Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

May 29, 2014
Senate passes bill to put warnings on sugary drinks

soda.jpgState senators narrowly approved legislation Thursday requiring warning labels on drinks with added sugars, a move supporters hope will curb obesity and diabetes.

"This epidemic is not only damaging the public's health, it is costing all Californians," said Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, who wrote Senate Bill 1000. "Sugar-sweetened beverages represent the single largest contributor to the diabetes epidemic."

As currently written, the warning would caution consumers that beverages with added sugars, such as soft drinks and some juices, can play a role in causing obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.

The legislation, which was sent to the Assembly on a 21-13 vote, would apply to sweetened drinks containing at least 75 calories per 12 ounces. Though the measure has the backing of health organizations, including the California Medical Association., it faces opposition from industry groups.

Opponents argue the bill is unnecessary because the federal government is considering a nutrition label overhaul. They also argue there are negative health effects from consuming most foods in excess.

"Putting government warning labels on more than 500 beverages will do nothing to change personal behaviors to teach people about healthy lifestyles," CalBev, the California arm of the American Beverage Association, said in a statement following the vote on SB 1000.

The legislation squeaked through when Sens. Marty Block, D-San Diego, and Norma Torres, D-Pomona, voted to push tally past the majority required for passage.

PHOTO: The Senate passed a bill that would require warning labels on drinks containing added sugar. Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

May 29, 2014
Bera calls for VA chief Shinseki to resign

Veterans.JPGRep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, called Thursday for the resignation of Gen. Eric Shinseki, the head of the Veterans Administration, amid a growing scandal over delayed medical care for veterans and attempts to cover it up.

The agency's inspector general published an interim report Wednesday that found that at least 1,700 veterans in the Phoenix area were never even placed on a waiting list for an appointment with a primary care physician.

While the inspector general's report noted that the review is ongoing, it found "significant delays in access to care" and evidence of data manipulation at 42 hospitals around the country.

In a statement, Bera, a physician, called the findings "deeply troubling."

"While General Shinseki's dedication and service to his country are indisputable," Bera said, "these failures that happened under his leadership are unacceptable and it is clear that he must step down."

Bera, a freshman, is seeking re-election in one of the most competitive House districts in the country.

Former Rep. Doug Ose, one of the three Republicans vying to challenge Bera, asked for Shinseki's resignation a week ago. In a statement, he called on his rivals, including Bera, to do the same.

"This is not about politics, but rather confidence and accountability," Ose said last week. "Right now, we need both."

PHOTO: This May 15, 2014 file photo shows Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki testifying on Capitol Hill in Washington. Associated Press/Cliff Owen.

May 29, 2014
Scaled back preschool plan passes California Senate


A scaled-back proposal to offer public preschool to California's low-income 4-year-olds was approved by the state Senate today despite Republican objections to the $378 million annual cost.

Senate leader Darrell Steinberg originally set out to provide public preschool for all 4-year-olds in the state. But Gov. Jerry Brown did not include the idea in his budget proposal. The bill the Senate passed today reflects the downsized plan Steinberg presented in a Senate budget subcommittee last week.

Senate Bill 837 passed the Senate 26-10 and now heads to the Assembly for consideration.

PHOTO: A teacher leads a song with the children at Carmichael Parent Participation Preschool on Sept. 12, 2007. Sacramento Bee file / Florence Low

May 29, 2014
Demand for California Competes hiring credits outpaces supply


Demand for the state's first round of business tax credits under the new California Competes program far exceeds supply, with applications totaling $559 million for only $30 million in credits available this year.

Gov. Jerry Brown's Office of Business Development this week notified 396 applicants who had applied between March 19 and an April 14 deadline.

"The demand for these tax credits demonstrates that there are a significant number of companies looking at expansion opportunities in California," Will Koch, the deputy director for California Competes, said in a statement Thursday. "We encourage any company looking to expand their existing business in the state, or interested in relocating to California, to apply when we open the application period again next fiscal year."

The income and franchise tax credits are available for businesses interested in relocating to California, as well as existing California businesses seeking "retention" credits meant to keep jobs in California. The credits are part of the package created by the Legislature and the Brown administration after lawmakers eliminated enterprise zones last summer.

There are 149 applicants that qualified for the second round of the California Competes selection process, representing about $155 million in requested credits.

Go Biz said 10 percent of the applications seek retention credits. That is much less than the figure – 60 percent – reported by the EZ Policy Blog, which follows the program.

The California Competes Tax Credit Committee will consider companies' requests for tax credits on June 19. Officials will consider the types of jobs created, potential future growth and other criteria.

Editor's note: This post was updated at 5 p.m. May 29 to include Go Biz's percentage of applications seeking retention tax credits.

PHOTO: California Gov. Jerry Brown visits Takeda, a biotech firm, in San Diego, where he signed signed legislation phasing out enterprise zones and replacing the program with California Competes and other incentives. U-T San Diego/Carolyne Corelis

May 29, 2014
California bill regulating medical marijuana fails in Assembly


Once again rejecting a measure to broadly regulate medicinal pot, the California Assembly on Thursday stalled a bill that would create a state-level entity to oversee and license California's medical marijuana industry.

No lawmakers rose to explicitly denounce Assembly Bill 1894, by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco. Some with concerns about preserving local control said they had been persuaded that cities and counties could still pass and enforce their own rules around medicinal cannabis.

"We have medical marijuana dispensaries popping up next to schools, we have them popping up all over town," said Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown, D-San Bernardino. "It's not a pretty sight in my community," she added, "so please, sign on to this bill."

But a large bloc of lawmakers from both parties withheld votes, ensuring that the measure would go no further. The final vote was 27-30, with 22 not voting.

California set the national tone for cutting-edge cannabis policies by legalizing medical marijuana in 1996, advocates say, but has since relinquished its lead. While Colorado and Washington have legalized personal pot, California has failed to enact strong statewide regulation.

As a result, Ammiano argued, the state has become overgrown with a garden of legitimate and illegitimate operations. Local governments and law enforcement are frustrated by what they see as a proliferation of bad actors. The oversight falls short of the "strong and effective regulatory enforcement systems" the federal government has said it needs to back off enforcing a federal prohibition that has led to raids on dispensaries.

"There is a general acknowledgment and recognition that the way things are now are not acceptable," Ammiano said. "There's chaos, there's no order, it allows for so many bad actors that the whole issue gets besmirched."

Seeking to equip California with better enforcement tools, Assembly Bill 1894 has as its centerpiece establishing a new statewide cannabis controlling agency within the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. The new entity would set minimum standards for cultivation and sales, require registration and fees, and and slap penalties on wayward pot shops.

Local governments could still pass their own ordinances or shut down shops. Lawmakers concerned about local control said they were persuaded the bill would let cities blaze their own marijuana policy trails. Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian, D-Burbank, decried the inescapable "waft of marijuana" along a thoroughfare in his district but said Ammiano's measure would preserve a Los Angeles measure capping the number of dispensaries.

"I would have very great concern about any type of legislation we do here impacting the ability of that measure's full implementation," Nazarian said, but he had been reassured the rule could remain in place.

In past years the Legislature has proven reluctant to regulate medical marijuana, in part due to law enforcement opposition. Ammiano's previous attempts to create a statewide regulatory body burned out. Law enforcement groups like the California Police Chiefs Association oppose AB 1894.

On Wednesday the Senate easily passed the bill cops prefer. Senate Bill 1262 would tighten rules around pot-prescribing doctors and compel the Department of Consumer Affairs to license growers and dispensaries.

PHOTO: Members of the El Dorado County Sheriff's Department dismantle a marijuana garden in a remote area of El Dorado county on Thursday, August 20, 2009. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton.

May 29, 2014
Doug Ose lashes out at Democratic group for meddling


Republican Doug Ose is pushing back on an outside group that has spent more than $100,000 in recent days on ads that portray the former congressman as more concerned about his own salary than protecting benefits for military veterans.

The House Majority PAC, a left-leaning group known for its searing attacks on Republicans, had already booked $189,610 in fall TV airtime ads to help protect freshman Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove. With the primary election days away, the organization opted to begin advertising now.

The military-focused ads, which typically appeal to more conservative voters, are forcing Ose to protect his right flank as he campaigns against congressional aide Igor Birman and autism advocate Elizabeth Emken.

On Thursday, Ose called a news conference to denounce the attacks. Joined by combat veterans, he said the Democratic-affiliated PAC is mounting a deceptive campaign in an attempt to ensure Bera faces a weaker Republican in November.

"I don't think it comes as any surprise that Nancy Pelosi believes that I stand in the way of Democrats regaining the U.S. House Representatives' majority and that clearly she'll use her super PAC to advance that cause so that she can become speaker again," Ose said.

"Let's be clear about one very specific issue here: I stand with American veterans. I always have. I stand by my record. I stand by my commitment to those who have served out nation so faithfully and my record, my legislative record, my private activities, back that up."

The mailers and a 30-second television ad running in the 7th district contend Ose voted for a bill to slash $15 billion from veterans' retirement, pay and education benefits. They also attack him for a separate vote to allow for a congressional pay raise.

Ose said the outside group is distorting a vote he cast on a budget measure intended by Democrats to embarrass Republicans politically. He says that while he was in office, between 1999 and 2005, the Veterans Affairs budget swelled to $69 billion annually from $43 billion.

His campaign also issued a two-page list of legislation he supported to assist members of the military, veterans and their families by expanding healthcare, housing and retirement and noted that he represented two active and two decommissioned military bases.

As one of the House's wealthiest members, Ose said he never voted for his own pay raise but acknowledged casting a procedural vote that effectively allowed an automatic raise to take place.

"I made a mistake on that one vote in six years," Ose said. "I went back on the floor. I ate crow. I took my medicine. I clarified the record."

PHOTO: Former Rep. Doug Ose, a Sacramento Republican, chats with a group of military veteran supporters outside the state Capitol on Thursday. The Sacramento Bee/Christopher Cadelago.

May 29, 2014
Bert A. Betts, treasurer during Pat Brown era, dies at 90

betts.jpgFormer California state Treasurer Bert A. Betts, a Democrat who was elected to the post in 1958 and served two terms while Pat Brown was governor, died in Sacramento on Wednesday. He was 90.

At 36, Betts moved from an accounting career in San Diego to manage California's state finances in Sacramento. Betts secured savings for California by encouraging competitive bidding in selling state bonds and posted a solid track record investing the state's money, said his son, Bruce Betts.

"He was very driven to do the right thing and try to make things better," Bruce Betts said. "He was very organized and efficient in trying to do that."

Betts left the state treasurer's office after losing a bid for a third term in 1966, his son said.

After leaving public office, Betts created Bert A. Betts and Associates, a Sacramento-based business that provided bond consulting with three satellite offices across the West Coast.

But Betts did not leave politics completely. He sought public office one last time, running an unsuccessful campaign for state controller in 1974.

Betts was born in La Mesa in 1923 and was a 1950 graduate of California Western University. As a bomber pilot for the Army Air Forces, he flew 30 missions over Europe during World War II and received several accolades for his service, including the Distinguished Flying Cross.

"He had a great sense of duty, whether it be World War II or as state treasurer or with his clients in private practice," his son said.

PHOTO: Bert A. Betts poses as California State Treasurer, a position he held from 1959-1967. Photo courtesy of the family.

May 29, 2014
California legislative leaders appoint budget conferees


Leaders of the Assembly and Senate on Thursday appointed eight lawmakers to serve on the Legislature's budget-writing panel.

The budget conference committee will reconcile differences between the spending plans adopted in each house and produce a final package to go before lawmakers by the June 15 constitutional deadline.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, named Sens. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, and Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley to the conference committee. Leno leads the Senate budget committee and Nielsen is vice-chairman. Hancock leads the panel's public safety subcommittee.

Assembly Speaker Toni G. Atkins, D-San Diego, named Asembly members Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, Jeff Gorrell, R-Camarillo, Shirley N. Weber, D-San Diego, and Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, to the conference committee. Skinner leads the Assembly budget committee and Gorrell is its top Republican. Bloom leads the panel's resources and transportation subcommittee and Weber chairs its health and human services subcommittee.

Skinner will chair the conference committee.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown speaks to state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, and then-Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, D-Los Angeles, during a budget conference committee meeting in February 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

May 29, 2014
California Senate approves changes to initiative process

petition.JPGA bill to change California's initiative process passed the state Senate Thursday with some bipartisan support, setting up the possibility that lawmakers could have a greater role in shaping the measures that citizens send to the ballot.

Senate Bill 1253 would create legislative hearings as initiative proponents are gathering signatures on their measures, allowing lawmakers to negotiate with interest groups before a measure lands on the ballot. It would also require more disclosure of donors giving the most money for and against initiatives.

Senate leader Darrell Steinberg pushed the bill, saying he hears complaints from voters who ask why they are often burdened with lengthy ballots featuring complicated measures when legislators have been elected to set policy for the state. The changes in SB 1253 would allow initiative backers and legislators more time to work out their differences and avoid some measures going to voters, the Sacramento Democrat said.

Some Republicans opposed the bill, saying the whole point of an initiative is to allow people to effect change when lawmakers don't resolve an issue. Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, said Steinberg's bill would take away the direct democracy inherent in California's initiative process.

The bill passed the Senate 29-8 and now heads to the Assembly. Four Republicans joined majority Democrats in support: Republican leader Sen. Bob Huff of Diamond Bar, Sen. Tom Berryhill of Twain Harte, Sen. Anthony Cannella of Ceres and Sen. Mark Wyland of Escondido.

PHOTO: Allen Cooperrider, center, wears a sign saying "Legal Petition for Ballot Initiative, No Genetically Engineered Crops in Mendocino County, " on Friday Sept. 12, 2003 while looking over signatures on a petition for an initiative at the United States Post office in Ukiah. The Sacramento Bee/Renee C. Byer.

Editor's note: This post was corrected at 4:36 p.m. to say that four Republicans voted for the bill.

May 29, 2014
California paid sick leave bill advances from Assembly

Thumbnail image for Lorenaswearingin.jpg

As liberal policy priorities and business interests clashed, the California Assembly on Thursday passed legislation requiring employers to offer workers paid sick leave.

Legislators sent the bill to the Senate on a 48-20 vote. Demonstrating the issue's divisiveness, no Republicans voted for it.

Securing paid sick days for shift workers has been a priority for liberal politicians and labor unions across the country. Assembly Bill 1522 is sponsored by two prominent labor groups, the Service Employees International Union and the California Labor Federation.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, called her legislation a matter of basic fairness that would also keep ailing employees out of workplaces, like restaurants, where they could sicken others. The bill would let workers accrue hours towards days off, allowing employers to cap the total at three per year, and would not affect employers who already offer sick days.

"Most of these workers are low wage and hourly, disproportionately women and Latinos, and they have to choose in their jobs whether to go to work sick and be able to make ends meet or lose a day's pay," Gonzalez said, adding that it would be a boon to working parents who need to take time off to care for sick children.

For business groups and allied lawmakers, the bill would hamstring businesses by chipping away at their bottom line. The legislation holds a spot on the California Chamber of Commerce's annual "job killers" list.

"This bill adds another burden on employers that will make it difficult for them to compete. We just keep piling on," said Assemblyman Don Wagner, R-Irvine.

PHOTO: Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, receives applause from lawmakers as she walks down the center isle of the Assembly to take the oath of office at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Tuesday, May 28, 2013. The Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli.

May 29, 2014
Assembly approves bill for all-mail special elections

votebymail.JPGSeeking to improve low voter participation in special elections, the California Assembly on Thursday narrowly passed and sent to the Senate legislation that distribute all ballots by mail for elections to fill vacancies.

The constant shuffle of elected officials seeking new seats follows a familiar pattern -- a state legislator resigns or wins election to a new office, and a tiny sliver of the electorate chooses a replacement. Turnout in a recent pair of special elections hovered around 12 percent and 8 percent, respectively. Citing the expense, the Senate leader floated letting the governor fill vacancies.

An effective solution, according to proponents of Assembly Bill 1873, is to make mailboxes, not polling places, the nexus of special elections. Voters otherwise unaware that an election is going on would be looped into affairs currently dominated by the most diligent voters.

"It stands to reason that when a voter gets a ballot in their hand they become aware that a special election is happening and are more likely to engage in the process," said Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco.

Under the bill, which was sent to the Senate on a 42-30 vote, special elections to fill vacancies in the Legislature or Congress could be conducted exclusively by mail if the boards of supervisors in all involved counties agree.

While they praised the goal of boosting civic engagement, Republican opponents warned about the potential for voting fraud. They said prioritizing mail ballots over in-person voting would undermine election integrity and raised the specter of partisan manipulation.

"We are all for making sure that the voices of our constituents get heard," said Assemblyman Don Wagner, R-Irvine, but "it is not appropriate that we allow for gamesmanship."

PHOTO: Vasili Polyzos, right, and Eli Strong, begin separating ballots at Sacramento County election office on Nov. 7, 2012. The Sacramento Bee/ Renee C. Byer.

May 29, 2014
AM Alert: Capitol Alert wants your opinion

Capitol_repaint.JPGThank you for being a loyal AM Alert reader. Capitol Alert would like to know a little more to help us better understand your interests.

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Please take this short survey to help us meet your Capitol news needs.

HEALING HAND: The Alliance for Boys and Men of Color, which works on neighborhood safety, juvenile justice and education issues, sponsors a briefing on the effects of trauma on youth and community healing practices, 12:30 p.m. in Room 127 of the Capitol. Assemblyman Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, who chairs the Assembly Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color, delivers opening remarks. Later in the program, Assemblymen Raul Bocanegra, D-Los Angeles, Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, and V. Manuel PĂ©rez, D-Coachella, discuss legislative response.

WHO'S WATCHING?: Revelations of government spying and massive data breaches during the holiday shopping season made information security a hot topic last year. Paul Dourish, a professor of informatics at UC Irvine, will discuss online privacy in the age of social media and big data, noon at the UC Center Sacramento on K Street.

CAPITOL EVENTS: The California Highway Patrol, which issues the permits for the Capitol events that you read about daily in the AM Alert, is moving to a new online system that offers paperless applications and a calendar updated in real time. You can check it out here.

AMEN: The 53rd annual California Prayer Breakfast, chaired this year by state Sen. Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield, and Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, begins at 6:45 a.m. at the Sheraton Grand Hotel on J Street.

PREVENTATIVE CARE: As part of its legislative advocacy day, community health and welfare organization Prevention Institute leads a rally calling for the passage of bills that would require warning labels on soft drinks, raise fines for traffic violations in school zones to fund safety projects, and give students enough time to eat lunch, noon on the north steps of the Capitol.

NEW IDEAS: Tomorrow is the deadline for bills to make it out of their house of origin, but legislators already looking for new ideas can pop in to room 126 of the Capitol at 3:30 p.m. Graduate students from Sacramento State's public policy and administration program will present their theses and policy recommendations on Medi-Cal, marijuana regulation and smog checks, among other topics.

PHOTO: Construction workers erect scaffolding around the Capitol dome on May 1, 2002 in preparation for painting. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench


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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