Latino Caucus, filed papers declaring its termination today, the last day of 2013. The PAC began the year by making a $25,000 contribution on January 2 to a nonprofit group run by a brother of Sen. Ron Calderon, the Montebello Democrat who is the subject of a federal corruption investigation.

The contribution is described in a 124-page FBI affidavit that alleges Calderon took $88,000 in bribes from an undercover agent and a hospital executive. The affidavit suggests that the Latino Caucus PAC made the $25,000 contribution to Calderon's brother's group to settle a dispute between Calderon and state Sen. Ricardo Lara over who would chair the powerful caucus.

The affidavit describes a secretly-recorded conversation between Calderon and an undercover agent in which the senator says that he and his brother, former Assemblyman Tom Calderon, planned to draw income from the group, a nonprofit called Californians for Diversity.

"Tom and I down the road, we build that up, we can pay ourselves," Calderon said, according to the affidavit. "Just kind of make, you know, part of living."

The contribution to Tom Calderon's nonprofit was the only "civic donation" that Yes We Can has ever made, according to its campaign finance filings. The committee accepted $299,200 in donations from interest groups in 2013, and spent almost $406,000. Expenditures included $260,000 in political contributions as well as roughly $48,000 to the Cordevalle golf resort, $46,000 to political fundraiser Julie Sandino and $25,000 to the Wilke Fleury law firm whose partner, lobbyist John Valencia, is treasurer of Yes We Can.

PHOTO: California State Senator Ron Calderon, right, comforts his brother former state Assemblyman Tom Calderon at a memorial service for Tom's wife Marcella Calderon in January 2012. Los Angeles Times/Genaro Molina

December 31, 2013
Former California lawmaker pays state fine, closes committee

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Former state Sen. Dean Florez has closed his 2014 campaign committee for state controller after paying off a $60,000 fine for misusing campaign funds, the largest such penalty in state history.

Although California law allows politicians to tap political donations to pay fines imposed by the state's campaign-finance watchdog, Florez paid $50,500 out of his own pocket. About $9,500 was money remaining in his controller's committee, according to a filing Friday afternoon.

The $60,000 fine came after Florez admitting spending $26,542 from committees he established to run for lieutenant governor and state controller on trips, meals and entertainment. He also failed to refund $247,000 in contributions.

The commission approved the fine at its Nov. 14 meeting.

Friday's filing with the secretary of state's office shows that Florez had $9,529 in the committee as of July 1. He paid the account $40,500 for "reimbursement" on Oct. 25, when he also made a $50,000 payment to "the general fund of the state of California," the filing shows.

Florez paid another $10,000 directly to the state to settle the fine.

PHOTO: Former state Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, left, in a 2010 committee hearing. Associated Press/ Rich Pedroncelli

December 31, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: New law spotlights California's poverty

It says a lot that a state as rich as California has so many poor students, Dan says.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

December 30, 2013
Cal grad Jerry Brown headed to Rose Bowl to root for Stanford

stanfordfootball.jpgGov. Jerry Brown doesn't watch a lot of football, and he's a University of California, Berkeley graduate, to boot.

But the governor will be rooting from the stands for Stanford when the Cardinal play Michigan State in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day.

Brown will be joined by his wife, Anne Gust Brown, who graduated from Stanford and went to law school at University of Michigan, a Michigan State rival.

The governor's office said Brown and Gust Brown bought their own tickets to the game. They will not participate in the Rose Parade.

Any wager Brown might make with Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder appeared to be unsettled, but the tough talk is already on.

"We'll let you know if there's a wager," Brown spokesman Evan Westrup said in an email, "but based on recent history, our friends from the Big 10 have a big hill to climb if they hope to beat the Cardinal."

No. 5 Stanford is ranked just behind No. 4 Michigan State, but Westrup had recent Rose Bowl history in mind. Big Ten teams have lost eight of nine Rose Bowl games in the last decade.

Editor's note: This post was updated at 3:45 p.m. to include information about team rankings and the Big Ten's struggles in recent Rose Bowl games.

PHOTO: Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan celebrates after a college football game on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013, in Stanford, Calif. AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

December 30, 2013
FPPC will not investigate Sen. Kevin de León

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California's political watchdog agency has decided not to open an investigation of state Sen. Kevin de León, and will instead investigate the political action committee that made a $25,000 contribution to a nonprofit group run by the brother of Sen. Ron Calderon, who is under federal investigation for alleged bribery.

"We opened an investigation into...the transaction itself and not against anyone specifically," said Gary Winuk, chief of enforcement for the Fair Political Practices Commission.

"We are not targeting Senator de Leon."

Yes We Can, a political action committee run by the Latino Legislative Caucus, made the contribution early this year after a fight over leadership of the Latino caucus. Calderon, D-Montebello, was in line to become chairman of the influential caucus, but state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, did not want to give up the post.

A few weeks after the caucus voted to keep Lara as chairman, the PAC gave $25,000 to Californians for Diversity, a nonprofit group run by Calderon's brother, former Assemblyman Tom Calderon.

An FBI affidavit published by Al Jazeera America in October alleges that de León, D-Los Angeles, brokered a deal between Calderon and Lara to settle the leadership dispute with the $25,000 payment. The affidavit quotes a conversation between Ron Calderon and an undercover FBI agent, in which the senator says he and his brother planned to draw income from the nonprofit group.

No charges have been filed in the federal investigation.

But based on allegations in the affidavit, the state's Fair Political Practices Commission earlier this month sent de León a letter saying it wanted more information about the contribution. The FPPC wanted to know whether it constituted a payment made at the behest of a government official, which has to be reported under California law.

De León maintained that he helped mediate the chairmanship fight but was not involved in any financial transactions.

"Senator De León did not request the contribution, did not recommend the contribution, and was not part of any vote or decision to make the contribution," the senator's lawyer, Stephen Kaufman, wrote in a letter to the FPPC.

Winuk said the FPPC found no evidence that de León behested the payment, but that he wants to open a broader investigation to see who directed the money be moved from the Latino caucus's political fundraising account to Calderon's nonprofit.

"Was it someone who needed to report it?" Winuk said. "And if so, did they report it?"

De León said in an email that he is happy with the outcome.

"I had nothing to do with the contribution and am pleased that after reviewing the evidence the FPPC quickly closed this matter," his email said.

PHOTO: State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, left, with Sen. Ron Calderon, center, and Sen. Kevin de Leon, right, on the last day of the legislative session in September 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Renee C. Byer

Editor's note: This post was updated at 4:17 p.m. on December 30, 2013, to include a response from Sen. Kevin de Leon.

December 30, 2013
Census Bureau, state agree on California's population growth

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State demographers and the federal Census Bureau, who once had widely disparate views about California's population growth, appear to be in synch so far in this decade.

A couple of weeks ago, the state Department of Finance calculated that California's population reached 38.2 million on June 30, a gain of 332,000 residents. On Monday, the Census Bureau agreed that California had gained just over 332,000 during that same period, but pegged the total at a slightly higher 38.3 million.

The almost total agreement between the state's estimate and the Census Bureau report stands in sharp contrast to what happened in the previous decade.

Beginning with the 2000 census, the state calculated that California's population growth was much higher than what the Census Bureau figured and by the end of the decade, the difference between two was a million persons. The gap largely stemmed from differing views of how many people had migrated from California to other states.

The 2010 census settled the disagreement in the Census Bureau's favor and since then the state and federal estimates have been in tandem.

The Census bureau says that the nation's population rose by 2.25 million during the 20012-13 period, or 0.07 percent. California's population growth was slightly higher at 0.09 percent. The new California total, 38.3 million, is just over a million higher than the 2010 census found.

PHOTO: Melvin Griffin, 75, center, was hoping to find a job that would give him more hours then his part-time job at the Census Bureau. Sacramento's 16th Annual Career Expo at the Masonic Temple building, was Dec. 11, 2012 in Sacramento, Calif. The Sacramento Bee/Renee C. Byer

December 30, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: Unemployment rate belies California's real job problem

As California gets back to work, the increasing disparity between coastal and inland communities is troublesome, Dan says.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

December 27, 2013
Lawsuit: Sacramento lobbying firm sent illegal gifts to lawmakers

RB_Capitol_Dome.JPGA powerful Sacramento lobbying firm illegally directed campaign contributions and unreported gifts to dozens of California lawmakers, according to a lawsuit filed this week in Sacramento Superior Court.

The lawsuit, filed by former Sloat Higgins Jensen & Associates employee Rhonda Smira, alleges that owner Kevin Sloat and his firm knowingly and regularly skirted lobbying and campaign finance rules.

A representative of Sloat Higgins Jensen & Associates did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.

Smira was terminated in 2012, a firing the lawsuit attributes to Smira refusing to carry out duties she believed to be illegal. She is seeking unspecified compensation for lost wages, as well as court orders requiring the lobbying firm to refund its profits, halt campaign fundraisers and cease giving gifts to elected officials. She wants the firm to pay damages related to the total value of undisclosed gifts given.

Lobbyists cannot, under California law, give gifts to lawmakers worth more than $10.

Sloat Higgins Jensen & Associates nevertheless conferred gifts upon legislators and staff and then failed to disclose it, the lawsuit alleges, even though Sloat "understood the illegality of his action because he attended regular Ethics Training courses where the laws regarding gifts from lobbyists or lobbying firms were thoroughly explained."

Smira's lawsuit also alleges:

* -- The firm regularly gave tickets to see the Sacramento Kings, San Francisco 49ers and San Francisco Giants to elected officials and their staff. The practice was so routine that some lawmakers and staff members began calling the firm to request tickets.

* -- Legislators and staff were treated to complementary rounds of golf, some at a course owned by an unnamed Indian tribe for which the firm lobbies. Among the firm's clients is Yocha Dehe Wintun nation, operator of the Cache Creek Casino Resort and an attached golf course. The firm also provided officials with free tickets to concerts at the resort.

* -- After traveling to Cuba, Sloat brought Cuban artists to the United States and sold one of their pieces to an Assembly member at a "deep discount" that "was not available to any member of the general public."

The lawsuit also contends that lobbyists for Sloat Higgins Jensen & Associates channeled undisclosed "in-kind" campaign support to candidates. If true, that could violate a rule barring lobbyists from contributing to candidates.

That ban does not apply to the interest groups on whose behalf Sloat's firm lobbied, and there is nothing exceptional about interest groups giving money to politicians. Smira's lawsuit contends, however, that Sloat hosted "elaborate" fundraisers at his Crocker Road "mansion" in Sacramento to bring together lawmakers with authority over key legislation and clients, informing legislative offices which clients would attend.

The head of the state's political ethics agency said the activity is common and not necessarily a rules violation.

"The law currently allows lobbyists to connect people to other people," said Gary Winuk, chief of enforcement for the California Fair Political Practices Commission. "It happens every day."

But Smira's lawsuit charges that Sloat neglected to follow reporting rules for the events, furnishing lawmakers with "thousands of dollars" worth of cigars and scotch and an event venue - Sloat's house - that all represent non-monetary campaign contributions.

"Neither Defendants, nor the elected officials, would declare the nonmonetary contributions to the (California Fair Political Practices Commission) and/or the Secretary of State," the complaint reads. It also charges that "of the hundreds of invitations sent to candidates since early 2000, none met the current disclosure and notification laws set forth by the Fair Political Practices Commission."

According to the lawsuit, those unreported fundraisers cumulatively sent "hundreds of thousands of dollars to dozens of elected officials, including but not limited to, 11 Senators, 26 Assembly men/women, and various other high ranking public officials and representatives." None of the alleged recipients are named in the suit.

Smira v Sloat lawsuit

December 27, 2013
California congressman files campaign papers with wrong district

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It's been more than two years since California redrew its political map, but old district-numbering habits apparently still linger for Rep. Ed Royce.

Royce, R-Fullerton,filed a statement of candidacy this week for his re-election campaign. But instead of listing the 39th Congressional District he has represented since winning re-election in 2012l, he listed the 40th Congressional District, the number of the district he represented during the 2000's.cd40_screenshot.jpg

And yes, that's a typo, said Royce consultant Dave Gilliard. The redrawn 40th is in Los Angeles County, represented by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Los Angeles, and has a 47-percentage point Democratic registration advantage that would withstand even the tallest of Republican waves in 2014.

"He's running in the 39th," Gilliard said. The campaign corrected its filing Friday.

The 39th covers parts of Orange, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. Royce won re-election there last year with 57.8 percent of the vote against Democrat Jay Chen.

It's not like 39 was a completely new district number for Royce. He represented another version of the 39th Congressional District in the 1990s.

Editor's Note: This post was been updated at 3:50 p.m. on Dec. 27, 2013 to note that the paperwork was amended on Friday.

PHOTO: Rep. Ed Royce, R-Fullerton, in his official congressional photo.

December 27, 2013
California once again the nation's top municipal bond issuer

market.jpgA multi-billion-dollar surge of bond issues by state and local governments is making California, once again, the nation's top issuer of municipal debt, the Bloomberg financial news service calculates.

Bloomberg said that California governments have issued $46.2 billion in new debt so far in 2013, a 13 percent increase from 2012, pushing the state ahead of New York for the first time since 2010. Bloomberg calculates that New York has sold $36.4 billion in municipal debt this year, down 18 percent from 2012.

The news service credits the state's improving economy and better fiscal health, especially at the state level, with sparking the uptick in new government debt.

"They've really gotten their fiscal house in order," Bloomberg quotes Peter Hayes, who heads municipal bonds at New York-based BlackRock Inc.. "Now that the economy is stronger, they feel more confident that strength is sustainable, and that gives them the confidence to borrow."

As the state's financial indices have improved, so have its credit ratings, and bond buyers have demanded as little as three-tenths of one percent in extra yield, the lowest margin in years.

The largest California bond sale this year was a $2.3 billion offering by the Foothill/Eastern Transportation Authority in Orange County, an operator of toll roads. The state, meanwhile, is planning to sell about $3 billion in new general obligation bonds by mid-year, plus another $7 billion in general obligation and lease-revenue bonds in the following fiscal year.

PHOTO: Trader Kevin Colter, left, works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on June 28, 2013. Associated Press/Richard Drew

December 26, 2013
Deadline Friday for in-progress health care applications

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Californians who began health insurance applications for coverage starting Jan. 1 have until 8 p.m. Friday to complete their enrollment, exchange officials said.

Covered California Executive Director Peter V. Lee had promised customers who began applications by the Dec. 23 deadline that his agency would help get them over the finish line in time for coverage to start Jan. 1.

However, they won't be able complete applications online as part of the extension. Instead, customers will have to call the exchange's service center at (800) 300-1506, or, get in touch with a certified enrollment counselor or agent using the following link.

The information was relayed in a Christmas Eve posting on the exchange's Facebook page. On Thursday, a spokesman said incomplete applications must be handled by phone or by an agent because the web-portal for past-due policy requests is now closed.

Covered California was hit with a crush of applications in recent days as the first coverage deadline came and went. Earlier this week, Lee pegged the number of people who have selected a policy at more than 400,000, with tens of thousands enrolling each day.

Customers in need of doctors' appointments and prescription drugs at the start of next month are not finished after selecting a plan — they'll still have to pay their first premium by Jan. 6. The next enrollment deadline is Jan. 15 for coverage to begin Feb. 1. The first payment would be due Jan. 28.

The initial open-enrollment period extends through March 31.

PHOTO: Enrollment operators take phone calls during the launch of Covered California in Rancho Cordova on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/ Randall Benton

December 26, 2013
Consumer Watchdog fundraises off of tonsillectomy surgery debacle

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A prominent California consumer advocacy group is actively tying a tonsillectomy gone horribly awry to a planned ballot initiative.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo ruled on Tuesday that 13-year-old Jahi McMath, who fell into a coma after complications in tonsillectomy surgery, was brain dead and could be taken off life support. The McMath family secured a restraining order to keep the child alive and reportedly spent Christmas in the hospital, by Jahi's bedside.

For Consumer Watchdog, engaged in the latest skirmish of a years-long battle over medical damages payments, McMcath's case provided fodder for a fundraising pitch.

Under California's current system, pain and suffering damages paid out as the result of medical malpractice lawsuits — distinct from the ongoing costs of medical care — are capped at $250,000. Consumer Watchdog has spearheaded a ballot initiative to raise that limit.

Hospitals "actually have an incentive to let children like Jahi die," a Dec. 26 fundraising email from Consumer Watchdog argues, because they would not need to pay medical bills spurred by negligence claims.

"If kids injured by medical negligence die, the most their families can recover is $250,000 - a limit set by the legislature 38 years ago and never adjusted for inflation," the email reads, referring to the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, a 1975 law commonly referred to as MICRA.

"Patients like Jahi are the reason Consumer Watchdog helped draft the Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act that will hold doctors and hospitals accountable for medical negligence and substance abuse problems," the email continues, referring to the ballot initiative.

Consumer Watchdog has also called for an investigation into McMath's surgery, arguing in a letter to California Attorney General Kamala Harris and Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley that Children's Hospital Oakland "has been less than forthcoming about the circumstances that led to the tragedy."

"In a case where negligence is suspected," the letter charges, "California law makes it highly advantageous for the medical providers and facilities involved if children die."

Children's Hospital Oakland has already launched an investigation into the case, spokeswoman Cynthia Chiarappa said. Chiarappa said it would be premature to comment on any findings but rejected Consumer Watchdog's argument.

"The allegations from Consumer Watchdog are outrageous," Chiarappa said.

In remarks to reporters last week, Harris called the case "tragic" and said that "we are monitoring it to see if and whether there is any role that we would play appropriately."

A spokeswoman for the California Medical Board, also a recipient of Consumer Watchdog's letter seeking an investigation, said she could not comment on the possibility of a probe into McMath's death.

"We can't comment at this time on anything that could be ongoing or not ongoing," said Cassandra Hockenson.

PHOTO: Dede Logan, of Oakland, adds red stars to a poster in support of Jahi McMath in front of Children's Hospital Oakland in Oakland, Calif., on Monday, Dec. 23, 2013. AP Photo/ The Contra Costa Times-Bay Area News Group, Susan Tripp Pollard.

December 24, 2013
Ron Calderon, Chris Hansen head annual naughty list

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You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not allegedly take bribes from undercover FBI agents or secretively fund a campaign to block the new Sacramento Kings arena.

Sustaining a seasonal tradition, the Citizen Hotel in downtown Sacramento has posted its list of do-gooders and reprobates from 2013. The catalog of people receiving figurative coal contained few surprises.

Occupants of the naughty list included Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, the subject of an FBI corruption probe that has riveted Sacramento; embattled, substance-abusing Toronto Mayor Rob Ford; over-exposed New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner; and "consultants as lobbyists," a reference to the sometimes-blurry line between what does and does not require lobbyist registration in California politics.

Perhaps the greatest Sacramento villain to make the naughty list, though, was billionaire Chris Hansen. After failing in his effort to lure the Kings to Seattle, Hansen was then exposed as the mystery benefactor of an effort to hold a public vote on the new Sacramento arena, prompting a laconic statement from Kings backer and top Senate Democrat Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento ("Unbelievable.").

The Kings saga did yield kudos for "Shaqramento," an ode to the former Lakers great and Kings nemesis Shaquille O'Neal becoming a part-owner, and for software titan and new owner Vivek Ranadive.

They sat on the nice list alongside the Sacramento Farm to Fork festival, Pope Francis and the San Francisco Batkid. Also on the good list was "functioning government websites," a seeming nod to the fact that Covered California, the state's health insurance exchange, has seen much more robust enrollment numbers than the creaky federal website.

PHOTO: The Citizen Hotel's naughty and nice list, with some reflected palm trees to prove this is in California, on December 24, 2013 in Sacramento. Jeremy B. White/The Sacramento Bee.

December 24, 2013
California governor Jerry Brown pardons 127, mostly for drugs

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In the spirit of holiday forgiveness, Gov. Jerry Brown announced pardons on Tuesday for 127 people.

Everyone getting their names cleared finished serving their time more than a decade ago and have stayed out of trouble since, according to Brown's office. The clemency messages also testified that the people in question had become upstanding citizens who "exhibited good moral character" and "lived an honest and upright life."

Most of the individuals receiving full and unconditional pardons had been convicted of drug-related offenses. Of the 127, 93 had been convicted of possessing, transporting or selling marijuana and other controlled substances.

Robberies, burglaries and thefts accounted for most of the rest. In one eyebrow-raising instance, a man drunkenly "stole his neighbor's lawn mower and some frozen food items," according to the pardon message. A California woman burglarized a home "and took food to feed her children," another message states.

The number of people receiving pardons just before Christmas fell one short of the total number of pardons Brown handed down in 2012. Brown pardoned 128 convicted criminals in 2012, 79 of them on Christmas Eve, a marked increase from the 21 pardons he issued in 2011.

The gubernatorial pardons came several days after President Obama commuted the sentences of eight federal inmates serving long terms for crack-cocaine related offenses, Obama's latest effort to soften a legacy of harsh drug-related penalties.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown after announcing that his office has come to an agreement with four leaders of legislation on prison housing plan, on Sept. 9, 2013 in Sacramento California. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

December 23, 2013
California has nation's largest Native American population

tribal.JPGThey may comprise less than 1 percent of California's 38 million residents, but the state — perhaps surprisingly to many — has the nation's largest population of Native Americans, a new Census Bureau report reveals.

The state-by-state and tribe-by-tribe reports list 352,427 American Indians and Alaskan Natives in California, and only Oklahoma's 313,305 approach California's numbers.

The reports also reveal that California's Native American population represents hundreds of specific tribes and sub-tribal groups, with tribes from Mexico, at 45,933, the largest single grouping, followed by Cherokees at 20,969. However, 126,425 Californians identified themselves as Native Americans in the 2010 census without designating a tribal affiliation.

PHOTO: Lois Edwards stands with demonstrators out front of an Enterprise Rancheria tribal meeting, Saturday, August 5, 2006 at Southside Community Center in Oroville, where the Enterprise Rancheria General Council met to vote on the citizenship of approximately 70 tribal members who were disenrolled in 2003. The Sacramento Bee/Lezlie Sterling

December 23, 2013
California keeps Monday deadline for health coverage Jan. 1

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California's health insurance exchange is holding firm to its enrollment deadline today for customers who want coverage beginning at the start of the year, officials said Monday.

Earlier in the day, the White House announced the federal deadline was being delayed 24 hours -- from 11:59 p.m. Monday to 11:59 p.m. Tuesday. Officials said they made the move for Healthcare.gov customers as part of a good-faith effort to ensure those who needed coverage by Jan. 1 would be able to log-in and sign up.

California, which operates its own health insurance exchange, said customers must act Monday.

"They really need to be active today if they want coverage Jan. 1," Covered California spokesman Oscar Hidalgo told The Bee.

However, if a customer begins their application late Monday and is not able to finish it until into Tuesday they still will be honored, Hidalgo said.

Those who want their coverage for doctors' appointments and prescription drugs to start next month must pay their first premium by Jan. 6. The next enrollment deadline is Jan. 15 for coverage to begin Feb. 1. For those customers, a payment is due Jan. 28.

Enrollment has picked up in recent weeks as the deadline approached. Executive Director Peter V. Lee estimated the number of enrollees at roughly 400,000.

Open enrollment extends through March 31.

Updated at 12:55 p.m. to incorporate projected enrollment figures.

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, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton.

December 23, 2013
AM Alert: Capitol Alert's biggest stories of 2013

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The Capitol is quiet this week as everyone heads home for the holidays, so what better time to look back on the year that was? Even with Democratic supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature, there was plenty of political drama to keep us captivated: corruption charges, the health care roll-out, and controversial battles over issues like gun control and minimum wage. In the spirit of December (which may as well be renamed National Year-End Lists Month), here is a review of the biggest stories of 2013 on the Capitol Alert blog, as determined by page views.

The year's top post: Updated homeless 'bill of rights' passes CA legislative committee (April 23, 2013)

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano's "homeless bill of rights" caused an immediate firestorm when it was introduced last December. The San Francisco Democrat's proposal to create a statewide baseline of civil rights for the homeless — including protection of "life sustaining activities" such as sleeping on sidewalks and urinating — drew intense pushback from cities across California, many of which had already passed laws prohibiting those same behaviors. The California Chamber of Commerce even named the legislation one of its annual "job killers."

So when an amended version of Ammiano's bill made it out of the Assembly Judiciary Committee last April, there was a lot of public interest. The story drew by far the biggest traffic of the year on the Capitol Alert blog, especially as the news went viral across the country.

The bill later stalled in the Assembly Appropriations Committee over the cost of proposed new public hygiene facilities and it likely won't be going anywhere in 2014. But Ammiano's office said he hopes to introduce more legislation on homelessness in the new year.

The rest of the top ten:

2.State auditor: California's net worth at negative $127.2 billion (March 28, 2013)

3. Big California corporations parking $262 billion offshore (July 31, 2013)

4. More gun-control legislation approved by California Senate (May 29, 2013)

5. Gov. Jerry Brown: California's budget deficit is gone (Jan. 10, 2013)

6. New battle coming over California's minimum wage (December 17, 2012)

7. FBI raids offices of California Sen. Ron Calderon, Latino Caucus (June 4, 2013)

8. Jerry Brown, lawmakers reach budget deal (June 10, 2013)

9. California health exchange reveals premium costs (May 23, 2013)

10. State Sen. Michael Rubio resigns, will take job with Chevron (February 22, 2013)

PHOTO: Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco. Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli

December 22, 2013
Casino pays out for Jerry Brown

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Gov. Jerry Brown has raised more than $500,000 more for his re-election campaign, including $37,500 from a casino he visited earlier this month.

The donation, from Hawaiian Gardens Casino, was received last week and reported Saturday. Brown traveled to Los Angeles County to speak at a groundbreaking ceremony at the casino on Dec. 2. The casino previously donated $12,500 to Brown's re-election campaign and $25,000 to his ballot initiative last year to raise taxes, Proposition 30.

The administration has said the casino expansion will create hundreds of local jobs, and Brown said at the event, "I come here today because I want to recognize a family and a business that is contributing to the local community."

The Democratic governor has not yet said if he will seek re-election next year, but he has now raised more than $15 million and is widely expected to run.

Other donations listed in Brown's most recent filing include $27,200 each from Anthem Blue Cross, a California Hospital Association political action committee and Jay Gellert, president and chief executive officer of Health Net Inc.

Donors contributing the maximum allowed, $54,400, include Chester Pipkin, president and chief executive officer of Belkin International Inc., a plumbers and steamfitters local and a political action committee of The Doctors Company, a medical malpractice insurer.

Two Republican candidates, former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado and Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, have reported raising less than $500,000 combined, while a prospective candidate, former U.S. Treasury Department official Neel Kashkari, has not yet started raising money.

Brown leads all three men by wide margins in early polls.

PHOTO: Students cheer on Gov. Jerry Brown who holds up a campaign sign and encourages students to support Proposition 30 at Sacramento City College on October 18, 2012.The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

December 21, 2013
Former FPPC chair Dan Schnur plans run for statewide office

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Dan Schnur is on the cusp of taking on two seemingly contradictory campaigns: One promotes new restrictions on political fundraising. The other involves running for office, complete with his own political fundraising apparatus.

Schnur, a former Republican adviser who now teaches politics at the University of Southern California, said he's in the "final stages" of preparing a run for California Secretary of State in 2014. Other likely candidates include Democratic state Sens. Leland Yee and Alex Padilla; Democrat Derek Cressman, a government watchdog; and Republican Pete Peterson, who heads an academic public policy institute.

Schnur left the Republican party in 2011, after a stint chairing California's Fair Political Practices Commission. He said he would run for secretary of state as a nonpartisan, and has assembled a campaign staff that includes prominent Democratic and Republican consultants and fundraisers.

At the same time, Schnur said he will continue a publicity campaign he launched earlier this year to argue for new limits on political fundraising. Legislators and statewide office holders shouldn't be able to raise money for their re-election campaigns during the legislative session, Schnur says, because there is too much potential for donors to exert inappropriate influence on their votes. He wants to ban fundraising while the Legislature is in session.

Schnur said his two approaches -- speaking out against political fundraising while engaging in the fundraising efforts necessary to run a statewide campaign -- are not at all contradictory.

"We look at this candidacy as the most effective way of moving that fundraising ban forward," Schnur said. "A candidate campaign allows for broader conversation about how to fix a broken system than a single ballot initiative might."

December 20, 2013
Tim Draper proposes splitting California into six states

sixstates.jpgSecessionists in California's rural, northernmost reaches may have found a kindred spirit in the Bay Area.

Tim Draper, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist, is proposing to split California into six states, according to an initiative filing received by the state Friday.

He'd let the northern counties have their state of Jefferson, while adding North California, Central California, Silicon Valley, West California and South California.

Draper did not immediately return a telephone call for comment Friday, and the website Six Californias offers little information about his idea.

The website TechCrunch quoted Draper as saying a divided state would receive improved representation in the U.S. Senate while allowing each new state to "start fresh" with government.

That may be particularly appealing to a Republican like Draper living in what is now one large, increasingly Democratic state.

Draper's proposal comes after supervisors in Siskiyou and Modoc passed declarations this fall supporting withdrawal from California. The movement's prospects are dim. Even if Draper could get a ballot measure passed, redrawing state lines would require one other Herculean step: an act of Congress.

Editor's note: This post was updated at 4:10 p.m. to reflect the filing of the proposed initiative.

PHOTO: Image from sixcalifornias.info, a website proposing to split California into six states

December 20, 2013
CA Rep. Loretta Sanchez releases her famous Christmas card

Sanchez_Christmas.jpgU.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez knows how to do Christmas cards.

Her wacky annual confections usually feature the Orange County Democrat in a place you wouldn't picture a congresswoman -- say, riding a motorcycle or sitting atop a fireplace -- and creatively incorporate her late cat, Gretzky. Original and attention-grabbing, they've become a cult sensation in political circles.

This year, however, she's gone more romantic than ridiculous: The card, sent out on Wednesday, is a picture of Sanchez and her husband, Jack Einwechter, posing in front of the castle at Disneyland. (Gretzky, rest assured, is still included.)

"There were so many ups and downs this year," she said. "The country is so divided still, I wanted to make it a positive card."

Where better than the "Happiest Place on Earth"?

A casualty of that good spirit was the political humor at the center of her fiscal-cliff and Occupy-themed cards the last two years. It could be back in 2014, however.

"Next year is after an election, so we'll probably have more fodder," Sanchez said.

PHOTO: The front and inside of Rep. Loretta Sanchez's 2013 Christmas card. Courtesy of Loretta Sanchez

December 20, 2013
Feinstein measure to double Forest Service firefighting aircraft

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After a lengthy and destructive wildfire season in California, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., inserted language into a defense bill that will double the size of the U.S. Forest Service fleet of large air tankers.

Feinstein said that the amendment, which she cosponsored with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., would transfer seven surplus HC-130H Hercules aircraft from the Coast Guard to the Forest Service. The planes can carry a combined 21,000 gallons of water or fire retardant, she said.

"This transfer is a critical step to help address our ability to defend forests and communities from the threat of wildfires," Feinstein said in a statement.

Feinstein and McCain included the language into the National Defense Authorization Act. The Senate approved the bill late Thursday on a vote of 84-15.

The transfer will also include 15 smaller C23-B Sherpa aircraft to transport cargo and smokejumpers.

The announcement comes the same week as firefighters were working to contain a 500-acre wildfire in California's Big Sur south of San Francisco. The blaze destroyed more than a dozen homes, including the local fire chief's.

The Big Sur fire caps off a destructive year in California. The 250,000-acre Rim Fire scorched parts of Yosemite National Park between August and October, leaving more than $50 million in damage. Last week, President Barack Obama approved federal disaster assistance for the third-largest fire in California history, after Gov. Jerry Brown appealed a Federal Emergency Management Agency decision to deny the aid.

Arizona's wildfire losses weren't just economic: In June, 19 members of an elite firefighting crew died in the Yarnell Hill blaze south of Prescott.

"Wildfire suppression aircraft are vital to protecting human life and property," McCain said.

McCain said while his effort with Feinstein would help boost the Forest Service's firefighting capabilities, Congress needed to do more.

The senators noted that a Government Accountability Office report in August found that the agency's large air tanker fleet had dropped to eight planes in 2013, from 44 a decade earlier.

PHOTO:Inmate firefighters walked along Highway 120 during the Rim Fire in August. AP/Jae C. Hong

December 20, 2013
Jeff Gorell proposes measure to boost privacy on CA health exchange

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Assemblyman Jeff Gorell plans to introduce a measure that protects the sensitive information of customers shopping for health insurance on the state exchange.

Seeking to close the deal with thousands of applicants, Covered California recently began providing customers' names and contact information to certified licensed insurance agents. Income and Social Security numbers were not passed along, exchange officials said.

Gorell, R-Camarillo, is challenging freshman Democratic Rep. Julia Brownley in one of several closely-watched congressional races in the state where partisan rancor over the health care overhaul is expected to be a defining campaign issue.

"When people browse the Covered California website to learn about their health insurance options, the last thing they expect is for the state to hand their personal information to telemarketers," Gorell said in a statement accompanying the announcement. "This legislation will require that Covered California keep site visitors' information private unless the customer explicitly gives consent to be contacted."

Exchange officials acknowledged the pilot program to The Sacramento Bee two weeks ago when Moorpark consultant Robert Blatt complained his privacy was violated after receiving unsolicited emails from an insurance agent.

Last Week, Covered California Executive Director Peter V. Lee said the program was just one of the ways the exchange was trying to reach out to customers in need of help, including those questioning whether their application had been completed.

December 20, 2013
VIDEO: Steinberg plan would treat mentally ill criminals

Mentally ill criminals could get new resources for treatment under a $50 million proposal Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg unveiled on Thursday. Learn more about the Sacramento Democrat's latest plan in this video:

December 20, 2013
Roger Hernandez to seek district elections for California cities

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Arguing that the change would make city elections in California more fair and representative, Assemblyman Roger Hernandez, D-West Covina, is pushing to swap citywide elections for district-based affairs.

Under yet-to-be-introduced legislation, non-charter cities with more than 100,000 residents would be required to have voters select council members by district. Present law allows cities to have council elections citywide or by district.

The rationale is that citywide election results don't always reflect demographics, particularly in municipalities where substantial minority populations have failed to translate into equally diverse city councils.

"This bill would adhere to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by providing underrepresented groups throughout California an opportunity to have their voice represented," Hernandez said in a press release. "In certain communities, the voice of the electorate has been watered down limiting the power of significant populations."

If enacted the change would affect 27 cities across California, including Hernandez's home base of West Covina, spokesman Primo Castro said. A separate list compiled by Paul Mitchell, president of the firm Redistricting Partners, used data from the U.S. Census to determine that California contains 23 cities that have more than 100,000 residents and presently hold at-large elections.

The type of electoral mismatch Hernandez is targeting has generated legal challenges in multiple cities. Anaheim has reportedly entered into settlement talks for a lawsuit, brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, arguing that the city's all-white council belies the fact that Anaheim is majority Latino.

Similarly, Los Angeles Superior Court judge Mark Mooney ruled in July that Palmdale's at-large city council voting system violates the California Voting Rights Act of 2001.

Mooney handed down a separate ruling in November ordering Palmdale to dissolve its current city council, saying its members were selected by "an unlawful election," and have voters elect new representatives in a district-based special June election. Assistant city attorney Noel Doran said Palmdale plans to appeal.

Since they are charter cities, Anaheim and Palmdale would not be encompassed by Hernandez's law.

Mitchell's list of cities that would be affected by the law includes Antioch, Concord, Corona, Costa Mesa, Daly City, El Monte, Fairfield, Fontana, Fremont, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Murrieta, Norwalk, Ontario, Orange, Oxnard, Rancho Cucamonga, Richmond, Santa Clarita, Simi Valley, Temecula, Thousand Oaks and West Covina.

A separate review of population data by The Bee suggested that Rialto, a non-charter city of more than 100,000 residents with an at-large election system, may also belong on the list.

PHOTO: A woman leaves her polling place after voting at the Timber Creek Lodge at Del Webb's Sun City in Roseville. Calif. on Tuesday, November 6, 2012. The Sacramento Bee/Lezlie Sterling.

December 20, 2013
AM Alert: Legislators prepare signature bills for new session

Brown_signing_bills.JPGWith the new session only weeks away, there has been a flurry of announcements for bills that legislators plan to introduce next year. Here are a few of the most interesting:

State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, wants to require the implementation of "kill switches" that would render smartphones inoperable if they are stolen. According to the Federal Communications Commission, cell phone thefts account for about 30 to 40 percent of robberies nationwide — and more than 50 percent in San Francisco.

Livestock and poultry producers commonly use antibiotics to make their animals grow bigger and faster. Following the release of federal guidelines by the Food and Drug Administration, state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, is proposing legislation that would restrict the use of antibiotics in farm animals to medical care only.

In what is sure to be a controversial battle, state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, is seeking to replace special elections with gubernatorial appointments for legislative vacancies. Steinberg said he was fed up with expensive, low-turnout special elections, which has kept the Legislature below capacity throughout the session.

VIDEO: Dan Walters says a proposal to eliminate special elections is probably just as much about consolidating Democratic power as improving government efficiency.

LIGHT MY FIRE: With the Southern California tradition of beach bonfires at risk, Assemblyman Travis Allen, R-Huntington Beach, has been pursuing legislation to ensure they remain legal. The South Coast Air Quality Management District will discuss what position to take on his bill at its meeting today in Diamond Bar.

LONG WALK TO FREEDOM: In April, members of the California Innocence Project, a California Western School of Law program aimed at overturning wrongful convictions, began a march from San Diego to Sacramento seeking clemency for 12 inmates across the state. The group will be on the west Capitol steps again today at noon asking Gov. Jerry Brown to release the prisoners in time for Christmas. Among those attending the event are several past exonerees, including NFL linebacker Brian Banks.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown signs bills in Sacramento on March 24, 2011 as Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco look on. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

December 20, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: Special election reform has undercurrent of power grab

There have been an unusually large number of special elections this year, but that's no reason to give even more control to the governor, Dan says.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

December 19, 2013
Steinberg says governors should fill CA legislative vacancies

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Saying he was fed up with "innumerable special elections" that have kept the Legislature below capacity throughout the current session, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said he will propose a constitutional amendment giving the governor the power to fill legislative vacancies.

Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said he is concerned by the expense of low-turnout special elections and the fact that the vacancies leave some voters with no representation in Sacramento for months at a time.

(Unmentioned was that the special elections also can have undesired outcomes, such as the July 23 ballot in the Central Valley's 16th Senate District that reduced the size of Steinberg's caucus. And Assembly Democrats nearly lost specials in the 45th and 52nd Assembly districts.)

"I'm going to introduce a flier here, an idea, a constitutional amendment, that suggests that vacancies in the Legislature should be filled by appointment by the governor," Steinberg told reporters Thursday. "I don't know how this will go over. I'm just frustrated with the amount of money spent on special elections and we have these gaping vacancies for a long period of time."

Steinberg said his proposal likely would include a provision requiring that the governor's appointees be approved by the house that has the vacancy to be filled. He noted that California governors already fill vacancies on boards of supervisors and in the U.S. Senate.

A Republican member of the Assembly elections committee called the proposed bill a power grab.

"After a couple of elections didn't turn out their way, Sacramento's liberal majority now wants to end fair elections and take away the right of the people to choose their own representatives so they can institutionalize their one-party rule at the State Capitol," Assemblyman Dan Logue, R-Marysville, said in a statement. "We would expect this kind of thing in Cuba or North Korea, but not in a state like California with a proud tradition of direct democracy."

Here's a list — so far — of legislative vacancies in the 2013-2014 session:

  • 4th Senate District (resignation of state Sen. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, after election to Congress)
  • 32nd Senate District (resignation of state Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod, D-Chino, after election to Congress)
  • 40th Senate District (resignation of Sen. Juan Vargas, D-Chula Vista, after election to Congress)
  • 16th Senate District (resignation of Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Bakersfield, after taking a job with Chevron)
  • 80th Assembly District (resignation of Assemblyman Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, after election to 40th Senate District)
  • 52nd Assembly District (resignation of Assemblywoman Norma Torres, D-Pomona, after election to 32nd Senate District)
  • 26th Senate District (resignation of Sen. Curren Price, D-Los Angeles, after election to Los Angeles City Council)
  • 45th Assembly District (resignation of Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, D-Woodland Hills after election to Los Angeles City Council)
  • 54th Assembly District (resignation of Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, after election to 26th Senate District)
  • 23rd Senate District (resignation of Sen. Bill Emmerson, R-Redlands, who later took a job with the California Hospital Association)

Editor's note: This post was updated at 4:30 p.m. to include Logue's statement. It later was changed to reflect the fact that Logue is a member of the elections committee, not its vice-chairman.

PHOTO: State Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Bakersfield, resigned earlier this year to take a job with Chevron. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, won the special election to replace him. Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli.

December 19, 2013
More than 50K Californians enroll in Obamacare in three-day period

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Covered California, the state's health insurance exchange, is experiencing a significant surge in enrollment, officials said Thursday.

More than 53,500 customers selected health coverage plans in the last three days - about 60 percent more than the entire month of October when the exchange opened for business.

That includes 20,506 customers Wednesday, 19,351 Tuesday and 13,653 Monday, Executive Director Peter V. Lee told reporters. He said the increases illustrate how hundreds of thousands of residents are "anxious, excited and determined to get coverage."

The exchange has not released monthly projections, but estimates between 500,000 and 700,000 subsidy-eligible customers will obtain coverage by the end of the initial enrollment period March 31.

"Given the rate at which people are applying, I think we could easily exceed those projections, but we aren't done," Lee said.

The exchange also has expanded its marketing, doubling spending on outreach to the Los Angeles market and on Latinos and Spanish-language speakers. Officials boosted their efforts after preliminary data showed most of those enrolling in coverage were doing so in English.

Customers face a Monday deadline to enroll in plans in order to receive coverage by Jan. 1.

PHOTO: Enrollment operators take phone calls during the launch of Covered California in Rancho Cordova on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

December 19, 2013
Steinberg proposes $50 million for treating mentally ill criminals

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Democratic state Senate leader Darrell Steinberg wants California to spend $50 million on programs that try to keep mentally ill criminals from re-offending.

The proposed legislation calls for bringing back a program that existed for about 10 years in California. The "Mentally Ill Offender Crime Reduction Grant" program allows counties to apply for funding to support mental health courts, substance abuse treatment, and employment training programs. Those efforts would reduce recidivism and crowding in California jails, Steinberg said, and help mentally ill people become more stable.

"We are trying to bring back something that was a great success in the late 90s early 2000s that went away as a result of the budget cuts," Steinberg said during a press conference this morning, where he was backed by law enforcement and mental health care leaders.

"We do not have a specific funding stream dedicated to providing mental health services to people in jail that continue once they leave jail and get into the community... We had that before, prior to 2008. We want to reinstate that and make it part of our overall approach."

Steinberg said lawmakers should treat California's projected budget surplus with an approach that dedicates one-third to paying down debt, one-third to reserves and one-third to spending.

"We shouldn't be shy about saying that there are areas of public investment that we must make, that are important," he said.

Speaking in support of Steinberg's proposal today were Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson; Sacramento County's Chief Probation Officer Lee Seale; Sacramento County's mental health director Dorian Kittrel and Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna.

PHOTO: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, in March 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

December 19, 2013
AM Alert: New Steinberg legislation to address mentally ill criminal offenders

Steinberg_Calderon_hearing.JPGFunding for mental health services has long been a cause for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. Last spring, he advocated increasing community resources and crisis support for those dealing with mental illness to help reduce the burdens they place on the state's prisons and hospitals. The plan passed as part of the June budget package.

Yet major issues remain with caring for the mentally ill in California and across the nation. As The Bee reported last Sunday, some of the patients bused out-of-state by a Nevada mental hospital later committed crimes in California and elsewhere.

In the wake of that news, Steinberg will be in Room 211 of the State Capitol today at 11 a.m. to announce a new program aimed at reducing crime committed by mentally ill offenders. Steinberg's office said the legislation, which Steinberg plans to introduce in January, will address both "the dearth of services for mental health and substance abuse treatment" and issues of realignment related to prison overcrowding.

VIDEO: Rumors of Gov. Jerry Brown launching a fourth presidential campaign for 2016 are nonsense, Dan Walters says

DIVIDE AND CONQUER: It didn't get too far in 2012, but San Diego businessman John Cox is once again pursuing his idea of changing the structure of the California Legislature to bring citizens closer to their representatives. His plan divides each of the state's legislative districts into a hundred neighborhoods, which would each elect their own representative and then caucus to send one of them to Sacramento. Cox filed a proposed ballot initiative with the Attorney General's office Wednesday, but will have to collect more than 800,000 signatures to get it on the November 2014 ballot.

SCHOOL SELF-IMPROVEMENT: Last year's passage of Prop. 39 generated money for school energy-efficiency projects, including $464 million for projects in the 2013-14 fiscal year. The California Energy Commission, which meets today at 10 a.m. at its Ninth Street headquarters, is expected to approve guidelines that will clear the way for the agency to begin accepting funding applications early next year.

PHOTO: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, center, leads the Senate Rules Committee in voting unanimously to strip Sen. Ron Calderon of all committee assignments at the state Capitol last month. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

December 19, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: Brown presidential rumors are nonsense

Gov. Jerry Brown wants to end his career on a high note, not a fourth failed campaign, Dan says.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

December 18, 2013
Analyst recommends changes in how California oversees for-profit schools

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California should focus its oversight of the state's private college industry on only those schools that raise red flags or have a history of student complaints, a new report by the Legislative Analyst's Office recommends.

Such an approach would free up resources to meet the workload created by a federal rule taking effect next July requiring private post-secondary colleges to get state authorization if they want to participate in federal student aid programs, aaccording to the LAO report.

In addition, the report said, the state should extend its oversight to cover online schools based outside California. Those schools currently operate without state review and often with no accreditation.

A 2009 state law that overhauled the state's fragmented-to-nonexistent oversight of for-profit colleges created a Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education. Under the law, the bureau licenses institutions that have no accreditation or are accredited by national or specialty agencies.

But the LAO said the bureau should leave review of schools' education quality to accreditation groups. The bureau instead should stick to the potentially bigger problems of schools ripping off students and conducting questionable business practices, such as deceptive marketing.

"In short, under the revised oversight system, the Bureau generally would conduct inspections for low-risk accredited institutions only when triggered by complaints, poor performance, or other factors, while dedicating the bulk of its compliance resources
to the remaining, highest-risk accredited and unaccredited institutions," the LAO wrote, summing up its suggestions.

About 11 percent of the 3.7 million California students attending college go to for-profit schools. The schools have long been the subject of debate in the Capitol. Supporters say they offer a way for students to learn valuable vocational skills and avoid long wait lists at community colleges. Critics, though, allege that some of the schools have misleading pitches, high costs, and poor student outcomes.

The 2009 law exempted from state licensing the 150 schools accredited by regional agencies. Those schools educate about one-half of all students attending private schools, according to the LAO.

But starting in July 2014, the U.S. Department of Education requires all for-profit schools participating in federal student aid programs — including those accredited by regional agencies — to be authorized by the state in which they are located and have a student complaint process in place.

Some large schools, the University of Phoenix and DeVry University, already have agreed to bureau oversight to comply with the new federal rules.

PHOTO: Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

December 18, 2013
Key deadlines nearing for new healthcare coverage

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Peter V. Lee, the head of the state's health insurance exchange, said the pace of registration has quickened as customers face a series of deadlines.

Roughly 15,000 consumers a day were signing up for coverage the first two days of last week.

"We are seeing huge interest," Lee said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday, adding that more people were becoming familiar with Covered California.

Customers who want their coverage for doctors' appointments and prescription drugs to start next month must select plans by Monday and pay their first premium by Jan. 6. The next enrollment deadline is Jan. 15 for coverage to begin Feb. 1. For those customers, a payment is due Jan. 28.

The first open enrollment period runs through March 31.

Lee likened the progress thus far to being in the first inning of a nine-inning game. He noted some trends to emerge since the exchange launched for business Oct. 1.

While some 55 percent of enrollees complete the process in one day, creating an account and selecting their plans, that still means about 45 percent of the applicants take longer, he said.

About 75 percent take a full week to come on board.

Covered California also is seeing major differences in the plans chosen by people with federal premium assistance versus those who pay full freight. About two-thirds of the customers with subsidies select a silver plan and 18 percent pick a bronze plan.

For those without subsidies, the breakdown is evenly spread across bronze, silver, gold and platinum. Higher-valued metals correspond with the higher the percentage of expenses paid for by the plans.

"They want to buy what they think is the best deal for them," Lee said.

PHOTO: Kristy Farrington, a student at Sacramento State University, looks at a pamphlet with information on Covered California on Oct. 16, 2013.

December 18, 2013
Two Southern Cal cities chagrined about highly paid employees

chiang1.JPGOfficials in two Southern California cities were chagrined to be singled out this week as having the state's two highest paid municipal employees last year in an annual compilation by state Controller John Chiang - and are blaming a clerical error and one-time anomaly.

Buena Park was listed as No. 1 for paying its city manager $545,394, and a city councilwoman, Elizabeth Swift, contacted Capitol Alert with an explanation. She said the city manager was retiring after 32 years on the city's payroll and cashed out sick leave accumulated during that career, departing with a one-time payment of several hundred thousand dollars.

South Gate was listed as having the state's second highest paid city employee last year, a police sergeant reported as having received $486,044. But on Tuesday, the city informed the controller's office that the city erroneously listed a $33,399 one-time payment to the officer as $339,999 on the reporting form. The officer's total for the year was actually $180,044, acting personnel director Nellie Cobbs said.

The controller's office is changing the South Gate entry, but leaving the one for Buena Park intact.

PHOTO: State Controller John Chiang in 2011. The Sacramento Bee/John Chiang.

December 18, 2013
Report faults CA governor's office policy for chilling discrimination claims

brownchinaagreement.jpgA policy requiring the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing to obtain approval from the governor's office before pursuing discrimination claims against public agencies has compromised the department's independence and chilled investigations, state overseers said in a new report.

The policy, contained in an administration directive describing how a variety of matters should be elevated to the governor's attention, applies broadly to state departments proposing to bring lawsuits or enforcement actions against state or local agencies.

Its effect on the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which investigates complaints of discrimination in housing and employment matters, has been significant, according to a report released Wednesday by the California Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes.

Since the policy was instituted during the Schwarzenegger administration in 2008, formal accusations of discrimination against public employers dropped from 15 percent of all DFEH accusations to just 1 percent, the report said.

The report said the time required to submit a case to Gov. Jerry Brown's office for approval has resulted in shortened investigations and automatic sidetracking to mediation of complaints against public agencies.

The report quoted Tim Muscat, a former chief counsel at DFEH, saying that in perhaps 10 instances "we could not go forward with a claim because there wasn't time" to get the governor's approval.

December 18, 2013
AM Alert: State parks commission considers alternatives to keep system viable

Angel_Island.JPGIt has not been an easy few years for the California state park system. Facing a budget crunch, the Department of Parks and Recreation nearly closed 70 parks last year before it was revealed that top officials had hidden more than $20 million in a secret fund.

The embarrassing revelations continued: Another $33 million had been forgotten in an obscure off-road fund, and the department had deferred maintenance at state parks in excess of $1 billion.

Those troubles prompted the launch of a new volunteer commission to analyze and overhaul the park system. Parks Forward, as the initiative is called, aims to make the department more "sustainable" over the next century.

The commission, which is chaired by former state Sen. Christine Kehoe and venture capitalist Lance Conn, meets today from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Capitol Plaza Ballrooms on Ninth Street. The meeting will cover current financials and staffing at state parks, as well as activities underway to improve their management and possible models for the system's long-term viability.

VIDEO: With nearly 50 initiatives attempting to get on the ballot next November, it could be a crowded campaign season, Dan Walters says

SNOW-POLITANO: President Barack Obama has decided not to attend the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, in February, so he's sending a delegation of athletes and diplomats in his place. Leading the group, the White House announced yesterday, is Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California system, who also led a delegation to the closing ceremonies of the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. She will be joined by former tennis champion Billie Jean King and figure skating gold medalist Brian Boitano, among others.

"I look forward to being in Sochi to support our Olympic athletes and celebrate their accomplishments," Napolitano said in a statement. "It is an honor to represent our country in the company of individuals who have excelled in life and sport."

ACTIVE ALUM: Former state lawmaker Gil Cedillo was a big advocate for immigrant rights during his time in the California Legislature. (He famously introduced legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver's licenses nine times.) Now a Los Angeles councilman, Cedillo is speaking out on the Obama administration's deportation policy. He will be leading an event on the front steps of Los Angeles City Hall at 9 a.m. to coincide with the United Nations International Day of Migrants.

PHOTO: Segway tours are available at Angel Island State Park — the Ellis Island of the West. The Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo

December 18, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: Prepare for a crowded ballot next November

With nearly 50 initiatives seeking to qualify for the November 2014 ballot, next fall could be overloaded with multimillion campaigns on hot-button issues, Dan says.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

December 17, 2013
Jerry Brown ponders 'those guys on horses'

christmastree.jpgWhen Gov. Jerry Brown arrived in Mountain View for a speaking engagement Monday, he had on his mind two statues on the west pediment of the state Capitol building, architectural elements he said he "noticed for the first time" at a Christmas tree lighting ceremony last week.

"Have you ever stood on the west side, where the tree was and looked up at the facade of the building, where they have those guys on horses with an arrow?" he said.

Brown wondered who the figures were and said, "I'm going to find that out."

According to a Smithsonian American Art Museum catalog, the sculptures are "Indian Being Attacked by a Bear" and "Indian Woman Being Attacked by a Buffalo." Both are replicas of pieces originally installed in 1873 but removed — and lost or destroyed — during restoration of the Capitol in 1948.

The replicas were installed in 1982, when Brown was governor before.

According to the Smithsonian, the bear sculpture "represents the erosion of primitive life in California" while the other "represents a vanishing way of life for the Indian in the nation."

Assemblyman Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova, specializes in facts about the building's restoration. He said in an email that the statues "represent America in its natural state or natural history."

Brown might find something there to talk about in his State of the State address next month.

"They'll never do that in a new building, right? They have all these more functional buildings," he said. "I think it's just kind of interesting, so maybe in my State of the State I'll explain why that's significant ... You know, the architecture expresses a certain view of the world. That's a different view than the world today. So, it's part of our collective learning here."

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown hangs an ornament with Angel Valencia-Ceja, with Anne Gust-Brown and Rosa Valencia of Vallejo, California at the 82nd Annual Capitol Christmas Tree Lighting on December 12, 2013 on the West Steps of the State Capitol in Sacramento. The Sacramento Bee/Jose Luis Villegas

December 17, 2013
Michelle Rhee's consultant introduces California ballot measure

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A ballot measure submitted by a political consultant for education advocate Michelle Rhee seeks to remove seniority as a factor when California school districts lay off teachers, requiring that they instead base decisions on performance ratings. Performance, under the proposal, would be determined in part based on student test scores.

Those policy proposals have been at the core of Rhee's advocacy efforts as head of StudentsFirst, a national group headquartered in Sacramento. Rhee, who is married to Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, has said she established the group to try to counter the influence that teachers unions have in decisions about public education. Unions generally reject the idea that teachers should be rated based on their students' test scores, and prefer contracts that call for the most recently hired teachers to be the first let go during layoffs.

The California ballot initiative was submitted Monday by Matt David, a political consultant to StudentsFirst. David was communications director to Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and worked on the presidential campaigns of Republican Senator John McCain and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman Jr.

David said he submitted the measure on his own behalf and that StudentsFirst has not yet endorsed it.

"I would hope to get their support on this, assuming the language isn't changed (by the attorney general)," David said. "But they haven't taken a position yet and I've advised other groups not to take a position until we get the language finalized."

StudentsFirst spokesman Francisco Castillo said the group has been in talks about advancing a ballot measure in California next year, but hasn't yet decided if this will be it.

"We're currently reviewing the language for this one, and we generally support the concepts behind it, but it's premature to say whether we will take a position on it right now," Castillo said.

The proposed initiative for California's 2014 ballot must receive a title and summary from the Attorney General's Office before proponents can begin gathering signatures from the public to qualify for the ballot.

The measure also would streamline the firing procedures for teachers convicted of sex crimes, setting up a possible conflict with another ballot measure recently proposed by an advocacy group called EdVoice, which generally shares StudentsFirst's anti-union approach to education.

StudentsFirst has been active in several states but has made little headway so far in California, where public employee unions hold big clout in the state Capitol. The organization recently hired labor lobbyist Jovan Agee, who previously represented the AFSCME union, to head up its California operation.

Students First pushed for a bill to add student test scores to teachers' performance evaluations earlier this year, but Senate Bill 441 died in its first committee.

The bill was carried by Sen. Ron Calderon, the Montebello Democrat whose office was raided this summer by the FBI. A sealed FBI affidavit made public by Al Jazeera America alleges Calderon accepted $88,000 in bribes from a hospital executive and an undercover agent posing as a movie studio owner.

In 2012, StudentsFirst pitched a bill in California that sought to remove seniority as a factor in teacher layoff procedures, instead basing layoffs largely on job performance, according to a confidential draft The Bee obtained last year. The bill also would have changed the teacher evaluation system so that at least half the ratings were based on student test scores.

Calderon's brother, Charles Calderon, who was an assemblyman at the time, said he was interested in introducing the bill, but ran out of time during the 2012 session.

StudentsFirst poured more than $1 million into legislative races in 2012, including support for Ian Calderon — the son of Charles Calderon and nephew of Ron Calderon — as well as Assembly candidates Cheryl Brown and Brian Johnson. All are Democrats who faced opponents backed by the California Teachers Association.

Ian Calderon and Brown won their races and now serve in the state Assembly.

Michelle Rhee at Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson's State of the City address in January 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Bryan Patrick

December 17, 2013
New Census Bureau tool makes access to detailed data easy

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Want to know more about your state, your community or even your neighborhood?

There's an app for that — or more accurately, a new Census Bureau website that allows users to drill down into a wide variety of data from past decennial censuses, as well as more frequent, updated information from the American Community Survey.

It's called Census Explorer and is, the Census Bureau says, particularly useful in showing demographic and economic change over time, since data from past censuses are included, down to the level of individual census tracts, which are fundamentally neighborhoods.

PHOTO: A building under construction at the corner of Broadway and 35th Street in Sacramento's Oak Park neighborhood in November 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

December 17, 2013
AM Alert: Cannella plans to expand revenge porn legislation

Thumbnail image for IPhone.jpgOne of the more unusual laws passed by the Legislature last session was a ban on so-called "revenge porn," the act of posting private, graphic pictures or footage of someone online with the intention of humiliating them. Doing so now qualifies as a misdemeanor carrying penalties of six months in jail or a $1,000 fine for a first offense.

Signed by the governor on Oct. 1, the law has already led to one high-profile case. Last week, Attorney General Kamala Harris announced charges against a San Diego man who allegedly ran a website that allowed users to upload sexually explicit photos of a person without their permission, linking to their full name, age, location and Facebook profile.

Now state Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, who authored the legislation, is back with a sequel: the Revenge Porn 2.0 Act, as his office is calling it. The new bill, which Cannella plans to introduce when the Legislature returns in January, will expand upon his original idea by including "selfies" among the protected material and by clarifying its language to make these incidents easier to prosecute. Cannella will be at the Old Courthouse in Madera at 11 a.m. for a public announcement.

VIDEO: The battle between school districts and education reformers over how to use new funding for low-income students has major implications for future education policy in California, Dan Walters says

GETTING SCHOOLED: With California taking a growing interest in "linked learning," the Department of Education has organized a conference in Sacramento today encouraging partnerships between educators and industry to develop curriculum giving students career-oriented training. The Pathways to Prosperity Institute takes place from 9:00 a.m.-3:30 p.m. at the Department of Public Health Auditorium, 1500 Capitol Ave. Among those scheduled to attend is state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, who is spearheading a grant program to further support these partnerships.

YULETIDE TUNES: The State Capitol continues its series of free daily holiday music concerts in the Rotunda with Trio Bella at 11 a.m. and the Salvation Army Brass Ensemble at noon.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to state Sen. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, who turns 47.

PHOTO: Instagram is demonstrated on an iPhone on April 9, 2012, in New York. The Associated Press/Karly Domb Sadof.

December 17, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: Education establishment and reformers battle

Dan says a big battle is looming between California school districts and reformers over education spending.

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See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

December 16, 2013
Jerry Brown 'haunted' by high school test question about a leaf

brownchamberbreakfast.jpgMOUNTAIN VIEW - Gov. Jerry Brown has made his displeasure with standardized school tests plain any number of times since taking office in 2011. On Monday, by way of explanation, he offered his story about a leaf.

Interviewed on stage during a conference in Mountain View, Brown recalled a "shocking" exam he took as a senior in high school. It included only one question, Brown said: "Write your impression of a green leaf."

Brown, now 75, said he "didn't know how to deal with it" and that even now, walking by a tree, he wonders, "How's my impression going? Can I feel anything?"

"Actually, this is a very powerful question that has haunted me for 50 years, but you can't put that on a standardized test," Brown said.

The Democratic governor, who tangled with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan this year over California's request for a one-year reprieve from using STAR tests, said "there are important educational encounters that can't be captured in tests that are managed from headquarters, either by Arne Duncan or by somebody in Sacramento."

Brown was being interviewed on stage at the Computer History Museum by James Bennet, editor in chief of The Atlantic magazine. After Brown objected to national testing standards as a form of "national control," Bennet asked about preparing students to compete in a global economy.

"Do you think students are in the global economy?" Brown said. "No, they're in the classroom."

When Bennet suggested students eventually would be in the global economy, Brown objected again.

"No, they're not," he said. "They're going to be in a job somewhere. We're not in the global economy. I hate to disillusion you. We're just here, in this hallway, with a bunch of people looking at us."

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at the California Chamber of Commerce's annual host breakfast in Sacramento on May 22, 2013. The Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli

December 16, 2013
Jerry Brown calls for federal unemployment funding extension

brownoaklandport.jpgWith Congress apparently close to a budget agreement that does not include an extension of federal unemployment insurance benefits, Gov. Jerry Brown urged House and Senate leaders to reconsider.

"When these benefits were first authorized, the national unemployment rate was only 5.6 percent," Brown said in a letter Thursday. "The national rate is still 7 percent and 36 states, including California, have even higher unemployment rates than when the extension benefits were originally authorized."

Brown's letter comes as the Senate prepares to act this week on a bill that would avert a government shutdown next year. The bill does not include an extension of unemployment benefits scheduled to expire at the end of the month, frustrating many Democrats.

Brown said more than 214,000 Californians are currently collecting federal unemployment extension benefits and that they "will suffer irreparable harm if these federal benefits are allowed to expire."

Brown also complained more broadly about what he called "the severe federal underfunding" of California's unemployment insurance program, where mistakes in a computer upgrade delayed benefits for thousands of unemployed Californians this fall.

"In 2013, California's federal UI administrative grant was $128 million less than what was needed to pay benefits timely and accurately," Brown wrote. "The continuous funding shortfalls result in benefit delays and prevent the state from providing timely and accurate UI services to unemployed workers suffering a financial hardship."

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

December 16, 2013
California lawmakers question gun confiscation shortcomings

20131211_PK_GUN REGISTRATION_0128.JPGLawmakers pressed officials on Monday to improve the speed and efficiency of a state program used to seize guns from Californians prohibited from owning firearms.

Known as the Armed Prohibited Persons System, the program examined in a recent state audit targets Californians who became ineligible to own guns due to mental illness or criminal convictions. As of Jan. 1, the Department of Justice will be able to compare the list against a data on long gun purchases made after that date.

Among the issues spotlighted during a Wednesday hearing of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee were a massive backlog of gun owners yet to be reviewed and gaps in communication between courts and mental health providers, who are able to determine when someone forfeits his right to possess firearms, and the Department of Justice.

"I want to get this problem solved," said Assemblyman Allan Mansoor, R-Costa Mesa, who peppered witnesses with questions about data sharing. "I think it's embarrassing, quite frankly."

Three courts surveyed by the state auditor's office failed to consistently report banned individuals to the Department of Justice, State Auditor Elaine Howle said. The audit found 22 mental health facilities not on the Department of Justice's outreach list.

Howle recommended that courts, like mental health facilities, be required to communicate with the Department of Justice within 24 hours of determining someone should be barred from owning guns.

"We think the department of justice needs to do a better job of reaching out to courts and reminding them of their reporting requirements," Howle said.

Amid a broad push for tighter gun control laws, the Legislature this year approved an extra $24 million for recovering guns from people on the prohibited persons list. California has confiscated about 4,000 guns in sweeps since 2011, Howle said.

In a sign of strain on the program, the Department of Justice hadn't vetted the status of some 380,000 gun owners as of July. Steve Lindley, director of the California Department of Justice's Bureau of Firearms, said they have since reduced that backlog by about 47,000 people.

Enforcement appears to be lagging as well: the state audit found 20,800 people with mental illness who had not had their guns confiscated.

The department seems likely to have plenty of incoming information to occupy staff: Lindley noted that firearms sales have risen dramatically over the last few years, from 600,000 in 2011 to more than one million in 2013.

PHOTO: Blake Prior, center, completes paperwork for the purchase of a rifle at Auburn Outdoor Sports Wednesday December 11, 2013 in Auburn, Calif. The Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.

December 16, 2013
New report gives access to California local government pay

20111102_ha_JOHN_CHIANG0365.JPGCalifornia's highest paid city employee last year was the city manager of Buena Park, who was paid $545,394 in 2012, according to the latest compilation of local salary data by state Controller John Chiang's office.

The second highest was a police sergeant in South Gate, $486,044.

But the highest paid county employee can top that. An orthopedic surgeon on contract to Kern County was being paid $1,040,651 last year. The 10 highest paid county employees in the survey were all physicians working in county-owned medical facilities.

Most of the highest paid listed on Chiang's ranking -- the city manager and police sergeant, for instance -- included vacation pay or other one-time payouts.

"Making compensation of public employees transparent provides taxpayers with the ability to be more informed and active in local government decisions," Chiang said in a statement. "I'm especially encouraged with the cooperation that cities and counties have provided in helping us make all government more accountable to Californians."

The newest report, which lists salaries by position and not by name, covers wage and benefit data for 637,435 positions local positions and more than $38.86 billion in wages paid in 2012.

PHOTO: Controller John Chiang in 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

December 16, 2013
California low in school spending, but high in teacher salaries

teacher1.JPGGenerally, the states that spend the most on their public schools also have the highest teacher salaries, but there's one notable exception - California - as newly compiled data reveal.

California's average teacher salary is the fifth highest in the nation this year, but its per-pupil spending is the 12th lowest - indicating that the state is committing an extraordinarily high proportion of each school dollar to those salaries and relatively little on administration and other school expenses.

California's estimated average teacher salary, $69,324, comes from the newly published Digest of Education Statistics, compiled by the federal government's National Center for Education Statistics.

Its 12th lowest level of per-pupil spending, $9,202, is found in the statistical report from the National Education Association for the 2012-13 school year. The national average is $11,068.

The states immediately above and below California in teacher salaries all spend much more on their schools, as measured by the average per pupil.

December 16, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: California's slowing population growth has huge effect

California's current population growth is at less than half the rate of its peak, which affects everything from education to real estate, Dan says.

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See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

December 16, 2013
AM Alert: Obama administration reaches out to public on college ratings system

Thumbnail image for Obama No Child Left Behind.JPGWith the cost of both private and public college tuition soaring, policymakers across the country are looking for ways to keep higher education affordable. Even President Barack Obama has jumped into the fray: In August, he announced his idea for a federal ratings system that would measure the "value" of colleges, serving as a resource for families and possibly as a guide that would redirect financial aid toward schools that score higher on its metrics.

The plan has been met with sharp criticism from Congressional Republicans and education leaders, which puts its scheduled fall 2015 start in doubt. Just last week, Obama's former Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, who took over as president of the University of California in September, expressed her doubts about the idea of a college scorecard.

"I am deeply skeptical that there are criteria that can be developed that are in the end meaningful, because there will be so many exceptions, once you get down to it," Napolitano told the Washington Post. "It's not like — you know, you're not buying a car or a boat."

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Education continues to solicit feedback on the project. Deputy Undersecretary of Education Jamienne Studley, along with U.S. Reps. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, and John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, will be at UC Davis' Vanderhoef Studio Theatre at 10 a.m. for a public forum on college affordability and the proposed ratings system.

VIDEO: California's slowing population growth has far-reaching implications, Dan Walters says, affecting everything from education to real estate.

FIGHT ON: Mixed Martial Arts fighter Fallon Fox caused a stir in March when she came out as transgender to Sports Illustrated. Now the California State Athletics Commission, which licenses athletes in the combat sport, considers new regulations allowing transgender fighters to compete, including whether to check hormone levels to maintain fairness in MMA matches. The meeting takes place at 10 a.m. at 2005 Evergreen St. in Sacramento.

IT'S A HARD-KNOCK LIFE: More than one-in-five children live in poverty, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. An all-day conference, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the California Endowment in Los Angeles, aims to address what the state can do to get the most out of its poverty-relief programs and how it can help to break the cycle for future generations. Among the expected attendees are state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento; state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord; and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.

DOUBLE TROUBLE: The Joint Legislative Audit Committee reviews two recently completed audits, 10 a.m. in Room 126 at the state Capitol. One concerns off-budget accounts, launched after the California Department of Parks and Recreation and Cal Fire were both discovered to be holding millions of dollars in unreported funds; the other is focused on the state Department of Justice's safety mechanisms for prohibiting people with certain mental illnesses from buying or owning guns.

CELEBRATIONS: A belated happy birthday to Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, who turned 72 yesterday, and to California Democratic Party chairman John L. Burton, who turned 81.

PHOTO: President Barack Obama speaks on No Child Left Behind Reform, Sept. 23, 2011, in the East Room of the White House in Washington. The Associated Press/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

December 14, 2013
Jerry Brown's top water official Jerry Meral to retire

delta_aerial.JPGJerry Meral, Gov. Jerry Brown's top water official and a major figure in the controversial, $25 billion water project proposed by the governor, will retire at the end of the month, the Brown administration confirmed Saturday.

Meral, deputy secretary of the state's Natural Resources Agency, told Brown of his retirement in a letter Monday - the same day the Brown administration released its latest environmental analysis of a plan to build two tunnels to divert water around the Delta to the south.

"While additional permits will be required," Meral said in the letter, "it is virtually certain that the plan will be implemented."

Meral, who is widely regarded as one of California's most accomplished preservationists, worked for Brown as a water adviser when Brown was governor before, from 1975 to 1983. He was one of several high-profile advisers brought back by the Democratic governor when Brown took office in 2011.

Meral became a source of controversy when, earlier this year, five members of Congress called for his resignation after Tom Stokely, a water policy analyst with the California Water Impact Network and Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, campaign director of Restore the Delta, said Meral told Stokely the Bay Delta Conservation Plan "is not about, and has never been about saving the Delta. The Delta cannot be saved."

The Brown administration defended Meral at the time and said his remarks were taken out of context.

Meral did not give a reason for his retirement in his letter.

Richard Stapler, a Natural Resources Agency spokesman, said in an email Saturday that "while we've reluctantly accepted Dr. Meral's decision to retire for a second time, his contribution to achieving the state's dual goals of water supply reliability and ecosystem restoration is incalculable."

PHOTO: Aerial view of the region to be affected by the Delta water tunnels and intakes in the Courtland area on April 10, 2013. Highway 160 and Randall Island Road are seen near the top of the frame. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

December 13, 2013
President awards Rim Fire aid after California appeal

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President Barack Obama declared this summer's Rim Fire a major disaster Friday, reversing an earlier denial of aid following an appeal by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Friday's declaration of a presidential major disaster frees up federal funding for the state, Tuolumne County and other local governments, and certain nonprofit groups. The money will pay for emergency work and the repair or replacement of roads and other structures damaged by the Rim Fire.

The blaze burned from Aug. 17 through Oct. 24, scorching more than 257,000 acres and is the third-largest wildfire in state history. It devastated the region's Yosemite-based tourism industry and caused $54 million in damage, according to the latest estimates.

Last month, though, the Federal Emergency Management Agency denied Brown's Oct. 8 request for a major disaster declaration, saying the fire's severity and magnitude did not justify it.

Brown appealed to Obama earlier this month and FEMA reversed itself Friday.

"This is welcome news for those impacted by this devastating wildfire, and I'm thankful for FEMA's careful reconsideration of the governor's request," Mark Ghilarducci, director of the Governor's Office of Emergency Services, said in a statement. "Even though the fire is out, the impacts to the local economy, environment and region haven't gone away. We look forward to FEMA's assistance in the important recovery work that has been underway since October."

Obama's order releases public-assistance money for Tuolumne County to pay for emergency work and the repair or replacement of fire-damaged roads and other facilities.

In addition, all counties can apply for hazard-mitigation money to prevent long-term risks to life and property.

PHOTO: Inmate firefighters walked along Highway 120 during the Rim Fire in August. Associated Press/Jae C. Hong

December 13, 2013
Federal court reopens Calaveras County tribe challenge

MC_MEWUK_TRIBE_04.JPGA bitter and long-running fight over a small Calaveras County tribe has now taken a new turn, as a Washington, D.C.-based federal judge has ordered Interior Department officials to take another look at its past decisions.

In a 23-page decision, U.S. District Judge Barbara Jacobs Rothstein sided with Yakima Dixie and his allies with the California Miwok Indian Tribe. Dixie has been competing with Silvia Burley for tribal control of what was once called the Sheep Ranch Me-Wuk.

"Both Yakima and Burley laid claim to the role of 'Chairperson' of the Tribe and attempted to organize the Tribe... by submitting multiple competing constitutions that purportedly had been adopted by the tribal membership," Rothstein noted.

Money, among other things, is at stake; as Rothstein noted, "the California Gambling Control Commission notified the Tribe that it would withhold distributions from the California Revenue Sharing Trust Fund until the tribal leadership was established."

In 2011, the Obama administration effectively sided with Burley. On Friday, though, Rothstein concluded that it was "unreasonable" for the administration to declare that the tribe consisted solely of Yakima, Burley, Burley's two daughters, and Burley's granddaughter.

Rothstein remanded the case to the Interior Department for reconsideration.

PHOTO: Silvia Burley, who claims she's the official chairwoman of the California Miwok tribe, inside her Stockton mansion, which she says is tribal headquarters, on March 30, 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo

December 13, 2013
Center-right battle shaping up among Republicans challenging Ami Bera

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Congressional challenger Igor Birman continued his rightward assault on fellow Republican Doug Ose on Friday, urging the former congressman to publicly sever ties with a centrist organization that accepted money from organized labor.

"If Doug wants to have any credibility whatsoever with Republicans, he needs to denounce the Main Street Partnership and pledge not to take any support from them," said Birman, a former aide to conservative GOP Rep. Tom McClintock of Elk Grove, in a prepared release.

Ose has been a member of the Main Street Partnership and served on its board.

"With less than 10 donors from within the district, Birman's campaign is solely dependent on Washington-based interest groups," said Marko Mlikotin, a spokesperson for Ose. "Rather than attack fellow Republicans, Birman should be more concerned with creating jobs and repealing Obamacare."

The Main Street Partnership is led by former GOP Rep. Steven LaTourette of Ohio. LaTourette has been critical of the GOP's close relationship with gun-rights groups, and reportedly plans to spend millions of dollars in the upcoming midterm elections in support of what it calls "the governing wing of the GOP."

Birman's request comes as a new poll shows support for labor unions - typically allied with Democratic candidates and causes - has taken a big hit even in blue California. Some 45 percent of voters believe unions do more harm compared with 40 percent who say they do more good, according to the Field Poll.

Birman and Ose are part of a Republican trio including Elizabeth Emken taking on Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove. While all three have begun criticizing the freshman congressman for his support of the federal health care overhaul, among other issues, the dynamic between Birman and Ose seems to mirror the growing number of election battles shaping up nationwide that pit establishment Republicans against tea party challengers.

December 13, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: Californians have mixed feelings about life in the state

Poll numbers are on the upswing, but enthusiasm for California living is still soft, Dan says.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

December 13, 2013
AM Alert: Support for labor unions plummets in California

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for union_protest.JPGWith heated controversy in recent years surrounding public pensions, municipal bankruptcies and political campaigns, public support for labor unions has plunged in California. For the first time, more voters say these organizations do more harm than good.

A new Field Poll reveals a dramatic 16 percentage point swing in public opinion from two years ago. Forty-five percent of registered voters now believe that unions do more harm than good, compared to 40 percent who say they do more good.

This summer's Bay Area Rapid Transit system drama has also raised the question of whether public transit workers should be allowed to strike. In September, Senate Republican leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, introduced a bill to strip them of that right.

Though a slight plurality of Californians - 47 percent - still believe public transit workers should be able to strike, a majority of the usually liberal San Francisco Bay Area - 52 percent - is now opposed.

Reporter David Siders has more in his story. Here are the statistical tabulations prepared exclusively for Capitol Alert.

The next Field Poll covers Californians' views on the U.S. Congress. Our story will be available early, tonight at 8 p.m., on the Capitol Alert Insider Edition app.

VIDEO: Californians have mixed feelings about life in the state, says Dan Walters.

TRIPLE CROWN: The three leaders of California's public college systems are in San Francisco today for a panel on rebuilding public higher education in the state. University of California President Janet Napolitano, California State University Chancellor Timothy P. White and California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice W. Harris will discuss governance, affordability and technology, among other topics, 8 a.m. at the Parc 55 Hotel.

TUNNEL VISION: As the public comment period opens on the proposed Delta water tunnels plan, opponents of the controversial project are making their displeasure known. A rally against the tunnels is set for north steps of the State Capitol at noon. Representatives from environmental, fishing, farming and anti-tax groups are expected to attend.

PHOTO: Edward West, 72, of Sacramento stands with union workers in a union-backed protest outside a Walmart in Roseville. The demonstration was part of a nationwide campaign protesting wages at Walmart on Black Friday, November 29, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Lezlie Sterling

December 12, 2013
Urban Land Institute wants to recreate California redevelopment

redevelop.JPGHaving repealed the redevelopment authority of local governments two years ago, the state needs to implement an alternative method for improving communities and financing infrastructure and lower cost housing, the Urban Land Institute's California chapters say in a white paper.

And it can be done, the 22-page document says, without threatening the operational finances of local and state governments.

When Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature abolished the six-decade-old redevelopment program, under which local governments could put together projects and collect the incremental tax revenues from their construction, they cited its effects on the state treasury.

Local government redevelopment agencies were taking about $5 billion a year, roughly 10 percent, off the top of the statewide property tax pool and the state was being forced, under a ballot measure enacted in 1988, to make up about $2 billion a year of that diversion to local schools.

Since then, the local redevelopment agencies' finances have been unwound, although a number remain to be phased out, and uncommitted assets have been dispersed to other taxing agencies. However, there have been a number of lawsuits filed over how the shutdowns have occurred.

December 12, 2013
Momentum high for state exchange as some demographics lag

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Two months into its launch, 109,296 Californians have enrolled in health coverage through the state's new insurance marketplace, officials said Thursday.

The figures, which came a day after the latest federal release, show the exchange is steadily increasing enrollment even as it struggles to reach certain demographics.

In the first week of December, 144,000 Californians completed applications and 49,708 enrolled in a plan - a rate of 7,100 per day or 15 times the agency's initial rate.

"We are seeing momentum," said Peter V. Lee, the executive director of Covered California.

December 12, 2013
California conservative group reports IRS snafu

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A conservative advocacy group in Sacramento says the IRS erroneously yanked its nonprofit status this summer, hampering the group's ability to raise money this year.

"I don't know if it's incompetence or if we were targeted. I honestly don't know," said Karen England, executive director of Capitol Resource Institute. "But I find it interesting."

The faith-based group opposes abortion and same-sex marriage. It has been active this year in pushing a referendum to overturn Assembly Bill 1266, which allows transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that reflect the gender they identify with, rather than the gender of their birth.

Other conservative groups complained this summer that they were receiving undue scrutiny from the IRS when applying for nonprofit status. Groups affiliated with the tea party said the Obama administration was targeting them because of their political orientation.

Federal tax authorities grant groups nonprofit status if they primarily engage in "social welfare" activities. But many of those groups are also active in politics, creating a murky area in the world of campaign finance. The Obama administration last month proposed a new set of rules to clarify the kinds of political activity nonprofit groups can perform, and California's political watchdog agency fined two political nonprofits this fall for not properly reporting campaign donations.

England said the IRS revoked her group's nonprofit status over the summer on grounds that it had failed to file all necessary paperwork. The action was in error, she said, because the organization had properly filed everything, but it took several months to sort out the mistake.

In the meantime, Capitol Resource Institute was unable to solicit donations. England said she skipped her salary for six months so that she could keep paying her staff while donations were not coming in.

An IRS spokesman said the agency cannot comment on specific cases. England provided a letter the IRS sent Capitol Resource Institute on Dec. 5 that says, "We have confirmed that you were erroneously put" on the list that revokes nonprofit status.

England is highlighting the snafu in an end-of-year fundraising appeal, saying "we hope that our donors rise to the occasion and see the harm that has been done."

PHOTO: Karen England, executive director of the Capitol Resource Institute, testifies in the Capitol in March 2007. Sacramento Bee/ Brian Baer

December 12, 2013
Victim compensation board overturns rule denying sex workers' claims

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California's three-member Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board voted unanimously Thursday to overturn a regulation barring victims of sexual assault from receiving restitution if they work in the sex trade.

The 14-year-old policy states that victims of a violent crime may be denied compensation if they were involved in the events leading up to that crime, including mutual combat, illegal drug-related activity, gang-related activity and prostitution.

Advocates for sex workers argued that the regulation was discriminatory, essentially blaming prostitutes for their own rape and putting other women at greater risk of attack.

"I find Rule 649.56 repugnant," board chairwoman Marybel Batjer said before the vote, "and I don't understand why it was passed in 1999."

The board will now begin a formal process to remove the policy from its guidelines, which it said should be completed and voted on next spring.

The decision followed testimony from sex workers and their advocates, including Kristen DiAngelo, a former prostitute who was raped in Sacramento in 1983.

Though her assailant was ultimately prosecuted and convicted, DiAngelo said, he was offered a plea bargain that allowed him to serve only 45 days in prison. He went on to assault eight more women, none of whom were in the sex trade, she said.

"What happens when you segregate a population that you deem unworthy," DiAngelo told the board, "is you give predators a training ground" to attack other women.

After the vote, DiAngelo said she was numb from excitement.

"We were able to add safety and protection into so many people's lives today," she said. The ability to apply for restitution "allows to have us a voice."

Maxine Doogan of the Erotic Service Providers Union, one of the groups that led the push to overturn the regulation, called the decision "a big step forward for California."

Sex workers "contribute to society," she said, "and we contributed today by taking a stand for victims everywhere."

PHOTO: Former sex worker Kristen DiAngelo, facing, hugs sex worker activist Carol Leigh at a meeting in San Francisco on November 12, 2013. The Associated Press/Jeff Chiu

December 12, 2013
California's household incomes trail Washington's suburbs

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California has local pockets of high wealth — Beverly Hills, Santa Barbara, Hillsborough, etc. — but none of its counties can compete with communities in the immediate vicinity of Washington, D.C., a new Census Bureau report indicates.

The bureau calculated that five counties or "county equivalents" in Northern Virginia had the nation's highest median household incomes in 2012, topped by $121,250 in Falls Church, Va.

Meanwhile, residents of Maryland, on the other side of Washington, had the highest median incomes of any state, $71,169. California, at $58,322, was higher than the national median of $51,371, but was 10th overall.

In terms of income, Santa Clara County, the heart of Silicon Valley, was California's most affluent county in 2012 with a median income of $91,195 while Trinity County, at $35,162, was the poorest.

PHOTO: Washington, DC. Fourth of July Fireworks on the Mall. U.S. Capitol and Washington Monument. Folio, Inc./Regis Lefebure

December 12, 2013
Rules on spending extra California school money redrafted

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With a January deadline looming, the state Board of Education appears to be seeking a middle path between highly polarized positions among education stakeholders on how a new program aimed at raising achievement by poor and "English-learner" students will be implemented.

While school boards, administrators and unions want "flexibility" in spending the extra money going to districts with large numbers of the targeted students, civil rights groups and business-backed reform groups want more specificity in how the money is to be spent.

The latter sharply criticized the first draft of regulations and during a lengthy board hearing earlier in the fall and more recently, legislative leaders have joined in the criticism.

In response, a consultant to the board, WestEd, has published a revised draft of guidelines that appears to be more specific than the original, but still may not satisfy the critics.

The board is supposed to finalize its regulations by late January and both factions have been hammering Michael Kirst, the education professor who presides over the board and is the originator of the "weighted formula," which Gov. Jerry Brown embraced.

The new draft proposes more specific burdens on school districts to demonstrate that the extra money is being spent on the targeted students, rather than on broader categories. The civil rights and reform groups have said they fear that the money will be dissipated into higher salaries for teachers and other areas than don't directly impact the educations of children who have fallen behind their peers in education skills.

PHOTO: Pleasant Grove High School students get off their bus in 2009. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

December 12, 2013
California's population up 332,000 to 38.2 million

ImmigrationProtests.jpgCalifornia's population growth, driven by a continued high production of babies, picked up a bit during the 12 months ending June 30, according to the latest estimate by the state Department of Finance.

The growth rate, .9 percent, was the highest since California was plunged into recession a half-decade ago. The state, according to state estimates, gained 332,000 persons during the 2012-13 period, and stood at 38.2 million.

While the 507,000 babies born in the state during the 12-month period were the major source of population growth, offset by 241,000 deaths, improving economic conditions also appeared to slow the outflow to other states and nations.

Net immigration, which had been negative, produced 66,000 new Californians during the period.

Alameda was the state's fastest growing county at 1.68 percent while tiny Sierra County lost nearly 2 percent of its population.

(Corrected at 1 p.m. to reflect that Sierra County lost nearly 2 percent of population.

PHOTO: People make their way north on Broadway Street during a march and rally for federal immigration reform and a protest against Arizona's controversial immigration law, in Los Angeles Saturday, May 1, 2010. (Associated Press/Jason Redmond

December 12, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: Budget season kicks off with new spending plans

Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez would like to use most of next year's projected budget surplus, but will Gov. Jerry Brown be on board, Dan wonders?

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

December 12, 2013
AM Alert: Sex worker advocates seek compensation for victims

prostitute_arrest.JPGFor months, advocacy groups have been pushing the California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board to overturn a regulation that prohibits sex workers from seeking financial assistance if they are the victim of rape or another violent crime.

The board is expected to vote today on whether to scrap the regulation, which has also been challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union, during its monthly meeting, 10 a.m. at 400 R Street. Advocates for sex workers will also be in Sacramento for a protest at 8:30 a.m. outside the state Capitol.

The US PROStitutes Collective, one of the groups spearheading the campaign, said it is about getting all women the help they need. "It's a first step to greater justice and eventually ending criminalization" for prostitution, spokeswoman Rachel West said.

VIDEO: New spending proposed by Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez for next year's budget may not make it to the final bill, Dan Walters says.

LIVING THE GOOD LIFE: As California emerges from a recession and years of state budget deficits, the electorate is growing cheerier about life in the Golden State, with 43 percent of respondents in a new Field Poll saying it is one of the best places to live. But there are growing divides in satisfaction between Democrats and Republicans, as well as between residents of coastal and inland counties. David Siders has the story, which was available to subscribers of the Capitol Alert Insider Edition app last night.

Here are the statistical tabulations prepared exclusively for Capitol Alert.

TECH TIME: Assembly committees on the judiciary, business and privacy are holding a joint informational hearing at Santa Clara University from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. focusing on issues of online commerce and personal privacy protection on the Internet. The event is co-chaired by Assemblymembers Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont; Ed Chau, D-Monterey Park; and Susan Bonilla, D-Concord.

UNIVERSITY DIVERSITY: Representatives from the education advocacy group Campaign for College Opportunity will be at Room 126 in the State Capitol at 2 p.m. for a briefing on their recent reports about the state of Latinos and blacks in higher education in California.

DECK THE HALLS: Gov. Jerry Brown and First Lady Anne Gust Brown will be joined by eight-year-old Angel Valencia-Ceja of Vallejo to light the Capitol Christmas tree today. This year's tree is decorated with 500 ornaments made by children and adults with developmental disabilities. The ceremony takes place on the west steps of the Capitol at 4:30 p.m.

PHOTO: Oakland police officers arrest a suspected juvenile prostitute on May 21, 2007. The Sacramento Bee/Brian Baer

December 11, 2013
Feds: More than 100K select health insurance plans in California

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About 107,000 Californians have obtained health insurance plans offered by the state's insurance marketplace, according to the latest figures Wednesday.

Officials with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a report that spans the launch of the exchange through November 30. Covered California has scheduled a more detailed airing of the figures Thursday.

The federal report showed a marked increase in enrollment nationwide since officials ironed out many of the kinks that have plagued activity on Healthcare.gov.

Some 364,682 people selected a plan during the first two months of the initial open enrollment period. The figures include people who have yet to pay their first premium.

For California, the report includes two days of duplicate activity - Nov. 1-2 -- that have yet to be verified by the state and were removed from the total. In all, 158,435 of the residents were eligible to enroll in a plan with financial assistance.

PHOTO: President Barack Obama speaks about the new health care law during a White House Youth Summit, in the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington. Associated Press/Carolyn Kaster

December 11, 2013
New report details high costs for renters in California

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The Census Bureau reported recently that under an alternative method of calculating poverty, California has the highest rate in the nation, with nearly a quarter of its 38 million residents impoverished.

A big factor in that calculation is that living costs are higher in California than almost anywhere else in the nation and a big chunk of those costs is housing.

A new report from Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies confirms that, declaring that more than half of the state's renters devoted more than 30 percent of their household income to rent payments in 2011. California's rate, 56 percent, is higher than any other state except Florida.

The 31 percent of California renters who must shell out more than half of their income for housing is higher than all but two states, Florida and Michigan. And the median rent in California, $1,140 per month, is also among the highest.

The situation stems from sharply rising rents and stagnant incomes, the study found.

PHOTO: Tuscaro Apartments advertised a move-in special in 2009 and $250 bonuses for residents who referred new renters. The Sacramento Bee/Michael Allen Jones

December 11, 2013
Jerry Brown still mum on campaign, mulls State of the State in new office

brownoaklandoffice2.jpgOAKLAND — Gov. Jerry Brown has not yet said if he will run for re-election next year, but he told supporters in a recent note to update their records to reflect a change of address: In addition to raising more than $14 million, "Brown for Governor" has a new office.

When Brown, first lady Anne Gust Brown and their dog, Sutter, arrived at The Packard Lofts building here Wednesday, the governor — who is widely expected to run — described his fourth floor space as a personal office, less "stuffy" than what he has at the Capitol or a state building in Oakland.

The office projects a mix of political and state work: On a circular wood table Brown used during his first campaign for governor, in 1974, sits a list of messages left for Brown and a copy of his administration's proposal to Boeing this week to try to persuade the aerospace giant to locate a production facility in California.

Brown declined to detail the proposal. Of the table, he said that in 1974, "Right around this table, I plotted."

The fourth-floor office, which Gust Brown estimated at about 1,000 square feet, is full of memorabilia from Brown's political campaigns and from his first two terms in office, from 1975 to 1983. On the refrigerator are stickers from his 2010 campaign for governor, and a bin of buttons from the campaign is in a bookcase by the door.

Asked if the 2010 paraphernalia isn't dated, he said, "We're not running yet."

Brown has more immediate concerns, including his annual budget proposal and State of the State address in January.

In preparation for the latter Brown said he is reading Josiah Royce, a philosopher who was born in Grass Valley in the 1800s and who Brown said "had something called the philosophy of loyalty."

Brown said he hasn't decided if Royce or his ideas about loyalty will make it into the address, but he said, "I'm thinking about whether that can apply to California ... You've got to have a sense that it's more important than your own particular interest."

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown at his new office in Oakland, while first lady Anne Gust Brown works in the background on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

December 11, 2013
Assembly Democrats seeking to spend most of California surplus

ha_perez_III.JPGAssembly Speaker John A. Pérez unveiled a "blueprint for a responsible budget" Wednesday that appears to spend most, if not all, of the state's projected surplus in the 2014-15 fiscal year and may conflict with Gov. Jerry Brown's priorities.

Pérez didn't place a price tag on the new spending, which he termed "investment," but said he and his fellow Assembly Democrats want to boost state aid to colleges and expand safety net services to the poor, including a boost in welfare grants.

Speaking to reporters at the Capitol, Pérez and Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, chair of the Assembly Budget Committee, said they want to end the 2014-15 fiscal year with a $2 billion reserve and build that to as much as $10 billion over the next several years.

Mac Taylor, the Legislature's budget analyst, forecasts that without new spending, the state would end the year with a $5.6 billion surplus, thus indicating that the price tag for the Assembly's expansion plans would be at least several billion dollars.

Pérez and Skinner said they want to restore money to some programs that were slashed during recession-induced budget deficits, especially those in education and safety net services.

The new spending would include a expansion of the earned income tax credit, expanded eligibility for welfare payments to low-income workers, expanding the "CalFresh" program of food benefits, raising Medi-Cal reimbursement rates, expanding child care, and making transitional kindergarten universally available to all four-year-old children.

PHOTO: Assemblyman John Perez, D-Los Angeles, speaks during a press conference on Friday, December, 11, 2009. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

December 11, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: California tackles its hostile business environment

California politicians deny that the state's high taxes and extensive regulations discourage business investments, but actions speak louder than words, Dan says.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

December 11, 2013
AM Alert: Legislature looks to improve emergency cell phone alerts

amber_alert.JPGWhen a noisy late-night text alert about a San Diego abduction went out statewide in August, residents were startled and even annoyed by the interruption. The outcry was swift and widespread, leading Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles, to urge Californians not to disable the emergency alerts on their phones.

State officials are now working to increase awareness of the Wireless Emergency Alert System, which is used to send public messages about kidnappings, imminent threats to public safety, and other events. The Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee and the Joint Committee on Emergency Management will hold a hearing today at 10 a.m. in room 437 at the Capitol, led by Assemblyman Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, and state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara.

People expected to testify today include representatives of state and local law enforcement and emergency response agencies, with a focus on recommending improvements to the program. Among the witnesses is Holly Crawford, director of the San Diego County Office of Emergency Services, which sent out the AMBER Alert that kicked off the public firestorm before 16-year-old Hannah Anderson was rescued in Idaho a week later.

VIDEO: California is working to improve its reputation as a state hostile to business development, Dan Walters says.

INDEPEN-DON'T: Siskiyou and Modoc counties made headlines in September when they voted to secede from California and form a new state with southern Oregon called Jefferson. The news was met with skepticism — and immense disapproval from California voters, as a new Field Poll reveals. Reporter David Siders has the story, which was available to subscribers of the Capitol Alert Insider Edition app last night.

Here are the statistical tabulations prepared exclusively for Capitol Alert.

FRACK, BABY, FRACK: With the goal of having controversial regulations for hydraulic fracturing finalized by January 1, 2015, the California Department of Conservation is hosting scoping meetings about the legislation's environmental impact report across the state over the next month. Department officials will be in Sacramento today from 4-8 p.m. at the Tsakopoulos Library Galleria on I Street.

CORRECTION: Yesterday's AM Alert incorrectly stated that Californians last voted on the issue of marijuana legalization in 2011. Proposition 19 was actually on the ballot in 2010. We apologize for the error.

PHOTO: CHP Captain Greg Ferrero and Sgt. Jennifer Pendergast at CHP's Emergency Notification and Tactical Alert Center, where AMBER Alerts originate, on July 23, 2012. The Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo

December 10, 2013
California teacher firing fix could go directly to voters

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An education advocacy group known for supporting charter schools is pushing a ballot initiative that would streamline the process for firing abusive teachers, after bills on the subject failed in back-to-back years.

Amplifying criticisms that dismissing teachers often entails a drawn-out, costly process, lawmakers this year sent Gov. Jerry Brown a bill to expedite proceedings. Brown vetoed the bill, saying its prescriptions were too rigid and suggesting it might backfire and lengthen dismissal proceedings.

The demise of the bill, authored by Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, came a year after a teacher firing bill by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, crumbled in committee amid opposition from the California Teachers Association. Padilla's bill responded to a storm of outrage following a series of sexual misconduct cases in Los Angeles Unified School District.

The proposed ballot measure has been submitted by EdVoice, a nonprofit that backs charters and pushes an education agenda often at odds with teacher unions. The measure similarly focuses on the worst offenders, setting up a compressed hearing process for teachers accused of severe offenses that include child molestation, child abuse and offering drugs to students.

Those teachers would be stripped of certain protections. Unlike with other teachers, whose firing goes before a three-person panel that includes two fellow educators, the fate of teachers accused of extraordinary misconduct would be in hands of an administrative law judge. Their cases would be prioritized and heard before other pending firing cases.

As with Buchanan's bill, the ballot initiative would make the adjudicating panel's decision binding and would allow older evidence to be used in cases revolving around allegations of sexual abuse.

The California Attorney General's office has yet to review the proposal, which would still need to gather the requisite number of signatures before going to the ballot, although the Legislative Analyst's Office has released a summary.

"As we've witnessed over the last two or three legislative cycles, the Legislature has gotten caught up in trying to make the issue of improving the law contingent on treating everyone the same," said Bill Lucia, the president and CEO of EdVoice, adding that the initiative draws a "bright line about the type of the more egregious version of misconduct."

Teachers' association spokeswoman Claudia Briggs said the group had not taken a position. "Our members are the last ones who want child molestors in the schools," she said. "It's another measure that's being proposed that hasn't been qualified (for the ballot) yet, so we at CTA don't have a position on it "

PHOTO: A first-grader during a yoga class at Paul Ecke Central Elementary School in Encinitas, Calif., Dec. 11, 2012. The New York Times/T. Lynne Pixley.

December 10, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: Gov. Jerry Brown can't afford his legacy

California's proposed high-speed rail system and Delta water tunnels could be the signature achievements Gov. Jerry Brown is looking for, Dan says, but not if they remain in funding limbo.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

December 10, 2013
AM Alert: Majority of California voters support legalizing weed

MC_POTFARM_04.JPGCalifornia's last initiative to legalize marijuana suffered a close defeat in 2010, garnering nearly 47 percent of the vote. Organizers are attempting to get the issue back on the ballot in 2014--and a new Field Poll suggests they may have more luck this time around.

For the first time, a clear majority of respondents support the legalization of marijuana. Fifty-five percent of California voters believe the drug should be legal for purchase either by anyone or with age and other controls, up from 50 percent three years ago and a lowly 13 percent four decades ago.

About 56 percent of Californians are also inclined to vote yes on one new proposed statewide initiative, which would legalize marijuana use for adults over the age of 21 and set a standard for intoxication similar to alcohol. The group behind the proposition has until February to collect 500,000 signatures to qualify it for the ballot. If it were to pass next November, California would become the third state to legalize marijuana, after Washington and Colorado.

Here are the statistical tabulations provided exclusively for Capitol Alert. Reporter Jeremy B. White has more on the state's shifting acceptance of marijuana.

VIDEO: The outlook is murky for two controversial projects that could be Gov. Jerry Brown's legacy, Dan Walters says.

NEW JOB: Lobbyist Natasha Karl is leaving the League of California Cities for a new position overseeing government affairs for Sacramento County. She begins the job next week.

DECK THE HALLS: If you're looking for some lunchtime entertainment, the State Capitol Holiday Music Program continues today with the Sheldon High School Concert Choir at 11 a.m. and the Cantare Chorale at noon in the Capitol Rotunda.

CELEBRATIONS: It's a double birthday! Best wishes to Assemblyman Isadore Hall, D-Compton, who is 42, and state Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, turning 47.

PHOTO: Marijuana plants at an illegal marijuana grow site off Interstate 5 and the Twin Cities exit on August 30, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo

Editor's note: This post was updated at 11:09 a.m. to reflect the correct year of California's last marijuana initiative.

December 9, 2013
Republican Susan Shelley abandons recount effort in AD 45

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The Republican candidate who narrowly lost a special election in a Democratic-leaning district has abandoned a recount effort, according to the Los Angeles County clerk's office.

"She called it off," spokeswoman Elizabeth Knox said of Republican Susan Shelley.

Democrat Matt Dababneh, a former aide to U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman, on Nov. 19 prevailed by a few hundred votes in a race that saw Shelley stress that a Democratic win would reestablish a two-thirds supermajority for Assembly Democrats. Shelley surprised many observers by making it a close race in a district that skews heavily Democratic.

With Dababneh's win and a subsequent special election victory by Democrat Sebastian Ridley-Thomas in another Los Angeles area district, the Assembly will be operating at full capacity for the start of the legislative session in January. Democrats will have 55 of 80 seats, one more than two-thirds.

PHOTO: Matt Dababneh speaks to supporters on election night, Nov. 19, 2013 in Woodland Hills.. By Richard Salazar.

December 9, 2013
Brown administration to bid for Boeing facility in California

boeingc17.JPGCalifornia will be among states submitting bids to Boeing this week in an effort to land a production facility for the company's newest commercial jetliner.

An official for Gov. Jerry Brown's Office of Business and Economic Development, or GO-Biz, confirmed Monday that California will submit a proposal to Boeing ahead of the company's Tuesday deadline for states to submit proposals to host production of the 777X.

GO-Biz declined to say what incentives, if any, are included in the proposal, though Brown has significant latitude to negotiate.

In a controversial restructuring of California's enterprise zone program of hiring tax credits this year, the Legislature afforded Brown about $30 million this budget year for tax credits negotiated on a case-by-case basis with the state.

The tax credits, administered under a newly-formed California Competes Tax Committee, can increase to $150 million next budget year and $200 million annually in subsequent years.

The legislation, Assembly Bill 93, also provided a sales tax exemption for manufacturing and biotech research companies. The value of the exemption is potentially significant, applicable to up to $200 million in purchases annually.

December 9, 2013
Bill Emmerson to oversee hospital association lobbying

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A month after announcing plans to step down in the middle of his term as state senator, Bill Emmerson has been named a senior vice president of the California Hospital Association.

State law forbids lawmakers from lobbying the Legislature for a year after leaving office. But it doesn't stop them from directing an organization's lobbying operation, which is what Emmerson will do for the hospital association based in Sacramento.

"In his new role, Emmerson will oversee CHA's state-level legislative advocacy efforts," says an announcement from the group.

The statement says Emmerson will supervise the hospital association's lobbyists and provide the group with "political analysis and strategic guidance."

The hospital association has been a consistent donor to Emmerson's campaigns in recent years. The Republican from the San Bernardino County city of Redlands was an orthodontist for many years before being elected to the Assembly in 2004.

He was re-elected to the Senate last year, and was one year into a four-year term when he announced last month that he would step down Dec. 1. At the time, Emmerson said his passion for legislating had waned.

Duane Dauner, president of the hospital association, described Emmerson as "a person of high integrity."

"His knowledge of health care and the political process will be invaluable to California's hospitals," Dauner said in a statement.

Emmerson fills the position left open in July when Marty Gallegos moved from the California Hospital Association to the Hospital Association of Southern California. He begins his new job on January 1.

PHOTO: Sen. Bill Emmerson, R-Redlands, listens to discussion on the main budget bill as senators prepared to vote on the state budget in June 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

December 9, 2013
Gray Davis, Robert Downey Jr. write checks to Jerry Brown

brownoaklandport.jpgFormer Gov. Gray Davis and actor Robert Downey Jr. are among the latest donors to Gov. Jerry Brown's re-election campaign, which reported raising another $556,600 in a filing over the weekend.

Nevada-based Station Casinos, which is backing a controversial casino project in Madera County, contributed $54,400, the maximum allowed. Opposition to a gambling compact Brown approved with the North Fork Rancheria Band of Mono Indians this year has sparked a referendum campaign, with a vote on the project set for November 2014.

Brown has not yet said if he will seek re-election but is widely expected to run. The third-term Democrat has raised more than $14 million for the effort and leads a field of Republican opponents by a huge margin both in fundraising and early polls.

Other donors contributing the maximum to Brown in his most recent filing include Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc. and Southern California developers Majestic Realty Co. and Jeffrey Worthe.

Davis, Brown's chief of staff when he was governor before, donated $5,000, as did Downey Jr.

Brown received $10,000 from Illinois billionaire J. Christopher Reyes and $10,000 each from two other members of Reyes Holdings LLC, a major beer and food distribution company. NBC Universal contributed $27,200, while Anschutz Entertainment Group Inc. and The Anschutz Corp. contributed $25,000 each.

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

December 9, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: Legislature's rising popularity not its own doing

The Legislature's once-dismal poll numbers are turning around, but that's simply a reflection of the state's economic health, Dan says.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

December 9, 2013
AM Alert: Delta water tunnels environmental report released

delta_aerial.JPGWhether the Bay Delta Conservation Plan is the solution to decades of conflict over California's water supply is heavily debated. But after seven years in the making, the environmental impact report for the project -- which proposes construction of two enormous tunnels to divert freshwater from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the south state -- is finally ready for scrutiny.

The impact report was filed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Friday and should be made available on the plan's website some time today. There will be opportunity for the public to comment on the report starting Friday and extending until April 14.

The implications for the project, which is backed by Gov. Jerry Brown but has faced intense political opposition, are considerable: It goes before state and federal wildlife agencies next year, who will consider the effects to the Delta's fragile ecosystem. If they approve the project, the state has said it will decide by the end of 2014 whether to proceed with building the tunnels and how to pay for them.

VIDEO: The Legislature's once-dismal poll numbers are turning around, but that's simply a reflection of the state's economic health, Dan Walters says.

RECOUNT BEGINS: Los Angeles County officials will begin a recount today of last month's whisker-thin special election in the 45th Assembly District. Republican candidate Susan Shelley requested the recount -- and is on the hook to pay for it -- after losing by 329 votes out of more than 29,000 cast in the Nov. 19 election. Shelley plans to make a statement on the status of the recount at about 4:45 p.m.

CAN WE TALK?: As Covered California pushes the gift of health care this holiday season, policymakers and residents continue to grapple with understanding the full effects of the Affordable Care Act. At noon, the California HealthCare Foundation sponsors a talk on price transparency at the California Chamber of Commerce at 1201 K Street. At 6:30, Emily Bazar, senior writer for USC Annenberg's Center for Health Care Reporting, answers audience questions on "Obamacare & You" at the Sacramento State Union Ballroom.

RICH MAN, POOR MAN: Less than half a percent of California households earn nearly a sixth of the state's income, according to new tax return figures from the Franchise Tax Board. The Sacramento Bee's Data Center has an interactive graphic exploring where that wealth is concentrated.

CELEBRATIONS: A belated happy birthday to Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, who turned 62 on Saturday.

PHOTO: Aerial photos of the region to be affected by the Delta water tunnels and intakes in the Courtland area on April 10, 2013. Highway 160 and Randall Island Road are seen near the top of the frame. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

December 6, 2013
VIDEO: Concerts ring in holidays at California Capitol

Rotunda.JPGThe annual series of noontime holiday concerts is well under way at the California Capitol. Each day through Dec. 23, the rotunda of the Capitol in downtown Sacramento is filled with sounds of the holidays. The shows generally run from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., though Saturday concerts run longer and Sunday shows start at noon or 1 p.m. A full schedule of the shows is available here.

Historians have documented holiday celebrations at the Capitol since the 1800s. The current concert series started in 1996. On Thursday, the opening act was the Lincoln High School Choir.

Photo: Audience members at the Capitol rotunda listen to the Lincoln High School Choir on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Dan Smith

December 6, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: Ridley-Thomas elected because of father

Dan argues that a family connection is the best path to an Assembly seat these days.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

December 6, 2013
AM Alert: Legislature steadily rebuilding popularity with voters

RP CAPITOL PAINT DOME.JPGGood news for our friends at the Capitol: After years of infighting and political gridlock that led to record-low approval ratings, California voters are increasingly satisfied with the performance of their legislative branch.

As subscribers to the Capitol Alert Insider Edition app learned last night, a new Field Poll shows approval of the state Legislature is now at 40 percent, the highest it has been since 2007 and a level it has not consistently reached in more than a decade. A slightly greater number of Californians still disapprove of the job the Legislature is doing, but that number has fallen to 44 percent--the first time in six years it has been less than half.

Clearly, we've come a long way since the darkest days of September 2010, when a budget crisis fueled 80 percent disapproval of the Legislature. Is the Democrats' supermajority in both houses behind the growing contentment of deep-blue California? Reporter Jeremy B. White has more on that question and whether voters feel the state is moving in the right direction.

Here are the statistical tabulations provided exclusively for Capitol Alert.

VIDEO: Sebastian Ridley-Thomas' election to the Assembly this week proves that family connections are the surest path to success in politics, Dan Walters says.

OBAMACARE OPINIONS: A new survey from the Public Policy Institute of California examines Californians' attitudes toward federal health care reform and awareness of implementation efforts in the state. The results will be presented by research associate Dean Bonner at the CSAC Conference Center on 11th Street at noon.

POLITICAL POINTS: Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez's nascent campaign for state controller got a boost yesterday with an endorsement from Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. He will attempt to build on that momentum tonight with a fundraiser at the Sacramento Kings game against the Los Angeles Lakers, 7 p.m. at the Sleep Train Arena. Tickets are $2,500.

PENSION CHAT: Sacramento Bee reporters Dale Kasler and Jon Ortiz will host a live online chat to discuss how recent rulings on pensions may affect Californians. Join at www.sacbee.com/live at 11:30 a.m. today to share your questions and comments.

PHOTO: Construction workers erect scaffolding around the Capitol dome Wednesday, May 1, 2002 in preparation for painting. The Sacramento Bee / Randy Pench

December 5, 2013
FPPC asks Kevin de León about Latino Caucus contribution to Calderon group

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California's political watchdog agency is asking state Sen. Kevin de León for more information about a $25,000 contribution the Legislature's Latino Caucus made to a nonprofit group run by former Assemblyman Tom Calderon.

A political action committee run by the caucus, called Yes We Can, made the contribution early this year after a fight over leadership of the Latino caucus. Calderon's brother, state Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, was in line to become chairman of the influential caucus, but state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, did not want to give up the post.

A few weeks after the caucus voted to keep Lara as chairman, the PAC gave $25,000 to Californians for Diversity, the nonprofit run by Tom Calderon.

An FBI affidavit published by Al Jazeera America in October alleges that de León, D-Los Angeles, brokered a deal between Calderon and Lara to settle the leadership dispute with the $25,000 payment.

The state's Fair Political Practices Commission today sent de León a letter saying it may initiate an investigation into the contribution. The FPPC is exploring whether it constituted a payment made at the behest of a government official, which has to be reported under California law.

De León's chief of staff said the senator helped mediate the chairmanship fight but was not involved in any financial transactions.

"Last year, Senator de León helped resolve a leadership dispute within the Latino Caucus," said an email from Dan Reeves.

"He did not ask that any contribution be made, nor did he recommend that a contribution be made to any Calderon-related organization as part of that resolution. We are confident that the FPPC inquiry will be resolved once they gather the facts."

No charges have been filed in the federal investigation.

The FBI affidavit quotes a conversation between Ron Calderon and an undercover FBI agent, in which the senator says he and his brother planned to draw money from the nonprofit group.

"We have this non-profit. It is called Californians for Diversity," Calderon says, according to the affidavit. "Tom and I down the road, we build that up, we can pay ourselves. Just kind of make, you know, part of living."

PHOTO: State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, at left, Sen. Ron Calderon, center, and Sen. Kevin de León, right, in the Senate chambers on September 12, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Renee C. Byer

Letter to de Leon

December 5, 2013
Feinstein: Railroads must install collision avoidance system

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Noting similarities between a fatal weekend commuter train derailment in New York and an accident in California that killed 25 people five years ago, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said Thursday that the nation's rail operators must install a collision avoidance system by the end of 2015.

"Sunday's crash was preventable," Feinstein wrote Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee.

Feinstein wrote that the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 requires railroads to install the system, called Positive Train Control, which would automatically stop a train if the engineer fails to obey a signal or exceeds the posted speed.

Four rail systems — Metrolink, Amtrak, Alaska Railroad and BNSF — will meet the law's 2015 deadline. Other railroads have lobbied Congress for a five-year delay, something Feinstein opposes.

"Positive Train Control will save lives when it is deployed, and every day of delay leaves in place a 19th century signaling system dependent entirely on the attention of each train's lone engineer," she wrote Rockefeller.

Feinstein wrote the rail safety-improvement bill after a Metrolink commuter train collided head-on with a Union Pacific freight train in Chatsworth, Calif., in 2008. Two-dozen passengers and the engineer died.

A National Transportation Safety Board investigation found that the train's lone engineer had been texting and may have missed a red signal.

Four people died Sunday when a Metro-North train jumped the tracks on a sharp curve in the Bronx. The NTSB has already determined that the train hit the 30 mph curve at 82 mph.

PHOTO: A Metro-North passenger train lays on it's side after derailing in the Bronx borough of New York, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013. The train derailed on a curved section of track in the Bronx on Sunday morning, coming to rest just inches from the water and causing multiple fatalities and dozens of injuries, authorities said. Associated Press/Mark Lennihan

December 5, 2013
Realtors give $500k to California Dems as short-sale dispute ends

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The California Association of Realtors' political action committee gave $500,000 to the state Democratic Party the day before the Democrat-dominated Franchise Tax Board effectively resolved a months-long legislative fight over the state's tax treatment of short sales.

Tuesday's donation, reported Wednesday evening, matches the $500,000 the Realtors gave state Democrats in May. The group also gave the party $168,000 earlier in the year and more than $1 million in 2012. The 2013 contributions, by far the largest to the party in the current election cycle, will help Democratic attempts to keep their two-thirds legislative supermajorities in 2014.

Realtors spokeswoman Lotus Lou denied any connection between the two events. Wednesday's legal opinion from the Franchise Tax Board stemmed from a September clarification on the issue by the IRS, she said.

"The two did not have any relation to each other," Lou said.

December 5, 2013
This Christmas, give the gift of ... health insurance?

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Forget the Xbox One, Ugg boots or that "Keep calm and kill zombies" hoodie.

California officials are urging you to consider gifting that special young adult in your life something a bit less tangible: Obamacare.

Covered California, the state health insurance exchange, on Thursday launched its "Give the Gift of Health" campaign aimed at families, principally mothers and grandmothers (for the latter, apparently a $5 bill no longer cuts it).

Officials estimate roughly 1.8 million residents aged 18 to 29 are eligible to obtain health insurance through the exchange or qualify for free or reduced Medi-Cal, the government program for the poor and disabled. About 2.6 million Californians - many of them under 30 - will qualify for a federal subsidy reducing their monthly premium.

The holiday campaign - Wednesday was the last night of Hanukkah - includes a website at CoveredCA.com/pledge, where one can "pledge" to cover the cost of insurance; e-cards containing information about covered options and tips for starting a discussion about the importance of getting insured.

Claire Lipschultz, the mother of two twenty-somethings, acknowledged parents can't force medical decisions on their adult children. But they can help get them affordable insurance, said Lipschultz, the state policy advocate for the National Council of Jewish Women-California.

"Young adults tend to think that nothing will harm them," she said. "Moms know you are healthy until you are not. So, be sure your loved ones are covered."

Editor's Note: Post updated at 3 p.m. to reflect the last day of Hanukkah.

PHOTO: Emanuel Jumatate of Chicago, hugs his new Xbox One after he purchased it at a Best Buy in Evanston, Ill on Nov. 22, 2013. Microsoft is billing the Xbox One, which includes an updated Kinect motion sensor, as an all-in-one entertainment system rather than just a gaming console. AP Photo/ Nam Y. Huh

December 5, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: San Bernardino's police salary increase makes no sense

Bankrupt San Bernardino is mandated by its city charter to raise police salaries by $1 million this year, a move that Dan says is dumb.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

December 5, 2013
AM Alert: High-speed rail authority grapples with legal setback

Thumbnail image for High Speed Rail.JPGCalifornia's proposed high-speed train was left in the lurch last week when a Sacramento Superior Court judge ordered the rail authority to rescind its original funding plan. The ruling halts state bond funding for the $68 billion project until a new plan is established and opens the door for the train's opponents to further challenge its financing.

Members of the California High-Speed Rail Authority will meet with counsel today at 9 a.m. in the Sacramento City Council Chambers for a closed session on this case and other pending litigation. Several groups have challenged the high-speed train project on financial and environmental grounds, making it increasingly difficult for construction to get started.

That discussion will be followed by a public meeting at 10 a.m., covering updates on the construction process and including an opportunity for public comment.

VIDEO: The city of San Bernardino is bankrupt, but it is still increasing police salaries this year, an act that Dan Walters calls "dumb conduct."

MR. POPULAR: As subscribers to the Capitol Alert Insider app learned last night, Gov. Jerry Brown's popularity is on the upswing. A new Field Poll reveals that approval of his job performance among California voters is up seven points since July, to 58 percent, with only 33 percent disapproving. Though he has not declared his intentions to run for a fourth term, Brown is also the overwhelming choice in a simulated primary gubernatorial race. Reporter David Siders has more on Brown's surging poll numbers.

Here are the statistical tabulations provided exclusively for Capitol Alert.

OPENING UP: Between budget deficits that threatened the closing of state parks and revelations of long-hidden cash surpluses, the California Department of Parks and Recreation had a rocky 2012. State Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, will be at McConnell State Recreation Area, one of the parks that faced cuts, today at 10 a.m. to announce new legislation aimed at increasing transparency in state agencies. He will be joined by members of Save Our River Parks, an organization that raised private funds to keep McConnell and Hatfield State Recreation Areas open during the 2012-13 fiscal year.

SCIENCE BREAK: Agricultural biotech has been a controversial topic, with public debate about genetically modified organisms becoming increasingly heated. Alan McHughen, who has served on several National Academy of Sciences panels investigating GMOs, will explore the environmental, health and public policy impacts of modern food production during a presentation today at noon at the University of California Center Sacramento on K Street.

PENSION CHAT: Sacramento Bee reporters Dale Kasler and Jon Ortiz will host a live online chat discuss how recent rulings on pensions may affect Californians. Join at www.sacbee.com/live at 11:30 a.m. Friday, December 6, to share your questions and comments.

PHOTO: A rendering of a high-speed train moving through a wind farm in the proposed high-speed rail network. Image courtesy of Newlands and Company Inc.

December 4, 2013
Californians divided on health care reform

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Californians fracture along partisan lines when asked about federal health care reform, a new Public Policy Institute of California poll finds.

While 60 percent of California Democrats reported a favorable view of the law, only 13 percent of Republicans hold that view, against a resounding 80 percent who rejected it. Independents were more mixed, with 40 percent approving, 51 percent disapproving and nine percent saying they didn't know.

The sum of those results: Californians are evenly divided on the sweeping new reordering of American health care, with an identical 44 percent supporting and backing it, according to the poll.

Those who don't have health insurance, the main demographic targeted by the law, also appeared more likely to be supportive: 50 percent of Californians lacking insurance support the law against 43 percent saying they viewed it unfavorably. Those with insurance registered an even 43-43 split.

In sharp contrast to Republican-led states that have resisted the new law, refusing to expand Medicaid or declining to set up their own health insurance exchanges, deeply Democratic California has enthusiastically forged ahead in laying the groundwork.

That has meant, among other things, that California's health insurance enrollment rates have outstripped the woeful signup numbers on the federal exchange and some state exchanges. Residents of the state are largely aware of the state exchange, named Covered California: 68 percent affirmed that a California marketplace exists, against 14 percent who said there is not a state exchange and 18 percent who said they didn't know.

PHOTO: A Sacramento State student looks at a pamphlet with information on Covered California on Thusrday, October 16, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

December 4, 2013
California lawmaker seeks investigation of Republican health care website

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Adding his voice to a rising chorus of criticism, a Democratic assemblyman called on Wednesday for a legislative investigation of a health care website created by California Republicans.

Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles, became the latest California Democrat to assail a website he says Assembly Republicans created to amplify critiques of the law, rather than help Californians enroll in insurance via Covered California, the state's newly operational exchange. Gomez has sent the Assembly Rules Committee a letter asking them to investigate.

In a statement released earlier Wednesday, California Democratic Party Chair John Burton said the website demonstrated "Republicans in California have no qualms about following their national Party's lead when it comes to spreading misinformation about the Affordable Care Act."

A click on the site's "I don't have insurance" tab - much larger than a small box linking to the Covered California site that was not initially on the main page - leads to information about IRS penalties for consumers who don't obtain coverage. The main page displays links to articles about people losing their health insurance or their doctors.

December 4, 2013
Stan Dixon leaves California forestry board after 14-plus years

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Stan Dixon, the longest-serving member of the state Board of Forestry and Fire Protection, left the panel Wednesday as his term expired.

Dixon, a former Ferndale mayor and Humboldt County supervisor, was appointed to the board by then-Gov. Gray Davis in 1999. He continued serving under former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gov. Jerry Brown.

An Assembly resolution presented at Wednesday's board meeting praised Dixon for his "valuable leadership" and "superb ability to work with a diverse group of people in order to forge solutions to the challenges faced by the board."

Dixon and other forestry board members were thrust into the spotlight after the 2011 state budget, with Brown's support, included a $150 fire-prevention fee in rural areas. The legislation put the forestry board in charge of crafting the regulations to carry out the controversial charge.

Dixon strongly opposed the fee, blaming "the greedy Legislature" for demanding the money.

"The way this thing came down was totally wrong," he said in January 2012, when he was one of two no votes against the board's proposed regulations. Opponents have gone to court to overturn the fee.

Dixon did not seek reappointment to the board, according to the governor's office. Brown has yet to name a replacement for Dixon.

Editor's note: This post was updated to reflect information from the governor's office.

PHOTO: Stan Dixon, a member of the California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection, receives an Assembly resolution Wednesday commemorating his service from Assemblyman Wes Chesbro, D-Arcata. Photo provided by State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection

December 4, 2013
Nancy Skinner preparing workplace protection bill for unpaid interns

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for skinner.JPGAssemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, announced Tuesday that she plans to introduce a bill in January protecting unpaid interns from workplace discrimination, including sexual harassment.

The legislation aims to close a gap in workplace protections for those who do not receive wages. Both California and federal laws on the subject currently extend only to those considered paid employees.

The issue gained national attention this fall when a federal court in New York ruled that an intern could not sue her former employer for sexual harassment because she had not been compensated for her work.

In June, Oregon became the first state to pass legislation protecting unpaid interns from discrimination and harassment in the workplace.

PHOTO: Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner D-Berkeley during the first day of session at the Capitol. on Monday, Dec. 3, 2012 . The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

December 4, 2013
Neel Kashkari puts personal wealth at less than $5 million

Financial Stability Neel Kashkari.JPGNeel Kashkari, a former U.S. Treasury Department official who is laying the groundwork for a campaign for governor next year, said Wednesday that his personal assets total less than $5 million and that he cannot self-fund a campaign.

Kashkari, who is expected to join former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado and Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, in the field of Republicans bidding to unseat Gov. Jerry Brown, said he has met with nearly 700 potential donors throughout the country. He said Brown is "going to have more resources than all the Republican candidates combined" but suggested some donors may be willing to contribute to improve the party's standing in a Democratic state.

"A lot of donors think that Jerry Brown is, if not impossible to beat, very hard to beat, but a lot of donors say we need to make the Republican Party the party of economic opportunity," Kashkari said in an interview.

Kashkari played a central role in implementing the $700 billion bank bailout known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program during President George W. Bush's administration. He said that if he runs he will do so to "shine a spotlight on the millions of people who are being left behind," focusing on poverty and education.

"I want the Republican Party to be the party that's really fighting for the poor, the party that's really fighting to give minority groups a fair chance," he said. "But again, the solution is not more welfare, the solution is not social programs, the solution is real economic opportunity, empowering people."

December 4, 2013
Ridley-Thomas win adds to California Assembly Democratic edge

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It was a foregone conclusion that a special election for an open 54th Assembly district seat would fortify the Democratic majority in the Assembly. The only question was which candidate would emerge from an all-Democratic field.

Voters answered that question decisively on Tuesday, electing Sebastian Ridley-Thomas by a wide enough margin to avoid a runoff. Ridley-Thomas secured 60 percent of the vote.

Fittingly, Ridley-Thomas serves as an aide to Los Angeles City Councilman Curren Price, whose July departure from the Legislature after winning election to the city council ultimately opened up the 54th Assembly district. Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, slid over to the Senate after winning Price's old seat and in doing so vacated her old 54th district post.

After Ridley-Thomas is sworn in, the Legislature will be one seat short of full capacity after months of special elections, just in time for the 2014 legislative session to begin (Sen. Bill Emmerson recently made the surprise announcement he would step down). Democrats have cemented two-thirds majorities in both houses, allowing them to conduct business without any Republican votes.

The son of former state Sen. and Assemblyman and current Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors member Mark Ridley-Thomas, Sebastian Ridley-Thomas pulled in nearly $650,000 in campaign contributions over the course of 2013.

PHOTO: Sebastian Ridley-Thomas celebrates his win with his father Mark on December 3, 2013. By Leroy Hamilton for the Sebastian Ridley-Thomas for Assembly Campaign.

December 4, 2013
AM Alert: Chris Christie emerges as (very) early favorite in California

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Those of you who subscribe to our Capitol Alert Insider app learned this last night, but: three years out from the next presidential election, California Republicans now who they like best at this point.

Predicting the outcome of elections well in advance is a losing game, of course - the 2012 Republican field's candidate-of-the-week leaderboard fluctuations prove that - but it seems fitting that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie represents, for now, the best choice for the California GOP.

Christie may be looked upon with unease by the tea party-inflected right, but that dynamic doesn't seem to be working against him in California. His status as the top choice of registered Republicans and Democrats alike emerges in a poll that shows a plurality of California Republicans simultaneously believing the tea party is a positive force and registering that the movement undermines the chances of Republican Congressional candidates. You can read more about California's perspective on the Republican field here.

VIDEO: Meanwhile, President Obama's numbers are on the wane in California - something Dan Walters says doesn't bode well for Democrats in 2014.

BONDING: The Assembly water bond tour continues today. Assemblymembers Brian Dahle, Mariko Yamada, Adam Gray and Anthony Rendon - chair of the working group and author of a $6.5 bond measure - will be in Redding today to discuss the proposal. Local voices will include representatives of the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, the Third District Agricultural Association, the Tehama-Colusa Canal Authority and the Sites Reservoir Joint Powers Authority. From 1:30 p.m. at the Shasta County Board of Supervisors chambers.

EMISSIONS MISSION: As California strives to reduce its emissions, low and zero-emission vehicles offer a crucial way to clear the air. But getting those cars on the road is only one part; ensuring there are sufficient public charging stations to make the vehicles viable also represents an obstacle, one that an Assembly Transportation Committee hearing will examine today.

Witnesses will include Denise Tyrrell of the California Public Utilities Commission, Analisa Bevan of the California Air Resources Board, Jim McGowan of the California Building Standards Commission and Jacob Lieb of the Southern California Association of Governments, in addition to representatives from
Southern California Edison, the Sacramento Municipal Utilities District and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Starting at 10:30 a.m. in the Long Beach City Council chambers.

PRISON PRISM: It will be a Bay Area-dominated day at an Assembly Select Committee on Justice Reinvestment hearing in San Francisco today. Witnesses will include Richmond Chief of Police Chris Magnus, Judge Cynthia Ming-Mei Lee of San Francisco Superior Court and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón.

PHOTO: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in New York on June 27, 2013. Associated Press/Julio Cortez.

December 4, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: Obama's declining popularity could hurt California Dems

In the latest Field Poll, California voters expressed increasing disapproval of President Barack Obama's job performance. That could hurt Democrats' chances of maintaining legislative supermajorities in next year's election, Dan says.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

December 3, 2013
Steve Knight running for Congress — or maybe not

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State Sen. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, will join a growing field of candidates competing to succeed veteran Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon should he retire at the end of next year.

"My commitment to this community has been for a lifetime," Knight said in prepared statement Tuesday. "Serving as a member of Congress representing my childhood friends, law enforcement colleagues, and neighbors would be an honor."

Knight's announcement comes just days after former Sen. Tony Strickland filed paperwork to run in McKeon's 25th Congressional District. A Strickland spokesman later said he would seek the seat only if McKeon doesn't pursue a 12th term in Congress.

Strickland avoided a rematch with freshman Democratic Rep. Julia Brownley when he withdrew from the 26th district race and endorsed GOP Assemblyman Jeff Gorell.

The 25th district is seen as a safe GOP seat despite Republican Mitt Romney carrying it by only two percentage points in 2012. Democrat Lee Rogers, who lost by nine points to McKeon in the last election, is mounting another run.

Steve Knight is the son of the late state Sen. Pete Knight, who for years represented the Antelope Valley. On Tuesday, he released a list of endorsements from Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Anotonvich, Ventura County Supervisor Peter Foy, George Runner, a member of the Board of Equalization, former Sen. Sharon Runner, Assemblyman Scott Wilk, and former Assemblyman Cameron Smyth.

"The people of this area value service in the military, want to live in safe neighborhoods, and expect their local schools to be of the highest quality," Knight said. "I share those values and will be working with them to make these beliefs a reality."

PHOTO: Sen. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, during session in the Senate chambers March 11, 2013.

December 3, 2013
Brown appeals feds' rejection of California's request for Rim Fire aid

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Gov. Jerry Brown has asked President Barack Obama to overturn his administration's rejection of the state's request of a federal disaster declaration for last summer's Rim Fire.

In a letter to Brown early last month, Federal Emergency Management Agency's administrator W. Craig Fugate wrote that the severity and magnitude of the Rim Fire, which burned more than 257,000 acres and all but shut down the Yosemite National Park tourist industry, did not justify the major disaster declaration, which would free up additional federal aid to cover state and local costs.

Brown disagreed. In his appeal letter Tuesday, Brown said the fire cost the state at least $70 million. Local governments also incurred major costs and the environmental damage totals an estimated $115 million, among other impacts, he wrote.

"In the aftermath of the fire, the state and its communities face infrastructure damage, significant negative economic impact, as well as complex and multifaceted environmental damages," Brown wrote. "The burned area created an enormous potential for catastrophic flooding and debris runoff from winter storms."

The Rim Fire started Aug. 17 and was not fully contained until late October. It scorched part of Yosemite but destroyed relatively few structures, which officials credited to favorable winds.

In late August, the state received a fire management assistance declaration that gave the state some federal money. Those grants, though, covered only 29 percent of the fire's duration, Brown wrote.

So far in 2013, FEMA has made 60 major disaster declarations, none of them in California. FEMA granted major disaster declarations in 2003, 2007 and 2008 after devastating wildfires in Southern California.

PHOTO: Inmate firefighters walked along Highway 120 during the Rim Fire in August. Associated Press/Jae C. Hong

December 3, 2013
Republican requests recount in close California Assembly race

Dababneh_election.JPGThe Republican candidate in last month's extremely close 45th Assembly District special election has requested a recount in the district's Los Angeles County portion.

Susan Shelley lost to Democrat Matt Dababneh by 329 votes out of 29,639 cast, according to the statement of vote.

Shelley, though, said there is an "apparent discrepancy" of 206 more ballots counted in Los Angeles County than were available to count. Monday was the last day to request a recount.

"At this time, I believe the discrepancy may be an indication of errors in the count. It may be that these questions will be cleared up quickly, but in an abundance of caution, I have asked for a recount," she said in a statement.

The 45th also includes 1,359 voters in Ventura County, 151 of whom voted Nov. 19.

Here is a map of last month's results in the 45th's Los Angeles County precincts (below.)

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Dababneh was the top vote-getter in 72 Los Angeles precincts while Shelley carried 65. In precincts where turnout was greater than 10 percent, Shelley received almost 51 percent of vote, the results show.

In precincts where turnout was less than 10 percent, Dababneh received about 55 percent of the vote.

Shelley and her supporters have to cover the cost of the recount. The county will refund the cost if the recount reverses the results of the election.

PHOTO: Matt Dababneh speaks to supporters on election night, November 19, 2013 in Woodland Hills. By Richard Salazar.

December 3, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: Newsom's higher ed report lacks solutions

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom commissioned a new report on postsecondary education by the Committee for Economic Development that identifies plenty of problems with California's higher education system. But Dan says it lacks meaningful insight into possible reforms.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

December 3, 2013
AM Alert: Special election will cushion Assembly supermajority

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The special election in the 54th Assembly District is guaranteed to add to Democrats' supermajority in the lower house, as all three candidates are Democrats. So the real political drama in today's primary is whether one of the three — accountant Christopher R. Armenta, real estate broker John Jake or former state Senate staffer Sebastian Ridley-Thomas — can win outright by garnering more than one-half of the vote.

Ridley-Thomas, whose father Mark Ridley-Thomas is chairman of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and a former state legislator, has secured several high-profile endorsements, including Gov. Jerry Brown and U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer. His fundraising dwarfs the other candidates.

If Ridley-Thomas doesn't seal the deal tonight, the top two finishers in the primary will face off again Feb. 4 for this Los Angeles-area seat. Columnist Dan Walters has more analysis on the impact of the race.

VIDEO: The latest report on the state of higher education in California needs more solutions, Dan Walters says.

DIMMING OUTLOOK: A new Field Poll reveals that California voters have an increasingly negative view of Pres. Barack Obama's job performance and the country's future. Although a slim majority still approve of the President's overall performance, the proportion of Californians who disapprove is up 8 percentage points since July, to 43 percent. A whopping 55 percent believe the country is seriously off on the wrong track, while only a third think it is moving in the right direction. Reporter Christopher Cadelago has a deeper dive into the numbers.

Here are the statistical tabulations provided exclusively for Capitol Alert.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to Assemblyman Donald P. Wagner, R-Irvine, who turns 53 today.

PHOTO: President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks during a Worlds AIDS Day event, Monday, Dec. 2, 2103, in Washington. AP/Carolyn Kaster

December 2, 2013
California opens online enrollment for small business health care

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Add this to the list of Cyber Monday shopping possibilities: California small businesses can now self-enroll through the state health insurance exchange's online marketplace.

On Monday, Covered California launched the new function to allow owners of businesses with up to 50 employees to sign up for health care through the Small Business Health Options Program, or SHOP, with coverage beginning Jan. 1.

In a statement, Covered California Executive Director Peter V. Lee said more than 1,500 small business owners already have explored their options since Oct. 1 — with some registering, checking eligibility or working with certified agents to obtain quotes.

California's latest launch contrasts sharply with the troubled rollout of the federally-run Healthcare.gov, the exchange for residents of three-dozen other states without state exchanges. On the eve of Thanksgiving, President Barack Obama announced a one-year delay for small-business signups through Healthcare.gov.

California's system now allows business owners to submit online applications at Coveredca.com and initiate electronic open enrollment for their employees.

Businesses may qualify for a federal tax credit, for example, if they have fewer than 25 full-time-equivalent employees, pay employees an average of less than $50,000 annually, and contribute at least one-half toward their employees' premium costs.

"The tax credits available to small business through Covered California make quality coverage more affordable," Lee said. "For example, a beauty shop with 10 full-time employees and total wages of $250,000 that purchases insurance through Covered California's SHOP may be eligible for a $35,000 tax credit in 2014.

"We know that the tax credit is meaningful for a lot of small business that have been struggling to obtain quality, affordable coverage for their employees."

SHOP's participating insurers are Blue Shield of California, Health Net, Kaiser Permanente, Chinese Community Health Plan, Sharp Health Plan and Western Health Advantage.

PHOTO: Covered California Executive Director Peter V. Lee speaks to the media in May 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Lezlie Sterling

December 2, 2013
Phillip Ung to leave California Common Cause

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One of the capitol's most active political ethics and campaign-finance watchdogs is leaving his post as policy advocate at California Common Cause at year's end.

Beginning Jan. 1, Phillip Ung will become the director of public affairs at California Forward, leading the organization's Capitol efforts and "making sure their reform agenda is successful throughout the state," Ung told The Bee.

Ung's time at Common Cause coincided with major campaign finance and political ethics issues in the state. Common Cause was among the leading critics of nonprofit organizations' involvement in the political process.

Last year, the group spotted an $11 million contribution from a shadowy nonprofit opposing Gov. Jerry Brown's tax increase initiative and supporting a measure that sought to weaken the political power of labor unions.

The California Fair Political Practices Commission in October announced a settlement with the Arizona-based Center to Protect Patient Rights and Americans for Responsible Leadership for their participation in the network operated by the conservative Koch brothers.

Ung said he was proud of his participation in exposing "a lot of the inside 'dirty politics' in Sacramento," from special-interest junkets to the influence they exert through gifts to lawmakers. He also served as a spokesman for last year's Proposition 28, which revamped the state's term-limits law.

"There is still a lot of work to be done as it relates to California ethics," Ung said Monday. "I hope that the media and voters continue their work in exposing special- interest influence here in the state Capitol."

Ung began working for Common Cause in 2011, coming over from the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

PHOTO: Phillip Ung is the policy advocate for California Common Cause, a nonpartisan good government organization. He announced Monday, Dec. 2 that he is leaving the group at the end of the year. Photo provided by Ung.

December 2, 2013
Tony Strickland preparing another congressional run - in new district

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While many people were recovering from the Thanksgiving holiday, Republican Tony Strickland was getting into position to succeed veteran Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, in the 25th Congressional District.

Early last month, Strickland said he believed McKeon needed to decide what he was going to do amid speculation that the 75-year-old would retire rather than seek a 12th term in Congress.

Strickland's filing Friday came after Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo, announced plans to avenge Stickland's loss to freshman Democratic Rep. Julia Brownley in the 26th Congressional District.

Strickland was among Gorell's early supporters, after making it clear he would seek McKeon's seat should he retire.

The 25th district is listed as "safe" by the Rothenberg Political Report-Roll Call.


25th Congressional District
(Click on map for registration information.)

Democrat Lee Rogers, who lost by nine points to McKeon in 2012, is running again.

This weekend, the Simi Valley podiatrist was readying his second challenge of McKeon, calling out the congressman for introducing a resolution nearly 15 years ago to stop a quarry in the Soledad Canyon area and apparently receiving little support.

PHOTO: Tony Strickland, R-Moorpark, speaks about current status of the budget vote before the Senate took action again on the budget in February 2009. The Sacramento Bee/Brian Baer

December 2, 2013
AM Alert: Pay raises take effect

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Just in time for the holidays, California lawmakers have received a raise after years of reductions by the California Citizens Compensation Commission.

Also taking effect Sunday was the resignation of now-former state Sen. Bill Emmerson, R-Redlands. Gov. Jerry Brown has 14 days to call a special election to fill the vacancy in the Inland Empire seat.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, CalTech Director Carlos Ramos, and state Sen. Alex Padilla will join tech leaders this morning at a conference on technology and government. The event runs from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the auditorium of the Secretary of State's Office.

VIDEO: The snow's flying, and Dan Walters says Jerry Brown is running for re-election.

Casino groundbreaking: Gov. Jerry Brown will be at today's groundbreaking for the new Hawaiian Gardens Casino. The administration says the project is expected to create hundreds of jobs. The ceremony is scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m.

Menora lighting: Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles, will be among those attending the 20th Annual Chanukah Menorah Lighting Ceremony on the west steps of the Capitol. The event begins at 4:30 p.m., with live music, children's games, and Chanukah gelt.


PHOTO: Gus Demas, fiscal officer of the California Assembly, addresses the California Citizens Compensation Commission in June shortly before the panel voted to grant a five percent raise for the state's 120 lawmakers and 12 constitutional officers. The Sacramento Bee/Renee C. Byer

December 1, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: Democrats push back on education funding plan

After backing the governor's plan for a new school funding formula, Democratic lawmakers are raising questions about how the money will be spent.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.



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Capitol Alert Staff


Amy Chance Amy Chance is political editor for The Sacramento Bee. achance@sacbee.com. Twitter: @Amy_Chance

Dan Smith Dan Smith is Capitol bureau chief for The Sacramento Bee. smith@sacbee.com. Twitter: @DanielSnowSmith

Jim Miller Jim Miller covers California policy and politics and edits Capitol Alert. jmiller@sacbee.com. Twitter: @jimmiller2

David Siders David Siders covers the Brown administration. dsiders@sacbee.com. Twitter: @davidsiders

Christopher Cadelago Christopher Cadelago covers California politics and health care. ccadelago@sacbee.com. Twitter: @ccadelago

Laurel Rosenhall Laurel Rosenhall covers the Legislature, the lobbying community and higher education. lrosenhall@sacbee.com. Twitter: @LaurelRosenhall

Jeremy White Jeremy B. White covers the Legislature. jwhite@sacbee.com. Twitter: @capitolalert

Koseff Alexei Koseff edits Capitol Alert's mobile Insider Edition. akoseff@sacbee.com. Twitter: @akoseff

Dan Walters Dan Walters is a columnist for The Sacramento Bee. dwalters@sacbee.com. Twitter: @WaltersBee

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