Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

June 17, 2014
California soda warning label bill stalls in committee

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California lawmakers on Tuesday turned back legislation that would require warning labels on sugary beverages, voicing skepticism about the public health benefits.

"It's an honorable effort but I feel it's ineffective," said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, who acknowledged that soda manufacturers are prominent job generators in her district. "I think this bill creates as much confusion as it does information. A label which will appear on soda and sports drinks with no labels appearing on chocolate milk, juices or alcoholic beverages sends the wrong message."

Senate Bill 1000 slipped out of the Senate last month with the bare minimum 21 votes needed to advance. Legislators on the Assembly Health Committee halted its progress, with two Democrats voting against the measure and four others abstaining. The measure fell three votes short of the 10 needed to pass.

After trying unsuccessfully in the past to impose a tax on sugar-suffused drinks, Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, this year sought to drain soda consumption by having the drinks bear warning labels. Monning and public health officials backing the legislation called sugary drinks a key culprit in the nation's swollen obesity rate.

"The label is based on the science that says liquid sugar is a unique driver in today's obesity and diabetes epidemics," Monning testified.

June 17, 2014
Audit hits Public Utilities Commission's transportation arm on fines, passenger safety

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In the latest public criticism of California's Public Utilities Commission, a state audit faults the agency's transportation branch for lax oversight and failing to regularly collect penalties.

The PUC's transportation enforcement arm regulates drivers like limousine operators, airport shuttles, coach buses and more recently so-called "transportation network companies" like Uber and Lyft (taxi cabs are not in its purview). That responsibility includes ensuring transportation companies have the proper permits and launching investigations in response to public complaints about wayward operators.

According to the state audit, the PUC has fallen short. The official analysis found that the agency lacks a robust system for dealing with claims of violations and responds slowly when it does act, taking an average of 238 days to complete investigations.

June 17, 2014
Speaker Atkins: Still more to do to advance gay rights in California

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The new Assembly leader may have kissed her spouse on the Assembly floor after being sworn in as one of the state's most powerful politicians, but gay people have not yet attained full equality in California, Speaker Toni Atkins said Tuesday.

"Even in California, there are places and times and ways that I probably wouldn't feel very comfortable taking Jennifer's hand. So we still have work to do," Atkins said as she addressed a crowd of women lobbyists, lawyers and other Capitol power brokers at the She Shares conversation series.

Atkins talked about her upbringing in a poor family in Virginia and touched on her experience of coming out as a lesbian in her late teens. She said she found it easier to be openly gay after leaving a more conservative community for San Diego.

Now that she's risen to such a powerful position in California politics, Atkins said, her hometown is taking notice. She pointed to an article about her in the Roanoke Times that included a picture of her kissing her spouse, Jennifer LeSar, on the day she was sworn in as Assembly speaker.

"For that picture to be in the paper in Virginia is important because it gives permission. The speaker of the California state Assembly can be a lesbian, and it's OK. That's the movement. But it takes a lot of those actions," Atkins said.

She said she hopes her story will help others feel comfortable about being gay, and inspire girls to seize professional opportunities.

"For young women and individuals, not just women, to see that I could be there and and here today is a story that I think is important for everyone. Because it isn't about me. It's about their hope, and their possibility."

PHOTO: Spouses Toni Atkins and Jennifer LeSar kiss after Atkins was sworn in as Assembly speaker on May 12, 2014. Outgoing Speaker John A. Perez and Atkins' nephew Thomas Phillips stand next to them. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

June 17, 2014
'Audrie's Law' juvenile rape bill stalls in Assembly committee

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The Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill toughening penalties for juveniles who commit sex crimes, dubbed "Audrie's Law" after a 15-year-old assault victim who committed suicide, but the measure stalled Tuesday in the Assembly Public Safety Committee.

Civil rights groups and children's protective groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, oppose the bill, Senate Bill 838, as a major change in juvenile criminal law - especially its mandatory two-year term of incarceration for violation. And those criticisms were echoed by the committee's liberal members, including chairman Tom Ammiano, a San Francisco Democrat.

Ammiano suggested - and the bill's author, Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, very reluctantly agreed - to postpone a committee vote until next week. The measure faces an June 27 deadline for committee approval or rejection.

Beall's measure would expand juvenile sexual offenses to include sex with an unconscious or disabled person, make a crime of disseminating photos of sex crime victims via the Internet or other social media, and require the two-year mandatory terms.

He introduced it in response to the suicide in 2012 of Audrie Pott, a 15-year-old Saratoga high school student who was assaulted while unconscious from drinking at a party. Pictures of her naked, unconscious body were circulated via text messages and the Internet, forcing her - as her parents later testified - to repeatedly relive the humiliating experience and leading to her hanging suicide several days later.

The three 16-year-old youths involved in the assault were each given just a few weeks in juvenile detention. Current juvenile law does not mandate incarceration for assault of an unconscious or disabled victim.

Beall described the current law as "our fault and we need to correct the problem" but Ammiano insisted on delaying action in hopes of amending the bill to get enough votes to move out of the committee.

"There is a sweet spot here, I know there is," Ammiano said.

PHOTO: Senator Jim Beall, D-San Jose during session in the Senate chambers in Sacramento, Calif. on Monday, March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

June 17, 2014
AM Alert: Battle over ride-share apps reaches Capitol

Lyft.JPGAs the ride-sharing industry grows, the question of how much to regulate companies like Uber and Lyft, which match passengers with drivers through smartphone apps, has reached the Capitol.

Lawmakers are currently considering legislation that would require drivers, who usually use their own vehicles to ferry passengers, to carry higher-level commercial insurance--either whenever they are logged onto a company's app or at all times. The bills, which are backed by the insurance and taxi industries, have received serious pushback from ride-sharing companies and their allies, who argue that the regulation will "stifle innovation."

Supporters of Uber and Lyft, led by the Internet Association's Robert Callahan, will rally on the north steps of the Capitol at 9 a.m. urging the Senate to reject the measures, both of which already passed the Assembly almost unanimously. They will then testify before the Senate Energy, Utilities, and Communications Committee, which is hearing the bills at 9:30 a.m. in Room 3191.

VIDEO: A rare open seat on the powerful Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors provides a high-stakes race in this low-key election year, Dan Walters says.

AUDRIE'S LAW: In September 2012, 15-year-old Audrie Pott committed suicide after she was sexually assaulted by several classmates while passed out at a party and pictures of the incident were shared with other students. The tragedy led to "Audrie's Law," Senate Bill 838 from state Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, which would require two years in an out-of-home probation program for juveniles convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious or developmentally disabled victim, with an additional year for those who share pictures or texts of the assault.

The bill passed with no dissenting votes in the Senate, but opposition has emerged from groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, the California Public Defenders Association and Human Rights Watch, who argue that courts should retain discretion in removing teenagers from their homes because of the "high human cost, as well as a high financial cost" of placing them in detention facilities. It will next be heard in the Assembly Public Safety Committee, 9 a.m. in Room 126 of the Capitol.

WHOSE MONEY?: In May, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law that would require politically active nonprofit organizations in California to disclose their big donors. The Fair Political Practices Commission, the state's political ethics watchdog, holds a meeting at 10 a.m. at 428 J Street to get public comments on its proposed regulations for implementing the new oversights, which go into effect July 1 of this year. The commission will consider the regulations at its July 17 meeting.

TALK THAT TALK: Fresh off her first budget as Assembly Speaker, Toni Atkins is the latest guest for the "She Shares" conversation series. Atkins will discuss her personal journey with Dewey Square Group's Karen Breslau, 9:30 a.m. at the Sheraton Grand hotel on J Street.

Kish Rajan, director of the Governor's Office of Business and Economic Development, speaks at luncheon sponsored by the Northern California World Trade Center, 11:30 a.m. at the NorCalWTC building on Capitol Mall.

WOMEN IN POVERTY: One in four California women is living in poverty, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures cited by the Senate Select Committee on Women and Inequality. The panel was created earlier this year to examine policy opportunities to promote gender equity, and it holds its second informational hearing today, a general review of issues for women in poverty that will help determine its agenda for the rest of the year. The hearing, scheduled for 4 p.m. in Room 2040 of the Capitol, will be headlined by Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of the Catholic social justice lobby organization NETWORK.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to Assemblyman Mark Stone, D-Scotts Valley, who turns 57 today.

PHOTO: A Lyft car crosses Market Street in San Francisco on Jan. 17, 2013. The Associated Press/Jeff Chiu

June 17, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: Keep an eye on LA County supervisor race

Sheila_Kuehl.JPGA rare open seat on the powerful Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors provides a high-stakes race in this low-key election year, 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: Senate Health Committee chairman, Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, listens to Senate Pro tem, Don Perata, D-Oakland, following the failed vote on AB X1, inside the Capitol on Jan. 28, 2008. The Sacramento Bee/Brian Baer



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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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