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The latest on California politics and government

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

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


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.


Capitol Alert Staff

Jeremy White Jeremy B. White covers California politics and edits Capitol Alert's mobile Insider Edition. Twitter: @capitolalert

Amy Chance Amy Chance is political editor for The Sacramento Bee. Twitter: @Amy_Chance

Dan Smith Dan Smith is Capitol bureau chief for The Sacramento Bee.

Christopher Cadelago Christopher Cadelago covers California politics and health care. Twitter: @ccadelago

Micaela Massimino Micaela Massimino edits Capitol Alert.

Laurel Rosenhall Laurel Rosenhall covers the Legislature, the lobbying community and higher education. Twitter: @LaurelRosenhall

David Siders David Siders covers the Brown administration. Twitter: @davidsiders

Dan Walters Dan Walters is a columnist for The Sacramento Bee. Twitter: @WaltersBee

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