Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

June 23, 2014
Wolk water bond proposal stalls in California Senate


With the governor's controversial Delta tunnel project looming in the background, lawmakers on Monday failed to advance a leading Senate proposal to put a revised water bond on the November ballot.

The Senate voted 22-9 for the $10.5 billion borrowing measure, five votes short of the required two-thirds threshold. It marked the first floor vote on any of a crop of new water bond proposals to replace a $11.1 billion bond placed on the ballot in 2009 and delayed twice.

Republicans who rose in opposition to the measure did not voice a unified reason for rejecting it. Some even sounded hopeful, with Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, saying the bill "is getting really, really close." But the caucus balked at the clout the bond affords to interests in the Delta region, according to Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar.

"The main issue was it was a conservancy, Delta-centric bond," Huff said after the vote. "When we look at our constituencies, most of them are flatly opposed to it."

A withering drought has whetted Sacramento's thirst for a new water bond. Lawmakers have introduced several water bond proposals intended to replace the 2009 measure currently slated for the November ballot. The general consensus among lawmakers is that the $11.1 billion bond, passed in a fall 2009 special session, would fail if put before voters.

As the field of potential new bond proposals has narrowed, Senate Bill 848 by Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, has remained one of the leading contenders. Recent amendments substantially bulked up the proposal, including additional billions for surface storage that Wolk and others described as a concession to Republicans.

"We have not done anything in major storage since the 60's," said Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, who nevertheless did not vote for the bond. "This is the time, and that $3 billion is a fundamental, not-to-be-compromised element."

In a weekend television appearance and in remarks to reporters Monday, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, placed Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to build massive water conveyance tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta at the center of the water bond debate. Any link to the tunnels would doom a bond in the eyes of voters, Steinberg argued, brandishing polling that backs up his point.

"You can't pass a bond unless it's tunnel-neutral," Steinberg said on the Senate floor.

Already, anti-Delta tunnel advocates are mobilizing to fight any bond offering money for environmental mitigation in the Delta, one piece of the proposed tunnel project.

The key difference, said Steinberg and backers of Wolk's bond, is that SB 848 would give the Delta Conservancy a central role in managing $900 million for Delta restoration. Wolk has the deepest ties to the Delta region of any lawmakers sponsoring bonds, and she argued on Monday that the 11-member Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy should have a prominent role.

"In order to create a restoration project anywhere in the state, you need to have a local partner. You can't come flying in from 30,000 feet and use eminent domain," said Wolk. "The Delta conservancy gives the Delta community a voice."

That proposition also appeared to give some skeptics pause.

"I would argue to be careful of the amount of money we put into the Delta," Nielsen said.

PHOTO: A flooded rice field, left, reflects the rising sun alongside the Glenn-Colusa canal in the Sacramento Valley, May 24 2013, near the city of Williams, Calif. By Brian van der Brug/ Los Angeles Times.

June 23, 2014
California Legislature delays ban on alligator products

gator.jpgHigh-end California retailers are one signature away from continuing to stock their shelves with alligator belts and crocodile handbags -- for at least another five years.

Lawmakers sent Assembly Bill 2075 to the governor's desk Monday, again stalling a ban on the sale and importation of alligator parts, including skins and meat.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was known to wear a pair of gator-skin cowboy boots, signed legislation in 2006 that lifted a ban on the sale of alligator and crocodile parts. But because of a sunset clause, that ban was set to go back into effect on Jan. 1. With support from diverse set of interests -- the California Restaurant Association, Brooks Brothers and Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu -- the Assembly voted to extend the sunset clause until 2020, pending the governor's approval. The original bill called for a 10-year extension but was watered down in the Senate.

Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, said letting the ban kick in would have a "chilling effect" on the economic activity associated with alligator sale.

"I assure you members that this bill will not bring you any crocodile tears," Alejo said.

Supporters of extending the sunset date argue that not doing so would have a devastating impact on California's economy, especially on the fashion industry, which often markets alligator accessories as high-end goods.

"Alligator products are a luxury item that is attractive and is part of the appeal of California's tourist industry, particularly in Beverly Hills," said Bill Dombrowski, president and CEO of the California Retailers Association. "The alligator is no longer an endangered species."

Dombrowski said the alligator trade provides environmental benefits, including wetland preservation.

June 23, 2014
California backs constitutional amendment limiting campaign money


Seeking to reverse a tide of money inundating politics, the Democratic-controlled California Senate on Monday called for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution limiting corporate campaign activity.

"If the only voice heard is the one with the most money," said Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, "what's become of our democracy?"

While Assembly Joint Resolution 1 does not by itself force any changes, both houses of the California Legislature have now embraced language that unequivocally pushes back on a landmark Supreme Court case equating corporate campaign spending with free speech. The 23-11 vote, with many Republicans in opposition, came the day after more than a dozen protesters were arrested at the State Capitol for demonstrating against money in politics.

The proposed amendment would narrow the doctrine of corporate personhood and would "declare that money does not constitute speech and may be legislatively limited." It states that corporations should have fewer rights than human beings, noting that corporations do not vote.

"Voters are clearly fed up, and polling shows this, with the notion that money is speech and that big money can drown out the speech of average Americans," said Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord.

For Congress to convene a constitutional convention empowered to amend the U.S. constitution, two-thirds of state Legislatures need to be on board. The bar is even higher to ratify a proposed amendment: three quarters of states must approve.

Given that math, translating the resolution into law is a long shot. Vermont has passed a similar measure and Illinois is contemplating one, but even with the assent of those two and California 33 additional states would need to petition Congress.

PHOTO: Dozens of activists led by the grassroots organization 99Rise march up Capital Avenue after culminating a 480-mile march to protest the corrupting influence of big money in politics and staged a rally and sit-in at the State Capitol Sunday June 22, 2014 in Sacramento, Calif. The Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.

June 23, 2014
Assembly Democrats fear gas price increase, urge change in environmental policy

California_Greenhouse_Gases.jpgBusiness-friendly Democrats in the state Assembly are urging the Brown administration to back off implementation of a greenhouse gas reduction measure that is expected to result in higher gas prices starting next year.

In a letter to Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board, 16 Assembly Democrats last week urged delaying or changing a planned expansion of the state's cap-and-trade program to transportation fuels. As it stands, California's landmark greenhouse gas reduction law, Assembly Bill 32, will require that oil companies buy carbon credits for fuel they swell starting next year.

"We are concerned about the impact of the AB 32 cap-and-trade program on our constituents," the lawmakers wrote. "Fuel prices for consumers are going to be driven up once fuel is covered under cap-and-trade at the start of next year, weakening the economy just as California is recovering from the last recession, and hurting the most vulnerable members of our communities who must commute to work and drive long distances for necessary services like medical care."

Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno, one of the lawmakers who wrote the letter, said an increase in gas prices of 15 cents per gallon or more could be expected if the rule goes into effect.

The letter comes amid heightened calls by Republican politicians and oil interests to delay expanding the cap-and-trade program to transportation fuels. Environmentalists have said it is appropriate to price gas high enough to change consumer transportation habits.

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

June 23, 2014
Northern California Dems want open door on California water talks

DianneFeinstein.jpgNorthern California Democrats on Monday warned against secret California water negotiations, and urged Sen. Dianne Feinstein to open up the talks.

In a show of regional force, the six House Democrats who represent districts ranging from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the Oregon border asked for what they called "public and transparent negotiations" concerning legislation responding to the historic California drought.

The letter was directed to both Feinstein and her Democratic colleague, Sen. Barbara Boxer, though it's been Feinstein who's been leading talks, primarily with House Republicans.

The Republican-controlled House and Democrat-controlled Senate have passed competing versions of a drought relief bill, though no hearings have been held.

"We are deeply concerned that it appears that negotiations with the House majority are being held out of the public eye. We believe the process by which Congress responds to this drought crisis should be transparent," the members wrote.

The letter was signed by Reps. Jared Huffman, George Miller, John Garamendi, Jerry McNerney, Doris Matsui, and Mike Thompson.

Feinstein sent her own letter to Huffman on Monday, declaring that she is "committed to doing my very best to provide assistance to Californians and the communities and businesses that are suffering severe hardships in the midst of this devastating drought."

PHOTO: In this April 18, 2012, file photo Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., head of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. Associated Press/J. Scott Applewhite

June 23, 2014
AM Alert: Local energy providers ask lawmakers for support

AAJERRYSOLAR.JPGIn 2002, California established "community-choice aggregation," allowing local governments to create energy providers that serve as an alternative to the state's major investor-owned utilities. Two such companies now exist: Marin Clean Energy and Sonoma Clean Power, which procure and sell electricity from renewable energy sources in competition with investor-owned utilities while still using their grid for transmission and distribution.

Those companies and their supporters are now sounding the alarm about AB 2145, a bill that would flip their operation from an opt-out system for customers in participating counties and cities to an opt-in system. The companies argue that the change would render them obsolete by defaulting energy provision in their communities back to investor-owned utilities, undermining their customer base and purchasing power.

Board members and local politicians from the Bay Area will lead a press conference at 1 p.m. on the south steps of the Capitol urging lawmakers to reject the proposal, which they've dubbed the "Monopoly Protection Bill." The bill, which has already passed the Assembly, will appear before the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee, 3 p.m. in Room 4203.

VIDEO: When it comes to California's budget, size is in the eye of the beholder, Dan Walters says.

KILL BILL: State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, has had a rough time getting his proposed cell phone "kill switch" bill through the Legislature. Facing opposition from tech companies, the bill, which would allow owners to remotely disable phones if they are stolen, failed in a close floor vote in April before being revived, amended and passed a few weeks later. The bill is now working its way through the Assembly. It's up next in the Utilities and Commerce Committee, 2 p.m. in Room 437 of the Capitol.

BOND, WATER BOND: Lawmakers have floated nine different proposals in recent months to replace the water bond going before California voters on the November ballot, which many now believe has little chance of passing. A $10.5-billion plan from Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, which would combine $3 billion for new surface and groundwater storage projects with money for environmental restoration and drought response, is the first to make it to a floor vote. It will be considered by the Senate during floor session at noon.

LGB-TEE OFF: With the high-profile coming-out announcements of professional athletes like Jason Collins, Brittney Griner and Michael Sam over the past year, conversations about the treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender athletes have entered the mainstream. Now they'll enter the Capitol. The Assembly Committee on Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism and Internet Media will hold an informational hearing on discrimination against LGBT athletes in sports culture and the effectiveness of laws to overcome that bias, 2 p.m. in Room 127. Rick Welts, general manager of the Golden State Warriors, is among those who will testify.

CEREMONIALS: The California Legislative LGBT Caucus presents its 2014 LGBT Pride Recognition Awards at the start of the Assembly session at noon. Ten individuals will be honored for their career accomplishments and "outstanding leadership and activism to promote equal rights for LGBT Californians," including Welts and George Takei, who played Sulu on the original Star Trek series.

Today is the 20th anniversary of Proposition 187 qualifying for the state ballot, and the California Latino Legislative Caucus will hold commemorations of "that sad chapter in our state's history" during floor session in both the Senate and the Assembly. The measure, which prohibited undocumented immigrants from accessing health care, public education and other social services, was ultimately struck down by the courts. Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, is now pursuing a bill that would remove its language from California codes.

PHOTO: Recurrent Energy solar facility in Elk Grove on January 15, 2012, where Gov. Jerry Brown and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar signed the Memorandum of Understanding on renewable energy. The Sacramento Bee/Andy P. Alfaro

June 23, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: How big is the budget?

budget_signing_2014.JPGWhen it comes to California's budget, size is in the eye of the beholder, 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: California Gov. Jerry Brown, center, signs the 2014-15 state budget on June 20, 2014, in San Diego. Looking on behind are, from left, state Sen. Ben Hueso, Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, and Senate leader Darrell Steinberg. The Associated Press/Gregory Bull


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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