Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

May 23, 2014
John Vasconcellos, longtime California lawmaker, is seriously ill

Former state Sen. John Vasconcellos, a Santa Clara Democrat who served almost four decades in the Legislature, is gravely ill.

Vasconcellos has been in a San Jose hospital the past several days, where his condition has worsened. He has spoken with friends and colleagues in recent days.

"I hope everyone is praying for our dear friend John Vasconcellos," said Barbara O'Connor, a former Cal State Sacramento communications professor who has known Vasconcellos since 1972. "He's very ill and he needs all the help he can get."

Rich Robinson, a former aide to Vasconcellos who is with the senator, declined to comment Friday.

"Even giants need our prayers. Keep Senator John Vasconcellos in your thoughts today. Perform an act of kindness in his honor," former state Sen. Liz Figueroa, who served with Vasconcellos, posted on Twitter on Friday.

Vasconcellos served in the Assembly from 1966 through 1996, when he moved to the state Senate and served through 2004. He carried legislation on a variety of topics, especially education and government transparency. During his last term, Vasconcellos' Senate website referred to him as "a pragmatic idealist," "the conscience of the Legislature," and "the Johnny Appleseed of self esteem."

After leaving office, he founded Politics of Trust, a group dedicated to fostering "a new politics, based on our highest aspirations and a new, healing vision."

PHOTO: Former state Sen. John Vasconcellos, D-Santa Clara, makes a telephone call from the floor of the Senate chambers in February 2003, during his final term in the Legislature. The Sacramento Bee / Dick Schmidt

May 23, 2014
Bill to extend health care to undocumented immigrants stalls

Lara_undocumented_students.JPGA bill to extend subsidized health benefits to undocumented immigrants stalled in the state Senate on Friday, but could be revived if its supporters identify a way to pay for the expansion.

Senate Bill 1005 aims to close a gap in the federal health care overhaul, which only makes insurance plans available to those in the country legally. Authored by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, the measure would open Medi-Cal to undocumented immigrants as well as create a marketplace for new plans.

California counties currently provide health care to undocumented immigrants, but the coverage varies greatly among counties.

Health advocates contend the legislation is needed to fully achieve the promises of the federal Affordable Care Act in California. Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, and chairman of the upper house's fiscal committee, described a "two-tiered" system that discriminates against millions of people that but "for lack of paperwork are Americans."

"SB 1005 is a necessary measure, but we need to continue to find responsible funding sources so that we don't already over-strain our safety net, and make sure it doesn't come apart," de León said.

Lara and advocates were given the summer to develop a funding mechanism for the expansion. At the hearing, Lara said he respected the decision.

"Expanding healthcare for all Californians is not a question of if but ... a matter of when," he said.

PHOTO: Sen. Ricardo Lara is joined, left to right, by UC Davis student Ana Maciel, UC President Janet Napolitano, Sacramento State student Deisy Caro and Sacramento State President Alexander Gonzalez at the State Capitol on April 9. The Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.

May 23, 2014
California tribes still at odds over online poker

sdf_fund_resized.JPGCalifornia's tribes with casinos once were deeply divided about how, or even if, the state should legalize online poker, blocking any legislative deal.

Now tribes are talking, but a licensing measure remains elusive because of key disagreements, two influential tribal leaders said at this week's online poker conference sponsored by Capitol Weekly and the UC Center Sacramento.

Robert Martin, the chairman of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians near Beaumont, said he would have no problem with legislation that allows race tracks and advanced-deposit wagering facilities to offer online poker.

"I can't answer for every tribe, but I can tell you that Agua Caliente would oppose that bill," said Jeff Grubbe, chairman of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians near Palm Springs. He noted that voters in 2004 rejected a ballot measure that would have expanded gambling at horse tracks.

And Grubbe said his tribe and others want any legalized California online poker games to exclude operators such as PokerStars, which critics say has violated federal law.

Such "bad actor" language would be a deal breaker, Martin responded. His tribe, which is working with PokerStars, thinks the state's gambling regulators should make that call, not lawmakers.

"If it disqualifies our partner without even giving them an opportunity to apply, we would have to fight that," Martin said of the measure.

The two online poker bills in play are Assembly Bill 2291 by Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, and Senate Bill 1366 by state Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana.

PHOTO: Dealers practice before the opening of the 340,000-square-foot Graton Casino & Resort in October 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.

May 23, 2014
Three competing plans emerge for spending cap-and-trade fees

Thumbnail image for California_Greenhouse_Gases.jpg
And now there are three competing plans for spending about $1 billion in cap-and-trade fees on businesses that emit greenhouse gases, with three weeks to resolve the differences before the June 15 deadline for enacting a state budget.

The fees are, by law, supposed to be used to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to meet state goals.

Gov. Jerry Brown's 2014-15 budget would spend $870 million in fees, with the largest single piece being $250 million to bolster financial underpinnings of the state's bullet train project. Plus, Brown wants the Legislature to permanently commit a third of future cap-and-trade revenues to the project.

The Assembly's leadership, in a plan unveiled on Thursday, wants to raise cap-and-trade spending to just over $1 billion with two pots of $400 million each, one of which could go to the bullet train if the state's Strategic Growth Council – an agency of the governor's top appointees – agrees.

Moreover, the Assembly's plan would give Brown the authority to seek a $20 billion federal loan and issue a $20 billion revenue bond for the high-speed rail project, both of which would rely on future cap-and-trade fees to repay.

On Friday, the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee adopted another version that would allocate $450 million for mass transit and intercity rail, including the bullet train, plus appropriations for smaller programs.

There are some other differences as well, including how much money, if any, should be spent on subsidies for buyers of low-emission vehicles and various programs to reduce solid waste, restoring wetlands and support "sustainable communities," however they may be defined.

The differences will be resolved – if they can be – during negotiations among Brown and Democratic legislative leaders.

PHOTO: A tanker truck passes the Chevron oil refinery in Richmond on March 9, 2010. Associated Press/Paul Sakuma

May 23, 2014
Legislature scales back Brown's teacher pension rescue plan

State legislators heard a heavy litany of complaints from school officials this week about Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to make the State Teachers Retirement System solvent and in response temporarily toned down the bite on their budgets.

The Brown plan aims to close a $70-plus billion unfunded liability by eventually raising contributions to $5-plus billion a year, with the lion's share coming from the budgets of local school districts.

But school officials told a joint legislative hearing that the sharp increases would wipe out much of the gains in state aid they are scheduled to receive during the remainder of the decade.

In response, the chairs of the two legislative committees involved asked for a modification and on Friday, the Legislative Analyst's Office released a revised chart that would reach the same level of financing sought by Brown by 2020, but lower the increase in the early years and raise it later.

Brown wanted districts to raise contributions from 8.25 percent of payroll in 2014-15 to 9.5 percent, for instance, but the legislative plan scales it back to 8.88 percent. Districts' payments would ramp up gradually thereafter and surpass Brown's plan in 2018-19 at 17.75 percent, markedly higher than the 15.9 percent in Brown's plan for that year.

Both plans would top out at 19.1 percent in 2020-21, with school districts paying $3.8 billion that year into the pension system, over 70 percent of the $5.3 billion annual increase in revenue for STRS.

The state's contributions and those of teachers would remain virtually the same as Brown's plan, although the increase for teachers hired after Jan. 1, 2013, would be slightly lower for one year.

PHOTO: Joined by school officials, California Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at an April 2013 news conference in Sacramento. The Sacramento Bee/Renee. C. Byer

May 23, 2014
Pérez holds fundraising lead in California controller's contest

The leading candidates for state controller headed into the final weeks of the June 3 primary campaign with more than $2 million on hand to try to win over voters in the down-ticket contest.

Almost all of that money was in the campaign account of former Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, who continued to have a huge cash advantage over his main Democratic rival, Board of Equalization member Betty Yee. Pérez, whose campaign this week began airing TV ads, reported having more than $1.8 million on hand May 17 compared to Yee's $116,000.

Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, a Republican, had $70,198 on hand after raising more than $287,000 since March 18 following her late entry into the controller's race.

Recent polls suggest that Swearengin will easily make the November runoff, with the main battle between Yee and Pérez for the No. 2 slot.

The charts below show how much each candidate raised and spent from Jan. 1 through May 17, and their cash on hand.

PHOTO: Then-Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, on March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

May 23, 2014
AM Alert: Suspense bills get final shot in fiscal committees

Assembly_chamber.JPGToday is the last day for fiscal committees to meet and report to the floor bills introduced in their house, so both the Senate and Assembly appropriations committees will be running through their suspense files - lists of legislation the committees have held off on considering until a clearer picture of available revenue emerged.

Both houses have extensive lists to consider: There are in 232 bills in the Senate's suspense file, and 319 in the Assembly. Among them are many of Capitol Alert Insider Edition's Bills to Watch for 2014.

The Senate Appropriations Committee, which meets in Room 4203 of the Capitol upon adjournment of morning floor session, will consider legislation that would expand pre-kindergarten for all California four-year-olds, provide access to subsidized health care and student loans for undocumented immigrants, mandate labeling of genetically-modified foods, speed up the process for firing teachers accused of egregious misconduct, and create a fundraising blackout period for the Legislature.

The Assembly Appropriations Committee, which meets in Room 4202 of the Capitol upon adjournment of morning floor session, will consider legislation that would deal with a backlog of untested rape kits, require paid sick days for employees, make it easier for undocumented immigrants to pay taxes and extend the film tax credit.

VIDEO: Even with a scaled-back proposal, it's unclear whether pre-kindergarten expansion will make it into the final budget, Dan Walters says.

PUMP UP THE JAM: Under California's landmark cap-and-trade law, oil producers in the state will have to buy carbon credits for all the fuel they sell beginning next year. A coalition of businesses, consumers and advocates called Fed Up at the Pump launches a campaign against the tax, which is expected to raise gasoline prices by several cents per gallon, 10:30 a.m. at Three B's Auto and Truck Plaza in Lodi. State Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, will join the group in asking Gov. Jerry Brown to halt the law before it goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2015. Fed Up at the Pump argues that the rising cost of gas will have negative impact on motorists as well as industries such as agriculture, trucking and construction.

CONGRADULATIONS: The 2014 commencement season continues this weekend with another speaker from under the dome: Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, delivers the address at Sacramento State's College of Health and Human Services ceremony, Saturday at 8:30 a.m. at the Sleep Train Arena.

IN MEMORIAM: In honor of Memorial Day and those who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces, the Legislature will be out of session until Tuesday. But there is plenty of action around the Capitol this long weekend, including a "reading of the names" at the California Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Capitol Park at 7 a.m. on Sunday and a program at the Mexican-American Veterans Memorial on 10th Street at 1 p.m. on Monday.

Editor's Note: This post has been updated to eliminate a reference to the bill requiring porn actors to wear condoms. That bill is not on the suspense file -- it was sent to the floor for a vote.

PHOTO: Twenty-eight new Assembly members undergo orientation inside the Assembly chambers on Nov. 12, 2008. The Sacramento Bee/Brian Baer

May 23, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: Pre-kindergarten expansion remains unresolved

kindergarten.JPGState Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has scaled back his proposal, but it's still unclear whether pre-kindergarten expansion will make it into the final budget, 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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