Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

June 9, 2014
Jones-Sawyer agrees to $10,000 FPPC fine

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Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer has agreed to pay California's political watchdog a $10,000 fine for hiding the source of a $50,000 loan to his 2012 campaign.

The Los Angeles Democrat accepted the loan from his girlfriend, Maria Ann Chachere, in December 2011, according to a proposed settlement he reached with the Fair Political Practices Commission. Jones-Sawyer deposited the money into his personal checking account and then wrote a $50,000 check in his own name to his campaign committee, the agreement says.

The transaction amounts to two violations of the state's Political Reform Act, the settlement says -- first for accepting a political contribution above the $3,900 limit in effect that year, and second for hiding the source of the funds.

The FPPC is recommending the maximum penalty of $10,000 arguing that Jones-Sawyer should have known the $50,000 loan went beyond legal limits and that the source of political contributions must be disclosed.

The commission meets June 19 to vote on the proposed penalty. At the same meeting it will also consider:

- A $2,000 fine for Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, for late reporting of 11 campaign contributions in 2011

- A $3,600 fine for lobbyist Marcie Berman for late filing of four quarterly financial reports

- A $400 fine for former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado's ballot measure committee for failure to file a 2013 campaign statement

- A $200 fine for Assemblyman Tim Donnelley's California Patriots PAC for late filing of a 2013 campaign statement

- A $200 fine for Dan Schnur, a former FPPC chairman and former candidate for Secretary of State, for not reporting a gift of travel expenses on his statement of economic interest

PHOTO: Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, on March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

June 6, 2014
Republican, ex-GOPer in top two of Davis-based Assembly race

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With ballots still being counted, preliminary results in the strongly Democratic 4th Assembly District show a Republican and Republican-turned-Democrat advancing to November.

Napa County Supervisor Bill Dodd, a business-backed Democrat who left the GOP less than two years ago, believes he'll receive enough votes to be among the top two vote-getters in Tuesday's primary election.

"Based on the number and county origin of the remaining ballots it is a statistical improbability for Dodd to finish outside the top two vote-getters," campaign strategist Matt Reilly said in an emailed statement.

Dodd finished election night trailing Republican Charlie Schaupp by a single vote in the district that covers Yolo and Napa counties. On Friday, an updated tally had Schaupp at 26.1 percent and Dodd at 25.4 percent.

Democratic Davis Councilman Dan Wolk trailed Dodd by 522 votes. In a statement, he said there remained as many as 20,000 votes left to count.

"We are still optimistic that, in the end, we'll be moving on to November's General Election!" the statement said.

The Democrat who advances will be a heavy favorite in the fall. Schaupp, a farmer and military veteran, raised no money and had $100 on hand at the end of the last reporting period. There also was no spending on his behalf by outside groups.

Meantime, corporate allies of Dodd and labor union supporters of Wolk, the son of Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars to help elect their preferred successor to liberal Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Davis.

The outside spending ranked fourth in races across California.

PHOTO: Courtesy of Bill Dodd.

May 30, 2014
Ads tie Bill Dodd to Bay Bridge morass in costly Assembly race

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Democrat Bill Dodd is being hit with a barrage of union-funded ads that blame the Yolo-Napa county Assembly candidate for faulty materials on the eastern span of the Bay Bridge.

Dodd, a member of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, is pictured in a series of recent campaign mailers that question his ability to grasp the "nuts and bolts" of his post -- costing taxpayers $135 million.

The ads fault Dodd, a past chairman of the regional transportation agency and Napa County supervisor, for the nearly three dozen cracked steel anchor rods and assert he failed to properly inspect the manufacturing materials during two separate trips to China.

Dodd was a member of the Bay Area Toll Authority at the time of the trips, which exerts some oversight over bridge funding.

The Sacramento Bee has reported extensively on the issues facing the new $6.5 billion San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

The mailers leave out that the so-called bolts were made not in China, but in the United States. Dodd's campaign consultant, Matt Reilly, also noted that reports have largely placed the blame not on the commission, but on Caltrans and contractors.

"The distance between where they say the bolts are made in China when they are made in (Ohio) is about the same as the distance between these mailers and the truth," Reilly said.

The union attacks are part of a series of back-and-forth outside spending for and against Dodd and Democrat Dan Wolk, a Davis city councilman and the son of Sen. Lois Wolk. The outside spending ranks No. 4 in races across California.

A previous mailer from pro-business Dodd supporters erroneously claimed that Wolk voted to increase water rates without community input. The group has made other spurious claims about Wolk's record.

The 4th District race also includes Davis Mayor Joe Krovoza and a pair of Republicans.

May 24, 2014
Longtime lawmaker John Vasconcellos, self esteem champion, dies at 82

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Former California lawmaker John Vasconcellos, who advanced groundbreaking measures during nearly 40 years in the Legislature, has died. He was 82.

Board of Equalization member Betty Yee said friends of Vasconcellos learned of his death early Saturday afternoon.

"Difficult day for many, myself included," Yee said.

Former lawmaker John Burton called Vasconcellos a "man of great heart, of great intellect and great compassion."

"John wore his compassion on his sleeve," Burton said, describing Vasconcellos as the Legislature's "conscience on the budget" and other issues.

"The bad part is he has left us. The good part is that he isn't suffering," Burton added of his former colleague.

Vasconcellos served from 1966 through 2004 in the Assembly and Senate, and for many years chaired the powerful then-Ways and Means Committee in the Assembly. He carried legislation on topics ranging from improving students' self esteem and improving the higher education system to increasing patients' access to medical marijuana.

Former lawmaker Art Torres said in an e-mail that Vasconcellos "was like a big brother to me and my family and especially my son Joaquin."

"I'm heartbroken," Torres said Saturday.

Photo gallery: John Vasconcellos' legislative days

PHOTO: Former state Sen. John Vasconcellos, D-Santa Clara, makes a telephone call from the floor of the Senate chambers in February 2003, during his final term in the Legislature. The Sacramento Bee / Dick Schmidt

May 21, 2014
Toni Atkins talks budget, fracking and taxes at press club

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Newly elevated Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, discussed balancing fiscal caution and calls for new spending in remarks to the Sacramento Press Club on Wednesday.

Atkins assumed power earlier this month, taking over from Assemblyman John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles (who left behind, Atkins said, what she termed a "Speaker's book of secrets"). It will be a brief tenure thanks to term limits, which ensure Atkins will no longer be serving in the Assembly come 2017.

The timing thrust Atkins into a key role of leading Democrats through budget negotiations. Gov. Jerry Brown has cast himself as a responsible steward of a newfound surplus, running into calls from many Democratic members for more spending on social programs. Atkins talked about managing those tensions.

"I have a clear mandate from my caucus to negotiate a budget that strengthens our fiscal condition first and makes responsible investments second," Atkins said.

Discussing possible targets for spending, Atkins stressed transportation and housing. She also touched upon a handful of areas where advocates and lawmakers have focused their budget priorities: services for disabled or elderly Californians and expanded care and education programs for the youngest Californians.

"Even being fiscally prudent, there's some room to invest in these areas," Atkins said.

The energy extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has emerged as a rallying point for environmental advocates who warn the technique is unsafe and want Brown to institute a moratorium. Atkins seemed to align with the governor when asked about fracking, saying it should be regulated but could help satisfy California's energy needs.

"We are going to have to strike a balance in terms of how to protect the environment, deal with the concerns of public safety and the health concerns people may have, and also continuing to make sure we have oil," she said. "We are dependent on it."

She sounded a similar note about a Senate bill that would impose an oil severance tax, the latest incarnation of a recurring idea. Atkins stressed that the governor seems unlikely to accept a new tax hike after winning voter approval for his Proposition 30 tax boost.

"I don't think that's going to happen this year," Atkins said.

More likely, Atkins said, is that the Legislature extends a film tax credit intended to persuade filmmakers to keep production in California. She pronounced herself "pretty certain" that lawmakers would advance the policy.

PHOTO: Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, addresses the Sacramento Press Club on Wednesday, May 21, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Jeremy B. White.

May 20, 2014
Joe Krovoza laments spending, ads in Yolo-Napa Assembly district

Krovoza.JPGIn the 1992 vice presidential debate, Admiral James Stockdale famously said he felt like he was watching a ping pong match between "expert professional politicians" Al Gore and Dan Quayle.

That sentiment, albeit on a considerably reduced scale, sums up a letter from Davis Mayor Joe Krovoza denouncing the "volley of negative attack ads" against a pair of fellow Democrats running to replace termed out Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Davis.

"There are plenty of policy decisions about which I disagree with my opponents, but the topics of these recent attacks are baseless and dishonest," Krovoza wrote in an open letter Monday about the string of independently funded hit pieces.

One of the misleading ads criticizes Davis Councilman Dan Wolk for joining with his colleagues to hike water rates without community input. There was ample participation in the process, according to local press reports.

Meantime, an attack on Napa County Supervisor Bill Dodd rips the official for signing off on board member pay raises. The boosts were reportedly mandated by county ordinance.

The slew of outside spending for and against Wolk, the son of Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, and Dodd, a former Republican, has made the race for the Yolo and Napa County-centered district among the most expensive in the election cycle.

Much of the independent support for Wolk (nearly $150,000 through May 14) has come from labor unions while roughly $150,000 opposing him was from a group funded by insurance companies. Unions spent more than $125,000 hitting Dodd and supporters including realtors, dentists, insurance agents and energy companies spent $200,000.

"I do see a dire need for campaign finance reform," wrote Krovoza, the odd man out in the spending spree. "But in the meantime, the best we can do as voters is to be politically engaged and not be duped by the lies coming from special interests on both sides of the political spectrum."

PHOTO: Joe Krovoza in 2010. Sacramento Bee File Photo.

May 15, 2014
Assembly approves limits on football practice at California high schools

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By Jeremy B. White
jwhite@sacbee.com


Tackling the divisive issue of brain injuries in football, the California Assembly voted Thursday to limit high school athletes to two full-contact practices a week.

A growing body of evidence linking football to debilitating brain injuries has shined a spotlight on youth sports. Assemblyman Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova, said his Assembly Bill 2127 should reassure parents that their kids are safe while still allowing teams to stay competitive.

"There's plenty of opportunities to work on skills, drills, conditioning, all kinds of things," Cooley said.

The measure was sent to the Senate for consideration on a 42-19 vote -- one yes vote beyond the 41 needed -- with 18 members not voting. While some lawmakers spoke of their own children's health in backing the bill, one critic took a different approach.

Noting that her son plays competitive soccer, Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, worried about putting young athletes at a disadvantage.

"I want our student athletes to excel as much as they can," Olsen said, arguing that decisions about practice should rest at the local level.

A former critic of the bill, Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, R-Oceanside, said he decided to lend his support once he was satisfied coaches were on board. Supporters of AB 2127 include the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Brain Injury Association of California, and the measure drew no formal opposition.

PHOTO: Del Oro High School's Trey Udoffia is taken down by a Bakersfield High School defender during their Div. I state football championship game on Dec. 20, 2013 in Carson, Cailf. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

May 6, 2014
Debra Gravert to head Assembly Rules Committee, replacing Jon Waldie

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With current Assembly Rules Committee boss Jon Waldie retiring, Debra Gravert has taken over as the powerful committee's chief administrative officer.

Gravert will oversee issues like legislative pay, staffing and the internal laws governing how the Assembly functions. Before winning the new position, Gravert had worked as chief of staff to Assemblyman Jim Frazier, D-Oakley, and twice ran unsuccessfully for a Sacramento-area Assembly seat.

Waldie will officially retire in November, and in the meantime will be working in the office of outgoing Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles. His departure will cap a 34-year career working for the Legislature that began in the mail room, complementing nighttime courses at the Pacific McGeorge School of Law. He has been working for the Rules Committee for well over a decade, spanning multiple Assembly leaders.

"You know when it's time," Waldie said of his retirement. "17 years is a long time doing one gig."

Now Waldie plans to spend some time with his family, including attending to his oldest daughter's June wedding.

"That's consuming a lot of our day right now," he said.

PHOTO: Jon Waldie, walks down the small staircase on top of the interior dome inside the Exterior dome at the Capitol, Thursday, March 6, 2008. The Sacramento Bee/ Brian Baer.

March 12, 2014
One family will dominate Long Beach ballot this year

Lowenthal.JPGBack in the 1970s, San Diego was a hotspot for political namephreakers because the city had three top-drawer politicians named Wilson.

Pete Wilson, later to become a U.S. senator and governor, was San Diego's Republican mayor, Democrat Bob Wilson was a local congressman and another Democrat Bob Wilson was a state senator.

None of the Wilsons was related, but the situation created great confusion among voters, especially when they were merely urged in billboards and other media to "vote for Wilson."

An even odder three-way situation is shaping up in Long Beach this year, because Congressman Alan Lowenthal will be seeking re-election while his former wife, Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, runs for mayor and their former daughter-in-law, City Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal, runs for the Assembly.

Suja Lowenthal's former husband Dan, a Superior Court judge, was re-elected in 2012, so at least his name won't be on the ballot this year.

As political junkie Scott Lay points out in his Nooner blog, "If no candidate receives 50 percent in April 8's mayoral election and Bonnie places in the top two, three of the four Lowenthals will appear on the June 3 ballot for Long Beach voters."

Update: Modified at 3:16 p.m. to clarify family relationships.

PHOTO: Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, D-Long Beach during session in the Assembly chambers in Sacramento, Calif. on Monday, March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

February 27, 2014
California drought relief package heads to Gov. Jerry Brown

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In a concerted effort to aid California's drought-stricken communities, the Legislature on Thursday sped a $687 million relief package to Gov. Jerry Brown.

One week after Brown and legislative leaders unveiled the emergency legislation, both houses of the Legislature approved the bill with little resistance. The Assembly passed the bill 65-0, and the Senate sent it to Brown's desk with only three dissenting votes.

Relying largely on unspent bond money, the measure sets aside more than $500 million to quench the thirst of afflicted communities with infrastructure projects like capturing storm water and distributing recycled water.

It also sets aside millions for drinking water in communities at risk of running out and allocates food and housing aid for Californians, like those in the agricultural industry, who have seen their livelihoods damaged by diminished water supplies.

In the Assembly, Republicans used the opportunity to call for more storage capacity, an issue being debated via a set of water bond proposals. But they agreed with their Democratic colleagues that the emergency water package marked a needed intermediate step.

"This is part of the puzzle, part of the solution for the entire state," said Assemblyman Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield.

Things went a little less smoothly in the Senate, where the water debate occurred against the backdrop of Republicans seeking to expel a state senator who has been convicted on eight felony charges stemming from lying about his residence. Senate Democrats rebuffed that attempt, preserving a status quo that has seen Sen. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood, accept a paid leave of absence.

The drought bills passed the Senate handily in the end, though during floor debate Republicans accused Democrats of maneuvering the procedure to avoid a two-thirds vote. Democrats do not have a supermajority this week because Wright and Sen. Ron Calderon, indicted last week by a federal grand jury, are out dealing with legal problems.

Republicans argued that the bills should be urgency measures -- which require two-thirds approval -- instead of budget trailer bills that take a simple majority to pass. They also argued that taking up budget trailer bills several months after the budget was approved violates a voter-approved initiative that the Legislature cannot get paid if it doesn't complete the budget by June 15.

"This bill is just another example of how our budget process has been twisted over the years," said Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, one of three opposing votes.

Laurel Rosenhall of The Bee Capitol Bureau contributed to this report.

PHOTO: Aerial view of Folsom Lake looking northeast from near Beals Point on Thursday, December 26, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton.

February 12, 2014
California bill would ban lobbyists from hosting fundraisers

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Reacting to this week's announcement that a Sacramento lobbyist is paying a six-figure fine for making illegal campaign contributions by hosting lavish political fundraisers at his home, Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia introduced a bill Wednesday to ban the practice.

Assembly Bill 1673 would prohibit lobbyists from hosting fundraising parties at their homes and offices. Under current law, lobbyists may host fundraisers that cost up to $500 -- even though they are prohibited from making monetary campaign contributions of any amount to candidates for offices they are registered to lobby.

"It really makes no sense that a lobbyist can't buy lunch for a legislator for over $10, but can provide elaborate, exclusive dinner parties simply by stating that it is under the $500 limit," Garcia, a Bell Gardens Democrat, said in a prepared statement.

"As we've seen, these in-home lobbyist events fly under the legal radar and I think that they should be banned."

The Fair Political Practices Commission announced Monday that it has reached an agreement with lobbyist Kevin Sloat -- and his firm Sloat Higgins Jensen and Associates -- to pay a record-setting fine of $133,500 for hosting numerous political fundraisers that exceeded the limits placed on lobbyists. Sloat acknowledged providing liquor, cigars and other hospitality to 37 public officials and candidates, who all received warning letters from the FPPC for accepting Sloat's non-monetary contributions.

Garcia's bill is part of a package of legislation she is promoting as the "Political Conduct, Ethics and Public Trust Acts of 2014."

Other elements include measures to limit how officials can spend their campaign funds; expand the information governments provide about employee salaries; restrict some water board members from making decisions that affect their political donors; and change the way vote-by-mail applications are processed.

PHOTO: Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia in the Assembly chambers in March 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

January 22, 2014
California Legislature launches a Jewish caucus

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A group of California lawmakers have banded together to form a new legislative caucus focused on issues they believe matter to the Jewish community.

The Legislative Jewish Caucus will also form a political action committee to raise money to support Israel-friendly candidates, said Sen. Marty Block, the San Diego Democrat who chairs the new group.

"This isn't a religious based organization. We see this as an ethnic organization," he said.

"My guess is very few of the members would define themselves as being terribly religious, but we all consider ourselves to be part of the Jewish people."

The Jewish caucus includes five Senators and four Assembly members who identify themselves as Jewish, as well as a handful of other lawmakers who are not Jewish but want to participate, Block said. All participants so far have been Democrats, but Block said the group would welcome Republicans.

The Legislature has several caucuses organized around various identities, including race, sexuality and geography. The Jewish caucus will work to fight discrimination against all minorities, Block said, partly based on religious beliefs that favor equality, "but also out of a personal concern that if folks are treated unequally, Jews will be among those who are treated unequally."

January 21, 2014
Former California Sierra Club lobbyist John Zierold dies at 88

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John Zierold, who ran legislative strategy in Sacramento for the Sierra Club during the 1970s and 1980s, as environmentalism became a powerful social and political movement, has died.

Former colleagues in Sacramento learned over the weekend that Zierold, who had retired to Kentucky, had died on Dec. 26 in Louisville at age 88. He had been preceded in death by his wife, Mary.

Zierold, who had worked in Europe as a U.S. intelligence operative during the immediate post-World War II era, began representing the Sierra Club at the Capitol in 1969, during the infancy of the environmental movement.

Zierold played pivotal roles in legislative battles for almost two decades over such issues as coastal protection, the California Environmental Quality Act, creation of the state Energy Commission, regulation of logging, and legislation designating "wild and scenic rivers" on which dams would be prohibited.

He also clashed with Jerry Brown during his first stint as governor over Brown's advocacy of a liquefied natural has terminal near Santa Barbara and a "peripheral canal" to carry Sacramento River water around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta — battles that Brown lost.

"He saved the Coastal Commission from defeat," Norbert Dall, a Sacramento environmental consultant who worked for Zierold during the period, said Tuesday, recounting Zierold's skills at working the legislative system. Dall also said that Zierold played a major role in rounding up key votes to elect Leo McCarthy as speaker of the state Assembly in 1974.

Zierold's survivors include a stepson, Marc Allaman, in Folsom.

PHOTO: Protesters hold signs during a July 19, 2012 rally sponsored by the Sierra Club to make their point regarding limits on levels of deadly soot pollution. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

January 10, 2014
Hernandez's lawyer says FPPC 'engaging in unethical behavior'

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Assemblyman Roger Hernández's former lawyer accuses the Fair Political Practices Commission of trying to intimidate and harass him as the watchdog agency investigates whether money laundering occurred in the assemblyman's 2010 campaign, according to court filings The Sacramento Bee obtained Friday.

Aldo A. Flores, who has represented Hernández in earlier brushes with the law, sued the FPPC in September in an attempt to block subpoenas requesting his bank records.

"I tried to reason with them. I contacted them in several instances prior to the lawsuit. They blew me off," Flores said in an interview with The Bee.

"I specifically stated I was trying to avoid litigation. But I had no choice."

Flores made a $3,900 contribution to Hernandez's campaign in late 2009. The FPPC argues that its subpoenas may unveil evidence that someone reimbursed Flores for the donation. Hiding the identity of a donor by passing money through someone else amounts to political money laundering and violates the law.

The FPPC subpoenas — included in Flores's lawsuit — seek monthly statements, copies of checks worth $2,000 or more and various other transaction records from two of his bank accounts during late 2009 and early 2010.

"The subpoenas are overbroad and violative of Plaintiff's rights and lawful privileges," says Flores's suit against the FPPC.

"Defendant FPPC is engaging in frivolous and vexatious tactics, as well as engaging in unethical behavior hoping to intimidate Plaintiff into providing his private bank records."

A hearing to determine whether Flores must comply with the subpoenas is scheduled in Los Angeles Superior Court on January 16.

Hernández issued a statement earlier this week saying "the FPPC has no information that the check was improper."

"Since the beginning of this investigation I have fully cooperated with the FPPC and as such provided all records that have been requested of me. In the 5 years since these allegations were raised, the FPPC has not prompted any official letter of accusation," the statement from Hernandez says.

Hernández has faced allegations of wrongdoing in recent years, but has never been found guilty.

Flores represented Hernández last year when a former girlfriend filed a civil suit alleging that Hernández had hit her with a belt and slammed her into a wall. The woman's lawyers eventually asked the court to dismiss the suit, and Los Angeles County prosecutors decided not to charge Hernández with domestic violence.

Flores also represented Hernández in two lawsuits brought by employees of the City of West Covina, where Hernández served on the city council before being elected to the Assembly in 2010.

PHOTO: Assemblyman Roger Hernández speaks during an Assembly session in 2012. Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli

January 8, 2014
FPPC investigating Roger Hernandez campaign for money laundering

RogerHernandez4.JPGCalifornia's political watchdog agency is investigating whether money laundering took place during Assemblyman Roger Hernandez's 2010 campaign and is fighting with his lawyer to get access to bank records, according to a filing this week in Los Angeles Superior Court.

The document says the Fair Political Practices Commission subpoenaed Hernadez's lawyer, Aldo A. Flores, for information about a $3,900 contribution he made to the assemblyman's campaign in 2009. The matter landed in court this fall when Flores challenged the FPPC's requests for his bank records.

"Evidence from the bank records may show (Flores) was reimbursed for his payment to the Hernandez for Assembly 2010 campaign committee," says the FPPC's filing that asks the court to uphold the subpoenas that are part of a "larger investigation."

"The FPPC is actively investigating political money laundering," the filing says, adding that "evidence uncovered thus far provides sufficient grounds to support the subpoenas."

State law limits the amount donors can give to candidates. The limit for contributions to legislative candidates is $4,100 now but was $3,900 in 2009, when Flores made the donation to Hernandez, a Democrat from West Covina.

Hiding the identity of a donor by passing the money through someone else amounts to political money laundering and violates state law.

"Making a contribution in another person's name is one of the most serious types of violations of the (Political Reform) Act, because it denies the public of information about where a candidate receives his or her financial support," the FPPC's filing says.

Hernandez issued a statement late Wednesday, suggesting the FPPC's case is "about one very old fact" and that "the FPPC has no information that the check was improper...This blanket attack is nothing more than an attempt to tarnish my name by powerful interest groups that see me as a threat for the work that I am doing on behalf of hard-working Californians."

The agency said last year that it was investigating two complaints against Hernandez. One questions a $100,000 loan he made to his campaign in 2009. The other alleges that spending on some campaign fliers in West Covina was not properly reported. Those investigations remain open, said Gary Winuk, the FPPC's chief of enforcement.

Messages The Sacramento Bee left for Flores have not been returned.

A hearing is scheduled for January 16.

PHOTO: Assemblyman Roger Hernandez at the California State Capitol in Sacramento in January 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

Editor's Note: This post was updated at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 8, 2014 to include Hernandez's statement.

January 8, 2014
New year, new faces: California Assembly is majority-freshman

20140106_ha_ASSEMBLY00207.JPGAt the launch of the 2014 legislative year, the state Assembly is making history: For the first time in well over a century, a majority of members are freshmen.

Three new members took the oath of office on Monday with little fanfare beyond some applause from their legislative colleagues. But the pageantry obscured a milestone, with a majority of lawmakers on the 80-member Assembly floor serving their first terms.

This is the first time since the 19th century more than 40 Assembly members have been on their first go-around, according to Chief Clerk of the Assembly E. Dotson Wilson.

The 2012 election cycle was not momentous just for propelling Democrats to a two-thirds supermajority. It also inaugurated one of the largest freshman classes in history, with 38 of those neophytes taking Assembly seats.

Their ranks grew as 2013 progressed, with Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, scooping up the seat Ben Hueso left as he graduated to the Senate.

Add to that new members Sebastian Ridley-Thomas of Los Angeles, Matt Dababneh of Sherman Oaks and Freddie Rodriguez of Pomona, all three elevated by special elections during the latter part of 2013.

With the addition of that trio, 42 of the Assembly members casting votes and submitting bills this year will have taken their desks since the start of the 2013-14 session.

The influx of newcomers could play a role in the leadership transition set to occur some time this session, with Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles, termed out at the end of the year. The names of a few freshman members recur during the who-will-be-next guessing game, reflecting a push to award the next speakership to a member entitled to a full twelve years in the lower house.

PHOTO: Newly sworn-in Assemblyman Matthew Dababneh joins other Assembly members in the pledge of allegiance during the first session of the California Assembly on Monday, Jan. 6, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

January 6, 2014
Increasing density may not work in cutting greenhouse gases

populationdensity.jpgIncreasing the population density of California's urban areas is a key component of the state's plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 - but it may not be the most effective strategy, new research at the University of California, Berkeley, indicates.

Although suburbs, with their relatively low densities and dependence on autos for travel, are bigger generators of carbon dioxide than urban cores, the researchers said, "a 10-fold increase in population density in central cities yields only a 25 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions."

"That would require a really extraordinary transformation for very little benefit, and high carbon suburbanization would result as a side effect," Christopher Jones, a doctoral student in the UC-Berkeley's Energy and Resources Group and co-author of the report, said in a statement accompanying the study's release Monday.

Trying to increase population densities in suburbs, which several state strategies propose, "appears to be an even worse strategy," Jones said, because it would encourage the development of new, high energy use suburbs further away.

What Jones and his co-researcher, Dr. Daniel Kammen, suggest is that one-size-fits all strategies to reduce greenhouse gases give way to locally designed plans based on local circumstances.

"Cities are not islands," Kammen said. "They exist in a complex landscape that we need to understand better both theoretically and empirically."

Toward that end, the study includes an innovative, interactive Internet tool that allows users to calculate not only the emissions of their own households, but of their communities and breaks down the individual components of those emissions.

The average American household is responsible for 48.5 tons of CO2 each year, and the interactive tool allows users to measure themselves and their communities against that number.

PHOTO: In this photo taken Nov. 2, 2008, apartment buildings crowd the skyline in Chongqing, China. Associated Press/Elizabeth Dalziel

December 11, 2013
Assembly Democrats seeking to spend most of California surplus

ha_perez_III.JPGAssembly Speaker John A. Pérez unveiled a "blueprint for a responsible budget" Wednesday that appears to spend most, if not all, of the state's projected surplus in the 2014-15 fiscal year and may conflict with Gov. Jerry Brown's priorities.

Pérez didn't place a price tag on the new spending, which he termed "investment," but said he and his fellow Assembly Democrats want to boost state aid to colleges and expand safety net services to the poor, including a boost in welfare grants.

Speaking to reporters at the Capitol, Pérez and Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, chair of the Assembly Budget Committee, said they want to end the 2014-15 fiscal year with a $2 billion reserve and build that to as much as $10 billion over the next several years.

Mac Taylor, the Legislature's budget analyst, forecasts that without new spending, the state would end the year with a $5.6 billion surplus, thus indicating that the price tag for the Assembly's expansion plans would be at least several billion dollars.

Pérez and Skinner said they want to restore money to some programs that were slashed during recession-induced budget deficits, especially those in education and safety net services.

The new spending would include a expansion of the earned income tax credit, expanded eligibility for welfare payments to low-income workers, expanding the "CalFresh" program of food benefits, raising Medi-Cal reimbursement rates, expanding child care, and making transitional kindergarten universally available to all four-year-old children.

PHOTO: Assemblyman John Perez, D-Los Angeles, speaks during a press conference on Friday, December, 11, 2009. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

November 13, 2013
Calderon lashes out at Garcia; says 'all politicians live in glass houses'

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As a group of civic leaders from southeast Los Angeles began a press conference this morning to call for Sen. Ron Calderon's resignation, the besieged state senator released a statement blasting Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia for organizing the event and saying "what has happened to me could happen to anyone in public office."

"In politics one expects politicians to act in their own interests. But it is still shocking to me when a politician acts out in such an opportunistic way as in the actions taken by Cristina Garcia. Without knowing the full story and waiting to hear all the facts in this case, she has assumed the role of judge and jury by calling for my resignation," says the statement from Calderon, a Montebello Democrat.

Garcia is the only state legislator to call for Calderon's resignation since an FBI affidavit made public last month alleged he's accepted $88,000 in bribes. Today Garcia gathered with the mayors of Norwalk, Montebello, Downey and Pico Rivera, as well as city council members from Bell and Commerce, to again ask Calderon to step down.

Garcia has a long-standing feud with the Calderon family; she beat the senator's brother Tom Calderon in her race for Assembly last year.

"During her campaign for State Assembly she said time and again that she was not a politician. She told the voters that she was going to be different. Soon after her election she confessed to the voters that she lied about having a PhD. She said that she made a mistake and was sorry for misleading the public about her qualifications. She asked the voters to give her the benefit of the doubt and to judge her on her actions as their new Assemblywoman," Calderon's statement today said.

During her campaign for Assembly last year, Garcia told the Los Cerritos Community Newspaper that she had finished coursework for a PhD but did not yet have the degree, contrary to the way she had portrayed herself.

"I take full responsibility for using the term PhD instead of PhD candidate in my campaign literature. For that I humbly apologize and ask for the forgiveness and understanding of all the voters of the 58th Assembly District," Garcia said, according to the local newspaper.

Garcia lives in Ron Calderon's 30th Senate District, which means she could run for his seat if he stepped down. But because new district boundaries kick in during next year's Senate elections, Garcia could not run in the November 2014 race to replace him in what will then be labeled the 32nd Senate District. Garcia's chief of staff Tim Reardon has said she has no intention of leaving the Assembly.

Calderon's statement today concluded by saying his current problems could befall "anyone in public office":

"It is now clear that she is a politician after all - quite an ambitious one at that. I would not wish on my worst enemy what I have been going through. But I do hope that Ms. Garcia comes to understand that what has happened to me could happen to anyone in public office. Sometimes one is better served to act in kindness than in self-righteousness because all politicians live in glass houses."

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

November 8, 2013
Ron Calderon calls request that he resign 'outrageous'

CristinaGarcia.jpgIn Sen. Ron Calderon's first public comments since an FBI affidavit alleging he accepted $88,000 in bribes became public last week, the Montebello Democrat blasted an assemblywoman who has been calling for his resignation.

"It is outrageous in a democratic society for Cristina Garcia, an elected official, to trample on the Constitution by making a mockery of the presumption of innocence, a fundamental right, and seek political gain by embracing the criminal acts of media outlets that violate federal law by revealing the contents of sealed federal documents," Calderon wrote in a statement emailed to the media.

He added that Garcia "would best serve her constituents by reviewing her notes from her eighth-grade civics class."

Garcia, a Democrat who defeated Calderon's brother Tom Calderon in the race for the 58th Assembly District, ran for her Assembly seat on a platform of ousting corruption in the Los Angeles city of Bell. She has been the only legislator who has publicly called for Ron Calderon to step down in the wake of the federal corruption investigation.

October 23, 2013
Tom Calderon drops bid for California Senate

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Former Assemblyman Tom Calderon has dropped out of the race to replace his brother Ron Calderon in the state Senate next year.

"I'm not running," Tom Calderon said today in a phone call with The Bee.

"I just need to take time for myself and my family. I've been through a lot this year."

In June, the FBI raided the Capitol offices of Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, and attempted to contact Tom Calderon, who works as a consultant. Federal authorities appear to be looking into businesses that have ties to Tom Calderon. This year they subpoenaed the Central Basin Municipal Water District and raided the Pacific Hospital of Long Beach -- both businesses that have been clients of Tom Calderon's consulting practice. Ron Calderon, meanwhile, has opened a legal defense fundraising committee to cover expenses related to his "public corruption investigation."

Tom Calderon said today that he has not testified before a grand jury in the case and has had no contact with federal authorities in recent weeks.

October 11, 2013
Democrat Freddie Rodriguez sworn into California Assembly

FreddieRodriguez.jpgThe California Assembly swore in its newest member Friday morning, welcoming Democrat Freddie Rodriguez to the green carpet.

The former Pomona City Council member now represents the 52nd Assembly District, including the southern California communities of Pomona, Montclair, Ontario, and Chino.

He is taking the seat previously held by Democrat Norma Torres, who now serves in the state Senate.

As the legislative musical chairs continue with special elections, two vacancies still remain in the Assembly. Democrats in the lower house are one seat away from reclaiming a two-thirds supermajority.

PHOTO: Assemblyman Freddie Rodriguez, D-Pomona, greets others at the reception following his swearing in at the California state Capitol on Friday, Oct. 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Laurel Rosenhall

September 25, 2013
Freddie Rodriguez bests independent in tight Assembly race

RBVoters2.JPGDemocratic Pomona Councilman Freddie Rodriguez narrowly defeated independent Paul Leon to claim an open Southern California Assembly seat.

The Associated Press called the race Wednesday as Rodriguez clung to a 345-vote lead. Leon, the mayor of Ontario, would have needed to secure more than two-thirds of the roughly 1,000 uncounted votes to stage a come-from-behind victory.

"I look forward to being a voice for all of the people of the Inland Empire, and for safer neighborhoods, at the State Capitol," Rodriguez said in a prepared statement.

The tight margin gave Democrats little breathing room despite party voters commanding a 20-percentage point registration edge in a district that takes in parts of Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties.

Leon switched his party affiliation to "no party preference" from Republican after losing the Senate race to Norma Torres, D-Pacoima.

Rodriguez's win moves Democrats a seat away from reclaiming a veto-proof supermajority in the Assembly after Holly Mitchell of Los Angeles claims her seat in the Senate.

Democrats could pick up another seat on Nov. 19 if Matt Dababneh defeats Republican Susan Shelley to fill the San Fernando Valley seat vacated by Bob Blumenfield.

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

September 25, 2013
Democrat Rodriguez controls small lead in Assembly special election

Rodriguez.jpgDemocrat Freddie Rodriguez was clinging to a slim lead Wednesday over independent Paul Leon for the inland Southern California Assembly seat formerly held by Sen. Norma Torres, D-Pomona.

Rodriguez, who declared victory late Tuesday, was leading with 51.3 percent of the vote, with all precincts reporting. But Leon, the mayor of Ontario, had yet to concede the race.

The margin separating the candidates was 365 votes in a district where Democratic voters hold a roughly 20-percentage point registration edge.

As of Wednesday, there were nearly 800 ballots left to be counted in San Bernardino County and another 273 in Los Angeles County, according to registrars of voters in both counties.

Leon switched his party affiliation from Republican to no party preference after losing the Senate race to Torres. In the primary to fill her 52nd district seat, Democrats and their allies in organized labor were forced to commit considerable resources to get Rodriguez into the top-two.

A victory for the Pomona city councilman would move Democrats a seat away from reclaiming a two-thirds supermajority in the lower chamber after Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell of Los Angeles claims her seat in the state Senate. They could pick-up another seat on Nov. 19 if Democrat Matt Dababneh defeats Republican Susan Shelley to fill the seat vacated by Bob Blumenfield in the San Fernando Valley.

PHOTO: Freddie Rodriguez. Photo courtesy of Freddie Rodriguez for Assembly.

August 16, 2013
Rumor at California Capitol shows how 'telephone game' works

RogerHernandez4.JPGThe cellphones of California Capitol insiders were buzzing early Thursday with the words "Hernandez" and "police," making for an enticing rumor.

Witnesses said they saw police entering loft apartments near the state Capitol and that one of them belonged to someone with the last name of Hernandez.

That sparked speculation -- and what some described as a texting frenzy -- about an incident involving Assemblyman Roger Hernandez, D-West Covina, who lives in the building where police were seen.

Hernandez has been the subject of several accusations of criminal or ethical misconduct in the past few years.

But Thursday?

August 13, 2013
Hollywood drama plays out in California legislative hearing

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It was an interesting day in the Assembly Judiciary Committee. The panel that normally deals with issues like civil law and tort liability was instead the venue for a whole lot of Hollywood baby mama drama.

Three celebrities who testified on two unrelated bills all told emotional stories of their small children.

Actresses Jennifer Garner and Halle Berry described a stalking episode and a custody battle as they spoke in support of a bill that would restrict the ability for paparazzi to photograph kids.

Jason Patric, who starred in the 1980s film "Lost Boys," talked about his troubled relationship with former girlfriend Danielle Schreiber as he testified for a bill that would allow sperm donors, in some situations, to gain rights as parents. Schreiber, with whom he is locked in a custody battle, did not testify but sat in a stairwell outside the hearing room.

In the end, the star power may have helped Sen. Kevin de Leon's anti-paparazzi bill pass unanimously out of committee. But it didn't persuade enough lawmakers to support Sen. Jerry Hill's bill to define parenting rights. That bill, SB 115, is done for now, but could get further debate next year.

"I have become a voice of an issue that I never wanted to be a voice for," Patric said to the committee.

"But I'm also here mainly because I have to be Gus's voice. My son. A voice I have not heard in 25 weeks. A voice that is not allowed to mention my name in his mother's home. a voice that has sent me here to speak to you all."

July 17, 2013
California lawmaker, Black Caucus to seek Florida boycott

20130311_HA_JUDICIARY421.JPGIn the wake of a Florida jury acquitting George Zimmerman in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, California Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, will call for a boycott on traveling to Florida or doing business there.

The case garnered national attention and ignited a debate about Florida's gun laws before a jury on Saturday found Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter, concluding that the neighborhood watch volunteer acted in self-defense when he shot Martin.

The verdict could signal an "open season on vigilante-type justice," Holden said Wednesday in a telephone interview. So he is preparing a joint resolution, with the backing of the California Legislative Black Caucus, that advocates a boycott of Florida until the state repeals the "stand your ground" law that helped Zimmerman avoid conviction by invoking self-defense.

"What might be an appropriate way for us to usher in change would be for us to have a boycott that focuses on the seriousness and importance of looking at this law and making some changes," Holden said. "We want encourage those who are traveling and planning vacations and conventions and potential ways of spending dollars in the state to hold back until those changes have been made."

Holden added that he was motivated to call for a boycott in part because he has four college-age sons.

"If we lived in Florida, (the verdict) would send a chilling message about their safety and security," he said.

PHOTO: Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, is shown during the Assembly session in Sacramento on March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

July 17, 2013
California's Tim Donnelly laughs off 'hottest conservative' title

PK_Tim_Donnelly_2012.JPGCalifornia Attorney General Kamala Harris isn't the only state politician being singled out as easy on the eyes.

PolitiChicks, a conservative website for women, has named Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, as one of the "hottest conservative supermen in America."

"I thought they must have gotten the wrong guy," Donnelly said Wednesday in a telephone interview. "I told my wife I have to work out and live up to the image."

PolitiChicks gathered a six-woman panel and used five criteria -- intelligence, courage, passion, sense of humor and looks -- when selecting Donnelly as seventh on its list of hottest conservatives in politics. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, led that category.

Other categories included hottest conservative in new media, on TV and on the radio, which were led by political commentator David Spady of Breitbart, Greg Gutfeld of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, who needs no introducing.

The overall hottest conservative title went to AlfonZo Rachel of the web show Zo Nation. Donnelly received honorable mention in the overall category.

The list was created in response to "hot conservative women" lists, to which PolitiChicks said "turnabout's fair play."

"A bunch of my buddies gave me grief," said Donnelly, who has launched a campaign for California governor.

"I certainly was honored to be picked in such company as Sen. Jim DeMint and others," he added, referring to the former Republican senator from South Carolina.

PHOTO: Assemblyman Tim Donnelly waits for the legislative session to open on Jan. 4, 2012, in Sacramento. The Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.

June 25, 2013
Halle Berry testifies in support of paparazzi bill

People-Halle Berry (1).jpgThe Capitol got a taste of star power on Tuesday when Academy Award-winning actress Halle Berry testified in favor of a bill that would restrict paparazzi access to children.

Sen. Kevin De León, D-Los Angeles, authored Senate Bill 606, which would expand the definition of harassing children to include actions like "alarming, annoying, tormenting or terrorizing conduct" as well as increase the punishment for those actions. It would make aggression from photographers and the press, as well as other attacks, illegal when directed at children.

Despite opposition from First Amendment groups, the bill passed the committee on a 5-0 vote, and will head to the Assembly Judiciary Committee next.

De León said the bill would "protect children who are particularly vulnerable to harassment because of their parents' employment." The senator said children of celebrities, law enforcement officers, and public figures are especially vulnerable to attack because of their parents' jobs.

De León said children in those families deal with hardships that a normal child should not have to understand, and that lawmakers often have a hard time understanding.

That's where Berry came in.

June 20, 2013
Assembly sends Senate a bill reversing public records changes

blumenfield.JPGAssembly Democrats sent a bill reversing changes to the California Public Records Act to the Senate on Thursday following a 52-25 vote along party lines.

Assembly Republicans said that despite their support of the records act, they would not support the budget trailer bill because it was loaded with other provisions they opposed.

Just before noon Thursday, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez issued a joint statement saying that the Senate would take up the measure.

"We agree there needs to be both an immediate fix to ensure local entities comply with the California Public Records Act and a long-term solution so the California Public Records Act is not considered a reimbursable mandate," the statement said.

Senate Bill 71 now duplicates Assembly Bill 76 minus AB 76's public records changes. Steinberg, D-Sacramento, had said Wednesday that his house would hold SB 71 if the Assembly passed it and that he would instead support plans by Sen. Mark Leno , D-San Francisco, to seek a constitutional amendment restoring the records act, but without the requirement that the state pay for local governments to comply.

June 18, 2013
Novel depicts California Capitol as full of sex and corruption

PARTY.jpgCalifornia's Capitol is full of hard-drinking, skirt-chasing, and corrupt hypocrites - or so Dianne Harman, the wife of a former state senator, would have readers of her new novel, "Tea Party Teddy," believe.

The title character is "Teddy Randall," newly elected Republican assemblyman from Orange County who hates illegal immigrants and wants to drive them out of the state, but is financially strapped from his campaign, owes money to a Mafia loan shark who's pressuring him for repayment, and is willing to be bribed to vote for an immigrant-friendly bill. Randall falls for an FBI sting, but not before learning that his wife is carrying on an affair with a Latino lawyer who champions immigrant rights.

Harman's husband, Tom, was a long-serving legislator from Orange County, and she says in her acknowledgements that he "day after day asked how the book was coming along, edited numerous drafts and gave tirelessly of his expertise on how things are done in Sacramento." She doesn't say, however, whether that expertise extended to the novel's explicit sex scenes.

"Tea Party Teddy" is a roman à clef that fictionalizes several well-known incidents, such as former Assemblyman Mike Duvall's 2009 bragging on an open mike in a legislative hearing room about his sexual exploits with a lobbyist. Duvall was forced to resign. It also draws on the FBI's undercover sting investigation of the Capitol a quarter-century ago that sent several legislators, lobbyists and staffers to prison.

The novel's Capitol readers will try to match up the fictional characters, especially the title character, with real-life politicians and lobbyists. But Harman makes one connection easy. The influential "FlashReport" blog, much loved by California conservatives, is called "FlushReport" in the book.

"Tea Party Teddy is a novel about political corruption, bribes, sex, and intrigue, which all come together in the story of a newly elected assemblyman," Harman said in an email promoting the book. "While you may think you recognize some of the books' characters as being members of the Sacramento political establishment, the names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent.

"If you want to know what really goes on behind the scenes in Sacramento, you'll find out when you read Tea Party Teddy. As the wife of a former California state senator, I had 12 years of firsthand experience in observing politicians, lobbyists, and consultants, as they struggled to gain political advantage."

The novel, available on-line or in print via Amazon, is reminiscent of another novel, "Capitol Punishment," written by a politician's former wife, that also depicted sex and corruption in and around the state Capitol.

May 22, 2013
Republican win shaves Democratic supermajority in Senate

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The Democratic supermajority in the state Senate thinned a bit Tuesday when Republican farmer Andy Vidak captured more than 50 percent of a special election vote to win in a heavily Democratic San Joaquin Valley district.

Vidak had nearly 52 percent of the votes in the low-turnout election early today, with some provisional and mail ballots yet to be counted. His opponent, Democrat Leticia Perez, a Kern County supervisor, conceded shortly after midnight on Wednesday morning.

The election was called when Democratic Sen. Michael Rubio unexpectedly resigned early this year to become an executive in Chevron Corp. It was conducted in the 16th Senate District, which no longer exists, because Rubio was elected from that district in 2010. Vidak will have to seek re-election in the new 14th Senate District, which was created by an independent redistricting commission.

Both districts have lopsided registration majorities, but the 16th SD is heavily weighted toward Fresno County while the new 14th SD is more oriented toward Kern County. Both also include counties in between those two.

"Special elections are unique voter-turnout environments and this is clearly not the last we've heard of the immensely talented Supervisor Perez," Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said in a statement. "I'm proud of how our Democratic Senate supermajority and our accomplished campaign team responded to this unexpected vacancy and rallied in support of Leticia's candidacy."

Vidak's victory shaves the Democrats' margin in the Senate, which had been 29-11, by one seat, but another Democratic senator, Curren Price, is due to resign to take a seat on the Los Angeles City Council. Thus chances have dimmed for the Democratic supermajority to pass a constitutional amendment or a tax increase, both of which would require two-thirds legislative votes.

Also Tuesday, Democrat Lorena Gonzalez, a community organizer, easily won a special election in the 80th Assembly District in San Diego County, defeating another Democrat, and will succeed Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, who left the Assembly after winning a special election for the state Senate. Gonzalez' victory does not affect the Democratic supermajority in the Assembly but it, too, is experiencing vacancies due to other looming resignations.

May 20, 2013
Former California Sen. Newton Russell dies at 85

newt.jpgNewton Russell, who represented a swath of the San Fernando Valley in the state Legislature for more than three decades, died Saturday at his Southern California home. He was 85 and succumbed, his family said, to lung cancer.

Russell, a Republican, was dubbed the "conscience of the Senate" for his frequent admonitions to colleagues about following procedural rules and understanding the details and potential consequences of legislation. He was particularly critical of expanding "peace officer" status to additional blocs of state and local employees that would qualify them for higher pension benefits.

Russell, an insurance agent by profession, was first elected to the Assembly in 1964 from a Glendale-centered district, and a decade later won a special state Senate election. He retired in 1996. The area he represented was dependably Republican during his career but after his retirement became dominated by Democratic voters and legislators.

Russell's brother, John, who preceded him in death, was best known as the star of a popular television series, "The Lawman," in the 1960s. Both brothers served in World War II, John in the Marine Corps and Newt in the Navy.

Newt Russell is survived by his widow, Diane The couple had three children and eight grandchildren. The family is planning private services. A public memorial gathering is planned, but the details have not been set.

May 2, 2013
CA Assembly OKs denying out-of-state athletes compensation

20130415_ATHLETES_0073.JPGProfessional athletes like Reggie Williams and Lorenzo Neal are accustomed to helping their teams win on the football field. They've been less successful in winning over California lawmakers.

The Assembly overrode opposition from current and former professional athletes Thursday in approving a measure to limit workers compensation claims by out-of-state athletes.

The National Football League Players Association brought Williams, Neal and other athletes to the state Capitol last month in an effort to persuade legislators to kill the legislation.

But Assembly members voted 57-1 for Assembly Bill 1309. Assemblyman Henry T. Perea, D-Fresno, called his legislation an attempt "to ensure that California's workers comp system is no unjustly longer exploited by every professional athlete from every state in America."

"If you've at least just dressed out, maybe pitched one inning, maybe you got to play one game, maybe you suited up but never left the bench," Perea said on the Assembly floor. "But that still qualifies you to file for a California workers comp claim, even though the vast majority of your time played could have been in Florida, could have been in Texas or Massachusetts."

Perea said he wasn't trying to deny workers compensation to athletes for whom injuries are an unavoidable occupational hazard. The bill allows athletes to seek California workers compensation if they spent at least 80 percent of their career with a California team.

PHOTO CREDIT: Former Oakland Raider Nick Bell, 44, left, waits April 15 as former Cincinnati Bengals Reggie Williams uses crutches as he walks to the podium to talk about his opposition to Assembly Bill 1309. Paul Kitagaki Jr. / Sacramento Bee.

May 2, 2013
North Fork casino compact passes Assembly

RBGambling5.JPGCalifornia's North Fork Rancheria Band of Mono Indians is a step closer to getting a casino after the Assembly narrowly ratified a gambling compact on Thursday morning.

The floor vote came months after Gov. Jerry Brown affirmed the federal government's determination that the North Fork tribe could acquire property about 35 miles from their ancestral lands to build a casino in Madera County. The unconventional process has spurred intense lobbying, with opponents saying it contradicts the principle of Native Americans building on existing tribal lands. The compact also are opposed by competing tribal casinos.

But Assemblyman Isadore Hall, D-Compton, who carried Assembly Bill 277, cast the bill as a sorely needed economic boost for the North Fork tribe, who he said merely want "the same right granted to every other sovereign tribe in the state of California."

"This compact would put Californians back to work," Hall said in a speech on the Assembly floor, adding that "tribal gaming has replaced welfare with work. "Tribal gaming has replaced despair with hope and dependency with self-reliance."

April 30, 2013
Frogs 'have a lot on the line' in annual Capitol jumping contest

frogcooley.JPG Democracy! One of its greatest aspirations is treating elected representatives and the everyday people who elected them equally -- a leveling that, once a year in Sacramento, includes California lawmakers trying to grasp slimy frogs and then dancing around and stomping to encourage said frogs to hop.

Tuesday was the 39th annual Capitol Frog Jump day, a hallowed occasion that honors Mark Twain's well-known story, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County."

Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Oakdale, whose district encompasses Calaveras County, emceed the festivities.

"These frogs have a lot on the line here -- if they lose they could end up in the frying pan," Berryhill announced. A staffer told him, "We don't bite the leg that feeds us."

The results of today's festivities: A 10-foot-5-inch hop secured the longest jump title for "Notorious H.O.P." on behalf of Morgan Morales with the office of Assemblyman Eric Linder, R-Corona. On the opposite end of the spectrum was the amphibian coached by Theresa Pena of the office of Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica-- "Herkimer" managed only 1 foot, 4 inches. The Media Jump award went to defending champ Joe Michaels of Newstalk 1530 KFBK's "Christopher Ribbit II.

For the record, Capitol Alert's favorite frog names were a tie between M.C. Hopper and Betty Croaker. But enough talk, here's some videos of lawmakers and frogs.

Frog wrangler D.W. Elley was very helpful -- here he is giving Assemblyman Steve Fox, D-Lancaster, some positive reinforcement. (Elley's technique summed up: "Set him on the pad, and scare him and make him hop.")

Fox's frog, by the way, was named El Zorro. "Zorro means fox in Spanish," the assemblyman explained to Capitol Alert.

Assemblyman Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova, is a freshman but has been around the Capitol for a while, so he seemed pretty confident in his technique.

Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown, D-San Bernardino, was less enthused...

...although ultimately she got into it. Her frog, Larry B., though, remained indifferent.

PHOTO CREDIT: Sadly, Assemblyman Ken Cooley -- seen here with Tenaya -- did not find his prince. April 30, 2013 by Jeremy B. White/The Sacramento Bee.

April 30, 2013
Trio of California fracking-ban bills advances

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In the latest sign of Democrats' determination to rein in the disputed extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, an Assembly committee on Monday advanced three bills that would halt the practice in California for the foreseeable future.

They were not the first fracking bills to make it out of committee this year, but they go further than other fracking legislation by calling for a moratorium to allow more time to study the impacts of hydraulic fracturing, which involves blasting a mix of chemicals and water deep underground. A bill by Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, for instance, would prohibit the state from issuing new new fracking permits only if a study on fracking was not completed by Jan. 1, 2015.

Paul Deiro, a lobbyist testifying on behalf of the Western States Petroleum Association, said previous bills were "far more reasonable than the three moratorium bills you hear today" and argued that there is no evidence that fracking is unsafe.

"The proponents of a moratorium have often said we don't know, we need to collect information and find out," but there are no cases of proven well failure or groundwater contamination in California, Deiro said. He added that a fracking ban would mean the energy-rich Central Valley "loses the potential of creating millions of jobs."

But lawmakers said they were responding to constituents who were alarmed by the fact that fracking is moving forward in California with seemingly little oversight or regulation.

"It's clear that we must heed the call from our concerned constituents and demand answers about the safety of fracking," said Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, author of Assembly Bill 1323.

A branch of the Department of Conservation has released some draft regulations that would govern fracking, but lawmakers have criticized the proposed rules as too vague and lambasted the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources for moving too slowly.

"The lack of regulations in an environment that should be regulated is a recurrent theme," said Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, author of Assembly Bill 1301. "Public and scientific concerns have increase exponentially yet regulatory oversight lags behind."

Bloom said a moratorium would offer a needed window for study and would "get everyone to the table" to craft a framework for fracking.

"We must identify the risks and assure the public that we are doing everything in our control to protect them," Bloom said, "but to date the state has failed to do that."

The third fracking bill moved by the committee was Assembly Bill 649, by Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian, D-Burbank.

PHOTO CREDIT: Rig workers drill a saltwater well to get fluids to be used in hydraulic fracturing or fracking in Anthony, Kansas, in February 2012. Bo Rader/Wichita Eagle.

April 23, 2013
Updated homeless 'bill of rights' passes CA legislative committee

homeless.JPGAn amended version of a bill that would extend new protections to California's homeless population cleared the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Tuesday morning.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, framed Assembly Bill 5 as an attempt to create a statewide baseline of homeless civil rights, citing a proliferation of municipal ordinances cracking down on behavior like lying or sleeping on the sidewalk as examples of the "criminalization of poor people."

"Today numerous laws infringe on poor peoples' ability to exist in public space, to acquire housing, employment and basic services and to equal protection under the laws," Ammiano said at a Tuesday morning hearing.

Ammiano's legislation faced a backlash from critics who said the bill would sanction behavior like urinating in public while exposing businesses to new litigation, undercutting the will of voters who had passed local ordinances and handcuffing city-level efforts to deal with homelessness. The California Chamber of Commerce included AB 5 on its annual list of "job killers" because it imposes "costly and unreasonable mandates on employers."

The amendments addressed those concerns, Ammiano and supporters of the bill argued. A widely derided provision establishing "the right to engage in life sustaining activities" including "urinating" was deleted. Another amendment jettisoned language prohibiting discrimination by business establishments.

April 17, 2013
LA County porn condom law brings production to near halt

AHF REP Isadore Hall Condom Law Press Conference.jpgApplications for permits to film pornographic films and videos "have all but ceased in Los Angeles County" due to a new ordinance requiring porn actors to wear condoms, the Los Angles Daily News reports.

The Daily News article bolsters opposition to a current bill in the state Legislature that would make the condom requirement a statewide law.

Assemblyman Isadore Hall, D-Compton, is carrying Assembly Bill 332, which is patterned after the Los Angeles County ordinance approved by voters last year, and like the local law, is backed by anti-AIDS and public health groups.

"This is a workforce safety bill," Hall told an Assembly committee prior to its 5-1 vote for it. "We have to protect our workforce."

The Daily News covers the San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles, where porn production is a major industry and where local boosters are worried that production will move to other counties due to the ordinance. They and the industry also have told legislators that a state condom law would push production to other states.

The Daily News said Film LA, a non-profit organization that processes film and video permits, has received only two applications for porn shoots this year. In the past, about 500 such permits have been sought each year.

The newspaper quotes Diane Duke, who heads the Free Speech Coalition, a porn trade group, that "most production companies have ceased shooting in LA County." Meanwhile,it says, city officials in Camarillo, which is just across the county line in Ventura County, have been bombarded with inquiries from porn producers - so many that the city council has imposed a 45-day moratorium on porn production while it decides what to do about the situation.

PHOTO CREDIT: Assemblymember Isadore Hall, III, right, speaks while Michael Weinstein, President, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, looks during a press conference hosted by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation to introduce AB 332, a statewide law requiring condom use by adult film performers. (Bret Hartman / AP Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation).

April 16, 2013
Lawmakers to probe CA utilities regulator's safety commitment

Pipeline Explosion NTSB.jpgState lawmakers are poised to blast the California Public Utilities Commission on Wednesday in light of a scathing report that questions the agency's commitment to safety.

The report, completed for the PUC by the Folsom-based Business Advantage Consulting, found that the commission's staff lack the leadership and tools needed to make safety a priority. Staff interviewed by the consultants detailed multiple issues stemming from what they called an "anti-safety" attitude held by the executive director, including "resistance to challenging utilities" and "resistance to leveling fines."

The 24-page report also blames a workplace culture that gives regulated industries too much "access to the PUC building, documents and personnel" for "sending the wrong message to both staff and regulated industries about accountability."

"The regulated industries and lobbyists come to the PUC and see how casual the attitude and culture is here," the report quotes one employee as saying. "As a result; they don't feel that they have to comply -- they are not worried. The message to them is that we are not paying attention."

April 9, 2013
Bill to let non-doctors perform early abortions clears committee

SPECIAL_ELECTION_ABORTION.JPGA proposal to let medical professionals other than doctors perform an early abortion procedure advanced Tuesday in the California Legislature.

Assembly Bill 154, by Democratic Assemblywoman Toni Atkins of San Diego, authorizes nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives, and physician assistants who undergo training to conduct aspiration abortions, a procedure that uses a suction method to remove a fetus early in a pregnancy.

The bill cleared the Assembly Business and Professions Committee on a 8-4 party-line vote.

The measure would expand a state pilot program that's been in effect since 2007, and supporters say it would ensure women have early and safe access to abortion providers in their communities. They cite a University of California, San Francisco Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health study that found low rates of mostly minor complications related to the first trimester abortions performed by pilot participants.

"The goal is to ensure that there are providers, qualified and trained, throughout every county in the state," Atkins said.

Critics at the hearing raised concerns about safety, training and expanding access to abortion in general, especially among teenage women.

"I don't think we should treat it as taking a pill or anything like that," said Assemblyman Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills. "This is a very complex situation."

An earlier attempt to allow non-doctors to perform the procedure fell short last year. The California Nurses Association opposed that proposal, raising concerns that a full study of the pilot program had not been completed. The bill also ran into opposition in a key Senate committee, whose members included two Democrats who opposed abortion rights.

PHOTO CREDIT: An intake worker waits for paperwork from a teenage client at a family planning and abortion clinic in San Francisco. Julie Plasencia / Associated Press file, 2005

April 9, 2013
Assembly committee OKs porn movie condom mandate

LS_STD_1_CONDOM.JPGLegislation that would require actors in pornographic films to wear condoms during sex acts won approval of an Assembly committee Tuesday despite warnings that it would drive the multi-billion-dollar adult film industry out of the state.

"This is a workforce safety bill," Assemblyman Isadore Hall, D-Compton, told the Assembly Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism and Internet Media Committee prior to its 5-1 vote. "We have to protect our workforce."

Assembly Bill 332's provisions are similar to those of a ballot measure that won approval of Los Angeles County voters last year.

Industry representatives told the committee that the Los Angeles ordinance has already pushed some production to other California counties and predicted that if AB 332 becomes law, it will flee to other states.

Hall's measure has support from anti-AIDS groups and one former porn actor, Darren James, who was the center of an outbreak of HIV in the industry nearly a decade ago. But a still-working porn actress, Alana Evans, testified that the industry's testing program is more effective than a condom requirement.

PHOTO CREDIT: Nick Mori, a health educator with Sacramento County opens a packet that includes condoms and information to get tested for STDs during a public health fair in 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Lezlie Sterling

April 3, 2013
CA Assembly panel approves teacher dismissal bill

MC_CD_Ten.06.JPGIt could become easier to fire a teacher in California: the Assembly Education Committee voted 7-0 on Wednesday to approve a bill by Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, which would streamline the process for jettisoning incompetent or abusive educators.

The current dismissal process "is too long and takes too much money," Buchanan said at the committee hearing. "When it takes 18 months, two years, to resolve a case or it costs well over $100,000, not only can that money be better spent in the classroom but it's not fair to the district in its ability to move forward, nor is it fair to the employee."

The vote to advance Buchanan's bill, AB 375, comes after last year's abortive attempt to address teacher dismissal. A bill by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, faltered in part because of opposition from the California Teachers Association, but the powerful teachers union has backed AB 375.

March 27, 2013
CA lawmakers spending spring break in Poland, Taiwan

Connie_Conway_SOTS.jpgAt least two groups of lawmakers are spending their spring recess from the Capitol on overseas trips underwritten by outside groups.

Six lawmakers and the president of the Public Utilities Commission are in Poland on an eight-day trip paid for by the California Foundation on the Environment and Economy, a nonprofit group bankrolled by dozens of donors, including labor, energy, environmental and telecommunications interests.

In a separate trip, a nine-member delegation of the Assembly, including GOP leader Connie Conway, is in Taiwan to promote bilateral exchanges in trade and culture.

Lawmakers took $329,000 in free trips last year, according to financial disclosure statements filed in March.

March 21, 2013
Pay panel boss says changes to CA lawmakers' pay unlikely

thomas.JPGThe chairman of the state panel that sets pay for California legislators and statewide officials said today he expects the salaries to remain the same next year, even if the state's finances are strong enough to justify raises.

The California Citizens Compensation Commission met for about an hour today in Sacramento, but decided to delay a decision until after the panel gets an updated report on the state's fiscal health from the Department of Finance. By law, the commission cannot raise officials' pay unless the state shows a surplus in May.

Commission Chairman Thomas Dalzell said he sees it as "very unlikely" that members decide to increase -- or reduce -- pay levels when they meet again on June 13. Giving raises in the first year of a projected surplus, he said, would "probably be unseemly."

"The economy's fairly volatile and things could flip around and I think there are priorities greater than the legislator and constitutional officer salaries," he said after the meeting. "What we do is largely symbolic because it has no significant effect on the budget, but I think it's important symbolically to not rush ahead and to restore the cuts on the first year out."

March 20, 2013
Assembly Republican leadership team takes shape

connie.jpgAssembly Republican leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare, has named nine members to the lower house's GOP leadership team for the 2013-2014 legislative session. Here is a list of the appointments:

Assistant Republican Floor Leader: Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills

Deputy Republican Floor Leader: Donald Wagner, R-Irvine

Assembly Republican Caucus Chair: Brian Jones, R-Santee

Assembly Rules Committee Vice Chair: Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita

Assembly Budget Committee Vice Chair: Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo

Assembly Appropriations Committee Vice Chair: Diane Harkey, R-Dana Point

Chief Republican Whip: Dan Logue, R-Marysville

Republican Whips: Brian Maienschein, R-San Diego; Marie Waldron, R-Escondido

PHOTO CREDIT: Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare, seen here after Gov. Jerry Brown's State of the State address on Jan. 23, 2013. Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli

March 19, 2013
CA lawmakers hear benefits of drone competition

DomesticDroneBill.jpgPlans to boost California's burgeoning drone industry could generate billions of dollars and thousands of jobs for the state, industry representatives told Assembly members on Tuesday.

Much of the public debate about unmanned aircraft has focused on armed drones that patrol the skies in countries like Pakistan and Yemen, hunting for militants. In a recent Senate filibuster, Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul crystallized anxiety about the lethal technology being turned on Americans on U.S. soil.

But there is also growing interest in the potential domestic applications of unarmed drones. The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 directed the Federal Aviation Administration to start creating a system for regulating and licensing unmanned aircraft, a process that will entail launching six special test sites. At a Tuesday hearing, lawmakers talked about how to ensure one of those sites is in California.

"Simply put, unmanned aircraft systems are the next big thing in the aerospace industry," said Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance. "We need to make sure that California continues to be a national and global leader in aerospace," he added. He said groups in 37 states have been working on applications.

March 11, 2013
California chief justice says state is 'on the wrong side of history'

LSCHIEFJUSTICE 4.JPG

California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye implored the Legislature on Monday to better fund the court system, tying the issue to a basic guarantee of justice.

In her second State of the Judiciary speech, Cantil-Sakauye spoke repeatedly of the landmark Gideon v. Wainwright case, in which the United States Supreme Court established the right to counsel for defendants who couldn't afford a lawyer. Ongoing cuts imperil the Gideon precedent that all Americans get a fair chance in court, Cantil-Sakauye said.

"To have your day in court, you need a court room," Cantil-Sakauye said. "And I must say that what we once counted on, that courts would be open and ready and available to deliver prompt justice, is no longer true in California."

As yawning budget deficits became commonplace over the last few years, the court system was repeatedly asked to absorb deep cuts. Cantil-Sakauye has spoken often about the consequences for an overburdened justice system, a central theme of her State of the Judiciary speech last year.

Cantil-Sakauye's speech on Tuesday contained similar warnings. She invoked a list of slated courthouse closures and pointed to reduced staffing, buildings fallen into disrepair, heightened court fees and longer delays for cases. The Judicial Council, which sets policy for the court system, has voted to delay more than a dozen construction projects in recent months.

But the ground has shifted since 2012. Now that the voters have ratified Proposition 30, a ballot initiative that increases the California sale tax and raises income taxes for the state's wealthiest residents, an expected surge of new revenue appears to put California on firmer fiscal footing.

Given that sunnier budget outlook, Cantil-Sakauye has urged Gov. Jerry Brown to restore some funding to the judicial system. Brown's 2013-2014 budget proposes a $200 million reduction and asks the courts to offset it by dipping into judicial reserves.

"I worry that California is on the wrong side of history in funding justice, and I believe that if we do not reinvest in justice, you will see or will continue to see services to the public from the courts are cut or eliminated or deeply restricted," she said.

Some judges have assailed the court system's centralized authority, the Administrative Office of the Courts, for acting with a heavy hand and spending inefficiently. A May 2012 report commissioned by Cantil-Sakauye echoed those calls for reform, saying the AOC has "become dysfunctional in many ways" and strayed from its primary role of administering California's trial courts.

Cantil-Sakauye pointed to some of the progress the AOC has made, citing a costly computer system project officials decided to scrap, a series of open meetings and a review of trial court funding. But she said that tightening up practices can only go so far.

"No amount of efficiencies that we implement will ever make up for a billion dollar cut," she said, referring to the cumulative cuts of the last few years.

PHOTO CREDIT: California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013 in Sacramento, Calif. Lezlie Sterling for the Sacramento Bee.

March 1, 2013
Assemblyman Perea says he won't run for open Senate seat

20121203_HA_ASSEMBLY1252.JPGAssemblyman Henry Perea has decided not to run for the Central Valley Senate seat that fellow Democrat Michael Rubio resigned last week.

The Fresno Democrat said in a statement that while the opportunity to run in the 16th Senate District is "appealing," he wants to serve out his most recent term in the Assembly and honor a commitment he made to his wife and family to "create a balance between my home life and work."

"We are anxiously awaiting the arrival of our second child in July, and I want to uphold my commitment to my family and the 31st Assembly District," he said.

Rubio, a freshman Democrat from Shafter, resigned his 16th Senate District seat last week to take a job heading California governmental affairs for Chevron Corp.

Gov. Jerry Brown has not yet set a special election date, but there is no shortage of candidates interested in seeking the seat.

PHOTO CREDIT: Two-year-old Ava Perea looks at the gallery as she is carried by her father, Assemblyman Henry T. Perea, D-Fresno, after he is sworn in during the first day of session at the state Capitol in Sacramento on Dec. 3, 2012. Hector Amezcua / Sacramento Bee file, 2012.

February 21, 2013
Kristin Olsen to move to smaller office after failed GOP move

Kristin_Olsen.JPGAssemblywoman Kristin Olsen was ordered to move immediately into a much smaller office in the wake of a failed effort within the Assembly Republican Caucus to oust its leader, Connie Conway.

The move was widely regarded as punishment for Olsen, R-Modesto, who had been touted by some Assembly Republicans as a potential successor to Conway.

The caucus decided nearly unanimously Thursday to retain Conway, with only one person voting no, members said.

"I don't know the exact circumstances of the reason for the move, but I do know that Assembly member Olsen was not the vote to vacate the chair," said Kim Nickols, Olsen's spokeswoman.

February 21, 2013
Assembly GOP nearly unanimous in keeping Conway as leader

20121203_HA_CONNIE_CONWAY.JPGAssemblywoman Connie Conway can breathe a little easier now.

After caucusing for about an hour Thursday, the 25-member Assembly Republican Caucus voted nearly unanimously not to replace the Tulare Republican who has held the top post for two years.

A motion to vacate the chair received only one vote, two members said privately. Caucus sessions are held behind closed doors.

Conway, who is termed out of the Legislature next year, leads a caucus still reeling from the loss of three seats in last November's election, a stunning party defeat that handed Democrats a supermajority in the 80-member house.

But President Barack Obama's decisive victory in California and statewide redrawing of political districts tended to favor Democrats in other political races as well -- the GOP lost two state Senate seats, for example.

Conway replaced Assemblyman Martin Garrick, of Solana Beach, as Assembly GOP boss in November 2010. She became the fourth Republican leader of the lower house in an 18-month period. Garrick opted not to seek a second term as caucus chief.

PHOTO CREDIT: Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare, during the first day of session at the state Capitol in Sacramento on Monday, Dec. 3, 2012. Hector Amezcua / Sacramento Bee

February 13, 2013
Former assemblyman named Contra Costa elections chief

BB FINAL DAY CANCIAMILLA.JPGFormer Assemblyman Joe Canciamilla is the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors' pick to be the county's next elections chief.

Canciamilla, a former Democrat who is now registered without a party preference, will fill out the term of longtime Clerk-Recorder and Registrar of Voters Steve Weir, who is retiring next month.

Bay Area News Group political reporter Lisa Vorderbrueggen has the details:

The board of supervisors unanimously chose Canciamilla over the retiring incumbent's brother and Pleasant Hill Councilman Jack Weir about 90 minutes ago after public interviews with both men. ....

The five supervisors praised Jack Weir's public service and his managerial and data management professional background.

But all said Canciamilla brought to the job a deeper understanding of county government and politics.

You can read Vorderbrueggen's full post here.

PHOTO CREDIT: Former Assemblyman Joe Canciamilla in 2006. The Sacramento Bee/Brian Baer

February 8, 2013
Logue opens state treasurer committee, but not to run for post

California Jobs.jpgRepublican Assemblyman Dan Logue has opened a campaign account to raise cash for a 2014 state treasurer bid.

But don't expect to see the Marysville Republican hitting the campaign trail any time soon.

He's not actually running.

In fact, Logue said he expects a statewide campaign to be "the last thing I do" when he leaves the Assembly due to term limits at the end of next year.

"I have no plans to run for treasurer," Logue told The Bee. "I'm using that to raise some resources to help some colleagues to bring more pro-business candidates to Sacramento down the road."

January 31, 2013
Assemblyman gets a firsthand look at crime -- as burglary victim

State of the State Curt Hagman.JPGMemo to thief: Wrong victim.

When Sacramento thieves stole his briefcase from a state-owned car, Assemblyman Curt Hagman took matters into his own hands Monday night -- tracking two suspects to a gasoline station off Interstate 80.

"We start walking toward the car, then they gun the engine and try to run us over," said Hagman, who is no stranger to confronting crime suspects as the owner of Apex Bail Bonds. He also is a longtime volunteer captain for a sheriff's disaster assistance team.

Hagman and California Highway Patrol Lt. Rick Campbell gave the following account of the Chino Republican's firsthand look at Sacramento crime Monday -- as a burglary victim:

January 24, 2013
Assembly sets pay ranges for newly created job classifications

BB NEW MEMBERS 169.JPGNow for the money: The California Assembly has set salary ranges for a handful of new job classifications it created this month.

Dozens of aides potentially could receive pay increases if chosen for the new posts. The 80-member Assembly currently employs about 1,200 people for Capitol and district offices, policy committees, administration, security and other functions, records show.

Administrator Jon Waldie said the purpose of increasing the number of job classifications was to create promotional opportunities for existing personnel, not to expand hiring.

The changes came in the wake of voters' decision to alter California's legislative term limits, which now allow Assembly members to serve up to 12 years in the lower house, rather than six.

Anticipating that less frequent turnover of legislators will resort in more stable office staffs and fewer vacancies, the Assembly created two new positions and basically two step increases, with expanded duties, for existing office posts.

January 18, 2013
Legislature won't say where lawmakers drive on taxpayers' dime

By Torey Van Oot and Jim Sanders

State legislators billed taxpayers more than $450,000 for on-the-job driving in the last legislative year, but officials won't say where the lawmakers went.

The Legislature began reimbursing members for work-related travel in their personal cars, including trips from their home to the Capitol, in Dec. 2011, after a program providing state-leased cars to members was cut by the Citizens Compensation Commission. The change saved taxpayers nearly $240,000 in its first year, a Bee analysis found.

The mileage reimbursements varied significantly by member, however. Some legislators declined to seek reimbursement, while others received large sums for driving thousands of miles for legislative or other official business. While some of the members logging the most miles represent vast, rural districts within driving distance of the Capitol, others from geographically compact districts in Southern California also racked up thousands of dollars in reimbursement costs.

January 11, 2013
CA Assembly approves new staff promotional opportunities

Responding to changes in California's legislative term limits, the Assembly has approved a handful of new job classifications to create higher-paying promotional opportunities in an era when staff turnover is expected to be less frequent.

Calling it a staff retention plan, Assembly administrator Jon Waldie said the Rules Committee has authorized two new positions and basically two step increases for existing classifications, with expanded duties.

Voter passage of an initiative allowing lawmakers to serve 12 years in one legislative house, rather than six, means that aides can find themselves at the same job within a lawmaker's office for many years, with no vacancy to be promoted into, Waldie said.

"Your ability to rapidly move up in this organization is going to be stifled," Waldie said.

January 3, 2013
Defeated Democratic assemblyman gets six-figure appointment

jl0910_Allen_Michael.jpg.JPGDefeated Democratic Assemblyman Michael Allen has landed a six-figure job on a state board, courtesy of his former leader in the state Legislature.

Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez announced today that he has appointed Allen to the state Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board. The job, a popular post-office appointment among former legislators, pays an annual salary of $128,109.

The state Democratic Party spent heavily to try to re-elect Allen, but the attorney and former labor negotiator lost to fellow Democrat Marc Levine in a newly drawn district.

The appointment was one of four announced by the speaker today. Pérez also named sitting Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, to the Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission and freshman Assemblyman Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova, to the Seismic Safety Commission. Those jobs are unpaid.

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Incumbents Michael Allen, Betsy Butler narrowly trail in nailbiters

PHOTO CREDIT: Then-Santa Rosa city council candidate Michael Allen. September 10, 2008. The Press Democrat / Jeff Kan Lee.

January 3, 2013
Assembly Speaker Pérez announces committee lineups

Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez released today the lower house's committee assignments for the 2013-2014 legislative session.

The full list is posted after the jump:

January 2, 2013
State Sens. Negrete McLeod, Vargas resign to take House seats

California Budget (1) Gloria Negrete McLeod.JPGJD_JUAN_VARGAS (1).JPGDemocratic Reps.-elect Gloria Negrete McLeod and Juan Vargas are stepping down from the California Senate today ahead of the start of the 113th Congress.

The two will be sworn in as members of the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday. A spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg confirmed that both members have submitted their letters of resignation, which take effect later today.

Negrete McLeod, of Chino, ousted Democratic Rep. Joe Baca in the Inland Empire's 35th Congressional District, while Vargas won election in San Diego's open 51st Congressional District.

Special primary elections to fill the vacant Senate seats will be held in the coming months, on a date set by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Candidates for Negrete McLeod's 32nd Senate District seat include Assemblywoman Norma Torres, D-Pomona, and San Bernardino County Auditor-Controller Larry Walker.

Democratic Assemblyman Ben Hueso of San Diego, meanwhile, has announced his candidacy to succeed Vargas in the 40th Senate District.

PHOTO CREDITS: Left, then Assemblyman Juan Vargas, D-San Diego. John Decker / Sacramento Bee file, 2003. Right, Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod, D-Chino, speaks at the Senate session in Sacramento, on June 14, 2012. AP Photo / Rich Pedroncelli.

December 27, 2012
Former El Dorado Hills assemblywoman appointed to judgeship

Thumbnail image for ACW ALYSON HUBER 2.JPGGov. Jerry Brown has appointed former state Assemblywoman Alyson Huber to fill a vacancy on the Sacramento Superior Court bench.

The El Dorado Hills Democrat completed her second term in the state Assembly in November. She scrapped plans to move to Rancho Cordova to run for a third and final term in a seat created by the state's new political maps amid personal and financial issues stemming from her divorce proceedings. She worked as an associate at several law firms before running for office.

The new job comes with a big salary bump - Huber will make $178,789 as a judge, compared to the roughly $125,000 she took home in salary and per diem payments as a state legislator.

The Democratic governor announced today more than two dozen appointments to fill vacancies in courts across the state.

PHOTO CREDIT: Alyson Huber speaks at the October meeting of the Cordova Community Council at the Ranch Cordova City Hall on Friday, Oct. 17, 2008. Anne Chadwick Williams, Sacramento Bee.

December 17, 2012
Could Howard Berman finally become Assembly speaker?

Could Howard Berman finally become the speaker of the state Assembly three decades after he lost a bruising intraparty battle for the position?

Douglas Jeffe, a veteran Los Angeles political advisor and commentator, raises the intriguing possibility in a posting on the Fox & Hounds political website.

Berman lost his San Fernando Valley congressional seat this year in an expensive battle with fellow Democrat Brad Sherman, but as it happens, the local assemblyman, Bob Blumenfield, is seeking a seat on the Los Angeles City Council next spring, and if he gets it, a special election would fill his Assembly seat. Blumenfield is a former Berman aide.

Berman, Jeffe expostulates, could run for the Assembly and if elected, could succeed John A. Pérez because Pérez will be forced out of the Assembly in two years.

There's no word on whether Berman would be interested in returning to the Assembly, where he served in the 1970s and early 1980s, leaving for Congress in 1982. His departure followed a year-long battle with the late Leo McCarthy for the speakership culminated in the election of Willie Brown, who went on to become the longest serving speaker in state history.

Were Berman to run for the Assembly, he'd have the support of fellow septuagenarian Jerry Brown. Berman was one of Brown's closest allies in the Legislature during the governor's first stint, and Brown endorsed him during the duel with Sherman this year.

December 7, 2012
Ken Cooley joins seven NorCal legislators in nixing per diem

20121203_HA_ASSEMBLY_Ken_Cooley.JPGNewly elected Sacramento County Assemblyman Ken Cooley has joined six other capital-area legislators in rejecting the $142 per day in living expenses that lawmakers are entitled to while the Legislature is in session.

The decision will cost Cooley and each of the other local legislators between $25,000 and $30,000 for the upcoming year, based on the number of days that per diem was paid in 2012, records show.

Three other Sacramento-area assembly members who rejected per diem in 2012 have submitted letters to the Assembly asking to do the same for 2013: Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento; Beth Gaines, R-Rocklin; and Mariko Yamada, D-Davis.

Late Friday, the Assembly added another name to the list of those turning thumbs down to per diem for the coming legislative session: Freshman Democratic Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman of Stockton.

Newly re-elected Assemblyman Richard Pan opted to begin accepting per diem last January after obtaining a second residence, in the Pocket area, to run for a newly drawn Assembly seat that had no incumbent. He has not rescinded last year's request to accept the $142 per day compensation, records show.

December 4, 2012
Assemblyman Ben Hueso to run for open San Diego Senate seat

Assemblyman Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, is already readying a run for the Southern California Senate seat set to be vacated by state Sen. and Democratic Rep.-elect Juan Vargas in the coming weeks.

Hueso confirmed his decision to U-T San Diego reporter Michael Gardner Monday -- the same day he was sworn in for a second term in the state Assembly. Vargas, who has yet to announce when he will give up his Senate seat, has already endorsed his candidacy.

Hueso, who just took the oath of office Monday for his second term, said he wants to move up to the Senate because it offers a "bigger base of support" to accomplish key goals. One of those is improving trade between Mexico and the U.S. and easing border crossing gridlock.

"Mexico is our largest trading partner -- larger than China," Hueso said in an interview. "They are big friends of ours."

Once Vargas resigns, Gov. Jerry Brown will call a special election to fill the seat. The primary contest will be held about sixteen weeks from that date. Sen. Gloria Negrete-McLeod, D-Chino, will also step down from the Senate to take a seat in Congress.

Because both senators were last elected to their seats in 2010, the contests will be held using the state's pre-redistricting political maps.

December 3, 2012
CA leaders take different approaches to marking supermajority

Democrats started the 2013-2014 legislative session today with a supermajority in both houses, but the respective leaders took different approaches to marking the occasion.

In the Senate, members were serenaded by a children's choir singing "What a Wonderful World." Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg cheered when a letter certifying the unofficial election results was read.

The Sacramento Democrat addressed the supermajority power, which could allow Democrats to raise taxes or put measures on the ballot without GOP votes, throughout his address on the floor. He called the results of the election "a validation that the Legislature faced incredible challenges with strength, with decisiveness and we never flinched from the hardest of hard decisions," chronicling the deep cuts that helped the state climb back toward the black from a $42 billion budget deficit.

December 3, 2012
New California legislative session brings new leadership posts

Some of the California Legislature's newest members are adding more than an elected title to their resume as the 2013-2014 session begins.

New leadership assignments announced by Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez today put five Democratic freshman members of the Assembly in a caucus post, with more than a dozen more controlling a committee gavel as they begin what could be 12 years in the lower house. Returning Democratic Assemblyman Roger Hernández, who has been in the news over allegations of driving under the influence and other bad behavior, will not serve as Democratic whip, a position previously announced.

The Senate has not released its full committee chair lineup for the new session, but Democrats announced that they have retained Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, as majority leader. Newly elected Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, was added to the Rules Committee roster, along with Democratic Sen. Kevin de León and Republican Sens. Bill Emmerson and Jean Fuller. Senate Republicans announced that Sen. Ted Gaines, R-Rocklin, will serve as caucus chair.

Pérez , Assembly GOP leader Connie Conway, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, and Senate GOP leader Bob Huff will all remain in their leadership posts.

The full list of Assembly leadership assignments is posted after the jump, with new members designated with an asterisk.

December 3, 2012
New Assemblyman Travis Allen assigned to Capitol 'doghouse'

AD72-Travis_Allen.jpgFreshman Assemblyman Travis Allen already is in the Capitol's "doghouse," but it's nothing personal, apparently.

Allen simply was unlucky.

"The only thing you could read into who's in the doghouse right now is that as they drew names, he had a lousy draw," Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez said.

Allen, a Huntington Beach Republican, was assigned a shoebox-size, fifth-floor office that is nicknamed the "doghouse" because of its history: Assembly speakers often house members there as punishment for votes or actions taken.

Allen shrugged off the matter shortly after he was sworn into the Legislature on Monday, the first day of a two-year session.

"No vote has been cast yet, so I think it would be kind of difficult to offend anybody," Allen said, smiling.

"It's an honor to serve the people of California -- in any capacity and in any office," added Allen, a certified financial planner who won the 72nd Assembly District seat from Orange County.

Allen's cramped office, Room 5126, is just 391 square feet -- 135 tinier than the next smallest Assembly office and about 300 smaller than the norm.

Pérez said that he worked with Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway in assigning GOP Assembly offices. Conway handled requests from returning members of her caucus first, Perez said.

"Neither she nor I wanted to use that office punitively, so she went through a random process of selection to decide how to house the new Republican members. ... It was literally a drawing of lots," Pérez said.

Sabrina Lockhart, Conway's spokeswoman, confirmed Pérez's account Monday.

The doghouse was assigned last year to the now former Assemblywoman Linda Halderman, an outspoken Fresno Republican who was one of the most conservative members of a predominantly liberal Assembly.

Allen said, essentially, that size doesn't matter. No hard feelings.

"We're in the building, and we all get a vote," he said simply.

PHOTO CREDIT: California Assembly website.

November 23, 2012
Richard Bloom widens lead over Betsy Butler in LA Assembly race

Richard Bloom expanded his lead over sitting Assemblywoman Betsy Butler from just 79 votes to 430 in tallies released Friday afternoon by Los Angeles County.

The two Democrats are separated by just a quarter of a percentage point in a nailbiter for Los Angeles County's newly drawn 50th Assembly District seat.

Bloom, Santa Monica mayor, has 87,270 votes in the latest count. Butler, seeking a second legislative term, has 86,840 votes.

Los Angeles has about 155,000 ballots remaining countywide. An unknown number of those ballots, a small portion, is expected to be from the 50th Assembly District, which represents about 7 percent of Los Angeles County's voters.

Bloom said Friday that the race remains undecided as vote-counting continues -- and that tension builds as the gap grows or shrinks.

"Unfortunately, this is like being on being on 'Who Wants To Be a Millionaire,' except that they don't let you step out of the game, collect your winnings and leave," Bloom quipped. "You have to go to the next level."

Whoever wins the seat will be part of a Democratic supermajority in the Legislature. In the Assembly, Democrats will control 54 of 80 seats; in the Senate, 29 of 40.

* Updated at 5:10 p.m. Friday with Richard Bloom's comment and an estimate of ballots remaining countywide.

November 21, 2012
Ferret lovers look for bill sponsor in newly-elected Legislature

ha_FERRETS.JPGNov. 6 wasn't a great day for California ferret lovers.

Two candidates supportive of legalizing ownership of the animals, including one who told the leader of the movement his wife wanted a ferret as a pet, lost in the general election balloting, leaving the informal lobby behind the cause to once again start its annual "Hunt for a Ferret Legislative Sponsor."

Despite having "no known supporters" in the new Legislature, LegalizeFerrets.org Founder Pat Wright found a reason for hope in the election results.

"There was one person elected who had some ferret knowledge," he wrote to supporters in a newsletter this week. "Brian Maienschein was elected in the 77th Assembly district and met Alice Kaiser and her ferrets."

Wright called on his fellow ferret lovers, who have been working for years to persuade legislators and the Fish and Game Commission to allow ownership of the animals, to create a committee tasked with calling and visiting the newly elected San Diego Republican to seek his support.

Those efforts, however, could be in vain. Maienschein's campaign manager says the assemblyman elect has no recollection of interacting with the pets belonging to Kaiser, who Wright said had to move to Arizona after former Gov. Arnold Schwarzengger vetoed legislation related to the animals in 2004.

"Brian has not ever met a ferret and he will not be sponsoring legislation to legalize ferret ownership," campaign manager Lance Witmondt said.

Still, Wright wants to rally supporters to storm the Capitol in January and meet with staff in every office until someone agrees to carry their bill.

"We have 120 targets," he wrote. "Who's interested - please contact me!"

PHOTO CREDIT: A ferret plays in a plastic toy in early January 2011 at the home of an owner who did not want to be identified. Hector Amezcua, Sacramento Bee.

November 20, 2012
Richard Pan opens Senate committee - one day after Assembly win

Assemblyman Richard Pan opened a campaign committee to raise money for a possible Senate campaign just one day after winning re-election to the lower house from a newly drawn district he had moved into to run, records show.

The Sacramento Democrat signed documents to launch the "Dr. Richard Pan for Senate 2014" committee on Nov. 7, while absentee and provisional ballots were still being counted in Pan's easy victory over Republican Tony Amador. The filing was reported by the secretary of state's office Tuesday.

November 16, 2012
Nathan Fletcher to work for Qualcomm upon leaving Assembly

Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher will work for one of his district's largest employers, Qualcomm, when he leaves the Assembly next month.

The Legislature's only member not tied to a political party - the former Republican re-registered as an independent last March - will serve as Qualcomm's senior director of corporate development.

Fletcher, who announced the move Thursday in a Facebook post, is joining a global corporation that bills itself as a "world-leading provider of wireless technology and services."

Fletcher will not participate in government relations or lobbying activities as part of his new job, he said.

The 35-year-old legislator will assist with wireless health initiatives, mobile education, protection of intellectual property, and he will promote corporate citizenship, volunteerism and philanthropic activities, his announcement said.

"I believe in the power of innovation to improve people's lives," Fletcher said. "Qualcomm brings innovation to people across the globe. They are a great community partner and provide good-paying jobs for San Diegans. I am proud to join their team."

A two-term assemblyman, Fletcher ran unsuccessfully for San Diego mayor this year rather than seek re-election to the Legislature. His Assembly district stretches through San Diego, Escondido, La Jolla and Poway.

November 14, 2012
Norby concession assures Dems of Assembly supermajority

It's official: Democrats now have their Assembly supermajority.

Incumbent Republican Assemblyman Chris Norby conceded late today that he had been beaten by Democratic challenger Sharon Quirk-Silva in a newly drawn Orange County district.

"I wish my successor well," Norby said in a phone call from Honduras, where his family was spending time with his wife's ailing mother.

"I don't see any way of this turning out the way I'd like," Norby said of his prospects of overcoming Quirk-Silva in absentee or provisional ballots that remain uncounted. The two candidates were nearly 3,000 votes apart Wednesday.

Norby's concession means that Democrats will have 54 of 80 seats in the lower house next year.

Democrats also are assured of a supermajority in the Senate, marking the first time since 1883 that the party has wielded such power in the Legislature.

November 14, 2012
California legislators attend policy conference at Hawaii resort

More than a dozen California legislators are lodged in Hawaii's fancy Fairmont Kea Lani hotel this week -- hobnobbing and talking public policy with dozens of corporate, union and other officials that do business at the Capitol.

The annual invitation-only conference is sponsored by the California Independent Voter Project, a nonprofit public policy group that is funded through various business, labor and other groups.

Legislators' travel to Maui and their hotel tabs will be picked up by the nonprofit unless they opt to pay their own way.

Dan Howle, event organizer, declined to identify members of the California Legislature participating in the annual conference. He said they consist both of Republicans and Democrats. Several of the lawmakers are paying their own way.

November 13, 2012
Assembly Democrats capture tight race needed for supermajority

Democrats have captured one of the two tight Assembly seats they need to gain a supermajority in the lower house.

In a race too close to call on Election Day, Democrat Rudy Salas has defeated Republican Pedro Rios in the 32nd District of Kern and Kings county.

Salas' lead had grown from 268 votes last Tuesday to about 2,500 this morning through the counting of absentee and provisional ballots. Scattered votes have not yet been tallied, but not enough to alter the outcome.

In the other race critical to Assembly Democrats' supermajority hopes, Sharon Quirk-Silva continued to extend her lead over incumbent Republican Assemblyman Chris Norby in Orange County. Her lead of 1,004 after the precinct count widened to 2,222 votes this morning.

November 9, 2012
Ken Cooley now an assemblyman after Peter Tateishi concedes

It's official: Democrat Ken Cooley is Sacramento County's newest assemblyman.

Republican Peter Tateishi conceded Friday to Cooley in the 8th Assembly District, stretching from Citrus Heights to south of Wilton. The vote margin between them had widened from about 4,900 to 7,400 in early counting of mail and provisional ballots.

"The trend is showing that it's not going to move," Tateishi said.

Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez had named the newly drawn 8th District, in which Democrats hold a four percentage point lead in voter registration, as a targeted seat for capture by his party this year. Millions of dollars were spent by each side.

Pérez, benefiting partly from a wave of youth voters and supporters of Democratic President Barack Obama, has declared victory in seizing two more Assembly seats than his party had last year, giving it a supermajority, 54 of 80 seats.

Republicans have not yet conceded in two close Assembly races, however, one in Orange County, the other in Kings and Kern counties.

Cooley attributed his victory, in part, to months of door-to-door contacts with voters. The leader of his campaign, Andrew Acosta, said it helped that Cooley had a solid record of job creation and the "ability to work across party lines to get things done."

"I'm honored," said Cooley, an attorney, legislative aide and longtime Rancho Cordova councilman. "I'll continue to work with everybody, and try to work on what really matters -- we've got to grow jobs here in California. Everybody's got to work on that."

Tateishi, former chief of staff to Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Lungren, said he left a message on Cooley's telephone voice mail to congratulate him and wish him well in his new job, which begins in December.

"I hope he lives up to his promise to be bipartisan," Tateishi told The Bee.

Tateishi said he was proud of his campaign but was outspent by millions of dollars. Campaign documents show that about $5 million was spent by Cooley or by groups on his behalf, compared to roughly $3 million for Tateishi.

"They ran a great campaign, an effective campaign," Tateishi said of Cooley's effort. "I didn't care for all their tactics but it was a winning campaign. You have to give them credit for that."

Cooley currently is on unpaid leave of absence from his job as legislative director to Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello. Earlier this year, he served as principal consultant to the Senate's insurance committee.

Cooley's resume also includes stints as chief of staff to former Assemblyman Lou Papan, 1977-85; chief counsel to the Assembly banking and insurance committee, 1988-91; and state counsel for State Farm Insurance Co., 1991-08.

* Updated at 5:07 p.m. to add comments from Cooley.

November 8, 2012
Connie Conway re-elected as Assembly GOP leader

Connie Conway was re-elected as Assembly Republican leader Thursday, two days after the GOP took a shellacking statewide that appears to have given Democrats a supermajority of seats in both houses of the Legislature.

Meanwhile, Democrats chose Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez
to remain as their leader, a move that was expected because of his past service and the party's apparent capture Tuesday of two additional Assembly seats, which would give it 54 of 80 seats.

Selection of Conway and Pérez were unanimous decisions of their respective caucuses.

"I'm very pleased, but I also understand the obligation that comes with that - and it's a serious one," said Conway, a former Tulare County supervisor.

"To make sure we are really unified," she said. "And to make sure that as a team we have goals, we express those goals, and that we try to move California in what we believe is the right direction."

October 31, 2012
Groups spend more than $20 million on CA legislative races

Independent groups have spent more than $20 million on state legislative contests ahead of Tuesday's election.

The heaviest spending has occurred in two Sacramento-area seats so far. Independent expenditure committees reported spending nearly $2.7 million through Oct. 30 on the 5th Senate District battle between Republican Assemblyman Bill Berryhill and Democratic Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani. The Stockton-based seat is one of three swing districts that could determine whether Senate Democrats win a two-thirds majority in the upper house.

The 8th Assembly District is home to the second most expensive race, with outside groups dropping more than $2.5 million. Democrat Ken Cooley and Republican Peter Tateishi are fighting for that suburban Sacramento seat.

Spending by independent expenditure committees is certain to increase in the last week of the campaign, as the groups make their final appeals to voters. The committees can raise and spend unlimited amounts on state elections, provided they do not coordinate with candidate campaigns.

October 30, 2012
Feud with Mary Hayashi enters Alameda supervisor race

Democratic Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi's last days in the lower house apparently won't mark the end of her long-running battle with a faction of physical therapists.

A Southern California physical therapist who has battled for years with the Castro Valley Democrat over legislation affecting his trade is leading a new committee aimed at derailing the termed-out legislator's bid for an open seat on the Alameda County Board of Supervisors.

MORALS PAC, which stands for Masses Organizing Research Against Lying and Stealing Opposing Mary, distributed its first anti-Hayashi mail piece this week. The piece hits Hayashi not on legislative actions opposed by physical therapists, but her 2011 arrest on suspicion of taking more than $2,000 worth of clothes from a San Francisco Nieman Marcus without paying.

The mailer, designed as a riff on a movie poster for the 1998 comedy "There's Something About Mary," says the candidate's "political ambition and lavish lifestyle is starting to cloud her judgment and her ability to be an effective politician."

"Shoplifting is obviously a much more newsworthy thing than patients being denied access to physical therapy services," said Paul Gaspar, the physical therapist chairing the committee.

Hayashi, who pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor shoplifting charge, maintains the theft was not intentional. She is one of four candidates seeking to replace former Supervisor Nadia Lockyer, who stepped down earlier this year after her struggle with addiction and issues with her marriage to state Treasurer Bill Lockyer's became public.

Gaspar said the effort was created out of concerns that Hayashi will use the vacant supervisor seat as a stepping stone to return to the Legislature in 2014, when a state Senate seat in her area will be up for grabs.

"There's a pattern of behavior here with her dishonesty and the way she's acted not in the public's or the patients' best interest," he said.

Hayashi's political strategist could not immediately be reached for comment on this ad.

SomethingaboutMary1st Mailer

October 30, 2012
New problem for Roger Hernandez: Woman claims he struck her

Thumbnail image for Roger Hernandez.JPGA 31-year-old woman has obtained an emergency order against Assemblyman Roger Hernandez, claiming that the West Covina Democrat caused "visible injury" by striking her with a belt and slamming her against the wall during an argument last summer.

The woman "fears for her safety due to Hernandez using cocaine," according to her application for a protective order, which was signed by a judicial commissioner Sunday.

The incident marks Hernandez's second brush with the law this year. He was arrested in March on a charge of drunken driving in Concord, but later was acquitted of the charge in a jury trial.

Hernandez, through his chief of staff, characterized the incident as a personal matter and referred calls to attorney Anthony Falangetti, who said, "I can tell you flat out that all of this is a complete fabrication, it's totally bogus."

Hernandez and the woman had been involved in a relationship, but no longer are, Falangetti said. He declined to elaborate.

Asked specifically about the allegation of cocaine use, Falangetti called it "ridiculous" and "absurd." Hernandez will submit to a drug test to refute that accusation, the attorney said.

The newly issued emergency order was served Sunday on Hernandez. It will remain in effect until 5 p.m. Friday, after which the woman must decide whether to seek a temporary restraining order in court.

October 29, 2012
See which California legislators are most loyal to their party

With Election Day just over a week away, many California legislators and candidates are highlighting their interest in working across the aisle.

But voting records suggest those promises won't translate to frequent splits from the party line once they get to Sacramento.

An analysis of voting records by The Bee's Phillip Reese found that even the most independent legislators voted against the majority of members of their party less than 10 percent of the time.

See the full analysis, as well as a ranking of the most and least independent legislators when it comes to party loyalty, at this link.

October 18, 2012
Guns, grenades found at home of GOP assemblyman's aide

San Bernardino County law enforcement authorities discovered guns, ammunition and grenades at the Hesperia home of a legislative aide who was arrested earlier this week.

Rebecca Tennison, who works as a field representative for Assemblyman Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, and her husband were both arrested at their home Tuesday, according to a report published in several Los Angeles News Group publications.

The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin reports:

At about 3:45 p.m. deputies responded to a call of a man with a gun. The caller alleges that a man came to his home and yelled at him about his barking dog then pointed a gun at him. ... Deputies went to the Tennison home located in the 14000 block of Harding Court in Hesperia to talk to him, but when he answered his door he slammed it in the deputy's face refusing to talk about the incident according to a sheriff's news release.

Rebecca Tennison came out of the house, and refused to listen to deputies making the situation worse according to authorities.

Knight's declined to comment on the incident itself earlier this week, but told the paper that the "assemblyman and his staff are committed to being there for Rebecca and her family during this difficult situation."

His office said late Thursday that Tennison had been arraigned and that the charges against her had been reduced to a misdemeanor offense of not following the orders of an officer.

Click here to read the full story.

Editor's note: This post was updated at 3:36 p.m. with additional information from Knight's office.

October 11, 2012
California legislators rarely break from party line in floor votes

How often do California state legislators break from their party line when voting on bills?

Hardly ever.

An analysis by The Bee's Phillip Reese shows that Democrats voted the same way as most of their fellow party members 99 percent of the time in the 2011-2012 legislative session. Republicans voted with GOP colleagues 94 percent of the time.

Click here to see the full analysis.

October 8, 2012
Dan Logue drops out of 4th Senate District special election

With four weeks to go until Election Day, Assemblyman Dan Logue is abandoning his bid for an open state Senate seat because of health issues.

Logue was one of six candidates seeking to replace former Sen. Doug LaMalfa in the 4th Senate District. LaMalfa, who is running for Congress in a safe GOP district, resigned at the end of the legislative session so that the special primary for his seat could be consolidated with the November general election.

Logue's campaign said today that the Marysville Republican has been advised by his doctor to lay low while he recovers from kidney damage caused by an adverse reaction to antibiotics. While he will remain an active candidate in the 3rd Assembly District, where he is running for a third term, his health issues will prevent him from campaigning in the special election for the 4th Senate District, which spans 12 Northern California counties.

September 24, 2012
Former lawmaker/lobbyist arrested on suspicion of DUI

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Robinson Image.JPG
Those special license plates for retired lawmakers might spark some nice treatment from a restaurant valet. But they didn't come in too handy last week when former lobbyist and Assemblyman Richard Robinson crashed his BMW in Sacramento and was later booked on suspicion of drunk driving.

Robinson, a Democrat who represented the Garden Grove area in the Assembly from 1975 to 1986 and then worked as a lobbyist for many years, was driving an SUV with special plates indicating he's the retired District 72 assemblyman when he crashed Wednesday night. Fox 40 TV news caught the aftermath on tape.

September 5, 2012
Jim Nielsen and Dan Logue to square off for state Senate seat

Incumbent Republican Assemblymen Jim Nielsen and Dan Logue formally launched campaigns against each other today for the 12-county state Senate seat that incumbent Doug LaMalfa is vacating.

Nielsen and Logue will butt heads for the predominantly Republican 4th Senate District that winds through Yuba, Butte, Colusa, Glenn, Sutter, Tehama, Trinity, Del Norte, Nevada, Placer, Shasta and Siskiyou counties. The winner will serve the remaining two years in LaMalfa's term.

LaMalfa, R-Richvale, announced last week that he will resign the state Senate seat so that a special election to fill it can be consolidated with the Nov. 6 general election. Gov. Jerry Brown has yet to announce the election date, however.

LaMalfa is running for the congressional seat of Republican Wally Herger and is considered a shoo-in in the heavily GOP district.

September 1, 2012
Capitol Alert: End-of-session extra

In case you missed it:

A middle-class scholarship tax deal died for the year.

Gov. Jerry Brown said Democrats will try again.

A lumber tax made it through.

A bill targeting predatory disability-law lawyers cleared the Legislature.

Lawmakers approved CEQA exemptions for a major L.A. project.

An extension for Hollywood tax breaks hit the governor.

Former state legislator Ed Vincent died Friday.


August 28, 2012
Lawmakers approve bill to allow San Francisco-to-Solano-County trash hauling

The Assembly sent to the governor today a San Francisco lawmaker's bill meant to ensure that her city's trash can continue to be hauled to Solano County without restriction in years to come.

The measure by Democratic Assemblywoman Fiona Ma would prohibit voters in a city or county from restricting or limiting the importation of solid waste into a privately owned landfill.

Assembly Bill 845 passed the lower house by a vote of 46-15.

Ma's proposal stems from a fight over Measure E, a 1984 voter-approved Solano County initiative to limit the amount of waste imported into Solano County to a maximum of 95,000 tons per year, curtailing what it could accept from San Francisco.

August 27, 2012
Assembly Democrats target four races for November election

Rancho Cordova City Councilman Ken Cooley is running in one of four California Assembly races that are being targeted by Democrats as priorities for funding and other assistance in the November election.

Besides Cooley, the other Democrats identified by Speaker John A. Pérez for campaign assistance are Rudy Salas in Kern and Kings counties; Jose Medina, Riverside County and Moreno Valley; and Al Muratsuchi, Los Angeles' south bay.

The California Democratic Party, beginning this week, will move $150,000 into each of the four competitive races, begin field operations, and launch paid media advertising efforts, according to Perez.

The Assembly leader, in a prepared statement, said the four candidates will stress a "powerful message of restoring opportunity for the people" and will remind voters that Democrats represent "the party of solutions."

Democrats currently outnumber Republicans in the Assembly by a large margin, 52-27, with one seat held by an independent legislator. Democrats would need to gain two additional seats to reach the supermajority necessary to approve tax increases.

Cooley, who works as a legislative staffer, captured 43 percent of the District 8 vote in the June primary. Republican Peter Tateishi, chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Gold River, qualified for the November ballot by garnering 23.4 percent.

August 27, 2012
Jury finds Assemblyman Roger Hernandez not guilty of drunk driving

Assemblyman Roger Hernandez was found not guilty of drunken driving by Contra Costa County jurors today, ending a trial that lasted nearly two weeks.

The jury found Hernandez not guilty of driving under the influence, and the panel was hung on whether his blood-alcohol content was 0.08 percent, said Cindy Armstrong, clerk for Judge Mary Ann O'Malley.

The West Covina Democrat can return now to the Capitol after missing about a week of work during his trial. Lawmakers are acting on dozens of bills each day as the Legislature prepares to adjourn for the year Friday.

"I'm grateful to our judicial system for a fair and impartial process," Hernandez said in a prepared statement. "I look forward to continuing to focus on my constituents, and the people of the San Gabriel Valley. California faces huge challenges and I intend to be part of positive solutions."

August 27, 2012
Most CA GOP legislators remain in Sacramento as RNC kicks off

As the Republican National Convention kicks off in Tampa, most GOP legislators can be found on the floor of their respective legislative chambers here in Sacramento instead of the floor of the Tampa Bay Times Forum, where former Gov. Mitt Romney will accept the Republican presidential nomination later this week.

Just two Republican legislators are confirmed attendees of this week's convention in Tampa. Sen. Mark Wyland, R-Solana Beach, is serving as a delegate representing the 50th Congressional District. Sen. Sharon Runner, R-Lancaster, is heading to Tampa with her husband, Board of Equalization member George Runner, another Romney delegate, but a spokeswoman said she is ready to fly back to California if needed.

Senate GOP leader Bob Huff, whose wife is a delegate, spent the weekend with the California delegation at in St Pete Beach, but was scheduled to return home in time for Monday's floor session.

A spokeswoman for Assembly GOP leader Connie Conway said she was unaware of any Assembly Republicans planning to attend the convention.

The low attendance rate among state legislators is likely due to the legislative calendar. Both houses are set to work through hundreds of bills ahead of the end-of-session deadline on Friday.

August 8, 2012
California Assembly unveils new committee, caucus leaders

Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez announced a spate of leadership and policy committee changes Wednesday, less than a month before the Legislature adjourns its regular session for the year.

Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, will assume the chairmanship of the powerful Assembly Appropriations Committee beginning Friday, shortly before the panel decides the fate of scores of Senate bills.

Other key changes in committee chairmanships, all involving Democrats, include these:

Joan Buchanan of Alamo taking control of the Education Committee;
Das Williams of Santa Barbara, Higher Education;
Felipe Fuentes of Los Angeles, Revenue and Taxation;
Bob Wieckowski of Fremont, Judiciary;
Rich Gordon of Menlo Park, Business, Professions and Consumer Protection;
Michael Allen of Santa Rosa, Public Employees, Retirement and Social Security;
• and Ben Hueso of San Diego, Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee.

All changes in Assembly committee chairs will take effect Friday, including two involving Sacramento Democrats: Roger Dickinson will lead the Banking and Finance Committee, while Richard Pan will assume the gavel of the Health Committee.

August 1, 2012
Assembly GOP leader Connie Conway tries to push Andy Pugno out of race

Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway is asking donors of a GOP candidate to help push him out of a Sacramento-area Assembly race.

Conway is taking aim at Andy Pugno, a Folsom attorney who is set to square off in November against another Republican, Assemblywoman Beth Gaines of Rocklin, for the 6th District Assembly seat based in Placer but stretching into Fair Oaks, Folsom, Orangevale and El Dorado Hills.

The oddity of two members of the same party squaring off in a general election was created by the state's new "top two" primary system, which creates a runoff between the top two finishers in primary elections, regardless of party.

Conway, in her letter dated July 30, noted that Pugno finished "far behind" Gaines in June balloting and that he had pledged not to launch an "expensive and counter-productive campaign" against Gaines if she topped him in the primary.

"I and other Republican Party leaders have asked him to keep his pledge, but so far he will not commit, and he continues to raise money for a campaign. He may have even asked you for money again," Conway's letter told donors. Read the full letter after the jump.

"As the Assembly Republican leader, I hope you will join me in urging Andy Pugno to keep his pledge and suspend his campaign, so we can all come together and concentrate on restoring conservative leadership to the state."

Pugno predicted that Conway's appeal will backfire against Gaines and party bosses, saying it demonstrates arrogance and "the establishment's lack of awareness of how unhappy voters are with incumbents."

"Eveyone knows I've been running against the establishment," Pugno said. "So contacting my supporters, urging them to back a Capitol insider, is a blunder that highlights they've lost touch with real people who are sick and tired of business as usual."

Pugno also has been in contact with his donors. He sent them a fundraising appeal shortly after the June primary, noting that it's time to "start thinking about the November runoff election" and asking for donations to "help us finish the job."

Pugno later characterized his fundraising letter as exploratory. He said Wednesday that, despite his previous pledge, he has not yet decided whether to run against Gaines in November.

July 26, 2012
California legislator seeks to dismiss evidence in his DUI case

Roger Hernandez.JPGAssemblyman Roger Hernández will ask a judge to throw out a blood analysis and other evidence against him Monday, the eve of his trial in Walnut Creek on suspicion of drunken driving.

The West Covina Democrat filed court documents claiming that his constitutional rights were violated by an unreasonable search and, therefore, evidence that includes the blood test, his statements, and observations of witnesses and police officers should not be accepted by a judge, prosecutor Dana Filkowski said.

Peter Johnson, Hernández's attorney, could not be reached for comment this afternoon.

Hernández was charged with driving under the influence after he was stopped March 27 in Concord, where police say the state car he was driving was weaving inside a lane on Concord Avenue.

Lab tests concluded his blood-alcohol level was 0.08 percent, the level at which a motorist can be charged with drunken driving. Hernández has apologized for any embarrassment he may have caused others, but he said that he drank only two glasses of wine between 9 p.m. and the time of his arrest, about 2 a.m.

Filkowski characterized the court papers filed by Hernández as standard in such cases, with largely boilerplate language that does not make specific accusations of wrongdoing against a particular officer.

"What they do is put the burden on us to justify it," Filkowski said of Hernández's treatment by officers.

Hernández's trial is scheduled for Tuesday in Contra Costa Superior Court in Walnut Creek.

PHOTO CREDIT: Assemblyman Roger Hernandez, D-West Covina, talks on the Assembly floor on Thursday, May 17, 2012. (Associated Press / Rich Pedroncelli)

July 19, 2012
California legislative employees making six figures get raises

By Torey Van Oot and Jim Sanders

At least 93 California legislative employees making more than $100,000 received raises this year, a review of newly released payroll records showed.

While six-figure wage earners represent just a fraction of total legislative staff, the Capitol now has more than 300 employees making more than $100,000.

Forty-seven Senate employees with six-figure salaries received raises between Jan. 31 and June 30 of this year. Six additional employees in that pay range received raises but were promoted or assigned to a new job. Records released to The Bee under the Legislative Open Records Act show that at least 189 employees in the upper house now make six figures or more, a net increase of 15 since Jan. 31.

July 17, 2012
For Assemblyman Henry Perea, two plus two equals, well ...

Yes, California Assemblyman Henry T. Perea knows that 2 + 2 = 4.

But you wouldn't know it by looking at the Fresno Democrat's flier for an October campaign fundraising event, which promises to give donors one custom-made men's suit for chipping in $2,000 -- or two of what the flier called "suites" for $5,000.

Here's the kicker: Perea chairs the Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee.

The unusual give-and-ye-shall-receive political event will raise money for Perea's re-election campaign and for a ballot measure committee he controls. A Sacramento clothing firm, R. Douglas, will fit each participating donor.

Julie Sandino, coordinator of Perea's event, called the faulty math a simple typographical error. The correct figure is two suits for $4,000, she said, adding with a laugh: "Unless you really like Henry or want to be very generous."

Perea's flier also misspelled the name of the participating clothier, listing him as Ryan Douglas Hammond.

His last name is Hammonds.

July 5, 2012
Assembly votes to approve funds for California high-speed rail

The state Assembly voted this afternoon to approve initial funding for California's $68 billion high-speed rail project, setting up a crucial vote in the Senate on Friday.

The bill passed by the Assembly includes $5.8 billion for construction in the Central Valley, as well as nearly $2 billion to improve regional rail systems in the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas and to connect them to high-speed rail.

The Assembly's approval, on a 51-27 vote, was widely expected. A much closer vote is expected in the Senate. It remains unclear if the project has enough votes in the upper house to proceed. Senators were debating the bill in committee this afternoon.

Assemblyman Charles Calderon, D-Whittier, urged lawmakers to recall the work of previous generations of Californians, who built the state water project and its highway and university systems.

"We have issues, in terms of budget problems," he said. "Does that mean that we stop looking to the future?"

Republicans argued the state does not have money to invest in rail.

Citing recent polling showing high-speed rail has become unpopular since voters approved it in 2008, Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills, urged the Assembly to put the project back to a public vote.

"Let them help us prioritize what's important," Hagman said.

June 25, 2012
California bill to regulate medicinal marijuana put on hold

A California lawmaker has dropped his bid to regulate and allow taxation of California's medical marijuana industry.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano today canceled a scheduled Senate committee vote on Assembly Bill 2312, saying he has decided to allow the Businesses, Professions and Economic Development Committee to hold more committee hearings and issue a report on the issue after the legislative session adjourns.

Ammiano said in a statement that while the bill "represents my best effort to regulate this industry that has existed in a patchwork of regulations and laws for the past 15 years," additional study could create an even better product.

"There is no doubt that my colleagues understand the need for this legislation, and I have a lot of faith in this committee that we can hammer out a well-balanced regulatory policy during the fall to answer calls from local governments, law enforcement including our Attorney General, patients, and the public to enact a highly regulated system for medical marijuana and provide a clear set of rules for everybody," Ammiano said.

The bill, which squeaked out of the state Assembly earlier this month on a vote of 41-28, would create a state Bureau of Medical Marijuana Enforcement to provide oversight of many aspects of the medical marijuana industry. It would also allow local governments to tax marijuana products.

Supporters said such steps would help protect California's medical cannabis growers, sellers and users in the wake of a medical marijuana crackdown by federal authorities. Law enforcement associations opposed to the bill complained that the measure was "really a giant permission slip for medical marijuana stores to operate in a virtual unfettered manner."

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California Assembly passes pot regulation bill

June 21, 2012
Roger Hernandez receives trial date on drunken driving charge

Assemblyman Roger Hernández is set to take his drunken driving case to a jury Aug. 7.

The West Covina Democrat was given a trial date Wednesday by Contra Costa County Judge Bruce Mills, said Karen Holder, senior deputy district attorney.

Hernández did not appear at Wednesday's brief pretrial hearing, Holder said. He was represented by attorney Carin Johnson.

Hernández was charged with drunken driving last month after Concord police officers said they observed him driving erratically March 27 at about 2 a.m. on a weekday. The legislator said that he had only two glasses of wine over a five-hour period.

Tests concluded that his blood-alcohol level was 0.08, the level at which a driver can be charged with drunken driving.

Hernández has denied officers' claims that he was weaving inside a lane of traffic. He also contends that he was not impaired when stopped by officers after driving into the parking lot of a lot of a Concord hotel.

Hernández was accompanied by a 29-year-old woman and was driving a state Assembly car at the time of the incident. He has voluntarily relinquished his right to drive a legislative car until the case is resolved.

* Updated at 5:53 p.m. Thursday to correct the spelling of Carin Johnson.

May 25, 2012
Police report released on California lawmaker's DUI arrest

When Assemblyman Roger Hernandez was stopped on suspicion of drunken driving after pulling into the parking lot of a Concord hotel two months ago, he had a question for the police officer who stopped him.

"I'm here at the hotel and I'm not driving any more, can't you just let me go?" Hernandez asked, according to a Concord police report of the incident released Friday by Contra Costa Superior Court.

The West Covina Democrat subsequently was arrested on a drunken driving charge, pleaded not guilty, and is scheduled to appear in Superior Court for a pretrial hearing June 20.

Hernandez has apologized for getting behind the wheel after drinking, but he has insisted that he was not impaired. Tests pegged his blood-alcohol level at 0.08 percent, the level at which a motorist can be charged with drunken driving.

The second-year legislator, accompanied by a 29-year-old woman, was stopped by police about 2 a.m. on a weekday, March 27, in a state-owned Toyota Camry. His request to be "let go" came while the officer was asking a series of questions about his plans for the night.

May 24, 2012
Most heated legislative race may be in 50th Assembly District

The state's most heated legislative primary contest may be in Southern California's very wealthy, movie star-heavy, very liberal 50th Assembly District.

First-term Democratic Assemblywoman Betsy Butler now represents just a tiny slice of the 50th AD but has Democratic Party leadership support as she seeks re-election there, opposed by well-known liberal activist Torie Osborn.

The regions many political factions, including the large and influential gay community, have divided sharply, and LA Weekly newspaper lays out the dynamics of the Butler-Osborn duel in a lengthy article.

With its overwhelmingly Democratic voter registration, it's possible that Butler and Osborn will both survive the state's new "top-two" primary on June 5 and face each other again in the November election.

May 22, 2012
Democrat Xochitl Paderes drops out of Stockton Assembly race

Democrat Xochitl Paderes is dropping out of the race for the open 13th Assembly District.

The community activist told the Stockton Record that she was worried about the effect campaign attacks could have on her family. She had recently been targeted by expenditures made by a committee backed by the California Chamber of Commerce.

The Record reports:

The 36-year-old candidate said she doesn't have the money to fight negative campaign mailers and was concerned that future personal attacks could jeopardize completion of a lengthy adoption process for her 9-year-old son.

"Any kind of misrepresentation of the facts ... could compromise our fight," Paderes said Monday. "It is just ridiculous that politics has to be so nasty and dirty and negative. I don't have the kind of money to tackle them or rebut them or do anything like that."

Paderes will still appear on the ballot and more than 20,000 voters in the Stockton-area district have already cast a vote via vote-by-mail ballots, the Record reports.

But her exit from the race could give Stockton City Councilwoman Susan Eggman, also a Democrat, a clearer shot at securing a spot in the November runoff. The two had been locked in a battle for the runoff, with Cal Chamber chipping in for Eggman and some labor unions that were upset about Eggman's actions on the council backing Paderes.

One other Democrat and two Republicans are also in the running for the seat. The top two vote-getters in the June 5 primary will advance to the November runoff, regardless of their political party affiliation.

Click here to read the full Stockton Record story.

RELATED POST:

California Chamber of Commerce spends to support Democrats running for Assembly


May 16, 2012
SEIU California GOP committee spends to oppose Tim Donnelly

A political committee that Service Employees International Union California created to support moderate Republican candidates for the Legislature reported its first expenditure of the 2012 election Wednesday, dropping more than $15,000 on mail pieces opposing Republican Assemblyman Tim Donnelly's bid for re-election.

Donnelly, a conservative first-term assemblyman known for his vocal opposition to illegal immigration, is facing Republican Bill Jahn, the mayor of Big Bear Lake, and Democrat John Coffey on the June 5 ballot in the 33rd Assembly District.

The mailers were reported in a campaign filing posted on the secretary of state's website.The committee also reported spending about $20,000 on a survey in the safe Republican district.

SEIU California launched the Golden California Committee last year as part of an effort to elect more moderate Republicans to the Legislature. Leaders said the new district lines and top-two primary system allow more opportunities to influence the outcome in conservative districts.

The union says 87,000 of its 700,000 members are registered Republicans.

RELATED POSTS:
SEIU California launches Republican PAC to back moderates

May 11, 2012
California Chamber of Commerce spends to support Democrats running for Assembly

JobsPAC, the political action committee of the California Chamber of Commerce, has recently shelled out more than $150,000 on independent efforts backing two Democrats running for the Assembly.

About $121,000 went to consultants,research, polling and mailers to support Orange County Democrat Tom Daly's run for the Assembly District 69 seat, according to the PAC's latest filings with the Secretary of State.

Daly, a moderate who OC Weekly tagged "the Joe Lieberman of Orange County politics," has a long history in public office that includes 10 years as Anaheim's mayor.

Other contenders for the Democratic-leaning seat currently held by termed-out Assemblyman Jose Solorio , D-Santa Ana, include Santa Ana City Councilwoman Michele Martinez and labor activist Julio Perez, both Democrats. Another committee backed by labor has been spending heavily for Perez.

Closer to Sacramento, the chamber supported Stockton City Councilwoman Susan Eggman's candidacy for the Assembly District 13 seat with $33,000 spent independently on consulting, research, and mailers.

Although three Republicans are on the AD 13 June primary ballot, the primary race is focused on Eggman and labor-backed Democratic community activist Xochitl Paderes, whose campaign has received nearly $20,000 from labor organizations, state records show.

The Stockton Record recently reported that the fight between the candidates is centering on Stockton's well-known fiscal problems and how the city council on which Eggman serves decided to enter confidential talks with creditors, hoping to avoid bankruptcy. That has angered unions, which have endorsed Paderes.

May 8, 2012
Boy Scouts policy barring gay members sparks Assembly fire

A proposed resolution to commend the Boy Scouts of America on its 102nd anniversary died today in an Assembly committee because the measure did not urge the group to accept gays and lesbians.

Instead, the Assembly Judiciary Committee passed a separate resolution that applauded the Boy Scouts but said its policy against accepting homosexuals is harmful and discriminatory -- and should be reconsidered.

The measure that passed, crafted by committee Chairman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles, encouraged the group to "accept for membership and leadership positions all qualified boys and men, without discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or religious beliefs."

Assemblyman Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga, wrote the resolution that died in the committee by a party-line vote, supported by Republicans. He said he simply wanted his Assembly Concurrent Resolution 94 to commend the group for its many good deeds, not to make the issue political.

"I don't think this body should impose your will upon them," Morrell told the committee.

Feuer countered that lawmakers were not imposing their will upon the Boy Scouts - and could not legally do so. But before commending an organization, the Assembly should consider all facets of it, he said.

Comparing one form of discrimination to another, Feuer said that any group that excluded potential members because of their skin color would not be popular at the Capitol.

"I don't see the difference between discrimination based on race and on sexual orientation," he said.

Feuer's Assembly Concurrent Resolution 128 passed the committee by a vote of 7-2, with Democrats supporting it.

May 7, 2012
'Til death do us part? Luis Alejo proposes marriage in Assembly

Forget bipartisanship.

Scrap a roll call vote.

Assemblyman Luis Alejo pulled an Assembly surprise that cannot be amended, rescinded or reversed by the house Monday when he proposed marriage to his longtime love, Karina Cervantez, during a floor session.

She quickly said yes.

The Watsonville Democrat had invited Cervantez to the Capitol, in part, because the Assembly was scheduled to honor the week of Cinco de Mayo by presenting awards to Latino leaders from throughout California.

After the awards ceremony, Alejo took the microphone to introduce Cervantez, a 32-year-old student completing a doctoral degree at UC Santa Cruz. The couple, who have dated seven years, met while both were working on a school board campaign.

Recalling his proposal later Monday, Alejo said he began by introducing Cervantez as beautiful, the love of his life, the daughter of migrant farm workers, his best friend, and the smartest person he knows.

"I turned to her and said, 'Karina, on this day and at this special moment, I want to ask you if you would make me the happiest man on Earth by marrying me."

Alejo said he planned to get down on his knees, awaiting her reply, but while he was contemplating that, Cervantez began to stand.

"It was definitely not professionally choreographed," Cervantez quipped as Alejo retold the story.

She said yes on the Assembly floor - and Alejo grabbed the microphone to announce the news to colleagues and to his mother, Mary Lou Alejo, who had come to witness the proposal.

Assemblyman Bill Monning, D-Carmel, then handed Alejo the diamond ring that the latter had asked him to hide.

Alejo's is the first marriage proposal on the Assembly floor in recent memory, if not the first ever. Chief Clerk Dotson Wilson said it is the only such proposal during his tenure, which began in 1992.

May 7, 2012
Nathan Fletcher replaced today on committee deciding tax bill

Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher's request to be replaced for today's Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee, which will vote on a controversial tax proposal, has been granted by Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez.

Fletcher, who recently left the Republican Party and registered as an independent, will be replaced at today's meeting by Assemblyman Donald Wagner, R-Irvine.

By missing today's Revenue and Tax Committee, Fletcher will not cast a vote on hotly contested legislation, Assembly Bill 1500, designed to raise $1 billion for college scholarships by altering tax law affecting out-of-state corporations that do business in California.

Democrats support Pérez's tax proposal while Republicans oppose it, calling it a tax increase. Fletcher's vote conceivably could have won or lost him votes in his current race for mayor of San Diego, where primary ballots will be cast next month.

Last year, Fletcher was one of two Republicans voting for another proposal that would have changed the same tax law. That measure died in the Senate.

Fletcher, in his request to the speaker's office, said the absence was due to personal business in his district, said John Vigna, Perez's spokesman. Fletcher waived the $142 he was due to receive in per diem today.

Fletcher had scheduled a San Diego press conference today at which City Council President Tony Young was endorsing Fletcher's education plan for the city.

May 2, 2012
Connie Conway shakes up Assembly GOP leadership team

20110630_ha_budget_sign25887.JPGSix Republican Assembly members gained new titles today as Republican leader Connie Conway expanded and altered her leadership team.

Conway's changes come in the wake of the GOP's Jeff Gorell returning from deployment to the Afghanistan War and Nathan Fletcher's decision to leave the party to register as an independent.

Two moderate Republicans formerly in leadership positions were not included in the new lineup: Cameron Smyth of Santa Clarita, formerly an assistant leader; and Bill Berryhill of Ceres, formerly a chief whip.

Sabrina Lockhart, Conway's spokeswoman, said that the exclusions of Smyth and Berryhill were not punitive. Both are leaving the Assembly in December. Smyth is termed out and Berryhill is running for a Senate seat.

Conway, in announcing her leadership changes, vowed to "fight to protect Californians from higher taxes" and to push for "common-sense bipartisan solutions" to problems ranging from pension debt to education budget cuts.

May 1, 2012
Assemblyman Roger Hernandez charged with drunken driving

The Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office has filed drunken driving charges against Democratic Assemblyman Roger Hernandez of West Covina.

Two misdemeanor charges were filed, officials said, but both counts stem from the same incident in which Hernandez allegedly was driving under the influence when stopped by police March 27. He is scheduled to appear in court May 21 for arraignment.

Laboratory results found that Hernandez' blood-alcohol level at the time of the test was 0.08 percent, the level at which a driver can be charged with drunken driving. The lawmaker was tested about an hour after he was taken into custody, police said.

Hernandez could not be reached immediately for comment today. When lab results were released last week, however, he apologized for his actions and said the findings serve as a "huge wake-up call for me."'

"I may have made a poor judgment thinking that I was sober enough to drive after a couple of drinks over the course of an evening," he said. "Had I thought I was mentally or physically impaired to drive, I would not have gone behind the wheel of a car."

Hernandez, accompanied by a 29-year-old woman, was stopped by officers in the parking lot of the Crowne Plaza Hotel about 2 a.m. on a weekday. The Toyota Camry he was driving - an Assembly vehicle -- had been spotted weaving inside a lane on Concord Avenue, officers said.

The first-term legislator denied that his car had been weaving or that he was impaired at the time.

Hernandez has voluntarily relinquished his right to drive an Assembly pool car until the matter is resolved.

April 25, 2012
Roger Hernandez driving drunk when arrested, lab results conclude

Laboratory test results have concluded that Assemblyman Roger Hernandez was legally drunk when arrested last month in Concord, prompting an apology from the West Covina Democrat.

Hernandez's blood-alcohol level was 0.08 percent at the time of his test, police said in a written statement. His case will be turned over to the Contra Costa District Attorney's Office for review.

Hernandez, in a written statement, apologized for any embarrassment he may have caused others and characterized the test results as a "huge wake-up call for me." He expressed hope that others can learn from the incident that it is dangerous to consume any amount of alcohol before driving.

"I may have made a poor judgment thinking that I was sober enough to drive after a couple of drinks over the course of an evening," Hernandez said. "Had I thought I was mentally or physically impaired to drive, I would not have gone behind the wheel of a car."

Hernandez did not specifically address the blood-level finding, saying simply, "I look forward to fully looking into the specifics of the test for more information."

California law deems motorists with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent or higher to be driving under the influence of alcohol.

"Any time we send (a case) to the DA's office, we're recommending prosecution," Concord Police Chief Guy Swanger said.

Hernandez, D-West Covina, was stopped by officers in the parking lot of the Crowne Plaza Hotel about 2 a.m. on a weekday, March 27. He was accompanied by a 29-year-old woman and his Toyota Camry had been spotted weaving inside a lane on Concord Avenue, officers said.

The first-term legislator denied that his car -- one of the Assembly's pool vehicles -- had been weaving or that he was impaired at the time.

Two days after his arrest, Hernandez said that he had consumed "two, maybe three glasses of wine over the course of a period longer than four hours after dinner."

Swanger said the blood-alcohol test was administered about an hour after Hernandez was taken into custody. Officers detected the smell of alcohol in his car when it was stopped, police reports noted.

Hernandez's blood sample was not tested for drugs because there was no indication during field observations that drugs might be involved, Swanger said.

* Updated at 2:45 p.m. to add comments from Concord Police Chief Guy Swanger. Updated at 5:05 p.m. to add comments from Roger Hernandez.

April 24, 2012
Commission headed by Geena Davis gets last-minute funding from Assembly

Perez.jpg The California's Commission on the Status of Women is getting a second act with a last-minute funding pledge from the state Assembly.

The commission, which Academy Award-winning Geena Davis chairs, has been advising the governor and Legislature on issues and policy affecting women in the state for more than 45 years.

The panel was set to suspended its operations due to state budget cuts, and Gov. Jerry Brown proposed in January that its remaining $265,000 budget be eliminated, saying "numerous alternative and effective forums" already perform its duties.

But it was saved from the chopping block today. Speaker John A. Pérez and members of the Legislative Women's Caucus announced that the lower house will use $150,000 from its operating budget to fund the commission.

Davis said she has heard the governor's concerns and is "moving forward in a new direction with a clarified focus and a new commitment to women and girls." She said commission officials are exploring public-private funding opportunities and are planning to focus on business, health and safety, education, gender equality in the media and women and children in military families.

"Parity in these key areas is a marker of success and opportunity in our society," she said.

The Democratic governor isn't the only one calling for cutting off money to the commission. Republican Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen of Modesto plans legislation to prohibit the use of public funds for the commission and issued a statement today questioning whether saving the commission is the best use of Assembly budget savings.

"I applaud the Speaker for his willingness to reallocate Assembly funding to other areas of the budget," Olsen said. "However, at a time when teachers are receiving pink slips and we are releasing prisoners early, why would we use this money to fund the Commission on the Status of Women instead of a priority program? That is beyond comprehension."

Pérez said the commission "is one of many" programs the Assembly is looking to bolster with the savings from ongoing reductions to its operating budget, pointing to a recent $500,000 commitment to aid the National Guard in helping returning veterans get jobs and earlier transfers to restore funding for state-subsidized child care. The Los Angeles Democrat said the commission was a worthy recipient in part because of the effect that budget cuts to social services programs have had on women and children.

"You don't need to add insult to injury and layer those cuts on the elimination of the commission that has done essential work to look at those impacts, to look at other out-year challenges for us and to look at ways to create greater equity in the state of California," Pérez said.

PHOTO CREDIT: Academy Award-winning actress Geena Davis talks about funding for the California Commission on the Status of Women with Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles, at the Capitol in Sacramento on Tuesday, April, 24, 2012. Hector Amezcua / Sacramento Bee

April 20, 2012
Assemblyman was driving state car when arrested in DUI case

Assemblyman Roger Hernandez voluntarily relinquished his right to drive Assembly pool cars Friday, hours after the lower house disclosed that he was driving one of the vehicles when arrested in Concord last month on suspicion of drunken driving.

The West Covina Democrat, in a written statement, said he learned after reviewing Assembly rules that he "should not have used a state vehicle for travel outside the Capitol to the Bay Area."

"I apologize to my constituents and colleagues for doing so," Hernandez wrote. "I do believe pending test results will make clear that I was in fact driving within the law. Until this matter is resolved,I am voluntarily relinquishing my access to drive state vehicles."

Earlier Friday, Assembly administrator Jon Waldie said that Hernandez did not have permission March 27 to take one of the Assembly's pool cars to Concord, where he was arrested in the parking lot of the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

Hernandez was driving a Toyota Camry hybrid that had been assigned to him for travel in the Capitol area, Waldie said.

Lawmakers are making more extensive use of personal vehicles or pool cars after California's independent salary-setting commission eliminated a lease-car program serving Assembly and Senate officeholders.

The general rule is that Assembly members not take pool cars out of Sacramento without prior permission. Officials prefer that out-of-area trips be for a legislative or governmental purpose, Waldie said.

"He was not fully aware of those rules, I guess, being a first-term member," Waldie said. "He is now fully aware of those rules."

Pending results of a blood test, no charges have been filed against Hernandez in connection with the Concord arrest.

April 19, 2012
Legislative Women's Caucus condemns California Lottery ad

UPDATE: 4:20 p.m. The California Lottery Commission is taking down the ad. Read more at this link.

Leaders of the Legislative Women's Caucus are demanding that the California Lottery Commission take a new television ad off the air, saying a scene in which a woman slaps a man who scores a win on a scratch ticket "glamorizes violence."

"We certainly believe this commercial not only portrays women in a poor light -- by perpetrating violence -- but also endorses the act of violence itself," Sen. Noreen Evans and Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, who co-chair the caucus, wrote in a letter Wednesday to Lottery Director Robert O'Neil.

The letter, posted after the jump, asks the Lottery Commission to pull the ad and "scrutinize the content of future ads which may contain harmful messages that are paid for with public dollars."

"It is inappropriate for any entity, especially a state-funded Commission, to promote its products through the use of violence," the letter reads.

The "Luck has a new look" spot, posted below, shows a woman in black, assumed to be "Lady Luck," walking up to a man playing a California Lottery Black Scratchers ticket at a bowling alley. After she slaps him across the face, he looks at his scratch card and says, "I won!"

A spokesperson for the Lottery Commission was not immediately available for comment. The commission website lists several Lady Luck-themed promoted for the Black Scratchers game running through the month of April.

April 18, 2012
Newman of 'Seinfeld' makes cameo in California bill analysis

SEINFELD_NEWMAN.JPGThe television show about nothing has become something of an argument for an Assembly bill to change California's beverage container recycling program.

A reader passed along the Appropriations Committee analysis for Assembly Bill 1933, noting that "Seinfield" antagonist Newman makes a cameo in the three-page bill report:

As the author notes, a 1996 episode television's Seinfeld featured the efforts of supporting character, Newman, to smuggle a mail truck loaded with beverage cans out of New York, which did not offer a beverage container redemption, and into Michigan, where the cans could be turned in for a five-cent redemption value.

Calrecycle does not know how much beverage container material is imported into the state in attempts to fraudulently receive CRV for the material, a la Newman. However, the department has evidence to suspect the practice happens large scale.

The bill's author -- Democratic Assemblyman and apparent Seinfield fan Richard Gordon of Menlo Park -- is likely hoping his legislation enjoys a better outcome than Newman's scheme.

The reoccurring nemesis to the fictional Jerry Seinfield lost both the bottles and his seat in the truck by the end of the two-part episode.

For the record, the episode's math actually involved a 10-cent redemption in Michigan. New York's deposit was then and still is a nickel. Watch a clip from the episode at this link.

PHOTO CREDIT: Actors Jerry Seinfeld, left, as "Seinfeld" and Wayne Knight as "Newman," file photo, 1998.

April 16, 2012
Jerry Brown tax campaign looks to legislative staff for help

It's all hands on deck as the deadline approaches for supporters of Gov. Jerry Brown's tax measure to turn in the hundreds of thousands of signatures they need to qualify for the November ballot.

In addition to calling and mailing voters pleas to send signatures in, campaign supporters have asked some Democratic staff members in the Legislature to circulate petitions for the constitutional amendment on their time off.

The volunteer effort is organized by the political, non-state arms of the Assembly and Senate Democratic caucuses, which are funded and staffed by the California Democratic Party, both the Assembly and Senate Democrats say.

April 9, 2012
'Now let's get back to work,' Jeff Gorell says of return to Capitol

Short and sweet.

No flowery speech from Assemblyman Jeff Gorell today as he returned to the Capitol after a yearlong deployment to the war in Afghanistan.

After leading the Assembly in the Pledge of Allegiance, the Camarillo Republican was called upon to address his colleagues.

"Did I miss anything while I was gone? The Capitol press corps tells me no," he quipped.

A framed photo of Gorell in military fatigues, signed by Assembly colleagues, had been presented to him earlier as a welcome-home gift.

"I get to come back to the best job in the world and to work with some of the best people in the world," Gorell said.

"Now let's get back to work."

Gorell, 41, was joined on the Assembly floor by his wife, Laura.

A lieutenant commander in the Navy Reserve, Gorell served in Afghanistan as an intelligence officer stationed with Marines at Camp Leatherneck in the Helmand province.

March 30, 2012
Rivals Andy Pugno, Beth Gaines to meet in Sacramento court

The chase is over: California Assemblywoman Beth Gaines accepted service today, through her attorney, of a lawsuit filed by fellow Republican Andy Pugno challenging her ballot designation as "small business owner."

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael P. Kenny has scheduled a 9 a.m. Monday hearing in the case.

Arguments initially were expected to be heard Thursday, but a judge ruled that Gaines had not been personally served with the paperwork.

The judge's finding prompted a futile, daylong scramble by Pugno's campaign to serve the Rocklin Republican before the close of business Thursday, the deadline for the secretary of state's office to certify ballot titles.

Pugno's lawsuit contends that his rival's ballot designation of "small business owner" is misleading because Gaines and her husband, state Sen. Ted Gaines, incorporated their family-owned insurance firm less than a month before she filed for re-election to the Assembly.

Pugno and Gaines are among candidates for the newly drawn 6th Assembly District, which is based in Placer County but extends into El Dorado Hills, Cameron Park and portions of northeastern Sacramento County.

Gaines' campaign notified Pugno's camp today that she would agree to accept service of the lawsuit through her attorney, Brian Hildreth, of the Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk law firm, said Dave Gilliard, Gaines' campaign consultant.

Gaines made the decision to end the scrambling after Pugno's representatives scoured the area for her all day, then showed up at a private event in a private home Thursday night, Gilliard said.

"So we just said, 'This is ridiculous,' " said Gilliard.

Pugno countered that Gaines "clearly was in hiding" after Thursday's ruling that she needed to be personally served with papers.

Though Pugno missed the state's deadline for certification of ballot titles, he said there remains time for a judge Monday to order counties to make changes before the material is sent for printing.

Brad Buyse, Sacramento County's campaign services manager, said the county's position is that the deadline for changes in the ballot for the Assembly race has been missed, but "we'll try to comply with whatever the court orders."

"It really doesn't matter," Gilliard said of the deadline, "because she's going to prove quite easily that she's a business owner."

* Updated at 2:30 p.m. to say that Pugno had served Gaines with papers.

March 30, 2012
From Afghanistan to Camarillo -- Jeff Gorell is back home now

Welcome home, Jeff Gorell.

After a yearlong stint at war in Afghanistan, Assemblyman Jeff Gorell can unpack his bags now in Camarillo. He expects to finish processing paperwork today to transition out of active military duty.

"I'm back in California, I'm home," Gorell told The Bee. "It's great to be back."

The 41-year-old, first-term Republican lawmaker expects to return to the Capitol on April 9, when the Assembly reconvenes after a weeklong recess.

"I'll be there, rocking and rolling," Gorell said. "I'm looking forward to getting back in the mix."

Meanwhile, Gorell can spend time with his wife, Laura, and with their two young children.

Gorell, a Naval reservist, was deployed on active duty as an intelligence officer stationed with Marines at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan's Helmand province, spokesman Doug Lorenz said.

March 29, 2012
Pugno campaign seeks to serve Beth Gaines at the Capitol

photo (1).JPGAssemblywoman Beth Gaines, R-Rocklin, had good reason to avoid her office today.

The campaign manager for Andy Pugno, Gaines' GOP rival in the 6th Assembly District, staked out the hallway outside her Capitol office for hours in hopes of serving the Rocklin Republican with a lawsuit.

Pugno, a Folsom attorney, filed a lawsuit earlier this week challenging Gaines' use of "small business owner" as her job title on the ballot. Gaines says it's accurate because she and husband Ted Gaines, a state senator, own their own insurance company. Pugno's complaint says telling voters that is her "principal profession, occupation or vocation" is misleading because the company was just incorporated in late January.

The case was scheduled to be heard this morning in Sacramento Superior Court. But the question was put on hold after lawyers for Gaines successfully argued that the case should not be heard because their client had not been personally served with the paperwork. Pugno said the judge told his attorneys that they can return later today to make their case if they are able to serve Gaines.

With the clock ticking to make changes to ballot language, Pugno campaign manager Jim Dutra headed to the Capitol to try to serve Gaines there, arriving at the benches outside her fourth-floor office at about 11:30 a.m. The assemblywoman had not returned to her office as of 1:30 p.m. An aide said she was expected to be in and out of the office throughout the day but was not currently there.

March 29, 2012
California commission defers action on state officeholder pay

Much talk, no action -- yet. California's Citizens Compensation Commission spent two hours today discussing state officeholder compensation, but no decisions were made and none of its members suggested raising pay of legislators or other statewide officeholders.

Chairman Tom Dalzell said he suspects that the state's budget crisis would bar any pay hike, even if there were sentiment to do so when the commission reconvenes in May to consider any written motions submitted by members.

Today, commissioners identified several issues they may want to consider in the future -- whether senators should be paid more than Assembly members because of larger districts, for example, and whether California's prohibition on legislative pension benefits should be taken into consideration in comparing pay to other states.

March 29, 2012
California lawmaker arrested on suspicion of drunk driving

RogerHernandezBookingPhoto.JPGBy Jim Sanders

A California lawmaker was arrested this week for suspicion of drunken driving.

Democratic Assemblyman Roger Hernandez was arrested in the parking lot of the Crowne Plaza Hotel after he failed a field sobriety test and refused to take a breathalyzer test, Concord Police Chief Guy Swanger said.

Officers stopped Hernandez's white Toyota Camry about 2 a.m. Tuesday after they observed the car weaving from side to side in its lane on Concord Avenue, then turn suddenly onto Meridian Park Boulevard without signaling, Swanger said.

Hernandez, a first-term assemblyman who serves as the Democratic Caucus's assistant majority whip, was taken intially to the Concord Police Department for a blood test and later booked at the Contra Costa County jail in Martinez, Swanger said.

The West Covina lawmaker said Thursday that he had been visiting a friend in the Bay Area shortly before the incident occurred. He said he is confident that test results will show he was not drunk.

"After dinner I had a couple of drinks and because of the late hour I decided to stay in the town of Concord," Hernandez said.

March 26, 2012
Folsom Assembly candidate's pledge could mean backing rival

Republican Assembly hopeful Andy Pugno kicked off his campaign today with a pledge that could leave him backing his rival over his own candidacy in November.

The Folsom Republican is challenging Assemblywoman Beth Gaines, R-Rocklin, in the 6th Assembly District. Under the state's new top-two primary rules, voters could send both Republicans to the general election.

But voters in the safe GOP district might be spared a second round of a same-party slug fest if that happens. Pugno said today that he would support whichever Republican gets the most votes in the June 5 primary -- even if he secures the No. 2 spot to advance to the runoff. He said he made the pledge because he believes Republicans "should not be beating up on each other in the general election"

"If I came in behind Beth Gaines, I would honor the expression of Republican voters and endorse her campaign and not actively campaign myself," Pugno said in an interview with The Bee today.

Gaines' consultant dismissed the scenario as unlikely given the presence of a Democratic candidate in the three-way race. But he said his candidate wasn't interested in joining Pugno on the issue.

"She pledges to vote for a Republican in November and it's going to be herself," Gaines consultant Dave Gilliard said.

Pugno filed to run for the office earlier this month, but spoke publicly about his plans to run for the Assembly for the first time today. The 2010 Assembly candidate and author and attorney for Proposition 8, California's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, told KTKZ (1380 AM) host Eric Hogue that he wants to position himself as a "strong advocate for conservative causes" who would "actually be there out on the frontlines engaging and fighting for us."

He later criticized Gaines as"very passive and totally inaccessible to her constituents" in an interview with The Bee.

Gilliard rejected Pugno's characterization, noting that Gaines has hosted recent town hall meetings in the newly drawn district.

"She's been very accessible," he said "I think it's a non-issue."

March 26, 2012
Donnelly gets fine, probation after no-contest plea to gun charges

Thumbnail image for Tim Donnelly 20120104_PK_LEGISLATURE 0034.JPGAssemblyman Tim Donnelly pleaded no contest today to two misdemeanor gun charges stemming from the discovery of a loaded firearm in his carry-on bag before he boarded a flight for Sacramento.

The Twin Peaks Republican was placed on probation for three years and fined $2,215, said Christopher Lee, spokesman for the San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office.

Donnelly faced charges of illegal possession of a loaded firearm and possession of a prohibited item in a sterile area in connection with the Jan. 4 airport incident involving a loaded .45-caliber firearm.

The two misdemeanors carried maximum jail sentences of one year and six months, respectively. Offenders also could be fined up to $1,000 for each count. Judges are free to impose lighter sentences, however, based on circumstances.

Donnelly was ordered to pay his $2,215 fine in increments of $200 per month, starting May 1, Lee said.

The assemblyman's gun and ammunition will be destroyed by law enforcement, and Donnelly was ordered not to use, possess or own a firearm not registered to him, Lee said.

Rod Pacheco, Donnelly's attorney, characterized the plea agreement as a fair resolution of a case in which the assemblyman immediately and consistently accepted responsibility

"This has been an incredible distraction for him," Pacheco said.

"He wasn't trying to sneak it in," Pacheco said of the gun. "He put the bag in the scanner, for god sakes. He obviously wasn't trying to sneak something through the scanner. You can't get a metal toothpick through the scanner, let alone a handgun."

Donnelly called the incident a regrettable but "innocent and honest mistake."

"My family and look forward to putting this behind us," he said in a written statement. "Many have sent words of encouragement throughout this time, and we are truly grateful. I am excited to move forward to continue representing the people and values of our district."

Federal Transportation Security Administration officials described Donnelly's gun as a .45-caliber Colt Mark IV. It had four rounds in its magazine and a spare magazine with five rounds, TSA officials said.

March 15, 2012
Tim Donnelly seeks plea deal in airport gun case

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Assemblyman Tim Donnelly is seeking a plea deal on misdemeanor charges stemming from the discovery of a loaded firearm in his hand-carry luggage by screeners at Ontario International Airport.

"Tim has taken responsibility for it, so this isn't like we're going to have a trial or anything, to be candid with you," said Rod Pacheco, a former legislator and Riverside County district attorney who is Donnelly's attorney.

The Twin Peaks Republican, through Pacheco, pleaded not guilty to the charges at arraignment Feb. 24.

Pacheco said he met with prosecutors today, and has talked with them in the past, to explain threats made against Donnelly and other mitigating circumstances that should be considered in resolving the case.

"The justice system needs to mete out justice in a fair manner, taking into consideration various circumstances," Pacheco said, declining to comment on what he felt would be a fair disposition.

The case of a committed public servant bringing a gun to an airport by mistake is quite different than that of a gang member trying to sneak a weapon through airport security, Pacheco said.

Officials from the San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office declined comment today.

March 14, 2012
Assembly panel blocks expansion of court computer system

An Assembly budget subcommittee voted unanimously Wednesday to block expansion of a statewide court case management system that has become the focal point of a months-long political war between the state's judicial leadership and some rebel judges.

The latter -- backed by the politically powerful Service Employees International Union -- have complained that millions of dollars are being wasted on the computer system while local courts are being compelled to curtail their operations and lay off employees as state financing of courts is reduced.

The budget subcommittee's action bolsters the Assembly's position in a conflict with the state Senate over court management. The Assembly has passed legislation, Assembly Bill 1208, that the rebel Alliance of California Judges sponsored to give local judges more power over distribution of operational funds.

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who chairs the state Judicial Council and heads the Administrative Office of the Courts, has publicly complained that the legislation violates judicial independence, and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has declared that the bill will be held in his house without a vote.

Steinberg, however, is under pressure from the SEIU, which represents court employees facing layoffs and is a major source of campaign money for Democrats. Wednesday's action makes the computer system financing a potential bargaining chip in the inter-Capitol maneuvering over the legislation.

The subcommittee's action came after the Legislature's budget analyst and the state auditor delivered reports that strengthened the critics' positions.

So far, legislators were told, the Administrative Office of the Courts has spent $556.5 million on the system but it's been deployed in only a few counties. Even so, Auditor Elaine Howle pointed out, the AOC certified that the system is complete, thereby triggering a limited warranty period from the contractor that could leave the state holding the financial bag if problems crop up later.

Judges themselves are divided over the efficacy of the system, some professing that it lightens their workloads, while others saying it is unusable. In recent weeks, the chief justice and her allies have backed off their previous intent to install it in every county and indicated that they'd give local judges more leeway.

March 9, 2012
Bid to boot Fish and Game president who shot mountain lion dropped

Cougar Killing Flap.JPEG-01.JPGDemocratic Assemblyman Ben Hueso signaled today that he is dropping his effort to strip Fish and Game Commission President Dan Richards of his appointment.

Richards came under fire from animal rights groups and Democratic lawmakers after a photo featured in a hunting publication that showed him posing with a mountain lion he shot in Idaho began circulating online. Unlike in California, where voters banned killing mountain lions in 1990, Idaho allows the hunting of the animal.

Critics say his actions, while not illegal, raise doubts about his ability to lead the commission. Hunting groups and Republican lawmakers have come to the defense of Richards.

Hueso, a Democrat of San Diego, drafted a resolution to oust the former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointee after Richards dismissed calls to step down. But the fate of the resolution, which required a majority vote in both houses, was uncertain after Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg signaled he wasn't interested in taking it up in the upper house.

In a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown, Hueso and Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez said they have decided to work on crafting legislation to "improve the standards and practices of the California Fish and Game Commission," including a revised conflict-of-interest code for commissioners. The lawmakers urged the Democratic governor to begin his search for a "suitable replacement who can step in and serve as soon as" Richards' term end in January 2013.

The San Jose Mercury News, meanwhile, reported that the commission could act in May to remove Richards as president of the panel.

DFG Letter

PHOTO CREDIT: Dan Richards. The Press-Enterprise/David Bauman

March 7, 2012
Andrew Pugno signals possible run against Beth Gaines

RA_AD5_ANDY_ANDREW_PUGNO.JPGRepublican Andrew Pugno, who wrote and served as legal counsel to California's 2008 proposition to ban gay marriage, is laying the groundwork for a possible challenge to Republican Assemblywoman Beth Gaines.

The Folsom attorney, who lost an Assembly bid in 2010, filed a statement of intention to run for the 6th Assembly District on Tuesday, according to the Secretary of State. The move allows potential candidates to open a campaign finance committee.

At least two voters in the district also received a call from a polling firm Tuesday night that asked questions about possible ballot designations and a Pugno-Gaines match up. The owner of Lawrence Research, which one voter said was identified as the polling outfit, declined to comment, citing client confidentiality policies.

Pugno, who has not responded to messages seeking comment on his plans, faces a Friday filing deadline to decide whether to enter the race. Because the period for filing nomination signatures in lieu of a filing fee has passed, he would have to pay a filing fee of roughly $953.

Despite early fundraising success fueled by Proposition 8 supporters, Pugno lost a 2010 race for the top-targeted 5th Assembly District to Democrat Richard Pan, 49 percent to 46 percent. The suburban Sacramento Assembly seat. which had a slight voter registration advantage for Republicans at the time of the election, had been in GOP hands for more than two decades.

Republicans hold a 20-point voter registration in the newly drawn 6th Assembly District, which includes parts of El Dorado, Placer and Sacramento counties. Gaines, who was elected to the Assembly in a 2011 special contest held to fill a vacancy created by her husband's election to the state Senate, had raised about $31,000 for her re-election bid as of the end of 2011. Republican Linda Park and Lincoln Democrat Reginald Bronner have also announced candidacies for the seat.

PHOTO CAPTION: Republican candidate Andrew Pugno talks with supporters while awaiting election returns on June 8, 2010. Randy Allen / Sacramento Bee file, 2010

February 29, 2012
Assembly Democrats reject Gov. Jerry Brown's welfare cuts

In a hearing that included testimony from children as young as 6 years old, an Assembly budget panel on Wednesday rejected Gov. Jerry Brown's welfare-to-work cuts.

The Assembly's health and human services budget subcommittee voted 3-1 along party lines against cutting grant levels and eliminating adults after 24 months, instead of 48, if they cannot find work. Brown had counted on CalWORKs cuts to save $946 million to help close a deficit he estimates at $9.2 billion.

The state has reduced welfare benefits since the recession, such as shrinking the adult time limit from 60 months to 48 months and cutting maximum grants by 8 percent last year. Brown this year proposed restructuring CalWORKs to spend more on benefits for people who find work and less on those who cannot.

Welfare advocates testified Wednesday that Brown's plan would harm families because many recipients have tried and failed to find jobs in the current economy.

The panel instead agreed to find other ways to save and wait to see what the state's revenue picture looks like after tax dollars come in March and April. Though lawmakers likely won't take substantive floor action on the state budget until June, Wednesday's action marked the first significant legislative rejection of Brown's plan since he introduced it in January.

The only Brown items the panel agreed to Wednesday come with a higher immediate state cost rather than general fund savings. Democrats argue that the changes create more incentives for people to work and reduce dependence on the program in the long run. Lawmakers agreed to ignore $225 in monthly income - rather than $112 - when determining whether someone is eligible to receive welfare benefits, which would cost the state about $90 million.

They also agreed to provide a $50 monthly work bonus to non-CalWORKs families receiving food stamp benefits or state subsidized child care starting in July 2013. That change is largely intended to count more people toward meeting federal work requirements and avoid penalties, though it would cost the state $126 million annually in future years.

February 24, 2012
Tim Donnelly charged with 2 misdemeanors for airport gun incident

Assemblyman Tim Donnelly has been charged with two misdemeanors for bringing a briefcase containing a loaded .45-caliber firearm into Ontario International Airport last month.

The 45-year-old Twin Peaks Republican was charged Friday with illegal possession of a loaded firearm and possession of a prohibited item in a sterile area.

The two counts against Donnelly carry maximum jail sentences of one year and six months, respectively, although judges are free to impose lighter sentences based on circumstances. Each also carries a potential $1,000 fine.

The San Bernardino County District Attorney's office announced the filing of charges nearly eight weeks after Donnelly's Colt Mark IV was discovered by security screeners as he prepared to board a flight to Sacramento for the Assembly's first session of the year.

Donnelly responded Friday by calling the incident an "innocent mistake for which I have taken responsibility." He complimented law enforcement officials and said he has been candid about the matter publicly, serves his district proudly, and regrets any inconvenience he caused.

"I look forward to moving beyond this incident by continuing to focus on getting Californians back to work and getting our economy back on track," Donnelly said in a written statement.

Donnelly will remain eligible to serve in the Assembly, regardless whether he is convicted of the misdemeanor offenses. Assembly rules cut off pay for members only if they are convicted of a felony.

The second-year lawmaker, who was cited and released at the airport Jan. 4, characterized the incident shortly after it happened as a simple error in which he forgot that he had placed the weapon in his briefcase days prior.

Donnelly said that he tended to arm himself because of death threats received after he launched a referendum campaign - ultimately unsuccessful - to overturn the Dream Act, a new law permitting undocumented immigrants to qualify for state-funded college aid.

Donnelly said the chain of events that led to the citation at the airport began three days prior, a Saturday. He was working in his garage and his wife came home, so he stuck the gun in his bag nearby, he said. He later forgot to retrieve it, even after entering Ontario Airport, he said.

Donelly's gun had four rounds in its magazine, and a spare magazine contained five founds, according to Nico Melendez of the federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

The charges filed against Donnelly confirm TSA's contention that he did not own a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

Airline passengers legally can transport firearms via airline flights, but the weapons must be unloaded and contained in a proper carrying case that is checked into the baggage department, not a carry-on, Melendez said at the time.

Sacramento County Sheriff's Capt. Doug Lee, who oversees policing of Sacramento International Airport, said that a law-abiding citizen who carries a loaded firearm to an airport X-ray machine typically is charged with misdemeanor crime.

Extenuating circumstances could make the offense a felony -- for example, if the suspect belonged to a gang, had a felony record or was not the registered owner of the firearm, Lee said.

Donnelly is scheduled to appear March 15 in Rancho Cucamonga Superior Court, said Christopher Lee, spokesman for the San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office.

Separate from any criminal prosecution, a fine of up to $10,000 can be levied by the Transportation Security Administration when guns are confiscated, Melendez said last month.

Asked Thursday whether Donnelly had been fined, TSA officials said they do not disclose information about specific individuals. The average civil penalty for bringing a gun to an airport checkpoint is $3,000, they said.

* Updated at 12:30 p.m. to add Donnelly's response to the filing of charges. Updated at 1:08 p.m. to add the maximum penalties for each charge. Updated at 2:55 p.m. to add court date.