Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

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



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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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