Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

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


By Brad Branan

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. PĂ©rez, 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


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?


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.


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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