Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

June 24, 2014
California fundraising blackout bill falters in committee

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A bill barring California lawmakers from raising money in the final days of the legislative session faltered in an Assembly committee on Tuesday.

Other campaign finance reform bills moved closer to becoming law, including pieces of an ethics reform package touted by Senate leadership that would limit lobbyist gifts and require more frequent disclosure. Ethics issues have taken center stage this year with the suspension of three state senators and a record-setting fine for a prominent lobbyist.

But members of the Assembly Elections and Redistricting Committee refused to advance a bill by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, that seeks to nix their fundraising during the frenzied final weeks of the legislative session and during budget negotiations.

Senate Bill 1101 would have barred lawmakers from seeking campaign contributions from mid-May to mid-June, the time when the Legislature negotiates and passes the governor's budget, and during the final month of session.

After initially failing on the Senate floor, Padilla's measure passed on the second attempt by a the required two-thirds margin. A resolution having senators forego fundraising during August of this year has also passed the Senate. The resolution applies only to senators, whereas Padilla's bill would affect all legislators.

The final vote was 1-1, with four members – all of them Democrats – not voting. Members voted to grant the bill reconsideration.

PHOTO: Senator Alex Padilla listens during a hearing in Sacramento, Calif. on August 1, 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Jose Luis Villegas.

June 24, 2014
Bera co-sponsors bill to ease hospital wait times for veterans

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Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, and a Republican House colleague from North Carolina, Mark Meadows, introduced a bill Thursday that would extend visas for U.S.-educated foreign doctors to ease a shortage that's affecting care in veterans hospitals, especially in rural areas.

The bill, named the Doctors Helping Heroes Act, attempts to help fix a widespread problem in the Veterans Administration health care system. Audits have revealed a high percentage of veterans in multiple states who have to wait 30 days or more for appointments with the VA.

"This is one of many steps we need to take to make sure our heroes get the health care they deserve," said Bera, a doctor who was elected to Congress in 2012.

The long wait times, and the agency's attempts to cover them up, stoked a bipartisan firestorm in Washington and forced the resignation last month of Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

The bill brings together two freshmen lawmakers from opposite parties. It also addresses another issue where it's been more difficult to find agreement: immigration.

Bera, the only member of Congress of Indian descent, often talks about making it easier for foreign-born scholars in science, technology and medicine to stay in the country after they've finished school.

Current law requires foreign-born physicians to return to their home country for two years after their visas expire before they can apply to return to the U.S. Under the Bera-Meadows bill, the physicians would be able to stay up to three years longer if they agree to practice in medically underserved areas.

"Along with helping rural communities in Western North Carolina," Meadows said, "this legislation will give more of our brave veterans access to quality care from talented doctors."

PHOTO: U.S. Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, attends the California State Society's inaugural luncheon on Jan. 19, 2013, in Washington, D.C. McClatchy Tribune/Tish Wells

June 24, 2014
Gov. Jerry Brown relays water bond priorities to lawmakers

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Breaking his silence on the push to get a new water bond on the Nov. 4 ballot, Gov. Jerry Brown spent Tuesday meeting with lawmakers and laying out his priorities.

Brown met with Republican and Democratic leaders from both the Senate and the Assembly, sources said, and the governor offered two numbers as starting points for negotiation -- a bond worth about $6 billion overall, with $2 billion in storage. The governor's office would not comment.

Both numbers fall considerably short of proposals moving through the Legislature. A $10.5 billion bond proposal that stalled in the Senate on Monday, for instance, would allocate $3 billion for surface storage. Democrats described those storage dollars as a concession to Republicans pushing to expand California's water supply.

In 2009, legislators and then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger hammered out a deal for a an $11.1 billion water bond. The measure has since been pushed back twice, and many lawmakers now cite its size in insisting it would fail if put before voters.

With a severe drought placing water at the center of public consciousness, a leaner bond on the upcoming November ballot has become a priority for multiple legislators. But Brown has declined to weigh in, consistently deflecting questions about the need for a new bond.

As yesterday's Senate hearing proved, the water bond debate could come to engulf one of Brown's signature proposals.

The governor's controversial project to build water tunnels under the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta also calls for spending on habitat restoration, and flowing through the debate over a water bond has been the question of whether bond money could pay for environmental rehabilitation, potentially easing the way for the tunnels.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown talks to reporters outside the Governors Mansion on election night in Sacramento on Tuesday, June 3, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Jose Luis Villegas.

June 24, 2014
Leno drops bill to block condo conversions in San Francisco

LENO.jpegSen. Mark Leno, facing stiff opposition from landlords and other business groups, is dropping his bill aimed at thwarting investors who buy up San Francisco apartment buildings and evict tenants to convert units into pricey condominiums.

The legislation, Senate Bill 1439,. was backed by San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and other local officials in response to tenant groups that had complained that the condo conversions were accelerating and hurting low- and moderate-income renters.

The conflict has been part of a larger kerfuffle in San Francisco over the social impacts of high-income employees of the burgeoning Bay Area technology industry.

The condo conversions are legal under a four-decade-old California law called the Ellis Act, which was enacted in response to local rent control ordinances that blocked landlords from taking rental units off the market. It allows evictions if property owners plan to exit the rental business.

SB 1439 would have blocked conversions in San Francisco by anyone who owned rental property for less than five years. It became one of the year's most heavily lobbied measures.

After passing the Senate, however, it failed to win approval in the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee when two of the committee's Democrats voted against it in response to landlord opposition.

Although Leno, a San Francisco Democrat, got permission to seek a second vote in the committee, his office confirmed Tuesday that he's dropping the bill.

PHOTO: Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, left, and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, talking to reporters at the Capitol June 19, 2013. Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli.

June 24, 2014
Jerry Brown signs teacher pension fund bill

budget_signing_2014.JPGGov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Tuesday to begin paying down an estimated shortfall of more than $74 billion in the California State Teachers' Retirement System, acting on the last of a raft of budget-related bills ahead of the July 1 start of the next fiscal year.

Brown's signature was strictly a formality. The pension fund measure was approved by lawmakers June 15 in a budget package negotiated with Brown. The Democratic governor signed the state's main budget bill and most of other legislation related to the $156.3 billion spending plan last Friday.

In a prepared statement highlighting the pension fund legislation, Brown said, "This bill will ensure a decent retirement for hundreds of thousands of teachers, both now and for decades to come."

The teacher pension bill requires increased CalSTRS contributions from school districts, teachers and the state, with much of the burden on districts. The bill had bipartisan support.

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

June 24, 2014
Auditor: Sexual violence training lacking at California universities

berkeleycampus.jpgCalifornia's public universities do not ensure that all employees are sufficiently trained to handle incidents of sexual violence, especially those who students may turn to first for help, according to a state audit released Tuesday.

While key staff who handle complaints of sexual harassment and assault receive adequate training, state Auditor Elaine Howle said in the report, others who may be the first point of contact for a student, such as resident advisers and athletic coaches, are not prepared to respond to these incidents and risk mishandling them.

"When they are not sufficiently trained, employees may not know how to interact appropriately with students in these situations and may do something that would discourage students from engaging in the reporting process," the report stated.

The audit, which examined the handling of sexual violence at the University of California, Berkeley, the University of California, Los Angeles, California State University, Chico and San Diego State University, also found that they must "do more to appropriately educate students on sexual harassment and sexual violence."

The issue of sexual violence on college campuses has gained national attention as students at dozens of universities have filed federal complaints that their institutions mishandled cases of harassment and assault. In May, the U.S. Department of Education released a list of 55 universities that it is investigating, including UC Berkeley.

The audit included a survey of 208 students, and 22 percent said they were not aware of resources available should they or someone they know experience sexual harassment or sexual violence.

State law requires all CSU schools and requests that UC campuses provide educational and preventative information about sexual violence to incoming students during campus orientation, but does not specify when this must occur.

The report recommended that universities provide this training as soon after students arrive on campus as possible, "as they may be the most vulnerable to experiencing an incident of sexual harassment or sexual violence in their first weeks on campus," and then provide periodic refresher training at least annually.

June 24, 2014
Compromise 'Audrie's Law' bill passes committee

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On its second attempt, a California bill toughening punishments for sexually abusing unconscious victims advanced out of committee on Tuesday.

Named for a 15-year-old girl who committed suicide after she was raped while unconscious, "Audrie's Law" also cracks down on offenders sharing photos on social media. Before taking her life, Audrie Potts wrote about being humiliated as photos of the crime circulated.

After Senate Bill 838 stalled in the Assembly Public Safety Committee last week, Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, amended the measure by nixing a mandatory two-year confinement for juveniles convicted of sex crimes involving an unconscious or disabled victim, swapping it for a mandatory rehabilitation term. It passed unanimously with the amendment.

Most of the bill's provisions apply to adults or juveniles tried as adults. Depending on the severity of the offense, certain sex crimes allow juveniles to be tried as adults.

The version of SB 838 next headed to the Assembly Appropriations Committee still imposes a one-year prison term for sexually assault on someone who is unconscious or disabled. If an adult assailant disseminates pictures or texts afterwards, judges could slap on a one-year sentencing enhancement.

It would also remove privacy protections for juvenile offenders, opening up to the public cases in which the victim is unable to resist.

The Santa Clara County District Attorney's office sponsored the bill.

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 24, 2014
AM Alert: Immigrant driver's license regulations draw criticism

IMG_2_RP_LICENSES_SB60_S_2_1_M41H17VC_L35625083.JPGThe California Department of Motor Vehicles is holding the first of two public workshops this morning on its proposed regulations for implementing AB 60, the landmark state law that will issue driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants. Members of the Drive CA Coalition, a group of immigrant rights organizations, plan to rally outside the Junipero Serra Building in Los Angeles before the 10 a.m. hearing to express concerns about the regulations, which they argue could be prohibitively expensive.

The main point of contention is the DMV's proposal to verify an applicant's identity and California residence by requiring a foreign passport and consular ID. Securing both of those documents in Mexico, for example, would cost $128, according to the coalition.

"A lot of applicants make minimum wage, so it would represent a large percentage of their income," Refugio Mata, campaign manager for the Latino advocacy group Presente.org, told Capitol Alert.

Not all countries issue consular IDs for their citizens living abroad, he added, so accessibility would not be guaranteed. The coalition is asking that the DMV require just one of the documents.

Immigrant advocates are also demanding assurances that applicants' personal information is kept secure and that they will not be treated differently by law enforcement if they show an AB 60 license.

"They don't really have mechanisms stated explicitly about how the information is going to be protected," Mata said. "We want to make sure it's not going to be shared with other federal agencies."

A second hearing will take place on Thursday in Oakland, 10 a.m. at the Caltrans Building.

VIDEO: The state controller's race has come down to thousands of votes in one rural Northern California county, Dan Walters says.

OBAMA FAVORED: Despite an unfolding scandal involving the Department of Veterans Affairs and growing unrest in the Middle East, a new Field Poll finds that California voters still largely approve of the job President Barack Obama is doing. Congress, however, doesn't fair nearly so well with the Golden State. Reporter Christopher Cadelago has more in his story.

Here are the statistical tabulations, prepared exclusively for Capitol Alert, as well as the publicly released results from the poll.

WORK IT: Sex worker groups, led by the Erotic Service Providers Union and the US PROStitutes Collective, will appear before the Assembly Public Safety Committee, 9 a.m. in Room 126 of the Capitol, to oppose SB 1388, which would create mandatory minimum punishments for a person who solicits prostitutes. The groups argue that the bill, which would require a minimum 48-hour jail sentence and a fine of at least $1,000 to fund local "victim assistance" programs, encourages corruption by giving a financial incentive to increase arrests and further stigmatizes sex workers.

OVERSEAS ABSENTEES: Current law states that all ballots must be received by Election Day in order to be counted, but a bill from Assembly members Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, and Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, would give members of the military stationed overseas an extra three days for their ballots to reach election officials, as long as they are postmarked on or before the day voters go to the polls. The legislators will be joined by state Sen. Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield, Assembly members Beth Gaines, R-Roseville, and Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, and veterans to discuss the proposal, 10:30 a.m. at the All Wars Memorial in Capitol Park.

WINE NOT?: In advance of the California State Fair, taking place next month in Sacramento, state Deputy Secretary of Food and Agriculture Jim Houston and others will announce the Best in Show winners from the fair's commercial wine competition, 10 a.m. on the east steps of the Capitol. There were 2,800 entries in this year's competition, which includes awards for red, white, pink, dessert and sparkling wines.

COMPUTER COMMUTER: As the cost of tuition continues to rise, advocates of public higher education are debating how to keep it affordable. Is online learning the solution? The Public Policy Institute of California presents research on outcomes of online classes at California community colleges and then hosts a panel discussion with members of the state's three public higher education segments, noon at the CSAC Conference Center on 11th Street.

COLLEGE CONCERNS: Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, the California Alliance of African American Educators and the California Student Aid Commission hold a briefing on the status of African American students in California higher education, starting at 1 p.m. in Room 125 of the Capitol. The briefing will cover topics including access to college, financial aid and gun violence in schools, to be followed by a reception at 4 p.m.

BATTLE OF THE BRULTE: California Republican Party chairman Jim Brulte will discuss primary election results and his "battle plan" for victory in November with the Republicans of River City club, 6:30 p.m. at the Elks Lodge in Rancho Cordova.

READ MORE: Immigrant driver's licenses prompt concerns about required documents, legal risk

PHOTO: People who attended a DMV public hearing on the new licenses, held at the the Secretary of State's building at 11th and O streets on January 28, 2014 in Sacramento, wore this sticker. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

June 24, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: Lake County will determine controller's race

Lake_County.JPGThe state controller's race has come down to thousands of votes in one rural Northern California county, 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: Trees and clouds are reflected in the calm water of Cache Creek in Lake County, Calif on September 25, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench



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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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