Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

January 28, 2014
Neel Kashkari hits California Gov. Jerry Brown on 'crazy train'

kashkarisits.jpgRepublican Neel Kashkari, criticizing Gov. Jerry Brown for his support of California's high-speed rail project, released a web ad Tuesday panning it as "a symbol of Sacramento having the wrong priorities."

The online-only ad, the first issue ad of Kashkari's campaign, comes a week after the former U.S. Treasury Department official announced his candidacy for governor.
In the video, Kashkari, wearing blue jeans and seated in a leather chair, calls the project the "crazy train."

"To me, it is not only a waste of money, it is a great example, it is a symbol of Sacramento having the wrong priorities," Kashkari says in the video. "If I were elected governor, we're going to cancel the bullet train and we're going to focus on the state's real priorities, which are jobs and education."

Yet the project's proposed financing includes a mix of sources including state bond funds, federal aid and private investment. Kashkari has yet to issue detailed policy proposals for education or jobs creation, his stated priorities, and he has not said how he would craft a state spending plan.

The $68 billion rail project is an issue Republicans believe they can exploit in attacking Brown. The Democratic governor is heavily favored in his likely re-election bid this year, but public support for the troubled project, a priority of Brown's administration, has fallen off since voters approved it in 2008.

The project, which is planned to connect Los Angeles and San Francisco, is beset by legal challenges. The Brown administration on Friday asked the California Supreme Court to intervene in two lower court rulings that jeopardize its funding.

PHOTO: Neel Kashkari speaks at an interview with The Associated Press in Sacramento on Dec. 4, 2013. Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli

January 28, 2014
Immigrant driver's license concerns aired at DMV hearing


With California preparing to offer driver's licenses to immigrants in the country illegally, the documentation needed to prove residency and the fate of personal information emerged as key concerns at a Department of Motor Vehicles hearing on Tuesday.

Gov. Jerry Brown last year signed a bill creating special licenses for immigrants, capping years of effort by Democratic lawmakers and immigration advocates. Now the action moves from the Legislature to the DMV, which is at work crafting regulations.

Dozens of people, many speaking in Spanish through interpreters, lined up on Tuesday to ask about how the process will play out.

The question of documentation was a dominant theme. Many speakers urged the DMV to accept a broad range of evidence establishing California residency, noting that many immigrants lack other forms of identification. Ideas included utility bills, baptismal certificates and union identification cards.

"You can put together where people live and that they're part of a community by taking a flexible approach," said Eric Vega, a professor at California State University, Sacramento and a member of the Sacramento Immigration Alliance.

Countering that call for a broader approach was Shelia Byars, a DMV driver safety hearing officer who warned of seeing "fraud out of control" during her 18-year career.

"A utility bill, for me, does not establish residency," Byars said. "If we're looking at other ways of establishing identity," she added, "then I think we need to go deeper than check-cashing cards and utility bills."

As the Legislature debated creating the licenses last year, the legislation's author for a time planned to shelve the legislation amid concerns that the distinct markings on the IDs - federal law requires a feature distinguishing the cards from traditional licenses - would expose immigrants to discrimination and potential deportation.

Those worries surfaced again on Tuesday. A speaker from the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles asked the DMV to reassure immigrants about how application information will be used, "so we won't be full of fear." Others wondered whether the licenses could be used to reveal someone's immigration status in court.

"In a court of law or administrative process, that will create a stigma to the person judging them, whether a judge or a jury," said Noe Paramo of the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation.

Assembly Bill 60 requires applicants to sign an affidavit saying they are ineligible for a Social Security number and cannot prove lawful presence. While the legislation contains language prohibiting discrimination on the basis of the licenses and a DMV official noted on Tuesday that the affidavits will not be public documents, advocates remain wary.

"We're very, very worried about this affidavit requirement because potentially it could have consequences in immigration proceedings - not only the affidavit but the license itself essentially becomes evidence the person is here unlawfully," Ronald Coleman of the California Immigration Policy Center said ahead of the hearing.

The potential cost of the licenses also fueled concern among speakers, with many speakers saying high fees would discourage working-class immigrants from obtaining the licenses.

"We also want to make sure that these driver's licenses are accessible," Coleman said. "We don't want there to be overly burdensome fees to impede community members from getting these licenses."

A Senate analysis found that offering the licenses could cost between $140 million and $220 million over three years, and Brown's 2014-2015 budget proposal seeks $64.7 million to accommodate an expected surge of interest with additional staff and temporary field offices.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown signs a driver's license bill for undocumented immigrants in Fresno City College in Fresno, Calif on Thursday, October 3, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

January 28, 2014
Covered California offering ratings to most health insurance plans

lee.jpgMost health insurance plans offered on the state exchange will now feature quality ratings, giving consumers a better idea about their past performance.

Covered California, the state exchange, announced Tuesday that it recently incorporated the quality-rating system in its website, with marks ranging from four stars for the highest performers down to one star for the lowest.

Federal law requires the rating of plans, but officials here noted that the rating system's California debut comes about two years ahead of the mandate. Executive Director Peter V. Lee said his exchange is among the first in the nation to offer consumers a quality-rating system.

"We want to give consumers all the available tools to help them assess and choose plans in their regions," Lee said. "We are proud of the ratings in each of the exchange plans and recognize this is a preliminary look at exchange health plans."

Lee previously expressed concern that incorporating the ratings for some plans and not others would dissuade people from enrolling. His original recommendation called for implementing the ratings system for all plans offered on the exchange during open enrollment in 2015.

Health policy groups and highly-rated plans suggested the exchange simply add language to those plans explaining they had yet to receive any ratings. They sided with exchange board members who strongly recommended adding the ratings as soon as possible.

"We are pleased that those are in place and that folks can take advantage of it," said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California. He also expressed gratitude that the exchange "didn't go down the path that everybody got four stars."

Ratings are a key tool for customers and an important signal to insurers, Wright said. As the exchange and insurers begin negotiations for next year's plans, insurers know that the exchange will look at consumer ratings as well as price, he said.

The ratings, based on consumer experiences, will be familiar to users of Amazon and Yelp where customers assign grades to products, movies and restaurant experiences. In this case, each insurance plan in the marketplace is compared with plans across the western region of the country.

Scores come from the Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems. Four-star plans placed in the top 25 percent of all of those rated. Three, two and one stars were awarded to plans ranking 50-to-75 percent, 25-to-50 percent and 0- to-25 percent, respectively.

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 28, 2014
Jury finds Sen. Rod Wright guilty on 8 felony counts


A Los Angeles jury today convicted Sen. Rod Wright on all eight felony counts he was charged with in the case that questioned whether he lived in the district he represented, potentially sending the Democratic state legislator to eight years in prison.

A sentencing hearing has been scheduled for March 12.

Wright will not automatically lose his seat in the Senate, according to Senate secretary Greg Schmidt. That would only happen if two-thirds of the 40-member Senate votes to expel him.

State law requires legislative candidates live in the district they seek to represent. Prosecutors in Los Angeles alleged Wright did not live in the Inglewood home he listed as his address when he ran for office in 2008, and instead lived in Baldwin Hills, a swankier community outside the boundaries of his working-class district. They charged him with eight felony counts -- two counts of perjury, one count of filing a false declaration of candidacy and five counts of fraudulent voting.

Wright pleaded not guilty, and argued he met all the legal criteria for running in what was then the 25th Senate District, including moving possessions into the Inglewood home he had owned since 1977 - where the woman he considers his stepmother lives - and registering to vote at the address.

A major focus of Wright's trial in Los Angeles Superior Court was the legal distinction between a "domicile" - a long-term home - and a "residence," or temporary dwelling. Wright said he bought the Baldwin Hills home in 2000 to use as an office for his real estate investment business and never considered it his legal domicile.

Neighbors testified that they routinely saw Wright at the Baldwin Hills house, while Wright's tenant at the Inglewood home testified she had never seen him spend the night or fix a meal in Inglewood, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Yet Wright testified that he never claimed a homeowners tax exemption, registered to vote or applied for a driver's license using the Baldwin Hills address. He cited a Tuolumne County case in which the court ruled that a local official could claim a home she once lived in as her legal domicile even though she had moved away.

Senate leader Darrell Steinberg said he would consult with lawyers and colleagues before deciding whether the upper house will take any action against Wright.

"Senator Wright is a well regarded colleague," Steinberg said, conveying visible sadness as he talked about the verdict.

Here's a video of Steinberg responding to the verdict moments after it came in:

PHOTO: Sen. Rod Wright in the state Capitol on August 20, 2009. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

Editor's note: This post was updated at 12:55 p.m. to include the sentencing date and a response from Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

January 28, 2014
Backers put brakes on proposed California car-tax hike


Proponents of a proposed ballot measure to more than double the vehicle-license fee to pay for road improvements have decided to drop efforts to put it on the November ballot.

The "California Road Repairs Act of 2014" would have phased in a 1 percent hike in the license fee -- the equivalent of property tax on a home -- to raise from $3 billion to $4 billion annually. The fee has been .65 percent of a vehicle's market value since the late 1990s, with a temporary increase to 1.15 percent from May 2009 through June 2011.

But Monday, Will Kempton, the executive director of Transportation California, said his group and the California Alliance for Jobs "have decided to put our initiative on hold."

"We'll continue to work with stakeholders, the Legislature, the administration and the public to identify and implement a solution to our transportation infrastructure problems," Kempton, a former Caltrans director, said in an e-mail.

The measure had been cleared earlier this month to begin collecting signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Kempton and other supporters point to a huge backlog of road improvement projects in California, with little new money to pay for them. Yet supporters also were well aware of the difficulty in getting the public to back an increase in the license fee, which has a prominent place in the mindset of the state's car-centric culture.

Past increases have not been popular. In mid-2003, then-Gov. Gray Davis raised the fee to 2 percent, what it had been before lawmakers began reducing it in the late 1990s. The increase contributed to his defeat in the recall election that October and the victory of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

PHOTO: Will Kempton, the then-director of the California Department of Transportation, testifies before the Assembly Transportation Committee in 2005. The Sacramento Bee/John Decker

January 28, 2014
AM Alert: DMV considers regulations for undocumented immigrant driver's licenses

RB_DMV_Line.JPGFor more than a decade, California lawmakers worked to pass legislation allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver's licenses in the state.

After numerous failed efforts and one close call -- in 2003, then-Gov. Gray Davis signed a bill that was repealed by Arnold Schwarzenegger before it became law -- Gov. Jerry Brown finally signed AB 60 last October. The Department of Motor Vehicles is expected to begin issuing special licenses by 2015.

Now comes the hard part.

One of the biggest battles over granting driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants was whether those identification cards would be somehow visually distinct from licenses for legal residents. When AB 60 finally passed, it was with an amendment requiring a distinguishing mark on the front and back of the immigrant license. Those details, however, still must be worked out.

At 10 a.m., the California DMV conducts it first public hearing to assist in the development of regulations for the implementation of AB 60, including what documents will provide sufficient proof of identity and state residency to apply for a license. The meeting takes place in the auditorium of the Secretary of State building at 11th and O streets. A live webcast will also be available.

VIDEO: The bond fund that finances school construction and repairs has run out, but Gov. Jerry Brown is unlikely to support placing a new one on the November ballot, Dan Walters says.

DON'T DEPORT: In more immigration news, state Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, hosts a press conference at 9 a.m. in Room 3191 of the Capitol calling upon President Barack Obama to stop the deportation of undocumented immigrants who are eligible to become legal citizens. Calderon introduced a similar resolution to the Senate last week, the first bill his office has promoted since he made headlines last fall in an FBI corruption investigation. The event is part of part of a national day of action organized by the Protect Our Families Campaign.

METHODS REVIEW: The recently declared drought has only fanned the flames of controversy surrounding the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, which proposes constructing two enormous tunnels to bring water under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to southern California. Over the next two days, an independent science panel meets to discuss the scientific soundness of the plan's "effects analysis" section, which assesses the likely impact of the tunnels on species of concern and the ecological process of the Bay-Delta system. The meeting begins today at 8:30 a.m. at the Red Lion Hotel Woodlake Conference Center.

INSURANCE EVALUATION: The California Office of the Patient Advocate releases its annual California Health Care Report Cards at 9:30 a.m., rating the commercial insurance offered by the state's ten largest health maintenance organizations, six largest preferred provider organizations and over 200 medical groups.

LEGISLATIVE DIRECTORY: Every lawmaker, with their staff and their committees, is available at your fingertips on the Capitol Alert Insider Edition app. Subscribe here for iPad and iPhone.

PHOTO: A customer waits in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles office in south Sacramento on Aug. 17, 2006. The Sacramento Bee/ Randall Benton

January 28, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: New school construction bond wouldn't gibe with Brown's budget priorities

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for HA_SCHOOL_BUS2565.JPGThe bond fund that finances school construction and repairs has run out, but Gov. Jerry Brown is unlikely to support placing a new one on the November ballot, 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: Pleasant Grove High School students get off their bus onFeb. 20, 2009. 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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