Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

January 2, 2014
Judge orders Calif. to accept signatures in fight over transgender student bill

school bathroom file.pngA Sacramento County Superior Court judge ordered the California secretary of state Thursday to accept about 5,000 disputed signatures collected in a referendum effort by opponents of California's new transgender student law.

California Secretary of State Debra Bowen had refused to accept petitions received in Mono and Tulare counties, saying they arrived after a November 10 deadline. In a tentative ruling, Judge Allen Sumner said because Nov. 10 fell on a Sunday and the following Monday, Veterans Day, was a holiday, petitions received the following day should be considered filed in time.

"Ever since the voters enacted the referendum power in 1911, courts have liberally construed its provisions to protect the voters' power," the judge wrote. "The fact the deadline for submitting petitions falls on a weekend preceding a holiday, or the county registrar closes a noon on Friday, should not prevent Petitioner from having her petition signatures accepted."

Bowen's office said it will comply with the decision.

The new law allows transgender students to use the school facilities and join school teams that reflect the gender they identify with.

Opponents attempting to qualify a referendum for the ballot need more than 500,000 valid signatures statewide. The ruling comes as counties sample signatures to estimate the number that are valid.

"It is a shame that we had to go to court to assure that the citizens of Tulare and Mono would not be disenfranchised by the arbitrary actions of the Secretary of State," Gina Gleason, a proponent of the referendum, said in a prepared statement.

PHOTO: A new law allows transgender students to use the school facilities that reflect the gender they identify with. The Sacramento Bee file photo/Renee C. Byer

January 2, 2014
California Senate ethics committee hires outside counsel for Calderon inquiry

RPCHARLES STEVENSME.jpg

The California Senate's ethics committees has hired a former federal prosecutor as a $600-an-hour independent counsel to assist the panel's inquiry into corruption allegations involving state Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello.

The committee's chairman, state Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, announced Thursday that he has retained Charles J. Stevens, a litigation partner in Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher's San Francisco office. Stevens was involved with prosecuting political corruption cases as a U.S. Attorney and assistant U.S. attorney,

"I have retained an independent counsel with expertise in federal political corruption investigations to review the facts and make recommendations to the Senate Legislative Ethics Committee on the appropriate course of action moving forward," Roth, an attorney, said in a statement. He called Stevens' appointment "an important first step to restoring the public's trust."

The appointment comes several weeks after Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg ordered the panel to look into allegations in an FBI affidavit published Oct. 30 by Al Jazeera America. The affidavit alleges $88,000 in bribes to Calderon, D-Montebello.

Calderon has denied wrongdoing. In a federal court filing, Calderon claims that federal authorities retaliated against him for refusing to assist an investigation of Steinberg and state Sen. Kevin de Leon.

In an interview, Roth said the status of the federal investigation is unknown. Stevens' initial job, Roth said, is to review the affidavit and communicate with federal authorities to determine if the committee should open a formal inquiry into any of the issues raised in the affidavit.

It's rare for either house to hire outside attorneys to assist on non-personnel matters. Independent counsels were involved during investigations of former Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush in 2000 and of alleged wrongdoing by energy companies during the energy crisis more than a decade ago.

January 2, 2014
Jerry Meral will keep pushing water project, but from outside

delta_aerial.JPGJerry Meral, the chief steward of Gov. Jerry Brown's $25 billion water project while deputy secretary of the state's Natural Resources Agency, is going to work for an environmental group supporting the controversial plan.

The San Francisco-based Natural Heritage Institute said Meral, who retired from the state at the end of December, will direct its California water program, including work on Brown's plan to build two tunnels to divert water around the Delta to the south.

Meral said Thursday he will volunteer his time for work specifically on the project, but it is possible the institute will pay him for work in other areas.

"That's developing," he said.

The distinction is significant because of the state's "revolving door" rules for government officials. The institute said in a prepared statement that "in order to comply with state law regarding 'revolving door' issues, he will not be compensated for his time working on BDCP."

The nonprofit said Meral, a former NHI board member, will also represent the Natural Heritage Institute on habitat, groundwater and other water issues.

Meral said non-government entities, including NHI, are likely to have a significant role in the project as it develops and that his position at the group "seemed like a good way to stay involved."

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

January 2, 2014
AM Alert: Was Wright wrong to run for Senate seat?

Rod_Wright.JPGHappy new year to all of our Capitol Alert readers! We hope you had a wonderful and relaxing holiday season.

The Legislature isn't back in session until next week, but the first big event of 2014 kicks off today: the trial of state Sen. Rod Wright.

The Inglewood Democrat was indicted by a grand jury in 2010 for voter fraud and perjury — charges stemming from an investigation into whether he actually lived in the Senate district that he was elected to represent in 2008. Authorities allege that Wright, who owns multiple properties, registered to vote at an address where he did not live so he could run in the Los Angeles-area district.

The trial, which will take place in Los Angeles, has been delayed multiple times following a series of appeals over the charges. Wright faces possible prison time if convicted and has pleaded not guilty.

"He's complied with all the residency requirements as required by law," Wright's lawyer, Kevin Winston McKesson, said Monday. "We're disputing everything they say."

Laurel Rosenhall has more in today's Bee.

VIDEO: Prepare for Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature to square off over potential new spending in next year's budget, Dan Walters says.

BREAK THE ICE: If your New Year's resolution is to make new friends, then you've got your first opportunity tonight: The New Leaders Council is hosting a networking event from 5:30-7:00 pm at Dive Bar Sacramento on K Street. The progressive entrepreneurship training program will introduce its class of 2014 fellows before they are publicly announced.

POLITICAL PREVIEW: Already wondering what stories you'll be hearing about in 2014? Don't miss our special Californians to Watch series, which ran during the holiday week. You can read profiles of seven Capitol players who are sure to be newsmakers this year — including state Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, and Jim Brulte, the chairman of the California Republican Party.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to Assemblyman Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills, who turns 49 today. And belated well-wishes to state Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, who turned 60 on Tuesday.

PHOTO: State Sen. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood, listens to the vote on budget legislation on Feb. 18, 2009. The Sacramento Bee/Brian Baer

January 2, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: New year promises dividing lines over fiscal priorities

With additional money to either save or spend in the 2014-15 budget, there are sure to be policy battles between Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature in the new year, Dan says.

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


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

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

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

Micaela Massimino Micaela Massimino edits Capitol Alert. mmassimino@sacbee.com

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

David Siders David Siders covers the Brown administration. dsiders@sacbee.com. Twitter: @davidsiders

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

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