Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

February 21, 2014
California health insurance portal still down for repairs

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The state health insurance exchange's online enrollment portal remains down because of a software malfunction that has dogged consumers.

Covered California took the enrollment function offline Wednesday afternoon, and officials initially said engineers hoped to have the service restored Friday.

That target was later postponed until Saturday.

Officials did not go into detail about what's plaguing the website, but said the breakdown was making it harder for people to enroll. The website still remains accessible to people searching for information about health plans and using the "Shop and Compare Tool" to find health care coverage in their regions.

About 828,600 people enrolled in health coverage via the state health insurance exchange through the first two weeks of February, far outpacing other states with marketplaces.

Still, this is not the first time the exchange has struggled with technology glitches. It experienced computer and phone troubles while accepting applications to train health insurance agents, and then with the launch of CoveredCA.com's sign-up portal.

Last month, top officials acknowledged the level of service over the first three months was "completely unacceptable." They said they would try to improve the system's performance for the enrollment period ending March 31.

They endeavored to answer 80 percent of their calls within 30 seconds. But internal reports show only a small fraction of the thousands of calls into its service centers met that goal.

Earlier this month, officials were forced to temporarily discontinue the exchange's provider directory after complaints about errors in the physician list. The directory of doctors and hospitals was posted shortly after the exchange opened for business Oct. 1, but was temporarily taken down within a day of its release because it was plagued by inaccuracies and sluggish performance.

At the time, Executive Director Peter V. Lee said it was put online prematurely.

PHOTO: Peter V. Lee in his office in Sacramento on Dec. 11. The Sacramento Bee/ Randall Benton

February 21, 2014
Jerry Brown's parole interventions include crossbow killing case

brownoaklandport.jpgGov. Jerry Brown let about 82 percent of convicted killers' parole releases stand last year, continuing to use his power to block decisions of the state parole board relatively sparingly.

Brown reversed 100 of 577 parole grants he reviewed in 2013 and returned two cases to the state Board of Parole Hearings for reconsideration, according to a report to the Legislature released Friday.

Brown's reversal rate last year was nearly identical to the first two years of his term. The Democratic governor also reviewed 127 non-murder cases, sending 27 back for reconsideration by the full board, the governor's office said.

Among decisions Brown reversed was a parole grant for James Mackey, one of two former University of the Pacific football teammates sent to prison for their roles in the widely covered murder of a Stockton real estate agent in 1989. Mackey testified he and another man lured Laurence Carnegie to a vacant house outside the city, shot him with a crossbow and strangled him.

Michael Blatt, then a Stockton developer and former professional sports agent, stood trial twice in the case, each time resulting in a mistrial. He had been accused of plotting Carnegie's murder and conspiring to murder John Farley, a former professional football player, before charges against him were dismissed. Farley never was harmed.

Brown said in his reversal that Mackey had made efforts to improve himself while incarcerated, including earning a master's degree in 2008. But he said Mackey has not explained "how he could meticulously plan and execute a cold-blooded murder."

"Until he can give a better explanation for his actions," Brown wrote, "I do not think he is ready to be released."

Brown also reported Friday that he pardoned 193 people last year. Most of the pardons involved drug or property crimes committed more than a decade ago. A majority of them, in keeping with Brown's tradition, were announced previously on Christmas Eve.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at an event in Oakland on Nov. 1, 2013. Associated Press/Marcio Jose Sanchez

February 21, 2014
Steinberg asks Calderon to resign from California Senate

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Following the announcement Friday that a federal grand jury has indicted Sen. Ron Calderon on 24 criminal charges including bribery, California state Senate leader Darrell Steinberg called on him to resign and said he had the full backing of his Democratic caucus.

If Calderon does not resign or take a leave absence as judicial proceedings against him continue, Steinberg said, the Senate will vote to suspend him.

Here is Steinberg's statement:

"I value and respect the legal principle that a criminal defendant is innocent unless proven guilty. I also know that the Senate has an ethics code that governs the behavior of elected officials, regardless of whether they are convicted or not. Senator Calderon is entitled to his full due process in all venues. It may be difficult, if not impossible, for the Senate to conduct a full investigation of the issues contained in the indictment because the U.S. Attorney has asked us specifically not to call any witnesses who are part of their investigation.

"Given the seriousness of charges that strike at the very heart of what it means to be a public official, Senator Calderon's continued service is a cloud over all the important work that we must get done this year. It is in the best interests of the people and the Senate if he resigns. I call on him to do so. The Senate Rules committee has already stripped him of his committee chairmanship and his committee assignments.

"At a minimum, he should take a complete leave of absence until the criminal proceedings are finished. If he does not resign, or take that leave of absence voluntarily, the Senate will seek to suspend him."

February 21, 2014
Plea deal sheds light on 'massive healthcare fraud scheme'

MC_CALDERON_01.JPGIn announcing the indictment of state Sen. Ron Calderon on charges including money laundering Friday, federal authorities also released documents shedding new light on a spinal surgery billing scheme the California Department of Insurance called its largest-ever case of insurance fraud.

In a plea agreement, Michael D. Drobot, a Calderon connection and the former CEO of Pacific Hospital of Long Beach, admitted he conspired to pay kickbacks to dozens of doctors, chiropractors and others to refer thousands of patients to his hospital for spinal surgeries and other services.

According to the agreement, Drobot, used his own companies or those of conspirators to inflate the price of medical hardware used in the surgeries, then submitted the inflated bills for reimbursement. The services were paid for primarily through the Federal Employees' Compensation Act and California Workers' Compensation System, the filing said.

The spinal surgery matter's tie to Calderon came in a "stream of financial benefits" the government said Drobot provided to the lawmaker in exchange for his support on legislation concerning the ability of hospitals to charge workers' compensation carriers for the cost of medical hardware.

Before a change in California's workers' compensation law in 2012, hospitals could seek separate reimbursement payments for the cost of conducting spinal surgeries and for the cost of implants.

Drobot agreed to pay Calderon's son $10,000 per summer to work as a file clerk at defendant's company in 2010, 2011 and 2012, the government said. He also provided Calderon free flights on a private plane and took Calderon to "exclusive, high-end golf resorts" and to expensive dinners, according to the agreement.

February 21, 2014
Ron Calderon indicted on 24 counts including bribery

Calderons.JPGSen. Ron Calderon and his brother, former Assemblyman Tom Calderon, have been indicted by a federal grand jury on multiple criminal charges, including money laundering.

Ron Calderon faces 24 charges including bribery, money laundering and tax fraud, which carry a maximum sentence of 400 years in prison, U.S Attorney André Birotte Jr. said during a press conference Friday in Los Angeles. Calderon agreed to surrender to authorities on Monday, Birotte said.

Tom Calderon faces seven counts of money laundering and is scheduled to be arraigned Friday afternoon.

Michael Drobot, the former CEO of Pacific Hospital of Long Beach, has made a plea deal with authorities and admitted paying bribes to Ron Calderon, Birotte said. He is pleading guilty to two counts that carry a maximum sentence of 10 years.

Ron Calderon, a moderate Democrat, is known for fancy out-of-state political fundraisers, carrying legislation that benefits specific industries and being one of three brothers who treat Capitol politics as a family business. He has served in the California Legislature since he was elected to the Assembly in 2002, when he replaced his brother Tom Calderon in the seat representing several blue-collar communities in southeast Los Angeles County. Their brother Charles Calderon took the seat when Ron Calderon moved to the Senate in 2006. Charles Calderon's son Ian Calderon now holds the seat.

Ron Calderon has denied wrongdoing. His attorney did not return calls from The Bee on Friday.

"More than robbing us of money, corruption robs us of trust in government," FBI assistant director Bill Lewis said.

A spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said the Democratic caucus is discussing the indictment Friday afternoon. After an FBI affidavit outlining many of the allegations against Calderon was disclosed by Al-Jazeera America in October, Steinberg stripped Calderon of all committee assignments, but he has continued to attend floor sessions and cast votes.

February 21, 2014
Prosecutor: Tim Donnelly won't face legal action for gun use

donnellygunstore.jpgTim Donnelly will not face legal action in San Bernardino County for his heavily publicized use of firearms at campaign events in recent weeks, the local prosecutor saying Friday that terms of Donnelly's probation do not prohibit such activities.

The San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office said last week that it was "looking into" the Republican gubernatorial candidate's firing and handling of guns at a gun store and gun range, after the Twin Peaks assemblyman pleaded no contest in 2012 to two misdemeanor charges related to the discovery of a firearm in his carry-on bag at Ontario International Airport.

One of the conditions of his probation is that he not "personally use, own or possess any firearm that is not registered to him."

In a written statement Friday, San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael Ramos said the terms of Donnelly's probation were "never intended to apply to shooting at a gun range" and that "no further action will be taken."

"This matter is closed, and no further comment will be made," Ramos said. "I will not allow our office to be used for political purposes."

PHOTO: Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Donnelly visits the Outdoor Sportsman store in Stockton on Feb. 11, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

February 21, 2014
Read the indictment of Ron and Tom Calderon

Here is the federal grand jury's indictment of Sen. Ron Calderon and his brother, Tom:

Calderon Bribe Case - Indictment

February 21, 2014
Federal officials say Ron Calderon agreed willingly to wear 'wire'

MC_CALDERON_05.JPGFederal officials said in a court filing Friday that state Sen. Ron Calderon wore a "wire" to record two conversations with another, unnamed person, but canceled a third meeting shortly before the FBI raided Calderon's Capitol office last summer.

The document was filed in response to a November filing in which Calderon accused authorities of leaking an FBI affidavit against him after he refused to participate in sting operation targeting other lawmakers.

The government said in its filing that the accusation is baseless.

"Calderon never refused to make the recordings and, at one point, he even encouraged the FBI agents to set up a meeting with the individual 'soon,'" the government filing said.

The filing comes as federal authorities announced a noon press conference in Los Angeles to announce they are filing charges in a political corruption case that sources said will involve Calderon.

It has been nearly four months since Al Jazeera America published a leaked affidavit alleging Calderon accepted $88,000 in bribes from an undercover agent and a hospital executive.

The government's filing Friday said two FBI agents told Calderon at a hotel in Las Vegas in May that they worked for a public corruption squad and had been investigating him "for quite some time."

February 21, 2014
Live blog replay: Coverage of FBI announcing political corruption charges

Check on coverage by The Bee's Laurel Rosenhall, David Siders, Chrisopher Cadelago, and Dan Walters of the FBI's announcement of specific political corruption charges that involve state Sen. Ron Calderon.

Click here to access the live blog from any mobile device.

February 21, 2014
California Sen. Rod Wright sentencing delayed two months

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Sentencing has been delayed by two months in the case against Sen. Rod Wright, who was found guilty of eight felonies by a Los Angeles jury last month for lying about where he lives.

The delay could give Wright more time to serve in the state Senate, because President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has said he will not ask for Wright's resignation before the judge makes the jury's verdict final.

Some Republican senators have said they want the Senate to vote now on whether to expel him.

Wright is now scheduled to be sentenced on May 16, said his attorney, Winston Kevin McKesson. That's a delay from the original date of March 12. McKesson said sentencing was postponed because transcripts from Wright's January trial will not be available until mid-March, and he can't ask the judge to overturn the jury's verdict until the transcripts are ready.

"I'll file all the post-trial motions after I receive the transcripts," McKesson said.

State law requires candidates for the Legislature to live in the districts they seek to represent. Wright, a Democrat, claimed that he lived in the Los Angeles-area city of Inglewood when he ran for the state Senate in 2008. A jury found that he actually lived in Baldwin Hills, a more upscale community outside the boundaries of the working class district he represents.

PHOTO: Sen. Rod Wright inside the Senate chambers on Feb. 3, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua


February 21, 2014
Federal prosecutors to announce political corruption charges at noon

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Federal authorities have announced a noon press conference in Los Angeles to announce that they are filing charges in a political corruption case that sources said will involve Sen. Ron Calderon.

The announcement comes eight months after the FBI raided Calderon's Capitol office and nearly four months after Al Jazeera America published a leaked affidavit alleging the lawmaker had accepted $88,000 in bribes from an undercover agent and a hospital executive.

The 124-page affidavit laid out two major policy areas under investigation: Tax breaks for film productions and the rate at which hospitals that treat workers compensation patients are reimbursed for performing spinal surgery.

It described an undercover agent asking Calderon to change California's tax credit program for filmmakers so that smaller productions would qualify for the credit. And it alleged that Calderon took bribes from Michael Drobot, the former CEO of Pacific Hospital of Long Beach, and tried to steer legislation in ways that would profit his business.

RELATED STORIES

FBI raids offices of state Sen. Ron Calderon

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Legislature veteran Tom Calderon turns to business consulting

Graphic: Calderon family tree

Calderon family wields political clout

FBI searched two businesses with ties to Calderons in April

Sen. De Leon to testify as California Capitol probe expands

California lawmakers tussled over payments for spinal implants

Subpoena spotlights Southern California water district's projects with Calderon ties

California state Sen. Ron Calderon accepted $88,000 in bribes, FBI affidavit alleges

Read the FBI affidavit in the Ron Calderon investigation

Undercover FBI agent created elaborate persona in Calderon sting

Who is Michael Drobot? Leaked affidavit touches on embattled donor

FBI Capitol sting shines light on Latino caucus

Ron Calderon says FBI asked him to secretly record conversations with Steinberg, de León

Timeline: Key events in the FBI's Calderon family investigation

February 21, 2014
AM Alert: Legislature hits bill introduction deadline

Assembly_chamber.JPGToday is the deadline to introduce bills, so expect a surge of new legislation on an otherwise sleepy Friday. Many of the measures will be spot bills, with the details left to be fleshed out in the coming weeks and months. Other ideas may still find their way into the mix later on through the gut-and-amend process.

So far this session more than 300 bills have been introduced in the Senate and more than 550 have been introduced in the Assembly. How high will that number climb by tonight?

VIDEO: California's cap-and-trade program is facing a legal challenge from the state Chamber of Commerce, Dan Walters says.

MED-IFICATION: Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, and Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, headline a policy forum on improving medication adherence from noon to 3 p.m. at the Sacramento City College Student Center. According to the Script Your Future campaign, which is sponsoring the event, one-third of people never fill their prescriptions and nearly three-quarters don't take them as directed, costing hundreds of billions of dollar each year.

ACADEMIC ADVOCATE: The Western Association of Educational Opportunity Personnel is in town for its advocacy day. The organization, which promotes programs that serve low-income, first-generation and disabled college students, gathers on the south steps of the Capitol at 10 a.m. for speeches and a rally before visiting lawmakers' offices.

POLITICS IS PERSONAL: One of this year's more interesting political dramas is the election in the Long Beach-centered 70th Assembly District. Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, is termed out and running for her city's mayorship. Among the candidates to succeed her is former daughter-in-law Suja Lowenthal, a Long Beach city councilwoman who abandoned her own bid for mayor last fall. Adding another wrinkle to the race, the women have endorsed each other's opponents. Suja Lowenthal has found some support in Sacramento, however, including from state Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, who joins her for a fundraiser in Long Beach tomorrow.

PHOTO: Twenty-eight of the new Assembly members undergo orientation inside the Assembly Chambers on Nov. 12, 2008. The Sacramento Bee/Brian Baer

February 21, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: California cap-and-trade faces legal challenge

California_Greenhouse_Gases.jpgWide-ranging proposals for using cap-and-trade funds have prompted the California Chamber of Commerce to challenge the fee program as an illegal tax, 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: A tanker truck passes the Chevron oil refinery in Richmond on March 9, 2010. Associated Press/Paul Sakuma



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Capitol Alert Staff


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. Twitter: @DanielSnowSmith

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

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

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

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

Jeremy White Jeremy B. White covers the Legislature. jwhite@sacbee.com. Twitter: @capitolalert

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

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

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