Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

April 30, 2014
Doug Ose takes aim at health care law, rips high-speed rail

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Former Rep. Doug Ose said he would repeal and replace the federal health care overhaul with a system that rewards healthy behavior and "puts the decision-making between a patient and a doctor."

"Obamacare offers options to consumers that essentially say you're going to take this, or this, or this, or this, and within those four options some of the services are available and some of them aren't," Ose told The Sacramento Bee editorial board on Wednesday.

He said too many individuals and families are losing their preferred doctors and the law does not provide incentives for people to live healthy lifestyles. Premium pricing, for example, does not differentiate between regular smokers or people who are overweight.

"I think that's a fundamentally flawed approach," Ose said. "Why should those of us who have made the right decision of not smoking or taking care of ourselves subsidize bad physical or bad health behavior in others?"

Asked about smokers and unhealthy people who may not be able to afford the higher monthly costs, he said "maybe they should stop smoking so they can - instead of spending their money on $8 packs of cigarettes." Ose did applaud Democrats for insisting those with preexisting health conditions not be denied coverage.

The health care law has been a key wedge issue heading into the midterm elections, with Ose and fellow Republicans Igor Birman and Elizabeth Emken using President Barack Obama's signature legislative effort to attack freshman Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove.

Bera maintains he would have done things differently, but now that the law has been upheld by the courts and provided insurance for millions, lawmakers should make targeted fixes rather than scrap the new system entirely.

In the interview, Ose cast himself as the best fit for the district, saying he is the only candidate who went to kindergarten there. He also noted his opposition to the state's $68 billion high-speed rail system that endeavors to link Northern and Southern California, calling it a "boondoggle" and promising to unravel federal funding for the project.

"I would go to the appropriators and say we don't need to spend any federal money on high-speed rail in California," Ose said. Instead, he suggested "literally buy(ing) everybody lifetime passes on the airlines, or the Greyhound bus."

PHOTO: Congressional candidate Doug Ose speaking at a the Arden Arcade Rotary Club luncheon at Ruth's Chris Steak House on March 18 in Sacramento. The Sacramento Bee/Renee C. Byer

April 30, 2014
VIDEO: Cheryl Brown gets hoppy ending at Capitol Frog Jump

Brown_wins_frog_jump.jpgMortified by a picture of herself from last year's event that appeared on the front page of The Sacramento Bee, Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown, D-San Bernardino, trained for redemption at Wednesday's 40th annual Capitol Frog Jump.

"I embraced the frog," she said, filling her office with amphibian paraphernalia to get in the right mindset.

Wearing a lucky bejeweled frog pin, Brown got her hoppy ending as her competitor, Larry B 2.0, traveled 10 feet, 11 inches in three bounds for the day's longest leap.

Jumping up and down, a thrilled Brown accepted a sparkly green trophy, which she said she will display "front and center" in her office for everyone to see, and an invitation to the finals of the Jumping Frog Jubilee on May 18 at the Calaveras County Fair.

The Capitol's annual contest, hosted this year by Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte, brings together lawmakers, legislative staffers and members of the media to "jockey" frogs to the longest (or shortest) jump. Other winners included Jack Zwald of Capitol Morning Report, for the longest media jump at 9 feet, 4.5 inches, and Sandy Runyan of Caltrans and Jesse Rodriguez of the Senate Republican communications team, who tied for the shortest jump at 3 feet, 4.5 inches.

PHOTO: Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown, D-San Bernardino, won the 40th annual Capitol Frog Jump on April 30, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Alexei Koseff

VIDEO: The Sacramento Bee/Alexei Koseff

April 30, 2014
UC Riverside is best college value, according to Time

UC_Riverside_night.jpgWhat college offers the best bang for your buck?

High school seniors and their parents face that difficult question annually, but Time magazine may have found the surprising answer: University of California, Riverside.

The campus is often overshadowed by flashier UC peers like Berkeley and Los Angeles, but it scored highest in a simulation of President Barack Obama's proposed college ratings scorecard.

Announced last August to much controversy, the system would assess metrics such as graduation rate, tuition costs and percentage of students who receive Pell Grants, the federal low-income scholarship, to determine which schools offer the best value.

Several other UC campuses ranked in the top ten on Time's list, including San Diego at #2, Irvine at #4 and Davis at #6. California State University, Long Beach placed tenth. (For comparison, Stanford University, which was the most selective college in the country this year, was 46th.)

So far, UC President Janet Napolitano, whom Obama appointed to head the Department of Homeland Security, has been an outspoken critic of the proposed ratings system.

"I am deeply skeptical that there are criteria that can be developed that are in the end meaningful, because there will be so many exceptions, once you get down to it," she told the Washington Post in December. "It's not like -- you know, you're not buying a car or a boat."

PHOTO: Courtesy of University of California, Riverside

April 30, 2014
California livestock antibiotics bill shelved

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An Assembly bill curtailing the use of antibiotics on livestock is done for the year.

Drug-resistant bacteria have become an increasing threat, and public health researchers say the widespread use of antibiotics has helped bacteria develop resistance. Assembly Bill 1437 by Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, sought to ensure farmers and ranchers give their animals antibiotics mainly to treat illnesses, rather than for preventive reasons.

Mullin has now pulled his measure, saying he lacked the votes to advance it.

"Rather than weaken our bill with amendments which would not address the problem, we opted to table our bill for this session," Mullin said in a press release.

Proponents of Mullin's bill argue that food producers lace feed and water with antibiotics to promote weight gain and compensate for cramped, unsanitary conditions associated with mass meat production.

Agriculture industry critics have countered that producers need the flexibility to treat sick animals and prevent disease outbreaks. Numerous agricultural associations opposed Mullin's bill, including the Agricultural Council of California and the California Farm Bureau Federation.

Still alive is a less far-reaching bill by Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, that would put into California law voluntary federal guidelines recommending that farms stop using antibiotics for non-therapeutic purposes like weight gain.

PHOTO: Branded cattle from Mark Beck Livestock wait for branding of about 600 75 day-old cattle at Steffan Ranch on Thursday October 24, 2013 in Lodi, Calif. The Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.

April 30, 2014
Jerry Brown won't answer multiple choice voter guide questions

jerrybrownprisons.jpgGov. Jerry Brown's high public approval rating and relatively safe re-election prospects have allowed the Democratic governor to run the barest of races, with no pressure to pay for advertising, to put on public events, or to otherwise take on the grind of a traditional campaign.

But the dearth of competition is also affording Brown another luxury -- not pinning himself down on issues typically aired in an election year.

The third-term governor has refused to complete a survey of gubernatorial candidates filled out by every other candidate in the race except one. Brown's campaign told The Bee -- which created the survey for its voter guide -- that he would explain his position on various issues, but not fill out multiple choice questions.

So Brown will not mark a box saying whether high-speed rail, which he supports, is very important or only somewhat important to him. Nor will he say if the state needs to spend more money on reservoirs, dams and other water storage facilities, or if California's current level of taxation is more or less than it should be.

"Some subjects require more explanation (than) checking boxes," a spokesman, Dan Newman, said, calling the exercise "simplistic and reductive."

Thirteen other candidates for governor, including Brown's main Republican opponents, submitted the form. Besides Brown, only Akinyemi O. Agbede, a little-known Democrat, have failed to do so.

Republican Tim Donnelly, whose campaign filled in all but one question about social services, criticized Brown in a prepared statement for refusing to "answer questions on the issues for the people who elected him," while Republican Neel Kashkari's campaign said Kashkari has "demonstrated his commitment to transparency."

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown speaks to reporters at a news conference at the Capitol on Sept. 9, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

April 30, 2014
California's workers compensation benefits among lowest

workers.JPGCalifornia workers who suffer permanent, job-related injuries and illnesses are entitled to workers compensation payments that are among the lowest in the nation, an exhaustive state-by-state comparison reveals.

The voluminous report on state (and Canadian province) workers compensation benefits was issued Wednesday by the Massachusetts-based Workers Compensation Research Institute and the International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions.

While the report covers all cash, medical and therapy benefits, the disparity between California and other states in "permanent partial" disabilities is particularly evident and could fuel the Capitol's perennial political jousting over workers compensation costs and benefits.

The debate almost always focuses on the "permanent partial" aspect of the multi-billion-dollar, employer-financed program because it is the most prevalent and cumulatively most expensive of the various benefits.

Roughly once a decade, the Legislature overhauls the multi-billion-dollar system, and it last occurred in 2012 as employers and labor unions combined forces. The 2012 bill raised cash benefits but tightened other aspects of the program enough to offset the cost of the benefit increase.

Even so, it set a $290 per week maximum (as of this year) for workers deemed to have "permanent partial" disabilities in California. The new report indicates that it's lower than those of all but two other states, Alabama and Rhode Island.

"Permanent partial" benefits are as high as $1,441.80 per week in Washington, D.C., and $1,419 in Iowa.

The report is available only by purchase here.

PHOTO: An injured worker is moved toward a waiting ambulance after an explosion was reported at a business in La Habra, Calif., Tuesday, April 29, 2014. The Orange County Register/Bruce Chambers.

April 30, 2014
California population continues slow growth, hits 38.3 million

BayArea.jpgCalifornia's population continued its relatively slow growth in 2013, adding 356,000 more residents, the state Department of Finance reported Wednesday.

The growth, just under 1 percent, brought the state's population to 38.3 million by the end of the year, an annual report from the department's demographic unit said.

The San Francisco Bay Area, whose economy has been booming, was the state's fastest growing region last year with three of the state's highest growth counties, led by Santa Clara County, home of Silicon Valley. Its 1.5 percent growth was closely followed by adjacent Alameda County.

However, the state's fastest growing cities tended to be in inland areas, led by McFarland in Kern County, whose population expanded by 8.9 percent last year - mostly inmates in local correctional facilities which have expanded to meet the state's program of reducing the state prison population.

Last year's overall population growth, driven largely by the state's having many more births than deaths, continued the slow pattern of the last decade. Immigration from other states and countries, once the major driver of growth, has dropped to near-zero.

PHOTO: The Transamerica tower, at left, dominates the skyline as the sun sets on the city of San Francisco, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2008. The Bay Area was the state's fastest growing region last year. Associated Press/ Marcio Jose Sanchez.

April 30, 2014
AM Alert: Legislators hop to annual Capitol frog jump

From Congress to the Legislature to the governor's office, The Sacramento Bee's online voter guide is here to help you navigate the June primary election. Learn the candidates and issues, create a customized ballot, and share your picks on Facebook, Twitter or by e-mail.

frog_jump_Cheryl_Brown.JPGHOP HOP HOORAY: Calling all amphibian whisperers: It's your time to shine!

Today marks the 40th annual Capitol Frog Jump, in which legislators, their staffers, the media and members of the public "jockey" frogs to hop the farthest (or the shortest). The event, hosted by state Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte, promotes the Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee in May.

Among those slated to compete are Assembly members Bonnie Lowenthal, D-Long Beach; Cheryl Brown, D-San Bernardino; Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles; Sharon Quirk-Silva, D-Fullerton; Steve Fox, D-Palmdale; and Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, who will jockey the excellently named "Smooth Hoperator."

Sen. Berryhill's office said one competitor has promised to appear in full frog costume, complete with a princess hat and fly bow tie. Check out all the leaping action on the east lawn, near the trout pond, at 11:30 a.m.

VIDEO: The battles of Proposition 13 have been revived by a parcel tax bill, Dan Walters says.

UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE: A plan from state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, to expand California's health care exchange to undocumented immigrants, one of Capitol Alert's bills to watch, gets its first hearing today before the Senate Health Committee, 1:30 p.m. in Room 4203 of the Capitol. Lara and immigration advocates will rally for the bill at 11 a.m. on the west steps of the building, where they will be met by the "CARE-van," which drove from San Diego to Sacramento drumming up support for the legislation.

SCHOOL STANDARDS: Calling it a "covert privately-backed Federal takeover of the State-run education system," opponents of Common Core will rally against the new K-12 education standards at 10 a.m. in Capitol Park near 12th and N streets. The event, organized by Democrats Against Common Core, Californians United Against Common Core and Eagle Forum of California, will feature Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Donnelly and State Superintendent of Public Instruction candidate Lydia Gutierrez. Donnelly has a bill allowing schools to opt out of Common Core that will be heard by the Assembly Education Committee at 1:30 p.m. in Room 4202 of the Capitol.

SHE'LL BE BACK: The "Kid Governor," 8-year-old Celeste Umaña, returns to Sacramento to deliver her State of the State address calling for more investment in early childhood education. The rally at 12:30 p.m. on the south steps of the Capitol, organized by Raising California Together, will also feature Assemblyman Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood.

AUTISM AWARENESS: Autism advocates, including the Special Seeds Network, will hear from Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, during a rally to highlight Autism Awareness Month, 11:30 a.m. on the north steps of the Capitol.

DOWN SOUTH: Gov. Jerry Brown, clearly preferring dogs, will skip the frog jump to attend the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills today. He participates in a panel on precision medicine at 2:45 p.m. at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

PHOTO: Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown, D-San Bernardino, reluctantly holds her competitor in the annual frog jump competition at the Capitol on April 30, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

April 30, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: Prop 13 battle returns with parcel tax bill

no_taxes.JPGA proposal to introduce differential parcel tax rates could renew fights over Proposition 13, California's landmark tax measure, Dan says.

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See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

PHOTO: The Sacramento "tea party" drew more than 5,000 protesters to the state Capitol on March 17, 2009 to oppose higher taxes in California and the Obama administration's national policies. The Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo

April 29, 2014
Conservative radio hosts say Kashkari, Donnelly will debate

donnellyscrum.jpgIt appeared unlikely as little as a month ago that Republican rivals Tim Donnelly and Neel Kashkari would debate before the June primary election.

But conservative talk radio hosts John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou said Tuesday that they will.

Kobylt and Chiampou, of KFI-AM's "John and Ken" show in Los Angeles, said they will host Kashkari and Donnelly at a gubernatorial debate in Anaheim on May 15. Kashkari confirmed he will attend, while Donnelly's campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The debate comes after Donnelly, a tea party favorite, challenged Kashkari to an "old-fashioned debate" at a California Republican Party convention in March, but the invitation was dismissed by Kashkari and party leaders.

When Kashkari was asked on the air Tuesday if he was coming to KFI-AM's debate, he said he was "looking forward to it" and that "it'll be a lot of fun." The former U.S. Treasury Department official lags behind Donnelly, a tea party favorite, in public opinion polls.

The primary election is a top-two race, and the radio hosts said Gov. Jerry Brown, the Democratic incumbent, has been invited to attend. The incumbent Democrat is widely expected to finish far ahead of all Republicans in the race.

"Jerry Brown is invited," one of the hosts said. "He can come, and we'll bring ointments to rub on his head."

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

April 29, 2014
Jerry Brown signs tax break for private space companies

SPACEX2OS.JPGGov. Jerry Brown has signed legislation offering a 10-year property tax break to private space companies, his office announced Tuesday.

The bill, which passed the Legislature with bipartisan support, was promoted by its author, Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance, as a measure to help California become a hub for the private space industry, including firms such as Hawthorne-based SpaceX.

According to a legislative analysis, Assembly Bill 777 is estimated to result in a reduction of local property tax revenue of about $1 million annually.

Brown signed the bill without comment, but his interest in space goes back decades to when, as governor before from 1975 to 1983, he proposed a $5.8 million communications satellite system. He was mocked for the idea, while proponents said he was ahead of his time.

"I actually wanted to have a state satellite, " Brown said in 2012. "Couldn't pull it off."

PHOTO: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from launch Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Friday, April 18, 2014. Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel/MCT.

April 29, 2014
California lawmakers want to help men change baby diapers

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Two bills that aim to give men more access to diaper changing tables in public restrooms cleared a state Senate committee today.

Senate Bill 1358 by Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, would require restaurants, movie theaters, shopping centers and other public venues to provide diaper changing tables in the restrooms for both men and women. It would also require state and local government buildings that are being constructed or renovated to put diaper changing tables in the bathrooms for both sexes.

Senate Bill 1350 by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, takes a narrower approach. It wouldn't require retrofits of existing bathrooms, but says that if a business is installing a diaper changing table, it must be accessible to both men and women.

"It requires that public facilities for changing babies' diapers are equally available," Lara said.

The bill accommodates modern families, Lara argued, where men are taking ever-greater roles in child-rearing, and some children are growing up without mothers. Proponents of Wolk's bill said it would help parents by requiring more public changing tables so that they don't have to change diapers on dirty bathroom floors or struggle to try to do it on their laps while sitting in a toilet stall.

Both bills passed out of the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee with some bipartisan support. Republican Sen. Ted Gaines of Roseville remarked that when his twins were babies, he got diaper changing down to 18 seconds:

"But I can relate to what you're talking about in terms of where do you change a diaper in a public place?"

PHOTO: A baby has her diaper changed at a program for teenage parents at Chana High School in Auburn, May 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

April 29, 2014
VIDEO: Republican candidates at odds on film tax credits

kashkarikfbk.jpgTo all the things Republican gubernatorial candidates Tim Donnelly and Neel Kashkari disagree about, add film tax credits, a major issue to Southern California's movie industry.

Asked Tuesday about proposals to give more tax credits to production companies, Kashkari, a former U.S. Treasury Department official, said he prefers tax and economic policies that are not industry specific.

"I don't like the idea of Hollywood leaving California, but I know that other states are subsidizing movies now, up to 30 percent of the cost of a movie, which is silly economic policy," Kashkari told The Sacramento Bee's Editorial Board.

Kashkari said he would focus on improving the state's overall economy and that, "If other states or other countries are going to do silly things, then let them do silly things."

Donnelly, an Assemblyman from Twin Peaks, is a proponent of film tax credits, saying he is concerned about industry jobs leaving California.

"This is really an iconic battle," Donnelly said. "This is a battle for what California stands for."

He joked about another, more personal reason he's like to keep movie production in the Golden State.

"Let's say there's some small, tiny chance that I don't win the governorship," he said. "As I've told my wife ... I'm either going to have a new job or I'm going to be looking for one, right? Those are my two choices. Well, given all the travel I've done to the 58 counties -- and I've taken just in the last couple of months 5,000 photos on my iPhone -- I could be one of those guys who helps you find a set for a movie, which I've always been fascinated by."

PHOTO: Neel Kashkari prepares for an interview at KFBK radio in Sacramento on Feb. 19, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

VIDEO: Republican Tim Donnelly discuses film tax credits with The Bee's editorial board on April 29, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Amy Chance

April 29, 2014
Laguna Hills Mayor Andrew Blount pulls out of governor's race

blount.pngLaguna Hills Mayor Andrew Blount pulled out of the governor's race Tuesday, citing health issues, according to a post on his Facebook page.

Blount, a little-known software developer, was nevertheless running second among Republicans with 3 percent support, far behind tea party favorite Tim Donnelly but one percentage point ahead of the best-funded Republican in the race, Neel Kashkari, according to the most recent Field Poll.

Blount said on Facebook that he has been "battling some health issues that have taken an unfortunate toll on me."

"While the long term prognosis is good, I have to concentrate on them in order to be here for my family," Blount wrote. "Due to this, I've been unable to put together the campaign that California deserves and in the event that I was to win the primary, I would be unable to put forth the energy necessary to continue the race."

Blount said he will continue on as mayor of his Orange County city. The candidate reported raising no money for his gubernatorial bid, and he said on Facebook, "I have no donations to refund, as I accepted none."

PHOTO: From Andrew Blount's website for his 2012 campaign for city council in Laguna Hills. Photo by Michelle Blount

April 29, 2014
California water bond fight in flux

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The drought-driven quest to put a new water bond before California voters has fluctuated over the last few weeks, marked by new measures appearing, old ones evaporating and legislators shifting allegiances.

Lawmakers have introduced no fewer than nine water bond proposals, all vying to replace the $11.1 billion measure that is scheduled for the November ballot but widely believed to have little chance of passage.

Getting a new bond on the ballot would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, which means Senate Democrats would need to find a consensus with their Republican colleagues. But the ever-shifting dynamics in the Assembly so far have suggested that there, too, partisan politics will not be the main divide.

"In the end we're going to need both Republicans and Democrats to come together to pass this bond," Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles, said on Tuesday.

April 29, 2014
California still owes big bucks for unemployment insurance

jobless1.JPGAs severe recession struck the nation a half-decade ago, California and most other states borrowed heavily from the federal government to prop up their unemployment insurance programs.

At one time, the states owed Washington more than $47 billion, but the debt has since been cut by more than half to $21 billion, and many of the debtor states have completely erased their negative balances, according to a nationwide survey by Stateline, a website on state government affairs maintained by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

But not California. The state began borrowing in 2009 and accounted for more than $10 billion of the debt at its peak, but it has declined only slightly - thanks to a political stalemate in the Capitol - and California now accounts for nearly half of the national debt total.

While other states have raised unemployment insurance taxes on employers and/or reduced benefits to put their programs in the black, the Legislature has spurned Gov. Jerry Brown's calls for changes in California, not only to whittle down the debt but to build reserves in the Unemployment Insurance Fund to cushion future downturns.

Republicans oppose any increase in taxes, while Democrats oppose any reduction in benefits or eligibility, and in the absence of state action, the federal government has hiked payroll taxes itself to gradually reduce California's debt, which stands at just under $10 billion.

The federal tax increase on employers will amount to more than $900 million this year and the state is also paying more than $200 million in interest on the loan this year.

PHOTO: Former and current high school students attend a junior college exploration workshop sponsored by the Greater Sacramento Urban League on Sept. 20, 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

April 29, 2014
AM Alert: Teachers, welfare advocates rally for oil extraction tax

oil_rigs_sunset.JPGThough Gov. Jerry Brown rejected the notion during his January budget proposal, another effort to introduce an oil severance tax in California is winding its way through the Legislature.

The bill--which would impose a tax on companies that extract oil in California to fund higher education, state parks and health and human services--is supported by many groups seeking to reverse the budget cuts of recent years, including a coalition of organizations calling for another $5 billion for education, health and welfare spending.

Members from the California Partnership, the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment and the California Federation of Teachers will march and rally against the influence of oil money in politics and call for the new tax starting at noon on the north steps of the Capitol.

In town for its lobby day, CFT, one of the state's major teacher unions, is also pushing efforts to increase funding for school nurses and extended library hours, change community college accreditation and make it easier for classified employees to receive unemployment benefits.

VIDEO: It's crunch time at the Capitol, as hundreds of bills are facing a deadline to pass out of their policy committee, Dan Walters says.

WE SHALL WOOF WOOF WOOF: Rescue beagles and their human friends hit the streets of Sacramento to support a bill by Assemblyman Matt Dababneh, D-Sherman Oaks, that would connect publicly-funded laboratories with animal rescue organizations to help place research dogs and cats up for adoption. Dababneh and the Beagle Freedom Project begin their canine march at 10:30 a.m. at Roosevelt Park on 10th and P Streets.

GROUP PROJECTS: As part of a joint advocacy day at the Capitol, the leaders of the state's three public higher education systems--University of California President Janet Napolitano, California State University Chancellor Timothy White and California Community Colleges Brice Harris--discuss their collaborative efforts to improve student success, access, workforce development and research, 1:30 p.m. at the California Dental Association Building on K Street.

FIFTY AND COUNTING: With an expected budget surplus this year for the first time since the recession, Democratic lawmakers and social service groups have been lobbying to restore funding to the social safety net. The latest to make their case in Sacramento are community action agencies, who will be showcasing their work on the south lawn of the Capitol at 11 a.m. Assembly members Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, and Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, and California Secretary of Health and Human Services Diana Dooley will join at 11:30 a.m. to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty.

ANTE UP: Communities for California Cardrooms, which promotes the local gambling clubs, hosts a "casino night" with blackjack tables and a trophy for the evening's biggest winner, 5 p.m. at Chops on 11th Street.

PHOTO: Oil rigs pump oil from the ground in Baldwin Hills of West Los Angeles on Sept. 29, 2006. The Sacramento Bee/ Brian Baer

April 29, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: It's crunch time at the Capitol

Padilla_hearing.JPGHundreds of bills could meet their end this week if they don't make it out of their policy committee, Dan says.

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See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

PHOTO: Senator Alex Padilla, chair of the Senate Energy Committee, listens to testimony on why the state Energy Commission has been unable to spend millions of federal stimulus dollars on August 1, 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Jose Luis Villegas

April 28, 2014
Jerry Brown urges committee support for reserve plan

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Gov. Jerry Brown urged members of the Assembly's budget panel Monday to support his plan for a new rainy-day reserve before voters in November.

Making a rare appearance before a legislative committee, Brown received a friendly reception from Democrats and Republicans alike during an informational hearing on reserve legislation put forward by Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles.

Brown said his plan would provide "protective restraint."

"When the rain comes we have to store it," Brown told the Assembly Budget Committee. "It will pinch to a certain degree, and that is what the goal is."

The proposal would divert capital gains revenue into a rainy-day reserve when it exceeds 6.5 percent of revenue. It would allow the money to be spent to pay down debt as well as setting aside money to fulfill the state's constitutional school-funding guarantee. Brown called a special legislative session on the subject earlier this month.

The Pérez legislation would replace a reserve measure already on the November ballot, ACA 4, the product of a 2010 deal. It will take Republican votes to make the switch, but Republicans on the committee Tuesday seemed to support the outlines of the Brown/Pérez plan.

Details will be worked out in the coming weeks, Brown and Pérez said. Afterward, Pérez said he wants to bring a reserve measure to the Assembly floor in two weeks, before the budget process gets underway. Brown will release his revised budget in mid-May.

"This is something that has to be done before we pass the next budget," Perez said.

Earlier Monday, though, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said, "We ought to take this up as part of the overall budget, which is only weeks away."

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at a news conference at the Capitol on Jan. 10, 2013. Randall Benton / Sacramento Bee

April 28, 2014
For California Assembly, April a month to remember

poppies.JPGAt this rate, it's becoming difficult to remain aware of all the things April stands for.

Since the start of the month, the Assembly has passed a range of resolutions making April 2014 an official occasion for awareness or acknowledgment of issues ranging from disease to flowers to microbrews.

On Monday, members opened session with a solemn hour-long ceremony honoring Holocaust survivors and enshrining the Assembly's recognition of Holocaust Remembrance Week. After the session concluded, members proceeded to make April Child Abuse Prevention Month, Parkinson's Disease Awareness Month and Alcohol Awareness Month.

Other Assembly-sanctioned ways to think of the time between March and May 2014 include California Poppy Month, California Craft Brewery Month, Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Mathematics Awareness Month.

Unfortunately, West Nile Virus and Mosquito and Vector Control Awareness only got a week, as did National Multicultural Cancer Awareness.

Other potential April additions to the annals of state-recognized periods of consciousness, like Distracted Driving Awareness Month or School Bus Drivers Day, have not yet gotten votes in the Assembly.

PHOTO: California poppies line along the Michako Trail at the Mount Burdell Open Space Preserve in Novato, Calif., on Thursday, April 10, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/ Manny Crisostomo.

April 28, 2014
Tim Donnelly pushes for concealed carry bill

donnellyccw.jpgRepublican Tim Donnelly, who has made gun rights a centerpiece of his gubernatorial campaign, is pushing for legislation in the Assembly that would expand gun owners' access to concealed carry permits.

His bill, which he promoted at the Capitol on Monday, follows a federal court ruling in February that found the state's requirements for concealed weapons permits too restrictive.

Current state law requires applicants to show "good cause" and gives discretion over the permit process to local law enforcement officials. Donnelly, an assemblyman from Twin Peaks, said that process is "arbitrary and capricious," favoring gun owners who are well connected.

Donnelly said his legislation, which would require the state Department of Justice to issue a concealed handgun permit to gun owners who pass a background check, "would make the promise of our Second Amendment a reality for every Californian."

"A right's not a right if you can't exercise it," Donnelly told reporters at the Capitol.

Donnelly's legislation, Assembly Bill 1563, is unlikely to gain support in the Democratic-controlled Legislature, but it may further bolster his credentials with conservative activists.

Donnelly, the Legislature's most outspoken gun rights advocate, 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. Donnelly has said he forgot he had the gun.

Donnelly said Monday that he has had no personal experience with the concealed carry permit process in California, but that "maybe I would be one of the first people to apply for it under my new law."

Donnelly spoke to reporters ahead of a hearing by the Assembly Public Safety Committee on Tuesday. Meanwhile, the legal status of the state's concealed carry restrictions remains uncertain.

While a three-member panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the state's requirement that applicants for concealed-weapon permits show "good cause," Attorney General Kamala Harris has asked the full court to review the ruling.

Nick Wilcox, with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said Monday that Donnelly's bill would inappropriately remove discretion from law enforcement officials about whether to issue concealed-weapon permits. He described the bill as a "political thing for Donnelly" and said it "has no hope of getting out of committee."

PHOTO: Republican Tim Donnelly speaks to reporters at the Capitol on April 28, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

April 28, 2014
California high school graduation rate tops 80 percent

graduates.JPGCalifornia's high school graduation rate topped 80 percent last year, equaling what was happening in the nation as a whole, state schools chief Tom Torlakson announced Monday.

And, Torlakson said, graduation rates among Latino and African-American students increased faster than those of white and Asian-American students, meaning the "achievement gap" is closing.

The new data "help us close the achievement gap," Torlakson said as he released the annual report.

The graduation rate for the class of 2013 was 80.2 percent - the proportion of those who entered the ninth grade four years earlier who received diplomas. Torlakson said the dropout rate was 11.6 percent while another 8.2 percent were either still in school (7.5 percent), had passed a high school equivalency exam or were in special education classes.

The 80.2 percent graduation rate was 1.3 percentage points higher than for the class of 2012, while the dropout rate was down 1.5 percentage points.

Even though the gap narrowed, graduation rates of white students (87.6 percent) and Asian-Americans (91.6 percent) were still markedly higher than those of Latinos (75.4 percent) and African Americans (67.9 percent).

As California's results were being released, a seminar in Washington on high school graduation was told that the national graduation rate was 80 percent. The report, called "Building a Grad Nation," singled out California, saying:

"As the most populous state and most diverse state, California needs to be a focus of national attention and work. With the highest poverty rate in the country, a median household income 20 percent higher than the nation's, and a population that is 61 percent non-Anglo, California is key to reaching 90 percent graduation rate nationally, but also remains a laboratory of innovation in education reform."

Updated at 11:25 a.m. with commentary on California.

PHOTO: Twins Javier and Steven Gomez wait in line before their inaugural graduation from West Sacramento Early College Prep on Sunday, June 9, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

April 28, 2014
Mitt Romney, Pete Wilson endorse Neel Kashkari for governor

kashkaridam.jpgFormer California Gov. Pete Wilson and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, have endorsed Neel Kashkari in California's gubernatorial race, the Kashkari campaign announced Monday.

The endorsements come with Kashkari, a former U.S. Treasury Department official, lagging in public opinion polls.

"Neel is the right candidate with the right message to challenge Gov. Brown, support Republican candidates up and down the ticket, and help us grow the Party in the long term," Wilson said in a prepared statement.

Gov. Jerry Brown, a popular Democrat, is widely expected to finish first in the June primary election, and Tim Donnelly, a tea party favorite, leads all Republicans in the race to finish second and advance to a runoff against Brown in the fall.

Kashkari, a moderate, hinted at a public appearance on Sunday that Romney's endorsement was coming. He also said former President George W. Bush "has been very helpful and made calls and opened doors."

While Kashkari has gained support from the Republican Party's political and consultant classes, he has struggled with the party's more conservative base. At a candidate forum in Anaheim on Sunday, the one question he was asked was if it was true he voted for Barack Obama in 2008.

Kashkari said he voted for Obama because he was getting better economic advice than the Republican nominee, John McCain.

"Yes, it is true," Kashkari said. "But I was definitely disappointed in President Obama and what he has done as president, and that's why I strongly supported Mitt Romney for president in 2012, and Mitt Romney is giving us a lot of help, too."

PHOTO: Republican Neel Kashkari speaks with reporters at Oroville Dam on March 28, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

April 28, 2014
AM Alert: LGBT youth lobby for safer schools

LGBT_flag.JPGStudent leaders from high school Gay-Straight Alliance clubs across the state are in Sacramento for Queer Youth Advocacy Day, pushing for greater school safety for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.

Members from the California Legislative LGBT Caucus will address the students at 10:45 a.m. on the east steps of the Capitol, including Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, Assemblymen Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, and Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, and state Sens. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, and Mark Leno, D-San Francisco.

The students are lobbying on efforts to require schools to develop anti-bullying policies and end "willful defiance" discipline, as well as promoting the implementation of last year's controversial legislation allowing transgender students to access school facilities corresponding with their gender identity, which faced an unsuccessful repeal effort.

VIDEO: A modest state revenue increase favors Gov. Jerry Brown's budget proposal over fellow Democrats' calls to restore spending, Dan Walters says.

READY, AIM, FIRE: Though he's turned his attention to the governor's race, where he's leading the Republican field of contenders, Tim Donnelly's work in the Legislature isn't done yet. The Twin Peaks assemblyman will promote his bill to overhaul California's handgun carry licensing system, 11 a.m. in Room 444 of the Capitol. He will be joined by Brandon Combs, president of the gun rights group California Association of Federal Firearms Licensees.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING: Assembly members Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, and Tom Daly, D-Anaheim, are addressing California's affordable housing crunch with a tax credit for low-income renters that they say will bring together tenants and landlords. The lawmakers will be joined by representatives from the California Apartment Association and Tenants Together to unveil the details, 11 a.m. in Room 126 of the Capitol.

BREAKING AWAY: A bipartisan group of lawmakers is aiming to increase military energy independence in California with a pair of bills that would allow military bases to sell back more renewable energy to the grid and receive greater state support for energy efficiency goals. Assemblymen Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo, V. Manuel Pérez, D-Coachella, and Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, will discuss their proposals at 10:30 a.m. at the traffic circle just west of the Capitol between 9th and 10th streets.

WATER POLITICS: Another day, another water bond. As the the drought remains a hot political issue in California and legislators seek to replace a measure currently on the November ballot, Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, will introduce his $9.45 billion solution to the water crisis, 10 a.m. on the east steps of the Capitol.

STRONG START: Community college educators discuss how they are redesigning basic English and math education to improve student success, 10 a.m. in Room 437 of the Capitol. The talk is sponsored by the Campaign for College Opportunity.

PHOTO: A pride flag and the American flag hang over the Sacramento LGBT Community Center on June 26, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

April 28, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: Modest revenue increases boost Brown budget proposal

brownbudgetrevise.jpgState revenue is up this year, Dan says, but the moderate increases favor Gov. Jerry Brown's more conservative fiscal approach over his fellow Democrats' calls to restore spending.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown discusses his revised budget plan at a news conference at the Capitol on May 14, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Renée C. Byer

April 27, 2014
Tim Donnelly says lead in polls is proof of 'something in the air'

donnellyanaheim.jpgANAHEIM - Tim Donnelly said Sunday that his frontrunner status among Republicans running for governor is evidence "people want a fighter," and he blamed the media for what he said is negative coverage of controversies that have riddled his campaign.

"If you read the headlines in the papers today you'd think I'm some kind of terrible person, but when you read the actual stories you go, oh, he had a paperwork deadline. Oh, Ok, oh, that was already paid off ... I mean, come on," Donnelly told reporters at a California Federation of Republican Women candidate forum here.

Donnelly, an assemblyman from Twin Peaks, appeared to be referring to a Fair Political Practices Commission investigation into what it said were missing campaign finance statements for a political action committee Donnelly formed in 2012, as well as a tax lien the state filed last year against Donnelly's former business, Donnelly Plastic Equipment Inc.

Donnelly's campaign has said it re-sent documents related to the political action committee, and the $2,829 lien against Donnelly's former business was listed as being released last month.

Most recently, Tom Scott, a supporter of rival Neel Kashkari, filed a complaint with the FPPC accusing Donnelly of failing to report expenses related to the use of an RV for the campaign in February. Donnelly said an amended campaign finance statement "was already in the process and will be public soon."

No Republican is likely to unseat Gov. Jerry Brown, a popular Democrat, in this heavily Democratic state. But Donnelly leads Kashkari and Laguna Hills Mayor Andrew Blount in the race to finish second in June and advance to a November runoff against the governor.

Donnelly, a tea party favorite, said his status as a frontrunner is "scary" and "fantastic."

"It's humorous to me: I'm a guy that was running a business out of the back of my garage, you know, five years ago, and so here I am being attacked relentlessly in the newspapers and yet I'm the frontrunner," he said. "Obviously there's something in the air that people want a fighter. They want somebody who will go and pick the right fight and take a stand."

Kashkari, a former U.S. Treasury Department official, told a supporter Sunday that his campaign is "about to make the jump to light speed," with mailers and other voter outreach in the "final stretch between now and the primary."

PHOTO: Republican Tim Donnelly speaks with reporters outside a candidate forum in Anaheim on April 27, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

April 25, 2014
Counties press Calif. GOP to endorse Rep. McClintock

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The California Republican Party is poised to endorse Rep. Tom McClintock over a fellow GOP candidate, an unusual move for the organization in primary elections.

The state party in recent years has made it considerably more difficult for candidates - including incumbents - to get its official stamp of approval over intraparty challengers. Still, party officials confirmed they've started the process to endorse McClintock and Republican Orange County Supervisor Janet Nguyen, a key candidate for state Senate.

McClintock, a conservative icon facing a challenge from Republican Art Moore, has secured the support of 10 county central committees across the sprawling, Roseville-based 4th district. The state endorsement would allow him to present a unified front and burnish his grass roots credentials to help energize volunteers and raise money.

"We felt it was an important statement to make to demonstrate who in fact was and should be the Republican nominee in the 4th Congressional District," Placer County GOP Chairman Dennis Revell said Friday. "Contrary to what his opponent might want to suggest, Congressman McClintock enjoys the unanimous support of all 10 county central committees."

The contest has been personal from the start. Moore, a political newcomer with roots in the district, criticizes the incumbent for not being from the area and espousing intransigent views. McClintock and his supporters took aim at Moore for never voting in an election and for being the creation of moderate political consultants out for conservative blood.

As recently as Wednesday, he suggested Moore's campaign coordinated with a trio of Democrats ahead of the filing deadline to manipulate the field in an attempt to unseat the incumbent in November. Under new rules, the top-two finishers regardless of party advance to the fall election.

Moore and his campaign have repeatedly denied any coordination, though the candidate did acknowledge meeting with one of the Democrats before she decided against a run.

Jeff Wyly, a spokesman for Moore, said it was to be expected the state party would endorse an incumbent like McClintock -- regardless of the bureaucratic hurdles. "Once elected, Art looks forward to working with the state party and helping Chairman (Jim) Brulte rebuild it with fresh ideas," Wyly said.

Nguyen is perhaps her party's most important legislative candidate this cycle. Running against former Democratic Assemblyman Jose Solorio, she is hoping to flip the 34th district seat being vacated by Democratic Sen. Lou Correa of Santa Ana.

The GOP for decades had stayed out of primary elections. In 2012, however, party officials met behind closed doors and picked more than 100 candidates.

Started under Brulte, the party's new multi-step endorsement process must be triggered at the local level and requires a two-thirds vote of the board of directors. Officials are barred from weighing in on statewide contests. Republicans without an intraparty challenger are automatically supported.

PHOTO: Rep. Tom McClintock address the Northern California Tea Party Patriots at a rally September 12, 2010 in Sacramento. The Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.

April 25, 2014
California city appealing after redevelopment court defeat

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The city of Brentwood will ask an appellate court to overturn a judge's ruling against a city lawsuit challenging the state's ability to "claw back" former redevelopment money.

The case is one of several post-redevelopment lawsuits that have significant fiscal implications for the state. State officials, including Gov. Jerry Brown, have warned that legal losses could cost it more than $3 billion.

In the Brentwood case, the city challenged a central part of the 2011 law dissolving the anti-blight program. It allowed the state to "claw back" money transferred by redevelopment agencies to their sponsoring cities or counties from Jan. 1, 2011 to Feb. 1, 2012, when redevelopment ceased to exist.

In a December tentative ruling, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Allen Sumner said that provision was unconstitutional. State officials disagreed and in a subsequent court filing said the tentative ruling — if upheld — would create a precedent and prompt a flood of local government demands to reclaim redevelopment money.

The judge ruled in favor of the state earlier this month.

"The court did a 180," attorney Leah Castella, the special counsel to the city on the case, said this week. "We hope the appellate court will see things the way we do."

PHOTO: A mermaid swims in the aquarium at Sacramento's Dive Bar in 2011. Redevelopment helped finance the business. The Sacramento Bee/Lezlie Sterling

April 25, 2014
Leland Yee promises to fight corruption in ballot statement

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Arriving soon in the mailboxes of about 10.6 million California voter households: a pledge from suspended state Sen. Leland Yee to fight corruption.

Yee, indicted earlier this month on corruption and conspiracy charges, paid for a 251-word (at $25-a-word) statement touting his secretary of state candidacy in the voter information guides that began going out Thursday for the June 3 primary..

Yee withdrew from the race shortly after his March 26 arrest — after he had already qualified for the ballot. The San Francisco Democrat's name will be among voters' eight choices for the state's top elections post.

In his candidate statement, Yee plugs his legislation that legalized online voter registration and includes a link to a still-active Yee website, itsyourcalifornia.org, allowing people to register. He also notes that he possesses a "common sense law enforcement record."

"Under the Constitution, the Secretary of State's job is to empower Californians to govern California, to guarantee fair elections, expose special interests, and prevent corruption," Yee concludes. "I am the Democrat who will represent everyone. I hope to be your Secretary of State."

Editor's note: This post was updated at 5 p.m. April 25 to include the number of voter information guides that will be mailed out by the secretary of state's office.

PHOTO: The home page of itsyourcalifornia.org, a website mentioned in suspended state Sen. Leland Yee's ballot statement for secretary of state.

April 25, 2014
California bill would link immigrant taxes to work permits, deportation defense

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Undocumented immigrants would find it easier to file tax returns, and as a result be allowed to remain in the country and work, under a measure by Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, prompted in part by Congress' failure to approve an immigration overhaul.

Debates over illegal immigration can often be distilled to a question about resources: whether undocumented immigrants take more, in the form of public services like education and healthcare, than they put back in with taxes.

Those seeking tighter immigration controls argue that immigrants are a drain on the system; advocates counter that the foreign-born pay a substantial share of property, sales and income taxes even when they are in the country illegally.

Alejo wants to keep the revenue flowing with a bill requiring the Franchise Tax Board to advertise the fact that people can obtain an individual taxpayer identification number and use it to file a return. Unlike having a Social Security number, getting a taxpayer ID number does not require citizenship or legal residency.

"They're only looking for a lawful way so they can work, pay their taxes and continue to contribute to California's economy," Alejo said.

But Alejo's ambition goes beyond generating revenue. He wants to link paying taxes with winning work permits and being exempt from deportation, though both would require special permission from the Obama administration. Alejo said his bill is necessary because Congress has not passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill.

"My bill is trying to continue to put California on the cutting edge, saying because we have failed to act in Congress states like California are trying to find our own temporary solutions to allow immigrant workers to work lawfully in California and to have relief," Alejo said.

The bill would have Gov. Jerry Brown press the federal government to not pursue deportation cases against immigrants who have filed taxes, unless those immigrants have committed serious or violent felonies. Tax-paying immigrants would also be able to enroll in a pilot program offering work permits.

Tax collectors would not be allowed to share tax filing information with other government entities like the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees deportations. There are similar protections in Alejo's 2013 bill offering driver's licenses to immigrants. California also moved to protect immigrants from federal enforcement last year with a law barring authorities from scooping up immigrants detained for minor crimes, and the bill would similarly inoculate immigrants with clean criminal records.

Assembly Bill 2014 goes before the Assembly Revenue And Taxation Committee at 1:30 p.m. on Monday.

PHOTO: Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville during session in the Assembly chambers in Sacramento, Calif. on Monday, March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

April 25, 2014
California had high income growth in 2012

Money.JPGAs it emerged from the worst recession since the Great Depression in 2012, California had the nation's fourth highest growth of personal income, even after adjustment for its high cost of living, according to a new Commerce Department report.

Californians' income increase, 3.4 percent, was more than 50 percent higher than the national increase, ranking fourth behind oil-rich North Dakota's whopping 15.1 percent, and 3.7 percent in Montana and Indiana. While North Dakotans' incomes soared in 2012, neighboring South Dakota was the only state to see an income drop.

Among local metropolitan areas, California's Kings County had the nation's fourth sharpest decline in personal income, 2.3 percent.

For the first time, the Commerce Department adjusted income changes for each state's cost of living, and in that measure, California ranked fifth behind the District of Columbia, Hawaii, New York and New Jersey. Three Bay Area metropolitan regions were included in the nation's six most expensive places to live - a list topped by Honolulu.

PHOTO: What $3.2 million dollars in a stack $20 bills will look like - one of the exhibits on the first floor of the Federal Reserve Bank's San Francisco district headquarters. The Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo.

April 25, 2014
AM Alert: Jerry Brown heads south for sustainability summit

ha_jbrown00189.JPGGov. Jerry Brown will be down in Los Angeles today to deliver the keynote address at a sustainability summit hosted by the Los Angeles Business Council.

The focus of the event is California's energy and water policy and whether it is driving job growth and investment in Los Angeles. State Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, will participate in a panel on the city's renewable energy sector.

The summit begins at 7:30 a.m. at the Getty Center and Brown will deliver his remarks at 1:20 p.m.

VIDEO: Facing unknown rivals in his reelection bid, Brown looks to have the support of even many Republican voters, Dan Walters says.

WHERE HAS ALL THE WATER GONE?: In other water news, the University of California hosts a daylong science, policy and management conference on the state's drought, starting at 8:30 a.m. in Room 4202 of the Capitol. Faculty from across the UC system will discuss the current crisis, its impact on the economy and endangered species, how to cope with drought, and state policy for the future.

MONEY IN POLITICS: Capitol Alert's own Dan Walters is part of a panel discussion on campaign finance reform and legislative ethics at noon in Room 4203 of the Capitol. The event, sponsored by the Capitol Fellows Alumni Association, also features Erin Peth, executive director of the Fair Political Practices Commission, and Phillip Ung of California Forward.

BEHIND THE SCENES: For a peek inside the budget process, the California Capitol Black Staff Association hosts a briefing with representatives from the California Budget Project, the Department of Finance and the Assembly Budget Committee, 10 a.m. in Room 447 of the Capitol.

BEING GREEN: The Sacramento Municipal Utility District and the LegiSchool Project, a public policy outreach program, hold a scholarship art competition for high school students at 11 a.m. on the north steps of the Capitol. Students who attended an energy forum in January will display their artistic renderings of a "green" lifestyle for judging and Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, will present the winners at 2 p.m.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to state Sen. Ted Gaines, R-Rocklin, who turns 56 today, and Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, who turns 40 tomorrow.

PHOTO: Governor-elect Jerry Brown, speaks at a press conference at his Oakland campaign headquarters at his Oakland campaign headquarters on Nov. 3, 2010, a day after he defeated Republican Meg Whitman. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

April 25, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: Jerry Brown gaining Republican support for reelection

browncounties.jpgFacing unknown rivals in his reelection bid, Gov. Jerry Brown looks to have the support of even many Republican voters, Dan says.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

April 24, 2014
FPPC upholds $40,000 penalty against Sen. Tom Berryhill

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California's political-ethics panel Thursday unanimously approved a $40,000 money-laundering penalty against state Sen. Tom Berryhill, agreeing with an administrative law judge's recommended decision that the Twain Harte Republican committed "serious and deliberate" violations of campaign-finance rules.

The Fair Political Practices Commission announced the fine after a brief special meeting in Oakland conducted by telephone. Last week, the panel took the case under submission after hearing from the commission's enforcement chief and Berryhill's attorney.

Authorities allege that Berryhill, seeking to bypass contribution limits, colluded with his brother — former Assemblyman Bill Berryhill — and GOP central committees in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties to move $40,000 in Tom Berryhill campaign money into Bill Berryhill's campaign in the days before the November 2008 election.

"The commission has unanimously voted to adopt the ALJ's proposed decision with limited, minor and technical changes noted by the enforcement division," Commissioner Eric Casher said after the closed session.

Chuck Bell, Berryhill's attorney, called Thursday's decision disappointing. The Berryhills and county committees never engaged in contribution earmarking and the administrative law judge applied the law incorrectly, he said.

Bell said his clients will decide whether to appeal to the Superior Court in the coming weeks.

Thursday's outcome has significant implications for campaign finance, especially for the millions of political dollars that flow through Republican and Democratic committees before arriving in candidates' treasuries. Commission enforcement chief Gary Winuk said the ruling makes it clear that coordinating money moves is illegal. But Bell called the decision vague and "will leave donors and party committees highly uncertain about what they can and can do in this environment."

Berryhill is the fourth senator facing serious ethical problems. State sens. Ron Calderon and Leland Yee have been indicted on corruption and other charges, and state Sen. Rod Wright was found guilty of lying about his residence when he ran for office in 2008. The Senate has suspended the other three senators.

Editor's note: This post was updated at 5:06 p.m. April 24 to include comment from Charles Bell.

PHOTO: State Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte, far right, with (left to right), brother Bill Berryhill, attorney Charles Bell, and Tony Amador, chairman of the San Joaquin County GOP, outside the FPPC meeting April 17, 2014 in Sacramento. The Sacramento Bee/Jim Miller

April 24, 2014
California space industry tax break heads to Gov. Jerry Brown

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With no debate, the California Assembly on Thursday voted 70-2 to send Gov. Jerry Brown a bill offering a ten-year property tax break to private space firms.

Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance, has promoted the bill as ensuring California can become a hub for the burgeoning private space industry, led by firms like Hawthorne-based SpaceX. Reviving southern California's once-mighty aerospace industry has been a recurring theme for Muratuschi, who has also touted the potential of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones.

The bill, Assembly Bill 777, passed the Senate easily earlier this month. While Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, had previously warned about favoring a specific industry with a tax break that could prove difficult to erase, the legislation garnered more than enough support on Thursday to advance.

PHOTO: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from launch Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Friday, April 18, 2014. Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel/MCT.

April 24, 2014
Bill requiring mobile phone 'kill switch' falls short in Senate

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California legislation requiring a "kill switch" to render stolen smart phones inoperable met a premature death on Thursday.

The measure from Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, fell two votes short of a majority, despite receiving strong support from law enforcement groups and officials.

Senators took up Senate Bill 962 after several leading wireless phone providers such as AT&T and Verizon announced plans to install software allowing customers to delete information and permanently turn off devices. Opponents contended that the bill was no longer necessary.

"When you find yourself in the end zone, declare victory and move on. The industry is voluntarily doing it," said Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff of Diamond Bar. "One of the biggest criticisms we get in the state is they don't have a 'kill switch' on us when we come up with crazy ideas."

Leno argued the bill was still needed because it would mandate phones made and sold in the state beginning next summer to carry the technological deterrent as a default. Consumers would still have the option to opt-out of the technology.

He said phone makers had opposed voluntarily adopting kill switches — or acknowledge having the capability to do so — over the last two years even as the crime soared. In 2012, more than half of all robberies in San Francisco and two-thirds in Oakland involved mobile device thefts.

"I am not connecting any dots, but let me just state a fact," Leno said. "The industry makes billions, tens of billions of dollars replacing lost and stolen phones each year. They also make many billions of dollars selling you and me insurance in case you are robbed.

"If we end the robbery, there will be an obvious impact to their bottom line."

PHOTO: Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, left, and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, talking to reporters at the Capitol June 19, 2013. Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli.

April 24, 2014
Jerry Brown makes Time's 100 list, with blurb by Gray Davis

brownanddavis.jpgGov. Jerry Brown made Time magazine's list of the 100 most influential people.

The author of his blurb?

Gray Davis, the former governor and Brown's former chief of staff.

"Things are looking up in California," Davis writes in the magazine. "Governor Jerry Brown has eliminated a $26 billion deficit, getting legislators to make painful cuts and persuading voters to increase their taxes."

He credits Brown for preaching restraint and attributes his frugality, in part, to the time he spent as a Jesuit seminarian.

"I recall his refusal, in 1975, to replace the old carpet he inherited from Governor Reagan," Davis writes. "When it became threadbare, with a sizable hole, he still refused to repair it -- believing if he lived modestly others might too and would save the state money."

Brown's inclusion in the list is the latest addition to a heap of praise afforded him by national media. His public approval rating in California is soaring, and Republican complaints about the state's still-high poverty and unemployment rates appear not to resonate.

Brown is joined on Time's list by Tom Steyer, the billionaire environmentalist who is considered a potential future candidate for statewide office. Former Vice President Al Gore writes for the magazine that Steyer is fighting climate change "with passionate intensity, commitment and political skill." The only other governor on the list is the Republican chief executive of Wisconsin, Scott Walker.

Here is an Associated Press video explaining how Time comes up with the list every year:

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown, right, and Gray Davis appear at an event together in 1980. The Sacramento Bee/Dick Schmidt

April 24, 2014
California's smallest businesses recover from recession

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California's smallest businesses — those without any employees — took a big hit during the state's Great Recession, but appear to have recovered, according to a new Census Bureau report.

The number of such businesses — self-employed consultants, technicians, landscapers, remodelers, etc., and small partnerships — dropped and so did their revenues when recession hit, bottoming out in 2009 at 2.7 million firms and $133.8 billion in revenue.

Since then, the Census Bureau data indicate, the number of California's no-employee businesses climbed to 2.9 million in 2012 and their receipts reached $149.4 billion, moving past pre-recession levels. That was an average of $51,517 per business.

Both numbers were the highest of any state and among the nation's counties, Los Angeles had the nation's highest number at 17,241 and the highest revenues at $47.2 billion.

California's gain of 39,051 such businesses from 2011 to 2012 was the second highest of any state, surpassed only by Florida's 57,978.

PHOTO: Dean Sims of El Dorado Hills shops at the Cresco restaurant supply store in December 2013. Cresco and the cluster of nearby establishments, believed to be the largest group of such businesses in California, do business with restaurant owners, managers, designers, contractors and chefs from Fresno to the Oregon border. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

April 24, 2014
AM Alert: Legislature fishes for drought solutions

salmon_trucking.JPGOne fish, two fish, red fish, blue state fish.

The Legislature's Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture holds its annual forum on California's fisheries today, starting at 10 a.m. in Room 447 of the Capitol. Fishermen and scientists from across the state will report in throughout the all-day event, which is headlined by Secretary for Natural Resources John Laird and Charlton Bonham, director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife, in the morning.

Part of this year's forum will focus on the impact of the drought on California fisheries and the state's response. Salmon migration has been particularly affected and an effort to truck hundreds of thousands of fish downstream made headlines last month.

VIDEO: This year's Secretary of State race makes clear that Debra Bowen has left a legacy worth changing, Dan Walters says.

WEIGHING IN: California is currently undergoing major changes to its K-12 education system with the implementation of Common Core standards and a new funding formula for school districts. The Public Policy Institute of California has surveyed statewide views on those programs, as well as proposals such as universal preschool, and will present the findings at noon at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament on 11th Street.

IT'S ELECTRIC!: The state's independent oversight agency, the Little Hoover Commission, will take a look at how policy changes have affected the affordability and reliability of energy supplied by California's public utilities, 9:30 a.m. in Room 437 of the Capitol.

GET INSIDE YOUR HEAD: This might go over better than the Strollin' Colon: As part of its Epilepsy Awareness Day at the Capitol, Epilepsy California will host a giant inflatable brain on the south lawn. The public can tour through the brain and learn about seizures starting at 8 a.m.; California Secretary of Health and Human Services Diana Dooley will visit at 10:30 a.m.

SAFER STREETS: Community-organizing network PICO California sponsors a legislative briefing on local approaches to reducing gun violence and supporting reentry of former inmates, 2 p.m. in Room 437 of the Capitol. The discussion will focus on efforts in Oakland, Richmond and Stockton and how to scale up policies for statewide implementation.

RISKY BUSINESS: UC Irvine criminology professor Susan Turner discusses the integration of a risk assessment tool into the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's parole practices over the past decade, noon at the UC Center Sacramento on K Street.

PHOTO: Chinook salmon smolts are released from a tanker truck on March 25, 2014 in Rio Vista, Calif. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

April 24, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: Debra Bowen leaves legacy worth changing

Bowenha_APAPA13992.JPGEvery major candidate for Secretary of State is campaigning to overhaul the office, an indictment of Debra Bowen's two terms of stewardship, 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: Secretary of State candidate Debra Bowen talks to the Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs Association during a candidates forum at Sacramento State. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

April 23, 2014
Californians like Common Core education, finance overhaul

schoolkids.JPGTwo major changes in California's public education system - adoption of "Common Core" academic standards and giving extra money to school districts with large numbers of poor and/or English learner students - seem to have gained favor with the state's residents.

A new poll by the Public Policy Institute of California tested the two changes now underway, along with a number of other education-related issues.

The poll found that 69 percent of adults support the Common Score approach to teaching, a system that's being adopted by a majority of the states as a way of ensuring that students leave public schools with skills in a variety of areas.

The change has been controversial, especially in other states, with those on the political right complaining that it will lead to federal control of school curricula. The concept was promoted by a bipartisan coalition of governors to replace the state-by-state determinations of what should be taught, how instruction should be given and how academic progress should be assessed.

The PPIC survey found that support was over 50 percent among all political subgroups but Democratic support was highest at 72 percent, while that among Republicans was 60 percent and among independents, 61 percent.

April 23, 2014
California senators' ethics scenarios: What would you do?

Steinberg.JPGCalifornia senators and their staff attended a special ethics training Wednesday, and were presented with a series of ethical scenarios. Below are the scenarios involving senators. What would you do?

Senate Members Ethics Review


Here are the scenarios related to Senate staff.

Senate Staff Ethics Review

PHOTO: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg waits for the Senate vote on high-speed rail funding in the Senate Chambers at the California State Capitol. Friday, July 6, 2012. The Sacramento Bee/Lezlie Sterling

April 23, 2014
VIDEO: California secretary of state candidates promise break from Bowen

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Would-be successors to Secretary of State Debra Bowen made their cases Wednesday that they would inject new energy into an office they said has become technologically inept and disengaged.

"A lot of people either see this job as a stepping stone or couch. And I think what we've been living through for the last eight years has been an administration that has seen this as a couch," Republican Pete Peterson said of Bowen, who took office in 2006, at Wednesday's debate hosted by the Sacramento Press Club.

State Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima, credited Bowen with preventing major ballot snafus akin to the Florida debacle in the 2000 election. "But can we, and should we, do much better? Absolutely," Padilla said after the panel. "You have to have the vision."

Peterson and Padilla were among four of the eight candidates for the top elections job at Wednesday's forum that also included Democrats Derek Cressman, a former official with California Common Cause; and independent Dan Schnur, an educator and former Republican strategist.

April 23, 2014
Jerry Brown appoints Jodi Remke new FPPC chair

brownmics.jpgGov. Jerry Brown has appointed Jodi Remke, presiding judge of the State Bar Court of California, chairwoman of the state's Fair Political Practices Commission, his office announced Wednesday.

Remke replaces Ann Ravel, who left the commission for the Federal Election Commission in October.

Remke, 48, takes over a commission that has risen in prominence in recent years, including prosecutions of money laundering and conflict-of-interest cases. Ravel gained national attention for her agency's probe last year of out-of-state groups that funneled money into California's initiative wars in 2012. A $1 million fine against two Arizona-based groups announced in October was the largest ever levied by the FPPC for a campaign violation.

Remke, of Oakland has been presiding judge of the State Bar Court, which rules on attorney discipline cases, since 2006. She was first appointed to the court as a hearing judge in 2000.

Like Brown, she is a Democrat.

According to the governor's office, Remke was a lawyer with the state Senate Judiciary Committee from 1997 to 2000 and worked at the Montana Legal Services Association from 1994 to 1996.

She is a graduate of University of the Pacific's McGeorge School of Law.

Remke's appointment comes nearly six months after Ravel left the FPPC for Washington, despite a rule in California's Political Reform Act requiring vacancies to be filled within 30 days.

Remke will be paid $136,144 a year.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown talks to members of the press after speaking at a rally for crime victims in Sacramento on Tuesday, April 23, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

April 23, 2014
Mitt Romney backs Tony Strickland in California House race

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As part of his return to politics, Mitt Romney is choosing sides in the contest to succeed retiring Rep. Buck McKeon in Southern California.

Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and Republican presidential nominee, on Wednesday endorsed ex-state Sen. Tony Strickland, calling him an experienced legislator, devoted husband and father and a longtime community leader.

"Tony Strickland is exactly who we need in Congress," Romney said in a statement. "Tony led the fight against the Democrats' excessive budgets in Sacramento and worked to bring California's crippling deficit under control. He will do the same in Congress."

The crowded field of eight candidates in the June 3 primary includes state Sen. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, and Democrat Lee Rogers. Under the state's new primary system, the top-two vote-getters regardless of party advance to the November general election.

Democrats said Romney's endorsement underscored the misguided priorities Strickland would champion if elected to Congress.

"Tony Strickland would be nothing more than a lockstep vote for Speaker Boehner's reckless Congress that would end the Medicare guarantee, raise middle class taxes and give tax breaks to corporations that ship jobs overseas," said Tyrone Gayle, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Strickland is coming off a loss two years ago to Democratic Rep. Julia Brownley in the 26th district. He has maintained close ties to Romney over the years, serving as a state chairman for his presidential runs, hosting fundraisers on his behalf and hitting the trail to campaign with the Romney family in key swing states.

Strickland got to know 2010 California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman during Romney's first presidential run, and she recruited him to run for state controller.

Romney, a part-time resident of the seaside enclave La Jolla in northern San Diego County, has been laying low since losing the presidential race. One of his sons, Josh, recently took a photo of Romney waiting in line at a local post office to mail in his taxes ahead of the deadline.

A recent story on Romney's reemergence said he's publicly supported at least 16 candidates this cycle, many of them favorites of the establishment who backed his campaigns.

In Romney's latest endorsement, he said Strickland would fight to limit government spending and support economic policies designed to create jobs.

"He knows we cannot pass this unsustainable debt on to future generations, and Tony will face this problem head on so we can leave a stable, debt-free country for our children and grandchildren," he said.

Editor's note: Updated at 3:50 to add comment from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

PHOTO: Mitt Romney speaks to the VFW convention at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center in Reno, before a major foreign policy address before he embarks on an international trip in July 2012. The Sacramento Bee/Jose Luis Villegas

April 23, 2014
VIDEO: California Senate pauses for ethics training

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The California Senate paused its normal routine of committee hearings today for a special training on the ethics of two essential duties that politicians are not supposed to mix: making laws and raising money.

The conversation comes in the wake of two senators being charged in FBI corruption stings, another being convicted of perjury and a record-setting FPPC fine of a prominent lobbyist that involved warning letters to dozens of politicians who had held fundraisers at his house.

Senators and their chiefs of staff participated in separate ethics trainings led by Scott Raecker, CEO of the Josephson Institute of Ethics in Los Angeles. They also heard from a panel of political lawyers: Lance Olson of Olson & Hagel; Charles H. Bell, Sr. of Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk, LLP; and John Panneton, former Assistant U.S. Attorney.

"While there is no ethics class, as I've said many times, that teaches the dangers of gun running or taking money in envelope, that's not really what this session was about.
It was about the more subtle and sometimes insidious impacts of all the money that exists in politics," Senate leader Darrell Steinberg said afterwards.

"The takeaway is very clear... Regardless of who supports you in your campaigns, if you disagree with them, then you vote against them."

The Sacramento Democrat said he will soon introduce proposals to change some fundraising practices, beyond those laid out in bills now moving through the Legislature.

Though most of the scandals have involved Democrats, Senate Republican leader Bob Huff said responding to them requires bipartisan cooperation.

"We all get painted with the same broad brush of integrity when members struggle and lapse," Huff said.

April 23, 2014
California car data bill stalls in first committee

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Legislation requiring car manufacturers to open access to the data streaming out of computerized cars stalled in committee on Tuesday.

Only one lawmaker voted against Senate Bill 994 on Tuesday, but seven abstained from voting. The final vote count, 3-1, was three votes short of what the legislation needed to advance beyond the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee.

The bill pits its car insurance industry sponsors against the car manufacturers who currently hold a monopoly on the information cars emit, which has increased in volume as features like onboard GPS and entertainment systems become prevalent.

Backers of the bill said they want to empower consumers by giving them control over reams of data that can include where and how fast a car travels or diagnostic information detailing how smoothly the car is functioning, allowing them to then share that data with third parties like independent mechanics - several of whom showed up to express support on Tuesday.

"My customers don't want their vehicle service information going to manufacturers and new car dealers - they want it going to my shop," said Allen Pennebaker, who owns Orinda Motors and formerly led the Automotive Service Councils of California.

Manufacturers would need to tell drivers what they're collecting and get consent before selling data. The bill's author, Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, said the interest his bill has generated illustrated the "significant financial interest" in potentially lucrative car data.

"Consumers who purchase or lease a car in California currently have no access to their car's information beyond what the manufacturer chooses to share with them," Monning testified on Tuesday.

Automakers have countered that the bill is a power play by the insurance industry, an argument that lawmakers appeared to have heard.

"What's in it for AAA, and why are you carrying this bill?" Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, asked an insurance executive.

"It doesn't give AAA an advantage over anyone else, it simply means the customer gets the benefit of the choice," replied Alice Bisno of the Automobile Club of Southern California.

Opponents also said the bill would impose a costly demand on carmakers, raised questions about a provision allowing consumers to opt out of data generation and warned that broadening access to car information would compromise consumer security and privacy.

PHOTO: Sen. Bill Monning unveils his car data bill on the steps of the Capitol in on March 18, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Jeremy B. White.

April 23, 2014
AM Alert: Senate breaks for 'day of reflection' on ethics

YeeCalderon.jpgFollowing a scandal-ridden early 2014 that ultimately saw three members suspended in an unprecedented move, the California Senate will hold a "day of reflection" on ethics today.

Regular business has been cancelled so senators and office staff can attend training sessions led by Scott Raecker, CEO of the Josephson Institute, a Los Angeles-based ethics education and consulting firm, starting at 9 a.m. at the State Library and Courts Building on the Capitol Mall.

Earlier this week, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said he did not think the training would have prevented the kind of corruption alleged against senators Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, and Leland Yee, D-San Francisco. "But that's only half the point," he added.

"It is always important to look inside and to be reflective and to ask, 'Well, what practices are there that we ought to be looking at? What should we change?'"

The training, which will also include a panel discussion with three attorneys expert in political and campaign issues, is intended to reinforce best practices so lawmakers do not put themselves in legally dubious territory.

"Money in politics is a reality," Steinberg said. "We need to talk about those kinds of situations and make sure the reaction is always to separate the question of campaign and money from public policy decision-making."

The Assembly will continue as normal with committee hearings, including an informational hearing on Internet poker at 1 p.m. in Room 4202 of the Capitol.

VIDEO: In reflecting on ethics, legislators should consider not just how they fund their campaigns, but the policy decisions they make, Dan Walters says.

IN THE BAG: The contentious issue of a statewide plastic bag ban seemed to reach a resolution in January when a deal was struck between lawmakers and manufacturers. The battle is clearly not over, however, as representatives from the plastic bag manufacturing industry will gather on the south steps of the Capitol at 10:30 a.m. to protest the latest version of the bill as a "job killer."

ROUND TWO: Since the last Secretary of State debate in March, one candidate has been arrested by the FBI and subsequently withdrawn. The field remains deep, however, and the race wide open, so other candidates will gather at 11:30 a.m. at the Capitol Plaza Ballroom on 9th Street for another debate hosted by the Sacramento Press Club. Democrats Alex Padilla and Derek Cressman, Republican Pete Peterson and Dan Schnur, who has no party preference, are all scheduled to attend, but it is unclear whether Green David Curtis will be allowed to participate.

WHAT'S THE RUB?: A boom in massage establishments over the last few years has also augmented concerns that many of them are selling sex behind closed doors. Assembly members Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles, and Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, along with the California League of Cities, will introduce legislation to give local governments more authority over regulating the massage industry, 11:30 a.m. in Room 1190 of the Capitol.

MONEY BACK GUARANTEE: Assemblyman Mark Stone, D-Scotts Valley, will join with United Service Workers West to call for the passage of his bill allowing workers to place wage liens on their employers for compensation that they are owed. Following a press conference at 10 a.m. in Capitol Park near 12th and N streets, they will march to the California Chamber of Commerce to present a giant invoice representing $240 million they say is still owed to employees.

LET'S GET FLEXIBLE: Assemblyman Brian Jones, R-Santee, will be joined by the California Chamber of Commerce and fellow Assembly members Kristin Olsen, R-Riverbank, and Brian Dahle, R-Bieber, to discuss a bill that would permit employees to request alternative scheduling for their workweeks, 11 a.m. in Room 126 of the Capitol.

LATINA ACTION DAY: Hispanas Organized for Political Equality has secured a full slate of Capitol players to speak at its policy and advocacy conference for Latina women, today at the Sheraton Grand Hotel on J Street. Assembly members Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton, and Sharon Quirk-Silva, D-Fullerton, kick things off at 10 a.m. with a webcast discussion about Latina representation in elected office. State Sens. Norma Torres, D-Pomona, and Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles; Assembly members Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, Jose Medina, D-Riverside, Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, Connie Conway, R-Tulare, and Henry T. Perea, D-Fresno; California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones and Secretary of State Debra Bowen are also scheduled to speak throughout the day.

DENIM ON DENIM: Wearing denim in protest of a 1999 Italian Supreme Court decision overturning a rape conviction because the victim was wearing tight jeans, the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault and supporters will rally on the south steps of the Capitol at 1:15 p.m. to mark Sexual Assault Awareness Month. State senators Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, and de León, and Assemblywomen Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, and Bonnie Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, are scheduled to speak.

PHOTO: State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, left, speaks on a bill, while his seat mate Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, works at his desk at the Capitol on January 28, 2014. The Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli

April 23, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: Ethical issues abound with money in politics

Capitol_repaint.JPGAs the state Senate prepares for a "day of reflection" on ethics, legislators should consider not just how they fund their campaigns, but the policy decisions they make, 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: Construction workers erect scaffolding around the Capitol dome on May 1, 2002 in preparation for painting. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

April 22, 2014
Amid scandal, Senate committee approves political fundraising bills

Deleon.JPGThe scandal-ridden state Senate took a step toward cleaning up its image Tuesday, when a key committee approved several bills aimed at purifying the role of money in California politics.

Most of the bills were written or amended following the federal corruption investigation of Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, and the record-setting FPPC fine on lobbyist Kevin Sloat for hosting officials at his home for lavish campaign fundraisers. Pressure mounted even further on the Senate when Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, was charged last month on charges that he took bribes and conspired to illegally sell weapons during a years-long FBI sting. Yee and Calderon have both pleaded not guilty in separate cases.

The Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee passed the following bills with a unanimous and bipartisan vote:

* - SB 1441 by Sen. Ricardo Lara: Would ban campaign fundraisers at lobbyists' homes, eliminating a rule that currently allows them to host events that cost up to $500.

* - SB 1442 by Lara: Would require political fundraising committees to file campaign finance reports four times a year, up from the current requirement of twice a year.

* - SB 1443 by Sen. Kevin de León: Would reduce the value of gifts officials can receive from any single source from the current $440 to $200. Would ban all gifts from lobbyists, eliminating a current rule that allows lobbyists to give up to $10 a month. Would prohibit officials from accepting certain kinds of gifts from anyone, including tickets to concerts, sports events and amusement parks; spa services and rounds of golf; cash and gift cards.

* - Senate Bill 1103 by Sen. Alex Padilla: Would prohibit a politician from simultaneously raising money for multiple state offices.

Other bills cleared the committee on a party-line votes, with Republican Sen. Joel Anderson voting no:

* - Senate Bill 1101 by Padilla: Would ban political fundraising during the last 100 days of the legislative session and for seven days after session ends.

* - Senate Bill 1102 by Padilla: Would increase the reporting required of small political contributions by mandating disclosure of donations of $100 or more within 24 hours during the 90 days preceding an election and within 5 business days the rest of the year.

* - Senate Bill 831 by Sen. Jerry Hill: Would make numerous changes to the Political Reform Act, including: forbidding politicians facing criminal charges from using campaign funds to pay their legal bills; prohibiting officials from giving campaign funds to nonprofits operated by their political colleagues and banning the use of campaign funds for things like rent, utility bills, vacations, tuition and gifts to family members. It would also place a new $5,000 cap on the amount of travel gifts officials could receive from nonprofit organizations, and require groups providing the travel to disclose their financial donors to the Fair Political Practices Commission.

PHOTO: Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, talks about the proposed California Accountability in Public Service Act during a Capitol news conference where he and other Democratic lawmakers announced a package of bills intended to impose new rules on public officials on Thursday March 6, 2014. At right is State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and at left is Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens. The Sacramento Bee/ Renée C. Byer


April 22, 2014
California massage fix proposed

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Seeking to work out the kinks in California's disputed massage regulations, Assembly members are poised to announce a bill giving local governments broader powers to crack down on wayward operators.

In the years since California transferred oversight of the massage industry from municipal authorities to a centralized state nonprofit known as the California Massage Therapy Council, many cities have witnessed a boom in the number of massage establishments.

Local leaders have complained about their inability to regulate the mushrooming massage parlors, and law enforcement has warned of an expanded risk of illegitimate enterprises selling sex under the guise of physical therapy. In response to those concerns, a trio of lawmakers will unveil a bill Thursday meant to restore some local control.

The bill would delete a provision of the law shielding certain massage parlors from local land use ordinances. Critics of that exemption say land use rules are a critical tool for cities seeking to cap the number of massage establishments in a given area or to prevent new businesses from quickly replacing shuttered parlors. Cities would be empowered to enact additional ordinances governing areas like health code requirements and operating hours.

The legislation also tries to impose more accountability on massage parlor owners. Business managers, not just individual massage therapists, would need to get certified.

Cops and cities would have an amplified voice in massage matters. The California Massage Therapy Council, currently populated by industry representatives, would have dedicated seats for the League of California Cities, the California State Association of Counties, and the California Police Chiefs Association.

Assembly members Jimmy Gomez, Susan Bonilla and Chris Holden are authoring the legislation.

PHOTO: A licensed massage therapist massages a regular client at the Massage Envy Spa at Loehmann's Plaza in Sacramento on February 22, 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo.

April 22, 2014
Green Party secretary of state candidate to crash Sacramento debate

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David Curtis, the Green Party candidate for secretary of state, said he will show up at Wednesday's Sacramento Press Club luncheon debate featuring four of his rivals for the state's top elections post even though he wasn't invited.

Curtis, who the latest Field Poll shows leading two candidates included in Wednesday's lineup, has criticized the press club on social media. He has challenged the organization's nonprofit status.

"I was very disappointed to learn that a social group of supposedly prominent journalists would feel it appropriate to exclude any candidates," Curtis said in an interview, adding that he only learned of the event after he saw a rival mention it on Twitter.

"That was just rude. They call me rude. Well, that's rude," Curtis added.

Wednesday's event is scheduled to feature two Democrats, state Sen. Alex Padilla and Derek Cressman, Republican Pete Peterson, and Dan Schnur, who has no party preference. Another Democrat on the ballot, suspended state Sen. Leland Yee, has been indicted for corruption and conspiracy and withdrawn from the race.

In a message posted on press club's Facebook page, president Juliet Williams said the group issued invitations to the event before the Field Poll's release. The group's board never heard from Curtis until he posted a Facebook message the weekend of April 12 . Before the board had a chance to respond, Williams wrote, "Mr. Curtis began a tirade of insulting and threatening social media posts about our organization.

"Upon receiving a phone call from our program director, Mr. Curtis became belligerent and rude, making a conversation impossible. Our decision was clear, given our intent to hold a civil and informative discussion on the issues in the race. Our organization is entitled to invite whichever speakers we choose and is under no mandate to invite everyone," Williams wrote.

Williams, a Capitol reporter for the Associated Press, noted that its panel mirrors the "four leading candidates" interviewed by the editorial board of The Sacramento Bee.

Tuesday, the San Diego-based Independent Voter Project called on candidates to boycott Wednesday's event.

"The club has justified its position by claiming that Mr. Curtis was 'rude,'" the group's leaders, former state Sen. Steve Peace and former Assemblyman Jeff Marston, wrote. "If so, it is for voters to pass judgement, not the Press Club. We speak from experience when we say every candidate has a right to make an ass of themselves, and the voters have a right to see it."

There has been only one previous forum for secretary of state's candidates, in Los Angeles on March 3. Curtis was one of six announced candidates at that event, which did not include two other people who will be on the June ballot: Democrat Jeffrey Drobman of Thousand Oaks and Republican Roy Allmond of Sacramento.

"They picked the ones that were most actively campaigning. That was the six of us," Curtis said of the March forum.

PHOTO: David Curtis of San Rafael, Green Party candidate for secretary of state in 2014. Photo courtesy of Curtis campaign.

April 22, 2014
AM Alert: Kevin Mullin seeks limit on agricultural antibiotic use

cows.JPGAs antibiotics have become a widespread medical tool, they've actually lost some of their effectiveness -- a concern underpinning ongoing legislative efforts to restrict the use of antibiotics on livestock.

Both state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, and Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, have introduced bills this session that would place limits on feeding antibiotics to farm animals, which has been linked to resistant strains of bacteria.

Mullin will be joined by doctors and consumer advocates to discuss his bill, AB 1437, during a press conference at 8:30 a.m. in Room 317 of the Capitol.

AB 1437 is one of Capitol Alert's bills to watch for the 2014 legislative session. Keep tabs on all of them on our Insider Edition app.

VIDEO: It's all about the money as legislators return from spring recess, Dan Walters says.

HEALTH CARE ACCESS: As part of the California Medical Association's lobby day, physicians and legislators will discuss a package of bills that they say would increase access to health care, 11 a.m. on the north steps. Assembly members Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley; Richard Pan, D-Sacramento; V. Manuel Pérez, D-Coachella; and Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, will present legislation.

WHAT'S UP, DOC?: Gov. Jerry Brown and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom are scheduled to address the California chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians during the group's legislative conference, starting at 9:30 a.m. at the CSAC Conference Center on 11th Street.

A YEAR IN REVIEW: During the first year of enrollment, nearly 1.4 million Californians signed up for health insurance through the state exchange. UCLA health policy and management professor Gerald Kominski will dive into what that number means and what Covered California can learn from it, 11:30 a.m. at the UC Center Sacramento on K Street.

MUSLIM DAY: The Council on American-Islamic Relations gathers on the south steps at 10 a.m. for its third annual Muslim Day at the Capitol to call for support of legislation including SB 1005, which would extend health care subsidies to undocumented immigrants.

TO SERVE AND PROTEST: Members of the California Libertarian Party rally to oppose a measure that would change the state constitution to fill legislative vacancies by gubernatorial appointment and to promote some of their 2014 candidates. Noon at the corner of 12th and L streets.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to state Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, who turns 59 today.

PHOTO: Cows in Sacramento County feed on hay due to drought conditions on January 23, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.

April 22, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: It's all about the money in session's second half

RBCapitolDome.JPGAs the Legislature returns from spring recess, funding battles will take focus and could determine policy for years to come, Dan says.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

April 21, 2014
California lawmakers want more data on prison realignment

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By Brad Branan
bbranan@sacbee.com

Since state lawmakers approved a law in 2011 making counties responsible for lower-level offenders, supporters and critics have offered many opinions as to whether or not the law is working.

Gov. Jerry Brown, for instance, recently reported that it is.

However, the difficulty in measuring the effectiveness of AB 109 was underscored Monday afternoon during a panel discussion held by the Public Policy Institute of California. The law was passed amid state budget problems in response to a federal court order requiring the state to reduce prison population.

The state must do a better job measuring how effectively counties are carrying out the law, according to the panel's speakers: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, and Matthew Cate, head of the California State Association of Counties, and previously secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

"We have a lot of programs out there. Nobody seems to be able to tell me do they work," said Melendez. "There has been no analysis."

Steinberg agreed that there has been a lack of data available about what is often called prison realignment, and said he would push for greater reporting requirements and more funding for mental health and drug treatment and other rehabilitation.

PHOTO: Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore during session in the Assembly chambers in Sacramento, Calif. on Monday, March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

April 21, 2014
Antonio Villaraigosa endorses Torlakson rival in state supe race

Antonio_Villaraigosa.JPGIn an unusual move, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has broken with the California Democratic Party to endorse a rival over incumbent Tom Torlakson in the race for state superintendent of public instruction.

Villaraigosa, a former Assembly speaker with a possible eye on a future governor's race, announced his support for former charter schools executive Marshall Tuck last Thursday, calling him the "only candidate with the experience needed to bring major change to California schools."

"Marshall will bring real strategies, not politics, to Sacramento," Villaraigosa said in a statement.

The endorsement is not entirely unexpected: In 2006, Villaraigosa selected Tuck to lead a non-profit organization that assumed control of 17 failing public schools in Los Angeles Unified School District.

But the move puts Villaraigosa at odds with his party, which endorsed Torlakson at its convention in March. Torlakson has also received endorsements from prominent California Democrats including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, as well the state's two biggest teacher's unions.

And Villaraigosa also has a prior relationship with Torlakson: They served together in the Assembly from 1996 to 2000, where Torlakson joined Democrats to elect Villaraigosa as Speaker in 1998.

"Given that the former mayor had previously hired Mr. Tuck, his endorsement comes as no surprise," Torlakson spokesman Paul Hefner wrote in an e-mail. "It certainly is not likely to carry the weight with voters the support Superintendent Torlakson enjoys among teachers, school employees and dozens of county and local school superintendents."

Editor's note: This post was updated at 3:39 p.m. to add a comment from Torlakson's office.

PHOTO: Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa speaks at a Sacramento Press Club lunch on August 15, 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

April 21, 2014
GOP ties California Democrats to Keystone XL pipeline delays

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The Republican Party sent an email blast Monday blaming California Democrats for delaying a controversial pipeline that even supporters acknowledge would bring little economic benefit to the state.

The National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee sent the letter in response to President Barack Obama's decision Friday to extend the review period for the 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring oil from western Canada to the Gulf Coast.

Obama is under pressure from environmentalists to nix the project, but many of his fellow Democrats are feeling the heat from Republicans eager to turn it into an election issue.

The GOP accused Democrats in competitive House races, including Rep. Ami Bera of Elk Grove, John Garamendi of Walnut Grove and Raul Ruiz of Palm Desert, of standing with their "far-left liberal donors" rather than supporting the pipeline.

One of those donors is San Francisco billionaire hedge fund manager Tom Steyer, who opposes the pipeline and has funded efforts to defeat any candidate who supports it - even Democrats.

Steyer hosted a fundraiser with Obama for Democrats earlier this month and has pledged $100 million to back candidates who favor renewable energy over fossil fuels.

NRCC spokeswoman Andrea Bozek said Steyer "is one of many extreme donors" filling the campaign coffers of Democrats.

But it's not clear that the issue will resonate in California. Keystone XL wouldn't come within half a continent of California, nor would it supply the state's petroleum needs.

Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association and one of the pipeline's strongest supporters, wrote in 2012 that it wouldn't deliver direct economic benefits to California and other western states.

California will get a significant amount of oil by rail in the coming years, however. The state energy commission projects that trains could supply as much as a quarter of the state's oil needs within two years.

Tyrone Gayle, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, called the NRCC letter "another desperate attempt by national Republicans to distract Californians."

PHOTO: Rep. John Garamendi discusses legislation he and Republican Rep. Doug LaMalfa, left, are proposing to study the cost of building a reservoir in the Sites Valley. AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli.

April 21, 2014
Health insurance rate regulation foes flex fundraising muscle

Court-thumb-280x419-87671.jpgGood Friday was a good day for opponents of a ballot initiative to regulate health insurance prices.

The coalition of doctors, hospitals and insurance companies last week reported collecting nearly $24 million from Blue Shield of California and Kaiser Foundation Health Plan. Half of the money was listed as loans to the campaign.

The contributions follow more than $13 million in donations from WellPoint and Anthem Blue Cross last year. Opponents of the effort argue it will drive up the cost of care in California.

"The sponsors drafted a flawed, deceptive measure with language buried in the fine print that will line their pockets at the expense of consumers, who will face higher health care costs," said Robin Swanson, a spokeswoman for Californians Against Higher Health Care Costs. "Our coalition of doctors, hospitals, health plans and employers will have the necessary resources to inform voters across the state about these flaws and the real reason the special interests behind this measure spent millions to put in on the ballot."

Other opposing donors include Health Net and the California Association of Health Plans.

Advanced by Consumer Watchdog, the November ballot measure would allow the state's elected insurance commissioner to deny health premium increases they deem excessive. California regulators based on a previous statewide initiative already have the power to deny automobile, property and casualty insurance rate increases.

Jamie Court, the initiative proponent and president of Consumer Watchdog, said the group is betting voters will see through the money. A campaign statement coming due will show the group has about $150,000 on hand to spend from its three commitees, he said.

"I don't think any amount of money can deny they are unjustifiably raising rates," Court said. "The fact that they are spending so much will signal to Californians just how important and significant this inititive is."

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

April 21, 2014
AM Alert: Is realignment working?

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Welcome back from legislative spring break, everybody! Returning lawmakers will be delving right back in to a contentious policy issue during a daylong hearing on prison realignment.

Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to shift low-level offenders from prisons to county jails, spurred by court-ordered reductions in the state's bulging prison population, has won praise for considering alternatives to incarceration and attracted condemnation for releasing dangerous criminals and overwhelming local facilities. A Public Policy Institute of California event at the Sheraton Grand today will step back to take stock.

Expected attendees include Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, and Matthew Cate, who is deeply immersed in the issue: currently head of the California State Association of Counties, he helped oversee realignment's implementation as chief of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

VIDEO:Lawmakers are returning to a host of challenges, both fiscal and ethical, Dan Walters says.

GRADING SCHOOLS: The state bureau responsible for certifying trade schools flunked a recent state audit, and today a joint Assembly and Senate committee hearing will mull the fate of the sunsetting Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education. Testifying at the 10 a.m. hearing will be State Auditor Elaine Howle and Joanne Wenzel, chief of the bureau.

DOGGING IT: With an eye to preventing animal cruelty, California in 2012 outlawed using canines to hound bears and bobcats. The California Houndsmen for Conservation want to roll back the prohibition, and they'll be rallying today for a bill by Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, that would allow hunters to release the dogs if they obtain special permission. 11 a.m. on the west steps.

SALON AND ON: Usually talk around the Capitol of cuts implies tough budgetary choices, but today it references something a little more welcome. In the latest iteration of Interest Group Freebies, the Professional Beauty Federation of CA will be offering gratis hair cuts, manicures and massages for legislators and staff on the North steps this afternoon.

BRINGING IT HOME: We brought you news before of the pushback to Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to cap hours for in-home supportive services, which caregivers say will limit their flexibility in offering help - often to disabled family members - and thrust some into poverty. The Service Employees International Union will start dropping in on legislators today to urge rejection of governor's plan, a campaign SEIU says they will continue multiple days a week until the budget passes.

PHOTO: Inmates inside the jail cells in the old Stanislaus County downtown main jail in Modesto on Wednesday June 19, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo.

April 21, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: Legislature returns from recess facing big problems

Assembly_chamber.JPGAfter a week off for spring recess, the Legislature returns facing ethics violations and funding questions that must be dealt with, Dan says.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

April 18, 2014
Democratic super PAC reserves TV airtime in California

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In politics, it's never too early to plan.

A Democratic super PAC announced Friday that it has reserved more than $800,000 in television time for the home stretch of the general election in California.

House Majority PAC, which wades into contested congressional races, secured TV time in Sacramento, Riverside and San Diego counties for the weeks leading up to Nov. 4.

It includes $112,219 to protect Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Palm Desert, $189,610 on behalf of Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, and $512,190 in the district held by Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego. The initial reservation for broadcast and cable nationwide is $6.5 million and covers 24 districts.

Early reservations typically allow candidates and outside groups to lock in lower advertising rates. A spokesman for the House Majority PAC said the group didn't make its initial television reservations last cycle until July. It spent money in more than 50 races, said Matt Thornton.

Ruiz, Bera and Peters swept into office as part of the Democratic wave in 2012. All three have outraised their closest Republican challengers Brian Nestande, Doug Ose and Carl DeMaio, respectively. In Sacramento County's 7th district, trailing Ose in fundraising are Republicans Elizabeth Emken and Igor Birman.

Separately Friday, Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call downgraded Nestande's chances of unseating Ruiz in the 36th district, shifting the race from leaning Democratic to Democratic-favored.

PHOTO: Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, is seen in his Longworth Building office in the U.S. Capitol complex on February 11, 2014. MCT/J.M. Eddins, Jr.

April 18, 2014
FPPC investigating disclosure compliance by Tim Donnelly's PAC

donnellygunstore.jpgThe state agency overseeing campaign finance rules in California says Republican Tim Donnelly has failed for more than a year to file campaign finance statements for a political action committee he formed in 2012.

The Fair Political Practices Commission said Friday it has opened an investigation into the California Patriots PAC, a small fund whose stated purpose is to "support conservative candidates for public office throughout the state of California."

The investigation follows an inquiry letter the FPPC sent Donnelly, a gubernatorial candidate and Twin Peaks assemblyman, late last month. The letter, provided to The Bee in response to a California Public Records Act request, said the committee failed to file required campaign statements since October 2012.

At the time the FPPC wrote Donnelly, Donnelly's campaign said it had filed the statements and did not know why they did not appear on the Secretary of State's website, while the Secretary of State's office said it had not received the filings.

Donnelly's campaign said Friday that copies of the documents were re-sent Thursday. It provided copies of the filings to The Bee, which showed $18,470 in committee expenditures in 2012, including $8,783 for a mailer opposing West Covina Democrat Roger Hernandez's successful state Assembly campaign. The committee had $411 in cash on hand at the end of 2014.

In documents filed by recipients of the committee's money, the California Patriots PAC appears to have spent little since its formation, giving $3,947 to three unsuccessful Republican candidates for Assembly in 2012. The contributions reported by candidates include a non-monetary contribution of a banner worth $2,447 to Donna Lowe, who lost to Chris Holden, D-Pasadena. The committee gave $1,000 to Craig Huey's race in Los Angeles County, and $500 to JD Bennett's campaign in the Central Valley.

Gary Winuk, the FPPC's chief of enforcement, said a failure to file campaign statements runs counter to "the whole point of disclosure."

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

April 18, 2014
Jerry Brown grants 63 pardons

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Gov. Jerry Brown announced 63 pardons Friday, with the vast majority of the recipients convicted of long-ago drug crimes.

The people pardoned, Brown wrote in the pardon messages, have "lived an honest and upright life, exhibited good moral character" and conducted themselves as law-abiding citizens.

Of the 63 pardons, more than two-thirds were for people convicted of crimes for selling, transporting or manufacturing controlled substances, including marijuana. Other pardoned convictions included burglary, stolen property, vehicle theft, and evading a police officer.

Only one of the crimes, a 1982 purse theft in Los Angeles County, involved the threatened use of a gun, according to the pardon messages. Constance Clark, was convicted of robbery and served eight months in prison, three years probation, and has stayed out of trouble since.

"Indeed, Ms. Clark is active in her church, and volunteers her time there," the governor wrote.

Friday's order does not mention Easter or religion. But since returning to the statehouse in 2011, the seminary-trained governor has announced blanket pardons near major days on the Christian calendar.

On Christmas Eve last year, Brown announced pardons for 127 people. On the day before Easter last year, Brown pardoned 65 people. And he announced 79 pardons on Christmas Eve in 2012.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown, shown here in a Jan.10, 2013 file photo. The Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli

April 18, 2014
UC Berkeley acceptance rate plunges amid new admission process

berkeleycampus.jpgUniversity of California, Berkeley's freshman acceptance rate for fall 2014 plunged 3.5 percentage points amid changes to its admission process, including a greater emphasis on admitting out-of-state students.

Preliminary University of California admission data released Friday showed Berkeley's acceptance rate falling to 17.3 percent, from 20.8 percent in 2013, with more than 1,300 fewer students admitted to the campus this year despite a huge increase to a record 73,771 applications.

The overall acceptance rate across the UC system also fell, to 58.4 percent this year from 59.2 percent in 2013, though California admits increased slightly to 61.2 percent. UC admitted 86,865 students, about 4,000 more than last year.

Latino students made significant gains, increasing to 28.8 percent of the admitted student population and surpassing white students to become the second largest ethnic group of UC admits, behind Asian Americans.

University of California, Los Angeles, which has been the most selective UC campus for the last several years, dipped nearly two percentage points to 18.2 percent admission. This appears to be the first time that UC Berkeley and UCLA admissions have fallen below 20 percent.

University of California, Davis acceptance ticked up to 40.6 percent, from 39.4 percent in 2013, with a large increase in the number of out-of-state and international students admitted.

UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks wrote a letter to the campus community Friday morning to address the huge decline in its acceptance rate, which saw more than 800 fewer California students admitted to the flagship UC campus this year.

"We actually anticipate enrolling at least 50 more in-state freshmen than we did in 2013," he said. "The discrepancy is simply a reflection of changes in our admissions and enrollment process."

In the past, the university admitted more students in the spring and wound up with more commitments to attend than it was prepared for, Dirks said.

Under a new process, Berkeley will initially accept a smaller number of students, designed to generate commitments at a lower level than its enrollment target. It will then fill the rest of its freshman class from an expanded waiting list -- a move that Dirks said is in line with best practices at other select universities, including most other UC campuses.

Dirks also announced that the university would be targeting an increase of non-resident enrollment. He said Berkeley anticipated enrolling about 100 more out-of-state and international students this year compared to last year, with plans to grow their portion of undergraduate population from 20 percent to 23 percent over the next three years.

The decision was "driven primarily by our commitments to maintain Berkeley's academic excellence, access and robust financial aid programs," Dirks wrote. "In order to sustain the excellence of our programs and the student experience, tuition from out-of-state and international students is crucial."

With tuition frozen and state funding recovering slowly from recession cuts, he added, "the fact remains that we have an unavoidable need to increase revenue in line with rising expenses."

Tuition and fees for in-state students at Berkeley are $12,864, compared to $35,864 for non-residents.

The map shows shows freshman admission data at UC campuses for 2014.

Editor's Note: This post was updated at 10:19 a.m. to correct the non-resident tuition. Out-of-state and international students pay $35,864 annually, $22,878 of which is a supplemental fee.

PHOTO: People walk through Sproul Plaza on the University of California, Berkeley campus on June 1, 2011. The Associated Press/Eric Risberg

April 18, 2014
AM Alert: Californians support transitional kindergarten proposal

kindergarten.JPGIn his final year in the Legislature, state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has made it a priority to expand pre-kindergarten to every 4-year-old in California, giving families the option of an extra year of schooling before their children start kindergarten.

As subscribers to the Capitol Alert Insider Edition app learned last night, California voters largely support his proposal. In a new Field Poll, 57 percent of voters believe it would be worth the estimated $1.4 billion annual cost for the transitional kindergarten initiative.

Support was especially high among Latino and African-American voters, as well as parents of young children. Seventy-five percent of Latinos and 72 percent of African-Americans favored the measure, while 69 percent of parents with a child younger than 5 thought it was worth the investment.

Reporter Laurel Rosenhall has more on Californians' opinions of transitional kindergarten in her story. Here are the statistical tabulations prepared exclusively for Capitol Alert.

MAKING THE GRADE: In an effort to turn around its lowest-performing schools, Los Angeles Unified School District created a "school choice" initiative in 2009 that allows groups to compete to run its failing campuses. Policy Analysis for California Education hosts a briefing with University of Southern California researchers Julie Marsh and Katharine Strunk to examine the effectiveness of the program, 11:30 a.m. at the UC Center Sacramento on K Street.

INSIDE SCOOP: For those looking for more information on how to navigate the legislative process, the California Latino Capitol Association sponsors a "Bill 101" workshop at noon in Room 126 of the Capitol.

DO UC WHAT I SEE?: Preliminary data on University of California freshman admissions for next year, including the ratio of resident to out-of-state students, will be released at 9 a.m.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, who turns 67 today.

April 17, 2014
FPPC delays decision on Berryhill money-laundering case

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The board of California's political ethics watchdog Thursday postponed action on a recommended $40,000 money-laundering penalty against state Sen. Tom Berryhill, his brother and Republican central committees in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties.

After meeting in closed session for about an hour, the Fair Political Practices Commission announced that it would take the case under submission. The move came after the Berryhills' attorneys argued that an administrative law judge incorrectly interpreted campaign-finance rules when he concluded that the senator and others committed "serious and deliberate" violations of the Political Reform Act.

The commission now has until mid-May to announce whether it will accept the $40,000 penalty recommended in January by Administrative Law Judge Jonathan Lew, reject it, or take a different approach.

Thursday's hearing comes five-and-a-half years after the November 2008 election, when commission investigators contend that then-Assemblyman Tom Berryhill funneled more than $40,000 through the central committees to help his brother Bill Berryhill's campaign. Candidates can accept much more money from party committees than individuals, $30,200 per election compared to $3,600 at the time, but any collusion is prohibited.

Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte, testified in December that he gave the money to the central committees with no strings attached. He only hoped that local GOP leaders would pass it on to his brother's campaign for an adjacent Assembly district, which Democrats had targeted with a late push. Other Republican officials vouched for Berryhill.

Lew's decision clearly showed that he didn't buy the senator's' version of events, commission investigators wrote in a staff report. "The real problem respondents have with Judge Lew is that he did not believe the untruthful defense he was forced to listen to for almost six days," they wrote.

Both sides said the commission's ultimate decision will have far-reaching implications. Enforcement chief Gary Winuk said rejecting Lew's recommendation would "eviscerate" campaign contribution limits. But attorney Charles Bell, who represented the Berryhills and the central committees, said upholding the judge's decision would "throw a big rock in the pond of campaign financing" and put some common campaign-finance transactions under legal scrutiny.

PHOTO: State Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte, far right, with (left to right), brother Bill Berryhill, attorney Charles Bell, and Tony Amador, chairman of the San Joaquin County GOP, outside the FPPC meeting April 17, 2014 in Sacramento. The Sacramento Bee/Jim Miller

April 17, 2014
VIDEO: Dickinson bill seeks crude oil train emergency preparedness

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Pointing to the catastrophic derailment in Quebec of a train transporting oil and similar accidents, Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, has unveiled legislation to get emergency responders more information about crude-carrying trains that roll through California.

As the United States reaps the fruits of a domestic energy boom, driven in part by huge volumes natural gas extracted via hydraulic fracturing, the amount of oil transported via rail has grown apace. According to the California Energy Commission, 6.1 million barrels of crude chugged into California on trains in 2013, accounting for 1.1 percent of the amount processed at California refineries.

"It is safe to say that we've all become alarmed with learning about the large increase in certain types of crude oil and oil products that California refineries will be receiving," Dickinson said during a Thursday news conference at the downtown Sacramento train station.

Cities have begun raising the alarm about safety hazards, and officials have testified to Congress that most communities are ill-prepared to handle the aftermath of a derailment. In addition to the deadly derailment in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, oil trains have jumped the tracks and ignited in Alabama and North Dakota.

Now, with a Bay Area refinery planning to move huge amounts of crude oil on a rail line running through downtown Sacramento, Dickinson has proposed legislation requiring railroads to disclose more information about oil shipments to those who would be dispatched to handle a potential rail accident.

"Because of this rapid change in the transportation of crude by rail, state safety rules are simply not what they need to be," Dickinson said.

Currently, railroads don't have to notify cities in advance about their cargo. Trains carrying hazardous materials, like oil or acid, must have warnings stenciled on the side of the cars containing the dangerous commodities.

Under Dickinson's bill, blueprints detailing facts like the volume of oil being transported in a given day; how many cars are being used; and the characteristics of the oil being conveyed would go to local officials. The state agency that now obtains that information would be compelled to share it with local fire and police departments.

"If (responders) know what they're dealing with," Dickinson said, "they've got a much better chance of controlling and containing the incident and also protecting their own lives."

Gov. Jerry Brown has also taken note of the growing risk. Under the governor's budget, the state's Office of Oil Spill Prevention and Response would get more money and staff to deal with the growing risk of inland oil spills. As it stands now, the agency responds to oil spills in marine areas.

PHOTO: A tanker truck is filled from railway cars containing crude oil on railroad tracks in McClellan Park in North Highlands on Wednesday, March 19, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton.

VIDEO: The Sacramento Bee/Dan Smith

April 17, 2014
Nearly 1.4 million Californians enroll in health insurance exchange

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Citing a large influx of customers in the final weeks, California officials announced Thursday that more than 3 million people enrolled in health insurance coverage or Medi-Cal, capping an opening period that saw the state emerge as an example for the rest of the nation.

Covered California said 1.39 million customers enrolled in exchange plans, including 205,685 after officials granted a two-week extension through April 15. Some 1.2 million of the customers are eligible for federal subsidies.

Insurance companies report that roughly 85 percent of enrollees have paid their first month's premium, Executive Director Peter V. Lee said.

"We are proud of what California has achieved, but recognize this is only the beginning of a long road of expanding affordable coverage to all Californians," Lee said in announcing the tallies.

Of the 1.9 million people to enroll in Medi-Cal through March, 1.1 million came by way of the state exchange and county officials. Despite website and phone troubles, more than 40 percent of exchange customers picked coverage though the website. Overall figures since Oct. 1, 2013 far exceeded the exchange's initial projections, officials said.

Enrollment among Latinos and young people - essential groups that earlier eluded the exchange - improved in recent months as officials dedicated more resources to marketing and community engagement.

Latinos constituted 30 percent of the sign-ups in March and April, pushing the final figure to 28 percent. Similarly, enrollment among customers aged 18 to 34 ticked up to 29 percent. Federal officials have said they need 40 percent of enrollees to be under 35.

The exchange reported meeting its projection among African-Americans and more than doubling its base goal for Asian-Americans.

PHOTO: Michael Wilson, left, a certified Covered California agent helps Jose and Laura Gomez of Sacramento with their choice for insurance coverage at the SEIU union hall on March 31, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

April 17, 2014
AM Alert: Californians open to changing Prop 13

no_taxes.JPGAs subscribers to the Capitol Alert Insider Edition app learned last night, Californians are open to making changes to Proposition 13, the 1978 tax-limiting measure that is a cornerstone of the state's political foundation.

A new Field Poll reveals that about one-half of California voters generally support changing some parts of the law, while 69 percent support restructuring commercial property transactions so that their taxes are always reassessed when the properties are sold or transferred.

That idea has long been controversial, especially among the business community; a legislative effort last year was labelled a "job killer" by the California Chamber of Commerce and died in committee. But the poll showed strong bipartisan support for amending commercial property assessments, with 71 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans in favor.

Reporter David Siders has more about California voters' views on Prop. 13 and other tax issues in his story. Here are the statistical tabulations prepared exclusively for Capitol Alert.

POLITIC-OIL ACTION: Train shipments of crude oil to California have risen dramatically over the last year, drawing opposition from many communities along rail lines over potential safety and environmental hazards. Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, will introduce legislation to address concerns about rail accidents involving crude oil, 11 a.m. at the Sacramento Rail Depot on I Street.

MO MONEY, MO PROBLEMS: The Fair Political Practices Commission will consider whether to go along with a recommended $40,000 fine against state Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte, and others for allegedly laundering campaign money when it meets today at 10 a.m.

LUNCHTIME TALK: The UC Center Sacramento begins its spring lecture series with a visit from Heather Young, dean of the UC Davis school of nursing, to discuss her research on healthy aging, noon at the UC Center Sacramento on K Street.

PHOTO: The Sacramento "tea party" drew more than 5,000 protesters to the state Capitol on March 17, 2009 to oppose higher taxes in California and the Obama administration's national policies. The Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo

April 16, 2014
Tim Donnelly fires legislative chief of staff

donnellyscrum.jpgOne month after splitting with his campaign manager in his run for governor, Republican Tim Donnelly has fired Alex Vassar, his legislative chief of staff, sources said.

The reason was unclear. Donnelly, a state assemblyman from Twin Peaks, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Vassar, who went to work for Donnelly last year, declined to comment.

Donnelly, the Legislature's most outspoken gun rights and anti-illegal immigration advocate, leads all Republicans in recent polls in an uphill effort to unseat Gov. Jerry Brown.

Donnelly's former campaign manager, Jennifer Kerns, announced last month that she had quit his gubernatorial campaign, while Donnelly called her departure a "mutual" decision.

In an email Wednesday, Kerns said Vassar's firing "represents a continuation of poor judgment" by Donnelly.

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

April 16, 2014
Leland Yee shuts down ballot-measure committee

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State Sen. Leland Yee has closed his ballot-measure committee, only days after authorities indicted him on corruption and gun-running conspiracy charges.

The account, One California For All, was terminated effective April 9 after the roughly $1,300 in it as of March 17 was used to pay off campaign expenses. The termination statement was filed with the secretary of state's office Tuesday.

Yee created the committee in fall 2008 and it raised about $72,000 from 2009 through 2012, records show. Beginning in 2011, the committee's stated purpose was "school bond."

In the criminal complaint against Yee and more than 20 others that became public March 26, Yee allegedly encourages an undercover agent seeking contracts with the state to give to his ballot measure account.

"When (the agent) asked if there was some way that he could contribute money 'outside the campaign,' and not have to be worried, Senator Yee said that (the agent) could contribute unlimited sums to a committee supporting a ballot measure for school funding that Senator Yee also supported," the complaint reads, describing an October 2011 meeting between the senator and agent. "Senator Yee explained that the ads for the measure would feature Senator Yee in a positive piece supporting schools and education."

PHOTO: State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, leaves Federal Court in San Francisco on March 26, 2014. Bay Area News Group/Karl Mondon

April 16, 2014
Rep. Ami Bera sitting comfortably in 7th district fundraising

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Rep. Ami Bera far outpaced his Republican challengers in first-quarter fundraising, bringing in more than $489,000 and elevating his cash on hand to $1.47 million.

The Elk Grove Democrat spent about $172,000 since the beginning of the year, doubling his rate from last quarter as the primary election approaches. His cash on hand again exceeds the combined amounts of Republicans Igor Birman, Elizabeth Emken and Doug Ose.

"It's just further confirmation that Sacramento County families want a problem solver who keeps his promises and puts them ahead of politics representing them in Congress," Bera said.

Ose, a businessman and former congressman, loaned his campaign $250,000, raised $227,000 and has $418,000 in the bank. A wealthy land developer, Ose has said he will spend what it takes to unseat Bera in the competitive 7th district.

"Our campaign is picking up steam because local folks know I'm going to serve them, not Washington, DC special interest groups," Ose said.

Emken, an autism advocate making her third bid for elected office, raised $110,000 and has about double that on hand. She owes her campaign $220,000 after repaying $65,000 toward a prior loan.

Birman, a congressional aide, raised $110,000. He has a combined $70,000 for the primary and general elections minus about $8,500 in debts.

April 16, 2014
Jerry Brown calls special legislative session on rainy day fund

jerrybrownprisons.jpgGov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday called a special session of the Legislature for next week to address his effort to put a rainy-day fund constitutional amendment on the November ballot.

The proposed amendment would eliminate some provisions of a rainy day reserve measure already on the ballot. The original measure, ACA 4, was opposed by some of the Democratic governor's liberal allies, who complained it would collect too much money and make it too difficult to increase spending.

Brown has said the measure fails to address the volatility of capital gains revenue and didn't allow lawmakers to pay down debt, among other shortcomings.

"We simply must prevent the massive deficits of the last decade and we can only do that by paying down our debts and creating a solid Rainy Day Fund," Brown said in a prepared statement Wednesday.

The original measure, ACA 4, was part of a 2010 budget deal between Democrats, Republicans and then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and originally scheduled to go before voters in 2012, but lawmakers postponed it to 2014.

Republicans reacted skeptically to Brown's proposal when he first announced it, in January, saying they were happy with ACA 4. Brown's ability to push it through a special session will test Democrats' diminished standing in the Legislature. Democrats have lost their two-thirds majority in the Senate, with three senators suspended.

In calling a special session, Brown raises the profile of the issue but still must get supermajority support.

Brown's proposal, contained in his January budget plan, includes a $1.6 billion allocation to a new rainy-day fund. He proposes to increase deposits during years when capital gains revenue is high, to raise the maximum size of the fund to 10 percent of general fund revenue and to create a special reserve for school funding.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown speaks to reporters at a news conference at the Capitol on Sept. 9, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

April 16, 2014
AM Alert: Californians divided geographically over water shortage

AmericanRiver.jpgThough nearly all Californians agree the state is experiencing a serious water shortage, they are divided over the causes of the problem.

A new Field Poll shows that 88 percent of California voters believe the state is facing a serious water shortage, with 60 percent labeling it extremely serious. About 27 percent blame a lack of storage, while 37 percent think it is due to inefficient water use. Another 24 percent believe that both are equally responsible.

The question of cause also takes on a regional split: Voters in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles and other parts of Southern California are more likely to blame inefficient use, while Central Valley residents point to insufficient storage.

What do Californians make of possible solutions to the water shortage, like reducing agricultural use and bypassing environmental regulations? Reporter Jeremy B. White has more in his story. Here are the statistical tabulations prepared exclusively for Capitol Alert.

The next Field Poll covers voter opinions on taxes and government spending. Subscribers to the Capitol Alert Insider Edition app can read the story early, at 8 p.m.

EN ESPAÑOL: State Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, is in San Francisco to announce SB 1174, a bilingual education bill that would ask voters to overturn Proposition 227, the 1998 initiative requiring all California public classes to be taught in English. Lara will hold a news conference at 11 a.m. at West Portal Elementary.

PROGRESS REPORT: As the state works to implement the new Common Core curriculum, the Public Policy Institute of California hosts a discussion between education researchers and officials on how school districts are adjusting to the new standards. Noon at the CSAC Conference Center on 11th Street. The event will also be webcast.

WASTE NOT, WANT NOT: In the wake of California's extended drought, representatives from the state Natural Resources Agency, Department of Food and Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency convene a public workshop to discuss potential legislative solutions to promote sustainable groundwater management. 9 a.m. at the Cal/EPA building on I Street.

DIGGING IN: The California Research Bureau hosts a workshop on using census data, featuring Lia Bolden of the U.S. Census Bureau. 10 a.m. at the State Library on N Street.

UNDER ONE ROOF: Affordable housing advocacy group Housing California holds its two-day annual conference, starting at 10 a.m. at the Sacramento Convention Center. Anna Caballero, the state secretary of business, consumer services and housing, and local journalist and author Sasha Abramsky are scheduled to speak.

PHOTO: A pair of fishermen stand near the shallow water of the American River below Watt Ave. on Jan. 11, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

April 15, 2014
Hospitals pour money into California ballot campaign

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In less than three months, healthcare networks and individual hospitals have pumped more than $51 million into a proposed ballot measure meant to lock up revenue from a Legislature-approved fee on acute-care hospitals.

The measure would limit lawmakers' ability to change or repeal the "Medi-Cal Hospital Reimbursement Act," which lawmakers passed last year as SB 239. With hospitals' backing, the law continued a hospital quality-assurance fee first passed in 2009 through 2016.

The money helps pay for children's health coverage, Medi-Cal, and other programs. Even though hospitals pay the fee, matching federal money means a net benefit of $10 billion for the hospital industry from 2014 through 2016, according to a legislative analysis.

The proposed ballot measure would strip the Jan. 1, 2017 sunset date from the law. It also would require voter approval for any changes to it. And any attempt to repeal the law entirely would need a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.

In addition, the proposed initiative declares that revenue from the law and interest doesn't count against the state's school-funding guarantee.

April 15, 2014
Community college completion rate falls during recession

Los_Rios.JPGCompletion rates at the California Community Colleges have fallen steadily over the past four years, according to the first update of the system's Student Success Scorecard.

The accountability report released Tuesday, which tracks key performance measurements across the state's 112 community colleges, shows that the six-year completion rate for students seeking to earn a degree or transfer to a four-year institution fell to 48.1 percent last year.

That completion rate, for students who entered in the 2007-08 academic year, dipped 2.6 percentage points from the previous six-year cohort and was down from 52.2 percent among those who entered in the 2003-04 and 2004-05 academic years, even as thousands more students earned degrees or transferred.

California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice W. Harris blamed the recession, during which time enrollment ballooned to more than 2.6 million while course offerings were reduced by a fifth amid budget cuts.

"These results document the damage done by years of rationing education in California," Harris said in a statement. "Students with goals of transferring competed for fewer seats at California State University and University of California. Sadly, the only transfer activity that increased was for students who could afford to go out of state."

Results were mixed for the Sacramento-area Los Rios Community College District. While most Los Rios schools have six-year completion rates lower than the statewide average, some maintained relatively steady throughout the recession.

Completion rates at Folsom Lake College fell from 48.4 percent to 47 percent over the past three years before ticking back up to 47.2 percent among the 2007-08 cohort. Cosumnes River College fluctuated between 46.8 percent and 50 percent completion over the past four years.

Sacramento City College and American River College have been hit harder. Six-year completion rates at Sacramento City climbed to 60 percent among the 2004-05 cohort, but have since fallen to 51.6 percent. American River has fallen nearly 7 percentage points over the past two years to 43.1 percent completion.

Students who entered community college prepared to do college-level work performed significantly better. Among the 2007-08 cohort, they succeeded at a 70.2 percent rate, compared to 40.5 percent for students who needed remedial education.

Like the overall completion rate, those numbers were down from previous years, though successful completion of remedial math, English and English as a second language classes have all shown consistent gains during the same period.

Community colleges across the state are currently focusing on improving transfer rates with an associate degree program that guarantees admission to CSU.

PHOTO: Eduardo Ramos, center, has his photo id picture taken on the first day of school at Los Rios Community College District expansion in Elk Grove on August 26, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

April 15, 2014
State tax revenue continues to outpace estimates

brownbudget.JPGState tax revenue continued to outpace budget estimates last month, with year-to-date revenue now $1.4 billion more than the Brown administration projected, the state Department of Finance reported Tuesday.

The report is the last benchmark ahead of April, a heavy month for income tax revenue. Last month, personal income tax revenues to the general fund came in $274 million above estimates, while corporate tax revenues exceeded estimates by $110 million, according to the Department of Finance.

Sales and use tax receipts were $12 million below the forecast for the month of $1.6 billion.

If revenue remains higher than projected in coming months, Gov. Jerry Brown is likely to face increased pressure from Democratic lawmakers and social service advocates to free up spending. Brown has proposed a $154.9 billion spending plan for next fiscal year that includes modest increases for social services and schools, but also billions of dollars to address long-term debt. A surplus also makes it likely the administration would implement contract provisions to increase pay for state employees.

The governor will release a revised budget proposal in May.

PHOTO: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, left, Gov. Jerry Brown, center, and Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, right, celebrate a budget deal with a formal announcement at the Capitol on Tuesday, June 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

April 15, 2014
AM Alert: Californians split on Congress, own representatives

Capitol_Building_Washington_Congress.jpgLike the rest of the country, California voters hold a deeply negative view of the job performance of the U.S. Congress: Just 13 percent approve of the work of the nation's lawmakers in a new Field Poll, compared to 79 percent who disapprove. That's a slight uptick from last fall, when Congress' approval rate in California hit a two-year low in the wake of October's government shutdown.

Things improve considerably, however, when Californians reflect on their own representatives: 44 percent of poll respondents gave their congressperson a positive assessment, while 33 percent gave them negative marks. That could be good news for House members facing tough campaigns this fall, as 46 percent of California voters are inclined to re-elect their representatives in November.

Who is most unhappy with Congress? Reporter Christopher Cadelago has more in his story. Here are the statistical tabulations prepared exclusively for Capitol Alert.

GETTING OFF TRACK: Amid legal uncertainty for the project's funding plan, calls to cancel the state's proposed high-speed rail system and spend the money elsewhere have increased in recent months. Look for a response from Dan Richard, chair of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, when he addresses the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco at 6 p.m.

TAX DAY: Tax returns are due today, so state controller John Chiang kicks off the morning with tips and advice, 7 a.m. at the Franchise Tax Board on Butterfield Way.

Meanwhile, the NorCal Tea Party Patriots are hosting a "freedom march" to the Capitol, starting at 11 a.m. at the Tower Bridge. Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association president Jon Coupal and local congressional candidate Igor Birman are among those scheduled to speak at a noon rally on the west steps.

PHOTO: The U.S. Capitol, with the Senate at right and the House of Representatives at far left, is seen in Washington, D.C., on June 17, 2013. The Associated Press/J. Scott Applewhite

April 14, 2014
California bill would revamp tax checkoff program

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Californians rushing to wrap up their taxes for 2013 can choose from 20 charitable causes to support on their state tax forms.

From sea otters to the California Senior Legislature, voluntary tax form contributions raised about $4.8 million in 2012. More than $102 million has been donated through the program since it began in 1982.

Yet getting on the tax form in the first place requires state legislation, which can cost thousands of dollars in lobbying expenses. Even then, causes and charities regularly drop off the tax form because they fail to meet the state's $250,000 threshold.

Pending legislation would revamp the progrm, with the goal of making it fairer and allowing more charities to tap into taxpayers' charitable impulses.

Senate Bill 1207 by state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, would require charitable organizations to meet certain standards before they could qualify for tax checkoffs. California Volunteers, a state office, would oversee the new program and, along with the Franchise Tax Board, work out its details by 2017, under the measure.

Wolk's bill passed the Wolk-led Senate Governance and Finance Committee last week with bipartisan support.

"We think we can do better and allow more access to the system," Wolk said. The California Association of Nonprofits is among the legislation's supporters.

The bill is opposed by the California Association of Food Banks and California Professional Firefighters. Both participate in efforts that receive money from existing tax checkoffs.

"The hard reality is, you know, the more that are on the list, the more the revenues are shared," said Christy Bouma, a lobbyist for the firefighters union.

Even as lawmakers consider Wolk's measure, there are proposals to increase the number of tax checkoffs for the 2014 tax year. The groups include Habit for Humanity (AB 1765), the Pet Adoption Cost Deduction Fund (AB 2326), and the California Sexual Violence Victim Services Fund (SB 782).

PHOTO: Relatives and friends leave flowers and make rubbings of firefighters' names at the California Firefighters Memorial in Sacramento in 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Renée C. Byer

April 14, 2014
'Money just simply corrupts,' Leland Yee said weeks before arrest

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In the weeks since the arrest of Sen. Leland Yee, two hard-to-reconcile versions of the San Francisco Democrat have emerged: Transparency advocate running for secretary of state versus the man who, according to an FBI affidavit, accepted campaign money in exchange for favors and a promise to set up an illegal gun deal.

An interview with Voice of OC, a non-profit investigative publication based in Orange County, illustrates the size of the gulf between Yee's pre-and-post-arrest image.

In an interview recorded in December, Yee decried the role money plays in politics and suggested public financing of campaigns as a potential cure. He also offered a theory about the psychology of corrupt politicians.

"I think there's that old adage about power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely -- it's just human nature," Yee said. "After a while you kind of feel that you deserve all the perks of office because you've suffered so much, you've given up so much."

If the FBI's allegations are true, Yee spoke those words after having accepted thousands in campaign money from an undercover agent, part of his strategy to retire his campaign debt from running for mayor of San Francisco and to buoy his secretary of state campaign.

You can watch Yee talk money and politics below:

PHOTO: California Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco leaves the San Francisco Federal Building, Wednesday, March 26, 2014, in San Francisco. The Associated Press/ Ben Margot.

April 14, 2014
Steinberg plan would dedicate California cap-and-trade dollars to housing, transit

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In an effort to more closely manage how California spends revenue from its fledgling cap-and-trade program, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, on Monday unveiled a plan to dedicate ongoing money to affordable housing, mass transit and high-speed rail.

"National and international experts say that the climate problem grows worse, that we have no time to sit back and wait and think about an investment strategy year-to-year or just short-term. Now is the time to grab the moment and create these permanent sources," Steinberg said, adding that his plan would avoid an annual legislative fight over "who's in the front of the line, where is the need seemingly the greatest."

The proposal differs from Steinberg's previous proposal to change the state's system for curtailing carbon emissions. That plan, which the Democratic leader unveiled in February, would have imposed a gasoline tax rather than have industry purchase allowances for greenhouse gases emitted from "non-stationary fuels," a category that includes gas sold at the pump.

Now Steinberg has abandoned that change, shifting his attention from how California prices greenhouse gases to how the state allows levies on carbon emitters to be used. His new plan focuses on funding affordable housing, public transportation projects and the state's divisive high-speed rail project.

The gas tax plan was hit from the left and right. On Monday, by contrast, Steinberg spoke amid a phalanx of backers, including groups representing local government, (the League of California Cities) labor (the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California) and environmental (the Natural Resources Defense Council.)

"We stoked a debate a couple months ago, and a lot of consternation and controversy, and I understand it. But now many of us stand together," Steinberg said.

Under AB 32, the 2006 law that created California's cap-and-trade program, industry must purchase permits for generating the type of emissions blamed for global climate change. After six auctions, the program has generated $663 million for the state so far, according to the California Air Resources Board. Steinberg's office projects the permits could soon bring in $3 billion to $5 billion a year.

Current law dictates that the revenue will flow into a Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund. From there, entities like local governments and transit systems can apply for some of the proceeds by explaining how they will use the money to reduce overall emissions. One quarter of the money must go to disadvantaged communities, an acknowledgment that some of California's poorest places are choking on poor air quality.

Housing and public transportation sit at the center of Steinberg's proposal. Forty percent of the cap-and-trade revenue would go to affordable housing, including communities built around transit options; 30 percent would subsidize transit projects and 10 percent would fund basic transportation infrastructure like road and highway maintenance, with all three administered through competitive grants.

"Permanent sources of funding for mass transit and affordable housing are key if we are committed to long-term change," Steinberg said on Monday, noting that the two areas "face a catastrophic funding crisis in California" after years of cutbacks.

In addition to those outlays, $200 million a year would go to water efficiency projects, to fuel-related outlays that include rebates on monthly fuel bills, and to accommodating the use of electric vehicles.

California's proposed bullet train would get 20 percent of the money, channeled through a continuous appropriation that would not require year-to-year approval by the Legislature.

Already, Gov. Jerry Brown's has stirred controversy by proposing in his budget for this year spending $250 million from emissions permit sales to fund his financially precarious high-speed rail project, whose funding plan faces legal uncertainty. Some environmentalists have called high-speed rail an inappropriate use of the carbon auction funds.

But Steinberg's blueprint embraces high-speed rail as a tool for reducing emissions — provided, Steinberg said, it is one element of a larger strategy.

"I understand that high-speed rail is controversial," Steinberg said. "If it were the only thing that we were talking about or the only thing on the table I think that would be problematic. I think this is a better approach."

PHOTO: The union oil company refinery in Rodeo, Tuesday, December 17, 2002. The Sacramento Bee Michael A. Jones.

April 14, 2014
AM Alert: John Pérez trails in state controller's race

ha_perez_III.JPGCalifornia Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez and Board of Equalization member Betty Yee have been waging a tight primary battle in the state controller's race. At the California Democratic Party Convention last month, they split delegate votes almost evenly, with neither garnering enough support for the party nomination.

But the results from a new Field Poll indicate that Yee now holds an advantage over Pérez among likely voters in the June primary, 19 percent to 14 percent. Will Pérez's fundraising lead enable him to close that gap in the next two months and claim a spot in the top two runoff?

Both Yee and Pérez trail Republican candidate Ashley Swearengin, the mayor of Fresno, who leads the field with support from 28 percent of likely primary voters. Nearly 40 percent remain undecided, however, so the race is still very much up for grabs.

Reporter Christopher Cadelago has more in his story. Here are the statistical tabulations prepared exclusively for Capitol Alert.

The next Field Poll covers Californians' assessment of the job performance of Congress. Subscribers to the Capitol Alert Insider Edition app can read the story early, at 8 p.m.

CAP AND PIVOT: In February, State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg proposed a new carbon tax on fuel to replace a portion of the state's cap-and-trade program that he said would prove too unpredictable for consumers at the pump when it goes into effect next year. Steinberg is now backing away from that plan and will present a new investment strategy for California's cap-and-trade funds, 11 a.m. in Room 211 of the Capitol.

ARE YOU HAPPY NOW?: The California HealthCare Foundation sponsors a briefing on a new survey gauging user satisfaction after signing up for health insurance or Medi-Cal through Covered California, noon at the CSAC Conference Center on 11th Street.

LUNCHTIME TALK: The Delta Science Program hosts a seminar with Maggi Kelly, a professor of environmental science, policy and management at UC Berkeley, to discuss the use of remote sensors to quantify productivity and potential storage of the wetlands in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, noon at the Park Tower Building on 9th street.

NEW JOBS: KP Public Affairs welcomes two new lobbyists to its practice: Brian White, who has worked for BP America and the California Forestry Association, and Vanessa Cajina, previously a lobbyist for the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

PHOTO: Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez speaks during a press conference on December, 11, 2009. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

April 11, 2014
'Shrimp Boy' off the hook for legal fees, attorneys say

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An undercover FBI agent spent thousands building a case against Raymond 'Shrimp Boy' Chow - but Chow's lawyers say his defense against the government's charges won't cost him a cent.

An FBI affidavit depicts an agent repeatedly paying Chow money that, according to the government, bought Chow's blessing for the agent to work with Shrimp Boy's associates to launder money and move stolen liquor and cigarettes.

Now Chow's legal team - which includes J. Tony Serra, a legendary lawyer who has represented controversial figures like Black Panthers founder Huey Newton - says they will represent Chow for free.

During a Thursday press conference, Serra underscored that fact as a sign of Chow's innocence. Couldn't a powerful crime figure, Serra asked, afford a lawyer?

"We serve Raymond because we believe in his innocence. This is a pro bono cause for us," Serra said. "If he was a real gangster, he would have real money. He does not."

The U.S. District Court in San Francisco did not respond to requests for confirmation that Serra and his team are representing Chow in lieu of a court-appointed defender.

A similar situation applies to Keith Jackson, an associate of suspended Sen. Leland Yee who stands accused of conspiring to sell drugs and guns and setting up a paid hit. The court appointed prominent trial lawyer James Brosnahan to handle Jackson's defense.

PHOTO: A picture of Raymond 'Shrimp Boy' Chow sits next to quotes from an FBI affidavit that Chow's lawyers said establish his innocence during a press conference in San Francisco, Calif. on April 11, 2014.

April 11, 2014
AM Alert: Pete Peterson leads wide-open Secretary of State field

Pete_Peterson.jpgCalifornia's struggling Republican Party currently holds no statewide office, but is there a possibility that could change this year?

As subscribers to the Capitol Alert Insider Edition app learned last night, Republican Pete Peterson leads the pack of Secretary of State candidates by a wide margin heading into the June primary, with 30 percent of likely voters expressing support for the public policy institute director in a new Field Poll.

Democratic state Sen. Alex Padilla of Los Angeles trails with 17 percent, and none of the remaining three candidates garnered support from more than 5 percent of respondents. With more than 4 in 10 likely voters still undecided, however, the wide-open race could look very different two months from now.

It already underwent a big shift last month when state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, dropped out one day after being arrested by the FBI on corruption charges. Field was in the middle of polling when the news broke and its results caught a huge shift in public perception of Yee: After the arrest, his favorable rating swung 23 points in the negative direction, though about half of respondents continued to have no opinion on Yee.

Reporter Christopher Cadelago has more in his story. Read the statistical tabulations for the poll here.

VIDEO: Yee's arrest has also harmed the Legislature's fragile image with the public, Dan Walters says.

CRAM SESSION: The Legislature's spring recess has begun, but some lawmakers are kicking off their break with official business: Assemblyman Mark Stone, D-Scotts Valley, will be joined by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, and Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, for a select committee hearing on offshore oil and gas fracking along the California coast, 10 a.m. at the Santa Barbara County Administration Building.

Others are using the time to promote their legislation: Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, will be at the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration in Los Angeles at 9:30 a.m. to discuss a package of bills targeting child sex trafficking. Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, will announce changes to a financial ethics bill for elected and appointed officials, 10:30 a.m. at the California Public Utilities Commission building in San Francisco.

STATE PRESERVATION: The University of the Pacific's McGeorge School of Law hosts a symposium on resource management in California, dealing with issues of urban land use, water and environmental protection, starting at 8:45 a.m.

NEW JOBS: Roger Salazar's upstart public affairs firm ALZA Strategies has announced its first hire: Irma Martinez, a former lawyer for the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board.

CELEBRATIONS: An early happy birthday to California Republican Party chairman Jim Brulte, who turns 58 on Sunday.

PHOTO: Secretary of State candidate Pete Peterson. Courtesy of Common Sense California

April 11, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: Leland Yee arrest harms Legislature's fragile image

yee_press_resized.jpgThe California Legislature has bounced back from record low approval in recent years, but the March arrest of state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, immediately reversed some of those gains, 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: State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, leaves Federal Court in San Francisco on March 26, 2014. Bay Area News Group/Karl Mondon

April 10, 2014
More defendants could be charged in Leland Yee case, feds say

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Federal authorities said today that they are likely within the next three months to announce additional charges and new defendants in the criminal case that involves Sen. Leland Yee and more than two dozen others accused of various crimes including running guns, selling drugs and arranging murder-for-hire.

"While investigation by the Grand Jury is necessarily secret... it makes good sense to generally notify the Court and opposing counsel that additional charges and, potentially, additional defendants are inevitable," prosecutors wrote in a court filing today.

Authorities continue to investigate possible racketeering and criminal violations and hope to return additional indictments in the next three months, prosecutors wrote.

Their wide-ranging case in San Francisco federal court began as an organized crime investigation with undercover FBI agents infiltrating a Chinatown group led by Raymond "ShrimpBoy" Chow, says the criminal complaint against Yee, Chow and others. Over the course of five years, the investigation grew to include a corruption sting involving Yee, a San Francisco Democrat, and Keith Jackson, a political consultant who was helping Yee raise money for his campaigns for San Francisco mayor in 2011 and Secretary of State in 2014.

In today's filling, prosecutors gave a glimpse of the evidence they will present in their case, saying they intend to introduce body recordings, video recordings, wiretaps and reports from FBI agents.

"The government intends to turn over virtually all such materials without redactions other than the case file number and personally identifying information," the filing says.

One thing prosecutors won't be making available, they wrote, are the identities of the many undercover agents involved in the sting:

"It is the position of the government that in the instant case, the (undercover agents and confidential informants) need not be known by their true names and should be referred to by the names utilized by them in the case.

April 10, 2014
VIDEO: FBI tried, failed to push Raymond 'Shrimp Boy' Chow to crimes, say lawyers

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SAN FRANCISCO - Previewing their defense of Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, attorneys for the accused on Thursday portrayed their client as an innocent man whom undercover law enforcement officers tried and failed to lure into illegal acts.

"With all their inducements, their wining and dining, their submission of illegal activities, their enticements, he failed to perform or aid or abet in any act that constitutes crime," said J. Tony Serra, Chow's lawyer, standing before two giant posters cataloguing "criminal activities" and "fictitious crimes" he said the government undertook. "My client's not a gangster. They didn't intervene on ongoing criminal activity."

Chow was one of more than two dozen people swept up in a years-long undercover federal operation, among them state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco. Yee faces charges of corruption and conspiracy to deal in and import firearms, while Chow has been indicted on counts of money laundering and conspiracy to transport stolen property.

This is not the first time Chow has faced criminal charges. He was convicted on federal racketeering charges in 2000 and was at the time "one of the leaders of criminal activities engaged in" by the San Francisco-based Hop Sing Tong, according to the FBI.

After his cooperation in a case against an alleged Chinatown crime leader allowed Chow to emerge from prison early, he publicly trumpeted his new life as a redeemed former criminal, speaking to youth groups and winning accolades for his work in the community.

Chow's supporters and lawyers emphasized that point at Thursday's press conference. Some wore bright red t-shirts bearing the phrase "Free Shrimp Boy," and before the conference began a screen displayed a looped clip of Chow delivering an anti-violence speech at San Francisco City College. Serra called his client "an exemplary human being."

"I know what kind of man he is and I know he wouldn't do the things they said he's done," Chow's 29-year-old niece, Elaine Woo, said before the press conference, wearing one of the red t-shirts. "He's helped the community a lot."

But the FBI says that, far from renouncing his past, Chow presided over illegal enterprises. He took over as "dragonhead" of the Chee Kung Tong organization after the unsolved murder of its previous head, Allen Leung, and oversaw "all criminal activities within" the fraternal Chinatown organization, according to the affidavit by Special Agent Emmanuel V. Pascua.

According to the document, Chow spoke repeatedly about his broad authority as dragonhead and accepted tribute money from an undercover agent working with Chow's associates to conduct money laundering transactions or to move stolen liquor and cigarettes.

The affidavit depicts Chow as someone who runs a criminal organization but is careful to avoid directly involving himself in crimes committed by underlings, at one point telling an associate that "I'm innocent. I don't have no knowledge of the crimes you commit to pay for my meal."

While the FBI portrays such statements as Chow's attempts to distance himself and avoid being implicated, writing that Chow "did not want to know anything because he would not be guilty if he did not know anything," his attorneys argued on Thursday that the government's case shows Chow repeatedly refusing to commit crimes.

"There's over 25 incidents in that affidavit where Raymond either wanted nothing to do with it or said 'please take it away from me, I don't want to know,'" said Curtis Briggs, one of Chow's lawyers. "That's an innocent man who was targeted by the government."

Chow's attorneys emphasized the sections of the affidavit in which Chow warns against illegal activity or repeatedly says "no" when offered money. While the document also describes Chow pocketing cash from the undercover agent after initially refusing, Serra said Chow merely "acquiesced" after being pushed - and broke no law in doing so.

"There's no law against accepting a gratuity," Serra said.

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April 10, 2014
No campaign cash for fighting criminal charges, says Jerry Hill

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Politicians facing criminal charges would not be allowed to use campaign funds to pay their legal bills under an amendment Sen. Jerry Hill said he plans to introduce in the wake of the indictment of his colleague Sen. Leland Yee on charges of corruption and conspiracy to traffic weapons.

Under current law, politicians have wide latitude on how they spend campaign funds. Expenses have to have a legislative, governmental or political purpose, but can be used for everything from hiring campaign consultants and TV ads, to travel and paying legal bills.

Hill, a San Mateo Democrat, proposes several changes to the rules regarding how politicians can use campaign funds in his Senate Bill 831. Among them: prohibiting officials from giving campaign funds to nonprofits operated by their political colleagues and banning the use of campaign funds for things like rent, utility bills, vacations, tuition and gifts to family members.

(Alert readers may remember that Sen. Ron Calderon, now indicted on corruption and money laundering charges, and his brother, former Assemblyman Charles Calderon have a history of using campaign accounts to pay for their Christmas gifts to each other.)

SB 831 would also place a new $5,000 cap on the amount of travel gifts officials could receive from nonprofit organizations, and require groups providing the travel to disclose their financial donors to the Fair Political Practices Commission. It's one of many ethics proposals to surface this year as the Capitol responds to a string of scandals.

Yee and Calderon have both pleaded not guilty in separate cases.

PHOTO: Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, in March 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

April 10, 2014
AM Alert: Leland Yee scandal blunts increasing approval of Legislature

yee_press_resized.jpgAs the old saying goes, one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch.

It was good news for the California Legislature in December, when the Field Poll showed public support for lawmakers at its highest since 2007, and the outlook was only getting brighter. Early results from polling in March indicated voter approval of the Legislature at 46 percent, surpassing disapproval for the first time in more than a decade.

Then scandal hit: State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, was arrested by the FBI in a sweeping corruption sting.

As Field finished its polling over the next week, voters' approval of the Legislature tumbled to 43 percent and disapproval jumped from 40 percent to 46 percent, representing a 9 percentage point swing in the negative direction. It's not the record lows that lawmakers saw during the depths of California's budget crisis, but public confidence has clearly been shaken by the string of recent criminal charges — and one conviction, so far — against their representatives.

Reporter Jeremy B. White has more in his story. Here are the statistical tabulations prepared exclusively for Capitol Alert.

The next Field Poll will focus on the California Secretary of State election, which was upended by Yee's arrest and subsequent withdrawal from the race. Subscribers to the Capitol Alert Insider Edition app will have access to the story early, at 8 p.m.

PARTY TIME: Like schoolchildren and beach-bound coeds across the nation, our legislators also enjoy an annual spring break. The Senate and Assembly both meet at 9 a.m. for final floor sessions before a week-long recess.

ALL DRIED UP: The severe drought has spurred numerous efforts to address California's water resource management, but how will we pay for them? Local water officials, lawyers and engineers gather for a half-day conference on how to improve the state's water-finance system. The event, hosted by the Public Policy Institute of California, begins at 9 a.m. at the Sacramento Convention Center.

WIRED IN: State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson discuss the need for Internet access and other educational technology in schools, 10 a.m. at the Sacramento Public Library on I Street. They will be joined by Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and AT&T Vice President Kathy McKim.

NEW JOB: Congratulations to Karen French, former associate director of legislative affairs for the University of California, who has joined Nielsen Merksamer Parrinello Gross & Leoni LLP.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to state Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, who turns 74 today.

PHOTO: State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, leaves Federal Court in San Francisco on March 26, 2014. Bay Area News Group/Karl Mondon

April 9, 2014
Lagging in polls, Neel Kashkari says paid advertising will push him ahead

kashkarisanjose.jpgSAN JOSE - Lagging in the governor's race with only 2 percent support, according to a new Field Poll, Republican Neel Kashkari said Wednesday that he can make up ground on GOP rival Tim Donnelly with paid advertising closer to the June primary election.

"We have a very specific plan that we've had now for two months, that as we get closer to the date when absentee ballots drop, that's when we're going to start our mail programs and whatnot," Kashkari told reporters after speaking at a luncheon hosted by The Rotary Club of San Jose. "And so we feel like, you know, we're where we expected to be."

Kashkari said he plans to run television ads "in a targeted way," though he said those ads will not run statewide. Asked if he would advertise on network or cable TV, he said, "I'll reserve judgment on that."

Kashkari's remarks come the same day a Field Poll put him at third among Republicans running for governor, far behind Donnelly, who polled at 17 percent among likely voters, and 1 percentage point behind Laguna Hills Mayor Andrew Blount.

The Republicans all remain far behind Gov. Jerry Brown, whose high public approval rating and massive fundraising advantage make him the favorite in the race.

Kashkari, who has largely been dismissive of Donnelly in public appearances, said Wednesday that the June primary will be a "hard fight."

"Winning as a Republican in California is going to be very hard, not impossible," he said. "There are too many examples around the country of very powerful incumbents losing. I have to get through a primary ... which itself is, you know, a hard fight to have."

Kashkari is by far the best-funded Republican in the race, reporting last month that he had more than $900,000 on hand. Donnelly held less than $11,000.

Kashkari, a former U.S. Treasury Department official, said "the most important numbers" in the Field Poll are the percentage of people who don't know who the Republican candidates are. Fifty percent of likely voters still have no opinion of Donnelly and 64 percent have no opinion of Kashkari, according to the poll.

"To me, I think that it's still a wide open field, and it's going to come down to who has the resources to reach voters," he said, "and I believe that we're going to have a substantial resource advantage."

PHOTO: Republican Neel Kashkari talks to reporters at an event in San Jose on April 9, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

April 9, 2014
Assembly panel sour on bill allowing limited raw milk sales

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Citing overwhelming evidence of the health risks, lawmakers on Wednesday rejected a bill that would allow small farms to sell or give to friends portions of raw dairy products.

Assembly Bill 2505 by Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Davis, would allow small farms to sell or give away fresh-from-the-udder, unpasteurized milk without complying with some of the standards that apply to larger dairies.

The bill would only have covered farms with three or fewer cows, or up to 15 goats. Yamada said it is unfair to hold "home dairies" to the same standards that govern commercial dairy distributors, effectively barring small farmers from a long-running tradition of sharing or selling their milk.

"Currently these families who for some generations have been engaged in this practice have no recourse under current state law to offer this raw milk to anyone," Yamada said in testimony before the Assembly Agriculture Committee.

While some raw milk advocates tout the superior taste and health benefits of consuming unadulterated dairy, much of the testimony on Wednesday stressed unburdening small-scale farmers of needless regulation.

"If we continue to undermine and criminalize farmers, who produce food directly farm-to-consumer, California will continue the trend of declining family farms," dairy rancher Doniga Markegard testified.

That argument did not convince committee members. While the chair, Assemblywoman Susan Eggman, D-Stockton, backed the measure on the principle of "people's ability to make their own choices," opponents - including Republicans - said the risk, in this case, outweighed the economic freedom argument.

"If you want to drink unpasteurized milk, buy a cow, milk the cow and drink the milk," said Assemblyman Brian Dahle, R-Bieber. "We don't like to get into what people do at home - that's your business - but when you start selling it, that's our business."

Yamada said her bill would bring small dairies under an umbrella of standards that would minimize the risk of health issues, including rules around storing the milk, annually testing cows, sanitizing milking equipment and ensuring that anyone who interacts with the animals take certain safety precautions.

"We believe that raw milk, when it's responsibly produced, is not inherently dangerous," said Cynthia Daley, a professor of agriculture at the California State University, Chico. "Fresh milk products," she added, "have been part of our staple diet and have been part of many successful cultures over the course of human history."

But medical professionals warn about the risk of spreading illnesses that can hospitalize and in some cases kill. A Centers for Disease Control study found the incidence of outbreaks soaring for raw milk, with unpasteurized dairy products causing outbreaks at 150 times the rate of treated milk products.

"From a public health standpoint, raw milk is a uniquely dangerous product, particularly for the young and the immuno-compromised," testified Michael Payne, a researcher at the University of California's Western Institute for Food Safety and Security. He called Yamada's bill a "public health disaster" for offering to exempt dairy farms from licensing requirements and inspections.

A coalition of health and food industry associations lined up against the measure, including the California Farm Bureau Federation, the California Medical Association and the Western United Dairymen, as did individual dairy companies like Land O' Lakes.

A Murrieta woman named Mary McGonigle-Martin described her then-six-year-old son's "odyssey through hell" after drinking raw milk and becoming hospitalized at a cost of $550,000. She faulted Yamada's bill for failing to adequately guard against the spread of pathogens.

"Just because you are milking three cows doesn't mean a small operation cannot contaminate the raw milk," McGonigle-Martin said.

Lawmakers opposing the bill voiced similar concerns. "I think you are putting your children, particularly those under five, at great risk," Assemblyman Bill Quirk, D-Hayward, told supporters, "and I wish you would stop it.

PHOTO: Cattle belonging to a rancher in Lincoln do some ambling on May 10, 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Renée C. Byer.

April 9, 2014
Inland Empire has greatest need for community college expansion, report says

Los_Rios.JPGA California budget proposal to increase community college enrollment with an emphasis on the neediest districts should focus on the Inland Empire, the Central Valley and Los Angeles, according to California Competes.

A new report from the Oakland-based higher education policy institute argues that these regions should receive the vast majority of a proposed $155.2 million in new funding for enrollment growth next year, which Gov. Jerry Brown has prioritized for districts with "the greatest unmet need in adequately serving their community's higher educational needs."

The report examined factors such as the number of adults without a college degree, unemployment rates and levels of poverty in a community college district to determine where California had the greatest number of underserved students that could benefit from furthering their education.

It concluded that, of an estimated 40,000 classroom seats the new funding would support, nearly 15,000 should be created in the Inland Empire, with about 10,500 in the Central Valley and more than 9,000 in Los Angeles. The report also suggested about 2,300 new seats in greater Sacramento.

"There are definitely areas in the state where enrolling the needy population is not easy," California Competes executive director Robert Shireman said on a conference call.

Community colleges must figure out what additional programs and courses would attract and most benefit those students, he added. "Those decisions determine whether a needy student is really served and whether they are served well."

The California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office condemned the report's conclusions, saying it would deny community college access in other parts of the state.

"California community colleges were forced to turn away 500,000 students from every corner of the state during the economic downturn," spokesman Paul Feist said in a statement. "To continue rationing education in some parts of the state but not others would not be equitable and would harm California's ability to increase the number of college educated workers that our economy is demanding."

PHOTO: Eduardo Ramos, center, has his photo id picture taken on the first day of school at Los Rios Community College District expansion in Elk Grove on August 26, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

April 9, 2014
Ricardo Lara proposes undocumented student loan program

Lara_undocumented_students.JPGSeeking to close a gap undocumented students face in funding their education, state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, has proposed a new loan program for California's public universities.

Senate Bill 1210 would make available $9.2 million for University of California and California State University campuses to administer loans to undocumented students, who are ineligible for federal financial aid and most private loans.

"Many undocumented students still lack the financial wherewithal to pay for school," Lara said at a press conference Wednesday. Faced with an estimated financial aid gap of $5,000 to $6,000 at UC and $3,000 at CSU, "they are having to risk a withdrawal from college."

California has already taken several steps over the past 13 years to make college more affordable for undocumented students. In 2001, the Legislature extended in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants who graduated from a California high school. Three years ago, it made them eligible to apply for Cal Grants.

But undocumented students at the press conference said that can still leave them thousands of dollars short to cover costs such as housing, books, transportation and food.

"Unfortunately, immigrant students like me sometimes need extra funds to pay for school, but we have nowhere to turn," said Deisy Caro, a recent Sacramento State transfer who said she worked while attending community college part-time for seven years to pay for her education.

Lara was joined at the event by Sacramento State President Alexander Gonzalez and UC President Janet Napolitano, who said the university "stands strongly behind this bill" to put undocumented students on equal footing with their peers.

"They have done everything right," Napolitano said. "It's about opportunity and it's about fairness."

Napolitano's support for the bill comes amid continuing controversy over the role she played in deporting undocumented immigrants as Secretary of Homeland Security under President Barack Obama.

Her appointment as UC president last fall was strongly opposed by campus immigration activists. UC Berkeley law students had planned another protest for Wednesday evening outside an event Napolitano was scheduled to attend.

"If you look at my record going back to when I was governor (of Arizona), I was always strongly in support of the DREAM Act," the deportation deferment for undocumented minors, Napolitano told The Bee following the press conference. "Those students don't know the whole story or the whole record."

PHOTO: Sen. Ricardo Lara announcing SB 1210 to expand college financial aid for undocumenmted immigrants. He is joined, left to right, by UC Davis student Ana Maciel, UC President Janet Napolitano and Sacramento State President Alexander Gonzalez at the State Capitol on April 9, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.

April 9, 2014
California Chamber targets 26 bills as 'job killers'

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An annual spring ritual continued Wednesday when the California Chamber of Commerce declared 26 legislative measures as "job killers" that should be rejected.

The list is about a third shorter than those of the past, but inclusion of a measure is more than a symbolic gesture. The chamber, often in concert with other business groups, has been remarkably successful in past years in getting nearly all bills with that label either killed in the Legislature, significantly watered down or vetoed.

"The economic recovery is still the number one issue for Californians," chamber president Allan Zaremberg said in a statement. "These bills pose a serious threat to our economy and, if enacted, would dampen job growth in the state."

As usual, the bills on the 2014 list are those most ardently supported by liberal groups, particularly labor unions, environmentalists, consumer advocates or personal injury attorneys.

One of the 26 is already dead for this year, having been sent to "interim study" on Tuesday by the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee. Assembly Bill 2140 by Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, would have phased out orca shows at MarineWorld and other marine parks.

Eight others — six constitutional amendments that would lower vote requirements for local tax increases and two business tax increases — appear to be moribund. They would require two-thirds legislative votes, but the Democrats' supermajority in the Senate has been erased by the suspension of three senators facing criminal charges and Republicans are uniformly opposed to new taxes.

That leaves 17 bills still potentially viable this year.

Two are high-profile measures that embody the "income disparity" credo of Democrats and labor unions in this election year, but that the chamber says would impose heavy costs on employers.

Assembly Bill 1522 by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, would require employers to provide workers with paid sick leave. Senate Bill 935 by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, would boost the state's minimum wage, scheduled to rise from $8 an hour to $10 under a bill passed last year, to $13 and tie future increases automatically to the cost of living. Last year's minimum wage hike was the only one of 38 2013 "job killer" bills to make it into law.

This year's list also includes bills that would place a moratorium on "fracking" to exploit oil deposits (SB 1132), give local governments the authority to bar fracking (AB 2420), require labeling of genetically modified foods (SB 1381) and bar employment discrimination against workers who must care for family members (SB 404).

Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill allowing fracking of California's potentially huge shale oil deposits with state regulation, dismaying anti-fracking environmental groups. He would be unlikely, therefore, to sign either of the two measures aimed at closing off the practice. Brown has also indicated his opposition to automatic cost of living increases in the minimum wage, so would be unlikely to sign Leno's wage measure were it to reach him.

PHOTO: California Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Allan Zaremberg in 2010. The Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.

April 9, 2014
'Free Shrimp Boy!' Raymond Chow's defense mobilizes

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Will Shrimp Boy swim free?

Raymond Chow, the ex-convict widely known by his aquatic nickname, wriggled into public consciousness last month after being ensnared in a wide-ranging criminal investigation that also netted Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco. Chow has been indicted on charges of money laundering, conspiracy to traffic in cigarettes and conspiracy to transport stolen property.

According to an FBI affidavit, at one point an offer of campaign cash convinced Yee to issue a proclamation honoring the organization Chow ran, Yee's reservations notwithstanding ("He's still hot stuff," Yee allegedly said of Chow).

Since emerging from prison in 2005, his federal racketeering sentence curtailed thanks to having provided testimony on another alleged Chinatown crime figure, Chow has publicly proclaimed himself a changed man, renouncing his former life of crime and persuading others he had reformed.

His attorneys seem prepared to make a similar argument. They've organized a Thursday afternoon press conference in San Francisco in which they'll likely argue, per a press release, that Chow was a victim of "outrageous government behavior, entrapment, and racism."

"Shrimp Boy, released from prison seven years ago, made a religious vow that he would never again violate the law: and he has not! Presume him innocent," the press release reads.

Some attendees will be wearing red t-shirts emblazoned with the phrase "Free Shrimp Boy."

Chow is quoted maintaining his innocence throughout the FBI affidavit. One of the exchanges, between Chow and an associate since indicted on a range of money laundering and criminal conspiracy charges:

Chow: "How am I hanging out with outlaws like this?"
Associate: "You are an outlaw too."
Chow: "I'm innocent, I don't have no knowledge of the crimes you commit to pay for my meal, that is very bad."

Followed by: "I'm still eating though. I'm hungry."

PHOTO: An image of the t-shirts to be worn on Thursday, April 10. Provided by Pier 5 Law Offices.

April 9, 2014
AM Alert: Jerry Brown's job approval climbs to new high

Brown_victims.JPGWith California's financial outlook brightening, voter approval of Gov. Jerry Brown has climbed to a new high for his third term in office. A new Field Poll reveals that 59 percent of registered voters in the state approve of his performance, nearly twice as many as disapprove.

That's great news for Brown as he once again runs for re-election this year. Just two months away from the primary, he holds a commanding lead over his Republican challengers: 57 percent of likely voters said they planned to vote for Brown, as compared to 17 percent for Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, 3 percent for Laguna Hills Mayor Andrew Blount and 2 percent for businessman Neel Kashkari.

Reporter David Siders has more in his story. Here are the statistical tabulations prepared exclusively for Capitol Alert.

The next Field Poll will focus on Californians' opinions of the state Legislature since Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, was arrested on corruption charges last month. Subscribers to the Capitol Alert Insider Edition app will have access to the story early, at 8 p.m.

VIDEO: A controversial bill to ban orca shows in California was held in committee to die quietly, Dan Walters says, likely so as not to cause trouble for incoming Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins of San Diego.

SUGAR, SUGAR: Two of Capitol Alert's Bills to Watch for the 2014 session get their first committee hearings today. Legislation from state Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, that would put warning labels on soda cans faces the Senate Health Committee at 1:30 p.m. in Room 4203 of the Capitol. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg's proposal to extend pre-kindergarten to all four-year-olds in California appears before the Senate Education Committee at 9 a.m. in Room 4203. You can track all of our Bills to Watch on the Insider Edition app.

TUITION CONUNDRUM: In 2001, California granted in-state tuition to undocumented students at public universities, and three years ago, the Legislature opened new scholarship opportunities to them as well. But state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, says these programs still leave undocumented students, who do not qualify for most financial aid, with large funding gaps for their education. He will be joined by University of California President Janet Napolitano and Sacramento State University President Alexander Gonzalez to announce a new bill that would allow undocumented students to apply for loans, 11:30 a.m. in Room 113 of the Capitol.

STUDENT HEALTH: Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, seeks to make state funds available to school districts to hire more nurses and mental health professionals and extend daily library hours. He will introduce legislation for the program at 12:30 p.m. at the Sacramento Central Library on I Street, along with representatives from the California Federation of Teachers.

UNITED THEY STAND: The charity organization United Ways of California is at the Capitol for its annual lobby day, pushing for three bills that would expand the state's social services: Steinberg's universal pre-kindergarten proposal; a bill from Lara that would extend health care coverage to undocumented immigrants; and a real estate fee proposed by Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, to fund more programs for affordable housing and the homeless. Assemblywoman Atkins, a big affordable housing advocate, meets with the group in the morning to deliver a keynote address.

PHOTO: Governor Jerry Brown speaks during the annual Victims Rights Rally on the west steps of the State Capitol on April 8, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

April 9, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: Controversial SeaWorld bill gets 'soft kill'

SeaWorld.jpgA controversial bill that would ban orca shows in California was held in committee to die quietly, Dan says, probably so as not to cause trouble for incoming Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins of San Diego.

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PHOTO: A SeaWorld trainer performs with a killer whale on Feb. 27, 2010, during the first show after an orca killed a trainer at theme park three days earlier in Orlando, Fla. The Associated Press/Phelan M. Ebenhack.

April 8, 2014
California fares poorly again in Pew report on election conduct

soswebsite.jpgCalifornia fares very poorly - once again - in a national analysis of states' administration of elections by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

With an average score of 54 percent on a series of performance indices, California ranked 49th among 50 states and the District of Columbia in the Pew report, which was released Tuesday.

The state's biggest downers in the Pew analysis were in high numbers of mail ballots not returned for counting and a voter-unfriendly website.

"California's overall score increased from 2008 to 2012 but at a rate below the national average," Pew said. "The state is one of six that were among the lowest performers in 2008, 2010 and 2012. It was one of only two states (with Vermont) that offered no voting information look-up tools on its state elections website in 2012."

"If someone went to the secretary of state's website in California, they can't find out where their polling place is, they can't find out what their voter registration status is," David Becker, Pew's director of election studies, said in a statement.

Although Secretary of State Debra Bowen touted her technology savvy when she sought the office eight years ago, her department's website has been prone to outages.

Shannan Velayas, a spokeswoman for Bowen, said the Pew report unfairly castigates California in several respects, such as its high level of unreturned mail ballots. She said while that may be true, "we have a safety net" of allowing mail ballot voters to cast provisional ballots in person. But Pew also criticizes the state for its high number of provisional ballots.

"A provisional ballot is not a bad thing," Velayas said, contending that the Pew analysis in effect hits the state twice for the same thing.

Editor's Note: Updated at 3:55 p.m. to add comments from Bowen's office.

PHOTO: A screenshot of the the California Secretary of State website.

April 8, 2014
Tim Donnelly wants to abolish CPS, start over from 'ground up'

donnellygunstore.jpgRepublican gubernatorial candidate Tim Donnelly said Tuesday that he would abolish the state's Child Protective Services system and start over "from the ground up," saying social workers often remove children from their homes without sufficient reason.

"If I were in charge of the entire state, I can tell you right now I would abolish CPS," he said at a news conference at the Capitol, "because CPS has become the greatest threat to the very kids it was designed to protect."

Donnelly, a state assemblyman from Twin Peaks, called the news conference to promote legislation that would require social workers to conduct video or audio recordings of their interactions with children and parents when investigating child abuse. He said recordings would protect both families and social workers in disputes.

Assembly Bill 1828 is opposed by the California Welfare Directors Association, which said that "time is of the essence" in child abuse investigations and that "it is imperative that our CPS social workers be able to conduct interviews with children and their parents with unfettered access," according to a letter included in a legislative analysis.

Donnelly's remarks came on the same day the state auditor released a report criticizing the child welfare services agencies of Butte, Orange and San Francisco counties. In her report, state Auditor Elaine Howle said the agencies' social workers frequently failed to prepare standard safety and risk assessment s in a timely manner and that they often included inaccurate information. The audit also faulted the agencies for inconsistent follow-up on cases.

Donnelly said the CPS system meddles too often in cases where intervention isn't warranted, while devoting too little time to serious matters.

"They are literally becoming the dust bunny and dirty dish police," he said.

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

April 8, 2014
California's tax collections jumped by $18.2 billion in 2013

PROP30.JPGCalifornia's tax revenues jumped by $18.2 billion in 2013, thanks to an improving economy and the impact of a temporary sales and income tax increase approved by voters, a new Census Bureau report shows.

All tax collections, including those for special purposes as well as the state general fund, increased from $115 billion in 2012 to $133.2 billion last year, with virtually of the increase generated by sales and income taxes. The general fund received about 75 percent of the taxes.

California's 15.6 percent increase was more than twice the 6.1 percent increase recorded by all states, the Census Bureau reported, Total state collections were $846.2 billion last year, with California's $133.2 billion being 15.7 percent of all state taxes, even though the state has just 12.2 percent of the nation's population.

The latter data bolster a new calculation by the Tax Foundation that Californians had the nation's fourth highest state and local tax burden in 2011, 11.4 percent of personal income.

Personal and corporate income taxes, the state's largest sources of revenue at $74.3 billion, jumped by $12 billion from 2012 while sales and other excise taxes, including fuel taxes, $48.1 billion last year, were up by nearly $7 billion. Personal income taxes alone totaled $66.8 billion while sales taxes alone were $33.9 billion.

In 2012, voters approved Proposition 30, which increased the state sales tax fractionally but sharply boosted income taxes on the state's most affluent families. It was estimated that those increases would add about $6 billion a year to the state's revenue stream but total revenues, including those from the tax hike, jumped by $18.2 billion, three times as much.

Editor's note: Calculation updated at 4:15 p.m.

PHOTO: Students, dignitaries and supporters cheer on Gov. Jerry Brown who holds up a campaign sign and encourages students to vote yes for Proposition 30 at Sacramento City College in 2012. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

April 8, 2014
California orca show ban bill killed for this year

SEAWORLDWHALE.jpgAvoiding a vote on a contentious bill, an Assembly committee on Tuesday deferred until at least next year legislation that would ban captive orca breeding and shows involving the whales.

One of the ripple effects of the provocative documentary Blackfish, which explores the deaths of SeaWorld trainers and concludes they stemmed in part from the park's orca management practices, was Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, introducing Assembly Bill 2140.

Noting the massive interest his bill has attracted and conceding that committee members seemed "unprepared" to cast a fully informed vote, Bloom agreed on Tuesday to hold the bill for an interim study. That process could take more than a year.

"I think that allowing more time for you committee members to really dig into the information that is out there and come to your conclusions in a fashion that allows careful consideration is not a bad idea," Bloom said.

The debate preceding the decision to push back a decision showed how SeaWorld's orcas have become a focal point of fierce debate, raising questions about basic animal conservation practices and spotlighting SeaWorld's economic clout in San Diego.

Testifying before a hearing room overflowing with bill advocates wearing "Sea a New World" stickers, many hailing from throughout California and one of whom said she traveled from Rome for the occasion, Bloom described orcas as unique among mammals given their intelligence and their nuanced social structures. He said prolonged captivity can spur aggressive orca behavior and cause the creatures to have shorter lives than their wild counterparts.

"Science now knows it is not in the best interest of orcas to be held in captivity. They do not thrive and, indeed, they suffer," said Naomi Rose of the Animal Welfare Institute, the bill's sponsor.

April 8, 2014
Leland Yee pleads not guilty to corruption and conspiracy charges

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SAN FRANCISCO — State Sen Leland Yee and one of his alleged co-conspirators in a complicated corruption and illegal firearms case pleaded not guilty today on federal charges that could send the San Francisco Democrat to jail for up to 125 years.

Keith Jackson, a former Yee consultant and one of 29 defendants in the case, also pleaded not guilty at a joint arraignment before U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph C. Spero.

Another major subject in the federal probe, Raymond "Shrimpboy" Chow, was allowed to postpone his plea after his new attorney, Tony Serra, asked for more time.

In an interview outside court, Serra said he will "put the government on trial" and mount a defense that raises issues of official racism and entrapment.

"Law enforcement is supposed to investigate crime and criminal activity. In this case, they created crime and criminal activity," Serra said.

Prosecutors assert that Jackson introduced Yee to several undercover agents posing as people seeking political favors in exchange for donations to Yee's campaigns for San Francisco mayor in 2011 and secretary of state in 2014.

Agents posing as a medical marijuana businessman, a technology vendor and a man seeking a proclamation honoring a Chinatown group offered Yee bribes for his help, the government alleges. Jackson played a key role in the bribery scheme, they say, as the middleman who connected Yee to those seeking favors. Jackson also introduced Yee to an undercover agent posing as someone seeking to buy millions of dollars worth of guns, according to a 137-page federal complaint that says the pair sat down with him to discuss an arms deal.

Federal authorities also accuse Jackson of selling several guns to undercover agents and conspiring with his son, Brandon Jackson, to sell cocaine and other drugs.

— Herbert A. Sample

Editor's note: This post was updated at 10:55 a.m. April 8 to include comments from Tony Serra.

PHOTO: State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, leaves Federal Court in San Francisco on March 26, 2014. Bay Area News Group/Karl Mondon

April 8, 2014
AM Alert: Social services, small businesses make Sacramento pitches

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Two distinct lobby days are attracting the interest and participation of California lawmakers today.

On the one hand are California's small businesses, gathering under the auspices of the National Federation of Independent Business. After some morning visits at the Capitol, members will head over to the Sheraton Grand to hear from former Gov. Pete Wilson, California State Controller John Chiang, and incoming Assembly speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego.

Meanwhile, social safety net menders will ask their legislators to re-invest in services that shrank during recession-driven slimming. Brought together by the Health and Human Services Network of California, advocates will be urged on by Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, Assemblyman Mark Stone, D-Scotts Valley and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, at a morning event on the south steps.

VIDEO: Happy birthday, Mr. Governor: with California's chief executive turning 76, Dan Walters reflects on the aging old guard of California politics and its waiting successors.

GONE BLACKFISHIN' An intensely monitored, heavily lobbied bill to ban orca shows and captive breeding at SeaWorld goes before its first committee today. We'll see if AB 2140 sinks or swims after what is sure to be one of the more heavily attended Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee hearings you'll see. Starting at 9 a.m. in room 437.

FRACK OFF: While California last year passed a law to regulate hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the legislation fell short of what many environmentalists and more liberal lawmakers wanted: an outright ban until the disputed drilling process is proven safe. The latest moratorium bill, this one by senators Holly Mitchell and Mark Leno, goes before the Senate Natural Resources Committee today at 9 a.m.

RECONSIDERING SOLITUDE: Both public safety committees will hear bills today that rethink California's use of the Secure Housing Unit, or SHU, to house dangerous and gang-affiliated inmates. Spurred to action by a series of correctional system-wide hunger strikes, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, has a bill to end indefinite SHU detention, while Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, has legislation to enact broad oversight of SHU policies. Assembly at 9 a.m. in room 126; Senate at 9:30 a.m. in 3191.

CRIME AND PUNISHMENT: Gov. Jerry Brown will deliver his annual speech to a Crime Victims Rights Month rally sponsored by Crime Victims United of California and the California Correctional Peace Officers Association. Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, will also be speaking at the noon event on the west steps.

PHOTO: The Capitol in Sacramento on Monday December 11, 2006. The Sacramento Bee/ Randall Benton.

April 8, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: Aging Jerry Brown shows graying government

010311_HA_brown_inaug_01.JPGAs Gov. Jerry Brown's recent passing of the three-quarters-of-a-century mark demonstrates, California's representatives aren't exactly spring chickens.

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April 7, 2014
In sign of affirmative-action backlash, Democrats help stall Al Muratsuchi bill

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Weeks after some Asian-American lawmakers killed a measure to restore affirmative action in California's public colleges by withdrawing their support, backlash from Democrats who supported the effort is surfacing in the Capitol and on the campaign trail.

Repercussions of the Legislature's decision last month to shelve Senate Constitutional Amendment 5 appear to be pitting some African American and Latino Democrats against their Asian American colleagues. Asian American Democrats were the subject of an intense advocacy campaign by opponents of affirmative action, and their decision not to support the measure caused it to fail last month.

Today, several members of the Legislature's black and Latino caucuses withheld their votes on a non-controversial bill, killing the measure by Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi. Last week, six black and Latino Democrats sent Sen. Ted Lieu a letter withdrawing their endorsement in his race for Congress. Muratsuchi and Lieu are both Asian Americans and Democrats from Torrance.

Muratsuchi's Assembly bill 2013, a measure to expand the number of electric vehicles entitled to use high-occupancy vehicle lanes, had sailed through two committees with little opposition before falling eleven votes short when it reached the Assembly floor on Monday. As an immediately effective, urgency measure, it required two-thirds approval.

Six lawmakers who had supported the bill in committee reversed and withheld votes, effectively helping to doom the bill. Three are members of the California Latino Legislative Caucus and three are part of the California Legislative Black Caucus, two blocs that issued a joint statement vowing to push ahead with a recently shelved bill that would allow voters to weigh in on the state's affirmative action ban.

In total, 15 members of the black or Latino caucuses abstained from voting - more than enough to push the legislation over the finish line.

Muratsuchi declined to talk to reporters after the vote.

Sen. Holly Mitchell, the Los Angeles Democrat who chairs the Legislature's black caucus, said she was not surprised to hear that so many lawmakers withheld their votes on Muratsuchi's bill. Does she expect black and Latino Democrats to continue withholding votes from colleagues they feel do not support a return to affirmative action?

"Perhaps," Mitchell said, adding that lawmakers who believe in restoring affirmative action are concerned "that there is a lack of commitment to a core Democratic party priority."

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said the public debate over restoring affirmative action has grown too harsh.

"The way that this debate and discussion has been had so far shows the danger in deliberately trying to divide people along racial and ethnic lines," Steinberg said.

"That's not the way we should be having a very important discussion."

He said he plans to convene a public forum in the coming weeks where supporters of affirmative action - including from several Asian American groups - will talk about how to revive a new effort to bring race-conscious decision-making back to California colleges.

PHOTO: A University of California Davis student, listens in the crowd as professors, students, and others speak in defense of affirmative action practices during a rally at UC Davis on October 21, 1998. The Sacramento Bee/Dick Schmidt.

April 7, 2014
Kamala Harris engaged to wed Los Angeles lawyer

20120416_HA_mortgage0207.JPGCalifornia Attorney General Kamala Harris is engaged to marry a Los Angeles lawyer, her spokesman said Monday.

Harris' fiancé, Douglas Emhoff, is partner in charge of the law firm Venable LLP's Los Angeles office. The two were engaged March 27, said David Beltran, Harris' communications director.

Harris, a former San Francisco district attorney, is a rising star in the Democratic Party and is widely considered a potential future candidate for governor or U.S. Senate. She and Emhoff are both 49.

The engagement was first reported in the San Francisco Chronicle. Harris told the newspaper Sunday that no wedding date has been set but that it will probably be within six months. She said she and Emhoff had been dating for about a year, according to the newspaper.

Harris has never been married. Emhoff is divorced.

PHOTO: Attorney General Kamala Harris prepares to talk before a hearing in Sacramento on April 22, 2012. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

April 7, 2014
California still holds 4th place in state-local tax burdens

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Californians carried the nation's fourth highest state and local tax burden in 2011, the Tax Foundation says in a new report, largely because its personal incomes are markedly lower than those of other high-tax states.

The Washington-based Tax Foundation annually calculates state and local tax burdens as a percentage of personal incomes and California has traditionally been in the top tier. But the data are always several years old and 2011 was the last year before a temporary, voter-approved increase in sales and personal income taxes went into effect. Therefore, the 2012 rankings a year from now could push California higher.

For 2011, the Tax Foundation calculated that California's tax burden was 11.4 percent of its average per capita income of $45,354, or $5,136. New York was the highest at 12.6 percent, followed by New Jersey at 12.3 percent and Connecticut at 11.9 percent. Wyoming residents had the lowest tax burden, 6.9 percent, and the national average was 9.8 percent.

One reason for California's high rank was that while its per capita tax burden was, indeed, relatively high, its per capita personal income was only slightly above the national average of $42,473, while other high-tax states also had markedly higher incomes.

Connecticut had the highest per capita income at $60,287 while California's was 15th highest. Texas, with which California is often compared, had the nation's fourth lowest tax burden of 7.5 percent of personal income which, at $41,269 per capita, was 23rd highest.

New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have occupied the top three places for a number of years. California was fourth in 2010 and fifth in 2009.

The state's 2011 tax burden of 11.4 percent was slightly lower than 2010's percentage but has been fairly consistent for decades, ranging from a high of 12 percent in 1977 to a low of 10.4 percent in 2005.

In 2012, voters approved a fractional increase in the state sales tax and a sharp boost income taxes on the state's highest-income families, raising about $6 billion more a year temporarily to balance the state's budget.

With Californians' personal income totaling about $1.7 trillion a year and state and local taxes approximating $200 billion, that would add perhaps a third of a percentage point to the overall burden. And it means California could challenge Connecticut for third place — especially if a spate of recent local sales tax increases continues.

PHOTO: Yolanda Odell of Sacramento dances to get the attention of last minute tax filers on the corner of Truxel Road and W. El Camino Ave. for Liberty Tax Service in 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Renee C. Byer

April 7, 2014
Sean Noble talks about $1 million FPPC fine, ties to Kochs

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Sean Noble, the man who operated an Arizona nonprofit group that channeled millions of dollars in anonymous donations to two California ballot measures in 2012, said in a television interview Sunday that the investigation he faced by California's political watchdog was "a complete over-reach."

In October, Noble's group, the Center to Protect Patient Rights, and another Arizona nonprofit agreed to pay California's Fair Political Practices Commission a $1 million fine for not properly reporting the source of their contributions to groups that were working to support Proposition 32 and oppose Proposition 30. Those measures sought, respectively, to weaken union influence and raise taxes.

The fine set the record as the stiffest penalty the state has ever levied for a violation of campaign finance laws, and made national news as a rare case of regulators successfully shining more light on the practices that allow donors to shield their identities while giving big money to political campaigns.

"It was an example where government has a tremendous amount of authority to do things that violate the rights of individuals. And the investigation that led them to levy this fine was a complete over-reach," Noble said in an interview with News 12, the NBC affiliate in Phoenix, Arizona.

Noble also talked about his relationship with the Koch brothers and his new political nonprofit group called American Encore, which you can watch here. The discussion about California's FPPC investigation starts around the 5:35 minute mark.

Gary Winuk, the FPPC's chief of enforcement, responded to Noble's comments with this prepared statement:

"Sean Noble agreed to and paid a record fine on behalf of the Koch network for a reason. It was the largest amount of undisclosed dark money in the history of California. His vain attempts to try to minimize the case should not serve to give comfort to anyone who tries to hide money in California, because we are prepared to confront them at every turn."

PHOTO: Ann Ravel, then-chairwoman of the California FPPC, announces October 24, 2013, a $1 million fine against Center to Protect Patient Rights and Americans for Responsible Leadership. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

Editor's note: This story was updated at 3:23 p.m. to include a comment from the FPPC's Gary Winuk.

April 7, 2014
AM Alert: Lobby day for ACLU, University of California students

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Drug sentencing, school discipline, and student debt.

We're now entering the meat of the legislative calendar, as evidenced by the increasingly bill-packed hearings on the Daily File, which means it's prime time for groups to head to Sacramento and make their voices heard. Today we have some relatively less-moneyed interests: the American Civil Liberties Union and the University of California Student Association.

At the forefront for the ACLU are bills that would allow moms on welfare to receive extra money if they become pregnant, scale back so-called "willful defiance" school punishments and eliminate crack sentencing disparities. The students are focused on the mounting burden of student debt, a message they'll amplify at a morning rally alongside Assemblyman Das Williams, D- Santa Barbara, and Senators Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, and Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens.

VIDEO: Name recognition is a good thing in an election year, right? Not always, Dan Walters says.

SEAFOOD CHICANERY: How's that sushi? Or more accurately, what's that sushi? A startling recent study showed widespread seafood mislabeling, with customers often buying a cheaper substitute for the cod or salmon they thought they were getting. Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, will be at Taylor's Market on Freeport Boulevard this morning to stump for his legislation slapping criminal penalties on people who misrepresent the seafood they're selling.

ORCA-NIZED PROTEST With a closely watched bill to ban orca shows making its first committee appearance on Tuesday, bill proponents will be presenting an online petition with over a million signatures to Assemblyman Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, chair of the committee weighing the bill's fate. This evening, the bill's author (Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica) and its sponsor (the Animal Welfare Institute) will host a screening of the inciting documentary "Blackfish" at the Crest Theater.

BEAD IT: Speaking of Bloom ban bills, the former Santa Monica mayor's legislation to nix the waterway-polluting microbeads embedded in many cosmetic products goes before the Assembly Natural Resources Committee today.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to the nation's oldest governor, our grizzled Gov. Jerry Brown. The third-term guv turns an august 76 today.

PHOTO: Students rallying during the University of California students annual lobbying day at the State Capitol, Monday, March 3, 2008. The Sacramento Bee/Brian Baer.

April 7, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: Name game backfires for unlucky candidates

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Pity state controller candidate Betty Yee, Dan says, who has the misfortune of sharing a last name with another lately-in-the-news politician.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

April 4, 2014
Feds seek to return Leland Yee consultant to jail

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Less than a day after he walked out of jail, the federal government moved Friday to revoke the bail of Keith Jackson, calling the former consultant to state Sen. Leland Yee a flight risk and a danger to the community.

Jackson and Yee, D-San Francisco, were among 29 people indicted Friday on charges of corruption and conspiracy to traffic weapons. Jackson also is accused of trying to arrange a murder-for-hire and other crimes.

Yee has been out on bail since his March 26 arrest. A judge ordered Jackson's release Thursday after Jackson arranged $250,000 bail secured in part by a mobile home in Texas.

In Friday's filing, prosecutors contend they had no time to challenge Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins' release order because they were presenting to the grand jury for much of Thursday afternoon. Jackson poses major risks and his bail is inadequate, they argued.

"While it is true that defendant has no criminal history, this case is very different than the normal one where a defendant is caught committing a single isolated crime and, if he has no criminal history, may be presumed to have messed up once," federal prosecutors wrote in Friday's filing. "Here, as the complaint and Indictment establish, there is probable cause that Defendant engaged in a wide variety of serious, frequent criminal behavior spanning the course of many years. While he has not previously been arrested or convicted, there is unquestionably probable cause to believe that defendant is not a one-time offender but a one man crime wave."

Jackson's legal team had no comment on the federal filing, a spokeswoman said Friday.

Yee, Jackson and other defendants are scheduled to appear in federal court Tuesday. The judge could act then on the government's motion.

PHOTO: In this file photo taken March 16, 2011, Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, second from right, poses with several inducted consultants, including Keith Jackson, left, a former San Francisco school board member.. The Associated Press/Sing Tao Daily

April 4, 2014
Steinberg invites constituents to meet him in Land Park

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It's not Torrey Pines.

But the outing to the Land Park golf course that Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg has scheduled for Sunday won't set you back $65,000 either.

That's how much donors were asked to give the California Democratic Party to send a party of four to the Pro Tem Cup this weekend at Torrey Pines, where politicians mingle with lobbyists at San Diego's glamorous seaside golf course.

Steinberg canceled the annual fundraiser earlier this week, saying the corruption charges against his fellow Democratic Sens. Ron Calderon and Leland Yee have tainted the routine of raising money. A third Democrat, Sen. Rod Wright, has been found guilty of eight felonies for lying about where lived when he ran for office.

"It's no secret that the Senate has been hurt recently by the charges brought against three senators," Steinberg wrote in an invitation asking Sacramento constituents to join him -- for free -- at the Land Park golf course on Sunday to talk about state policy.

"But it's important -- despite the acts of a few individuals -- that you know I am here to serve, to do the hard unglamorous work of fixing tough public-policy problems and most importantly, to do it the right way."

The event is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. at Swanson's Grove in the William Land Golf Course, 1701 Sutterville Road, Sacramento.

PHOTO: A golfer plays at the William Land Park Golf Course in Sacramento in February 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo

April 4, 2014
Slippery stuff: California bill would enshrine state amphibian

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A motto, a flag...and a frog?

California has established an array of official state symbols, from its widely recognizable ursine flag to some state foods enshrined by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Now Assemblyman V. Manuel Pérez, D-Coachella, is hopping on the state emblem game with a bill to name the red-legged frog California's state amphibian.

The crimson-limbed critter would join the redwood, the desert tortoise and the golden trout as a recognized organic expression of California's uniqueness. The rana draytonii is currently categorized as a threatened species.

In a nod to a beloved Sacramento tradition, Pérez's bill notes that the frog achieved fame via the Mark Twain story "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," a tale that leads lawmakers to get their hands dirty at an annual frog jump event.

But at its heart, Pérez said, the bill is an educational endeavor. He drafted it after elementary school students in his district, encouraged to find a connection to state politics, researched the frog's California history. Two students and their teacher will be flown up to Sacramento to testify for the bill when it comes before the Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee on Tuesday.

"We just thought it was a great way for students to engage," Pérez said.

PHOTO:In this photo taken Monday, April 28, 2010, a red-legged frog sits in a marsh area of Mori Point Park in Pacifica. Associated Press/San Francisco Chronicle/ Michael Macor.

April 4, 2014
Ron Calderon takes corruption defense to Twitter

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Suspended state Sen. Ron Calderon took to Twitter Thursday night, sharing, for the first time, a possible defense against the corruption and money-laundering charges he faces in federal court.

"Opinion by former prominent DOJ prosecutor," Calderon tweeted as he shared a legal journal article that spells out one lawyer's view of the weaknesses in the government's case against the senator. It was a rare tweet by the Montebello Democrat, who hasn't posted anything to Twitter since his Feb. 21 indictment and typically focused on ribbon cuttings and other community events before that.

Calderon repeatedly told an undercover agent posing as a film studio owner offering him bribes that he could not perform a "quid pro quo," says the Daily Journal article by Edward J. Loya Jr., an associate with the Venable law firm in Los Angeles.

"Moreover, Ron Calderon's statements suggest that he was genuinely motivated by the prospect of helping minority filmmakers and small business owners, like (the agent), who could benefit from the proposed film tax credit legislation."

Loya also wrote that Michael Drobot, a former hospital executive who is a cooperating witness for the government, may not be credible to jurors. Drobot owned a surgery center that specialized in back surgeries for people being treated through the workers' compensation system. Authorities accuse him of being part of the biggest insurance fraud scheme in California history for taking advantage of a loophole in state law that allowed hospitals to double-bill insurance carriers for surgeries involving spinal hardware. Drobot agreed to plead guilty to bribing Calderon to help him perpetuate the scheme. He faces a maximum of 10 years in prison, while Calderon faces almost 400.

"Drobot may come off to some jurors as a person who is trying to save his own hide by falsely implicating Calderon," Loya wrote.

He also wrote that the early leaking of the FBI's affidavit to Al Jazeera America is "another troubling aspect of the case" that could undermine the credibility of federal agents.

"Certain aspects of the government's undercover investigation... may seem troubling to jurors," Loya wrote.

Loya, who spent five years prosecuting corruption cases for the US Attorney's Office, said in a phone interview that he is not working for Calderon or his lawyer, Mark Geragos.

"When I learned about the indictment in February, I thought it was a very interesting case.
I noticed that a lot of the coverage was very one-sided," Loya said.

He said he was surprised to see Thursday that Calderon had shared his article on Twitter.

"I think he has some very good defenses. He has a very good lawyer," he said. "He should trust his lawyer's ability to defend him."

PHOTO: The Twitter page of suspended state Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, on April 4, 2014.

April 4, 2014
California Sen. Leland Yee indicted

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Marking the next step in a sweeping FBI operation that has implicated suspended Sen. Leland Yee, a federal grand jury has indicted Yee and 28 others.

The indictment charges Yee with honest services conspiracy, wire fraud and conspiracy to deal in and import firearms. If convicted on all counts, Yee faces a sentence of 125 years in federal prison and $1.75 million in potential fines.

Also indicted were Keith Jackson, a former San Francisco School Board member and Yee fundraiser who surfaces throughout an FBI affidavit (wire fraud, engaging in business of dealing in firearms narcotics conspiracy, murder for hire, conspiracy to deal in and import firearms) and Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, a former convict who had publicly touted having reformed and re-invented himself (money laundering conspiracy to traffic contraband cigarettes, conspiracy to transport and receive stolen property in interstate commerce).

In a press release accompanying the indictment, the office of U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag hints at the scope of the investigation that ensnared Yee and a cavalcade of alleged gangsters. The release references a five-year effort jointly undertaken by the FBI, the Internal Revenue and the police departments of San Francisco, Oakland and Antioch.

The indictment includes three people who were not among the 26 complainants in last week's affidavit.

Those are Barry Blackwell House, known as "Barry Black," who faces weapons counts, including being a felon in possession of a firearm; and Zhanghao Wu and Tong Zao Zhang, who face charges of trafficking in stolen cigarettes.

PHOTO: In this March 2011 photo, Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, center, poses with state Sen. Leland Yee, right, and then-state Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, left, at the Chee Kung Tong spring banquet in San Francisco. Associated Press/Sing Tao Daily.

April 4, 2014
AM Alert: Traumatized California kids get a hearing

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When she unveiled a slate of anti-truancy measures last month, California Attorney General Kamala Harris acknowledged the bills were more about data collection than about directly addressing the out-of-the-classroom factors that keep kids from attending class.

A Select Committee On Delinquency Prevention And Youth Development today could help shed some light on the latter issue. The hearing, presided over by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, will detail the effect that abuse and neglect have on kids and discuss how to treat traumatized students.

Expected speakers include Dr. Robert Ross of the California Endowment and Dr. Steve Wirtz of the California Department of Mental Health, in addition to numerous high school students. Starting at 9:30 a.m. at the Los Angeles Public Library.

VIDEO: We just got a glimpse of the post-supermajority reality for Senate Democrats, Dan Walters says.

ECONOMICS: An array of elected officials will be in Oakland today for an economic summit sponsored by the left-leaning Greenlining Institute, among them the California Energy Commission's David Hochschild, the California Public Utilities Commission's Catherine Sandoval and Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, who is winning something called the "Big Brain Award." Keynoting is Richard Cordray, head of the beloved-by-liberals-and-reviled-by-conservatives Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

CARBONATION: The pursuit of reduced emissions continues. On Wednesday it was a low-carbon fuel summit; yesterday it was geothermal energy; and today it's a pair of Air Resources Board workshops on new standards for California's fuel as the state tries to diminish emissions ahead of a 2020 deadline. At the Cal/EPA building.

PHOTO: A Del Paso Heights student reads the book "Street Life: Poverty, Gangs and a Ph.D, " by Victor Rios, a sociology professor at UC Santa Barbara and former Oakland gang member as he talked to Vista Nueva High School students on Wed., Feb. 26, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

April 4, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: Diminished Dems change course

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Now that they need Republican votes on some measures, Dan says, Senate Democrats have agreed to accommodate their conservative counterparts.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

April 3, 2014
Leland Yee consultant Keith Jackson released

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Keith Jackson, a consultant to suspended state Sen. Leland Yee who is accused of corruption and conspiring with him to pull off an international weapons deal, was released from jail Thursday evening.

Jackson and Yee were arrested March 26 as part of a massive FBI sweep of more than two dozen people accused of running guns, selling drugs and arranging murder-for-hire. Yee has been free on a $500,000 unsecured bond while Jackson has been in custody since his arrest.

A federal magistrate judge ruled today that Jackson "is not a threat to the community," according to a prepared statement from his lawyer, James Brosnahan of the Morrison & Foerster law firm in San Francisco.

"Jackson has no criminal record and no history of violence," the statement says.

A 137-page criminal complaint alleges that Jackson helped arrange a murder-for-hire, conspired to sell narcotics and sold several guns to undercover FBI agents. It also accuses him of scheming with Yee on several counts of corruption by taking money from undercover agents seeking political favors from Yee.

At a court appearance earlier in the day, federal prosecutor William Frentzen argued that Jackson should remain behind bars until his trial because of the seriousness of the charges against him, the Associated Press reported.

Brosnahan countered that his client is innocent, has no criminal record and has deep ties to San Francisco, the AP wrote.

Jackson and Yee served on the San Francisco school board together in the 1990s.

Federal authorities allege that Jackson was a consultant to a Chinatown group called the Chee Kung Tong, which is led by a one-time gangster known as Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow and was being infiltrated by the FBI during its five-year investigation.

Editor's note: This post was updated at 7:15 p.m. Thursday, April 3 to reflect Jackson's release from custody.

PHOTO: In this file photo taken March 16, 2011, Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, second from right, poses with several inducted consultants, including Keith Jackson, left, a former San Francisco school board member, at the Chee Kung Tong spring banquet in San Francisco. Associated Press/Sing Tao Daily

April 3, 2014
Jerry Brown signs bill expanding reach of FPPC

Brown_signing_bills.JPGGov. Jerry Brown has signed legislation expanding the power of the Fair Political Practices Commission to investigate or seek injunctions in campaign finance cases, his office announced Thursday.

The bill is one of several proposals pushed forward by lawmakers after outside groups poured millions of dollars into California's initiative wars in 2012.

Assembly Bill 800, by Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, allows the FPPC to begin audits and investigations or to seek injunctions before — rather than after — an election occurs.

Gordon has said the bill would allow the FPPC to act more aggressively, "clearing up concerns about campaigns in real time," and the FPPC cheered the bill's enactment Thursday.

"Today California took a big step towards ensuring that campaign laws are followed before the election, when it matters," Erin Peth, the FPPC's executive director, said in a prepared statement.

The FPPC was at the center of a campaign finance controversy two years ago, probing a network of out-of-state groups that moved money to California to support Proposition 32 — a ballot initiative designed to weaken the political influence of labor unions — and oppose Proposition 30, Brown's initiative to raise taxes.

The California Political Attorneys Association opposed the measure, saying it failed to provide due process protections and is unfair to campaign committees and nonprofit groups under the FPPC scrutiny.

The bill also tightens restrictions around how "subagents," such as purchasers of campaign TV and radio airtime, report their spending.

While Brown signed one campaign finance bill, the author of another, Sen. Lou Correa, is seeking to revive his.

Correa, D-Santa Ana, moved Thursday to amend a bill that would have required nonprofit groups to identify their donors if contributions hit certain benchmarks. The bill was blocked last month by Senate Republicans who objected to an urgency clause allowing the bill to take effect before the upcoming election.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown signs bills in Sacramento on March 24, 2011 as Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco look on. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

April 3, 2014
Anti-outsourcing resolution passes California Assembly

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On a party-line vote, the Assembly on Thursday affirmed a union-backed resolution urging lawmakers to resist contracting out public services.

The non-binding resolution stipulates that the Assembly "opposes outsourcing of public services and assets." Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles, the measure's author, said public entities can cloud an otherwise open process when they contract out work, and warned outsourcing can lead to "rubber-stamped" contract awards with no discussion.

"Over the years, outsourcing has left taxpayers without transparency or accountability to where the taxpayer money is being used," said Gomez.

But opponents, including a number of Republicans who decried the measure, said it skews the contracting process by limiting choices that can drive down costs to the benefit of voters. Assemblyman Don Wagner, R-Irvine, urged his colleagues to "stand for free competition," a message echoed by other critics.

"We represent all the residents of this state, not just public workers," said Assemblyman Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills.

The measure passed 42-22, with several Democrats refusing to vote.

Before the vote, business and local government organizations rallied against the measure, saying it would constrain their decisions and strain budgets. That a legally non-binding resolution caused such consternation demonstrated the issue's potentially broad impact.

"We contract with other local agencies for services" from garbage collection to maintaining public buildings, said Dan Carrigg, legislative director of the California League of Cities, faulting the Legislature for "one of the most ill-informed, poorly considered things they could possibly do."

PHOTO: Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, D- Los Angeles listens during the first day of session at the State Capitol in Sacramento, Calif. on Monday, Dec. 3, 2012 .

April 3, 2014
AM Alert: Geothermal energy in the hot seat

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Will geothermal energy get hot?

California's policymakers are constantly looking at energy innovations or renewable sources that will help the state meet state-required limits on greenhouse gases — just yesterday, Assembly members visited a low-carbon fuel summit — and a hearing today will examine the potential of geothermal, or heat energy trapped beneath the earth's surface. A Geothermal Energy Association report estimates that geothermal accounted for about 4 percent of California's energy mix in 2012 but could be tapped for far more.<