Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

April 15, 2014
AM Alert: Californians split on Congress, own representatives

Capitol_Building_Washington_Congress.jpgLike the rest of the country, California voters hold a deeply negative view of the job performance of the U.S. Congress: Just 13 percent approve of the work of the nation's lawmakers in a new Field Poll, compared to 79 percent who disapprove. That's a slight uptick from last fall, when Congress' approval rate in California hit a two-year low in the wake of October's government shutdown.

Things improve considerably, however, when Californians reflect on their own representatives: 44 percent of poll respondents gave their congressperson a positive assessment, while 33 percent gave them negative marks. That could be good news for House members facing tough campaigns this fall, as 46 percent of California voters are inclined to re-elect their representatives in November.

Who is most unhappy with Congress? Reporter Christopher Cadelago has more in his story. Here are the statistical tabulations prepared exclusively for Capitol Alert.

GETTING OFF TRACK: Amid legal uncertainty for the project's funding plan, calls to cancel the state's proposed high-speed rail system and spend the money elsewhere have increased in recent months. Look for a response from Dan Richard, chair of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, when he addresses the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco at 6 p.m.

TAX DAY: Tax returns are due today, so state controller John Chiang kicks off the morning with tips and advice, 7 a.m. at the Franchise Tax Board on Butterfield Way.

Meanwhile, the NorCal Tea Party Patriots are hosting a "freedom march" to the Capitol, starting at 11 a.m. at the Tower Bridge. Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association president Jon Coupal and local congressional candidate Igor Birman are among those scheduled to speak at a noon rally on the west steps.

PHOTO: The U.S. Capitol, with the Senate at right and the House of Representatives at far left, is seen in Washington, D.C., on June 17, 2013. The Associated Press/J. Scott Applewhite

April 14, 2014
AM Alert: John Pérez trails in state controller's race

ha_perez_III.JPGCalifornia Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez and Board of Equalization member Betty Yee have been waging a tight primary battle in the state controller's race. At the California Democratic Party Convention last month, they split delegate votes almost evenly, with neither garnering enough support for the party nomination.

But the results from a new Field Poll indicate that Yee now holds an advantage over Pérez among likely voters in the June primary, 19 percent to 14 percent. Will Pérez's fundraising lead enable him to close that gap in the next two months and claim a spot in the top two runoff?

Both Yee and Pérez trail Republican candidate Ashley Swearengin, the mayor of Fresno, who leads the field with support from 28 percent of likely primary voters. Nearly 40 percent remain undecided, however, so the race is still very much up for grabs.

Reporter Christopher Cadelago has more in his story. Here are the statistical tabulations prepared exclusively for Capitol Alert.

The next Field Poll covers Californians' assessment of the job performance of Congress. Subscribers to the Capitol Alert Insider Edition app can read the story early, at 8 p.m.

CAP AND PIVOT: In February, State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg proposed a new carbon tax on fuel to replace a portion of the state's cap-and-trade program that he said would prove too unpredictable for consumers at the pump when it goes into effect next year. Steinberg is now backing away from that plan and will present a new investment strategy for California's cap-and-trade funds, 11 a.m. in Room 211 of the Capitol.

ARE YOU HAPPY NOW?: The California HealthCare Foundation sponsors a briefing on a new survey gauging user satisfaction after signing up for health insurance or Medi-Cal through Covered California, noon at the CSAC Conference Center on 11th Street.

LUNCHTIME TALK: The Delta Science Program hosts a seminar with Maggi Kelly, a professor of environmental science, policy and management at UC Berkeley, to discuss the use of remote sensors to quantify productivity and potential storage of the wetlands in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, noon at the Park Tower Building on 9th street.

NEW JOBS: KP Public Affairs welcomes two new lobbyists to its practice: Brian White, who has worked for BP America and the California Forestry Association, and Vanessa Cajina, previously a lobbyist for the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

PHOTO: Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez speaks during a press conference on December, 11, 2009. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

April 11, 2014
AM Alert: Pete Peterson leads wide-open Secretary of State field

Pete_Peterson.jpgCalifornia's struggling Republican Party currently holds no statewide office, but is there a possibility that could change this year?

As subscribers to the Capitol Alert Insider Edition app learned last night, Republican Pete Peterson leads the pack of Secretary of State candidates by a wide margin heading into the June primary, with 30 percent of likely voters expressing support for the public policy institute director in a new Field Poll.

Democratic state Sen. Alex Padilla of Los Angeles trails with 17 percent, and none of the remaining three candidates garnered support from more than 5 percent of respondents. With more than 4 in 10 likely voters still undecided, however, the wide-open race could look very different two months from now.

It already underwent a big shift last month when state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, dropped out one day after being arrested by the FBI on corruption charges. Field was in the middle of polling when the news broke and its results caught a huge shift in public perception of Yee: After the arrest, his favorable rating swung 23 points in the negative direction, though about half of respondents continued to have no opinion on Yee.

Reporter Christopher Cadelago has more in his story. Read the statistical tabulations for the poll here.

VIDEO: Yee's arrest has also harmed the Legislature's fragile image with the public, Dan Walters says.

CRAM SESSION: The Legislature's spring recess has begun, but some lawmakers are kicking off their break with official business: Assemblyman Mark Stone, D-Scotts Valley, will be joined by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, and Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, for a select committee hearing on offshore oil and gas fracking along the California coast, 10 a.m. at the Santa Barbara County Administration Building.

Others are using the time to promote their legislation: Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, will be at the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration in Los Angeles at 9:30 a.m. to discuss a package of bills targeting child sex trafficking. Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, will announce changes to a financial ethics bill for elected and appointed officials, 10:30 a.m. at the California Public Utilities Commission building in San Francisco.

STATE PRESERVATION: The University of the Pacific's McGeorge School of Law hosts a symposium on resource management in California, dealing with issues of urban land use, water and environmental protection, starting at 8:45 a.m.

NEW JOBS: Roger Salazar's upstart public affairs firm ALZA Strategies has announced its first hire: Irma Martinez, a former lawyer for the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board.

CELEBRATIONS: An early happy birthday to California Republican Party chairman Jim Brulte, who turns 58 on Sunday.

PHOTO: Secretary of State candidate Pete Peterson. Courtesy of Common Sense California

April 10, 2014
AM Alert: Leland Yee scandal blunts increasing approval of Legislature

yee_press_resized.jpgAs the old saying goes, one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch.

It was good news for the California Legislature in December, when the Field Poll showed public support for lawmakers at its highest since 2007, and the outlook was only getting brighter. Early results from polling in March indicated voter approval of the Legislature at 46 percent, surpassing disapproval for the first time in more than a decade.

Then scandal hit: State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, was arrested by the FBI in a sweeping corruption sting.

As Field finished its polling over the next week, voters' approval of the Legislature tumbled to 43 percent and disapproval jumped from 40 percent to 46 percent, representing a 9 percentage point swing in the negative direction. It's not the record lows that lawmakers saw during the depths of California's budget crisis, but public confidence has clearly been shaken by the string of recent criminal charges — and one conviction, so far — against their representatives.

Reporter Jeremy B. White has more in his story. Here are the statistical tabulations prepared exclusively for Capitol Alert.

The next Field Poll will focus on the California Secretary of State election, which was upended by Yee's arrest and subsequent withdrawal from the race. Subscribers to the Capitol Alert Insider Edition app will have access to the story early, at 8 p.m.

PARTY TIME: Like schoolchildren and beach-bound coeds across the nation, our legislators also enjoy an annual spring break. The Senate and Assembly both meet at 9 a.m. for final floor sessions before a week-long recess.

ALL DRIED UP: The severe drought has spurred numerous efforts to address California's water resource management, but how will we pay for them? Local water officials, lawyers and engineers gather for a half-day conference on how to improve the state's water-finance system. The event, hosted by the Public Policy Institute of California, begins at 9 a.m. at the Sacramento Convention Center.

WIRED IN: State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson discuss the need for Internet access and other educational technology in schools, 10 a.m. at the Sacramento Public Library on I Street. They will be joined by Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and AT&T Vice President Kathy McKim.

NEW JOB: Congratulations to Karen French, former associate director of legislative affairs for the University of California, who has joined Nielsen Merksamer Parrinello Gross & Leoni LLP.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to state Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, who turns 74 today.

PHOTO: State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, leaves Federal Court in San Francisco on March 26, 2014. Bay Area News Group/Karl Mondon

April 9, 2014
AM Alert: Jerry Brown's job approval climbs to new high

Brown_victims.JPGWith California's financial outlook brightening, voter approval of Gov. Jerry Brown has climbed to a new high for his third term in office. A new Field Poll reveals that 59 percent of registered voters in the state approve of his performance, nearly twice as many as disapprove.

That's great news for Brown as he once again runs for re-election this year. Just two months away from the primary, he holds a commanding lead over his Republican challengers: 57 percent of likely voters said they planned to vote for Brown, as compared to 17 percent for Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, 3 percent for Laguna Hills Mayor Andrew Blount and 2 percent for businessman Neel Kashkari.

Reporter David Siders has more in his story. Here are the statistical tabulations prepared exclusively for Capitol Alert.

The next Field Poll will focus on Californians' opinions of the state Legislature since Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, was arrested on corruption charges last month. Subscribers to the Capitol Alert Insider Edition app will have access to the story early, at 8 p.m.

VIDEO: A controversial bill to ban orca shows in California was held in committee to die quietly, Dan Walters says, likely so as not to cause trouble for incoming Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins of San Diego.

SUGAR, SUGAR: Two of Capitol Alert's Bills to Watch for the 2014 session get their first committee hearings today. Legislation from state Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, that would put warning labels on soda cans faces the Senate Health Committee at 1:30 p.m. in Room 4203 of the Capitol. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg's proposal to extend pre-kindergarten to all four-year-olds in California appears before the Senate Education Committee at 9 a.m. in Room 4203. You can track all of our Bills to Watch on the Insider Edition app.

TUITION CONUNDRUM: In 2001, California granted in-state tuition to undocumented students at public universities, and three years ago, the Legislature opened new scholarship opportunities to them as well. But state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, says these programs still leave undocumented students, who do not qualify for most financial aid, with large funding gaps for their education. He will be joined by University of California President Janet Napolitano and Sacramento State University President Alexander Gonzalez to announce a new bill that would allow undocumented students to apply for loans, 11:30 a.m. in Room 113 of the Capitol.

STUDENT HEALTH: Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, seeks to make state funds available to school districts to hire more nurses and mental health professionals and extend daily library hours. He will introduce legislation for the program at 12:30 p.m. at the Sacramento Central Library on I Street, along with representatives from the California Federation of Teachers.

UNITED THEY STAND: The charity organization United Ways of California is at the Capitol for its annual lobby day, pushing for three bills that would expand the state's social services: Steinberg's universal pre-kindergarten proposal; a bill from Lara that would extend health care coverage to undocumented immigrants; and a real estate fee proposed by Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, to fund more programs for affordable housing and the homeless. Assemblywoman Atkins, a big affordable housing advocate, meets with the group in the morning to deliver a keynote address.

PHOTO: Governor Jerry Brown speaks during the annual Victims Rights Rally on the west steps of the State Capitol on April 8, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

April 8, 2014
AM Alert: Social services, small businesses make Sacramento pitches


Two distinct lobby days are attracting the interest and participation of California lawmakers today.

On the one hand are California's small businesses, gathering under the auspices of the National Federation of Independent Business. After some morning visits at the Capitol, members will head over to the Sheraton Grand to hear from former Gov. Pete Wilson, California State Controller John Chiang, and incoming Assembly speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego.

Meanwhile, social safety net menders will ask their legislators to re-invest in services that shrank during recession-driven slimming. Brought together by the Health and Human Services Network of California, advocates will be urged on by Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, Assemblyman Mark Stone, D-Scotts Valley and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, at a morning event on the south steps.

VIDEO: Happy birthday, Mr. Governor: with California's chief executive turning 76, Dan Walters reflects on the aging old guard of California politics and its waiting successors.

GONE BLACKFISHIN' An intensely monitored, heavily lobbied bill to ban orca shows and captive breeding at SeaWorld goes before its first committee today. We'll see if AB 2140 sinks or swims after what is sure to be one of the more heavily attended Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee hearings you'll see. Starting at 9 a.m. in room 437.

FRACK OFF: While California last year passed a law to regulate hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the legislation fell short of what many environmentalists and more liberal lawmakers wanted: an outright ban until the disputed drilling process is proven safe. The latest moratorium bill, this one by senators Holly Mitchell and Mark Leno, goes before the Senate Natural Resources Committee today at 9 a.m.

RECONSIDERING SOLITUDE: Both public safety committees will hear bills today that rethink California's use of the Secure Housing Unit, or SHU, to house dangerous and gang-affiliated inmates. Spurred to action by a series of correctional system-wide hunger strikes, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, has a bill to end indefinite SHU detention, while Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, has legislation to enact broad oversight of SHU policies. Assembly at 9 a.m. in room 126; Senate at 9:30 a.m. in 3191.

CRIME AND PUNISHMENT: Gov. Jerry Brown will deliver his annual speech to a Crime Victims Rights Month rally sponsored by Crime Victims United of California and the California Correctional Peace Officers Association. Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, will also be speaking at the noon event on the west steps.

PHOTO: The Capitol in Sacramento on Monday December 11, 2006. The Sacramento Bee/ Randall Benton.

April 7, 2014
AM Alert: Lobby day for ACLU, University of California students


Drug sentencing, school discipline, and student debt.

We're now entering the meat of the legislative calendar, as evidenced by the increasingly bill-packed hearings on the Daily File, which means it's prime time for groups to head to Sacramento and make their voices heard. Today we have some relatively less-moneyed interests: the American Civil Liberties Union and the University of California Student Association.

At the forefront for the ACLU are bills that would allow moms on welfare to receive extra money if they become pregnant, scale back so-called "willful defiance" school punishments and eliminate crack sentencing disparities. The students are focused on the mounting burden of student debt, a message they'll amplify at a morning rally alongside Assemblyman Das Williams, D- Santa Barbara, and Senators Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, and Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens.

VIDEO: Name recognition is a good thing in an election year, right? Not always, Dan Walters says.

SEAFOOD CHICANERY: How's that sushi? Or more accurately, what's that sushi? A startling recent study showed widespread seafood mislabeling, with customers often buying a cheaper substitute for the cod or salmon they thought they were getting. Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, will be at Taylor's Market on Freeport Boulevard this morning to stump for his legislation slapping criminal penalties on people who misrepresent the seafood they're selling.

ORCA-NIZED PROTEST With a closely watched bill to ban orca shows making its first committee appearance on Tuesday, bill proponents will be presenting an online petition with over a million signatures to Assemblyman Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, chair of the committee weighing the bill's fate. This evening, the bill's author (Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica) and its sponsor (the Animal Welfare Institute) will host a screening of the inciting documentary "Blackfish" at the Crest Theater.

BEAD IT: Speaking of Bloom ban bills, the former Santa Monica mayor's legislation to nix the waterway-polluting microbeads embedded in many cosmetic products goes before the Assembly Natural Resources Committee today.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to the nation's oldest governor, our grizzled Gov. Jerry Brown. The third-term guv turns an august 76 today.

PHOTO: Students rallying during the University of California students annual lobbying day at the State Capitol, Monday, March 3, 2008. The Sacramento Bee/Brian Baer.

April 4, 2014
AM Alert: Traumatized California kids get a hearing


When she unveiled a slate of anti-truancy measures last month, California Attorney General Kamala Harris acknowledged the bills were more about data collection than about directly addressing the out-of-the-classroom factors that keep kids from attending class.

A Select Committee On Delinquency Prevention And Youth Development today could help shed some light on the latter issue. The hearing, presided over by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, will detail the effect that abuse and neglect have on kids and discuss how to treat traumatized students.

Expected speakers include Dr. Robert Ross of the California Endowment and Dr. Steve Wirtz of the California Department of Mental Health, in addition to numerous high school students. Starting at 9:30 a.m. at the Los Angeles Public Library.

VIDEO: We just got a glimpse of the post-supermajority reality for Senate Democrats, Dan Walters says.

ECONOMICS: An array of elected officials will be in Oakland today for an economic summit sponsored by the left-leaning Greenlining Institute, among them the California Energy Commission's David Hochschild, the California Public Utilities Commission's Catherine Sandoval and Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, who is winning something called the "Big Brain Award." Keynoting is Richard Cordray, head of the beloved-by-liberals-and-reviled-by-conservatives Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

CARBONATION: The pursuit of reduced emissions continues. On Wednesday it was a low-carbon fuel summit; yesterday it was geothermal energy; and today it's a pair of Air Resources Board workshops on new standards for California's fuel as the state tries to diminish emissions ahead of a 2020 deadline. At the Cal/EPA building.

PHOTO: A Del Paso Heights student reads the book "Street Life: Poverty, Gangs and a Ph.D, " by Victor Rios, a sociology professor at UC Santa Barbara and former Oakland gang member as he talked to Vista Nueva High School students on Wed., Feb. 26, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

April 3, 2014
AM Alert: Geothermal energy in the hot seat


Will geothermal energy get hot?

California's policymakers are constantly looking at energy innovations or renewable sources that will help the state meet state-required limits on greenhouse gases — just yesterday, Assembly members visited a low-carbon fuel summit — and a hearing today will examine the potential of geothermal, or heat energy trapped beneath the earth's surface. A Geothermal Energy Association report estimates that geothermal accounted for about 4 percent of California's energy mix in 2012 but could be tapped for far more.

Witnesses expected to testify include David Hochschild of the California Energy Commission, Edward Randolph of the California Public Utilities Commission and representatives of the California Independent System Operator and the Independent Energy Producers Association. Starting after session in room 3191.

VIDEO: With two FBI raids in the space of ten months, Dan Walters says Sacramento staffers are nervous about what's coming next.

THE NEWEST SENATOR: With all the coverage of the three state lawmakers indefinitely booted from Sacramento, it would be easy to forget voters also decisively added a senator. Former Assemblyman Mike Morrell will be sworn in this morning after handily winning Southern California's 23rd district seat Bill Emmerson abandoned back in October.

PENSIONER: His push to get a pension law overhaul on the 2014 ballot may be dead, but that doesn't mean San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed has lost interest in the issue. Reed will be talking retirement accounts during a lunchtime Sacramento Press Club event at the Capitol Plaza Ballroom today.

PHOTO: One of renewable geothermal firm Calpine's 15 geothermal power plants in the Geysers region. The Press Democrat/Christopher Chung.

April 2, 2014
AM Alert: SeaWorld comes to Sacramento


Last time the folks from SeaWorld made the official trip from San Diego to Sacramento, it was a pretty low-intensity affair: mostly it involved some cute animals delighting staffers, who lined up for the chance to meet a penguin.

Amazing how much a documentary can change things.

The film Blackfish, which argued that SeaWorld uses unsustainable orca management techniques that led to the deaths of human trainers, has prompted a fierce SeaWorld PR counteroffensive. It has also helped convince Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, to introduce a bill that would ban captive orca breeding and end the elaborate orca shows that are a SeaWorld staple. It should be fascinating to watch the legislation's arc, particularly since the incoming Assembly speaker will be the first ever from San Diego, where SeaWorld is a major tourist draw and money-maker.

Half a dozen SeaWorld San Diego representatives, including park president John Reilly, a veterinarian and a trainer, will appear at an informational briefing in room 126 this morning, and you can probably guess what they'll be asked about. They'll then fan out for legislative visits, and you can probably guess what they'll be talking about.

LAW AND ORDER: Also on their lobby day today are representatives of a law enforcement coalition that includes the California Police Chiefs Association, the California District Attorneys Association and the California Correctional Peace Officers Association. Before walking the halls of the Capitol they'll get to hear from Gov. Jerry Brown. Brown will be speaking at 1 p.m. at the Sacramento Convention Center, where other speakers will include presumptive future legislative leaders, Assembly Speaker-elect Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, and Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles.

SHOTSTOCKING: Up in committee today is a bill by Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, that would require public schools to keep a supply of epinephrine auto injectors. The mother of a Sacramento teen who died of an allergic reaction to peanuts last year will testify.

ONCE MORE UNTO THE DATA BREACH: Millions of Target and Neiman Marcus customers having their data stolen has focused lawmakers on consumer data security, and today Assemblymen Roger Dickinson and Bob Wieckowski will announce their legislative response. In room 127 at 9:30 a.m.

FUELING POLICY: Lawmakers will hear about the world of low-emission fuels at a summit sponsored by biofuel, natural gas and electric industry officials. Expected attendees at the Low Carbon Fuel event include Democratic Assembly members Bill Quirk, Henry Perea, Chris Holden and Nancy Skinner.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, who turns 62 today.

PHOTO: A SeaWorld trainer performs with a killer whale during the first show after an orca killed a trainer at theme park three days earlier in Orlando, Fla., Saturday, Feb. 27, 2010. AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack.

April 1, 2014
AM Alert: Political reform package up in the Assembly


It has been a scandal-scarred 2014 so far for the Legislature. A legal storm has cost Senate Democrats their supermajority, culminating in the suspension of three members Friday. And the alleged wrongdoing hasn't been limited to elected officials, with a powerful lobbying firm earning a record-setting fine by the Fair Political Practices Commission.

Today, a package of political ethics bills by Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, introduced in the wake of the Sloat fine (but before Sen. Ron Calderon was indicted), comes before the Assembly Elections committee (1:30 p.m., in room 444). Most relevant to the FPPC's action is Assembly Bill 1673, which would bar lobbyists from hosting fundraisers at their homes.

The Senate is mulling a similar package of campaign-finance measures, including a bill that would prohibit the home fundraisers. Unlike with Garcia's package, the Senate push came with the blessing of legislative leaders who announced the effort at a press conference back in the more innocent, pre-arrest of Sen. Leland Yee days.

VIDEO: A 2013 special election that at the time seemed relatively inconsequential at the time has taken on huge significance, Dan Walters says.

SCHNUR THING: Lest there be any doubt that secretary of state candidate Dan Schnur would cite the cascading scandals in his campaign, the former FPPC chair plans to discuss the "Capitol culture of corruption" during a 10:30 a.m. news conference at the Stutzman Public Affairs office today. Yee allegedly took campaign cash from undercover FBI agents, fueling the arguments of Schnur and other critics that perpetual fundraising is an urgent problem.

ANTI-ANTIBIOTICS: You may recall reading about a pair of bills intended to limit feeding antibiotics to livestock, spurred by concerns about a new generation of drug-resistant bugs. The less sweeping of the two bills, this one by Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, is up in the Senate Agriculture Committee today at 9:30 a.m.

REGISTRATION CONSTERNATION: Are you a registered independent? Are you sure? Thousands of Californians trying to distance themselves from partisan affiliation instead register with the right-wing American Independent Party, according to a "Don't Be AIPrl Fooled" voter-information campaign being launched today with a mass email blast to AIP-registered voters.

PHOTO: Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens during session in the Assembly chambers on March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

March 31, 2014
AM Alert: Leland Yee Edition


Forget House of Cards and Scandal.

The hottest political soap opera of 2014 is the California Senate, and its latest plot twist is a doozy: Last Wednesday, Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, was arrested by the FBI on charges of corruption and conspiracy to traffic weapons.

With the Capitol on holiday for Cesar Chavez Day, let's review what you may have missed during last week's crazy episode. Warning: spoilers ahead.

VIDEO: The state Senate's latest scandal is more ammunition for an election year battle over the Democrats' supermajority, Dan Walters says.

WEDNESDAY: The FBI arrested Yee at his San Francisco home Wednesday morning and raided his Capitol office as part of a sweeping sting of more than two dozen Bay Area figures suspected of selling drugs, smuggling guns and arranging murder for hire.

Among those connected to the case was Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, a Chinatown gangster who had been honored in the past by elected officials for turning his life around.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg was "extremely disappointed and upset" by the news, which follows the January conviction of Sen. Rod Wright, D-Baldwin Hills, on felony charges related to living outside his district and the February indictment of Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, on corruption charges. Steinberg later called upon Yee to resign or he would be suspended.

The affidavit was unsealed in the afternoon, and it reads like a conspiracy thriller: illegal arms dealing, Muslim rebel groups in the Philippines, deposed Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi and the nickname "Uncle Leland" all make appearances. The tangled web of San Francisco politicians, organized crime and undercover agents takes a map to keep track of.

THURSDAY: Pressure mounted on Yee to leave the Senate, with calls coming all the way from Washington, D.C. Though he ignored those requests, Yee did drop out of the race for California secretary of state. His name, however, will remain on the ballot.

FRIDAY: In what should have been a quiet per diem session before the long weekend, the Senate took an unprecedented step, suspending not just Yee but all three of its members facing legal troubles. The resolution says they can't resume office "until all criminal proceedings currently pending against them have been dismissed," but Yee, Wright and Calderon will continue to be paid.

Wright and Calderon had previously been allowed to take paid leaves of absence, but Steinberg said developments with Yee had changed his mind about how to deal with them. Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, was the sole dissenting vote. He argued that the measure did not go far enough and the disgraced members should be expelled.

That's a lot of plot development for one week, but the drama is not over yet. Stay tuned.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, who turns 62 today.

March 28, 2014
AM Alert: What happens now to Leland Yee?

yee_press_resized.jpgThe Legislature is off Monday in observance of Cesar Chavez Day, so what should have been a quiet per diem session today will instead become the latest chapter in the bombshell saga of state Sen. Leland Yee, who was arrested by the FBI on corruption charges this week.

The floor session at 9 a.m. will be the first time the Senate meets since the explosive revelations of bribery and gun trafficking involving the San Francisco Democrat. State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and both of California's U.S. Senators have called upon Yee to resign.

It is expected he will be suspended, but what form that action takes remains up in the air. Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff has already introduced a resolution to suspend Yee, though the last time he tried that with a colleague, his measure was parked in the Senate Rules Committee.

VIDEO: Breaking with California's ignoble tradition of failed tech upgrades, a new financial management systems appears headed for success, Dan Walters says.

SÍ SE PUEDE: Cesar Chavez, the late labor icon who helped lead the movement to organize farm workers, is honored every year on March 31, his birthday, with a California state holiday. The Assembly plans to recognize the occasion by inviting 10 members of Chavez's family, including three of his siblings, to accept a resolution honoring the activist's legacy during the 9 a.m. floor session. The presentation was organized by Assembly members Nora Campos, D-San Jose, and Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville.

GOING HOLLYWOOD: This weekend also marks the release of a biopic, Cesar Chavez, starring Michael Peña. The United Farm Workers, a union that Chavez helped start, holds a special screening and panel discussion at 8:30 p.m. at the Century Stadium 14 theater. The event is preceded by a reception at Seasons 52 Fresh Grill on Arden Way at 6 p.m.

GIRL POWER: Sacramento women doing great things will be honored by their local representatives, Steinberg, Assemblyman Roger Dickinson and Rep. Doris Matsui, during the inaugural Women's Appreciation Awards ceremony. The event, which starts at 6 p.m. at the California Museum on O Street, marks the ends of Women's History — or "Herstory," if you prefer — Month, celebrated in March.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to Assemblywoman Marie Waldron, R-Escondido, who turns 54 today, and state Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, who turns 45 on Saturday.

PHOTO: State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, leaves Federal Court in San Francisco on March 26, 2014. Bay Area News Group/Karl Mondon

March 27, 2014
AM Alert: High-speed rail's 'potential for success' evaluated

HSRail.jpgCalifornia's drought has pushed high-speed rail out of the headlines in recent months, but the controversial project isn't forgotten. Republican legislators continue to introduce bills to defund the project and, in February, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom pulled his support, suggesting the state should instead reallocate voter-approved rail bonds.

The Senate Transportation and Housing Committee holds a hearing to evaluate the project's potential for success at 1:30 p.m. in Room 112 of the Capitol. Among those scheduled to testify is Jeff Morales, chief executive officer of the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

VIDEO: With Democrats in the state Senate now below the supermajority threshold, Republican members could swing some key issues this session, Dan Walters says.

LEADER OF THE PACK: As David Siders reported last night, Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, leads all Republican opponents in the race for governor. A new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California shows that Donnelly has five times more support among likely voters than rivals like Neel Kashkari.

HEALTH REFORM REFORM: As the first open enrollment session for Covered California comes to a close, Republican lawmakers plan to introduce a bill package that would put new restrictions on the health care exchange. Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway and other members of her caucus will gather at the Urban Hive on H Street at 10:30 a.m. to announce legislation aimed at ensuring privacy protections, affordable options and public accountability.

ILLEGITIMATE INDUSTRY: The Little Hoover Commission, the independent state oversight agency, holds a public hearing on California's underground economy, including the impact of black market sales on taxes and law enforcement, at 9:30 a.m. in Room 437 of the Capitol.

ARE YOU FEELING LUCKY?: A pilot program at more than 100 gas stations in Sacramento and Los Angeles would promote the California lottery and allow for the purchase of tickets as shoppers are buying their gas. The California State Lottery Commission will hear a presentation on the proposed Play at the Pump program, 10 a.m. at the lottery commission building on 10th Street.

BACK TO THE FUTURE: Last year, economic think tank the Milken Institute released a report examining California's position in the science and technology sector. The report's author, Kristin Keough, will present the results in a policy briefing at 2 p.m. in Room 125 of the Capitol, which will be followed by panel discussion including Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Riverbank.

TO FRACK OR NOT TO FRACK: Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, who bankrolled 2012's successful Proposition 39 closing a tax loophole for out-of-state corporations, is among the panelists who will be talking about the energy and economic potential of California's Monterey Shale formation, 2 p.m. at the Citizen Hotel on J Street. The conversation is sponsored by Next Generation, the Post Carbon Institute and Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, who turns 40 today.

PHOTO: A view of a high speed train moving through a wind farm in the proposed high speed rail network. Rendering by Newlands and Company Inc.

March 26, 2014
AM Alert: Noreen Evans brings genetically modified food fight back to California

GMO_labels.JPGProposition 37, which would have required labeling of genetically modified food, was one of California's most expensive ballot fights in the November 2012 election. The measure failed, but proponents pushed on to other states and have seen successes in the Maine and Connecticut state legislatures.

Now the fight returns to California with SB 1381, a bill by state Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, that would prescribe labeling requirements for foods that are genetically engineered or contain genetically engineered ingredients.

Will taking their cause to lawmakers instead of voters change the outcome for anti-GMO advocates? That question could become clearer when the bill goes before its first committee, the Senate Health Committee, at 1:30 p.m. in Room 4203 of the Capitol.

VIDEO: School districts and civil rights groups have been at odds over how to spend new school money to close California's "achievement gap," Dan Walters says. Now Democratic lawmakers have weighed in.

DRUG POLLUTION: New legislation from state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, aims to address potential environmental damage from people's disposal of medicine by creating a statewide drug take-back program for unused prescription and over-the-counter drugs. The Senate Environmental Quality Committee will hold an informational hearing on the bill at 9:30 a.m. in Room 3191 of the Capitol and then vote on it.

MORE HEARINGS: The Assembly Select Committee on Justice Reinvestment meets at 10 a.m. in Room 444 of the Capitol to discuss resources available to female prisoners upon re-entry into society. The Senate Insurance Committee gathers at 1:30 p.m. in Room 112 of the Capitol for a hearing on California's earthquake preparedness and the risk to businesses and the economy.

GLOBAL CONCERNS: How should the international community respond to North Korea? The World Affairs Council of Northern California sponsors a briefing with Philip Yun, a North Korea adviser in the Clinton administration, noon in Room 2040 of the Capitol.

VETS VISIT: The California chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America is in town for its lobby day, starting with a gathering at 8:45 a.m. in the Capitol Basement Cafeteria to discuss legislation of interest and honor state Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, and Assemblyman Jim Frazier, D-Oakley. Following legislative visits, the group will hold a public ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Capitol Park at 3 p.m.

I SCREAM, YOU SCREAM: The California Grocers Association is also at the Capitol today and will host an ice cream social for legislators and their staffs on the south steps at 1:30 p.m., sponsored by Nestle Dreyer's Ice Cream.

POLICE FUNERAL: Last week, a Mendocino County sheriff's deputy was killed in a shootout with an armed kidnapping suspect. Gov. Jerry Brown will attend the funeral for the officer, Ricky Del Fiorentino, at 10 a.m. at the Cotton Auditorium in Fort Bragg.

PHOTO: Some packaged foods are labeled as being free of GMO at the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-Op on September 18, 2012. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

March 25, 2014
AM Alert: Mike Morrell seeks to replace Bill Emmerson in SD23

Emmerson.JPGCalifornia's 23rd Senate District was vacated last fall when former state Sen. Bill Emmerson abruptly announced he would resign effective December 1, saying his "passion has waned" after nine years in the Legislature. A month later, Emmerson joined the California Hospital Association to oversee its lobbying operation.

Voters in the Republican-leaning district, which takes in swaths of Riverside and San Bernardino counties, will head to the polls today for a special election primary to replace Emmerson. The top two are scheduled to face off on the June ballot, though the race could be over by tonight if one candidate gets at least 50 percent of the vote.

The presumptive favorite is Assemblyman Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga, whose 40th Assembly District overlaps with about half of the 23rd Senate District. He faces Republican San Jacinto councilwoman Crystal Ruiz, Libertarian Calimesa Councilman Jeffrey Hewitt, Democratic health care consultant Ameenah Fuller and Democratic real estate educator Ronald O'Donnell.

The special election is expected to cost at least $1.1 million for Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

VIDEO: The budget may be balanced on paper, but we're running up debts with deferred maintenance on our crumbling highway system, Dan Walters says.

THINK OF THE CHILDREN: The Advancement Project has put together a buzzworthy list of names to discuss educational and economic opportunities for young children at its sixth annual Water Cooler Conference, taking place at the Sheraton Grand Hotel on J Street starting at 8:30 a.m. Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof will deliver the keynote address at noon. Also scheduled to speak are state Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles; Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles; Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego; State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson; and Camille Maben, executive director of First 5 California.

BEHIND THE TIMES: New legislation from Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, seeks to address a backlog of untested rape kits in California by outlining timeframes for law enforcement agencies and forensic labs to process forensic evidence from sexual assaults. The bill appears before Assembly Public Safety Committee at 9 a.m. in Room 126 of the Capitol.

COVER UP: The first enrollment period for Covered California ends March 31 and users won't be able to sign up for the health care exchange again until the fall. Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, joins with Diana Dooley, state secretary of health and human services, at Sacramento Fire Department Station #2 on I Street at 9:30 a.m. to publicize these final days of open enrollment.

FREE YOUR MIND: The Senate Select Committee on Emerging Technology: Biotechnology and Green Energy Jobs holds a hearing at 10 a.m. in Room 113 of the Capitol to discuss the BRAIN Initiative, a federal brain-mapping project announced last year, and the role California could play in the research.

MAZEL TOV: A new legislative caucus emerged earlier this session to focus on issues pertaining to the Jewish community. The Legislative Jewish Caucus, which includes nine lawmakers who identify as Jewish and several who do not but wanted to participate, kicks off its first event at 5:30 p.m. at Chops on 11th Street.

IT'S ALL DOWNSTREAM FROM HERE: Hoping to increase the odds of survival for salmon this year, state and federal fish and wildlife agencies are embarking upon a two-and-a-half month program to truck the fish from hatcheries to downstream release points, bypassing hazards in drought-depleted streams. The effort begins today with a demonstration in Rio Vista at 9:15 a.m.

March 24, 2014
AM Alert: Medical malpractice damages initiative aims for November vote

Court.JPGEver since Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act during his first term in 1975, there have been efforts at the Capitol to overturn the law's $250,000 limit on medical malpractice awards for pain and suffering.

Passed to address medical providers' concerns that high damages payouts were drying up their insurance market, supporters of eliminating the cap argue that it shortchanges victims of botched medical procedures and makes attorneys less willing to take up their cases.

That battle may heat up once again if an initiative sponsored by Consumer Watchdog makes the November ballot. Though pushed as a measure to require drug testing for doctors, a provision that would eliminate the medical malpractice compensation cap could make it a big-money, fiercely contested contest this election cycle.

We'll find out soon whether the initiative has qualified: Consumer Watchdog and its allies have announced that they will turn in 830,000 signatures for the measure to the Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters in Norwalk at 10:30 a.m.

VIDEO: Despite billions in unfunded liabilities that grow every day, legislators continue to ignore California's teacher pension woes, Dan Walters says.

BLAST OFF: Aerospace Week launches at the Capitol today, sponsored by state Sen. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, and Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance. At 3:30 p.m, Dr. Ed Stone, the project scientist for NASA's Voyager mission, discusses the venture in Room 113. Events tomorrow include a joint hearing on California's aerospace industry at 2 p.m. in Room 127 and an informational display with a flight simulator starting at 11 a.m. on the west steps. Legislative visits follow on Wednesday.

SUPPLY AND DEMAND: Last year, the Public Policy Institute of California released a report suggesting that the state would face a shortfall of 1 million college graduates by 2025. PPIC hosts a conversation and Q&A on the issue with University of California President Janet Napolitano at the Sheraton Grand Hotel on J Street at 12:25 p.m. The event will also be webcast.

O CAPTAIN! MY CAPTAIN!: The Senate chamber gets a little more artistic this morning as the 35 finalists in California's high school Poetry Out Loud contest compete for a $200 prize and entry into the national championships in Washington, D.C., starting at 8:10 a.m.

BUTTING IN: Members from California Youth Advocacy Network, an organization that fights tobacco use among young adults, march and rally on the west steps of the Capitol at 1:30 p.m. to denounce tobacco companies, which the group says continue to target young people.

PASSING THROUGH: Surely this is one of the oddest events to ever hit the Capitol: Pharmaceutical maker Sanofi displays the "Strollin' Colon," an inflatable walk-through colon, on the north steps from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. to demonstrate what a healthy colon looks like and provide information on getting screened for cancerous polyps.

PHOTO: Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog. Photo by Kent A McInnis Jr.

March 21, 2014
AM Alert: Assembly committee explores racial biases on college campuses

SJSU_march.JPGSan Jose State University was embroiled in controversy last fall when news surfaced that an African-American student had allegedly been subjected to racially charged harassment by four white roommates, including being nicknamed "Three-fifths," as slaves were counted for census purposes, and having a bicycle lock fastened around his neck.

The incident led to a $5 million claim against the university by the student and to the creation of the Assembly Select Committee on Campus Climate in January to explore issues of diversity, tolerance and student safety at California's public colleges and universities.

The committee, chaired by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, and including a bipartisan roster of 14 other members, will hold its first meeting at 12:30 p.m. at San Jose State's Morris Dailey Auditorium. The university's president, Mohammad Qayoumi, is scheduled to testify, as are students and faculty from other Bay Area schools, local law enforcement and several anti-discrimination groups.

SWITCHING TRACKS: With California pushing to graduate more college students faster, the state community college system has been developing a new degree program that would ease transfers to a California State University campus. Colleen Moore, a higher education researcher at Sacramento State, discusses the effectiveness of the program at a talk sponsored by Public Policy Institute of California, noon at the CSAC Conference Center on 11th Street.

READY TO RIDE: As transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft soar in popularity, the state and federal government face mounting questions over how to regulate them. California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones leads an informational hearing on insuring this growing industry at 1 p.m. in Room 112 of the Capitol.

ACA-NNIVERSARY: The fourth anniversary of the Affordable Care Act is this weekend, so Health Access has released a report on implementation efforts in California, including pending legislation such as SB 1005, which would extend health care subsidies to undocumented immigrants.

TEACHER'S LOUNGE: The California Federation of Teachers holds its annual convention in Manhattan Beach this weekend. State Attorney General Kamala Harris is scheduled to deliver the keynote address on Saturday morning and state Sen. Marty Block, D-San Diego, will be honored.

NEW JOB: Welcome back to Amanda Fulkerson, who joined the office of the Assembly Republican Caucus this week as press secretary. Before a stint as chief communications officer for Las Vegas' school district, she worked in the Capitol as chief of staff to former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado.

CELEBRATIONS: An early happy birthday to state Sens. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, who turns 41 on Saturday, and Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, who turns 45 on Saturday.

PHOTO: Champagne Ellison, left, a senior at San Jose State University, marches Nov. 21, 2013 in a protest over reported racial hazing of an African-American freshman by his dormitory roommates. San Jose Mercury News/Karl Mondon

March 20, 2014
AM Alert: California Forward lets the sunshine in

RBCapitolBuilding2.JPGIt's National Sunshine Week! While we here in Sacramento have indeed been blessed with great weather, this is actually an event promoting public access to government information. In observance, California Forward is hosting a summit on using government data to improve decision-making and solve policy challenges from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the UC Center Sacramento on K Street.

Among those participating are Kish Rajan, director of the Governor's Office of Business and Economic Development; Erin Peth, executive director of the Fair Political Practices Commission; former Assemblyman Rick Keene; budget and campaign contribution data websites OpenGov and MapLight; and The Sacramento Bee's own deputy editorial page editor, Mariel Garza.

VIDEO: California is a leader in technological advances, Dan Walters says. So why does state government have such a bad record with updating its computer systems?

COMMITTEE CORPS: It's a budget kind of day for the state Senate. All five budget subcommittees are meeting at the Capitol starting at 9:30 a.m.: Education in Room 3191; Resources, Environmental Protection, Energy and Transportation in Room 112; Health and Human Services in Room 4203; State Administration and General Government in Room 2040; and Corrections, Public Safety and the Judiciary in Room 113.

BORDER BATTLES: Ahead of a visit to Mexico next week, the office of California Attorney General Kamala Harris will release a report Thursday examining the impact of transnational crime on California. Harris is scheduled to lead a delegation of state attorney generals to Mexico City from March 24-26 to increase collaboration between the U.S. and Mexico on issues including international money laundering and human, drug and firearms trafficking.

DRIVERLESS DEBATE: Self-driving cars may not be available for another decade, but California is getting a head start, allowing developers to test the vehicles on the road and working with the public on regulations. What are the advantages and risks of this new technology for traffic, safety and the environment? Nidhi Kalra, an information scientist at the RAND Corporation, hosts a policy briefing at noon in Room 125 of the Capitol.

NEW JOB: The Internet Association is expanding beyond Washington, D.C., opening a new office in Sacramento this week. The trade association has hired former TechAmerica lobbyist Robert Callahan to head its California operation.

March 19, 2014
AM Alert: Ag Day returns to the Capitol

Ag_Day.JPGAn electronic milking cow named Buttercup and exhibits on advances in aquaculture take over the west steps of the Capitol as the California Department of Food and Agriculture once again hosts its annual Ag Day. The informational event, celebrating the state's agricultural community, starts at 10:30 a.m. for elected officials and their staff, then opens to the public for education and healthy treats at 11:30 a.m.

At noon, California Secretary of Food and Agriculture Karen Ross and Caroline Beteta, president and CEO of Visit California, announce a new marketing campaign to promote California as a destination for food tourism.

Over on the north steps at 11 a.m., Assemblyman Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, and a bipartisan group of more than a dozen other legislators are scheduled to welcome hundreds of young people from Future Farmers of America to the event and to discuss a new bill that would offer grants for technical education in agriculture fields.

VIDEO: Despite evidence that charter schools are outperforming their public counterparts, Los Angeles is squandering their promise, Dan Walters says.

MOVIE NIGHT: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, will join President Barack Obama and others at the White House today for a private screening of the feature film "Cesar Chavez." The film's director, Diego Luna, and cast will be there, too.

EXTRA CREDIT: The Governor's Office of Business and Economic Development is launching California Competes, a tax-credit program worth $180 million over the next two years for businesses that want to expand or relocate to California. The month-long application period begins today with a registration workshop at Sacramento City Hall at 9 a.m.

THE PEOPLE'S COURT: Groups representing businesses that say they have suffered abusive lawsuits call on the Legislature to change a legal system they argue is hurting job creation in California. Representatives from California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse and the Civil Justice Association of California, among others, will be at Tsakopoulos Library Galleria on I Street at noon.

VEGGIE TALES: If it wasn't already clear that the drought is California's hottest political issue these days, even PETA is using it for leverage. Arguing that producing meat takes too much water, members of the animal-rights organization will be showering in front of the Capitol at noon to encourage veganism.

HIGH FIVE: First 5 California, which funds programs meant to improve early-childhood development, began fifteen years ago when voters passed a tobacco tax. Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez and the directors of county First 5 commissions celebrate that anniversary at 5 p.m. in the Eureka Room at the Capitol.

POLS IN TOYLAND: It could be Christmas in March for lawmakers and their staff who attend the Toy Industry Association's legislative reception, 5:30 p.m. at the Senator Hotel on L Street, where the trade group hands out goodie bags with toys and games produced by its members.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian, D-Burbank, who turns 41 today.

PHOTO: Jonathan Vera, 8, attempts to rope a fake bull during California Agriculture Day at the State Capitol on March 20, 2007. The Sacramento Bee/ Brian Baer

March 18, 2014
AM Alert: Bill Monning pushes for automobile data protections

CAR_PHOTO_RESIZED.jpgProtecting consumer data has been a hot topic around the Capitol this year: The Senate and Assembly both held hearings last month on the holiday data breaches that compromised credit card information for tens of millions of shoppers at Target and Neiman Marcus. New bills this session aim to stop educational websites and apps from compiling and selling information about K-12 students and to prohibit the California health care exchange from disclosing any personal information without an individual's permission.

Now state Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, turns the attention to automobiles, which have increasingly sophisticated on-board operating systems that collect data about vehicles and their owners. Monning will announce new legislation at 10:30 a.m. on the north steps of the Capitol that would give car consumers more access to the data, which is controlled primarily by automakers. He will be joined by representatives from AAA of Northern California, Nevada and Utah, the Automobile Club of Southern California and various business groups.

VIDEO: Once a leader on issues of open access to public records and meetings, California is now playing catch-up with other states, Dan Walters says.

PEEVEY PRESENCE Public Utilities Commission President Michael R. Peevey is among the scheduled witnesses for today's informational hearing on the PUC by the Senate Energy, Utilities And Communications Committee. The appearance by Peevey, who angered some lawmakers last year after rebuffing requests to testify to legislative panels, comes as state and federal lawmakers have raised alarm about last spring's sniper attack on a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. power substation and follows a recent state audit that found that the PUC had not reviewed large energy utilities' balancing accounts containing $37.6 billion. The hearing begins at 9:30 a.m. in Room 3191.

DO YOU HEAR WHAT I HEAR?: The Assembly Select Committee on Justice Reinvestment will hear from juvenile justice experts and educators on the "school-to-prison pipeline," 10 a.m. in Room 126 of the Capitol.

The Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee speaks with California water experts, including Department of Water Resources director Mark Cowin, about challenges in managing the state's groundwater, 1:30 p.m. in Room 113 of the Capitol.

Senate and Assembly select committees on the wine industry and sustainable agriculture hold a joint hearing on sustainable wine-growing efforts and how they have been affected by the drought, 3 p.m. in Room 2040 of the Capitol.

READY, SET, GO: An organization of retired military leaders, holds its legislative lobby day to encourage greater investment in education, health and physical fitness programs for young children. Mission: Readiness California meets at 8 a.m. at the Hyatt Regency on L Street before visiting with lawmakers.

BUSINESS DINNER: Following a legislative summit and office visits, the California Asian Pacific Chamber of Commerce hosts a reception for elected representatives, 5:30 p.m. at Mayahuel on K Street.

GIVING KUDOS: The National Association of Social Workers honors Assembly members Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton, and Mariko Yamada, D-Davis, for their service in the Legislature at 5 p.m. in the Eureka Room of the Capitol. Eggman and Yamada are both former social workers and introduced a resolution declaring March "Social Work Month."

POLITICAL PATH: California Trailblazers, a group that recruits and advises Republican politicians, celebrates its "Pathfinder" program candidates from more than a dozen legislative races at 5:30 p.m. at Hock Farm on L Street.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, who turns 49 today.

PHOTO: New Honda automobiles are displayed at Mel Rapton Honda on Dec. 10, 2012 in Sacramento. The Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.

March 17, 2014
AM Alert: Jerry Brown addresses California labor group

brownchamberbreakfast.jpgWhen California's largest union group comes to Sacramento, it gets the attention of top government officials from both sides of the aisle.

Gov. Jerry Brown will deliver the keynote address at the California Labor Federation's annual legislative conference tonight. The dinner program begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Sheraton Grand Hotel on J Street. The conference, which is also sponsored by the State Building and Construction Trades Council, features sessions on maintaining health benefits and changing the public perception of unions, as well as speaking appearances by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and state Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres.

On Tuesday, attendees head to the Capitol for visits with lawmakers, advocating for pro-labor legislation including a bill by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, that would require California employers to give paid sick days.

VIDEO: From the Bay Bridge to the high-speed rail, politicians' legacy projects often spell trouble, Dan Walters says.

COMMANDER-IN-CHEF: Who said the lieutenant governorship is a job without duties? Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom will deliver remarks and present a scholarship during the awards ceremony for the ProStart Cup, a culinary and hospital management competition for high school students sponsored by the California Restaurant Association, 4 p.m. at the Sacramento Convention Center.

NEW BEGINNINGS: Freshman Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, faces a tight re-election race against three Republican opponents in the 7th Congressional District. He will celebrate the opening of his new campaign headquarters in Elk Grove at 6 p.m.

DELTA RESTORATION: The Delta Stewardship Council hosts a noon seminar examining efforts to restore wetlands in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta as a source of carbon offsets for the state's cap-and-trade program, at the Park Tower Building on 9th Street.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at the California Chamber of Commerce's annual Host Breakfast in Sacramento on Wednesday, May 22, 2013. The Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli

March 14, 2014
AM Alert: Condoleezza Rice headlines Republican spring convention

Condoleezza_Rice.JPGThe California Democratic Party's annual convention last weekend exposed some intraparty tensions and produced some soul-searching about its future, but was mostly a celebratory affair.

The California Republicans face a more difficult challenge when they meet in Burlingame for their spring convention starting today -- whip up excitement for the election slate of a party that has become a superminority in the Legislature and no longer holds a single statewide office.

Leading the charge will be Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. Secretary of State under President George W. Bush and current professor at Stanford University, who will deliver the keynote address at Saturday's luncheon. Gubernatorial candidates Neel Kashkari, Tim Donnelly and Andrew Blount also have speaking slots. Newly-elected San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus kick off the festivities on Friday evening.

Stay tuned to Capitol Alert throughout the weekend for updates on the convention from reporters David Siders and Christopher Cadelago.

VIDEO: Election year raises create a political conundrum for legislators, Dan Walters says.

INTERNET SAFETY: State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg attends Google's Online Safety Roadshow assembly at Leonardo Da Vinci School at 9 a.m. for a presentation to middle school students about being smart with the content they share online. Steinberg introduced a bill last month that would prohibit websites and apps used for educational purposes from compiling and selling information about K-12 students.

STEM THE TIDE: State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson will welcome high schoolers from across the state to the FIRST Robotics Competition and speak about the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics education, 5 p.m. at the ARC Pavilion at UC Davis.

SACRAMENTO SPLASH: Actress Daryl Hannah joins environmental activists for a rally and march calling for an end to fracking in California, Saturday at 1 p.m. on the north steps of the Capitol.

GIFT DATABASE: The Bee's Data Center has updated its database of legislative gifts with the 2013 filings. See every gift given to state legislators and their aides by lobbyist employers since 2000, now totaling more than $5 million.

PHOTO: Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice delivers a speech after unveiling the new statue of late U.S. President Ronald Reagan during a centennial commemoration in Budapest, Hungary on June 29, 2011. The Associated Press/Bela Szandelszky

March 13, 2014
AM Alert: State spotlights toxic consumer goods in California

chemicals.JPGNew regulations adopted last October by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control require manufacturers to seek safer alternatives to harmful chemical products used in consumer goods.

The agency will announce today the first batch of products it is asking companies to find new ways to make. These products contain at least one chemical the department has determined could potentially harm public health or the environment.

The announcement takes place at 10 a.m. at the Cal EPA building on I Street.

VIDEO: Even as they continue to receive their salaries, the Senate's refusal to acknowledge state Sens. Rod Wright, D-Baldwin Hills, and Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, is rather Orwellian, Dan Walters says.

SHOW ME THE MONEY: Is Gov. Jerry Brown making what he deserves? What about the Legislature? The California Citizens Compensation Commission meets at 10 a.m. at Sacramento City Hall to begin discussions on whether any changes should be made to state officeholders' and lawmakers' pay. Last year, the commission handed out five percent raises, undoing some of the cuts made during the recession.

IN MEMORIAM: Gov. Brown will be in Los Angeles this morning to attend the funeral of a police officer who was killed last Friday when his squad car collided with a big rig. The service for Nicholas Lee takes place at 9 a.m. at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

TECH TALK: From Twitter accounts to wiki bills, California legislators have been embracing technology in their public service. Camille Crittenden, deputy director of the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society at UC Berkeley, will talk about the impact these new online tools and resources can have on democracy and civic engagement, noon at the UC Center Sacramento on K Street.

CHLORPYRI-FOES: Residents of Tulare County who say they found high levels of the pesticide chlorpyrifos in the air and their bodies are calling for a ban on its use across the state. They will be joined by farm workers and environmental advocates at 10:30 a.m. on the north steps of the Capitol to present petitions to lawmakers.

CELEBRATIONS: Congratulations to Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo, and his wife, Laura, who welcomed a new baby boy, Steven Edward, Wednesday morning.

March 12, 2014
AM Alert: Senate committees review California's greenhouse gas progress

California_Greenhouse_Gases.jpgIs California meeting its goal to reduce greenhouse gases in the state to 1990 levels by 2020? Should it take a more global approach to addressing climate change or keep emission reduction programs such as "cap and trade" focused solely on California? What happens to the state's efforts after 2020?

The Senate Environmental Quality Committee and the Senate Select Committee on Climate Change will consider these and other questions related to the implementation of AB 32, the 2006 law mandating a reduction of California's greenhouse gas emissions, during an oversight hearing at 9 a.m. in Room 4203 of the Capitol.

Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board, headlines the panel discussions on the current progress and potential future of the AB 32 programs. She also testified at an Assembly hearing about the law on Monday.

VIDEO: State Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, is the latest lawmaker to use an informational hearing to boost an election campaign, Dan Walters says.

BABY GENIUSES: A full hand of legislators joins First 5 California to announce a new campaign encouraging early brain stimulation for babies and toddlers. The press conference at 10 a.m. in Room 317 of the Capitol includes state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, Sen. Carol Liu, D-La Cañada Flintridge, and Assembly members Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, Sharon Quirk-Silva, D-Fullerton, and Shirley Weber, D-San Diego.

HOMELESS YOUTH: The Assembly Select Committee on Homelessness discusses the challenges and needs of homeless students in California's public schools at 9:30 a.m. in Room 126 of the Capitol.

ON THE ROAD AGAIN: The California Trucking Association is rolling up to the Capitol for its lobby day with a high-tech trailer that simulates the experience of driving a big rig. Those interested in taking the simulator for a spin will find it on 10th Street between L and N streets from 3:30-6 p.m.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to Assemblyman Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, who turns 37 today.

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

March 11, 2014
AM Alert: Senate committee pushes innovation in election management

RBVoters2.JPGCalifornia's election and voting systems have been criticized as creaky and outdated, resulting in civic disengagement and low voter turnout — even by the candidates seeking the state's top elections post.

The Senate Select Committee on Science, Innovation and Public Policy will hold a hearing at 9 a.m. in Room 2040 of the Capitol to explore technological solutions for modernizing voter registration, improving access to election information and boosting voter participation. Among those scheduled to testify are California Secretary of State Debra Bowen and members of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration.

The hearing was called by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, who is in the midst of his own campaign for secretary of state. The office is one of the most competitive statewide races this year, with three Democrats, a Republican, an independent and a Green Party candidate running. At the California Democratic Party's annual convention this past weekend, no candidate won the official primary endorsement.

VIDEO: Anti-fracking activists scored political points for Gov. Jerry Brown at the California Democratic Party convention, Dan Walters says.

SWEET RIDE Have you ever wanted to see a legislator ride an electric skateboard? Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Riverbank, will show off her skills in support of a new bill that would make the boards street legal, 11:30 a.m. at Gallegos Square on 11th Street.

FALLING BEHIND: California's food stamp program has the lowest participation rate of any state in the country among eligible residents. The Senate and Assembly human services committees hold a joint hearing at 1:30 p.m. in Room 437 of the Capitol to examine barriers to participation and efforts to increase the reach of the program.

LOOK MA, NO HANDS: When self-driving cars eventually make it onto the roads, should blind people be allowed to operate them? What about children? The California Department of Motor Vehicles has been working through those questions as it develops regulations for autonomous vehicles. Another public workshop to discuss requirements and safety standards will be held at 10 a.m. at the DMV headquarters on 1st Avenue.

INTERIOR INTEREST: As California's water woes continue to draw national attention, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell will tour the C.W. "Bill" Jones Pumping Plant in Byron today to check out the waterworks and discuss the federal response to the drought. She'll continue on to Point Arena on Wednesday to celebrate the White House's recent designation of the coastal nature preserve as a national monument.

PHOTO: Voters cast their ballots on Nov. 6, 2012. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

March 10, 2014
AM Alert: Kamala Harris, lawmakers take aim at truancy


Determined to keep kids attending school, Attorney General Kamala Harris will stand alongside a half-dozen lawmakers today to promote anti-truancy legislation.

Skipping school carries more consequences than missed tests: a report released last year by Harris' office estimated the annual fallout in the billions of dollars and linked chronic absences to unemployment and crime.

It's not a new issue for Harris, who made a push to police truancy while serving as San Francisco's district attorney and touched on the issue in her first speech as California's top law enforcement official. Slated to join her at today's announcement of a truancy-focused bill package are State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, Sen. Bill Monning and Assembly members Raul Bocanegra, Rob Bonta, Joan Buchanan, Isadore Hall and Chris Holden. It starts at 10:45 a.m. in room 1190 of the State Capitol.

VIDEO: Add another item to the list of worrisome public-employee obligations, Dan Walters says.

HAPPY ENDINGS: We brought you news earlier this year of how cities and cops want California to work out the kinks in soon-to-sunset massage parlor regulations. A sunset oversight hearing, conducted jointly by business and professions committees in both houses, will offer a preview of the looming debate about the California Massage Therapy Council. Also coming under the microscope will be the Department of Consumer Affairs, the Bureau of Automotive Repair and the California Tax Education Council. The hearing begins at 9 a.m. in room 4203.

LGBT-ERRIFIC: Gov. Jerry Brown and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom will be among the honorees at an Equality California event tonight, with Brown receiving accolades for his support of a bill for transgender students that recently survived a referendum challenge. Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, and Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, both have roles in the ceremonies.

WARMING PLANNING: Several years after California passed its landmark cap-and-trade law, lawmakers are poised to debate some major changes. Today we'll get an update on how California is doing on Assembly Bill 32's other key component, the requirement that the state cut down on emissions. Mary Nichols of the Air Resources Board, Tiffany Roberts of the Legislative Analyst's Office and a slate of experts will discuss the current plan during an afternoon hearing of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee.

PHOTO: Attorney General Kamala Harris prepares to talk before a hearing in Sacramento on April 22, 2012. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

March 7, 2014
AM Alert: Cyber-bullying, sexual assault are focus of Sen. Beall bill


Now that merciless teenage taunting has migrated from locker rooms and high school hallways to the Internet, policymakers are paying more attention to the types of harassment and bullying that happens on Facebook and other social media venues.

Citing the role online viciousness seems to have played in the suicide of 15-year-old Audrie Pott, Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, will unveil today a bill he is calling "Audrie's Law." The legislation would criminalize maliciously distributing sexual images and would toughen penalties for sexual assault committed against unconscious or developmentally disabled victims.

Beall will introduce the bill alongside Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen, whose office drafted the bill, at the Saratoga Library from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.

VIDEO: A Democratic bill package meant to address gift-giving and money reporting doesn't inspire much confidence, Dan Walters says.

DEMS CONVENTION: Break out the business cards and the buttons, because today the California Democratic Party launches its spring 2014 convention in Los Angeles.

We'll bring you more on the confab as it unfolds, but speakers will include Gov. Jerry Brown, Attorney General Kamala Harris, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and Sacramento legislative leaders current (Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez) and future (Assemblywoman Toni Atkins and Sen. Kevin de León). And because who can resist a trip to California, prominent out-of-state attendees will include Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley and San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro.

CAREERISM: Before he gets into convention mode, Steinberg will be promoting a policy that's dear to his heart: career-tailored education. He'll be joined by Los Angeles education officials and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson to discuss the state's new $250 million career-linked learning fund.

THEY SAY IT'S YOUR BIRTHDAY: Happy birthday to Rep. Juan Vargas, D-San Diego, who turns 53 today.

PHOTO: A student learns how to type on a laptop computer at River Oaks Elementary School on Thursday, July 25, 2013 in Galt, Calif. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

March 6, 2014
AM Alert: Senate Dems announce political ethics bills

de_Leon_Wright.JPGA trio of Democratic senators — President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, Ricardo Lara of Bell Gardens and Kevin de León of Los Angeles — are scheduled to unveil a package of bills to change ethics and campaign rules for California officials during an 11 a.m. press conference in Room 1190 at the Capitol.

Lara and de León are part of an "ethics working group," a band of Senate Democrats who have been meeting behind closed doors in recent weeks. The group formed after a spate of problems hit the Capitol: Sen. Rod Wright, D-Baldwin Hills, was found guilty of perjury; Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, was arraigned on federal corruption charges; and two of the most high-profile lobbying firms in town were slapped with fines for breaking ethics laws.

The latest proposals follow a bill package from Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima, that includes a ban on fundraising within 100 days of the end of session, and a bill package from Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, that includes a ban on fundraising at lobbyists' homes.

VIDEO: California's state workers earn about as much annually as the entire economy of Vermont, Dan Walters says.

PARTYLESS POLITICIAN: Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo, will join with former Secretary of State Bruce McPherson and former Assemblyman Fred Keeley in Room 126 of the Capitol at 10:30 a.m. to announce a constitutional amendment that would make the Secretary of State a non-partisan office. The measure, which would also move the responsibility of writing titles and summaries for statewide ballot initiatives from the Attorney General to the Secretary of State, needs a two-thirds vote from both houses of the Legislature to pass. If the governor signed it, the amendment would then go to the ballot for a public vote. Fourteen other states currently have Secretary of State offices that are non-partisan.

STUMP SPEECH: The Sacramento Press Club hosts Republican gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari to talk about his campaign to unseat Gov. Jerry Brown and his plans for California. The lunch event takes place at the Capitol Plaza Ballroom on 9th Street at noon.

BUDGET CONFERENCE: The California Budget Project, a group focused on budget policies affecting low- and middle-income Californians, holds an all-day conference about creating "shared prosperity." Among the scheduled speakers are state Sens. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, and Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, as well as local journalist and author Sasha Abramsky. The conference begins at 9 a.m. at the Sacramento Convention Center.

ENVIRONMENTAL LAW: UC Davis law school professor Richard Frank discusses the role of courts and litigation in creating California's environmental policy at noon at the UC Center Sacramento on K Street.

HAPPY HOUR: The New Leaders Council, which trains "progressive political entrepreneurs," hosts a networking happy hour with its 2014 fellows at the Fox & Goose Public House on R Street at 5:30 p.m.

PHOTO: Senators >Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, talks with Senator Rod Wright, D-Baldwin Hills, during an informational hearing on gun laws in January 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

March 4, 2014
AM Alert: Reggie Jones-Sawyer seeks audit of judiciary spending

courthouse.JPGThe Joint Legislative Audit Committee will consider whether to investigate the finances of California's judicial branch when it meets today at 1:30 p.m. in Room 126 of the Capitol. [Update: The hearing has been rescheduled for March 12.]

The request from Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, to look into spending and staffing of the courts' central administrative office would be the fourth audit of the judiciary in three years. Others have focused on a cancelled case management system, the branch's procurement practices and its information systems.

The audit has been pushed for largely by the Alliance of California Judges, a group of trial court judges that argues the budget of the Administrative Office of the Courts has swelled in recent years at the expense of courtroom operations, which experienced massive budget cuts during the recession.

"What we need to determine now is whether the priorities" of administrative projects "are higher than the priority of keeping courts open," Steve White, a Sacramento Superior Court judge and a director of the alliance, told Capitol Alert last month. "For judges to have confidence and trust in the AOC, there needs to be much more transparency."

In a statement, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said the Administrative Office of the Courts has already "provided to legislative staff eight binders totaling 4500 pages of audits and reports" over the last year, adding that the office has experienced its own cuts and the perceived budget increase comes from programs benefiting local courts that have been folded into its duties.

VIDEO: With Senate Democrats unlikely to regain their supermajority this term, plans to increase taxes or put constitutional amendments on the ballot have gone down the drain, Dan Walters says.

WATER MAP: Restore the Delta, a group that opposes Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed water conveyance tunnels, will release a new map via teleconference at 2 p.m. showing how the largest exports of water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta are used. The organization argues that Delta water exports are subsidizing unsustainable agricultural practices and could be used for the state's burgeoning fracking industry.

HEALTH HEARINGS: The Senate Select Committee on Autism and Related Disorders meets at 1:30 p.m. in Room 4203 of the Capitol to examine implementation of a 2011 law requiring private insurers to cover behavioral health treatment for individuals with autism. The Assembly Committee on Aging and Long-Term Care convenes at 2 p.m. in Room 437 for a hearing on aging as a women's issue.

ALZHEIMER'S ADVOCACY: The Alzheimer's Association is in town for its annual lobby day, urging support for bills that would require training in dementia care for employees of residential care facilities, expand access to adult day health care centers, and establish standards for appointing a conservatorship.

Editor's note: This post was updated at 1:24 p.m. to reflect that the Joint Legislative Audit Committee hearing has been rescheduled.

PHOTO: Ornate woodwork on the bar in one of the court rooms at the Yolo County Courthouse in Woodland on January 9, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

March 3, 2014
AM Alert: Ron Calderon gone; Senate Dems' advantage fades

MC_CALDERON_05.JPGWhen the state Senate convenes at 2 p.m. today, Democrats will be without Rod Wright and Ron Calderon -- and without the two-thirds majority they've held since the 2012 election.

Both Wright and Calderon are on paid leave of absence to deal with legal problems. Wright, of Baldwin Hills, faces sentencing in May after a jury convicted him of eight felonies for perjury and election fraud related to him lying about his place of residence. Calderon, of Montebello, announced Sunday night that he would go on leave to deal with a federal indictment on corruption charges. Calderon's statement said he would be gone through the end of session this year on Aug. 31, which is the end for him anyway. He's termed out after this year.

Senate leader Darrell Steinberg will have to get by with only 26 Democrats, one short of the supermajority that allows Dems to raise taxes, approve constitutional amendments and pass urgency measures, among other things, without Republican help.

Senate Republicans have proposed votes today to suspend both senators. A Republican effort last week to expel Wright was blocked by Steinberg.

CANDIDATE FORUM: The Secretary of State race is one of California's most competitive statewide elections this year, with no incumbent and several prominent names in the mix, including state Sens. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, and Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, and former Fair Political Practices Commission chairman Dan Schnur. They, along with Derek Cressman, David Curtis and Pete Peterson, gather in Los Angeles at 7 p.m. for a candidate forum to discuss issues such as California's low voter turnout and accessibility for limited English-speaking or disabled voters. The event, hosted by the California chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union and the League of Women Voters, will be streamed online.

BACK TO THE FUTURE: Capitol Alert's own Dan Walters has argued that Caltrans lost its way as the transportation picture got more complicated, and it seems the Legislature agrees. The Assembly Committee on Transportation holds a hearing at 1 p.m. in Room 4202 of the Capitol to discuss how to modernize the agency.

MARCHING BAND: In conjunction with the Faculty Association of California Community College's legislative lobby day, students and faculty will march from Raley Field to the Capitol calling for greater support for the state community college system. The march ends with a rally on the north steps at 11 a.m., where Assemblyman Paul Fong, D-Cupertino, is scheduled to speak.

ONLINE EDUCATION: Cyber school organization California Parents for Public Virtual Education is in town for its advocacy day, which includes a screening of the school choice documentary The Ticket at the California Museum on O Street at 10 a.m., along with awards honoring Assembly members Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, and Rocky Chávez, R-Oceanside.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to to Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, who turned 49 Sunday, and to Rep. Paul Cook, R-Yucca Valley, who turns 71 today.

PHOTO: Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, at right with Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg on June 10, 2013. Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo

February 28, 2014
AM Alert: Republicans head south for party volunteer convention

Tim_Donnelly.JPGRepublican legislators, candidates and state party leaders are headed to Orange County this weekend for the California Republican Assembly's 2014 convention. The conservative Republican volunteer organization will meet for three days in Buena Park to elect officers and endorse candidates in this election year.

Gubernatorial candidate Tim Donnelly, who is locked in a tight battle with Neel Kashkari to challenge Gov. Jerry Brown in November, headlines the Saturday evening banquet and post-dinner reception.

Other notable attendees include Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez of Lake Elsinore, Assemblywoman Diane Harkey of Dana Point, state Sen. Mimi Walters of Irvine, Assemblyman Mike Morrell of Rancho Cucamonga, Assemblywoman Shannon Grove of Bakersfield, Board of Equalization member Michelle Steel and California Republican Party Chair Jim Brulte.

VIDEO: His announcement got plenty of attention, but Brown's reelection bid is non-news, Dan Walters says.

AWAY WE GO: Several legislative committees are on the road today. The Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs convenes in San Diego to discuss employment assistance programs for military veterans. The Assembly Select Committee on Justice Reinvestment meets in Los Angeles to get a Southern California perspective on prison realignment. The Assembly Select Committee on Local Emergency Preparedness also gathers in Los Angeles to discuss lessons learned from the recent LAX shooting.

HIGHER ED CONFERENCE: The Faculty Association of California Community Colleges holds its annual two-day policy and advocacy conference, starting on Sunday at 10 a.m. at the downtown Holiday Inn on J Street. Local author and journalist Sasha Abramsky, who writes about American poverty, delivers the keynote address.

BASEBALL BUCKS: Legislators often hold fundraisers outside their districts, but they usually keep them within state borders. The political action committee Californians for Jobs and a Strong Economy is jumping over to Arizona this weekend for an event at the San Francisco Giants spring training in Scottsdale. Assemblyman Henry T. Perea, D-Fresno, is among those expected to appear. Tickets start at $2,000.

GOODBYES: Sabrina Lockhart, communications director for Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway, announced yesterday that she would be leaving Conway's office to pursue consulting opportunities in the private sector.

PHOTO: Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, announces he's running for California Governor, in Baldwin Park, Calif., on Nov. 5, 2013. The Associated Press/Nick Ut

February 27, 2014
AM Alert: Senate Republicans push to expel Rod Wright

wright.jpgAfter weeks of chatter over how the state Senate would handle the felony convictions of Sen. Rod Wright, D-Baldwin Hills, and whether it was responding forcefully enough, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg announced Tuesday that Wright will be taking an indefinite paid leave of absence until his legal problems are resolved.

That solution has not satisfied everyone.

Three Republican senators--Steve Knight of Palmdale, Joel Anderson of Alpine and Andy Vidak of Hanford--plan to introduce a resolution during floor session today to expel Wright, who was convicted last month of eight felonies related to living outside of his district.

The resolution would require a two-thirds vote to pass, but it's possible that Steinberg could simply table the motion. In a statement, he said that "Senate leadership has already moved swiftly and decisively to address" the matter.

VIDEO: California's high fuel taxes are out of proportion with its broken transportation system, Dan Walters says.

MILITARY MEMORIAL: A 250-foot replica of Washington, D.C.'s famous Vietnam Veterans Memorial comes to Sacramento for the weekend. It will be on display for four days on the west steps of the Capitol, along with a mobile museum displaying letters and memorabilia left at the wall in D.C. Assemblyman Jim Frazier, D-Oakley, who helped bring the display to Sacramento, will preside over an opening ceremony at 10:30 a.m. today and a closing candlelight ceremony at 5 p.m. on Sunday.

GOING GREEN: State Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, convenes a hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Energy Efficiency in Santa Clara at 2 p.m. to examine financing barriers for property owners who want to make energy-saving upgrades. De León has a bill to promote greater private investment in energy efficient retrofitting.

PRESS YOUR LUCK: State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, and Assemblyman Isadore Hall, D-Compton, are among those scheduled to speak at the iGaming Legislative Symposium on the possible legalization of online gaming in California. The event, sponsored by and Spectrum Gaming Group, takes place at 8:30 a.m. at the Sheraton Grand Hotel on J Street.

HONOR ROLL: The Academy Awards is only days away, but first Sacramento has its own star-studded ceremony to attend. The James Irvine Leadership Foundation Awards, noon at the Sheraton Grand Hotel on J Street, recognizes individuals "advancing innovative and effective solutions to significant challenges in California" with a $125,000 prize. Presenters include state Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine; Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore; Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles; Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton; State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson; and California Secretary of Health and Human Services Diana Dooley. The award recipients will also be recognized during the Senate floor session at 9 a.m.

LUNCHTIME TALK: UC Riverside political science professor Karthick Ramakrishnan speaks at the UC Center Sacramento on K Street at noon about the unmet needs of California's Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities, which now comprise more than 15 percent of the state population.

PHOTO: Sen. Rod Wright, D-Baldwin Hills, walks into the California Senate floor during the first day of session on Jan. 6, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

February 26, 2014
AM Alert: California groups push for bigger social safety net

RBCapitolBuilding2.JPGWith California experiencing its first budget surplus in years, advocacy groups from across the state are visiting Sacramento in hopes of convincing the Legislature to spend those billions instead of putting them into a rainy day fund, as Gov. Jerry Brown would like.

In town for its lobby day is the HHS Network of California, a coalition of health and human services organizations that is calling for the restoration of cuts to the state's social safety net. After a rally at noon on the north steps of the Capitol, members of the group will meet with lawmakers to push for anti-poverty legislation, including a bill from state Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, that would authorize state welfare and food stamp benefits for individuals who have been convicted on drug charges.

Slated to join the HHS Network of California at their rally is Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, chair of the Budget Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, which is scheduled to meet at 1:30 p.m. in Room 126 of the Capitol.

VIDEO: Democrats' Senate supermajority appears headed for the history books, Dan Walters says.

SEÑOR GOVERNOR: Brown may be a governor, but he'll play international diplomat today in San Francisco. He meets with the ambassador of Peru, Harold Forsyth, at 10 a.m. to sign an agreement expanding California's partnership with the country, and then at 11 a.m. with Portugal's President Aníbal Cavaco Silva.

EDUCATION LEGISLATION: State Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, announces a bill to change the process for dismissing teachers who have been accused of inappropriate conduct with students at 11 a.m. in Room 113 of the Capitol.

DEMOGRAPHIC OUTREACH: The Asian & Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus sponsors a roundtable discussion on engaging meaningfully with California's Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities at 10 a.m. in Room 317 of the Capitol. Among the guests is Karthick Ramakrishnan, a professor of political science at UC Riverside who studies the politics of the AAPI community.

HEALTH CARE TALK: Following a coffee and dessert reception, Stuart Peacock, director of Canadian Centre for Applied Research in Cancer Control, discusses the economics of health care and setting priorities for services in difficult economic times at the UC Center Sacramento on K Street at 3:30 p.m.

February 25, 2014
AM Alert: Senate wades into credit card data theft

credit_card.JPGA week after an Assembly hearing in which lawmakers pushed for better protections against the kind of massive data breaches that compromised millions of consumers' personal information over the holiday season, the state Senate takes up the issue with its own informational hearing.

Today's joint hearing of the Senate judiciary and banking and financial institutions committees will explore the technologies used by credit card companies and retailers that allowed for the security breaches, as well as ways to prevent similar mass data theft in the future. It begins at 1:30 p.m. in Room 4203 of the Capitol.

Legislators have already introduced several bills this session intended to protect personal information in online transactions. Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, who leads the Senate Judiciary Committee, has one that would prohibit the collection of personal information when purchasing downloadable content, unless it is used to combat fraud or identity theft. The bill passed out of the Senate last month.

VIDEO: The Legislature has become a soap opera, Dan Walters says, full of twisty tales of scandal and corruption.

AIDING STUDENTS: Concerned that eligible high schoolers are missing out on millions in college aid dollars, Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, and Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, will announce a new bill today aimed at helping more students complete their financial aid applications. The legislation addresses obstacles in the student aid process raised in a new report from The Education Trust-West, which will also be released during the press conference, 11 a.m. in Room 317 of the Capitol.

UP IN THE AIR: The California Department of Water Resources has partnered with NASA to develop applications of satellite imagery for drought preparedness and management. During a two-day conference, starting at 9:30 a.m. today at the Sacramento Convention Center, the agencies will discuss those potential uses, which include monitoring regional groundwater levels, assessing snowpack conditions and estimating the acreage of fallowed agricultural land.

ONE MAN ARMY: As the Legislature grapples over what to do with state Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, who was indicted on corruption charges last week, one California citizen tries to bring the focus back to another recent political scandal. Don Bird of Red Bluff will be protesting on the L Street side of the Capitol from 10 a.m.- 1:30 p.m., calling for the Senate to expel Sen. Rod Wright, D-Baldwin Hills, who was convicted earlier this month of eight felonies related to living outside his district.

PRO-LIFE DINNER: Abortion rights have strong support in California, but the California ProLife Council is pushing for legislation this year that would ban women from terminating pregnancies on the basis of gender. Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, who plans to carry the bill later this year, will speak about that and other "right to life" issues during the ProLife Legislative Dinner, 7 p.m. at The Grand on J Street.

PHOTO: Sara Dobbyn buys shoes using Visa credit card from Shoefly, a store in midtown Sacramento, on January 8, 2004. The Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.

February 21, 2014
AM Alert: Legislature hits bill introduction deadline

Assembly_chamber.JPGToday is the deadline to introduce bills, so expect a surge of new legislation on an otherwise sleepy Friday. Many of the measures will be spot bills, with the details left to be fleshed out in the coming weeks and months. Other ideas may still find their way into the mix later on through the gut-and-amend process.

So far this session more than 300 bills have been introduced in the Senate and more than 550 have been introduced in the Assembly. How high will that number climb by tonight?

VIDEO: California's cap-and-trade program is facing a legal challenge from the state Chamber of Commerce, Dan Walters says.

MED-IFICATION: Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, and Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, headline a policy forum on improving medication adherence from noon to 3 p.m. at the Sacramento City College Student Center. According to the Script Your Future campaign, which is sponsoring the event, one-third of people never fill their prescriptions and nearly three-quarters don't take them as directed, costing hundreds of billions of dollar each year.

ACADEMIC ADVOCATE: The Western Association of Educational Opportunity Personnel is in town for its advocacy day. The organization, which promotes programs that serve low-income, first-generation and disabled college students, gathers on the south steps of the Capitol at 10 a.m. for speeches and a rally before visiting lawmakers' offices.

POLITICS IS PERSONAL: One of this year's more interesting political dramas is the election in the Long Beach-centered 70th Assembly District. Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, is termed out and running for her city's mayorship. Among the candidates to succeed her is former daughter-in-law Suja Lowenthal, a Long Beach city councilwoman who abandoned her own bid for mayor last fall. Adding another wrinkle to the race, the women have endorsed each other's opponents. Suja Lowenthal has found some support in Sacramento, however, including from state Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, who joins her for a fundraiser in Long Beach tomorrow.

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

February 20, 2014
AM Alert: FPPC rules on record Kevin Sloat fine

wine_bottles.JPGWhen the Fair Political Practices Commission cracked down on lobbyist Kevin Sloat earlier this month for hosting lavish political fundraisers at his home, it sent a shockwave through the Capitol.

Long accepted by Sacramento insiders as part of doing business, the FPPC determined that the events exceeded strict limits placed on lobbyists and amounted to illegal campaign contributions. Sloat was hit with a $133,500 fine, the largest ever for a violation of state laws regulating lobbyists.

The commission will consider whether to finalize that deal during its meeting at 10 a.m. at the FPPC building on J Street. Though this is likely the culmination of the process, it is possible the commission could reject the fine and order its staff to negotiate a new agreement with Sloat.

VIDEO: Progress has been slow, but at least California is finally confronting its massive pension problem, Dan Walters says.

WATER CONFERENCE: Between the proposed Delta tunnels and the drought, water issues have been dominating the headlines in Sacramento for months. For those who need to brush up on this complex topic, Capitol Weekly and the UC Center Sacramento host an all-day conference on the future of California's water, starting at 9 a.m. at the Sacramento Masonic Temple on J Street. State and local water officials and politicians including state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, and Assemblywoman Connie Conway, R-Tulare, are slated to offer their expertise.

EARLY EDUCATION: Calling for greater access to early childhood education to close the achievement gap, Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez and advocates from Raising California Together rally on the north steps of the Capitol at 12:15 p.m. Joining them is 8-year-old "Kid Governor" Celeste Umaña, with corgi by her side. (Hmm, remind you of someone else around these parts?)

PRO TEM INSIGHTS: As he enters his final year in office, state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has made a strong push for several new policy initiatives, including universal pre-kindergarten. Addressing the Sacramento Press Club at noon at the Capitol Plaza Ballroom on 9th Street, he outlines his remaining goals and how he believes the state should spend its budget surplus.

WORKPLACE VIOLENCE: Nurses and healthcare workers will appear before the Occupational Health and Safety Standards Board today to ask for the adoption of comprehensive violence prevention standards in their workplaces. The groups say that they regularly face violent assaults on the job. The meeting takes place at 10 a.m. at the State Resources Building on 9th Street.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to Assemblyman Matt Dababneh, D-Sherman Oaks, who turns 33 today.

PHOTO: Aji Japanese Bistro in El Dorado Hills offers 17 wines and champagne by the glass on January 21, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Jose Luis Villegas

February 19, 2014
AM Alert: Noreen Evans revives push for California oil extraction tax

oil_rig.jpgThough previous efforts have proved unsuccessful, state Sen. Noreen Evans has once again introduced a bill for a tax on companies that extract oil in California. The Santa Rosa Democrat will discuss the legislation during a rally at 10 a.m. at Sacramento State's Hinde Auditorium.

Evans notes that California is the only major oil-producing state in the country without an oil severance tax, and her bill would impose a 9.5 percent levy on oil companies to fund higher education, state parks and health and human services programs. Evans' office estimates that it would generate about $2 billion in annual revenue.

While introducing an oil severance tax in California has been a major goal for many environmentalists, and Evans has made it a priority for her final year in the Senate, the legislation faces a tough road. A similar bill she authored last year was held in committee. Gov. Jerry Brown also rejected the push during the announcement of his budget proposal in January, saying, "I don't think this is the year for new taxes."

VIDEO: The Legislature is more interested in playing political games than legislating so far this session, Dan Walters says.

BUDGET BRIEFING: Still got questions about Brown's budget proposal? Bring them to the California Budget Project's annual briefing, starting at 10:30 a.m. at the CSAC Conference Center on 11th Street. The nonprofit organization plans to discuss Brown's budget priorities, their implications for low- and middle-income Californians and how that could shape the budget debate in the months ahead.

CALSTRS CRUNCH: Though Brown's budget aims to address California's so-called "Wall of Debt," the state still faces tens of billions of dollars in unfunded liabilities, including the California State Teachers' Retirement System. The Assembly Committee on Public Employees, Retirement and Social Security will discuss the pension's long-term funding needs during a hearing at 10:30 a.m. in Room 444 of the Capitol.

HITTING THE ROAD: A couple of candidates for statewide office swing through Sacramento today on their campaigns: Attorney General Kamala Harris, who announced her re-election bid last week, headlines the California Newspaper Publishers Association's Governmental Affairs Day with an interview at 1:15 p.m. at the Sacramento Convention Center. Gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari will speak with the Sacramento State College Republicans at 5 p.m. at Sac State's Sequoia Hall.

LIVING HISTORY: In honor of Black History Month, Arthur L. Burnett, Sr., the first African-American U.S. magistrate, reflects on the Civil Rights Movement and his work in the Kennedy administration in the early 1960s at the California Department of Education on N Street at 11 a.m.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, who turns 74 today.

PHOTO: Waves crash in front of an oil rig at Seal Beach, Calif., on Jan. 20, 2010. The Associated Press/Nick Ut

February 18, 2014
AM Alert: Assembly panels dig into consumer data breaches

credit_card.JPGTime to shake off that "House of Cards" binge-watch hangover.

Holiday shoppers at Target and Neiman Marcus were hit with the worst kind of news in December: Massive security breaches had compromised the credit card information of tens of millions of people.

The Assembly Judiciary and Assembly Banking and Finance committees will hold a joint informational hearing on those attacks today, exploring the safety of our personal data and what steps can be taken to enhance its security. The hearing, which begins at 1:30 p.m. in Room 4202 of the Capitol, will feature testimony from consumer organizations, law enforcement, and representatives from MasterCard and Visa.

Though they attended a similar hearing in Congress earlier this month, Target and Neiman Marcus will not appear appear before the Assembly panel, Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, who chairs the judiciary committee, told Capitol Alert last week.

"It's a little slap on the face for the people of California," he said

VIDEO: The court ruling that a recent California law violated the Second Amendment could put a stop to the state's renewed push for gun control, Dan Walters says.

NO H2O: The drought is all too real for some California communities that are dangerously low on water. State officials revealed last month that 17 rural areas could run out completely within 60 to 120 days. The Assembly committees on environmental safety and health will address that crisis in a joint hearing on access to drinking water at 1:30 p.m. in Room 437 of the Capitol.

UNCHAINED: A law prohibiting prisons from shackling pregnant inmates went into effect in California in January 2013. Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, who authored the legislation, will hold a press conference at 1:30 p.m. in Room 317 of the Capitol to review how public safety officials are complying with the change. A new report from Legal Services for Prisoners With Children says the results are mixed.

RAISE YOUR VOICE: Renters' rights organization Tenants Together is in Sacramento today for a march and rally protesting what they say is a lack of affordable housing in California caused by real estate speculators and rising rents. The march begins at 10 a.m. at 11th and L, and continues to the north steps of the Capitol for the rally at 11 a.m.

CELEBRATIONS: Lots of birthdays today! Best wishes to Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, who turns 59; Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, who turns 66; and Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, who turns 50.

PHOTO: Sara Dobbyn buys shoes using a Visa credit card from Shoefly, a store in midtown Sacramento, on January 8, 2004. The Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.

February 13, 2014
AM Alert: Jerry Brown meets with Obama administration on climate change

Brown_climate_change.jpgGov. Jerry Brown has made climate change a prominent issue in his return to the governor's office, calling it the greatest threat to young people's future and focusing on the reduction of greenhouse gases during his trip to China last year.

He will discuss the matter further today with President Barack Obama's task force on climate preparedness, which meets for the second time at 11:30 a.m. in Los Angeles City Hall. State and local leaders, including Brown, will gather with senior Obama officials to advise the administration on how the federal government can help communities dealing with the effects of climate change.

Brown is expected to meet with the President himself when Obama visits Fresno on Friday to address federal response to California's drought.

VIDEO: A big victory in the San Diego mayoral race suggests things could be turning around for California Republicans, Dan Walters says.

IN WITH THE NEW: Though the Senate and Assembly usually meet on Thursdays, there are no floor sessions today. Monday is off for President's Day, so in order to get their per diem allowances, which require legislators to gather at least every three days, they will hold floor sessions tomorrow and Tuesday instead.

Never fear, though. Civic-minded high schoolers will fill the political void when they descend upon Sacramento today for the California YMCA Youth & Government's 66th annual Model Legislature & Court Conference. The program, in which students elect a "youth governor" and pass mock legislation, continues through Monday at the Capitol.

TECH TALK: The role of laptops, tablets and other technology in K-12 education is heavily debated, even as school districts like Los Angeles Unified jump into new programs. UC Irvine education Professor Mark Warschauer will review research on the use of digital media in children's education during this presentation at noon at the UC Center Sacramento on K Street.

BEHIND THE BARS: Members of Sacramento State's debate team, university professors and policy experts from the Project for an Informed Electorate debate California prison policy, overcrowding and realignment during a public forum at Sac State's Del Norte Hall at 6 p.m.

NEW JOB: Congratulations to Erin Shaw, previously the deputy national press secretary for StudentsFirst, who has joined Stutzman Public Affairs as its new vice president.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown gives opening remarks at the Governor's Conference on Extreme Climate Risks and California's Future at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco on Dec. 15, 2011.The Associated Press/Jeff Chiu

February 12, 2014
AM Alert: Assembly committee considers Delta tunnels funding

AerialDelta.JPGWith the recent debate over the cost of the California's proposed high-speed rail and whether the money would be better spent elsewhere, that other controversial infrastructure project touted by Gov. Jerry Brown hasn't been getting much attention lately.

But the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, which would build two enormous water diversion tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, regains the spotlight today with a fiscal oversight hearing from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. in Room 437 of the Capitol.

Held by the Accountability and Administrative Review Committee, the series of three panels will examine uncertainties in the project's funding structure, which could affect water ratepayers, as well as the economic impact of tunnel construction on the Delta region and the effects of the drought on water delivery and revenues.

VIDEO: Gov. Jerry Brown got the delay he wanted on prison reductions, but with some caveats that could be politically damaging, Dan Walters says.

ELECTION EXPO-SITION: The governor's race heads to Tulare today, as both Brown and possible Republican candidate Neel Kashkari attend the 47th Annual World Ag Expo. Brown will be there in the morning, while Kashkari swings by in the afternoon.

IN THE OTHER CAPITOL: State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has been in Washington, D.C. this week meeting with members of California's congressional delegation and the Obama administration to discuss policy priorities such as mental health services, universal pre-kindergarten and the drought. He wraps up today with a keynote address at the California State Society's Golden State Roundtable, as well as meetings with Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, among others.

WORKING WOMEN: The California Applicants' Attorneys Association's Women's Caucus holds a symposium on working women's on-the-job injuries and policies to reduce them starting at 8 a.m. at the Citizen Hotel on J Street. The Legislative Women's Caucus is co-hosting the event, with members slated to speak including state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, and Assembly members Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, and Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens.

CALL TO ACTION: Government transparency watchdog California Common Cause holds a press conference on the west steps of the Capitol at 10:30 a.m. calling on legislators not to join or support model legislation crafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council. Common Cause maintains that ALEC abuses its nonprofit status to promote bills that directly benefit its corporate members.

NO BIZ LIKE SHOWBIZ: Following up on a report released last week by Otis College of Art and Design, the Joint Committee on the Arts holds a hearing examining the impact of the state's "creative economy" and opportunities for growth in sectors such as the entertainment industry. The hearing takes place at 10 a.m. in Room 112 of the Capitol.

IMMIGRANT HEALTH CARE: Last month, state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, announced plans to introduce legislation that would extend health insurance to immigrants who are in California illegally. The California Immigrant Policy Center and the California Latino Legislative Caucus hold a legislative briefing on the proposals at 10:30 a.m. in Room 127 of the Capitol.

THE RE-UP: Attorney General Kamala Harris begins her campaign for re-election at San Francisco City Hall at 11 a.m., where she plans to take out papers with the San Francisco Department of Elections. In one of the most high-profile statewide races, a challenger to Harris has yet to emerge.

A NIGHT AT THE LIBRARY: Celebrating the recently-completed renovations of the Stanley Mosk Library and Courts Building, the California State Library hosts an evening "show-and-tell" with some of its rare and priceless pieces. The program begins at 6 p.m. at the Mosk Building on Capitol Mall.

PHOTO: Aerial photo of the region to be affected by the Delta water tunnels and intakes near Walnut Grove on April 10, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

February 11, 2014
AM Alert: Prison officials, activists gather at Capitol over solitary confinement

CALIFORNIAPRISONSOLITARY3.JPGPrisoners across California drew widespread attention last summer when they embarked upon a two-month long hunger strike to protest what they considered excessively cruel use of solitary cells. During a legislative hearing in October, prison officials defended the tactic as a crucial strategy for controlling gang activity.

However, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has also been working on a "step-down" program that would allow inmates to be released from their solitary placement. A follow-up hearing on that proposed reform, jointly hosted by the Legislature's public safety committees, is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. in Room 4202 of the Capitol. Among those slated to testify are George Giurbino and Suzan Hubbard, the former and current directors of the CDCR's division of adult institutions.

The hearing has also attracted the attention of Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity, a community organization from the Bay Area that considers solitary confinement to be "cruel, inhumane and tortuous." The group will hold a rally at noon on the west steps of the Capitol before heading to meetings with legislators.

VIDEO: The San Diego mayor's race is the first big election of 2014, Dan Walters says.

ELDERLY ABUSE: Following media investigations last year that revealed inadequate oversight of workers at many assisted-living facilities, the state Senate and Assembly will hold two joint hearings today to review safety regulations. The first, from 9 a.m. to noon in Room 4203 of the Capitol, examines the role of the state Department of Social Services in licensing and inspecting assisted-living homes for seniors. A second hearing, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. in Room 4203, focuses on employees who work in the homes.

BRIDGE BLUNDERS: After last month's revelations about a possible cover-up of construction problems on the new stretch of the Bay Bridge, the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee will hold another hearing on reforming Caltrans at 1:30 p.m. in Room 112 of the Capitol. State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, who chairs the committee, has previously blamed Caltrans' "insular culture" for the construction issues.

DROUGHT DILEMMA: As legislators seek solutions for dealing with California's drought, a host of water bond bills are making their way through the Capitol. One from state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, is scheduled to be heard before the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee at 9:30 a.m. in Room 112. The committee will also discuss broader priorities for water policy and using existing resources more efficiently.

PUBLIC PAY: The Sacramento Bee's state worker salary database has been updated with 2013 pay, and has been upgraded to give faster results. Check it out here.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to state Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, who turns 54 today.

CORRECTION: Yesterday's AM Alert incorrectly identified Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, as part of the Legislative Women's Caucus leadership. Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, is chair of the group. We apologize for the error.

PHOTO: Lt. Rick Graves stands in the exercise yard at Pelican Bay State Prison near Crescent City on Feb. 9, 2012. The New York Times/Jim Wilson.

February 10, 2014
AM Alert: Candidate filing period opens for June 3 primary

absentee_ballots.JPGAre you sick of the 2014 election yet? Too bad, because we're just getting started.

Though some campaigns have been ongoing for months, today marks the beginning of the candidate filing period for the June 3 primary. By March 7, we'll have a clearer picture of the candidate fields for California's 80 Assembly seats, 20 Senate races, eight statewide offices and four Board of Equalization jobs..

If you can't wait that long, then check out our Capitol Alert Insider Edition app. Last week, veteran political analyst Tony Quinn offered his take on the year's key legislative races, as Republicans seek to cut into Democrats' supermajority status this fall. All five parts are available as an Insider Edition exclusive. You can subscribe to the app for iPad and iPhone.

VIDEO: California is experiencing an eruption of corruption, Dan Walters says.

REMEMBERING THE PAST: As part of Black History Month, the Assembly's Black Caucus hosts a ceremony on the chamber floor at 9 a.m. recognizing "unsung heroes" of the Civil Rights Movement. Among those to be honored is Harold K. Brown, a former San Diego State University professor who fought housing discrimination and chaired the Congress on Racial Equality in San Diego. An exhibit is on display in the Capitol throughout the month of February.

CAMPUS CRIMES: State Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, is joining with the leadership of the Legislative Women's Caucus -- Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, and state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara -- to introduce legislation addressing sexual assault on college campuses. The bill calls for California schools to adopt victim-centered sexual assault response policies, strengthen the adjudication process and ensure confidentiality protections for victims, among other requirements. It will be announced during a press conference at 11:30 a.m. in Room 1190 of the Capitol.

YOUTH ADVOCACY: Current and former foster youth will be at the Capitol today to advocate for legislation that improves sibling visitation rights for children in California's foster care system. The California Youth Connection will be joined by state Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, for a rally on the west steps at noon before members head to meetings with their representatives.

CAPITOL STARS: A new awards ceremony debuts tonight at 6:30 p.m. at Sacramento State's Union Ballroom, as the California College Democrats hand out their inaugural Hall of Fame Awards. Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, Assemblyman Henry T. Perea, D-Fresno, and Sen. Mitchell are among the honorees.

CELEBRATIONS: A belated happy birthday to Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, who turned 45 yesterday.

Editor's Note: This post was updated at 9:30 a.m. on Feb. 10, 2014 to remove a reference to Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner as part of the leadership group of the women's caucus. Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, is the chair of the group and is attending the press conference.

PHOTO: Yolo County registrar seasonal workers get buried in some of the 30,000 plus absentee ballots prepared for the Feb. 5, 2008 presidential primary election. The Sacramento Bee/Anne Chadwick Williams

February 7, 2014
AM Alert: Mark Leno announces cell phone theft prevention bill

IPhone.jpgAs smartphones have become increasingly essential items for many Californians, they have also become a favorite target for thieves: The Federal Communications Commission estimates that 30-to-40 percent of all robberies nationwide now involve cell phone theft, and that figure is more than 50 percent in high-tech San Francisco.

The growing problem has prompted state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, to announce new legislation that would require a so-called "kill switch" to render phones inoperable if they are stolen, discouraging theft. A wireless trade group opposed a similar proposal when carrier Samsung floated the idea last summer.

Leno will hold a press conference at 9 a.m. at the State Building in San Francisco to discuss the details of the bill. He will be joined by Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, as well as Bay Area law enforcement officials and Oakland Mayor Jean Quan.

VIDEO: By demanding action on some pension debts while ignoring others, Gov. Jerry Brown has undermined his credibility on the issue, Dan Walters says.

ELECTION LUNCH: It's not often you get the executive directors of California's Democratic and Republican parties in the same room, but Shawnda Westly and Cynthia Bryant come together to discuss the 2014 election at a luncheon hosted by professional women's organization Capitol Network. Also participating in the conversation are Democratic strategist Robin Swanson and Sabrina Lockhart, communications director for Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway. The event takes place at the California Chamber of Commerce at 11:30 a.m. and is moderated by Marcey Brightwell of Grayling Communications.

NOT SO FAST: Is increased political participation always a good thing? It might not be when it comes to municipal budgeting. The American Society of Public Administration's Sacramento chapter hosts a discussion of a new report from Cal State Sacramento's Center for California Studies examining civic engagement and its impact on attitudes towards taxes and government spending. The event begins at noon in Room 3191 of the Capitol.

LOCAL HISTORY: The State Historical Resources Commission meets at Sacramento City Hall at 9 a.m. to discuss new nominations for the National Register of Historic Places. Of local significance on the agenda is New Helvetia Historic District, a public housing project constructed to improve the housing conditions of Sacramento's African-American community that was used as defense housing during World War II.

INSIDER EXCLUSIVE: Subscribers to the Capitol Alert Insider Edition can get veteran political analyst Tony Quinn's take on key legislative races, as Republicans seek to cut into Democrats' supermajority status this year. In the fourth of five parts released this week, Quinn and reporter Christopher Cadelago look at key state Senate races in Northern California. You can subscribe to the Insider Edition app for iPad and iPhone.

PHOTO: Instagram is demonstrated on an iPhone. The Associated Press/Karly Domb Sadof

February 6, 2014
AM Alert: Assembly committee heads to SF for hearing on banking program

Bank_of_Rio_Vista.JPGThe Assembly Committee on Banking and Finance takes a field trip to San Francisco today for an informational hearing on the Bank on California program, an initiative encouraging poor and immigrant Californians to use mainstream financial services that got its start in the City by the Bay.

Launched statewide in 2008 by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the program is a collaboration between local governments, financial institution and community organizations that eases some requirements and lowers fees for opening a starter bank account. More than 214,000 accounts have been opened through the program, according to the office of Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, but about 7.8 percent of Californians remain "unbanked."

Dickinson, the Sacramento Democrat who chairs the banking and finance committee, introduced a bill last year that would give Bank on California a permanent home in the Department of Business Oversight. It passed through the Assembly but was held in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

VIDEO: As the transportation picture has gotten more complex, Caltrans has lost its way, Dan Walters says.

PEANUTS POWER: The California Association of Museums and the DMV are debuting new specialty license plates featuring beloved beagle Snoopy that will benefit California museums. Among those scheduled to attend the launch event, 10 a.m. at the California Museum on O Street, is Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, D-San Diego.

INTERNATIONAL EXPANSION: Hong Kong's economic and trade commissioner to the United States is in Sacramento to promote investment in China and Asia. Clement Leung will speak at the California Chamber of Commerce on K Street at noon about business opportunities in the Asian market and how California companies can gain a foothold.

THE BUSINESS OF ART: With support from the California Arts Council, Otis College of Art and Design has completed an analysis of the state's "creative economy," examining the impact of sectors such as the entertainment industry and nonprofit organizations. The report, an expansion of the school's annual assessment of the Los Angeles region, will be released today at 3:30 p.m. at a reception in Santa Monica. State Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, plans to hold a hearing on the report next Wednesday.

MAKING THE JUMP: Are California's high school students ready for the transition to college? UC Davis researcher Michal Kurlaender discusses an evaluation of the state's Early Assessment Program, an academic preparation program for high school juniors developed by state education officials and the California State University system. The talks takes place at noon at the UC Center Sacramento on K Street.

INSIDER EXCLUSIVE: Subscribers to the Capitol Alert Insider Edition can get veteran political analyst Tony Quinn's take on key legislative races, as Republicans seek to cut into Democrats' supermajority status this year. In the third of five parts released this week, Quinn and reporter Christopher Cadelago look at key Assembly races in Southern California. You can subscribe to the Insider Edition app for iPad and iPhone.

PHOTO: A customer leaves after using the ATM machine at the Bank of Rio Vista. The Sacramento Bee/Renee C. Byer

February 5, 2014
AM Alert: State considers expanding historic fishing ban

fishing.JPGInterest in the drought around the Capitol has focused on the implications for farmers, but they're not the only ones squeezed out by the lack of water: Last week, state officials prohibited recreational fishing in dozens of streams across California because of concern over the impact of low flows on the spawning season of threatened salmon and steelhead trout.

Today the California Fish and Game Commission considers whether to extend that ban, already the broadest in state history. At the urging of the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the agency may vote to close several more bodies of water to fishing through April 30, including a section of the American River near Folsom and Rancho Cordova.

Fishing groups have largely supported the bans in order to preserve vulnerable species for future fishing. The meeting takes place at 8:30 a.m. at the Resources Building on 9th Street.

VIDEO: California lobbyists are making more than ever, but it's just a drop in the bucket compared to the public funds at stake, Dan Walters says.

HANGING OUT: All is quiet on the legislative front as the Democratic and Republican caucuses hold off-campus retreats this week to discuss policy priorities and political strategies. Yesterday, Assembly Democrats got a visit from Robert Reich, former labor secretary under Bill Clinton, while Gov. Jerry Brown dropped in on Senate Dems.

THERE AND BACK AGAIN: Former congressman Doug Ose is seeking a return to the House this November in the 7th District. One of three Republican challengers to freshman Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, who narrowly won in 2012, Ose opens his campaign headquarters in Fair Oaks with a celebration tonight at 6 p.m. The party simultaneously commemorates late President Ronald Reagan's birthday, which is Thursday; former Reagan spokesman Doug Elmets will welcome guests. Jelly beans will be served.

INSIDER EXCLUSIVE: Subscribers to the Capitol Alert Insider Edition can get veteran political analyst Tony Quinn's take on key legislative races, as Republicans seek to cut into Democrats' supermajority status this year. In the second of five parts released this week, Quinn and reporter Christopher Cadelago looks at key Assembly races in Central California. You can subscribe to the Insider Edition app for iPad and iPhone.

PHOTO: Tom Fox of south Natomas prepares to cast his line while fishing for salmon at the confluence of the Sacramento and American rivers on October 7, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

February 4, 2014
AM Alert: Tim Donnelly launches statewide bus tour

Tim_Donnelly.JPGWith about $54,000 in hand to take on Gov. Jerry Brown, the $17 Million Man, in November's election, Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Donnelly launches a "Save California" bus tour today that will hit more than 40 cities over the next ten days.

His ride on the Liberty Express kicks off in Roseville with a rally and fundraiser at the Glass Guru window repair store at 4:30 p.m. Tickets are a relatively modest $99, or $150 for a couple — only a fraction of the thousands that Sacramento politicians typically charge for events.

Donnelly continues with a speaking engagement at the Placer County Republican Assembly's annual Lincoln-Reagan dinner, 7 p.m. at the Old Spaghetti Factory. He will also hit Monterey County, the Bay Area and the Central Valley, as well as more locations in the Sacramento area, over the course of the trip.

VIDEO: Tackling the gap in Internet use among California's black and Latino population could also help with the achievement gap in test scores, Dan Walters says.

BACK IN ACTION: After cancelling last Tuesday, state Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, has rescheduled a press conference to discuss his resolution calling upon President Barack Obama to stop the deportation of undocumented immigrants who are eligible to become legal citizens. This is the first piece of legislation Calderon has promoted since becoming embroiled in a corruption scandal last fall. The resolution now has seven co-authors, including Sens. Leland Yee of San Francisco and Lou Correa of Santa Ana. The press conference takes place at 8:30 a.m. in Room 3191 of the Capitol.

FARM BILL FOLLIES: Following months of debate over cuts to food stamps, Congress is poised to pass a long-delayed Farm Bill. At 10:45 a.m., California State Board of Food and Agriculture holds a panel discussion on the legislation, which would revamp agricultural subsidies and cut about $800 million from the food stamp program. The board's agenda also includes items on immigration and the drought. Today's meeting starts at 10 a.m. at the Department of Food and Agriculture's N Street headquarters.

INSIDER EXCLUSIVE: Subscribers to the Capitol Alert Insider Edition can get veteran political analyst Tony Quinn's take on key legislative races, as Republicans seek to cut into Democrats' supermajority status this year. In the first of five parts released this week, Quinn and reporter Christopher Cadelago looks at some of the most interesting Assembly races happening in Northern California. You can subscribe to the Insider Edition app for iPad and iPhone.

PHOTO: Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, announces he's running for California Governor in Baldwin Park, Calif., on Nov. 5, 2013. The Associated Press/Nick Ut

February 3, 2014
AM Alert: Water affordability flows onto legislative agenda


Good morning from drought-stricken California, where the lack of precipitation has become dire enough that officials on Friday nixed further water deliveries to southern users for the first time in the state's history.

That came the day after a pair of Central Valley Republicans introduced yet another water bond measure, the fourth circulating this session. As a lack of rain continues to parch the state — shriveling the livelihoods of cattle ranchers, displacing birds and disrupting fishing — lawmakers have amplified their call for a water bond measure on the 2014 ballot.

This morning, water affordability - specifically, the rates various users pay - will be in the spotlight during a joint hearing of the Assembly committees on Utilities And Commerce and Aging And Long-term Care from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m in room 437.

It's a relevant topic considering concerns that the burden of paying for the other big-ticket water item on the agenda - Gov. Jerry Brown's Delta tunnels project - could fall heavily on ratepayers.

VIDEO: A worsening drought means intensifying water politics, Dan Walters says.

RAIL REACTION: The legal fight over high-speed rail keeps chugging along. The California Supreme Court sent a challenge over the project's financing back to an appeals court last week, and today is the deadline for the Central Valley landowners suing the state to file briefs. The state's deadline comes next Monday.

GUNG HAY FAT CHOY: In honor of the Lunar New Year, the Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus Foundation and the Asian Pacific Islander Capitol Association are co-hosting a celebration at Frank Fat's this afternoon. Potential attendees include both Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles.

PHOTO: Fields planted with forage seeds wait for rain at the Van Vleck Ranch Thursday January 23, 2014 in Sacramento County, Calif. The Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.

January 31, 2014
AM Alert: California campaign money count coming


As evidenced by our recent report on Republicans fretting over their grim prospects in statewide races, the 2014 election is closer than you think. Soon, we'll see where the donation dollars fell in the latter half of 2013.

Today marks the campaign finance filing deadline for the second section of 2013, which means we'll see who gave what to whom between July and December. Contributions over $5,000 have to be reported more frequently, which allows us to feed you a steady diet of posts on contributions to the technically nonexistent re-election campaign of Gov. Jerry Brown, but the more comprehensive information that has to be in today will include smaller donations and help illustrate the state of Assembly and Senate races.

VIDEO: Car taxes again entered the political arena, a move Dan Walters says points to California's dire need for infrastructure dollars.

LEGALLY A LAWYER: The long odyssey of Sergio Garcia ends tomorrow. Despite passing California's bar exam, Garcia was prohibited from practicing law because he was brought to the country illegally as a child. A bill passed last year led the California Supreme Court to reverse its opposition, and Garcia will be formally sworn in on Saturday during a ceremony on the West steps.

POWER LUNCH: A pair of formidable Democratic women will be drumming up money in San Francisco today. First lady Michelle Obama and U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, will be hosting a "women's lunch" for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, with the price of admission running from $500 for an individual to $32,500 for couples seeking deluxe VIP access.

FILM CREDITS: The push to sustain tax credits for movie production is rolling. The topic will be on the agenda at a California Film Commission board meeting in Los Angeles this afternoon, with Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra, D-Los Angeles, expected to give an update on the legislative prospects.

PARENT TRIGGER: Speaking of the movies, those of you interested in education reform can check out a film screening today of "We the Parents," a documentary examining how parents in Compton invoked California's "parent trigger" law to take over a struggling school. The screening follows the Senate passing a resolution by Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, recognizing National School Choice Week in California. In room 3191 of the State Capitol at 11 a.m.

PHOTO: In this photo taken Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014, a woman counts U.S. dollar banknotes at a currency exchange office in Istanbul, Turkey. The Associated Press/Emrah Gurel.

January 30, 2014
AM Alert: Jerry Brown, Senate GOP offer plans for dealing with drought

dry_field.JPGSacramento's record winter stretch without rain has finally come to an end, but the California drought marches on -- and with it, California politicians' efforts to find a solution.

Gov. Jerry Brown, who yesterday spoke with President Barack Obama about the drought, continues his trip south with a visit to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California in Los Angeles. Meeting with more than a dozen water leaders from across the region, he will discuss water management actions and the need for all Californians to conserve water.

Back in Sacramento, state Senators Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, and Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, are planning to announce new legislation to address the water crisis during a press conference in Room 3191 of the State Capitol at 8:45 a.m.

VIDEO: Until the state deals with its massive unfunded liabilities, calling the budget balanced is wishful thinking, Dan Walters says.

SHRIVER STRIKES BACK: Former First Lady of California Maria Shriver returns to Sacramento today to discuss recent findings from The Shriver Report on the financial security of women in America. The conversation, part of Dewey Square Group's "She Shares" series, takes place at the California Museum on O Street at 12:30 p.m. and will be streamed live. In her first visit back to the capital since estranged husband Arnold Schwarzenegger left office in 2011, Shriver is also expected to deliver her report to the governor's office and meet with members of the Legislature.

TUNNELS TIME: Those interested in learning more about the controversial Bay Delta Conservation Plan can attend an informational open house from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Sheraton Grand on J Street. The events includes exhibits and will have project team members on hand for one-on-one discussions about the draft proposal and the draft environmental impact report, which were released last month.

PRISON POLICY: The Senate Committee on Budget and Fiscal Review holds a hearing on the cost of incarceration and prisoner rehabilitation at 10:30 a.m. in Room 4203 of the State Capitol. Among those slated to testify is former Orange County Assemblyman Chuck Devore, now the vice president of policy at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank.

LUNCHTIME TALKS: A new survey from the Public Policy Institute of California examines public opinion of Brown's 2014-15 budget proposal and a wide range of other fiscal issues, immigration and health care policy. PPIC research associate Sonja Petek will discuss the results at noon at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament on 11th Street.

How is California doing compared to other states and countries in providing accessible, high-quality and affordable health care? Dr. Patrick Romano, a professor at the UC Davis School of Medicine, will address that question at noon at the UC Center Sacramento on K Street.

PHOTO: Fields planted with forage seeds wait for rain at the Van Vleck Ranch in Sacramento County on January 23, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.

January 29, 2014
AM Alert: Assembly Dems talk about unfunded teacher pensions

CalSTRS_building.JPGGov. Jerry Brown's "Wall of Debt" doesn't include a big brick known as unfunded teacher pensions. Obligations to current and future retirees total $80.4 billion more than the California State Teachers' Retirement System has assets to cover.

Brown's budget summary earlier this month promised that his administration would begin working with the Legislature, teachers and CalSTRS to create a plan that would fully fund the pension system within 30 years. That will require at least $4.5 billion per year--and much more as the obligations continue to grow.

Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez and Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, take a first stab today during a news conference at 10 a.m. in Room 317 of the State Capitol. Pérez and Bonta, chair of the public employees, retirement and social security committee, will discuss ideas on how to address CalSTRS' unfunded liability.

VIDEO: If state Sen. Rod Wright loses his seat after being convicted of voter fraud, it will be a huge loss to the Legislature, Dan Walters says.

SOCAL CHRONICLES: Gov. Brown swings south today, attending the California State University Board of Trustees meeting in Long Beach before heading over to Beverly Hills to deliver remarks at a dinner hosted by the American Jewish Committee.

Speaking of the CSU, Chancellor Timothy P. White will deliver his first "State of the CSU" address at 11 a.m., sharing system-wide policy priorities and his vision for the next school year. The speech will be webcast.

ADULT ED HEARING: The Senate Education and Assembly Higher Education committees will hold a joint informational hearing on adult education, covering its recently history, current landscape and unmet needs in both community college and K-12 districts. Representatives from the California Department of Education, the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office and the Legislative Analyst's Office, among others, are scheduled to testify at the 9 a.m. hearing in Room 4203 at the Capitol.

FREE CLINIC: As the flu season kicks into high gear, Anthem Blue Cross is sponsoring a free flu vaccine clinic in Room 127 of the State Capitol from noon to 4 p.m. The shots are available to the general public.

PHOTO: A bicyclist keeps her sweater handy with dark clouds looming as she rides in the shadow of the CalSTRS headquarters building on Riverwalk Park in West Sacramento on September 30, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo

January 28, 2014
AM Alert: DMV considers regulations for undocumented immigrant driver's licenses

RB_DMV_Line.JPGFor more than a decade, California lawmakers worked to pass legislation allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver's licenses in the state.

After numerous failed efforts and one close call -- in 2003, then-Gov. Gray Davis signed a bill that was repealed by Arnold Schwarzenegger before it became law -- Gov. Jerry Brown finally signed AB 60 last October. The Department of Motor Vehicles is expected to begin issuing special licenses by 2015.

Now comes the hard part.

One of the biggest battles over granting driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants was whether those identification cards would be somehow visually distinct from licenses for legal residents. When AB 60 finally passed, it was with an amendment requiring a distinguishing mark on the front and back of the immigrant license. Those details, however, still must be worked out.

At 10 a.m., the California DMV conducts it first public hearing to assist in the development of regulations for the implementation of AB 60, including what documents will provide sufficient proof of identity and state residency to apply for a license. The meeting takes place in the auditorium of the Secretary of State building at 11th and O streets. A live webcast will also be available.

VIDEO: The bond fund that finances school construction and repairs has run out, but Gov. Jerry Brown is unlikely to support placing a new one on the November ballot, Dan Walters says.

DON'T DEPORT: In more immigration news, state Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, hosts a press conference at 9 a.m. in Room 3191 of the Capitol calling upon President Barack Obama to stop the deportation of undocumented immigrants who are eligible to become legal citizens. Calderon introduced a similar resolution to the Senate last week, the first bill his office has promoted since he made headlines last fall in an FBI corruption investigation. The event is part of part of a national day of action organized by the Protect Our Families Campaign.

METHODS REVIEW: The recently declared drought has only fanned the flames of controversy surrounding the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, which proposes constructing two enormous tunnels to bring water under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to southern California. Over the next two days, an independent science panel meets to discuss the scientific soundness of the plan's "effects analysis" section, which assesses the likely impact of the tunnels on species of concern and the ecological process of the Bay-Delta system. The meeting begins today at 8:30 a.m. at the Red Lion Hotel Woodlake Conference Center.

INSURANCE EVALUATION: The California Office of the Patient Advocate releases its annual California Health Care Report Cards at 9:30 a.m., rating the commercial insurance offered by the state's ten largest health maintenance organizations, six largest preferred provider organizations and over 200 medical groups.

LEGISLATIVE DIRECTORY: Every lawmaker, with their staff and their committees, is available at your fingertips on the Capitol Alert Insider Edition app. Subscribe here for iPad and iPhone.

PHOTO: A customer waits in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles office in south Sacramento on Aug. 17, 2006. The Sacramento Bee/ Randall Benton

January 27, 2014
AM Alert: With deadline looming, a busy week of floor sessions

Assembly_chamber.JPGIt's do-or-die time for legislation introduced in 2013.

Many of last year's holdover bills met their demise last week when they failed to advance from committee, and this Friday, they face another major deadline to get out of their house of origin.

As a result, the Legislature will be in overdrive this week. Though they typically only meet on Mondays and Thursdays, both the Senate and the Assembly have scheduled up to four floor sessions to get through everything. About 30 2013 bills are pending in the Senate, while the Assembly has more than 50.

The Senate plans to meet Monday at 2 p.m., Tuesday at 10 a.m., Wednesday at 10 a.m. and Thursday at 9 a.m. The Assembly has scheduled floor sessions for Monday at noon, Wednesday at 11 a.m. and Thursday at 9 a.m., with a Friday session on call if necessary.

VIDEO: New term limits and a majority freshman Assembly are leading to big changes in the Legislature, Dan Walters says.

GRAND OLD PARTY: The California Republican Party hosts its annual back-to-session bash tonight at 5:30 p.m. at Ella on K Street. Tickets start at $2,500. Here's hoping Coolio makes an appearance!

CUT THE RIBBON: And the soirees continue. Elizabeth Emken -- who ran against U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein in 2012 and is one of three Republican challengers to Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove -- hosts the grand opening of her campaign headquarters in Rancho Cordova at 5:30 p.m. Assembly members Kristin Olsen, R-Riverbank, and Don Wagner, R-Irvine, are scheduled to make an appearance at the event. Bera's 7th Congressional District is expected to be among the state's most competitive House races this year; Bera won with 51 percent of the vote in 2012.

NEW JOB: Congratulations to Elizabeth Stitt, former senior press aide to Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, who starts work as a consultant with public affairs firm Swanson Communications today.

SNEAK PEEK: Why wait for the morning paper? We give you an early look at Sacramento Bee editorials and cartoons with Capitol Alert Insider Edition. You can download the app for iPad or iPhone here.

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

January 24, 2014
AM Alert: Caltrans responds to allegations of Bay Bridge cover-up

Bay_Bridge.JPGA state Senate report released Wednesday revealed what was apparently a deliberate cover-up of construction lapses on the eastern span of the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge. The project was plagued by structural problems, including snapped steel rods, before it opened last September, years behind schedule and billions over budget. Tests and repairs continue.

Among the report's key revelations is the allegation that quality control managers found thousands of cracks in welds produced by a Chinese contractor. Rather than ordering the needed fixes, top managers from the California Department of Transportation replaced those who discovered the problems.

The report sets the stage for an informational hearing of the Senate Committee on Transportation and Housing at 10 a.m. in Room 4203 of the Capitol building. Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, who chairs the committee, told The Bee that he was "shocked" by the claims of a cover-up and blamed Caltrans' "insular culture."

Among those scheduled to testify at the hearing are Caltrans director Malcolm Dougherty and several other engineers and officials from the agency. It will be Caltrans' first public response to the accusations in the report.

VIDEO: More people are leaving California for other states these days than moving here, Dan Walters says.

FUNDING FLAP: In a campaign finance case watched around the country, California's Fair Political Practices Commission demanded last October that two political action committees repay the state $15 million in contributions they had improperly reported. FPPC Enforcement Chief Gary Winuk will announce new action on the case at 10 a.m. at the FPPC building on J Street.

DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, will be in Millbrae at 10 a.m. to announce the winner of his "Oughta Be A Law...Or Not" contest. The bill provides recourse for students whose scores for Advanced Placement exams or other standardized tests are cancelled because of "testing irregularities." Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, will also be on hand to introduce companion legislation requiring test providers to release invalidated scores if there is no evidence of student misconduct.

SWEARING IN STYLE: This is a grand welcome to the state Legislature: Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, a freshman assemblyman from Los Angeles who won a special election in December, will be sworn in by California Attorney General Kamala Harris at a special community ceremony. Harris did the same earlier this month for state Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, who previously held Ridley-Thomas' seat. The ceremony takes place Sunday at 2 p.m. at West LA College in Culver City.

TRACK BILLS ON MOBILE: What bills bear watching? Get automatic updates with the new Capitol Alert Insider Edition bill-tracking feature. You can download the app for iPad or iPhone here.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to state Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, who turns 56 today.

PHOTO: The new eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge on December 4, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo

January 23, 2014
AM Alert: Jerry Brown pushes UC to find 'outer limits' of online education

sproul.jpgA busy Wednesday morning delivering his State of the State address and handing out Sutter Brown playing cards didn't keep Gov. Jerry Brown from heading to San Francisco to talk online education at the bimonthly meeting of the University of California Board of Regents. The regents' meeting concludes today with a session starting at 8:30 a.m.

Sitting in on part of Wednesday's meeting, Brown challenged regents to develop classes that require no "human intervention" and might expand the system's reach beyond its student body.

"If this university can probe into" black holes, he said, "can't somebody create a course — Spanish, calculus, whatever — totally online? That seems to me less complicated than that telescope you were talking about," referring to an earlier agenda item.

After receiving pushback from UC provost Aimée Dorr, who delivered the presentation, that students are "less happy and less engaged" without human interaction, Brown said those measurements were too soft and he wanted empirical results.

"Let's think of this as our little solar system," he said. "Can we somehow get beyond it and we're out there into the total human system of all 7 billion?"

VIDEO: Gov. Jerry Brown used to be an exciting speaker, but his addresses have gotten staid and cautious with age, Dan Walters says.

MAKING THE CUT: Friday is the last day for bills introduced in 2013 to get out of committee for a floor vote in their house of origin, so both the Senate and the Assembly appropriations committees have full dockets today. The Senate panel is scheduled to hear 42 bills, most of them items on its suspense file. The Assembly committee, meanwhile, has 59 pieces of legislation on the agenda.

EBBING ELECTORATE: Voter turnout in California is on the decline and the state has been pushing hard to increase the electorate. How have those efforts fared? The Public Policy Institute of California hosts a panel discussion on how to motivate more Californians to exercise their right to vote, featuring Secretary of State Debra Bowen and others. The event takes place at noon at the CSAC Conference Center on 11th Street.

DEGREE DEFICIENCY: A new report from California Competes, a council of civic and business leaders, says the state's higher education system is unprepared to address the demands of the economy and will produce 2.3 million fewer degrees than California needs over the next decade to remain competitive. During a webinar at 10:30 a.m., the group will outline its proposals for a long-term strategy to better guide higher education in California.

IN THE KNOW: Sick of sorting through a cluttered Twitter feed? Browse a curated list of Capitol tweets you need to read, brought to you by the Capitol Alert Insider Edition app. You can subscribe here.

PHOTO: This Wednesday, June 1, 2011 photo shows people as they walk through Sproul Plaza near the Sather Gate on the University of California, Berkeley campus in Berkeley, Calif.. The Associated Press/Eric Risberg

January 22, 2014
AM Alert: Jerry Brown lays out 2014 priorities in State of the State address

State_of_the_State_2013.JPGAnother week, another big speech from Gov. Jerry Brown: With the announcement of his budget proposal and the declaration of a drought emergency out of the way, Brown now turns his attention to the annual State of the State address, in which the governor has an opportunity to make the case for his 2014 policy agenda.

The speech, which takes place in the Assembly Chambers of the Capitol at 9 a.m., could end up touching upon many of the same topics as last year. The controversial high-speed rail and Delta water tunnel projects, both of which Brown voiced support for in his 2013 address and repeatedly since, remain in development limbo. The "philosophy of loyalty" developed by Josiah Royce, a Grass Valley-born thinker in the 1800s, may also make an appearance.

At 8:30 a.m., Capitol Alert will launch its live blog, including Twitter feeds, reaction and streaming video of the speech. Columnist Dan Walters will host a live chat starting at 11:45 a.m. Come to for all the coverage.

VIDEO: With little chance to win the California governorship, Republican candidates are battling for the future of the state party, Dan Walters says.

REGENTS ROUNDUP: As part of the bimonthly University of California Board of Regents meeting, which kicks off today in San Francisco, the leaders of the state's three higher education branches will gather to discuss the future of California's Master Plan for Higher Education. The document, adopted in 1960, lays out the role of each system in serving the state's students. UC President Janet Napolitano, California State University Chancellor Timothy P. White and California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice W. Harris plan to share with the UC Regents how they are collaborating to strengthen the Master Plan. The discussion is the fourth and final item on the agenda for the meeting's 1 p.m. session, which will be webcast live.

MAYOR MAYHEM: Sacramento will be filled with more politicians than usual this week as local representatives from across the state descend upon the Sheraton Grand on J Street for the League of California Cities' New Mayors and Council Members Academy. The three-day conference, beginning today at 8 a.m. and continuing through Friday, trains newly-elected and veteran officials on the legal and practical framework in which a city operates.

INSIDER OF THE WEEK: Who will be the latest politician skewered on the pen of cartoonist Jack Ohman? Find a new portrait every Sunday on the Capitol Alert Insider Edition app. You can sign up here.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown, center, delivers his State of the State speech to California legislators in the Assembly chambers at the Capitol on Jan. 24, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

January 21, 2014
AM Alert: Neel Kashkari prepares for "major speech"

Neel_Kashkari.JPGIs Neel Kashkari finally ready to declare his candidacy for governor of California?

The former U.S. Treasury Department official under President George W. Bush has been circling a campaign for months, and recently he's been making the rounds in Sacramento. Last Tuesday, he met with the Legislature's Republican caucuses.

He'll be at Sacramento State's Union Ballroom at 12:10 p.m. today to deliver the keynote address during the release of the 2014 Sacramento Business Review. Last week, he told The Bee that it would be a "major speech," adding, "You should come for that."

Sounds like something is brewing.

VIDEO: How Gov. Jerry Brown handles this drought could define his governship, Dan Walters says.

BILLS, BILLS, BILLS: Friday is the deadline for bills introduced in 2013 to make it through committee in their house of origin. With that cutoff looming, the Senate Appropriations Committee, the final stop before the floor, has a packed agenda for its meeting today: the panel is scheduled to hear 34 bills, including SB 637 from Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, which would require election officials in California to make early voting opportunities available, and SB 583 from Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte, which would create a new 12-month fishing license. The committee hearing will take place at 11 a.m. in Room 4203 of the Capitol.

LINKED IN: As he enters his final year in the Legislature, a major policy goal of state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has been the implementation of "linked learning," a program that connects high school education to career training. He plans to discuss the next step for the $250 million competitive grant fund during a 10 a.m. conference call with state schools superintendent Tom Torlakson, California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris, and Tim Rainey, executive director of the California Workforce Investment Board.

CANNA-BIZ: As marijuana once again becomes a hot topic, the California Cannabis Industry Association hosts a welcome back reception for legislators tonight at 5 p.m. at Chops on 11th Street. The event, which includes manufacturers and distributors of cannabis products, aims to educate attendees on the best practices of the medical marijuana industry and push for its increasing professionalization. The association says it would like to see a bill pass this year that regulates medical marijuana under the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

PHOTO: Neel Kashkari, who is exploring a possible run for governor in 2014, on Dec. 4, 2013. The Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli

January 17, 2014
AM Alert: Per-diem session gets lawmakers paid for long weekend

Assembly_chamber.JPGThe Legislature just came back in session last week, but lawmakers already have their first break to look forward to: Monday is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. As a result, both the Senate and the Assembly will meet for brief, atypical Friday floor sessions at 9 a.m. before everyone heads home for the long weekend.

Not much is likely to happen, but it will allow legislators to collect their per diem allowances. Under the California constitution, lawmakers are granted tax-free living expenses on top of their salaries--as long as they are not out of session for more than three consecutive days.

According to the Assembly Rules Committee, the per diem rate was raised last month to $163 from $141.86 per day. That is still below its $173 peak from October 2008 to September 2009.

VIDEO: The path is clear for a landslide re-election for Gov. Jerry Brown, Dan Walters says.

APP-Y NEW YEAR: The Sacramento Bee is pleased to announce a major update and new design for the Capitol Alert Insider Edition app.

The new 2014 version:

  • Works on both your iPhone and iPad with a single subscription.
  • Offers faster access to our bills-to-watch guide and legislative directory, along with new district maps.
  • Includes a new section on legislative committees.
  • Lets Insider Edition app subscribers comment and share with one another.
  • Includes all the previous Insider features, including early access to Field Polls and Bee editorials on state topics and a curated Capitol Twitter feed. Easily email chiefs of staff, schedulers and legislative directors from within the app.

To subscribe, go to It's free this week, $19.99 a month after that.

IT'S OFFICIAL: Gov. Jerry Brown's press office sent out a mysterious e-mail yesterday saying that he would be making a "major announcement" in San Francisco at 10 a.m. As reported last night, Brown is expected to declare a drought emergency in California, which farmers and Central Valley lawmakers have been calling for for several weeks.

STOPPED IN ITS TRACKS: Should California's proposed high-speed rail finally get off the ground this year, construction would begin along a 130-mile stretch in the Central Valley. That region has voiced some of the loudest criticism of the plan, however, and calls to kill the project have only intensified. State Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, and Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, will be in Fresno today at 1:30 p.m. to announce new legislation aimed at stopping the project.

MLK EVENTS: Several local groups are planning rallies at the Capitol over the long weekend to commemorate King. On Saturday, Occupy Sacramento will host a march and noontime rally at the west steps "continuing the legacy of Dr. King" by calling for a living wage, immigrant rights and more. Monday's 33rd annual "March for the Dream" makes a stop at the north and west steps around 10:45 a.m. before continuing on to the Convention Center for a diversity expo.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, who turns 40 on Sunday.

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

January 16, 2014
AM Alert: California education board finalizes plan for low-income students

RPSOMMERSCHOOLREAd.JPGDebate has raged over how best to regulate spending under the state's new "Local Control Funding Formula," which would allocate millions of extra dollars to school districts to support low-income and English-learning students. Civil rights groups and school officials have been sharply divided, with advocates calling for tight oversight of how the money is used while school districts seek more flexibility.

The plan was championed by Gov. Jerry Brown, but the decision ultimately comes down to the state Board of Education, which will vote on final regulations today during their meeting at the Department of Education on N Street. The hearing begins at 8:30 a.m. and dozens are expected to testify.

The stakes are high, so whatever the outcome, this decision certainly won't be the end of the story. Dan Walters has more on the controversy in his column.

VIDEO: A new bill from Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, would ban "affluenza" as a legal defense, but that's just common sense, Dan Walters says.

APP-Y NEW YEAR: The Sacramento Bee is pleased to announce a major update and new design for the Capitol Alert Insider Edition app.

The new 2014 version:

  • Works on both your iPhone and iPad with a single subscription.
  • Offers faster access to our bills-to-watch guide and legislative directory, along with new district maps.
  • Includes a new section on legislative committees.
  • Lets Insider Edition app subscribers comment and share with one another.
  • Includes all the previous Insider features, including early access to Field Polls and Bee editorials on state topics and a curated Capitol Twitter feed. Easily email chiefs of staff, schedulers and legislative directors from within the app.

To subscribe, go to It's free this week, $19.99 a month after that.

H2-OH NO: As California's water crisis deepens, farmers continue to wait for Gov. Jerry Brown to make the official drought declaration. Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno, and a dozen other legislators, mostly from the Central Valley, will gather on the west steps of the Capitol at 11 a.m. to call for a drought declaration and rally in support of placing a water bond on the 2014 ballot.

POWER UP: A star-studded line-up of Sacramento politicians is joining the California Center for Research on Women & Families for today's policy summit on women's health, wealth and power at the Sacramento Convention Center from 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Among those slated to speak are Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, D-Long Beach; state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara; Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley; state Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles; state Sen. Carol Liu, D-La Cañada Flintridge; Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens; and Diana S. Dooley, the state secretary of health and human services. The event's keynote speaker is Sandra Fluke, who first made headlines when she testified before Congress that insurance plans should cover birth control.

GOING UNDER: The Assembly Select Committee on Sea Level Rise & the California Economy will hold its fourth and final hearing from 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. in Room 126 of the Capitol. State agencies such as the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission and the Coastal Commission will testify on how they are addressing the threat. The committee plans to release a report with legislative recommendations in late February.

IN THE BIG HOUSE: The leaders of California's three public higher education systems--Janet Napolitano of the University of California, Timothy P. White of California State University and Brice Harris of the California Community Colleges--will all be in Washington, D.C., today for President Barack Obama's summit on increasing college access for low-income and disadvantaged students. The event begins at 9 a.m. EST and continues through the day. Follow the action from 3,000 miles away on Twitter with the hashtag #OpportunityForAll.

HEALTH CARE CONCERNS: The Sacramento Press Club hosts former Congressman and California Department of Finance director Tom Campbell for a luncheon at the Capitol Plaza on Ninth Street at noon. Campbell, who is now the dean of Chapman Law School, will discuss how non-profit hospitals are adjusting to the Affordable Care Act and potential new state insurance mandates.

ARE YOU FEELING LUCKY?: The jackpot isn't quite as big as last month's Mega Millions lottery, but candidates for April's local elections will find out the order their names appear on the ballot at 11 a.m., when the Secretary of State's office holds a randomized alphabet drawing.

Editor's Note: This AM Alert was updated at 10:26 a.m. Jan. 16 to correct that the Select Committee on Sea Rise & the California Economy is in the Assembly.

PHOTO: A second-grader reads her assignment in her English language learning class at Cordova Villa Elementary School on Monday, June 10, 2013 in Rancho Cordova, Calif. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench.

January 15, 2014
AM Alert: Senate looks to buff up state's toxic waste management

hazardous_waste.jpgThe past year has not been a great one for California's Department of Toxic Substances Control, which oversees hazardous waste management in the state. News reports exposed major deficiencies in the agency's operation, including the revelation that it could not account hundreds of thousands of hazardous material shipped for disposal over the past five years.

The Senate Environmental Quality Committee will consequently hold a hearing at 9:30 a.m. in Room 3191 of the Capitol Building to consider steps that can be taken to strengthen enforcement of the state's laws governing toxic waste. The department's director, Debbie Raphael, is among those expected to testify.

Following the hearing, the committee will take up several bills, including one from Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, that would speed up the permitting process for hazardous waste facilities and one from Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, that would require all facilities to obtain a permit by 2015 or shut down. A study commissioned by Raphael found that a quarter of the state's hazardous waste facilities are currently operating on expired permits.

VIDEO: With the ease of digital access, government agencies should be more forthcoming with public information, Dan Walters says.

BAG BAN: State Sen. Alex Padilla's bill to ban single-use plastic bags in California fell just short in the Senate last year, but the Los Angeles Democrat continues to push ahead with the idea. He will attend a city council meeting in West Sacramento at 7 p.m. to show support for a resolution supporting his bill.

FUNDING FUN: With the state Board of Education set to adopt regulations for its new school funding formula tomorrow, groups are already gathering in Sacramento to throw their voices into the debate. Calling for stricter controls on how additional funding for low-income and English-learning students is spent by local school districts, the Parent Leadership Action Network and Californians for Justice--two Bay Area organizations that advocate for minority and disadvantaged students--will lead a rally outside the Department of Education building on 14th Street at 8 a.m.

DELTA TUNNELS: A statewide series of twelve informational open houses about the controversial Bay Delta Conservation Plan kicks off today in Bakersfield. The sessions, including one in Sacramento on January 30, provide attendees with an opportunity to meet individually with members of the project team and to submit public comment on the proposed Delta tunnels.

IMMIGRATION DOC: "Rape in the Fields," a documentary from Frontline and Univision, takes a look at the sexual abuse suffered by female farm workers, many of whom are undocumented, at the hands of their field bosses and co-workers. The Sacramento Press Club hosts a screening of the film at 6:15 p.m. at the Crest Theater on K Street. The program is preceded by a cocktail reception at 5:30 p.m. and followed by a Q&A session with the filmmakers and reporters at 7:15 p.m.

PHOTO: Matthew Thomas sorts a delivery of used fluorescent bulbs at the Central Contra Costa Sanitary District's household hazardous waste collection facility in Martinez on March 30, 2011. Kristopher Skinner/Contra Costa Times

January 14, 2014
AM Alert: Brown's finance director sells budget to California business community

michael_cohen_blog.jpgCrafting a successful budget can be a high-wire balancing act, as the governor seeks broad support from the diverse and often conflicting interests.

One of the first and most important stops has become a meeting with the California Chamber of Commerce, which is often pushing lawmakers for greater fiscal restraint.

When Gov. Jerry Brown's director of finance, Michael Cohen, speaks about the 2014-15 budget proposal before the group today, he might find a more receptive crowd than in years past. With Brown emphasizing paying down debts over starting new public programs, and no new taxes on the docket, this year's agenda features fewer of the kinds of proposals that earn the Chamber of Commerce's dreaded "job killer" label.

Cohen speaks at approximately 12:45 p.m. during a luncheon at the California Chamber of Commerce on K Street.

VIDEO: The impending retirement of U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, sets up a game of musical chairs for California's legislative leadership, Dan Walters says.

EASY RIDER: The future is another step closer: Last year, the California Department of Motor Vehicles developed regulations for testing self-driving cars on the state's roadways. They were published in November, and the public comment period for the rules ended yesterday, but there's one more opportunity to participate in the process during a hearing at 10 a.m. at the DMV Headquarters on First Avenue. The regulations are expected to be finalized this spring.

CAP-AND-TRAIN: California's proposed high-speed rail project has been met with one controversy after another--and Gov. Brown's idea to use cap-and-trade funds to get construction started this year is no exception. The California High-Speed Rail Authority will discuss that proposal and other business at its meeting today at 10 a.m. in the Secretary of State's Auditorium on 11th Street.

DEMO DISCUSSION: There was much debate following the 2012 election over what impact increasing diversity might have on the future of national and California politics. Mindy Romero, director of the California Civic Engagement Project, takes a deep dive into those demographic shifts and where their effect is likely to be strongest during a talk called "Is Demography Political Destiny?" at the UC Center Sacramento on K Street at noon.

WAGE WAR: In-home caregivers and their allies will be at the north steps of Capitol at 10:30 a.m. to protest a proposal in Gov. Brown's budget they say would hinder their ability to make a living. The new rule would prohibit caregivers who serve low-income patients through the state's In-Home Supportive Services program from working more than 40 hours per week and earning overtime pay.

POOR MARKS: A report card on the state of education issued last year by StudentsFirst -- the controversial education advocacy group headed by Sacramento first lady Michelle Rhee -- was notoriously harsh, with two-thirds of states earning a D or worse. California was among the unlucky 11 to receive an F. Will the results be just as bleak this year? We'll find out today when the organization issues its report for 2014.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, who turns 57 today.

PHOTO: Michael Cohen, director of the California Department of Finance, testifies to the Senate budget committee in 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

January 13, 2014
AM Alert: Bob Huff pushes for end to public transit strikes

The Sacramento Bee is pleased to announce a major update and new design for the Capitol Alert Insider Edition app.

The new 2014 version:

  • Works on both your iPhone and iPad with a single subscription.
  • Offers faster access to our bills-to-watch guide and legislative directory, along with new district maps.
  • Includes a new section on legislative committees.
  • Lets Insider Edition app subscribers comment and share with one another.
  • Includes all the previous Insider features, including early access to Field Polls and Bee editorials on state topics and a curated Capitol Twitter feed. Easily email chiefs of staff, schedulers and legislative directors from within the app.

To subscribe, go to It's free this week, $19.99 a month after that.

Current subscribers can find out how to update here.

Now back to your regularly scheduled AM Alert...

BART_strike.jpgTRANSIT STRIKES: California has traditionally been regarded as very supportive of organized labor, but that climate may be changing. A Field Poll released last month showed that public opinion on unions has plunged dramatically: For the first time ever, more voters say these organizations do more harm than good.

Last year's strikes by Bay Area Rapid Transit workers were especially controversial, raising debate over whether public employees should even be allowed to strike. California voters remain divided on that question, but state Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff of Diamond Bar says the answer is clear. He introduced legislation last September that would prohibit public transit workers from striking in the future.

"If the public is going to have to rely on public transportation, we have to make sure public transportation is reliable," Huff said in a statement last week. "Police and firefighters can't strike; they provide a valuable public service. The same rationale applies here."

How far Huff's bill can go is a big question mark. It faces its first hurdle today, when it is heard by the Senate Committee on Public Employment and Retirement in Room 2040 of the Capitol, following the adjournment of floor session.

VIDEO: Gov. Jerry Brown needs less talk and more action on the state's unfunded liabilties, Dan Walters says.

GHOST GUN-BUSTER: California lawmakers tackled the issue of control last year with mixed success, a new year brings new efforts. State Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, plans to introduce legislation banning homemade and 3D-printed "ghost guns," which are untraceable and undetectable. De León will be joined by law enforcement, including Stephen Lindley, chief of the Bureau of Firearms in the California Department of Justice, for the announcement at 11:15 a.m. in Room 1190 of the Capitol.

BURNING UP: Assemblyman Travis Allen's campaign to keep the state from dousing beach bonfires continues. The Assembly Committee on Natural Resources will consider the Huntington Beach Republican's bill to preserve the Southern California tradition at 1:30 p.m. in Room 447 of the Capitol.

LET'S GET TOGETHER: The California Community Colleges Board of Governors gathers for its two-day bimonthly meeting at noon in the Chancellor's Office on Q Street. Sure to be a hot topic is Gov. Brown's budget proposal, which boosted community college funding by 11.4 percent.

The CalPERS Board of Administration is also beginning a three-day meeting in Monterey where, among other agenda items, it will select new leadership.

BUDGET CHAT: The Sacramento Bee's state budget expert, reporter David Siders, takes reader questions about Gov. Brown's budget proposal in a live chat today at noon. Join the conversation at

CELEBRATIONS: Happy belated birthday to Assemblyman Steven Bradford, D-Garden, who turned 54 yesterday.

PHOTO: Supporters of Bay Area Rapid Transit workers hold up signs at a news conference outside of the BART 24th Street Mission station in San Francisco on June 25, 2013. The Associated Press/Jeff Chiu

January 10, 2014
AM Alert: Schnur launches Secretary of State campaign a day late

Thumbnail image for ha_schnur7656.JPGA good newsmaker knows that when the governor's budget proposal leaks two days early, you move your event out of the way or risk getting buried in the ensuing media scrum.

So after teasing his run for Secretary of State in December, former Fair Political Practices Commission chair Dan Schnur formally launches his campaign today at 11 a.m. in the Hyatt Regency on L Street -- a day after originally scheduled.

Schnur, who now teaches politics at the University of Southern California, has focused his platform on banning fundraising by legislators and statewide officeholders while the Legislature is in session. Schnur argues that there is too much potential for donors to exert inappropriate influence on their votes.

The Secretary of State race could shape up to be one of the year's most interesting. Among Schnur's potential opponents are state Sens. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, and Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, as well as Democrat Derek Cressman, a government watchdog, and Republican Pete Peterson, who heads an academic public policy institute

Though he has previously served as an adviser to major Republican figures like former Gov. Pete Wilson and U.S. Sen. John McCain, Schnur is registered with no party preference.

VIDEO: The budget leak is a political game between politicians and journalists, Dan Walters says.

WHO'S THE BOSS?: The president of California State University-Long Beach, the second largest of CSU's 23 campuses, left last summer to head up Louisiana State University, and the search continues for a replacement. The CSU Board of Trustees selection committee, which includes Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, will meet today from 7 a.m. to 6 determine which candidates move on to the next level of consideration.

MOVIN' ON UP: It seems that six-foot state Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, doesn't do small. In September, the former assemblywoman jumped legislative houses after winning a special election, and she'll celebrate again this weekend with a swearing-in ceremony in her home district where Attorney General Kamala Harris will administer the oath. The festivities are scheduled for Saturday at noon in Culver City.

VROOM VROOM: Things may get noisy over the weekend as motorcyclists from across the state gather in Sacramento to voice support for their legislative agenda, including opposition to measures to ban "lane splitting." The Motorcycle Rider Unification Rally, hosted by motorcycle rights organization ABATE of California, takes place from noon to 2 p.m. on Saturday outside the State Capitol.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to Assemblyman Brian Nestande, R-Palm Desert, who turns 50 on Saturday.

PHOTO: Dan Schnur, shown in September 2010 when he was chair of the FPPC. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

January 9, 2014
AM Alert: Jerry Brown takes budget pitch across California

brownchamberbreakfast.jpgIn what has become an unlucky pattern for Gov. Jerry Brown, his budget proposal leaked early last night. It is the second time in three years this has happened. In 2012, the governor's proposal was inadvertently posted to the Department of Finance website before it was formally introduced.

Among Gov. Brown's priorities for the 2014-15 fiscal year are repaying about $6 billion in deferred school payments and creating a rainy day fund. (You can check out the entire document here.)

News conferences across the state, originally planned for Friday, have now been moved up a day: After introducing his budget at the Capitol at 9 a.m., Gov. Brown will be at the San Diego City Administration Building at 12:30 p.m. and the Ronald Reagan State Building in Los Angeles at 3:00 p.m. for additional announcements.

VIDEO: The Legislature continues to act irresponsibly by ignoring California's growing pension debts, Dan Walters says.

LEFT OUT: A new report from the National Fair Housing Alliance, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that advocates for equal housing opportunity, charges that rental companies routinely discriminate against applicants who are deaf or hard of hearing. The group is planning to file federal civil rights complaints today against major apartment owners and managers in eight cities nationwide, including Sacramento. The details will be announced during an online news conference at 10 a.m.

EDUCATION INNOVATION: Among the more than 2 million students served by California's community college system, nearly three-quarters require some basic skills coursework in English or math, according to the Campaign for College Opportunity. Most of them won't finish their education as a result -- a situation the group believes can be improved by encouraging more innovation in how those basic skills are taught. Representatives from several community colleges share their experiences during a briefing at 2 p.m. in Room 126 of the Capitol building.

DIGITAL TRAIL: Assembly members Ed Chau, D-Monterey Park, who chairs the select committee on privacy, and Bonnie Loewenthal, D-Long Beach, will host a screening of the documentary Terms and Conditions May Apply at 11:30 a.m. in Room 127 of the Capitol building. The film concerns digital privacy and will be followed by a question-and-answer session with Matthew Cagle, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at the California Chamber of Commerce's annual Host Breakfast in Sacramento on May 22, 2013. The Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli

January 8, 2014
AM Alert: What does Colorado's weed legalization mean for California?

MC_POTFARM_04.JPGSince going into effect a week ago, Colorado's legalization of marijuana has been a smoking success in at least one sense: recreational pot shops have seen extremely high demand, with hour-long lines on opening day and supplies already running low.

Could this be a preview of what's to come in California? A Field Poll last month revealed that, for the first time, a majority of voters in the state support legalizing marijuana. And with possible ballot measures collecting signatures, that question could be put to the test as soon as this November.

Sacramento Bee reporter Peter Hecht—who has covered pot issues in California extensively and has written the upcoming book Weed Land—will offer his thoughts during a live chat today at 11:30 a.m. Readers can join in with questions and comments at

VIDEO: The legislative leadership broke with budget tradition in a big way this year, Dan Walters says.

HELPING HAND: After shelving the legislation last spring, state Sen. Joel Anderson has revived his bill that seeks to prevent the state from taxing income lost to criminal fraud such as Ponzi schemes. The Alpine Republican will be in Room 113 of the Capitol at 9 a.m. to discuss the proposal before heading across the hall for a hearing of the Senate Governance and Finance Committee, which is scheduled to consider the measure. Anderson will be joined by state Sen. Mark Wyland, R-Solana Beach, and victims of investment fraud.

MAKING THE GRADE: A new scorecard from the California Food Policy Council, which advocates for healthy food and sustainable agriculture, focuses on the Legislature's action on food- and farm-related issues in 2013. The report will be released following a press conference on the north steps of the Capitol at 11 a.m., where representatives from the organization will be joined by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento.

PHOTO: Marijuana plants at an illegal grow site off Interstate 5 and the Twin Cities exit on August 30, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo

January 7, 2014
AM Alert: Steinberg proposes extension of transitional kindergarten

kindergarten.JPGAmong the highlights of yesterday's return of the Legislature were an extended series of adjourn-in-memories for Nelson Mandela, who passed away last month during the legislative recess, and some interpersonal intrigue over new seating arrangements in the Senate.

But policy priorities for legislators continue to emerge. Today state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg plans to announce a new bill for universal transitional kindergarten in California.

The proposal builds on the Sacramento Democrat's 2010 legislation moving up the cutoff date for entering kindergartners so that all students are at least five years old. That law also created new "transitional kindergarten" classes for the older four-year-olds who were no longer eligible to start school, providing adapted instruction to continue their development. Steinberg's bill would extend that opportunity to all four-year-olds in the year before they enter kindergarten.

Steinberg will be at Harkness Elementary School in Sacramento at 10 a.m. for the announcement. He will be joined by California's Superintendent for Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and several Democratic senators who are co-sponsoring the legislation: Carol Liu of La Cañada Flintridge, Marty Block of San Diego, Jerry Hill of San Mateo, Holly Mitchell of Los Angeles, Ricardo Lara of Bell Gardens and Lois Wolk of San Francisco.

VIDEO: The start of a new legislative session is like the first day of school, Dan Walters says.

THREE-PEAT: California is experiencing one of the driest starts to winter it has ever recorded: A snow survey in the Sierra last week confirmed that snowpack is currently at 20 percent of its average for this time of year. With the state now preparing to enter its third straight drought year, the State Board of Food and Agriculture holds a hearing on how the agricultural community can prepare, 10 a.m. at the Dept. of Food and Agriculture building on N Street.

LOW ACHIEVER: Oakland-based advocacy group Children Now has released its annual Children's Report Card evaluating the state's performance in education, health and child welfare issues. The report is fairly critical, awarding no grades of A and 13 D's in its 27 categories. You can read the report in its entirety here.

HEALTH SCARE: Last summer's Rim fire was the third-largest forest fire in state history, and California could be facing more troubles ahead should the extremely dry conditions continue. One unforeseen consequence of such disasters is long-term adverse effects on the immune systems of children exposed to high levels of air pollution during their infancy. UC Davis researcher Lisa Miller discusses more in a seminar at the Cal EPA Headquarters on I Street at 10 a.m.

PHOTO: Kindergarten teacher Katherine Hoffmore, 48, left, works on a bead project with McKayla Parker, 6, right, where they learn to repeat patterns at Greer Elementary School in Sacramento on Jan. 17, 2013.

January 6, 2014
AM Alert: Genetically modified food fight returns to California

GMO_labels.JPGIn the months since California voters rejected a November 2012 ballot measure on the subject, proponents of labeling genetically modified food have pushed their fight nationwide with mixed results.

Last summer, the Connecticut and Maine legislatures handily passed labeling bills within days of each other — albeit with major caveats that require, among other things, at least four more states in the region to pass similar bills for the laws to take effect. In November, a GMO-labeling measure in Washington failed by a large margin.

Now the effort returns to California with a rally on the west steps of the Capitol from 10 a.m. to noon. The event — organized by the California State Grange, an agricultural service organization, and the group Label GMOs — has the goal of getting a lawmaker to carry a labeling bill for the 2014 session.

VIDEO: Two internal elections this year could be just as significant for the Legislature's future as the November races, Dan Walters says.

AND SO IT BEGINS: After a four-month recess, the Legislature is back in Sacramento. The 2014 session kicks off today with floor sessions for the Assembly at noon and the Senate at 2 p.m.

Big stories to watch for in the early part of the year include potential budget battles with Gov. Jerry Brown over a large surplus and efforts to tighten political spending rules in the wake of corruption allegations against Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello.

Jeremy B. White has more in his video preview of California politics for 2014.

FRACK ATTACK: New rules for hydraulic fracturing in the state are set to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2015 and the California Department of Conservation is in the midst of a 60-day public comment period on the proposed regulations. A public hearing will be held today from 3-7 p.m. at the California Environmental Protection Agency building at 10th and I streets.

NEW JOB: Lobbyist Crystal Jack is leaving the firm Kahn, Soares & Conway for a new position at health insurance company Cigna. She begins on Jan, 21 and will oversee lobbying efforts for 11 states in the western region.

CORRECTION: Friday's AM Alert incorrectly stated the ages of California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones and state Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton. Jones and Galgiani turned 52 and 50, respectively, on Saturday, not 51 and 49. We apologize for the error.

PHOTO: Some packaged foods are labeled as being free of GMO at the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-Op on September 18, 2012. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

January 3, 2014
AM Alert: New political spending legislation emerges in wake of Calderon scandal

Thumbnail image for MC_CALDERON_05.JPGThe Legislature was in recess when revelations from the FBI's corruption investigation of state Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, hit in late October. With the new legislative year beginning Monday, lawmakers may be ready to deal with the fallout.

State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, announced yesterday that he plans to introduce a bill prohibiting certain types of political spending, including contributions of campaign funds by elected officials to business entities and non-profits owned or operated by members of their same elected body or their family.

Among the eye-catching items in the FBI's Calderon affidavit: Last January, a political fundraising committee associated with the Latino Legislative Caucus made a $25,000 donation to a group run by Calderon's brother. At the time, Calderon had just finished serving two years as the Latino Caucus' vice chairman.

Hill's legislation would amend the Political Reform Act, which governs disclosure of political money, and would require a 2/3's vote to pass.

VIDEO: With groups advocating from inside and outside the Capitol, will 2014 be the year California raises taxes?, Dan Walters wonders.

SN-OH NO! The Department of Water Resources will conduct its first manual snow survey of the season today at 11 a.m. on Echo Summit. The state had near-record dry weather last year and remote electronic readings currently show snowpack at 20 percent of normal.

Water officials are bracing for a third consecutive dry year. According to the agency, snowmelt accounts for about one-third of the water that California uses each year. The low snowfall has pushed the state toward drought and could worsen the risk of wildfire.

CELEBRATIONS: An early happy birthday to California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, who turns 52 tomorrow, and to state Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton, who turns 50.

Editor's Note: This AM Alert was updated at 10:32 a.m. Jan. 3 to correct that Dave Jones will turn 52 and Cathleen Galgiani will turn 50 on Saturday.

PHOTO: Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, at right with Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, on the Senate floor June 10, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo

January 2, 2014
AM Alert: Was Wright wrong to run for Senate seat?

Rod_Wright.JPGHappy new year to all of our Capitol Alert readers! We hope you had a wonderful and relaxing holiday season.

The Legislature isn't back in session until next week, but the first big event of 2014 kicks off today: the trial of state Sen. Rod Wright.

The Inglewood Democrat was indicted by a grand jury in 2010 for voter fraud and perjury — charges stemming from an investigation into whether he actually lived in the Senate district that he was elected to represent in 2008. Authorities allege that Wright, who owns multiple properties, registered to vote at an address where he did not live so he could run in the Los Angeles-area district.

The trial, which will take place in Los Angeles, has been delayed multiple times following a series of appeals over the charges. Wright faces possible prison time if convicted and has pleaded not guilty.

"He's complied with all the residency requirements as required by law," Wright's lawyer, Kevin Winston McKesson, said Monday. "We're disputing everything they say."

Laurel Rosenhall has more in today's Bee.

VIDEO: Prepare for Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature to square off over potential new spending in next year's budget, Dan Walters says.

BREAK THE ICE: If your New Year's resolution is to make new friends, then you've got your first opportunity tonight: The New Leaders Council is hosting a networking event from 5:30-7:00 pm at Dive Bar Sacramento on K Street. The progressive entrepreneurship training program will introduce its class of 2014 fellows before they are publicly announced.

POLITICAL PREVIEW: Already wondering what stories you'll be hearing about in 2014? Don't miss our special Californians to Watch series, which ran during the holiday week. You can read profiles of seven Capitol players who are sure to be newsmakers this year — including state Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, and Jim Brulte, the chairman of the California Republican Party.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to Assemblyman Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills, who turns 49 today. And belated well-wishes to state Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, who turned 60 on Tuesday.

PHOTO: State Sen. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood, listens to the vote on budget legislation on Feb. 18, 2009. The Sacramento Bee/Brian Baer

December 23, 2013
AM Alert: Capitol Alert's biggest stories of 2013

Thumbnail image for ammianodomestic.jpg
The Capitol is quiet this week as everyone heads home for the holidays, so what better time to look back on the year that was? Even with Democratic supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature, there was plenty of political drama to keep us captivated: corruption charges, the health care roll-out, and controversial battles over issues like gun control and minimum wage. In the spirit of December (which may as well be renamed National Year-End Lists Month), here is a review of the biggest stories of 2013 on the Capitol Alert blog, as determined by page views.

The year's top post: Updated homeless 'bill of rights' passes CA legislative committee (April 23, 2013)

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano's "homeless bill of rights" caused an immediate firestorm when it was introduced last December. The San Francisco Democrat's proposal to create a statewide baseline of civil rights for the homeless — including protection of "life sustaining activities" such as sleeping on sidewalks and urinating — drew intense pushback from cities across California, many of which had already passed laws prohibiting those same behaviors. The California Chamber of Commerce even named the legislation one of its annual "job killers."

So when an amended version of Ammiano's bill made it out of the Assembly Judiciary Committee last April, there was a lot of public interest. The story drew by far the biggest traffic of the year on the Capitol Alert blog, especially as the news went viral across the country.

The bill later stalled in the Assembly Appropriations Committee over the cost of proposed new public hygiene facilities and it likely won't be going anywhere in 2014. But Ammiano's office said he hopes to introduce more legislation on homelessness in the new year.

The rest of the top ten:

2.State auditor: California's net worth at negative $127.2 billion (March 28, 2013)

3. Big California corporations parking $262 billion offshore (July 31, 2013)

4. More gun-control legislation approved by California Senate (May 29, 2013)

5. Gov. Jerry Brown: California's budget deficit is gone (Jan. 10, 2013)

6. New battle coming over California's minimum wage (December 17, 2012)

7. FBI raids offices of California Sen. Ron Calderon, Latino Caucus (June 4, 2013)

8. Jerry Brown, lawmakers reach budget deal (June 10, 2013)

9. California health exchange reveals premium costs (May 23, 2013)

10. State Sen. Michael Rubio resigns, will take job with Chevron (February 22, 2013)

PHOTO: Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco. Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli

December 20, 2013
AM Alert: Legislators prepare signature bills for new session

Brown_signing_bills.JPGWith the new session only weeks away, there has been a flurry of announcements for bills that legislators plan to introduce next year. Here are a few of the most interesting:

State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, wants to require the implementation of "kill switches" that would render smartphones inoperable if they are stolen. According to the Federal Communications Commission, cell phone thefts account for about 30 to 40 percent of robberies nationwide — and more than 50 percent in San Francisco.

Livestock and poultry producers commonly use antibiotics to make their animals grow bigger and faster. Following the release of federal guidelines by the Food and Drug Administration, state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, is proposing legislation that would restrict the use of antibiotics in farm animals to medical care only.

In what is sure to be a controversial battle, state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, is seeking to replace special elections with gubernatorial appointments for legislative vacancies. Steinberg said he was fed up with expensive, low-turnout special elections, which has kept the Legislature below capacity throughout the session.

VIDEO: Dan Walters says a proposal to eliminate special elections is probably just as much about consolidating Democratic power as improving government efficiency.

LIGHT MY FIRE: With the Southern California tradition of beach bonfires at risk, Assemblyman Travis Allen, R-Huntington Beach, has been pursuing legislation to ensure they remain legal. The South Coast Air Quality Management District will discuss what position to take on his bill at its meeting today in Diamond Bar.

LONG WALK TO FREEDOM: In April, members of the California Innocence Project, a California Western School of Law program aimed at overturning wrongful convictions, began a march from San Diego to Sacramento seeking clemency for 12 inmates across the state. The group will be on the west Capitol steps again today at noon asking Gov. Jerry Brown to release the prisoners in time for Christmas. Among those attending the event are several past exonerees, including NFL linebacker Brian Banks.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown signs bills in Sacramento on March 24, 2011 as Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco look on. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

December 19, 2013
AM Alert: New Steinberg legislation to address mentally ill criminal offenders

Steinberg_Calderon_hearing.JPGFunding for mental health services has long been a cause for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. Last spring, he advocated increasing community resources and crisis support for those dealing with mental illness to help reduce the burdens they place on the state's prisons and hospitals. The plan passed as part of the June budget package.

Yet major issues remain with caring for the mentally ill in California and across the nation. As The Bee reported last Sunday, some of the patients bused out-of-state by a Nevada mental hospital later committed crimes in California and elsewhere.

In the wake of that news, Steinberg will be in Room 211 of the State Capitol today at 11 a.m. to announce a new program aimed at reducing crime committed by mentally ill offenders. Steinberg's office said the legislation, which Steinberg plans to introduce in January, will address both "the dearth of services for mental health and substance abuse treatment" and issues of realignment related to prison overcrowding.

VIDEO: Rumors of Gov. Jerry Brown launching a fourth presidential campaign for 2016 are nonsense, Dan Walters says

DIVIDE AND CONQUER: It didn't get too far in 2012, but San Diego businessman John Cox is once again pursuing his idea of changing the structure of the California Legislature to bring citizens closer to their representatives. His plan divides each of the state's legislative districts into a hundred neighborhoods, which would each elect their own representative and then caucus to send one of them to Sacramento. Cox filed a proposed ballot initiative with the Attorney General's office Wednesday, but will have to collect more than 800,000 signatures to get it on the November 2014 ballot.

SCHOOL SELF-IMPROVEMENT: Last year's passage of Prop. 39 generated money for school energy-efficiency projects, including $464 million for projects in the 2013-14 fiscal year. The California Energy Commission, which meets today at 10 a.m. at its Ninth Street headquarters, is expected to approve guidelines that will clear the way for the agency to begin accepting funding applications early next year.

PHOTO: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, center, leads the Senate Rules Committee in voting unanimously to strip Sen. Ron Calderon of all committee assignments at the state Capitol last month. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

December 18, 2013
AM Alert: State parks commission considers alternatives to keep system viable

Angel_Island.JPGIt has not been an easy few years for the California state park system. Facing a budget crunch, the Department of Parks and Recreation nearly closed 70 parks last year before it was revealed that top officials had hidden more than $20 million in a secret fund.

The embarrassing revelations continued: Another $33 million had been forgotten in an obscure off-road fund, and the department had deferred maintenance at state parks in excess of $1 billion.

Those troubles prompted the launch of a new volunteer commission to analyze and overhaul the park system. Parks Forward, as the initiative is called, aims to make the department more "sustainable" over the next century.

The commission, which is chaired by former state Sen. Christine Kehoe and venture capitalist Lance Conn, meets today from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Capitol Plaza Ballrooms on Ninth Street. The meeting will cover current financials and staffing at state parks, as well as activities underway to improve their management and possible models for the system's long-term viability.

VIDEO: With nearly 50 initiatives attempting to get on the ballot next November, it could be a crowded campaign season, Dan Walters says

SNOW-POLITANO: President Barack Obama has decided not to attend the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, in February, so he's sending a delegation of athletes and diplomats in his place. Leading the group, the White House announced yesterday, is Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California system, who also led a delegation to the closing ceremonies of the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. She will be joined by former tennis champion Billie Jean King and figure skating gold medalist Brian Boitano, among others.

"I look forward to being in Sochi to support our Olympic athletes and celebrate their accomplishments," Napolitano said in a statement. "It is an honor to represent our country in the company of individuals who have excelled in life and sport."

ACTIVE ALUM: Former state lawmaker Gil Cedillo was a big advocate for immigrant rights during his time in the California Legislature. (He famously introduced legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver's licenses nine times.) Now a Los Angeles councilman, Cedillo is speaking out on the Obama administration's deportation policy. He will be leading an event on the front steps of Los Angeles City Hall at 9 a.m. to coincide with the United Nations International Day of Migrants.

PHOTO: Segway tours are available at Angel Island State Park — the Ellis Island of the West. The Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo

December 17, 2013
AM Alert: Cannella plans to expand revenge porn legislation

Thumbnail image for IPhone.jpgOne of the more unusual laws passed by the Legislature last session was a ban on so-called "revenge porn," the act of posting private, graphic pictures or footage of someone online with the intention of humiliating them. Doing so now qualifies as a misdemeanor carrying penalties of six months in jail or a $1,000 fine for a first offense.

Signed by the governor on Oct. 1, the law has already led to one high-profile case. Last week, Attorney General Kamala Harris announced charges against a San Diego man who allegedly ran a website that allowed users to upload sexually explicit photos of a person without their permission, linking to their full name, age, location and Facebook profile.

Now state Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, who authored the legislation, is back with a sequel: the Revenge Porn 2.0 Act, as his office is calling it. The new bill, which Cannella plans to introduce when the Legislature returns in January, will expand upon his original idea by including "selfies" among the protected material and by clarifying its language to make these incidents easier to prosecute. Cannella will be at the Old Courthouse in Madera at 11 a.m. for a public announcement.

VIDEO: The battle between school districts and education reformers over how to use new funding for low-income students has major implications for future education policy in California, Dan Walters says

GETTING SCHOOLED: With California taking a growing interest in "linked learning," the Department of Education has organized a conference in Sacramento today encouraging partnerships between educators and industry to develop curriculum giving students career-oriented training. The Pathways to Prosperity Institute takes place from 9:00 a.m.-3:30 p.m. at the Department of Public Health Auditorium, 1500 Capitol Ave. Among those scheduled to attend is state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, who is spearheading a grant program to further support these partnerships.

YULETIDE TUNES: The State Capitol continues its series of free daily holiday music concerts in the Rotunda with Trio Bella at 11 a.m. and the Salvation Army Brass Ensemble at noon.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to state Sen. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, who turns 47.

PHOTO: Instagram is demonstrated on an iPhone on April 9, 2012, in New York. The Associated Press/Karly Domb Sadof.

December 16, 2013
AM Alert: Obama administration reaches out to public on college ratings system

Thumbnail image for Obama No Child Left Behind.JPGWith the cost of both private and public college tuition soaring, policymakers across the country are looking for ways to keep higher education affordable. Even President Barack Obama has jumped into the fray: In August, he announced his idea for a federal ratings system that would measure the "value" of colleges, serving as a resource for families and possibly as a guide that would redirect financial aid toward schools that score higher on its metrics.

The plan has been met with sharp criticism from Congressional Republicans and education leaders, which puts its scheduled fall 2015 start in doubt. Just last week, Obama's former Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, who took over as president of the University of California in September, expressed her doubts about the idea of a college scorecard.

"I am deeply skeptical that there are criteria that can be developed that are in the end meaningful, because there will be so many exceptions, once you get down to it," Napolitano told the Washington Post. "It's not like — you know, you're not buying a car or a boat."

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Education continues to solicit feedback on the project. Deputy Undersecretary of Education Jamienne Studley, along with U.S. Reps. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, and John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, will be at UC Davis' Vanderhoef Studio Theatre at 10 a.m. for a public forum on college affordability and the proposed ratings system.

VIDEO: California's slowing population growth has far-reaching implications, Dan Walters says, affecting everything from education to real estate.

FIGHT ON: Mixed Martial Arts fighter Fallon Fox caused a stir in March when she came out as transgender to Sports Illustrated. Now the California State Athletics Commission, which licenses athletes in the combat sport, considers new regulations allowing transgender fighters to compete, including whether to check hormone levels to maintain fairness in MMA matches. The meeting takes place at 10 a.m. at 2005 Evergreen St. in Sacramento.

IT'S A HARD-KNOCK LIFE: More than one-in-five children live in poverty, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. An all-day conference, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the California Endowment in Los Angeles, aims to address what the state can do to get the most out of its poverty-relief programs and how it can help to break the cycle for future generations. Among the expected attendees are state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento; state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord; and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.

DOUBLE TROUBLE: The Joint Legislative Audit Committee reviews two recently completed audits, 10 a.m. in Room 126 at the state Capitol. One concerns off-budget accounts, launched after the California Department of Parks and Recreation and Cal Fire were both discovered to be holding millions of dollars in unreported funds; the other is focused on the state Department of Justice's safety mechanisms for prohibiting people with certain mental illnesses from buying or owning guns.

CELEBRATIONS: A belated happy birthday to Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, who turned 72 yesterday, and to California Democratic Party chairman John L. Burton, who turned 81.

PHOTO: President Barack Obama speaks on No Child Left Behind Reform, Sept. 23, 2011, in the East Room of the White House in Washington. The Associated Press/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

December 13, 2013
AM Alert: Support for labor unions plummets in California

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for union_protest.JPGWith heated controversy in recent years surrounding public pensions, municipal bankruptcies and political campaigns, public support for labor unions has plunged in California. For the first time, more voters say these organizations do more harm than good.

A new Field Poll reveals a dramatic 16 percentage point swing in public opinion from two years ago. Forty-five percent of registered voters now believe that unions do more harm than good, compared to 40 percent who say they do more good.

This summer's Bay Area Rapid Transit system drama has also raised the question of whether public transit workers should be allowed to strike. In September, Senate Republican leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, introduced a bill to strip them of that right.

Though a slight plurality of Californians - 47 percent - still believe public transit workers should be able to strike, a majority of the usually liberal San Francisco Bay Area - 52 percent - is now opposed.

Reporter David Siders has more in his story. Here are the statistical tabulations prepared exclusively for Capitol Alert.

The next Field Poll covers Californians' views on the U.S. Congress. Our story will be available early, tonight at 8 p.m., on the Capitol Alert Insider Edition app.

VIDEO: Californians have mixed feelings about life in the state, says Dan Walters.

TRIPLE CROWN: The three leaders of California's public college systems are in San Francisco today for a panel on rebuilding public higher education in the state. University of California President Janet Napolitano, California State University Chancellor Timothy P. White and California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice W. Harris will discuss governance, affordability and technology, among other topics, 8 a.m. at the Parc 55 Hotel.

TUNNEL VISION: As the public comment period opens on the proposed Delta water tunnels plan, opponents of the controversial project are making their displeasure known. A rally against the tunnels is set for north steps of the State Capitol at noon. Representatives from environmental, fishing, farming and anti-tax groups are expected to attend.

PHOTO: Edward West, 72, of Sacramento stands with union workers in a union-backed protest outside a Walmart in Roseville. The demonstration was part of a nationwide campaign protesting wages at Walmart on Black Friday, November 29, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Lezlie Sterling

December 12, 2013
AM Alert: Sex worker advocates seek compensation for victims

prostitute_arrest.JPGFor months, advocacy groups have been pushing the California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board to overturn a regulation that prohibits sex workers from seeking financial assistance if they are the victim of rape or another violent crime.

The board is expected to vote today on whether to scrap the regulation, which has also been challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union, during its monthly meeting, 10 a.m. at 400 R Street. Advocates for sex workers will also be in Sacramento for a protest at 8:30 a.m. outside the state Capitol.

The US PROStitutes Collective, one of the groups spearheading the campaign, said it is about getting all women the help they need. "It's a first step to greater justice and eventually ending criminalization" for prostitution, spokeswoman Rachel West said.

VIDEO: New spending proposed by Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez for next year's budget may not make it to the final bill, Dan Walters says.

LIVING THE GOOD LIFE: As California emerges from a recession and years of state budget deficits, the electorate is growing cheerier about life in the Golden State, with 43 percent of respondents in a new Field Poll saying it is one of the best places to live. But there are growing divides in satisfaction between Democrats and Republicans, as well as between residents of coastal and inland counties. David Siders has the story, which was available to subscribers of the Capitol Alert Insider Edition app last night.

Here are the statistical tabulations prepared exclusively for Capitol Alert.

TECH TIME: Assembly committees on the judiciary, business and privacy are holding a joint informational hearing at Santa Clara University from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. focusing on issues of online commerce and personal privacy protection on the Internet. The event is co-chaired by Assemblymembers Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont; Ed Chau, D-Monterey Park; and Susan Bonilla, D-Concord.

UNIVERSITY DIVERSITY: Representatives from the education advocacy group Campaign for College Opportunity will be at Room 126 in the State Capitol at 2 p.m. for a briefing on their recent reports about the state of Latinos and blacks in higher education in California.

DECK THE HALLS: Gov. Jerry Brown and First Lady Anne Gust Brown will be joined by eight-year-old Angel Valencia-Ceja of Vallejo to light the Capitol Christmas tree today. This year's tree is decorated with 500 ornaments made by children and adults with developmental disabilities. The ceremony takes place on the west steps of the Capitol at 4:30 p.m.

PHOTO: Oakland police officers arrest a suspected juvenile prostitute on May 21, 2007. The Sacramento Bee/Brian Baer

December 11, 2013
AM Alert: Legislature looks to improve emergency cell phone alerts

amber_alert.JPGWhen a noisy late-night text alert about a San Diego abduction went out statewide in August, residents were startled and even annoyed by the interruption. The outcry was swift and widespread, leading Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles, to urge Californians not to disable the emergency alerts on their phones.

State officials are now working to increase awareness of the Wireless Emergency Alert System, which is used to send public messages about kidnappings, imminent threats to public safety, and other events. The Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee and the Joint Committee on Emergency Management will hold a hearing today at 10 a.m. in room 437 at the Capitol, led by Assemblyman Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, and state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara.

People expected to testify today include representatives of state and local law enforcement and emergency response agencies, with a focus on recommending improvements to the program. Among the witnesses is Holly Crawford, director of the San Diego County Office of Emergency Services, which sent out the AMBER Alert that kicked off the public firestorm before 16-year-old Hannah Anderson was rescued in Idaho a week later.

VIDEO: California is working to improve its reputation as a state hostile to business development, Dan Walters says.

INDEPEN-DON'T: Siskiyou and Modoc counties made headlines in September when they voted to secede from California and form a new state with southern Oregon called Jefferson. The news was met with skepticism — and immense disapproval from California voters, as a new Field Poll reveals. Reporter David Siders has the story, which was available to subscribers of the Capitol Alert Insider Edition app last night.

Here are the statistical tabulations prepared exclusively for Capitol Alert.

FRACK, BABY, FRACK: With the goal of having controversial regulations for hydraulic fracturing finalized by January 1, 2015, the California Department of Conservation is hosting scoping meetings about the legislation's environmental impact report across the state over the next month. Department officials will be in Sacramento today from 4-8 p.m. at the Tsakopoulos Library Galleria on I Street.

CORRECTION: Yesterday's AM Alert incorrectly stated that Californians last voted on the issue of marijuana legalization in 2011. Proposition 19 was actually on the ballot in 2010. We apologize for the error.

PHOTO: CHP Captain Greg Ferrero and Sgt. Jennifer Pendergast at CHP's Emergency Notification and Tactical Alert Center, where AMBER Alerts originate, on July 23, 2012. The Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo

December 10, 2013
AM Alert: Majority of California voters support legalizing weed

MC_POTFARM_04.JPGCalifornia's last initiative to legalize marijuana suffered a close defeat in 2010, garnering nearly 47 percent of the vote. Organizers are attempting to get the issue back on the ballot in 2014--and a new Field Poll suggests they may have more luck this time around.

For the first time, a clear majority of respondents support the legalization of marijuana. Fifty-five percent of California voters believe the drug should be legal for purchase either by anyone or with age and other controls, up from 50 percent three years ago and a lowly 13 percent four decades ago.

About 56 percent of Californians are also inclined to vote yes on one new proposed statewide initiative, which would legalize marijuana use for adults over the age of 21 and set a standard for intoxication similar to alcohol. The group behind the proposition has until February to collect 500,000 signatures to qualify it for the ballot. If it were to pass next November, California would become the third state to legalize marijuana, after Washington and Colorado.

Here are the statistical tabulations provided exclusively for Capitol Alert. Reporter Jeremy B. White has more on the state's shifting acceptance of marijuana.

VIDEO: The outlook is murky for two controversial projects that could be Gov. Jerry Brown's legacy, Dan Walters says.

NEW JOB: Lobbyist Natasha Karl is leaving the League of California Cities for a new position overseeing government affairs for Sacramento County. She begins the job next week.

DECK THE HALLS: If you're looking for some lunchtime entertainment, the State Capitol Holiday Music Program continues today with the Sheldon High School Concert Choir at 11 a.m. and the Cantare Chorale at noon in the Capitol Rotunda.

CELEBRATIONS: It's a double birthday! Best wishes to Assemblyman Isadore Hall, D-Compton, who is 42, and state Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, turning 47.

PHOTO: Marijuana plants at an illegal marijuana grow site off Interstate 5 and the Twin Cities exit on August 30, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo

Editor's note: This post was updated at 11:09 a.m. to reflect the correct year of California's last marijuana initiative.

December 9, 2013
AM Alert: Delta water tunnels environmental report released

delta_aerial.JPGWhether the Bay Delta Conservation Plan is the solution to decades of conflict over California's water supply is heavily debated. But after seven years in the making, the environmental impact report for the project -- which proposes construction of two enormous tunnels to divert freshwater from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the south state -- is finally ready for scrutiny.

The impact report was filed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Friday and should be made available on the plan's website some time today. There will be opportunity for the public to comment on the report starting Friday and extending until April 14.

The implications for the project, which is backed by Gov. Jerry Brown but has faced intense political opposition, are considerable: It goes before state and federal wildlife agencies next year, who will consider the effects to the Delta's fragile ecosystem. If they approve the project, the state has said it will decide by the end of 2014 whether to proceed with building the tunnels and how to pay for them.

VIDEO: The Legislature's once-dismal poll numbers are turning around, but that's simply a reflection of the state's economic health, Dan Walters says.

RECOUNT BEGINS: Los Angeles County officials will begin a recount today of last month's whisker-thin special election in the 45th Assembly District. Republican candidate Susan Shelley requested the recount -- and is on the hook to pay for it -- after losing by 329 votes out of more than 29,000 cast in the Nov. 19 election. Shelley plans to make a statement on the status of the recount at about 4:45 p.m.

CAN WE TALK?: As Covered California pushes the gift of health care this holiday season, policymakers and residents continue to grapple with understanding the full effects of the Affordable Care Act. At noon, the California HealthCare Foundation sponsors a talk on price transparency at the California Chamber of Commerce at 1201 K Street. At 6:30, Emily Bazar, senior writer for USC Annenberg's Center for Health Care Reporting, answers audience questions on "Obamacare & You" at the Sacramento State Union Ballroom.

RICH MAN, POOR MAN: Less than half a percent of California households earn nearly a sixth of the state's income, according to new tax return figures from the Franchise Tax Board. The Sacramento Bee's Data Center has an interactive graphic exploring where that wealth is concentrated.

CELEBRATIONS: A belated happy birthday to Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, who turned 62 on Saturday.

PHOTO: Aerial photos of the region to be affected by the Delta water tunnels and intakes in the Courtland area on April 10, 2013. Highway 160 and Randall Island Road are seen near the top of the frame. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

December 6, 2013
AM Alert: Legislature steadily rebuilding popularity with voters

RP CAPITOL PAINT DOME.JPGGood news for our friends at the Capitol: After years of infighting and political gridlock that led to record-low approval ratings, California voters are increasingly satisfied with the performance of their legislative branch.

As subscribers to the Capitol Alert Insider Edition app learned last night, a new Field Poll shows approval of the state Legislature is now at 40 percent, the highest it has been since 2007 and a level it has not consistently reached in more than a decade. A slightly greater number of Californians still disapprove of the job the Legislature is doing, but that number has fallen to 44 percent--the first time in six years it has been less than half.

Clearly, we've come a long way since the darkest days of September 2010, when a budget crisis fueled 80 percent disapproval of the Legislature. Is the Democrats' supermajority in both houses behind the growing contentment of deep-blue California? Reporter Jeremy B. White has more on that question and whether voters feel the state is moving in the right direction.

Here are the statistical tabulations provided exclusively for Capitol Alert.

VIDEO: Sebastian Ridley-Thomas' election to the Assembly this week proves that family connections are the surest path to success in politics, Dan Walters says.

OBAMACARE OPINIONS: A new survey from the Public Policy Institute of California examines Californians' attitudes toward federal health care reform and awareness of implementation efforts in the state. The results will be presented by research associate Dean Bonner at the CSAC Conference Center on 11th Street at noon.

POLITICAL POINTS: Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez's nascent campaign for state controller got a boost yesterday with an endorsement from Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. He will attempt to build on that momentum tonight with a fundraiser at the Sacramento Kings game against the Los Angeles Lakers, 7 p.m. at the Sleep Train Arena. Tickets are $2,500.

PENSION CHAT: Sacramento Bee reporters Dale Kasler and Jon Ortiz will host a live online chat to discuss how recent rulings on pensions may affect Californians. Join at at 11:30 a.m. today to share your questions and comments.

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

December 5, 2013
AM Alert: High-speed rail authority grapples with legal setback

Thumbnail image for High Speed Rail.JPGCalifornia's proposed high-speed train was left in the lurch last week when a Sacramento Superior Court judge ordered the rail authority to rescind its original funding plan. The ruling halts state bond funding for the $68 billion project until a new plan is established and opens the door for the train's opponents to further challenge its financing.

Members of the California High-Speed Rail Authority will meet with counsel today at 9 a.m. in the Sacramento City Council Chambers for a closed session on this case and other pending litigation. Several groups have challenged the high-speed train project on financial and environmental grounds, making it increasingly difficult for construction to get started.

That discussion will be followed by a public meeting at 10 a.m., covering updates on the construction process and including an opportunity for public comment.

VIDEO: The city of San Bernardino is bankrupt, but it is still increasing police salaries this year, an act that Dan Walters calls "dumb conduct."

MR. POPULAR: As subscribers to the Capitol Alert Insider app learned last night, Gov. Jerry Brown's popularity is on the upswing. A new Field Poll reveals that approval of his job performance among California voters is up seven points since July, to 58 percent, with only 33 percent disapproving. Though he has not declared his intentions to run for a fourth term, Brown is also the overwhelming choice in a simulated primary gubernatorial race. Reporter David Siders has more on Brown's surging poll numbers.

Here are the statistical tabulations provided exclusively for Capitol Alert.

OPENING UP: Between budget deficits that threatened the closing of state parks and revelations of long-hidden cash surpluses, the California Department of Parks and Recreation had a rocky 2012. State Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, will be at McConnell State Recreation Area, one of the parks that faced cuts, today at 10 a.m. to announce new legislation aimed at increasing transparency in state agencies. He will be joined by members of Save Our River Parks, an organization that raised private funds to keep McConnell and Hatfield State Recreation Areas open during the 2012-13 fiscal year.

SCIENCE BREAK: Agricultural biotech has been a controversial topic, with public debate about genetically modified organisms becoming increasingly heated. Alan McHughen, who has served on several National Academy of Sciences panels investigating GMOs, will explore the environmental, health and public policy impacts of modern food production during a presentation today at noon at the University of California Center Sacramento on K Street.

PENSION CHAT: Sacramento Bee reporters Dale Kasler and Jon Ortiz will host a live online chat discuss how recent rulings on pensions may affect Californians. Join at at 11:30 a.m. Friday, December 6, to share your questions and comments.

PHOTO: A rendering of a high-speed train moving through a wind farm in the proposed high-speed rail network. Image courtesy of Newlands and Company Inc.

December 4, 2013
AM Alert: Chris Christie emerges as (very) early favorite in California


Those of you who subscribe to our Capitol Alert Insider app learned this last night, but: three years out from the next presidential election, California Republicans now who they like best at this point.

Predicting the outcome of elections well in advance is a losing game, of course - the 2012 Republican field's candidate-of-the-week leaderboard fluctuations prove that - but it seems fitting that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie represents, for now, the best choice for the California GOP.

Christie may be looked upon with unease by the tea party-inflected right, but that dynamic doesn't seem to be working against him in California. His status as the top choice of registered Republicans and Democrats alike emerges in a poll that shows a plurality of California Republicans simultaneously believing the tea party is a positive force and registering that the movement undermines the chances of Republican Congressional candidates. You can read more about California's perspective on the Republican field here.

VIDEO: Meanwhile, President Obama's numbers are on the wane in California - something Dan Walters says doesn't bode well for Democrats in 2014.

BONDING: The Assembly water bond tour continues today. Assemblymembers Brian Dahle, Mariko Yamada, Adam Gray and Anthony Rendon - chair of the working group and author of a $6.5 bond measure - will be in Redding today to discuss the proposal. Local voices will include representatives of the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, the Third District Agricultural Association, the Tehama-Colusa Canal Authority and the Sites Reservoir Joint Powers Authority. From 1:30 p.m. at the Shasta County Board of Supervisors chambers.

EMISSIONS MISSION: As California strives to reduce its emissions, low and zero-emission vehicles offer a crucial way to clear the air. But getting those cars on the road is only one part; ensuring there are sufficient public charging stations to make the vehicles viable also represents an obstacle, one that an Assembly Transportation Committee hearing will examine today.

Witnesses will include Denise Tyrrell of the California Public Utilities Commission, Analisa Bevan of the California Air Resources Board, Jim McGowan of the California Building Standards Commission and Jacob Lieb of the Southern California Association of Governments, in addition to representatives from
Southern California Edison, the Sacramento Municipal Utilities District and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Starting at 10:30 a.m. in the Long Beach City Council chambers.

PRISON PRISM: It will be a Bay Area-dominated day at an Assembly Select Committee on Justice Reinvestment hearing in San Francisco today. Witnesses will include Richmond Chief of Police Chris Magnus, Judge Cynthia Ming-Mei Lee of San Francisco Superior Court and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón.

PHOTO: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in New York on June 27, 2013. Associated Press/Julio Cortez.

December 3, 2013
AM Alert: Special election will cushion Assembly supermajority

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The special election in the 54th Assembly District is guaranteed to add to Democrats' supermajority in the lower house, as all three candidates are Democrats. So the real political drama in today's primary is whether one of the three — accountant Christopher R. Armenta, real estate broker John Jake or former state Senate staffer Sebastian Ridley-Thomas — can win outright by garnering more than one-half of the vote.

Ridley-Thomas, whose father Mark Ridley-Thomas is chairman of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and a former state legislator, has secured several high-profile endorsements, including Gov. Jerry Brown and U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer. His fundraising dwarfs the other candidates.

If Ridley-Thomas doesn't seal the deal tonight, the top two finishers in the primary will face off again Feb. 4 for this Los Angeles-area seat. Columnist Dan Walters has more analysis on the impact of the race.

VIDEO: The latest report on the state of higher education in California needs more solutions, Dan Walters says.

DIMMING OUTLOOK: A new Field Poll reveals that California voters have an increasingly negative view of Pres. Barack Obama's job performance and the country's future. Although a slim majority still approve of the President's overall performance, the proportion of Californians who disapprove is up 8 percentage points since July, to 43 percent. A whopping 55 percent believe the country is seriously off on the wrong track, while only a third think it is moving in the right direction. Reporter Christopher Cadelago has a deeper dive into the numbers.

Here are the statistical tabulations provided exclusively for Capitol Alert.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to Assemblyman Donald P. Wagner, R-Irvine, who turns 53 today.

PHOTO: President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks during a Worlds AIDS Day event, Monday, Dec. 2, 2103, in Washington. AP/Carolyn Kaster

November 26, 2013
AM Alert: Obama wraps up California trip with film studio visit


Nothing allays the sting of a polling plunge like returning to a place where you know you're loved.

President Barack Obama, buffeted by the shaky rollout of health care reform and grappling with new lows in his approval rating, is on another California jaunt. He headed to the Bay Area yesterday for a pair of DNC events and a speech urging immigration reform, after which he headed to Los Angeles for a pair of DCCC/DSCC events. Today he travels to where they make dreams a reality.

By that we mean Obama's planned tour of a DreamWorks Animation facility in Glendale, where he'll talk about the economy and tout the job creation prowess of the motion picture industry. It probably bears noting here that DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg has been one of the president's most prolific financial backers.

VIDEO: Where does this train stop? Dan Walters addresses the confusing legal landscape for high-speed rail.

CAPTION CONTEST: Have you found yourself wanting to get in the head of embattled Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, in recent weeks? Here's your chance: submit your best guess at what Calderon has to say to Santa Claus by noon today for a chance to be mentioned in The Bee and get a framed cartoon keepsake. Any attempts to sway the process with envelopes full of cash will be rejected.

TURKEY TALLY: A little Thanksgiving rumination to start off the day: how many free turkeys are state lawmakers handing out in that time-honored tradition of constituent outreach?

Our avowedly nonscientific review of turkey giveaways scheduled for today has several lawmakers giving them away as part of Operation Gobble, a philanthropic venture run by the California Water Association that is working with 81 lawmakers to donate an estimated 25,000 turkeys this year. Assemblyman Isadore Hall, D-Compton, has already parceled out more than 5,000 birds as part of a separate effort. So a conservative legislative baseline for the season is a minimum of 30,000 turkeys. Quite the flock.

PHOTO: President Barack Obama speaks during a DNC fundraiser at the San Francisco Jazz Center, Monday, Nov. 25, 2013, in San Francisco. AP Photo/ Pablo Martinez Monsivais.

November 25, 2013
AM Alert: Progressive California budget priorities on display


We got a little preview of the coming year's budget negotiations earlier this week, when designated room-inhabiting-adult Gov. Jerry Brown responded to a glowing fiscal forecast by urging that an expected revenue surge be tucked away to cushion against more turbulent times.

An event in San Francisco this morning will offer the counterpoint. Hosted by the liberal Greenlining Institute and attended by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, the "Equity in California's State Budget" talk will feature the type of social safety net menders likely to push for Brown and lawmakers to restore funding this year.

In addition to Leno, speakers are expected to include Raquel F. Donoso of the Latino Community Foundation, Chris Hoene of the California Budget Project, Mai Yang Vang of California Forward, Ellen Wu of the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network and Valerie Cuevas of The Education Trust--West. From 9:30 a.m. to noon at the Public Policy Institute of California's Bechtel Conference Center.

VIDEO: California's roadmap for implementing federal health care reform has shaken up Democrats, Dan Walters says.

GATTO FUNERAL: On a sad note, today is the funeral for Joseph Gatto, father of Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles. The elder Gatto was fatally shot at home earlier this month. The Gatto family is asking that in lieu of flowers donations be sent to The Historic Italian Hall Foundation; the Los Angeles Community Garden Council; or The Tuition Magician. The service is planned for 10 a.m. in Los Angeles.

EXECUTIVE DECISION: President Barack Obama will be in San Francisco and Los Angeles for some Democratic National Committee and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee/Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee events. Obama will also be delivering some public remarks at San Francisco's Betty Ann Ong Chinese Recreation Center, and a White House preview emphasized not health care or filibusters but immigration, with the president expected to urge passage of a reform package that has receded from the spotlight.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to whippersnapper Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles, who turns 39 today.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown discusses his revised state budget plan during a Capitol news conference in Sacramento, Calif., Monday, May 14, 2012. .AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli.

November 22, 2013
AM Alert: Toy guns targeted by California lawmakers


After California lawmakers sent Gov. Jerry Brown a cluster of gun control bills encompassing everything from lead ammunition to local gun ordinances last year, the next gun agenda item is child's play.

The 2014 legislative session is now a little over a month away, and legislators are getting things rolling today by announcing a bill targeting realistic-looking toy guns that can prompt disproportionate responses. Fueling the push is the lethal shooting in October of a 13-year-old Santa Rosa boy who was carrying an toy gun that a sheriff's deputy mistook for an actual AK-47.

Senators Kevin de León and Noreen Evans will be at today's press conference unveiling the legislation, as will Assemblymen Wesley Chesbro and Marc Levine and Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada. They'll be speaking at the Santa Rosa Old Courthouse square at 10 a.m.

VIDEO: Fifty years later, Dan Walters reflects on a day that only one piece of news really mattered.

GRADING CALIFORNIA: As you may have seen, California didn't fare too well on the last round of National Assessment of Educational Progress tests that offer a key tool to compare state-level educational performance. At a Policy Analysis for California Education event today, Stanford expert Martin Carnoy will break down some of the state data and try to explain why California falls where it does. From noon to 1:30 p.m. at the UC Center Sacramento building on K street.

DEMOCRATIC PLANNING: The California Democratic Party will be doing some strategizing this weekend in Millbrae, where members will gather for an executive board meeting. California Attorney General Kamala Harris will address the attendees at a Saturday luncheon, and people will phonebank for Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, one of three Dems vying to fill the open 54th Assembly District seat let open by the departure of Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles.

PHOTO: Left is a real gun, and right is a toy gun. Image courtesy of Placer Co. Sheriff.

November 21, 2013
AM Alert: California's government overhaul examined


Who says railing against government inefficiency is a partisan issue? You may remember that, citing government redundancy and bloat, Gov. Jerry Brown successfully pushed a plan in 2012 to reduce the number of state agencies and consolidate other parts of the vast state bureaucracy.

Today the Little Hoover Commission will assess how things are going, summoning a list of state agency representatives who can describe what's getting streamlined and how things will operate in coming years.

Those speakers are expected to include Marybel Batjer, secretary of the California Government Operations Agency; Julie Chapman and Stacie Abbott of the California Department of Human Resources; Tina Campbell of the Employment Development Department and Patricia Clarey and Suzanne Ambrose of the State Personnel Board. Starting at 9:30 a.m. in State Capitol room 437.

VIDEO: Tuesday's elections offer some warning signs for California Democrats, Dan Walters says.

MILKEN IT: Gov. Jerry Brown will be in Santa Monica today, giving remarks at a Milken Institute-sponsored California Summit. The governor is expected to address the state's economy and the policy path ahead.

DUKE'S COURT: An event today dedicating a gleaming new Long Beach courthouse will officially christen the building as the Gov. George Deukmejian Courthouse. Guests at the 3:30 p.m. event will include Deukmejian and California Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvin Baxter.

RECALL MADNESS: As long as we're on the topic of governors past and present, Sacramento State University will be looking back at the 2003 electoral circus today. "Born to Run," apparently also known as "Gubernatorious," is a documentary following five political neophytes who a decade ago joined the fray of candidates vying to replace Gov. Gray Davis. The screening starts at 6 p.m. in Sac State's Mendocino Hall.

TY-FUNDS: Some people who orbit in Sacramento's legislative galaxy will be gathering at Chops tonight to raise money for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan. The charity event, organized by Dan Jacobson of Environment California, will run from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

November 20, 2013
AM Alert: LAO forecasts California's post-Prop. 30 financial future


As Gov. Jerry Brown and allies have trumpeted the bright fiscal days ushered in by Proposition 30, naysayers have invoked the dark clouds on the distant horizon of the temporary tax increase's eventual expiration.

Their thinking is that Proposition 30 is a band-aid that won't address California's bigger economic issues. Today we'll get preliminary sense of what a post-Proposition 30 California might look like during a forecast by Mac Taylor, the Legislative Analyst's Office's financial guru.

Taylor will be prognosticating in the LAO conference room at 925 L street starting at 11:30 a.m. He'll be talking about the likely status of California's general fund through fiscal year 2019-2020, so most of the ground he'll cover will be when Proposition 30 is in effect - and, it should be added, will also encompass the 2018 gubernatorial election.

VIDEO: California's broad variation in sales taxes has become a confusing jumble, Dan Walters says.

STRIKE!: Lawmakers will join striking University of California workers at picket lines across the state today, backing union members who allege that management cracked down after a previous strike with a campaign of intimidation. Rallying legislators are expected to include Sen. Leland Yee in San Francisco, Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner in Berkeley, Assemblyman Mark Stone in Santa Cruz, Assemblyman Richard Pan in Davis, Sen. Alex Padilla in Los Angeles and Assemblywomen Lorena Gonzalez and Shirley Weber in San Diego.

GREENLIGHT: A few different state agencies will be touting their accomplishments at a Cal/EPA sponsored fair celebrating environmentally friendly resources in honor of America Recycles Day (which was Friday). Organizations with booths will include the California Fuel Cell Partnership, the California High-Speed Rail Authority, CalRecycle and SMUD. At Cal/EPA headquarters on I street.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, who turns 65 today.

PHOTO: Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor held a news conference at the Capitol on November 11, 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Mac Taylor.

November 19, 2013
AM Alert: Special election for Los Angeles Assembly seat


One of the last Los Angeles City Council election-prompted dominoes will fall today, with voters filling one of two legislative seats left vacant by lawmakers who migrated to L.A.

Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, already cruised to an easy victory in claiming the Senate seat formerly held by Curren Price, ensuring that Democrats in the Senate retain a margin of error on their supermajority.

Now the voters will select the successor to former Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield. Democrat Matt Dababneh will take on Republican Susan Shelley in 45th Assembly District, and Assembly Dems are poised to reclaim their supermajority if Dababneh prevails. If not, they'll get another shot via the special election to fill Mitchell's old seat in the 54th Assembly District - not a terribly tall order, given that all three certified candidates for the primary are Democrats.

VIDEO: California is about to undertake a grand experiment in energy production, Dan Walters says.

SEEING BROWN: Gov. Jerry Brown will be at Sacramento's Jefferson Elementary School today for a press conference heralding a nonprofit that gets needy kids free eyeglasses. Things get underway at 10 a.m.

BOOZE BOOSTERS: Liquor lovers rejoice: eagerly anticipating a new law that will soon allow craft distilleries to charge for tastings,members of the California Artisanal Distillers Guild will be kicking off a liquor-sampling special in Alameda, along with bill author Nancy Skinner.

PHOTO: An election official files vote by mail ballots to be counted by precinct in Sacramento, Calif. on Wednesday, November 7, 2012. The Sacramento Bee/Renee C. Byer.

November 18, 2013
AM Alert: STEM education symposium comes to Sacramento


So NBA great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, renowned actress Geena Davis and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson walk into a convention center.

There is no punchline here, actually, unless you find science and math education hilarious. The above mentioned will join an estimated 2,000 teachers for a two-day conference on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education -- commonly known as STEM -- at the Sacramento Convention Center today.

The necessity of producing more STEM-trained workers has become a bit of a bipartisan talking point lately -- back when immigration reform was still being actively debated, for instance, both Republicans and Democrats endorsed automatic green cards for STEM-trained foreign workers -- and the Sacramento conference will talk about STEM curriculum and teaching, including how it fits into the coming Common Core standards.

VIDEO: There's a certain German word that can describe the activity in Washington and Sacramento these days, Dan Walters says.

CPUC QUESTIONED: The California Public Utilities Commission continues to feel the heat, which today manifests itself as a Energy Subcommittee On Gas And Electric Infrastructure Safety hearing on how the CPUC can improve its oft-maligned oversight practices.

Witnesses at the hearing, overseen by Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, and Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, are expected to include Papia Gambelin of Pacific Gas and Electric Company, some experts on government risk management and a few representatives from the commission, of whom only deputy director Brian Turner had confirmed as of Friday afternoon. From 10 a.m. to noon in San Francisco's Hiram W. Johnson State Office Building.

PHOTO: Tom Torlakson speaks at a candidates forum at Sac State on September 26, 2010. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

November 15, 2013
AM Alert: California's new fracking law yields draft regulations

JV_061013_FRACKING_214.JPGAfter last session's fierce dispute over the future of hydraulic fracturing in California, the initial product of a new fracking law will flow into view this morning.

The state's first successful piece of fracking legislation got signed into law despite satisfying neither of the key interests: it drew opposition from both the environmentalists warning of an unfettered fracking boom and the energy industry bemoaning cumbersome rules. This morning, the California Department of Conservation plans to announce the first draft of regulations resulting from the bill.

And while environmentalists ended up unhappy with the final bill, many concede that regulations guided by Sen. Fran Pavley's bill are an improvement over the rules drafted last year by the department's Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources, which lawmakers and advocates alike criticized as lacking. So now the months-long process begins of shaping and finalizing the new regs, with representatives of Sierra Club California, Clean Water Actions and other environmental groups weighing their next steps during a 10:30 a.m. conference call.

VIDEO: Dan Walters takes a bite out of Gov. Jerry Brown's "reality sandwich."

November 14, 2013
AM Alert: FPPC votes on lawmaker fines; Tom Berryhill fights

20130311_HA_LEGISLATORS1617.JPGComes today the California Fair Political Practices Commission's judgments against a trio of lawmakers, past and present, involved with mishandled campaign money. The FPPC will likely sign off on tens of thousands of dollars in combined fines against former lawmakers Dean Florez and Mike Roos. Assemblyman Luis Alejo is being forced to repay $21,092 the FPPC determined was illegally donated to his campaign by his campaign consultant.

Assemblyman Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte, on the other hand, is not going down quietly.

Accused of using a pair of county committees to launder campaign contributions for his brother Bill Berryhill, a former assemblyman, Tom Berryhill has been fighting the case, rejecting the FPPC's claim that he used the county entities to circumvent individual donation limits. Berryhill will testify before an Office of Administrative Hearings judge this morning, seeking to counter the FPPC's claims. His brother Bill is up next Tuesday.

VIDEO: How much of a problem is poverty in California? That depends on how you run the numbers, Dan Walters says.

CARBONATION: A year after California held its inaugural auction of emissions permits, the Air Resources Board is gathering some expert input on operating the newly created cap-and-trade marketplace. Members of the Emissions Market Assessment Committee will be conferring at the Cal-EPA Headquarters Building from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Meanwhile, a conference at UC Berkeley will examine how California can curtail its greenhouse gasses. Expected speakers are Mary Nichols, chair of the Air Resources Board; David Hochschild, a commissioner on the California Energy Commission; Cliff Rechtschaffen, an energy and environment adviser to Gov. Jerry Brown; and John White, executive director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies.

COVERED CALIFORNIA: We finally have some numbers on how many Californians bought insurance through the new state exchange as of mid-November. Expect Peter Lee, the exchange's executive director, to float those figures - and compare them favorably to the performance of other states - during a Commonwealth Club event tonight discussing the implementation of the health care overhaul. Starting at 6 p.m.

CARING ON: Speaking of health care, the Select Committee on Workforce and Vocational Development in California will hold a hearing today at CSU Bakersfield about what the federal health care law will mean for workers, particularly a graying workforce. Starting at 9:30 a.m.

Editor's Note: This post and headline has been updated to remove a reference that Assemblyman Luis Alejo was fined. His committee was required to repay $21,092 the FPPC determined was illegally donated to his campaign by his campaign consultant. Updated at 2 p.m. Nov. 18, 2013.

PHOTO: Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte, is shown during session in the Senate chambers in Sacramento on March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

November 13, 2013
AM Alert: California panel weighs state prisons' efficiency

CaliforniaPrisonsHungerStrike.jpgWhen Gov. Jerry Brown unveiled his plan earlier this year to expand California's prison capacity, a bid to satisfy federal orders to slim the state's inmate population, he spurred skepticism from critics who said enlarging the state's network of inmate facilities represented a step backwards.

The budget deal allocating $315 million towards more inmate housing also helped birth the Assembly Select Committee on Justice Reinvestment, which will consider charges that California's corrections system has become unwieldy and inefficient.

Co-chairs Tom Ammiano and Reggie Jones-Sawyer will preside over the hearing, which will feature Jude Litzenberger of San Diego's Veteran's Court; Judge Stephen V. Manley of Santa Clara County Superior Court; Lee Seale, chief probation officer for Sacramento County, Contra Costa Public Defender Robin Lipetzky; Lisa Rodriguez of the San Diego DA's office; and a representative of the San Francisco DA's office. From 10:30 a.m. in room 444.

VIDEO: While Sen. Ron Calderon faced some actions Tuesday connected with his FBI investigation, Dan Walters points out that other lawmakers have no trouble packing their bags for Hawaii.

November 12, 2013
AM Alert: California Senate weighs Ron Calderon's committees

MC_CALDERON_01.JPGFresh off honoring the nation's military veterans, California lawmakers will meet today to shape a veteran lawmaker's political future.

The fallout from the leaked FBI affidavit implicating Sen. Ron Calderon led Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, to request last week that Calderon should be stripped of his committee assignments.

Today, the Senate Rules Committee meets to consider the request -- and as Steinberg chairs the Rules Committee, the outcome of today's 1 p.m. meeting in the Capitol's room 4203 may be a given.

Assuming Calderon does lose his committee posts, that raises some questions about what comes next. So far only one lawmaker has publicly called for Calderon's full resignation, which Calderon has rejected, and Steinberg's office has said the committee changes are pending the conclusion of the federal probe. But it's anyone guess how long it will take, so we may have a committee-less Calderon operating under a cloud any time he casts votes on the Senate floor.

VIDEO: Dan Walters parses the apparently contradictory poll numbers on Gov. Jerry Brown.

November 11, 2013
AM Alert: Veterans Day celebrated across California

JV_052113_VETERANS033.JPGCalifornia state workers have today off in honor of Veterans Day, but public officials around the state will be busy marking the occasion.

Here in Sacramento, a special ceremony put on by California Mexican-American Veterans Memorial Inc. will gather a rifle guard and speakers, including former Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante and Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, outside of the Mexican American Veterans Memorial on 10th Street.

After labor leaders and lawmakers announced some veteran-centric policy proposals on Friday, unions are organizing various service projects for vets today. Some electrical workers unions have also banded together to create a five-year apprentice program for vets.

The California Commission on the Status of Women and Girls will be unveiling a new program aimed at mentoring female veterans and military spouses. Rebecca Blanton, the commission's executive director, and Deborah Frett of the Business and Professional Women's Foundation will detail the project during a 10 a.m. presser at the California Military History Museum.

VIDEO: Stockton may be staggering towards solid ground, but Dan Walters identifies a financial pit still looming before cities.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, who turns 73 today, and to Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, who celebrates No. 65.

PHOTO: A veteran holds his World War II cap during an Operation Recognition Diploma ceremony on May 21, 2013, at the Sacramento County of Education in Rancho Cordova. The Sacramento Bee/José Luis Villegas.

November 8, 2013
AM Alert: California lawmakers, labor push veteran jobs initiative

JV_072513_KOREANVETS 137.JPGCalifornia state government will take a break Monday in honor of Veterans Day, and today lawmakers and labor leaders will launch a program to connect vets to work.

The new "Veterans and Labor -- Partners in Service" program will introduce some policy priorities that would encourage hiring veterans, bolster job training and increase veteran housing. Some bigwigs are coming out today to trumpet it, including Art Pulaski of the California Labor Federation, Yvonne Walker of SEIU 1000; and Lorraine Plass, of the organization California AMVETS. Joining them will be Assembly members Richard Pan, Roger Dickinson and Ken Cooley.

VIDEO: Is an FPPC action finally shining a spotlight on one of Sacramento's "dirty little secrets"? Dan Walters wonders.

HOSPITALITY: On the subject of union-backed initiatives, members of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West will converge on Attorney General Kamala Harris's office today to file a pair of ballot initiatives that seek, respectively, to cap hospital executive pay and limit how much hospitals can charge patients for care. Proponents will be holding a 12:45 p.m. news conference in front of the AG's office.

FILM FLAM: For the first time since Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg booted Sen. Ron Calderon off the California Film Commission, the panel will meet in Los Angeles. It should be interesting to see if the Calderon case comes up, given that a central allegation in the leaked Calderon affidavit involves an undercover FBI agent bribing Calderon to try to lower the film credit threshold, and the film tax credit program is on the agenda. No word on whether Rocky Patel plans to attend.

ECONOMICS: We're in day 2 of the California Economic Summit, also being held in Los Angeles, and today a handful of elected officials will be voicing their thoughts. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom will deliver the luncheon keynote, with the list of other lawmakers participating throughout the day including Assembly members Ed Chau, Al Muratsuchi, Rudy Salas, Nora Campos, Jeff Gorell, Kristin Olsen, Jose Medina and Cristina Garcia, in addition to Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Sen. Bill Emmerson.

PHOTO: A Citrus Heights man and Korean War veteran salutes during the National Anthem at Raley Field in West Sacramento on July 27, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Jose Luis Villegas.

November 7, 2013
AM Alert: Two California GOP governor candidates on display

MC_GOP_BARBOUR_02.JPGFor those of you who missed Tim Donnelly's launch video this week, the tea party favorite and Second Amendment stalwart has made it official and entered the gubernatorial race.

Today we see the contrast between Donnelly's red-meat effort and the more moderate tack of his fellow Republican, former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado. Having rolled through Central Valley towns Wednesday, the Donnelly campaign bus -- emblazoned with the phrase "Patriot not Politician" -- pulls into Sacramento today.

Maldonado, meanwhile, will be speaking at an event at San Jose State University called "California: Leading the Nation on Immigration Reform." During the spring California Republican Party convention that featured plenty of election postmortems attempting to diagnose the party's woes, Maldonado mentioned the need to make inroads with Latino voters -- something his candidacy could bolster. That outcome seems less likely for Minutemen veteran Donnelly.

VIDEO: Which government tech project are we talking about now? Dan Walters compares California's unemployment insurance program to

November 6, 2013
AM Alert: Lag in California unemployment benefits gets scrutiny

EDDOffice.JPGFeeling fatigued by all those stories about issues undermining Obamacare's new federal health insurance website? Good news: Today you get a distraction in the form of a hearing reminding us that California, too, struggles to surmount computer glitches that separate citizens from benefits.

We're talking, of course, about the recent delay in processing unemployment insurance payments, which turned out to have unfolded despite officials knowing ahead of time of potential tech issues. Gov. Jerry Brown has since flagged "multiple screw-ups" being behind the snafu. While the governor didn't elaborate, an Assembly Insurance Committee hearing today promises to illuminate what went wrong.

Several officials from the Employment Development Department have been summoned to testify, including its chief deputy director Sharon Hilliard; the chief of the Unemployment Branch, Sabrina Reed; and the chief of Information Technology, Gail Overhouse. Others listed include executives from the contractor, Deloitte Consulting, that managed the computer upgrade preceding the flareup, as well as representatives of SEIU Local 1000, California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. and the California Labor Federation. The hearing starts at 11 a.m. in the Capitol's room 437.

VIDEO: Dan Walters looks at the true motives of the two Republicans who have announced that they're challenging Gov. Jerry Brown.

November 5, 2013
AM Alert: California panel wades into groundwater policy

RPCOSUMNESWATERrELEASE.JPGWith water issues on the agenda for the coming session in the California Legislature, given a pair of 2014 water bond proposals, it's a good time to take a look at groundwater.

Unlike with other bodies on water policy, there is no state-level entity overseeing groundwater withdrawals, despite the pace at which California is depleting some aquifers as well as issues with access to clean drinking water. Some policymakers, particularly those skeptical about the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta tunnel project, wonder why we haven't focused more on replenishing and preserving groundwater.

Today the State Board of Food and Agriculture will wade into the issue. A daylong meeting covering everything from local groundwater authority to the role of the Sierra snowpack will marshal a roster of academics in addition to representatives of the U.S. Geological Survey, the State Water Resources Control Board, the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board and the Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz County. Starting at 10 a.m. at 1220 N St.

VIDEO: Bills change, and elected officials come and go, but the last couple of weeks have reminded Dan Walters of a constant in Sacramento.

FRACKTASTIC: Just as hydraulic fracturing requires a trade-secret-protected cocktail of different chemicals, a panel at San Francisco's Commonwealth Club today will feature a potentially volatile mix of fracking views. Speakers include Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, author of the controversial new fracking law; Annie Notthoff of the Natural Resources Defense Council, representing the environmentalists who abandoned the bill en masse; and Paul Deiro, who questioned fracking regulation as a lobbyist for the Western States Petroleum Association. The earth-shattering talk kicks off at 6:30 p.m.

BROWN ON BOARD: Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to drop by a meeting of the California State University trustees in Long Beach today. The governor has spent recent visits with the heads of one of the state's public university systems emphasizing students earning their degrees faster and pushing for greater use of online education. Stay tuned to see what he focuses on during this round.

CAREER EDUCATION: The Linked Learning victory lap continues. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, will continue trumpeting a quarter-billion-dollar budget outlay for linked learning, or schools with curricula tailored to specific careers, during an appearance at De Anza High School in El Sobrante this morning.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, who turns 39 today.

PHOTO: Two miles south of Sloughhouse, near Sacramento, water flowing at 40 cubic feet per second is released from the Folsom South Canal into the Cosumnes River on Oct. 17, 2005. The Sacramento Bee/ Randy Pench.

November 4, 2013
AM Alert: California lawmakers debate, denounce the Delta plan


While avian aficionados and flying fowl flock to the Sacramento Delta to revel in its natural bounty, legislators and policymakers continue to hammer Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed Bay Delta Conservation Plan for potentially disrupting the area's precarious ecological balance.

In Granite Bay, Assemblywoman Beth Gaines, R-Rocklin, and other public officials will kick off a weeklong celebration of Folsom Lake -- but not without some pointed words questioning whether the Delta Plan would protect the lake from being drained dry.

And over in Stockton, the Delta Coalition will bring together area lawmakers and experts for an event trumpeting "The Real Delta Story," which presumably is a story detailing the deleterious impact of massive water conveyance tunnels. Expected are Barbara Barrigan-Parilla, head of Restore the Delta; Senators Lois Wolk and Cathleen Galgiani; and Assembly members Susan Eggman, Jim Frazier, Kristin Olsen and Mariko Yamada. Starting at 10 a.m. at the University of the Pacific Alumni House.

EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED: The sometimes-irascible Brown may not always light up the room, but he can still light up a mansion. The Governor's Mansion State Historic Park has restored a floor of the storied building and installed a new lighting system, and the governor will celebrate the latest luminosity during a "Light Up the Night" event tonight. From 6 to 8 p.m. at the governor's mansion.

FEDERAL FOOD SAFETY: Coming on three years after President Barack Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act into law, the Senate Agriculture Committee will examine the implications for California's vast array of food producers. Witnesses will include Rick Jensen of the California Department of Food and Agriculture and speakers from the California Farm Bureau Federation, the Western Growers Association, California Certified Organic Farmers and California Citrus Mutual. Starting at 1:30 p.m. at the Stockton City Council Chambers.

PHOTO: Campaign sign along highway 160 in the delta on Wednesday, July 10, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton.

October 31, 2013
AM Alert: Zombie bills haunt corridors of California Capitol


In the spirit of today's celebration of all things ghostly, we thought it might be instructive to reflect today on some of California's zombie bills: issues that seem to come back to life on an annual basis after being left dead the prior session.

One notorious example at last joined the realm of living laws this session: after years of trying, Democrats were finally able to push across a bill offering driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants. Former state lawmaker Gil Cedillo can now rest in peace (figuratively speaking).

But others perished, perhaps to await resurrection in January. For the second straight year, Sen. Mark Leno's bill to allow misdemeanor charges for minor drug possession failed, as did legislation seeking to streamline the process of firing teachers; the push to create a state-level agency to regulate marijuana gave up the ghost; and the quest to institute an oil extraction tax, propelled this time by ominous warnings about a coming boom in the Monterey Shale, suffered a familiar fate.

Then, of course, there is the unremitting battle over changing the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act. Barring a legislative solution, MICRA reform could lurch its way to the ballot box come 2014.

TRICK OR TREAT: As if observing democracy up close isn't scary enough, offices in the State Capitol will be participating in the autumnal festivities today by offering up Halloween treats. It's unclear how many people will participate in the staffers-only event, or whether people will swap their recess-casual wear for costumes, but a staffer organizing the event assures us that, at a minimum, Shrek will be stalking the corridors; we're wondering whether the politically besieged Sutter Brown will get into the act.

TAXING TIMES: In California, "tax revolt" is a phrase typically associated with the anti-taxation ferment that led to the passage of Proposition 13. UC San Diego professor Branislav L. Slantchev will offer a broader and wonkier look today, laying out his research during a UC Center Sacramento talk on the general functioning of tax rebellions. From noon to 1:30 p.m. at 1130 K Street.

PHOTO: People dressed as zombies gather at Sub Q Piercing in midtown for a series of zombie related activities, starting with "zombies face off" where fx artists compete in horror makeup. The Sacramento Bee/Autumn Cruz.

October 30, 2013
AM Alert: Janet Napolitano to lay out higher education plan


As former California Fair Political Practices Commission chief Ann Ravel's transition this week to the Federal Election Commission demonstrated, the California-to-Washington pipeline continues to function.

Moving in the opposite direction is Janet Napolitano, the former Obama administration cabinet secretary who has traded homeland security for higher education. The University of California regents confirmed Napolitano as president back in July, and tonight Napolitano will be in San Francisco to deliver a speech billed as the first major public address of her tenure.

While running a public university network may seem less daunting than overseeing America's sprawling national security and immigration systems, Napolitano will have plenty to keep her occupied. A recent report from the Little Hoover Commission called for a radical rethinking of California's public colleges, arguing that a cash infusion alone can't reverse stagnating graduation rates and access lagging behind demand.

Napolitano has also generated a backlash from Californians unhappy with her legacy at the Department of Homeland Security, particularly the record number of deportations. Protesters plan to denounce Napolitano when she arrives at Oakland Technical High School for a speech this morning.

LATTER-YEAR LAWMAKERS: The Assembly and Senate chambers will see their recess tranquility interrupted this week, with aged Californians in town for a meeting of the California Senior Legislature. After hearing yesterday from Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones and Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Davis, the elder statespeople will hold legislative floor sessions this morning, break for committee hearings in the afternoon and then convene for an evening banquet at the Hyatt Regency.

WATER BOND: Lawmakers will be in Indio today for an Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee hearing focused on regional water needs and the potential solutions contained in a 2014 bond proposal by committee chair Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood. Expected attendees included Rendon and Assembly members V. Manuel Pérez, Brian Dahle and Mariko Yamada. Starting at 2 p.m. in the Indio City Hall Council Chambers.

LINKED LEARNING: Bipartisan alert: two days after Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, was at an area high school touting a quarter billion dollars for high school courses tailored to career preparation, Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, will be in Rancho Cucamonga talking up the same program.

RANGER ARNOLD: For the third time in its history, the U.S. Forest Service will christen an honorary ranger. The recipient of this rarefied recognition? Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who will be lauded for his climate change record during a ceremony at the U.S. Department of Agriculture today.

PHOTO: Janet Napolitano, then director of the Department of Homeland Security, shown on April 17, 2013. Olivier Douliery/ Abaca Press/ MCT.

October 29, 2013
AM Alert: Gov. Jerry Brown continues his traveling ways


Back when he was still inundated with the end-of-session bill crush, Gov. Jerry Brown waxed poetic about escaping the weight of "all these damn bills" and getting out more.

Over the last week or so, the governor seems to be living up to that -- if not by exploring the on-the-ground nuances of California's prisons and schools and water infrastructure, then at least by logging some miles.

Brown has been in Bell Gardens to christen a new hotel casino, in San Francisco to ink a new climate pact and in Washington, D.C. to continue touting California's come-back story. This morning he arrives in San Bernardino to tour a newly opening Amazon distribution center. It will be the first Amazon distribution warehouse in California out of around 40 nationally.

ONLINE EDUCATION: California's public universities continue to grapple with diminishing access and students taking too long to graduate. This year's budget allocated a cumulative $36.9 million to address high-demand "bottleneck" classes, including via the increasingly popular but still controversial with faculty notion of online classes, and today representatives of the California State University system will discuss where CSU is spending the $10 million it received. From 10:30 a.m. in room 437 of the State Capitol.

HOMEKEEPING: More than three years after California got approval to help struggling homeowners fend off foreclosure with the Keep Your Home California program, lawmakers will examine how effective the initiative has been with a joint hearing of the Assembly committees on Housing and Community Development and on Banking and Finance. From 10 a.m. to noon at Alhambra City Hall, featuring speakers from the California Housing Finance Agency and a handful of banks and mortgage servicers, along with Assembly members Ed Chau and Roger Dickinson.

AEROSPACIN' OUT: As south state lawmakers continue their push to revive California's aerospace industry, a Select Committee On Defense And Aerospace hearing at Mojave Air & Space Port will take a look at topics like space tourism and drone test sites. Featuring Sen. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, and representatives from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, NASA and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

GUNS BLAZING: The Second Amendment backlash continues. A few days after gun advocates and gubernatorial longshot Tim Donnelly announced a plan to try and recall vulnerable Democrats who voted for gun bills, firearms fans sponsoring a gun-rights-fortifying amendment to the California Constitution will be touting their initiative on the west steps. Starting at 10:30 a.m.

PHOTO: Then-gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown gets in his old 1974 Plymouth Satellite car parked in front of his old apartment on N Street in Sacramento where Rusty Areias had a fundraiser for him on March 24, 2010. The Sacramento Bee/Renee C. Byer.

October 28, 2013
AM Alert: Jerry Brown, other governors to sign climate accord


Fresh off his trip to Washington, D.C., Gov. Jerry Brown will join his West Coast gubernatorial brethren and Canadian officials today to ink a climate change accord.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and environmental officials from British Columbia will join Brown in San Francisco to sign the pact. Stay tuned for more details.

VIDEO: As the state's finances improve, Dan Walters says the court system finds itself in the same place as other state agencies scrambling for more money.

CAPITOL TO CAPITOL: Now that's what you'd call a memorable exit: California Fair Political Practices Commission Chair Ann Ravel put an exclamation point on her tenure by announcing a landmark $1 million settlement Thursday with nonprofits that secretively injected millions of dollars into the 2012 election cycle.

Now Ravel is migrating from California to the nation's capital, where she'll monitor monetary machinations for the Federal Elections Commission. The U.S. Senate confirmed her appointment to the panel back in September. Ravel was sworn in on Friday, and today is her first day working for the feds.

SEXUAL ASSAULT: The issue of sexual assault in the military has gained prominence on Capitol Hill recently, and today California lawmakers will examine the lingering repercussions of military sexual assault during a hearing conducted jointly by the Assembly Veterans Affairs Committee and the California Legislative Women's Caucus, with witnesses including Lindsey Sin, deputy secretary of women veterans affairs at the California Department of Veterans Affairs and Jennifer Lucero, sexual assault response coordinator for the California National Guard. Starting at 10 a.m. in the Capitol's room 437.

LINKED LEARNING: The concept of high school education tailored to specific careers has apparently captivated Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg for a while now. (He led a Senate field trip to study the concept in Long Beach and traveled to Germany and Switzerland this month to learn more.) Today he's touting a $250 million linked learning grant program included in this year's budget. At 9:30 a.m. at Health Professions High School in Sacramento.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, who turns 48 today, and to Sen. Bill Emmerson, R-Hemet, who turns 68.

PHOTO: California Gov. Jerry Brown unveils his revised budget plan for the fiscal year at the Capitol in Sacramento on May 14, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Renée C. Byer.

October 25, 2013
AM Alert: How would rising seas affect California infrastructure?

MAJPORTOFOAK.JPGFrom ports to airports to wastewater treatment plants, infrastructure across coastal California could suffer some of the deleterious effects of swelling sea levels.

A hearing today, conducted jointly by the Assembly select committees on Ports and on Sea Level Rise and the California Economy (respectively) will examine the implications. Assembly members Rich Gordon and Bonnie Lowenthal will preside over the proceedings.

Witnesses will include officials from the ports of Long Beach, Oakland and Los Angeles; representatives of airports in Santa Barbara, San Diego and San Francisco; and Garth Hopkins of the California Department of Transportation and Roger Johnson of the California Energy Commission. From 1 to 5 p.m. at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach.

VIDEO: The Coast Guard has gone overboard in trying to correct some shoddy practices, Dan Walters says.

KANYE KASH: His uncle Tom Calderon recently abandoned a bid to replace his other uncle Ron in the state Senate, but Assemblyman Ian Calderon, D-Whittier, is keeping the family tradition alive by seeking a sophomore term representing the 57th Assembly District. And he's maintaining his cred as the Legislature's youngest member with a fly fundraiser on Saturday. For $2,000, donors can back the 28-year-old legislator and snag a ticket to the Kanye West show at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. (Although we're not sure how this compares to Assemblyman Isadore Hall's Beyoncé fundraiser back in July.)

DISNEY DEMS: If you have a few thousand dollars to burn and hip-hop isn't your thing, you can head over to Disneyland to back either the re-election bid of Democratic Sen. Marty Block of San Diego, former Assemblyman Jose Solorio's attempt to return to the Legislature, or Solorio's ballot measure committee Prosperity for California. The cost of magic runs from $1,500 to $5,500, depending on how much enchantment you're after.

CELEBRATIONS: We have two birth anniversaries this weekend, both on Sunday: Sen. Mark Wyland, R-Solano Beach, turns 67, and Secretary of State Debra Bowen celebrates her 58th.

PHOTO: Container ships dock at the Port of Oakland on May 5, 2007. The Sacramento Bee/Michael A. Jones.

October 24, 2013
AM Alert: Gov. Jerry Brown trades Sacramento for Washington

GovernorsMeeting.jpgWednesday, we told you about Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez raising his profile by hosting a national event. Today, Gov. Jerry Brown trades Sacramento for Washington, D.C., to rub shoulders with public officials from across the country.

Brown is speaking at a policy conference hosted by the Center for American Progress, the influential liberal think tank, and the governor will add his name to an impressive roster. Filling out the guest list are Secretary of State John Kerry, former Vice President Al Gore, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi,, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

In keeping with the "California is back!" narrative, Brown is expected to talk in his lunchtime address about how California surmounted its reputation for dysfunction and got its financial house in order.

VIDEO: The state's management of an ancient home for veterans has Dan Walters scratching his head.

FPPC: They're skimping on the details, but the California Fair Political Practices Commission will make an announcement on a major case during a noon press conference. Stay with us for more information as this story develops.

BALLOT INITIATIVES: Big names from all three branches of government will appear on a Public Policy Institute of California panel today discussing the state of direct democracy in California. The panel includes former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, former Gov. Gray Davis and former chief justice of the California Supreme Court Ronald George, with Los Angeles Times columnist Patt Morrison moderating. Communications pro Donna Lucas, will also be on hand. A recent PPIC report spotlighted recommendations to improve the ballot initiative process. The event is at the Sheraton Grand; registration has already closed.

HEALTH PLANS: We brought you news recently of grumblings from health insurance companies about the lack of health plan quality ratings on the website of Covered California, the state's new health insurance exchange. Board members will vote on how to deploy the quality rating system during a daylong meeting at the Secretary of State's Office today.

CLIMATE CHANGE: The Little Hoover Commission holds a hearing today examining how California will cope with climate change, with witnesses addressing the consequences for the state's major urban hubs: Los Angeles, San Diego, the Bay Area and "Sacramento and the Rest," as the agenda terms it (sorry, SacTown apologists). Starting at 9:30 a.m. in room 437 of the state Capitol building.

PHOTO: California Gov. Jerry Brown speaks with reporters during the National Governors Association winter meeting in Washington, D.C., on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012. The Associated Press/Jose Luis Magana.

October 23, 2013
AM Alert: Speaker John A. Perez steps into national spotlight

20130805_ha__JohnAPerez0002.JPGWith his Sacramento duties discharged for the year's remainder, Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez will be availing himself of an opportunity to commune with his legislative leader counterparts.

Accustomed to presiding over the California Assembly, Pérez will spend the next few days hosting a National Speakers Conference in Los Angeles. Run by the State Legislative Leaders Foundation, the four-day event today through Saturday brings together speakers and chiefs of staff from democracy labs around the country. It seems appropriate that Pérez takes on the emcee's role as his final year in the Legislature looms; he has already served a one-year term as the conference's president.

The State Legislative Leaders Foundation, by the way, draws funding from an A-list of corporate backers that includes the American Beverage Association, McDonald's, Wal-Mart, Verizon and GlaxoSmithCline. Its board of directors features state lawmakers from around the country, including California's own Assembly Majority Floor Leader Toni Atkins, D-San Diego.

VIDEO: A big upcoming California bond sale offers a test of how the state's finances are perceived, Dan Walters says.

REEXAMINING REALIGNMENT: During Monday's meeting of a newly launched committee on criminal justice policy, lawmakers peppered witnesses with questions about the quantifiable effects of shifting offenders to county jails over the last few years. Today, a Sacramento Press Club event will ask air similar questions. With Lenore Anderson of Californians for Safety and Justice, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown, Nina Salarno Ashford of Crime Victims United and Michelle Scray Brown, chief probation officer of San Bernardino County. From noon at Capitol Plaza Ballroom.

MEDI-CALIBRATING: An Assembly Health Committee hearing today will take a look at Medi-Cal's managed care program. Witnesses include public health academics, attorneys for organizations that work on disabled advocacy and independent care and experts who will speak on shifting Californians enrolled in Healthy Families into Medi-Cal. From 9:30 a.m. to noon in room 4202.

DRONES: The growing use of unmanned aircraft continues to hover on the radar of policymakers, and a panel today in San Francisco will take a look at the implications for law enforcement and civil liberties. Joining Jennifer Lynch of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and David A. Carrillo, director of UC Berkeley law school's California Constitution Center, will be Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, who sponsored an unsuccessful bill last session that would have delineated how law enforcement could use data collected by drones. Starting at 6 p.m. at the Commonwealth Club.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Davis, who turns 63 today.

PHOTO: Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez speaks at a press conference at the state Capitol on Monday, Aug. 5, 2013, in Sacramento. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

October 22, 2013
AM Alert: Jerry Brown boosts casino hotel construction

20130909_HA_PRISONS0008.JPGThe Bicycle Casino in Bell Gardens is getting a new hotel. It's also getting a visit from the governor of California.

Gov. Jerry Brown will be at the launch of the new hotel this morning, lending his blessing to a project that a gubernatorial news release touts for jolting the local economy and creating hundreds of jobs.

A press release from Bicycle estimates that casino revenue comprises nearly half of the Bell Gardens general fund. Joining Brown will be Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens.

It bears noting that the casino has been a big Brown benefactor over the past couple of years. As The Bee's David Siders reported earlier, Bicycle poured $37,000 into his 2010 campaign, $25,000 to the Prop. 30 push and another $14,700 so far into the governor's re-election war chest.

JOB MOVE: Welcome to the private sector, Mr. Mayor: Former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is joining PR titan Edelman as a senior adviser, the company officially announced today.

RALLY: Those protesters massing on the Capitol's west steps this morning are marking a nationally observed Day Against Police Brutality, highlighting instances in which people have died or suffered violence at the hands of law enforcement officers. Expected speakers include former California Supreme Court justice Cruz Reynoso.

COAST: The Pacific Ocean's vitality comes under the lens of a Select Committee on Coastal Protection hearing in Santa Cruz today. For the record, committee chair Mark Stone, D-Scotts Valley, was among the lawmakers who backed a thwarted bill empowering the California Coastal Commission to levy fines on violators. It should also be interesting to see whether offshore fracking surfaces as a discussion topic, given that Stone authored one of a few unsuccessful fracking bills this session. The hearing, featuring a scientist-heavy witness list, gets underway at 1:30 p.m.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown talks to reporters in Sacramento on Sept. 9, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

October 21, 2013
AM Alert: How did California prisons get where they are today?

RCB_20120301_REALIGN_ 0024.JPGOne of the outcomes of the late-session push to mitigate California's prison overcrowding issues was the promise of a comprehensive look at the state's criminal justice policies. Gov. Jerry Brown even cited the forthcoming effort in vetoing sentencing-related legislation.

Today, things get underway with the first hearing of the new Assembly Select Committee on Justice Reinvestment, chaired by Democratic Assemblymen Tom Ammiano of San Francisco and Reggie Jones-Sawyer of Los Angeles.

Drew Soderborg of Legislative Analyst's Office is expected to testify about how the prison population grew and how that increase affected inmates' health care. Don Specter of the Prison Law Office will address the role of the federal courts in the state's prisons. The public informational hearing convenes at 10 a.m. in room 126 of the California Capitol.

VIDEO: Dan Walters weeds out the intentions behind Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom's latest big initiative on marijua