Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

March 24, 2014
GOP Senate candidate suffers another ballot setback


A fight by California Senate Republicans to qualify a GOP candidate for the ballot in the open 26th district appears to have stalled Monday, after elections officials again notified Beverly Hills Mayor John Mirisch that his paperwork was not accepted.

Mirisch submitted 49 signatures, 12 of which were originally deemed invalid by the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk. He needed to provide 40 valid signatures, spokeswoman Elizabeth Knox said Monday.

A single signature was later resuscitated, bringing the total valid to 38.

Mirisch's appearance on the ballot - alongside seven Democrats and one no-party preference candidate - would significantly alter the dynamics of the race covering coastal Los Angeles. At the least, a Republican likely would advance to the November runoff, and Democrats could be left without a candidate altogether in the fall.

Mirisch, aided by party attorney Chuck Bell, essentially argued that at least three households who signed for his campaign should have been allowed to have just one representative fill out their information such as a printed name and address.

The form requires that signers personally affix their own printed name, signature and registered address.

This is the second setback for Mirisch in as many weeks. Previously, he successfully sued state and county elections officials after they refused to accept his faxed candidacy papers. Mirisch was drafted by Senate Republican leadership on the eve of the deadline to run in the heavily Democratic district left open after Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, mounted a run to succeed retiring Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Beverly Hills.

Mirisch worked as an executive at Paramount Pictures and previously oversaw international distribution for IMAX. The field of Democratic candidates includes former Assemblywoman Betsy Butler, attorney Sandra Fluke, school board member Ben Allen, Manhattan Beach Mayor Amy Howorth and state surgeon Vito Imbasciani.

PHOTO: John Mirisch (City of Beverly Hills)

March 24, 2014
VIDEO: Strollin' Colon brings cancer awareness to Capitol

strollin_colon.jpgThe Capitol plays frequent host to protests and press conferences, but one thing is sure to capture the attention of even the most battle-hardened Sacramento veterans: an inflatable walk-through colon.

Curious onlookers from both inside and outside the Capitol building stopped by the Strollin' Colon on the north steps Monday to learn about the screening process for colorectal cancer and maybe take their picture with a giant pink polyp.

The display, sponsored by pharmaceutical company Sanofi Oncology, was intended to raise awareness for colorectal cancer, which is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society.

"We've done a lot of teaching here," said Lisa Hullinger, a nurse and educator with Sanofi who takes the Strollin' Colon around Northern California, "and at least gotten some people who weren't gonna be screened maybe to think about it a little bit stronger."

PHOTO: Lisa Hullinger, left, of Sanofi Oncology, educates visitors to the Strollin' Colon about colorectal cancer. The Sacramento Bee/Alexei Koseff

March 24, 2014
Neel Kashkari's fundraising tapers after fast start

kashkariscrum.jpgAfter he raised nearly $1 million in the first two weeks of his gubernatorial campaign, Republican Neel Kashkari's fundraising appears to be leveling off.

In a financial statement Monday, Kashkari reported raising a total of $1.3 million from Jan. 1 to March 17, a figure that includes the strong numbers Kashkari posted soon after entering the race. His initial fundraising came after a year of courting potential donors.

Kashkari reported spending $430,347 on campaign operations and an ending cash balance of $903,478, a fraction of the nearly $20 million Gov. Jerry Brown has on hand.

Yet Kashkari, a former U.S. Treasury Department official, remains far better-funded than his Republican rival, Tim Donnelly, more than doubling his fundraising effort so far. Donnelly, a Twin Peaks assemblyman, has not yet filed a campaign statement due Monday but has previously reported raising about $500,000.

Kashkari's fundraising draws heavily from the financial industry, including former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who gave $27,200, and several employees of Goldman Sachs, where Kashkari previously worked. Media mogul Rupert Murdoch contributed $5,000.

PHOTO: Republican gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari speaks with reporters at the California Republican Party's biannual convention in Burlingame on March 15, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

March 24, 2014
California highways a bit better, but may get worse


Pavement conditions on California's highways are among the worst in the nation, but the state transportation department says they've gotten a bit better in the last four years, thanks to spending $3.9 billion in state and federal funds.

About 16 percent of the state's 50,000 lane-miles of highway are considered to be in poor condition, but that's lower than in some recent years. The Federal Highway Administration has consistently placed California near the bottom in pavement conditions among the states, both for its highways and its local streets and roads.

However, the state Department of Transportation warns in a new report that the money is running out and the backlog of unmet maintenance needs is likely to grow.

"The 2013 Ten-Year Plan anticipates pavement needs to be $2.8 billion per year over the next decade, although only $685 million per year is available, i.e., only twenty-three cents of every dollar," the report warns. "Consequently, distressed lane miles could increase from 16 percent today to 34 percent in the next 10 years."

The report points out that California's highway system was largely built during a few decades after World War II, and therefore is aging rapidly as it's pounded by 35 million vehicles which pile up about 300 billion miles a year.

The surge in maintenance, reconstruction and replacement work in recent years was financed by a transportation bond issue and federal stimulus funds, both of which are running out.

Gov. Jerry Brown has said he doesn't believe that general obligation bonds should be used for roadwork and has diverted transportation revenues from gasoline taxes and other sources into repaying the bonds that were issued during predecessor Arnold Schwarzenegger's governorship.

A coalition of transportation groups, pointing to the projection of unmet needs cited in the Caltrans report, has been searching for ways to increase revenues. Its initial proposal was for an increase in vehicle license fees, but that was abandoned. Other ideas have included raising gasoline taxes — although they are already the highest in the nation — or going to a mileage-based tax that would capture money from electric and hybrid vehicles.

PHOTO: Drivers navigate their vehicles through blowing sand east of Owen's lake on Highway 136 near Lone Pine, Calif. on Nov. 21, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

March 24, 2014
Big California ballot battle looms over malpractice limit


Consumer Watchdog submitted more than 800,000 signatures Monday for a ballot measure that would modify the state's $250,000 cap on pain and suffering injuries in medical malpractice cases, touching off what promises to be a fierce battle with medical providers and their insurers.

The cap (known as MICRA) was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 1975, during the first year of his first governorship, and has been the subject of political maneuvering ever since between the medical industry and Consumer Attorneys of California, whose members file and pursue personal injury cases.

Most recently, with signatures being collected for the measure, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has been trying to work out a legislative compromise on the long-burning issue, but that effort apparently failed. And once the 830,000 signatures were submitted, the measure, if qualified, could not be removed from the November ballot.

"My suggested compromise was to raise the MICRA cap on damages due to medical malpractice from $250,000 to $500,000," Steinberg said in a statement. "A cap of $500,000 is far below the rate of inflation since MICRA became law 39 years ago. That number is a reasonable compromise that fairly compensates injured patients without significant increases in medical costs.

"If one side says no, it's a terrible missed opportunity. An initiative battle is costly and uncertain, and will damage the reputation of two fine professions. This issue cries out for a legislative solution, and what I'm offering is a conservative increase that's fair to injured patients as well as the medical and legal communities."

Consumer Watchdog, a Southern California organization that has long been allied with the trial lawyers, submitted the petitions in Los Angeles and staged a news conference at which families of malpractice victims decried the limit. One was Robert Pack, a Bay Area businessman whose two children were run over and killed by a driver who had been overprescribed with drugs by doctors.

Pack, who is the out-front spokesman for the measure, said not only should the cap be lifted as a deterrent to malpractice but the proposal's other provisions, requiring drug testing of doctors and compelling them to check a registry of drug addicts to curb over-prescription of drugs, are needed to stop what was called a "patient safety crisis."

The medical and insurance industries have been gearing up to oppose the Consumer Watchdog-Pack measure and say they are ready to spend more than $30 million on a campaign against it. They contend that the cap has held down malpractice insurance rates, which also hold down medical costs, and that the drug-testing provisions of the measure are unneeded and mask a measure that would put more money in the pockets of lawyers.

Update: Amended at 11:50 to include Steinberg statement.

PHOTO: A West Sacramento billboard highlights the looming ballot fight to overturn the state law capping pain-and-suffering damages in medical negligence cases. Photo courtesy of Consumer Watchdog.

March 24, 2014
AM Alert: Medical malpractice damages initiative aims for November vote

Court.JPGEver since Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act during his first term in 1975, there have been efforts at the Capitol to overturn the law's $250,000 limit on medical malpractice awards for pain and suffering.

Passed to address medical providers' concerns that high damages payouts were drying up their insurance market, supporters of eliminating the cap argue that it shortchanges victims of botched medical procedures and makes attorneys less willing to take up their cases.

That battle may heat up once again if an initiative sponsored by Consumer Watchdog makes the November ballot. Though pushed as a measure to require drug testing for doctors, a provision that would eliminate the medical malpractice compensation cap could make it a big-money, fiercely contested contest this election cycle.

We'll find out soon whether the initiative has qualified: Consumer Watchdog and its allies have announced that they will turn in 830,000 signatures for the measure to the Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters in Norwalk at 10:30 a.m.

VIDEO: Despite billions in unfunded liabilities that grow every day, legislators continue to ignore California's teacher pension woes, Dan Walters says.

BLAST OFF: Aerospace Week launches at the Capitol today, sponsored by state Sen. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, and Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance. At 3:30 p.m, Dr. Ed Stone, the project scientist for NASA's Voyager mission, discusses the venture in Room 113. Events tomorrow include a joint hearing on California's aerospace industry at 2 p.m. in Room 127 and an informational display with a flight simulator starting at 11 a.m. on the west steps. Legislative visits follow on Wednesday.

SUPPLY AND DEMAND: Last year, the Public Policy Institute of California released a report suggesting that the state would face a shortfall of 1 million college graduates by 2025. PPIC hosts a conversation and Q&A on the issue with University of California President Janet Napolitano at the Sheraton Grand Hotel on J Street at 12:25 p.m. The event will also be webcast.

O CAPTAIN! MY CAPTAIN!: The Senate chamber gets a little more artistic this morning as the 35 finalists in California's high school Poetry Out Loud contest compete for a $200 prize and entry into the national championships in Washington, D.C., starting at 8:10 a.m.

BUTTING IN: Members from California Youth Advocacy Network, an organization that fights tobacco use among young adults, march and rally on the west steps of the Capitol at 1:30 p.m. to denounce tobacco companies, which the group says continue to target young people.

PASSING THROUGH: Surely this is one of the oddest events to ever hit the Capitol: Pharmaceutical maker Sanofi displays the "Strollin' Colon," an inflatable walk-through colon, on the north steps from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. to demonstrate what a healthy colon looks like and provide information on getting screened for cancerous polyps.

PHOTO: Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog. Photo by Kent A McInnis Jr.

March 24, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: Legislators avoid California's teacher pension woes

CalSTRS_building.JPGBillions in unfunded liabilities for teacher retirement grow every day, but California lawmakers just keep putting off the problem, 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 bicyclist rides in the shadow of the CalSTRS headquarters building on Riverwalk Park in West Sacramento on September 30, 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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