Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

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

yee_press_resized.jpg

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

RBCapitolDome.JPG

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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Capitol Alert Staff


Amy Chance Amy Chance is political editor for The Sacramento Bee. achance@sacbee.com. Twitter: @Amy_Chance

Dan Smith Dan Smith is Capitol bureau chief for The Sacramento Bee. smith@sacbee.com. Twitter: @DanielSnowSmith

Jim Miller Jim Miller covers California policy and politics and edits Capitol Alert. jmiller@sacbee.com. Twitter: @jimmiller2

David Siders David Siders covers the Brown administration. dsiders@sacbee.com. Twitter: @davidsiders

Christopher Cadelago Christopher Cadelago covers California politics and health care. ccadelago@sacbee.com. Twitter: @ccadelago

Laurel Rosenhall Laurel Rosenhall covers the Legislature, the lobbying community and higher education. lrosenhall@sacbee.com. Twitter: @LaurelRosenhall

Jeremy White Jeremy B. White covers the Legislature. jwhite@sacbee.com. Twitter: @capitolalert

Koseff Alexei Koseff edits Capitol Alert's mobile Insider Edition. akoseff@sacbee.com. Twitter: @akoseff

Dan Walters Dan Walters is a columnist for The Sacramento Bee. dwalters@sacbee.com. Twitter: @WaltersBee

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