Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

March 18, 2014
California college agency fails to protect public, audit says


The department charged with regulating more than 1,000 vocational schools and other private postsecondary institutions has "placed the public at risk" through inadequate oversight, according to a new state audit.

Lawmakers created the Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education after its predecessor agency shut down following years of criticism from critics who said it offered students little protection from dishonest school operators.

"Unfortunately, during our current audit of the bureau, we found that many of the problems of the past persist today, four years after the Legislature reestablished the bureau to fill the regulatory void left by the sunset of its predecessor," reads today's Bureau of State Audits report.

Auditors reviewed 10 institutions regulated by the bureau, including a commercial truck-driving school and a degree-granting institution.

The audit recommends several improvements, including cutting the bureau's responsibilities or shifting them to another state department entirely.

Compliance inspections still take months longer than they are supposed to, the audit found. Proposed schools face lengthy delays in receiving permission to operate. And the bureau takes an average of 290 days — more than three times the 90-day goal — to process student claims for reimbursement after schools go out of business.

"The bureau also failed to appropriately respond to complaints against institutions, even when students' safety was allegedly at risk," the audit found.

The bureau is part of the Department of Consumer Affairs. In her response to the audit, department Director Denise Brown said the department agrees with the auditor's recommendations but took issue with the title of Tuesday's audit: "Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education: It has consistently failed to meet its responsibility to protect the public's interest."

"In our opinion, we do not believe that the title of the report accurately reflects the conditions found at the BPPE," Brown wrote.

The audit follows a December review of the bureau by the Legislative Analyst's Office. That report suggested that the bureau focus its energies on schools that have a history of problems.

PHOTO: A student inspects the engine compartment of a truck at the Center for Employment Training, a vocational school, in 2009. A new Bureau of State Audits report examines how such schools and other private institutions have been regulated by the state. The Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.

March 18, 2014
Control of car data at stake in Bill Monning bill


Foreshadowing a clash between car makers and a prominent auto insurance company, Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, on Tuesday unveiled a bill to loosen car manufacturers' grip on data generated by vehicles.

Framed by a computer-equipped car parked on the steps of the State Capitol, Monning said his Senate Bill 994 would allow consumers to see what data their car generates and decide with whom they want to share the information. The measure is sponsored by AAA Northern California and its south state counterpart, the Auto Club of Southern California.

"It is your car, it is your data, and it should be your choice," Monning said.

Cars have evolved beyond simple conveyances of steel and rubber into transmitters of data, capturing driver statistics that can include, where and how fast a person drives, the number of passengers in a car to the road tunes a driver is playing.

Currently, car manufacturers control that data. Monning said the bill will let consumers see what information is emanating from their cars and allow them to share it with, for instance, an auto mechanic.

"If I have a car problem, a red light on the dash board, I want to be able to take that to a repair service that with my authority they could access that data to make a repair," Monning said.

The legislation has already prompted a public relations counteroffensive from automakers, who call the bill an insurance industry ploy to gain access to consumer information that could be resold or invoked to raise insurance rates.

"This is about AAA wanting to suck the data out of your car," said Rob Stutzman, who is working for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers on the bill.

In response to those concerns, Monning said his bill preserves a segment of California law that prohibits insurers from using data other than mileage to set rates. Law enforcement could still obtain car data if they went through the necessary legal process.

If a consumer enables another company to see his or her car data, that company could conceivably pass that data along to someone else - but only, Monning said, if the consumer signs off.

"I would expect in that conversation and in that contract, I'd want to make sure they're not going to share it with anyone else," Monning said.

March 18, 2014
New York Times regurgitates Brown's old Medfly blowup

Spraying609_resized.jpgThe New York Times this week is regurgitating something that occurred more than three decades ago in California — something that Gov. Jerry Brown would like to forget.

The newspaper, as part of a series called "Retro Report" that's aimed at bringing readers up to date on old issues, delved into an infestation of Mediterranean fruit flies that threatened California's tree fruit industry in 1981 and 1982.

The Retro Report on the Medlfy includes both a written account and a video that uses much old footage, including clips of a much-younger Brown who was then winding up his first gubernatorial stint and running for the U.S. Senate.

It delves into how Brown at first refused to order pesticide spraying for environmental and health reasons, then caved in to pressure from the federal government — headed by President Ronald Reagan, a former California governor — and consented to aerial spraying.

The retrospective updates the Medfly story by noting that California has seen infestations in the decades since, and probably will in the future. It also notes that Brown lost his bid for the Senate in which his erratic handling of the Medfly crisis was a negative factor.

But the Times article omits another facet of the crisis — a virtual rebellion by the Legislature against Brown on the issue. And, unfortunately, it does not include the most memorable words to emerge from the Medfly crisis.

"I'm getting a bit bugged by this bug," Brown said as the controversy over his initial refusal to spray erupted. "It's got a lot of politicians panicked or foaming at the mouth."

The Medfly issue so consumed the Capitol at the time that a worker on the building's restoration, then underway, fashioned a tiny plaster fly that was attached to the ceiling of one of the building's museum rooms.

PHOTO: In this 1987 file photo, Rod Clark of the state Department of Food and Agriculture sprays the pesticide Malathion on a fruit tree in Maywood, Calif., The Associated Press/Mark Terrill

March 18, 2014
Jerry Brown's new push for high-speed rail: Get old people off the road

JERRYBROWN.jpgGov. Jerry Brown has a new argument for high-speed rail: Get senior citizens off the road.

"There's a lot of old people who shouldn't be driving," the Democratic governor joked at a dinner hosted by labor leaders in Sacramento on Monday night. "They should be sitting in a nice train car working on their iPad, having a martini."

Brown, who will turn 76 next month, has other means of transportation, as he is chauffeured by a California Highway Patrol officer. He has made high-speed rail a priority of his administration, despite legal setbacks, funding uncertainty and a fall-off in public support.

Tim Donnelly and Neel Kashkari, the two main Republicans bidding to unseat Brown this year, have hammered him on the project.

But Donnelly, a Twin Peaks assemblyman and Kashkari, a former U.S. Treasury Department official, are little known to the electorate, and the prospects of either beating Brown in this Democratic-leaning state are slim.

Brown suggested as much Monday.

"I won't talk about my opponents," he said, "because most of you don't know their names."

PHOTO: California Gov. Jerry Brown looks at protesters opposing fracking after his speech at the California Democratic Party's convention on March 8, 2014, in Los Angeles. AP Photo/ Jae C. Hong

March 18, 2014
AM Alert: Bill Monning pushes for automobile data protections

CAR_PHOTO_RESIZED.jpgProtecting consumer data has been a hot topic around the Capitol this year: The Senate and Assembly both held hearings last month on the holiday data breaches that compromised credit card information for tens of millions of shoppers at Target and Neiman Marcus. New bills this session aim to stop educational websites and apps from compiling and selling information about K-12 students and to prohibit the California health care exchange from disclosing any personal information without an individual's permission.

Now state Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, turns the attention to automobiles, which have increasingly sophisticated on-board operating systems that collect data about vehicles and their owners. Monning will announce new legislation at 10:30 a.m. on the north steps of the Capitol that would give car consumers more access to the data, which is controlled primarily by automakers. He will be joined by representatives from AAA of Northern California, Nevada and Utah, the Automobile Club of Southern California and various business groups.

VIDEO: Once a leader on issues of open access to public records and meetings, California is now playing catch-up with other states, Dan Walters says.

PEEVEY PRESENCE Public Utilities Commission President Michael R. Peevey is among the scheduled witnesses for today's informational hearing on the PUC by the Senate Energy, Utilities And Communications Committee. The appearance by Peevey, who angered some lawmakers last year after rebuffing requests to testify to legislative panels, comes as state and federal lawmakers have raised alarm about last spring's sniper attack on a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. power substation and follows a recent state audit that found that the PUC had not reviewed large energy utilities' balancing accounts containing $37.6 billion. The hearing begins at 9:30 a.m. in Room 3191.

DO YOU HEAR WHAT I HEAR?: The Assembly Select Committee on Justice Reinvestment will hear from juvenile justice experts and educators on the "school-to-prison pipeline," 10 a.m. in Room 126 of the Capitol.

The Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee speaks with California water experts, including Department of Water Resources director Mark Cowin, about challenges in managing the state's groundwater, 1:30 p.m. in Room 113 of the Capitol.

Senate and Assembly select committees on the wine industry and sustainable agriculture hold a joint hearing on sustainable wine-growing efforts and how they have been affected by the drought, 3 p.m. in Room 2040 of the Capitol.

READY, SET, GO: An organization of retired military leaders, holds its legislative lobby day to encourage greater investment in education, health and physical fitness programs for young children. Mission: Readiness California meets at 8 a.m. at the Hyatt Regency on L Street before visiting with lawmakers.

BUSINESS DINNER: Following a legislative summit and office visits, the California Asian Pacific Chamber of Commerce hosts a reception for elected representatives, 5:30 p.m. at Mayahuel on K Street.

GIVING KUDOS: The National Association of Social Workers honors Assembly members Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton, and Mariko Yamada, D-Davis, for their service in the Legislature at 5 p.m. in the Eureka Room of the Capitol. Eggman and Yamada are both former social workers and introduced a resolution declaring March "Social Work Month."

POLITICAL PATH: California Trailblazers, a group that recruits and advises Republican politicians, celebrates its "Pathfinder" program candidates from more than a dozen legislative races at 5:30 p.m. at Hock Farm on L Street.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, who turns 49 today.

PHOTO: New Honda automobiles are displayed at Mel Rapton Honda on Dec. 10, 2012 in Sacramento. The Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.

March 18, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: California has fallen behind on open access

RB_Capitol_Dome.JPGOnce a leader with public records and meetings, California is now playing catch-up to other states, 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 California Capitol dome. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton


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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