Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

March 17, 2014
California chief justice warns of 'civil rights crisis'

state_of_judiciary_2013.JPGCalifornia faces a "civil rights crisis" because of years of funding reductions for the judicial branch, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said Monday afternoon during her third State of the Judiciary Address.

Speaking to a joint legislative session in the Assembly Chamber at the Capitol, Cantil-Sakauye asked for partnership across the government to address what has been nearly half a billion dollars in cumulative budget cuts since 2008. She said the reductions have deprived more than two million Californians of access to a local court and have had a particularly negative effect on civil cases, which cede precedence to criminal justice.

"We face astonishing and harmful delays in urgent family matters, in business contracts, wrongful termination, discrimination cases, personal injury cases across the board," she said. "We want to be a partner in fair and collaborative solutions."

Cantil-Sakauye tied her comments to the 50th anniversary of the federal Civil Rights Act. She called the landmark legislation, which outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin, "the fair thing and the right thing to do."

"But it also took collaboration" to create and enforce, she added. "That's how an effective democracy works--all three branches in collaboration."

She pointed to recent efforts within the California judiciary, including the creation of problem-solving courts, which emphasize rehabilitative programs over punitive solutions, and a push to address disparities in the juvenile justice system, where African-American, American Indian, disabled and foster youth are over-represented.

At the top of the speech, lawmakers gave a standing ovation to Justice Joyce L. Kennard, who will retire in April after 25 years on the California Supreme Court. Honoring her rise from immigrant to judge, Cantil-Sakauye saluted Kennard's "uncommon intellect, integrity and courage."

PHOTO: Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye delivers her State of the Judiciary address to a joint session of the Legislature in the Assembly chambers on March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

March 17, 2014
GOP blocks California campaign disclosure bill

20130311_HA_JUDICIARY169.JPGWith a single vote to spare, Republicans blocked a California campaign finance reform bill on Monday, demonstrating the limits of a diminished Democratic caucus.

The basic premise of requiring more disclosures of campaign donations is sound, said Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, but he objected to the timeline. The bill carried an urgency clause that would allow it to take effect in July, before the upcoming election.

"We will be subjecting people to a different process," Huff said. "They will not have had time to understand the rules of engagement changed."

Bills amending the Political Reform Act require a two-thirds vote, making them closely watched tests of Democratic dominance. Legal troubles have ensnared two Democratic senators, Rod Wright of Baldwin Hills and Ron Calderon of Montebello, and dropped Senate Democrats below their two-thirds margin.

Last year, when Wright and Calderon still sat in the Senate chambers, Correa's measure advanced beyond the Senate without a single Republican vote. During debate on the Assembly floor in February, Republicans decried a bill they said would muffle dissenting voices and unfairly alter the rules in the middle of an election cycle.

By the time it got back to the Senate to sign off on Assembly amendments on Monday, Wright and Calderon were gone and the GOP was able to block it. Democrats mustered all 26 of their votes, but four Republicans voted no. The other seven GOP members did not vote.

Lawmakers and the California Fair Political Practices Commission have sought to crack down on undisclosed campaign donations since outside groups used an elaborate network of nonprofits to funnel millions into the 2012 election.

Senate Bill 27, by Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, seeks to lift the veil on outside spending by compelling nonprofits to identify their donors if they hit certain benchmarks, such as when the nonprofit spends $50,000 in a given election or donors give at least $100 for explicitly political purposes.

Under the current rules, a nonprofit's initial campaign expenditure - its "first bite of the apple" - does not trigger disclosure requirements. Subsequent spending would require a group to detail its donors, but advocates of tighter rules say outside groups can currently channel a single large, anonymous sum into an election.

Correa argued that donors would have plenty of time to adjust to new guidelines, which would only apply to contributions after July 1. Along with other Democrats, Correa said the legislation would apply giving requirements uniformly by depriving would-be secret donors of a place to hide.

"This bill is about equity. This bill is about transparency," Correa said. "This bill does not limit what you spend but rather says let the world know, let the voters know in a timely basis the source of those expenditures."

PHOTO: Senator Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana during a joint session in the Assembly chambers in Sacramento, Calif. on Monday, March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/ Hector Amezcua.

March 17, 2014
It's official: Toni Atkins elected speaker of California Assembly


In an historically significant decision, Assembly Democrats on Monday voted to make Assemblywoman Toni Atkins their next speaker.

Atkins will be the first openly lesbian leader of the Assembly and the first speaker from San Diego. In a nod to the latter distinction, Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra, D-Los Angeles, gave Atkins a San Diego Padres jersey with her name and the number 1 on the back.

In her acceptance speech, Atkins mostly stuck to thanking her colleagues and a broad promise of re-establishing the effectiveness of California's state government. But she did veer into specifics at one point, emphasizing some issues she has focused on during her political rise.

"If I could add my own personal concern, reducing homelessness and providing affordable housing, including for our state's growing population of veterans," Atkins said.

In followup remarks to reporters, Atkins said California suffers from a dearth of reasonably priced housing.

"California has an issue with provision of affordable housing across the spectrum, whether it's for homeless individuals or working families," she said. "So regardless, we need to be looking at how to fund and afford housing for our citizens."

The exact date when Atkins takes over from current Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles, remains in flux, but Atkins said the transition will happen some time this spring.

As lawmakers rose to express support for Atkins' nomination, many paid homage to her humble roots in Virginia coal country. Others lauded her as a consensus-builder and an approachable policy mind, with two San Diego Republicans - Rocky Chavez and Brian Maienschein - noting her open-mindedness.

"We've agreed on issues and we've disagreed on issues, but it's always been a respectful exchange," Chavez said.

It was also a momentous event for the LGBT community, with Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, referencing "its significance, its resonance, its poignancy." Atkins' spouse, affordable housing and development consultant Jennifer LeSar, sat beside her during the nominating speeches and vote.

"That is surreal to me," Atkins said in response to a reporter's question about becoming the first openly lesbian speaker.

PHOTO: Speaker John A. Pérez, and Assemblywoman Toni Atkins discuss Atkins becoming the next speaker in the State Capitol building in Sacramento, Calif. on January 22, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Jeremy B. White.

March 17, 2014
John A. Pérez halts effort to overturn California's Prop. 209


California voters will not be asked this year to decide whether to roll back California's ban on racial preferences in college admissions, Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez announced Monday.

At the request of Sen. Ed Hernandez, author of Senate Constitutional Amendment 5, Pérez said he is sending the measure back to the Senate without taking any action in the lower house.

"It really is driven most by my interest in making sure we come out with the best policy outcomes," Pérez said.

"And as it's currently written I don't think SCA 5 gives us that. As it's currently written it requires a two-thirds vote of both houses, and those votes don't exist in both houses."

Pérez said he and Senate leader Darrell Steinberg will form a task force to discuss whether California should change the way it admits students to public universities.
The group will include representatives from the University of California, California State University and the community colleges, he said.

The move came a week after three Asian-American state senators -- who had previously voted for SCA 5 -- asked Pérez to put a stop the measure.

"Prior to the vote on SCA 5 in the Senate, we heard no opposition to the bill. However, in the past few weeks, we have heard from thousands of people throughout California voicing their concerns about the potential impacts," Sens. Ted Lieu of Torrance, Carol Liu of La Canada Flintridge and Leland Yee of San Francisco wrote to Perez on March 11.

The measure would overturn part of Proposition 209, which voters approved in 1996, by allowing public colleges and universities to use race and ethnicity as a factor in judging students for admission. Democrats in the state Senate used their two-thirds supermajority to pass SCA 5 in January, sending it to the Assembly for consideration. Since then, Asian-American advocacy groups have been organizing opposition around the state, arguing that affirmative action will help some ethnic groups at the expense of others.

"As lifelong advocates for the Asian-American and other communities, we would never support a policy that we believed would negatively impact our children," Lieu, Liu and Yee wrote in their letter to Pérez.

"Given that many in the (Asian Pacific Islander) and other communities throughout the state feel that this legislation would prevent their children from attending the college of their choice, we have asked Senator Ed Hernandez to hold SCA 5 until he has an opportunity to meet with affected communities and attempt to build a consensus."

Here is a video of Pérez discussing how he thinks Proposition 209 has impacted California's public universities:

PHOTO: : Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles points to the desk of Assemblywoman Nora Campos, D-San Jose before legislators are sworn in during the first day of session at the State Capitol in Sacramento, Calif. on Monday, Dec. 3, 2012 . The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

Editor's note: This post was updated at 12:39 p.m. to include comments from Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez and updated at 1:09 p.m. to include a video.

March 17, 2014
AM Alert: Jerry Brown addresses California labor group

brownchamberbreakfast.jpgWhen California's largest union group comes to Sacramento, it gets the attention of top government officials from both sides of the aisle.

Gov. Jerry Brown will deliver the keynote address at the California Labor Federation's annual legislative conference tonight. The dinner program begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Sheraton Grand Hotel on J Street. The conference, which is also sponsored by the State Building and Construction Trades Council, features sessions on maintaining health benefits and changing the public perception of unions, as well as speaking appearances by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and state Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres.

On Tuesday, attendees head to the Capitol for visits with lawmakers, advocating for pro-labor legislation including a bill by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, that would require California employers to give paid sick days.

VIDEO: From the Bay Bridge to the high-speed rail, politicians' legacy projects often spell trouble, Dan Walters says.

COMMANDER-IN-CHEF: Who said the lieutenant governorship is a job without duties? Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom will deliver remarks and present a scholarship during the awards ceremony for the ProStart Cup, a culinary and hospital management competition for high school students sponsored by the California Restaurant Association, 4 p.m. at the Sacramento Convention Center.

NEW BEGINNINGS: Freshman Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, faces a tight re-election race against three Republican opponents in the 7th Congressional District. He will celebrate the opening of his new campaign headquarters in Elk Grove at 6 p.m.

DELTA RESTORATION: The Delta Stewardship Council hosts a noon seminar examining efforts to restore wetlands in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta as a source of carbon offsets for the state's cap-and-trade program, at the Park Tower Building on 9th Street.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at the California Chamber of Commerce's annual Host Breakfast in Sacramento on Wednesday, May 22, 2013. The Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli

March 17, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: Politicians' legacy projects often spell trouble

Bay_Bridge.JPGFocusing on big ideas at the expense of what needs to get done has been a costly problem for California, 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 new eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge on December 4, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo


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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