Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

June 26, 2014
Audit slams community college accreditation process

Los_Rios.JPGAn inconsistent application of sanctions and a lack of transparency are weakening the accreditation of California's community colleges, according to a state audit released Thursday.

State Auditor Elaine Howle criticized the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, Western Association of Schools and Colleges for its opaque accreditation process.

The audit was especially critical in the case of City College of San Francisco, which had its accreditation terminated in 2013, one year after the commission questioned its leadership and fiscal planning.

Federal regulations allow institutions up to two years to come into compliance, and the city sued to keep the college open. A judge granted a stay of closure in January, and CCSF has since been given two more years to meet accreditation standards.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 19, 2014
Audit faults lack of consent for California inmate sterilizations

kjeffrey.jpgMore than one-quarter of inmate sterilizations performed in California from mid-2005 to mid-2013 followed deficient consent procedures, including 18 cases in which the waiting period between consent and surgery was potentially violated, the state auditor said Thursday.

State Auditor Elaine Howle said in a report that of 144 inmates sterilized using bilateral tubal ligations, 39 inmates were sterilized "following deficiencies in the informed consent process." In addition to cases in which the auditor said waiting periods may have been violated, the auditor found no evidence in 27 of 39 cases that the inmate's doctor had signed a required consent form.

"Our legal counsel has advised us that, based on these facts, a court would likely conclude that these 39 inmates' consent was not lawfully obtained," Howle said in her report.

The federal health receiver's office, which oversees medical care in state prisons, said in a written response that the audit's findings "date back to policy that was in effect in 1999, or possibly even before," noting the audit's finding that the use of sterilization has decreased significantly in recent years.

It said many of the auditor's concerns will be addressed by adopting an auditor's recommendation that the receiver defer the procedure for obtaining consent to hospitals where sterilizations are performed.

The state Senate passed legislation in May that would forbid jails and prisons from sterilizing inmates for the purpose of birth control, after the Center for Investigative Reporting found doctors under contract with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation sterilized nearly 150 inmates without required approvals.

PHOTO: Former Valley State Prison for Women inmate Kimberly Jeffrey with her son Noel, 3, shown in June 2013. During her imprisonment in 2010, Jeffrey says a doctor pressured her to agree to be sterilized, but she refused. Noah Berger/ For The Center for Investigative Reporting

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

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

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

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

March 7, 2014
California audit questions casino mitigation payments

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There are dozens of special funds in state government, but few have gotten as much attention from state auditors in recent years as the Indian Gaming Special Distribution Fund.

The scrutiny continued this week, when the Bureau of State Audits released its third review of the SDF's operation. And as with audits in 2007 and 2011, the latest review flags similar types of problems in how the money is spent.

The fund is a product of the state's legalization of casinos on tribal land in 2000. Various tribes with casinos have paid into the distribution fund over the years to help mitigate casino impacts. In 2012-13, $9.1 million was allocated to local benefit committees to distribute.

September 10, 2013
Teacher dismissal bill, once stalled, moves to Senate floor

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Union-backed legislation to revise how teachers can be dismissed, which had been rejected by the Senate Education Committee in July, was resurrected Tuesday, two days before the Legislature's scheduled adjournment.

It moved to the Senate floor after several committee members changed their votes.

Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, made some minor revisions to the legislation, Assembly Bill 375, last week and then asked the committee to consider it again.

The Buchanan bill was introduced as an alternative to a much-tougher measure that Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, had written in response to a sex abuse case involving a Los Angeles teacher.

Opposed by the California Teachers Association and other unions, the Padilla bill was blocked in the Assembly after clearing the Senate. But Buchanan's measure, which she said would streamline dismissal procedures, was stalled in the Senate committee after winning Assembly approval.

Last week's amendments didn't seem to change the lineup of supporters - unions and state schools Supt. Tom Torlakson - or opponents, a coalition of school districts, administrators and school reform groups.

The latter complained that although the measure changes procedures, it would make some aspects of teacher dismissal, especially in sex cases and other criminal and moral matters, more difficult.

However, Padilla told the committee that he's supporting AB 375, even though it is "a slightly different approach than my bill."

In July, four Democrats voted for AB 375, but three other Democrats, including the committee's chairwoman, Carol Liu, refused to vote, thus leaving it one vote short of passage. On Tuesday Liu voted for the bill, and with other vote changes, it got the five votes it needed to move to the floor.

August 15, 2013
Auditor: California should step up oversight of mental health spending

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State agencies have not properly overseen how California counties are spending billions of dollars on mental health care programs generated by Proposition 63, according to a state audit released today.

The 2004 ballot initiative, written by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, levies a 1 percent tax on people who make more than $1 million, to be spent by counties on mental health services. The state Department of Mental Health and the Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission are supposed to oversee how counties use the funds.

But today's review by state auditor Elaine Howle says the state agencies are not adequately monitoring the effectiveness of county programs.

"Because of the minimal oversight Mental Health and the Accountability Commission
provided in the past, the State has little current assurance that the funds directed to counties--almost $7.4 billion from fiscal years 2006-07 through 2011-12--have been used effectively and appropriately," Howle wrote in a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown.

Her audit of the Mental Health Services Act found that:

August 8, 2013
Auditor: California mismanaging federal voting funds

20121106_AOC_YoloVote_142w.JPGConfusing and inconsistent direction from the California Secretary of State's Office has led the state to misuse millions of federal dollars earmarked to improve voting systems, according to a state audit released Thursday.

Widespread allegations of uneven vote-counting practices accompanied the 2000 presidential election, which the U.S Supreme Court effectively decided. The Help America Vote Act, enacted two years later, allocated money for states to train poll workers and update their voting systems -- in some cases, counties continued to rely on punch-card systems.

California received more than $380 million, according to the auditor's report. But the state's methods for distributing that money were plagued by murky standards and a lack of clarity about whether counties could use new voting systems, State Auditor Elaine Howle's office found. At least $22 million went to new voting machinery, like touch-screens, that counties ended up mothballing.

"Some counties have collectively spent millions of federal HAVA funds on voting systems they cannot fully use," the report reads. "Under state law, counties cannot purchase new voting systems unless such systems have been approved by the secretary of state. However, different secretaries of state have reached different conclusions on the suitability of counties using certain voting systems."

The audit was requested by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, who is running for secretary of state in 2014.

In an interview, spokeswoman Shannan Velayas argued that California has led the nation in tackling voting issues and pointed to a comprehensive review of voting regulations that current Secretary of State Debra Bowen called for when she took office in 2007.



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Capitol Alert Staff


Amy Chance Amy Chance is political editor for The Sacramento Bee. achance@sacbee.com. Twitter: @Amy_Chance

Dan Smith Dan Smith is Capitol bureau chief for The Sacramento Bee. smith@sacbee.com. Twitter: @DanielSnowSmith

Jim Miller Jim Miller covers California policy and politics and edits Capitol Alert. jmiller@sacbee.com. Twitter: @jimmiller2

David Siders David Siders covers the Brown administration. dsiders@sacbee.com. Twitter: @davidsiders

Christopher Cadelago Christopher Cadelago covers California politics and health care. ccadelago@sacbee.com. Twitter: @ccadelago

Laurel Rosenhall Laurel Rosenhall covers the Legislature, the lobbying community and higher education. lrosenhall@sacbee.com. Twitter: @LaurelRosenhall

Jeremy White Jeremy B. White covers the Legislature. jwhite@sacbee.com. Twitter: @capitolalert

Koseff Alexei Koseff edits Capitol Alert's mobile Insider Edition. akoseff@sacbee.com. Twitter: @akoseff

Dan Walters Dan Walters is a columnist for The Sacramento Bee. dwalters@sacbee.com. Twitter: @WaltersBee

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