Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

February 25, 2014
Bill would simplify financial aid for California high school seniors

financial_aid.JPGA bill announced Tuesday aims to make the labyrinthine college application season a little easier for high school seniors.

Seeking to increase access to the state's Cal Grants scholarship program, AB 2160 by Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, would require high schools to electronically submit grade point averages for all graduating seniors to the California Student Aid Commission.

The two-step Cal Grant application, administered by the student aid commission, requires students to fill out the federal student aid form and verify their GPA. Thousands of applications are rejected each year because that second step is not completed.

"We want to do everything possible to streamline that process," Ting said at a press conference, where he was joined by co-author state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo. "We're trying to take one more barrier out of their way."

While many high schools already submit GPAs electronically to the student aid commission, few do so for all graduating seniors and some do not submit GPAs at all.

According to the California Student Aid Commission, more than 230,000 high school seniors completed the financial aid form in 2013, about 50,000 of which were not considered because their GPAs could not be verified. Another 35,000 students had to verify their GPA through an extra paper form.

Orville Jackson, a researcher at The Education Trust-West, said participation in the Cal Grant program is higher at schools that submit electronic GPA verification for all graduating seniors: 71 percent in those districts, as compared to 56 percent elsewhere.

This in turn boosts post-secondary success, Jackson added. "The simple act of filling out a financial aid application increases students' chances of going to college and finishing college."

The Cal Grant application deadline for 2014 is March 2.

PHOTO: Prospective student Eva Vega, left, is counseled by financial aid technician Sonia Diaz during a college workshop at the Mexican Consulate office in Sacramento on February 1, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

Editor's note: This post was updated at 4:22 p.m. to include the number of applications that were not considered because of a lack of GPA verification.

February 25, 2014
California Sen. Rod Wright to take leave of absence


State Sen. Rod Wright will take an indefinite leave of absence until he resolves his legal problems, Senate leader Darrell Steinberg announced Tuesday.

Wright will continue to draw his $95,291-a-year salary but will not be eligible to receive the $163-a-day living expenses other lawmakers get.

The announcement comes several weeks after a Los Angeles County jury found Wright, D-Baldwin Hills, guilty of eight counts of voter fraud and perjury stemming from charges that he lied about where he lived when he ran for the state Senate in 2008.

Wright's sentencing, initially scheduled for March 12, was postponed last Friday until mid-May. Some Republican senators, meanwhile, have pushed for a vote on Wright's continuing presence in the Senate.

"Today I met with Senator Wright and he requested an indefinite leave of absence pending the conclusion of the legal process now before the trial court in Los Angeles," Steinberg said in a statement. "I've accepted this request and wish him well going forward."

Wright sent The Bee a statement saying he asked for a leave of absence "so that I may devote my full attention to pending legal matters."

"It is a great honor to represent the people of the 35th Senate District. I remain hopeful that - through due process - I will once again have the opportunity to fight for laws that strengthen our communities and support those most in need," Wright's statement said.

Wright's departure leaves the Senate with 38 voting members, including 27 Democrats, a bare two-thirds majority. Monday, Steinberg gave state Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, a week to resign or the Senate would suspend him following his indictment on corruption charges last Friday.

PHOTO: Sen. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood, sits in the state Senate on Monday, Feb. 3, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

Editor's note: This post was updated at 2:16 p.m. to include Wright's statement.

February 25, 2014
California analyst suggests drought solutions


Saying Gov. Jerry Brown's budget proposal "includes little to address the effects of the current drought," a new report by the Legislature's nonpartisan fiscal analyst suggests anti-drought and conservation steps that lawmakers could take.

Friday's review of the resources portion of Brown's January spending plan came two days after Brown and legislative unveiled a $687.4 million package of drought relief measures, some of which seem to mirror parts of what the LAO suggests.

The legislation, which emerged Monday, is expected to be considered later this week.

In its report, the LAO wades into the contentious issue of water conservation.

The governor's January budget included $621 million to carry out the first phase of its recently released "water action plan." The plan lists water conservation as one of its 10 objectives, but the governor's proposed budget "includes few specific proposals to achieve that goal," the LAO said.

For example, the LAO said, the state could change how water is priced. The Legislature could require water agencies to charge more in drought years. Lawmakers also could make agencies charge lower per-gallon rates for essential water use, but higher rates for water uses deemed less important, such as landscaping.

In addition, lawmakers could change the system of water rights. The objective would be to reflect the potential to save water in "the definition of reasonable use."

And the Legislature could encourage farms to save more water by setting goals for the agricultural industry or helping them pay for water-efficiency equipment. Last week's legislation proposes to give $10 million to the California Department of Food and Agriculture to invest in water-efficient irrigation and pumping systems.

PHOTO: Skip Sagouspe walks by bulldozed almond trees in an orchard at Sagoupse Enterprises in western Fresno County on Jan. 16, 2014. The third generation farmer said he had to pull out 160 older almond trees, or about 10 percent of the family's crop, to try and reduce his demand for irrigation during this time of drastic water shortage. The Fresno Bee/Craig Kohlruss

February 25, 2014
AM Alert: Senate wades into credit card data theft

credit_card.JPGA week after an Assembly hearing in which lawmakers pushed for better protections against the kind of massive data breaches that compromised millions of consumers' personal information over the holiday season, the state Senate takes up the issue with its own informational hearing.

Today's joint hearing of the Senate judiciary and banking and financial institutions committees will explore the technologies used by credit card companies and retailers that allowed for the security breaches, as well as ways to prevent similar mass data theft in the future. It begins at 1:30 p.m. in Room 4203 of the Capitol.

Legislators have already introduced several bills this session intended to protect personal information in online transactions. Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, who leads the Senate Judiciary Committee, has one that would prohibit the collection of personal information when purchasing downloadable content, unless it is used to combat fraud or identity theft. The bill passed out of the Senate last month.

VIDEO: The Legislature has become a soap opera, Dan Walters says, full of twisty tales of scandal and corruption.

AIDING STUDENTS: Concerned that eligible high schoolers are missing out on millions in college aid dollars, Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, and Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, will announce a new bill today aimed at helping more students complete their financial aid applications. The legislation addresses obstacles in the student aid process raised in a new report from The Education Trust-West, which will also be released during the press conference, 11 a.m. in Room 317 of the Capitol.

UP IN THE AIR: The California Department of Water Resources has partnered with NASA to develop applications of satellite imagery for drought preparedness and management. During a two-day conference, starting at 9:30 a.m. today at the Sacramento Convention Center, the agencies will discuss those potential uses, which include monitoring regional groundwater levels, assessing snowpack conditions and estimating the acreage of fallowed agricultural land.

ONE MAN ARMY: As the Legislature grapples over what to do with state Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, who was indicted on corruption charges last week, one California citizen tries to bring the focus back to another recent political scandal. Don Bird of Red Bluff will be protesting on the L Street side of the Capitol from 10 a.m.- 1:30 p.m., calling for the Senate to expel Sen. Rod Wright, D-Baldwin Hills, who was convicted earlier this month of eight felonies related to living outside his district.

PRO-LIFE DINNER: Abortion rights have strong support in California, but the California ProLife Council is pushing for legislation this year that would ban women from terminating pregnancies on the basis of gender. Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, who plans to carry the bill later this year, will speak about that and other "right to life" issues during the ProLife Legislative Dinner, 7 p.m. at The Grand on J Street.

PHOTO: Sara Dobbyn buys shoes using Visa credit card from Shoefly, a store in midtown Sacramento, on January 8, 2004. The Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.

February 25, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: California's Legislature has turned into soap opera

rod_wright.jpgThe latest dramatic twist in this tale of corruption and scandal is that the Senate Democrats may lose their supermajority, 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: Sen. Rod Wright, D-Baldwin Hills, sits in the state Senate on Feb. 3, 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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