Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

May 12, 2014
Plastic bag makers air TV ads opposing Padilla's bag ban

RB_Plastic_Bags_2007.JPGThe Capitol's years-long debate over plastic grocery bags is heading to a TV set near you, as a plastic industry association launches an ad campaign Wednesday opposing the latest attempt to ban disposable plastic check-out bags in California.

Under Senate Bill 270, lightweight plastic bags would be banned from grocery stores and customers would pay at least a dime for a paper bag or a sturdier, reusable plastic bag. Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, introduced the bill in January, framing it as a compromise that would satisfy the industry that makes plastic bags and the environmentalists who view them as excessive garbage harmful to wildlife.

The bill allows plastic companies to apply for grants from a $2 million state recycling fund to help re-engineer their operations and make the kind of reusable plastic bags permissible under the bill. Command Packaging, a plastic bag maker in the Los Angeles county city of Vernon, supports the measure.

But major bag makers nationwide remain opposed. Their new ad blasts Padilla for putting "powerful special interests before working families," describing his bill as a giveaway to the grocery stores that will get to keep the 10-cents consumers would have to pay for bags if they don't bring their own.

The ad targets Padilla as he is campaigning in a hotly-contested race for Secretary of State. It calls the bill "Padilla;'s dirty deal," says grocers have paid millions in campaign contributions to state legislators and that Padilla is "paying them back" with the bill to ban plastic bags.

"What's most cynical about this legislation is the massive transfer of wealth from taxpayers to shareholders of the grocery industry association," said Steve Schmidt, vice chairman of public affairs with the Edelman public relations firm, which is representing the plastics industry group known as the American Progressive Bag Alliance.

The industry association has spent almost $646,000 lobbying the California Capitol since 2012, retaining both the Mercury Public Affairs firm and Sloat Higgins Jensen. It is launching an all-out fight against Padilla's bill, commissioning an economic analysis from Tim Gage, the former director of the state Department of Finance, and hiring Schmidt, a GOP political strategist who has worked for John McCain, Arnold Schwarzenegger and George W. Bush.

Schmidt would not disclose how much the group is spending on the new advertising campaign. He said it is timed to begin Wednesday when the Assembly Natural Resources Committee is scheduled to vote on SB 270, and will continue airing for weeks or months depending on the fate of the bill. Sacramento will be the first market to see the ad.

Last year, a Padilla bill to ban plastic bags fell short in the Senate when some of his Democratic colleagues said it would eliminate too many industrial jobs in blue-collar parts of California. In the new version of the bill, Padilla worked to reduce potential job losses by creating the grant program for California factories to change their products and re-train workers.

The opposition that remains, Padilla said, comes largely from plastic bag companies based in other states. He denied the allegations in the ad.

"I don't agree, but I understand their economic interests," Padilla said.

"Just like Texas oil companies don't like our air-quality environmental protection laws in California, it's no surprise that out-of-state plastic bag manufacturers are not fans of this legislation as well."

Hilex Poly and Crown Poly are two of the plastic bag manufacturers opposed to Padilla's bill. Hilex is based in South Carolina, while Crown Poly is in Huntington Park, in Los Angeles County.

More than 90 California cities -- including Los Angeles and San Francisco -- have already banned plastic grocery bags. The grocery association supports Padilla's bill, arguing that stores would be better off working under one policy that is uniform across the state, rather than the mish-mash in effect now.

PHOTO: Courtesy clerks fill plastic bags with groceries at the Safeway store in midtown Sacramento on Monday June 11, 2007.The Sacramento Bee/ Randall Benton.

May 12, 2014
California Senate passes bill banning fundraisers at lobbyist homes


California lawmakers would be forbidden from holding campaign fundraisers at the homes of registered lobbyists under a bill the state Senate passed today.

Senate Bill 1441 by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, seeks to eliminate a loophole in California's campaign finance laws that allows lobbyists to host campaign fundraisers at their homes and offices if the cost of the event is less than $500, even though lobbyists may not otherwise contribute to a political campaign. A prominent Sacramento lobbyist and nearly 40 politicians got in trouble earlier this year with the Fair Political Practices Commission for home-based fundraising events that went past the $500 limit.

In February, lobbyist Kevin Sloat admitted in a settlement with the FPPC that he had hosted luxurious fundraising events at his Sacramento home that exceeded the $500 threshold, including expensive liquors and cigars. Sloat paid a fine of $133,500 for hosting the events, setting a new record for the highest fine ever paid in California for violating the state's lobbying laws. Nearly 40 politicians -- including legislative leaders from both houses as well as Gov. Jerry Brown -- received FPPC warning letters for benefiting from the fundraisers at Sloat's home.

SB 1441 passed the Senate without a single vote in opposition; it now heads to the Assembly for consideration.

PHOTO: Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, talks in March 2014 about his bill to ban fundraisers at lobbyists' homes, part of a package of legislation dubbed the "California Accountability in Public Service Act." The Sacramento Bee/Renée C. Byer

May 12, 2014
Toni Atkins becomes California Assembly speaker

speaker.jpgIn an historic transfer of power, Assemblywoman Toni Atkins on Monday became the first openly gay woman to ascend to the head of the California Assembly.

The inauguration filled the California Assembly chambers with an audience that included a roster of past legislative leaders, statewide officials and Gov. Jerry Brown. Former speaker Karen Bass, now a member of Congress, administered the oath to Atkins.

In her first remarks as speaker, Atkins praised California's gradual return to fiscal stability, urged more investment in education and pledged to bolster California's business climate. She won applause for lauding the enrollment success of Covered California, the state's new health insurance exchange, and reiterated her commitment to two longtime goals.

"If I have a personal priority, it is reducing homelessness and making sure we have affordable housing, not just to house the homeless but for all working Californians," Atkins said.

And with budget talks set to get underway, she touched on fiscal restraint but also talked about the need to assist California's teeming ranks of low-income residents.

"We must work to ensure stability, and that includes an adequate reserve for those rainy days when the economy again takes a downward dive," Atkins said, "and yet we must also realize that where we have our greatest challenge is at the same time expanding opportunity and lifting up the most vulnerable who have suffered a great deal and need us not to forget them now. While we have made difficult decisions during the recession, they have held on with white knuckles."

Atkins, who is 51, will also be the first Assembly speaker from San Diego since the Legislature became a full-time institution. After a working class childhood in rural Virginia, Atkins moved to San Diego and began her rise through politics with a focus on affordable housing and reproductive rights. She served on the San Diego City Council and briefly served as the city's interim mayor before winning a seat in the Assembly in 2010, building a reputation as a diligent worker.

"I'm still amazed at her endless capacity to get the job done," former Sen. Christine Kehoe, Atkins' mentor and former boss, said in introductory remarks.

May 12, 2014
Effects of California's workers compensation overhaul not yet certain

JD_COMP_STRETCHER.JPGTwo years ago, the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown gave their blessing to an overhaul of California's multi-billion-dollar system of compensating workers who sustain job-related illnesses and injuries.

The overhaul, billed as a reform, had been worked out privately by employers and labor unions and was opposed, in the main, by two other major workers compensation interest groups — attorneys who specialize in disability cases and medical care providers.

The legislation, Senate Bill 863, raised cash benefits to disabled workers and promised to offset their costs by clamping down on medical costs.

It's too early to tell whether the changes will have their intended effect, the Massachusetts-based Workers Compensation Research Institute says in a new study of California's system and those of 15 other states. The statistical compilation is aimed at setting benchmarks for the systems so that the impact of changes in benefits and costs can be more fully weighed.

In the absence of hard data, the study — which compares SB 863's changes to experiences in other states — suggests that the measure will, in fact, reduce medical and legal costs associated with claims for benefits in California. Prior to the overhaul, those costs were among the nation's highest, even though the prices paid for medical office visits in California were among the lowest.

The study attributes that anomaly to more frequent use of services, and fragmented billing practices in prior years, echoing complaints of employers.

SB 863 mandates the use of Medicare's medical fee schedule, drops fees for surgical procedures sharply, and puts new review processes in place. Those changes, the study said, will probably raise the incomes of primary care doctors who handle workers compensation cases but reduce incomes of surgeons and other specialists.

The study is available only by purchase here.

PHOTO: Beth Slavin of Modesto, who injured her knee on the job, lies on a stretcher at a news conference at the Capitol in Sacramento on April 19, 2005, protesting workers compensation legislation that then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the year before. The Sacramento Bee/ John Decker

May 12, 2014
AM Alert: Toni Atkins sworn in as Assembly Speaker

Toni_Atkins.JPGThough she was chosen as the next Assembly Speaker in January and formally elected in March, Toni Atkins will finally take over the lower house today. Among those in attendance for her swearing-in ceremony at 1 p.m. in the Assembly Chambers will be Gov. Jerry Brown.

Atkins, a former San Diego city councilwoman who was elected to the Legislature in 2010, will be the 69th Speaker of the Assembly. She is only the third woman, and the first openly gay woman, to lead the house.

An "unabashed progressive Democrat," as one former colleague called her, Atkins is a major supporter of gay rights, affordable housing and reproductive health. Read more about her rise from a humble upbringing in rural Virginia to the head of California politics in Jeremy B. White's profile of Atkins.

VIDEO: Should California fund new jail construction or rehabilitation programs to address prison overcrowding? A small but important budget battle is underway, Dan Walters says.

POLITICAL REFORM: In a year plagued with scandal, a number of different efforts to address the influence of money on the Capitol are winding their way through the Legislature. A package of bills from state Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, which would institute a fundraising blackout period at the end of the legislative session among other reforms, goes before the Senate Appropriations Committee at 10 a.m. in Room 4203 of the Capitol. As amendments to the Political Reform Act, the legislation faces an uphill climb: The bills will require a two-thirds vote from both houses. But Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg seems to already have a back-up plan in place, announcing a series of new rules last Friday that address some of the issues raised by Padilla's bills and other current legislation.

POWERFUL WOMEN: Political development group California Women Lead hosts Women's Empowerment Day at the Capitol, an all-day leadership conference beginning at 10 a.m. at the Residence Inn Sacramento Downtown on 15th Street. State Sens. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, and Mimi Walters, R-Irvine, are slated to participate in a morning panel on leadership style and Karen Skelton, CEO and editor-in-chief of The Shriver Report, will deliver the lunchtime keynote. More than 40 members of the Legislature are scheduled to attend a reception at 5 p.m.

NURSES RALLY: As part of its annual advocacy day, the California Nurses Association will march from the Sacramento Convention Center to the Capitol at 11:30 a.m. to support bills that would mandate workplace violence prevention programs, require uniform standards for reporting charity care at hospitals and limit higher out-of-pocket costs for patients seeking care outside their provider networks.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to Assemblyman Rocky Chávez, R-Oceanside, who turns 63 today and to state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, who turns 68. And a belated happy Mother's Day to all of the moms in the Capitol community.

PHOTO: Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, D-San Diego on Jan. 23, 2014 at her office in Sacramento. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

May 12, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: Realignment creates budget battle over new jails

Supreme_Court_California_Prisons.jpgLiberal legislators are pushing funding for rehabilitation programs over new jail construction to address prison overcrowding, 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: Several hundred inmates crowd the gymnasium at San Quentin State Prison on May 20, 2009. The Associated Press/Eric Risberg


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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