Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

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


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'


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


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.

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

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

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.


Capitol Alert Staff

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

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

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

David Siders David Siders covers the Brown administration. Twitter: @davidsiders

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

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

Jeremy White Jeremy B. White covers the Legislature. Twitter: @capitolalert

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

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

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