Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

January 15, 2014
PM Alert: Mike Gatto wants to ban "affluenza" defense

In case you missed it:

University of California President Janet Napolitano evaluated Jerry Brown's budget.

Darrell Steinberg sounded a little tentative about the Delta tunnels.

Tom McClintock appears to be drawing a challenger.

Assemblyman Mike Gatto wants to ban the "affluenza" defense.

Dan Walters critiqued the Assembly and Senate websites.

From The State Worker:

A reader poll assessed how easy it is for sick state workers to take time off.

New Capitol Alert Insider Edition app:

Have you downloaded the new app yet? It's free this week so you can check it out. The new version:

  • Works on both your iPhone and iPad with a single subscription.
  • Offers faster access to our bills-to-watch guide and legislative directory, along with new district maps.
  • Includes a new section on legislative committees.
  • Lets Insider Edition app subscribers comment and share with one another.
  • Includes all the previous Insider features, including early access to Field Polls and Bee editorials on state topics and a curated Capitol Twitter feed. Easily email chiefs of staff, schedulers and legislative directors from within the app.

You can find it under Capitol Alert in the app store. An Android version is coming soon.

In tomorrow's Bee:

State and federal officials assured Capitol Hill lawmakers Wednesday that California's $68 billion high-speed rail system would move forward. Curtis Tate has the story.

Are state scientists underpaid? Jon Ortiz addresses the issue in The State Worker.

January 15, 2014
House approves bill with funds for Sacramento flood protection

levee.JPGThe massive spending bill the House of Representatives passed Wednesday includes $72 million for Sacramento flood-protection efforts.

Lawmakers approved the $1.1 trillion, 1,580-page budget plan on a vote of 359-67.

"Today's vote demonstrates that we can deliver for the American people when we work together and compromise in a bipartisan fashion," said Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento.

Of the $72 million, $2.5 million would go toward design work on an ongoing project to improve levees around Natomas and Sacramento.

The balance of the funds would also further the goal of protecting the Sacramento region from a 200-year flood.

Two separate projects at the Folsom dam would receive $69.5 million, to help raise the dam and construct an auxiliary spillway.

Matsui, who has long championed funding for Sacramento flood-control projects, said she would push to have more money set aside from a $90 million reserve fund.

Three California Republicans were among the 67 nays: Reps. Doug LaMalfa, Tom McClintock and Dana Rohrabacher.

In a floor speech, McClintock slammed items in the bill he considered wasteful spending. Among them: TIGER, a discretionary Department of Transportation grant program, "which, under the guise of transportation puts money into projects like a 6-mile pedestrian mall in Fresno and streets that discourage cars," McClintock said.

The Senate is expected to take up the legislation by week's end.

PHOTO: Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger tours the Natomas Cross Canal levee wave wash protection project, Tuesday Jan. 3, 2005. The Sacramento Bee/Brian Baer

January 15, 2014
Napolitano says budget is 'good starting point' for higher ed funding

Janet_Napolitano.JPGUniversity of California president Janet Napolitano on Wednesday called Gov. Jerry Brown's recent budget outline a "good starting point" for higher education funding in California.

The governor's proposal, released last week, awarded the UC system an additional $142.2 million from the General Fund in 2014-15, a 5 percent increase from last fiscal year.

Meeting with The Sacramento Bee's Editorial Board, Napolitano did not explicitly call for more funds, but said: "We'll have a discussion about what else can the university do and what other needs that we have."

"We all know state funding had to get slashed (during the recession). I can appreciate the difficult decisions that had to be made," she added. "But we've leveled off now."

Napolitano, a former Arizona governor and Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security who assumed the office of UC president in September, was in Sacramento Wednesday for meetings, including a noontime gathering with legislators.

During her hour-long discussion with The Bee, Napolitano touched several times on Gov. Brown's budget, which also ties funding increases for UC and CSU to tuition freezes and creates a $50 million "innovation grant" program to develop ways to get more students graduated with degrees faster.

With California's public universities expected to maintain their current fee levels through 2016-17, Napolitano said her focus will shift to guarding against future tuition volatility. The UC has previously seen massive spikes in tuition after extended freezes -- such as a 40 percent jump from 2002 to 2004 following nearly a decade of freezes and reductions.

Napolitano said she didn't expect to roll back any of the most recent tuition hikes "unless the state substantially increases the amount it puts into the university -- and I don't foresee that."

Among Napolitano's pitches for the innovation grant was an interactive database that she is developing with the CSU and community college chancellors to track community college students who are interested in transferring to four-year schools. The database would help guide students' study plans to smooth their transition to the UC or CSU systems.

She was more skeptical about massive open online courses, which have been a favorite of Brown's.

"The idea that you can just have an online course and that's gonna solve all your problems and cut your costs...that's no silver bullet," Napolitano said. "But it is a tool."

UC is currently experimenting with a few online programs to augment its educational mission, she said, such as a pilot slate of multi-campus classes for the spring that would allow students to take some required courses not offered at their campus remotely.

Next, Napolitano heads to Washington, D.C., where she will meet Thursday with President Obama and other university leaders from across the country to discuss improving college access for low-income students.

Napolitano has publicly expressed doubt about her former boss' plan to develop a scorecard measuring the value of colleges. She told The Bee Wednesday that federal government's role in higher education should primarily be to provide research funding, of which the University of California receives about $4 billion per year.

Video highlights:

PHOTO: New UC President Janet Napolitano meets with editorial board at the Sacramento Bee on Wednesday, January 15, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

January 15, 2014
Steinberg urges water bond for 2014 California ballot


With California into a third year of dry weather and several cities imposing restrictions on water use, the time has come for state leaders to "seriously consider" putting another water bond on the ballot, Senate leader Darrell Steinberg said today.

"I think what's going on now creates an urgency to seriously consider putting a bond on the ballot in 2014, and not later," Steinberg said.

The Legislature has twice deferred putting a water bond on the ballot since lawmakers approved doing so in 2009. Gov. Jerry Brown has been noncommittal about whether he thinks voters should be asked this year to approve bond spending on new water projects.

Steinberg said lawmakers need to work on re-writing a water bond for 2014 as well as spending money from prior bonds to address immediate needs.

"When it comes to giving our regions and our local governments the resources necessary to increase water supply, we need to look at those bonds," he said.

"And we ought to consider early in the session working together to appropriate whatever resources are necessary to help California through this particularly difficult time when it comes to water."

The Sacramento Democrat also said state leaders should re-think how they approach the controversial Bay Delta Conservation Plan, which would create two massive tunnels for moving water from north to south. He urged a focus first on measuring how much water could be saved through conservation, recycling and other means.

"That might help us define how much water needs to be ultimately available through an alternative facility around the Delta," Steinberg said.

Sacramento council votes to enact severe water restrictions

PHOTO: The American River as it flows through Sacramento is at its lowest flows since 1993. Shown here on January 11, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton
January 15, 2014
Democrat Kris Johnson files to challenge Tom McClintock


Looks like Rep. Tom McClintock will get a challenge from the left.

Democrat Kris Johnson plans to run in the Republican-dominated 4th Congressional District.

The Granite Bay resident filed the necessary paperwork to run just days after news anchor Walt Gray ended speculation that he would mount an independent campaign against McClintock, a rock-ribbed Republican.

Johnson, who has yet to formally announce her candidacy, said in a message posted to her website that she was frustrated and angry about the poor performance of elected officials to stem the economic crisis in the Foothills.

The local economy has been stalled for too long, she said.

"The future does not look bright for our children and grandchildren," she said. "There are not enough jobs in our district to keep our children here. Housing is unaffordable for those earning low wages or starting salaries."

She also took aim at Republicans for their role in the partial government shutdown and for voting dozens of times to repeal all or parts of the federal health care law.

"The singular focus on cutting spending is starving our country of the very jobs that can change our economy for the better," she said. "Cutting expenses in a household is a very slow approach to money problems. The solution is to get more income. Income pays down debt in a household. Jobs will pay down debt in our country."

4th Congressional District

The redrawn 4th district is among the most conservative in the state. It is 45 percent Republican, 30 percent Democratic and 21 percent independent.

The district also is arguably the nation's most picturesque, taking in portions of Roseville; it extends from Lake Tahoe past Yosemite National Park.

McClintock lives outside of its boundaries in Elk Grove. After winning a close congressional race in 2008, the former state lawmaker and perennial candidate for statewide office has cruised to re-election.

Born in Wisconsin, Johnson was 13 years old when her parents became ill and she was moved to a children's home as a ward of the state of Indiana. She held jobs with Amoco Oil, 3M Company before moving to Northern California 25 years ago with her husband, John, to work at Intel Corporation.

PHOTO: Kris Johnson for Congress

January 15, 2014
'Affluenza' defense would be banned under Mike Gatto bill

Gatto.JPGWealthy defendants beware: Under a new California bill, you could no longer invoke the psychological effects of those distorting dollars.

People concerned about a multi-tiered justice system that favors the rich found some evidence during the trial of Ethan Couch, a Texas teen who cut down four people with his car while driving drunk.

Despite those deaths, Couch received a lenient sentence with no jail time. His defense team reportedly argued that a money-infused upbringing had clouded the teen's judgment, giving him a skewed sense of consequences (or lack thereof).

Now Assembly Bill 1508, by Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, would bar the so-called "affluenza" defense from being deployed in California courts.

Gatto said the Couch case had outraged people who felt justice was not served. He paraphrased the type of defense he's trying to remove from attorneys' toolboxes as "the kid had an over-privileged upbringing but now he's learned his lesson, your honor."

"When this defense was raised, it really just offended most peoples senses of what's fair," Gatto said. "I think our laws need to reflects society's values and if they reflect society's values they will say this defense shouldn't be recognized."

The legislation would not prevent defense attorneys from arguing that their client had suffered from an abusive upbringing, Gatto said. He argued that defense tactics evolve over time, noting that the insanity defense arose relatively recently.

"I just think it really is one of those times where unless we're proactive it could become something that's far more common," Gatto said.

PHOTO: Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D- Los Angeles, leaves a hearing on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011. The Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli.

January 15, 2014
AM Alert: Senate looks to buff up state's toxic waste management

hazardous_waste.jpgThe past year has not been a great one for California's Department of Toxic Substances Control, which oversees hazardous waste management in the state. News reports exposed major deficiencies in the agency's operation, including the revelation that it could not account hundreds of thousands of hazardous material shipped for disposal over the past five years.

The Senate Environmental Quality Committee will consequently hold a hearing at 9:30 a.m. in Room 3191 of the Capitol Building to consider steps that can be taken to strengthen enforcement of the state's laws governing toxic waste. The department's director, Debbie Raphael, is among those expected to testify.

Following the hearing, the committee will take up several bills, including one from Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, that would speed up the permitting process for hazardous waste facilities and one from Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, that would require all facilities to obtain a permit by 2015 or shut down. A study commissioned by Raphael found that a quarter of the state's hazardous waste facilities are currently operating on expired permits.

VIDEO: With the ease of digital access, government agencies should be more forthcoming with public information, Dan Walters says.

BAG BAN: State Sen. Alex Padilla's bill to ban single-use plastic bags in California fell just short in the Senate last year, but the Los Angeles Democrat continues to push ahead with the idea. He will attend a city council meeting in West Sacramento at 7 p.m. to show support for a resolution supporting his bill.

FUNDING FUN: With the state Board of Education set to adopt regulations for its new school funding formula tomorrow, groups are already gathering in Sacramento to throw their voices into the debate. Calling for stricter controls on how additional funding for low-income and English-learning students is spent by local school districts, the Parent Leadership Action Network and Californians for Justice--two Bay Area organizations that advocate for minority and disadvantaged students--will lead a rally outside the Department of Education building on 14th Street at 8 a.m.

DELTA TUNNELS: A statewide series of twelve informational open houses about the controversial Bay Delta Conservation Plan kicks off today in Bakersfield. The sessions, including one in Sacramento on January 30, provide attendees with an opportunity to meet individually with members of the project team and to submit public comment on the proposed Delta tunnels.

IMMIGRATION DOC: "Rape in the Fields," a documentary from Frontline and Univision, takes a look at the sexual abuse suffered by female farm workers, many of whom are undocumented, at the hands of their field bosses and co-workers. The Sacramento Press Club hosts a screening of the film at 6:15 p.m. at the Crest Theater on K Street. The program is preceded by a cocktail reception at 5:30 p.m. and followed by a Q&A session with the filmmakers and reporters at 7:15 p.m.

PHOTO: Matthew Thomas sorts a delivery of used fluorescent bulbs at the Central Contra Costa Sanitary District's household hazardous waste collection facility in Martinez on March 30, 2011. Kristopher Skinner/Contra Costa Times

January 15, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: Government owes better access to public info

Senate_website.jpgNew website plans from CalPERS and the state Senate obscure, rather than reveal, how they're using taxpayer money, Dan says.

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

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

PHOTO: The recently redesigned and relaunched state Senate website.


Capitol Alert Staff

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. Twitter: @DanielSnowSmith

Jim Miller Jim Miller covers California policy and politics and edits Capitol Alert. Twitter: @jimmiller2

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

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

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

Jeremy White Jeremy B. White covers the Legislature. Twitter: @capitolalert

Koseff Alexei Koseff edits Capitol Alert's mobile Insider Edition. Twitter: @akoseff

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

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