Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

January 23, 2014
Deal reached on new California bill to regulate plastic grocery bags

RB_Plastic_Bags_2007.JPGDisposable plastic bags would be banned from grocery check-out stands in California and consumers would pay at least a dime for a paper or re-usable plastic bag a under a compromise proposal negotiated with key opponents of last year's bill to ban plastic shopping bags.

Lawmakers plan to unveil the deal tomorrow at a Los Angeles-area manufacturing plant.

Senate Bill 270 seeks to temper some manufacturing industry opposition by providing $2 million from state recycling funds. Plastic bag makers would be able to apply for grants to re-train their workers or re-engineer their operations to make plastic bags that meet new criteria spelled out in the bill.

The legislation is a joint effort by Sen. Alex Padilla -- the Los Angeles Democrat who authored last year's failed attempt to ban plastic bags -- and two of his colleagues who killed that bill, Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, and Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens. De Leon and Lara both have plastic bag factories in their districts and said last year that Padilla's SB 405 would eliminate too many jobs for their working-class constituents.

The three senators plan to introduce their new proposal at the Command Packaging plant in Vernon tomorrow, along with labor and environmental leaders.

Under their proposal, consumers would pay a minimum 10 cent fee for every shopping bag. Only plastic bags that meet certain thresholds for containing recycled content and being strong enough for more than 125 uses would be available in California. Re-usable plastic bags for sale in California would have to contain at least 20 percent recycled plastic, a bar that would go up over time to 40 percent, said Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste.

"We're trying to develop a criteria for an evolving market place," he said.

The bag requirements would take effect at large grocery stores in 2015 and at pharmacies and liquor stores in 2016.

PHOTO: Courtesy clerks Christia Johnson-Williams left, and Heather Roberts fill plastic bags with groceries at the Safeway store in midtown Sacramento on Monday June 11, 2007. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

January 23, 2014
VIDEO: Jerry Brown pledges 'more active role' in local government

BrownSalinas.jpgSALINAS — One day after delivering his State of the State address, Gov. Jerry Brown was back on the road Thursday, promoting education and prison policies in what he said will be an effort to "take a more active role" in working with local agencies.

"I'm going to devote myself, to the extent I have the time, to meet with local school districts and local law enforcement authorities to make sure that the state and the localities - and the local school districts - are operating in a very creative and intelligent partnership," Brown told reporters here.

He said he will focus on the ongoing implementation of prison realignment, in which the state shifted responsibility for certain offenders to counties, and on an education funding overhaul enacted last year.

The Democratic governor met with law enforcement officials in Monterey County, as he did in a two-day swing through the San Joaquin Valley last week. Brown, who has traveled relatively infrequently during the first three years of his term, is preparing for a likely re-election bid this year.

"I want to now take a more active role in working with localities," he said, "dealing with crime and dealing with educational success."

Brown's visit followed a State of the State speech that focused on fiscal prudence and was bereft of anything approaching a new policy pronouncement, and with only the barest mention of water and high-speed rail.

"You can only say too many things, and when you write your stories I didn't want you to say, 'Today Brown said, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.' No, I only wanted you to say one thing: 'Brown said live within your means.'"

Monterey County Sheriff Scott Miller, who has been critical of realignment, said the program was "painful" and exacerbated jail crowding in his county, but he said it could be successful in the future.

Of the governor, Miller said, "He has an easygoing way about him, and I know he listens."

PHOTO: Jerry Brown speaks to reporters in Salinas on Jan. 23, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

January 23, 2014
California health exchange 'not satisfied' with customer service


California's health insurance exchange failed to meet its first-class standards, frustrating tens of thousands of customers trying to enroll in coverage over the first three months of the program, officials said Thursday.

In a rare moment of public soul-searching, Covered California officials described the exchange's level of service as "completely unacceptable," and said they would apply the lessons to the next three months of enrollment commencing March 31.

"We know that thousands didn't have a good experience," Yolanda Richardson, deputy chief operations officer, told the exchange's board of directors on Thursday. "We're not satisfied with that. And we know we have a lot of work to do."

California continues to lead the nation with about 625,000 people enrolled in coverage. But long wait times and sluggish performance periodically plagued the exchange's customer service center and online enrollment portal.

"In many instances we did not meet our standard going back to our guiding principle of providing a first-class customer service experience," Richardson said, adding that the goal was to answer 80 percent of the calls in 30 seconds or fewer.

Wait times routinely exceeded one hour and in some cases were so long that customers were automatically disconnected, officials said.

The agency's inability to certify enough insurance agents and inaccurate or confusing notices mailed to consumers forced more of them to the phone lines and the internet. In some cases, they received no notices entirely, officials said.

The exchange is now working to add another 350 customer-service employees and a dedicated phone line for insurance agents. It also is ramping up its outreach to Latinos and other groups that experienced poor enrollment. Some 3,500 certified enrollment counselors are bilingual.

Executive Director Peter V. Lee said the exchange was boosting its marketing efforts in part thanks to a $155 million federal grant.

"Doing additional marketing is needed and is appropriate," Lee said, adding that in-person assistance will be a critical component in the coming months.

Earlier Thursday, Lee announced that former state Finance Director Ana Matosantos was hired as a senior adviser. Her compensation was not immediately known.

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.

January 23, 2014
Smith & Wesson to halt California sales of new semi-auto pistols


Firearms manufacturer Smith & Wesson will no longer ship new semi-automatic pistols to California, preferring to turn away from the nation's most populous market rather than comply with a controversial new gun law.

The publicly-traded company posted the announcement on its website in reaction to the state implementing Assembly Bill 1471, which requires new or redesigned semi-automatic pistols have a "microstamping" feature that indelibly marks bullet casings with a unique code when a gun is fired.

The law doesn't apply to weapons purchased by law enforcement agencies.

"Smith & Wesson does not and will not include microstamping in its firearms," the company said in a press release dated today. "A number of studies have indicated that microstamping is unreliable, serves no safety purpose, is cost prohibitive and, most importantly, is not proven to aid in preventing or solving crimes."

Firearms companies and gun-rights advocates say the technology doesn't work. Earlier this month, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearms manufacturers' trade group, sued the state for requiring microstamping for all new semi-automatic handguns.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed AB 1471 six years ago, but it didn't go into effect until May 2013. The American Academy of Pediatrics, dozens of police chiefs supported it. Gun owners, manufacturers and 14 sheriffs opposed it.

At least one Smith & Wesson semi-automatic pistol has fallen off the state's list of firearms approved for sale, and more will follow, said James Debney, Smith & Wesson president and CEO.

He vowed to to "work with" the National Rifle Association and shooting sports foundation "to oppose this poorly conceived law which mandates the unproven and unreliable concept of microstamping and makes it impossible for Californians to have access to the best products with the latest innovations."

Editor's note, 3:04 p.m.: The post was amended to include AB 1417's exemption for law enforcement agencies.

PHOTO: California Highway Patrol Range Officer, J. Tomlinson demonstrates the CHP's new gun at the CHP Academy Range in West Sacramento on Tuesday May 16, 2006. The new gun is a Smith and Wesson .40 caliber TSW. The Sacramento Bee/ Randall Benton

January 23, 2014
California low in education spending, high in welfare

kindergarten.JPGCalifornia spent a below-average proportion of its state budget on education in 2012, vis-à-vis other states, but had one of the nation's highest relative levels of welfare spending, according to a new Census Bureau report.

The report lists California's expenditures from all funds, including federal aid, at $215.1 billion in 2012 and says that the $72.7 billion it spent on education represented 33.8 percent of the total, two percentage points lower than the national average.

At the same time, however, California spent $69.1 billion on welfare, or 32.1 percent, well over the national average of 29.7 percent and 8th highest among the states.

To look at the data another way, California spent more on education than the entire budgets of all but three other states - New York, Texas and Florida - and its welfare spending was higher than total spending of all but four other states, those three plus Pennsylvania.

PHOTO: Kindergarten teacher Katherine Hoffmore, left, works on a bead project with McKayla Parker, 6, right, where they learn to repeat patterns at Greer Elementary School in Sacramento on Jan. 17, 2013.

January 23, 2014
AM Alert: Jerry Brown pushes UC to find 'outer limits' of online education

sproul.jpgA busy Wednesday morning delivering his State of the State address and handing out Sutter Brown playing cards didn't keep Gov. Jerry Brown from heading to San Francisco to talk online education at the bimonthly meeting of the University of California Board of Regents. The regents' meeting concludes today with a session starting at 8:30 a.m.

Sitting in on part of Wednesday's meeting, Brown challenged regents to develop classes that require no "human intervention" and might expand the system's reach beyond its student body.

"If this university can probe into" black holes, he said, "can't somebody create a course — Spanish, calculus, whatever — totally online? That seems to me less complicated than that telescope you were talking about," referring to an earlier agenda item.

After receiving pushback from UC provost Aimée Dorr, who delivered the presentation, that students are "less happy and less engaged" without human interaction, Brown said those measurements were too soft and he wanted empirical results.

"Let's think of this as our little solar system," he said. "Can we somehow get beyond it and we're out there into the total human system of all 7 billion?"

VIDEO: Gov. Jerry Brown used to be an exciting speaker, but his addresses have gotten staid and cautious with age, Dan Walters says.

MAKING THE CUT: Friday is the last day for bills introduced in 2013 to get out of committee for a floor vote in their house of origin, so both the Senate and the Assembly appropriations committees have full dockets today. The Senate panel is scheduled to hear 42 bills, most of them items on its suspense file. The Assembly committee, meanwhile, has 59 pieces of legislation on the agenda.

EBBING ELECTORATE: Voter turnout in California is on the decline and the state has been pushing hard to increase the electorate. How have those efforts fared? The Public Policy Institute of California hosts a panel discussion on how to motivate more Californians to exercise their right to vote, featuring Secretary of State Debra Bowen and others. The event takes place at noon at the CSAC Conference Center on 11th Street.

DEGREE DEFICIENCY: A new report from California Competes, a council of civic and business leaders, says the state's higher education system is unprepared to address the demands of the economy and will produce 2.3 million fewer degrees than California needs over the next decade to remain competitive. During a webinar at 10:30 a.m., the group will outline its proposals for a long-term strategy to better guide higher education in California.

IN THE KNOW: Sick of sorting through a cluttered Twitter feed? Browse a curated list of Capitol tweets you need to read, brought to you by the Capitol Alert Insider Edition app. You can subscribe here.

PHOTO: This Wednesday, June 1, 2011 photo shows people as they walk through Sproul Plaza near the Sather Gate on the University of California, Berkeley campus in Berkeley, Calif.. The Associated Press/Eric Risberg

January 23, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: Jerry Brown's speeches have lost their way

Brown_card.JPGGov. Jerry Brown's State of the State address this year illustrated how he has become too staid and cautious with age, 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: Gov. Jerry Brown shows a card with the state budget as he delivers the 2014 State of the State address to a joint session of the Legislature on Jan. 22, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua


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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