Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

May 2, 2013
Chris Kelly joins bid to expand CA law on sex crimes against kids

ChrisKelly.jpegThree years after losing a bid to become California's top cop, former Facebook executive Chris Kelly is taking on yet another high-profile public safety issue.

Proponents of a 2010 California law strengthening sentencing requirements for sex offenders who target children with violent crimes announced today that Kelly, a wealthy former Facebook chief privacy officer, has signed on to support and finance an effort to pass what's known as Chelsea's Law in other states. Kelly said in a statement that he is proud to push to bring "common sense public policy around attacks on children to all 50 states."

Kelly, who lost the Democratic primary for attorney general to Kamala Harris in 2010, stayed in the political game last fall by bankrolling a successful ballot measure aimed at curbing human trafficking. Proposition 35 also requires registered sex offenders to report social media profiles and other online aliases, a change Kelly had tried unsuccessfully to pass through the Legislature.

Kelly's continued political advocacy has kept alive buzz about what office the wealthy Democrat may seek. He's also made headlines in Sacramento in recent weeks for joining a group of bidders trying to buy the Sacramento Kings to keep the team in the capital city.

Kelly said Thursday that he expected "at some point in the future I'll run for office again," but didn't have any specific personal political plans right now. He also hasn't ruled out running in 2014, he said, when all the statewide constitutional offices will be up for a vote.

"We'll see how the 2014 musical chairs, dominoes, whatever you call it, begin to fall," he said. "I'll be looking at a number of options."

Editor's note: This post was updated at 1:15 p.m. with a quote from Chris Kelly.

PHOTO CREDIT: Chris Kelly. Hector Amezcua / Sacramento Bee file, 2010.

April 26, 2011
Which legislators missed the most votes last session?

"Aye" and "no" weren't the only votes California legislators cast last session.

State lawmakers missed or abstained from votes more than 48,000 times during the 2009-2010 session, an analysis by Bee colleague Phillip Reese found. That breaks down to roughly one out of every 12 votes cast. The review looked at both committee and floor votes, though floor votes made up 80 percent of the abstentions.

See a list of which legislators missed the most votes last session over at our sister blog, The Public Eye.

November 30, 2010
New excuse to buy dessert: Bakeries set to ban trans fats

Food Designer Doughnuts Fri.jpgBakery desserts are about to get a tad healthier, perhaps.

California's precedent-setting ban on trans fats, imposed on restaurants last year, will extend to bakeries beginning Jan. 1.

The one-year adjustment period for businesses that deep-fry yeast dough or cake batter was part of Assembly Bill 97, proposed in 2008 by Democratic Assemblyman Tony Mendoza of Artesia.

Restaurants were required to stop using trans fats last January under AB 97, which made California the first state to ban use of the cooking substance tied to coronary heart disease and a host of other health problems.

Though bakeries were not targeted by the law until 2011, they clearly knew the state's crackdown was imminent, giving them time to switch gradually this year from artificial trans fats to alternative products.

Known to increase the shelf life and flavor stability of foods, trans fats have been used in some margarines, cookies, crackers and other products made with, or fried in, partially hydrogenated oils.

Businesses that violate AB 97 can be fined up to $1,000.

CAPTION: California bakeries will be banned from using artificial trans fats in treats made of deep-fried yeast dough or batter, including doughnuts, starting Jan. 1. Credit: 2010 file photo of doughnuts. Larry Crowe, Associated Press.

November 10, 2010
New law will bind state to honor Veterans Day on Veterans Day

The Legislature Thursday will celebrate Veterans Day on Veterans Day - about six weeks before a new state law will make it mandatory.

Marian Forness of Rancho Cordova inspired the statutory change with a letter to The Bee complaining about the Senate honoring Veterans Day last year on a Friday, not a Wednesday, so that employees could enjoy a three-day weekend.

"So much for concern for the veterans," said Forness, whose late husband served in the U.S. Air Force for 20 years. "I hope all veterans remember this when it comes to election time."

Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Atwater, cited Forness' letter to the editor in proposing Senate Bill 1057, which requires that state offices and institutions, including the Legislature, honor Veterans Day on Nov. 11.

Under SB 1057, if Veterans Day falls on a Saturday, state offices will close on the preceding Friday. If the holiday occurs on a Sunday, state employees will take Monday off.

Signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the bill will take effect Jan. 1.

Nationwide, Nov. 11 is the traditional date to honor Veterans Day, which began as a tribute to the end of World War I and later was expanded to applaud all veterans.

Last year's Senate decision to parlay celebration of the holiday into a three-day weekend was not unprecedented. In 2008, both houses of the Legislature honored Veterans Day on a Monday, Nov. 10.

Forness said today that it "breaks my heart" when people disrespect the sacrifices made by veterans.

"If they don't want to honor (Veterans Day), then go to work -- but don't take another day off," she said.

November 1, 2010
Mailer thanks Lois Wolk for vote against plastic-bag ban

State Sen. Lois Wolk, a Davis Democrat with a strong pro-environment record, is the object of a thank-you mailer to constituents from a company worried about California eventually banning plastic carryout bags.

The mailer, which was sent to some of Wolk's constituents in late October, praises the senator for voting against a bill that would have banned plastic carryout bags from grocery and drug stores and allowed stores to charge for paper bags.

"Many legislators -- like Senator Wolk -- understand that Californians want clean air, water, oceans and hillsides. But they also understand that without jobs, we can't pay for any of the resource preservation or services we value so highly," says the mailer paid for by the South Carolina-based Hilex Poly Co.

The bag manufacturer lobbied heavily against Assembly Bill 1998, a proposed ban that legislators voted down in August. Hilex Poly had plans to send out more thank-you mailers in districts of other Democratic legislators who also voted against the bill, company sources said.

Hilex Poly sent out another mailer last month attacking state Sen. Sam Blakeslee, a San Luis Obispo Republican, who abstained from voting on the bag bill. Instead of praising him, however, the mailer attacked Blakeslee, who has said he is open to reshaping legislation to curb plastic-bag pollution.

Wolk isn't happy about the glowing mailer in her district.

October 22, 2010
Plastic-bag maker dumps cash on parties, attacks Blakeslee

Worried that a failed bill to ban plastic bags in California will be resurrected, an out-of-state bag manufacturer has showered both Democrats and Republicans with campaign donations this week.

South Carolina-based Hilex Poly Co., a veteran and bipartisan donor to California lawmakers, fiercely opposed a proposed phased-in ban that legislators rejected this summer.

On Oct. 19, according to donation disclosures, Hilex Poly gave $25,000 to the Sacramento County Democratic Central Committee. It also gave Assembly Republican leader Martin Garrick $3,900. On Oct. 20, Hilex Poly gave the California Republican Party $12,500.

Hilex Poly also apparently selected Sen. Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, as a special target, even though Blakeslee recently won a special election and isn't running for office this campaign season.

A mailer that arrived Wednesday at thousands of homes in Blakeslee's Central Coast district is identified as paid for by Hilex Poly. The flier appears to be aimed at GOP voters, according to Blakeslee's staff.

October 1, 2010
Schwarzenegger sends acrostic message to Ammiano -- again

What a difference a year can make.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger made headlines last year by killing legislation by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano with an acrostic veto message that started with "F" and ended with "you."

This year, all is forgiven.

Ammiano, D-San Francisco, proposed basically the same bill again, to make it easier to generate infrastructure financing in the Pier 70 area of the city's waterfront. This time, Schwarzenegger signed it -- with an acrostic signing message.

By reading the first letter of each word in the left-hand column of his signing message on Assembly Bill 1199, Schwarzenegger's veiled message to Ammiano becomes clear: "YOU ARE WELCOME."

Last year's acrostic epithet was believed to have stemmed from an incident in which Ammiano screamed "You lie!" at the governor during a public event. This year, apparently, ruffled feathers have been smoothed.

The governor's aides never officially acknowledged last year's acrostic epithet, characterizing it with a smile as a coincidence.

Quintin Mecke, Ammiano's spokesman, declined substantive comment on either last year's or this year's acrostic message. "We're more happy that he signed it rather than the message," Mecke said.

"Besides," he added, tongue in cheek, "it's just coincidence."

October 1, 2010
Veto message of the year: Schwarzenegger ridicules AB 2419

Take this bill ... Please!

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was a Hollywood action hero, not a stand-up comic, but his ridicule of Assembly Bill 2419 shows that he can find humor even in mundane legislation.

Schwarzenegger lambasted the bill, by Republican Assemblyman Paul Cook of Yucca Valley, for consuming reams of paper to propose little more than removal of the apostrophe in Contractors' State License Law.

His veto message, dripping with sarcasm, read:

• Number of legislative committees that took time hearing this bill: 3.

• Number of pages in this bill needed to remove an apostrophe: 184.

• Taxpayer dollars used to pass this bill through the Legislature: $ thousands and thousands.

• The outrage the public should have that the Legislature is spending its time "working" on bills like this instead of focusing on California's real problems: PRICELESS."

October 1, 2010
Schwarzenegger touts health care reform bills

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, at a ceremonial signing of legislation making California the first state to establish its own health insurance exchange, said this morning that the state is delivering on its promise of affordable and accessible health care.

The measure is part of the federal health care overhaul authorized this year.

Schwarzenegger said of criticism the reform is not perfect, "But what is?"

He said, "You have to compromise."

Schwarzenegger said health care is a "must" for everyone. He said the legislation moves California "one giant step" closer to that ideal.

Schwarzenegger signed the bills Thursday. He was in Los Angeles this morning to tout the measure.

October 1, 2010
Bill signings exceed vetoes by more than 2-to-1

The tally is in: 726 bills signed, 298 vetoed this year.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger easily beat Thursday's midnight deadline for acting on bills that had passed the Legislature. His office sent out the final list of bill actions shortly after 10 p.m., though he had finished signing hours earlier.

Unlike last year, no veto messages were discovered in which Schwarzenegger hid an epithet.

Last year, vetoing a bill by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, the governor made headlines by spelling out an acrostic message that began with "F" and ended with "you."

For trivia buffs, the final action announced Thursday by Schwarzenegger was a veto of Assembly Bill 2770 to establish a pilot program to investigate employment and payment practices within the swimming pool and spa construction industry.

Despite Thursday's bill-signing deadline, Schwarzenegger can continue to sign or veto bills passed by a two-thirds majority of the Legislature, such as emergency legislation or a spending plan to break this year's record budget impasse.

October 1, 2010
Disclose corporate tax breaks? Schwarzenegger says no

Here's one thing Californians don't have a right to see: How much money a specific corporation saves in tax breaks.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed legislation that would have required the state to disclose via the Internet, beginning in June 2013, which publicly traded companies get tax breaks and how much they get.

Schwarzenegger, in his veto message, said that Assembly Bill 2666 "inappropriately seeks to publish confidential tax information for no apparent benefit."

The governor noted that the state already publishes annual reports about costs and benefits of corporate tax breaks, and that the Franchise Tax Board publishes a list identifying the 250 individuals and businesses with the largest tax delinquencies.

"I am unclear as to the need for this bill, other than for the sponsor to continue to provoke and alienate businesses attempting to create jobs and economic recovery in California.

CALPIRG, also known as the California Public Interest Research Group, countered that none of the tax-break information disclosed by the state now is specific to particular companies.

"His veto statement either reveals a shameful level of sloppiness, or a lack of candor," the group said in a written statement.

Supporters of the legislation by Democratic Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner of Berkeley contend that it would shed light on the effectiveness of existing tax policies, improve tax compliance and increase political pressure for a more fair and efficient system.

Opponents of publicly disclosing a company's tax information claim it would be unconstitutional, violate corporate privacy, jeopardize corporate trade secrets and encourage businesses to relocate to other states.

October 1, 2010
Schwarzenegger on key pension bill: Taxpayers deserve better

After making pension reform a yearlong priority, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed key legislation Thursday designed to reduce pension spiking by public employees, which is the final-year boosting of compensation to boost retirement pay.

Schwarzenegger said Assembly Bill 1987 did not go far enough in restricting severance, settlement, multiyear vacation time and various other compensation from being considered in calculating retirement pay.

"The taxpayers of California deserve better," Schwarzenegger said in his veto message.

The governor called pension spiking a serious problem and said there are numerous examples of employees receiving more pay as retirees than they did while working.

"California does need a consistent standard that is transparent, understandable and implementable throughout the state," Schwarzenegger said.

"While this bill purports to address this issue by segregating out some of the factors that have allowed pension spiking, in some instances it still allows local pension boards to determine what is ultimately counted in an employee's pension calculation," he said. "This does not provide a consistent treatment of all employees."

Schwarzenegger's veto message of the bill by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, concluded by saying that he remains "hopeful that the Legislature can send me acceptable pension reform legislation."

AB 1987 also would have prohibited public employees who retire after Jan. 1, 2012 from returning as retired annuitants within six months, a practice known as "double dipping."

Ma, in a written statement, criticized Schwarzenegger for killing AB 1987 and said it would have "put us on a path to real pension reform and restoring taxpayer trust."

"Sadly, contrary to his supposed commitment to pension reform, the governor's veto of AB 1987 sends a message that pension spiking and double dipping is acceptable," Ma said.

Schwarzenegger also vetoed a companion pension-spiking measure, SB 1425, Democratic Sen. Joe Simitian of Palo Alto.

Assemblyman Alberto Torrico, a Newark Democrat who chairs the Assembly committee overseeing state worker issues, said that he has no intention of negotiating with the lame duck governor on pension reform in weeks to come because of the vetoes on AB 1987 and other retirement legislation.

"He had his chance," Torrico said. "His legacy can be that he failed."

Updated 1:19 p.m. with quotes from Assemblyman Alberto Torrico

September 30, 2010
Schwarzenegger signs two anti human-trafficking bills

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill today that requires major retailers and manufacturers doing business in California to show what steps they take to ensure that their product supply chains are free of slave labor and human trafficking.

The new law requires these businesses, if they have more than $100 million in annual gross receipts, to post this information on their websites.

"Human trafficking is a terrible crime that goes against basic human rights and everything our country stands for," Schwarzenegger said in an announcement that he had signed Senate Bill 567 by Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento.

"The legislation will increase transparency, allow consumers to make better, more informed choices and motivate businesses to ensure humane practices throughout the supply chain," the governor said in his message.

Steinberg said in an announcement today that 12.3 million people are estimated to work in forced labor worldwide. He also said that California is a top destination for traffickers and forced labor in the United States, with 500 victims from 18 countries identified between 1998 and 2003.

The governor also signed legislation today authored by Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, that allows courts to seize any property, such as a house or car, used in the commission of human trafficking. Yee's Senate Bill SB 677 also adds civil penalties of up to $25,000 for human trafficking violations.

In announcing the bill's signing, Yee said that the Human Rights Center at the University of California found 57 forced labor operations in California between 1998 and 2003.

September 30, 2010
Schwarzenegger signs law to boost umbilical cord blood supply

California's birth certificate fees will rise by $2 to $16 to help finance a pioneering effort to get families to collect and bank newsborns' umbilical cord blood.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation late Tuesday that was authored by Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge. Assembly Bill 52 is designed to enable more parents to volunteer -- at no cost -- to donate cord blood that can help cure cancers and other diseases if it matches a patient.

"I am ecstatic that Governor Schwarzenegger signed this bill," said Portantino. "It will save lives and put California at the forefront of public umbilical cord blood collection for the entire nation."

A chief aim of the boosting collection in California, he said, is to increase the diversity in blood banks of cord blood from ethnic minorities and mixed-race people.

September 30, 2010
Students entitled to free, fresh drinking water under new law

Water, anyone?

California schools will be required to provide free, fresh drinking water during pupil meal times, beginning in July 2011, under legislation signed today by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Democratic Sen. Mark Leno proposed Senate Bill 1413 in response to complaints of inoperable, insufficient, poorly maintained or unsanitary water fountains at public school sites.

Schwarzenegger said the problem of inadequate water in school cafeterias or food services areas is particularly acute in low-income communities.

"Adequate hydration is necessary for the academic achievement and health of students, so it's important that all schools provide fresh, free water to their students throughout the day, including during mealtimes," Schwarzenegger said in a written statement.

SB 1413 provides an exemption for school districts that adopt a resolution stating that they are unable to comply with the drinking-water requirement because of fiscal constraints or health concerns.

September 30, 2010
No fudging Veterans Day for three-day weekend, new law says

ACW VETERANS DAY 4.JPGA new state law will require California's Legislature and state offices to honor Veterans Day on -- well -- Veterans Day.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed legislation barring state agencies from altering work schedules to ensure that employees get a three-day weekend to celebrate Veterans Day.

Republican Sen. Jeff Denham of Merced proposed Senate Bill 1057 after Veterans Day 2009 fell on a Wednesday and the Assembly honored it that day, but the Senate waited until Friday.

"Belittling the sacrifice of veterans and their families by turning their day of remembrance into a three-day weekend perk for the Legislature was highly inappropriate," Denham wrote to a legislative committee.

"SB 1057 will honor the brave men and women who served this country on the Veterans Day holiday properly, and ensure this slight does not happen again," Denham wrote.

The Nov. 11 date was set more than 90 years ago to honor the end of World War I. The recognition later was expanded to applaud all veterans.

In years that Veterans Day falls on a Saturday, SB 1057 requires state offices to close on the previous Friday. When the national holiday falls on a Sunday, state offices will close on Monday.

PHOTO CREDIT: Jerry Hackney, who served for 21 years in the Army Air Corp and the Air Force, was among about 125 people who attended a Veterans Day service Sylvan Cemetery District in Citrus Heights on Nov. 11, 2009. Anne Chadwick Williams/ Sacramento Bee file photo

September 30, 2010
Schwarzenegger vetoes bill to ban debit-card fees on shoppers

A proposed state law to bar stores and other retailers from charging fees for the use of debit cards has been vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

State law already prohibits fees on the use of credit cards, and Senate Bill 933 proposed to place the same condition on debit cards -- often called ATM cards -- and on prepaid cards.

Schwarzenegger, in his veto message, suggested that SB 933 simply would prod retailers to raise prices to compensate for any loss.

September 30, 2010
Padilla slams Schwarzenegger for killing prison cell-phone bill

CELL_PHONE_CREDIT_1.JPGDemocratic Sen. Alex Padilla today verbally slapped Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for vetoing his legislation to make furnishing a cell phone to a state prison inmate a misdemeanor crime.

The Los Angeles lawmaker, in a written statement, characterized Schwarzenegger's veto of Senate Bill 525 as irresponsible and says it "gives the green light to smugglers."

"Under the governor's 'do nothing' policy, more and more violent inmates will gain access to cell-phones and use them to conduct criminal acts in our communities," Padilla said. "This will be part of his legacy."

SB 525 would have hit smugglers with a fine of up to $5,000 for each cell-phone or other wireless communication device that they provided to inmates.

State law currently provides no criminal consequences for bringing a cell-phone or other hand-held communications device into a prison, which can tempt staff, visitors, contracted employees and others to attempt to smuggle such devices to inmates.

Prisoners can use wireless technology to plot escapes, plan crimes and gain unrestricted access to the Internets, where they can communicate with unsuspecting victims, according to state officials.

The number of cell-phones recovered in state prisons has soared in recent years -- from 261 in 2006 to 6,995 last year, Padilla said.

Inmates are willing to pay $500 to $1,000 per cell phone, according to prison officials.

Schwarzenegger, in vetoing SB 525, called it an inexcusably weak solution to the problem.

"While signing this measure might be better than nothing, I cannot sign a measure that does so little," Schwarzenegger's veto message said.

"Signing (it) would mean that smuggling a can of beer into a prison carries with it a greater punishment than delivering a cell phone to the leader of a criminal street gang," he said.

Schwarzenegger noted that his administration sponsored a bill last year to make possessing such devices in prison a felony, but the Legislature killed it.

The Republican governor, who is termed out this year, urged lawmakers to pass a measure that threatens jail time for smugglers and punishes inmates caught with such devices.

PHOTO CREDIT: Jim Wilson/The New York Times

September 30, 2010
Schwarzenegger signs bill to extend foster care benefits to age 21

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed historic legislation today to extend transitional foster care benefits to youths between 18 and 21 years of age, his office announced.

"Our foster care youth deserve every opportunity to succeed in life, and extending foster benefits and services through age 21 will help better equip them with the necessary tools," Schwarzenegger said.

He said he applauded efforts by Assembly members Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, and Jim Beall, D-San Jose, for "working across the aisle" to pass the Assembly Bill 12.

Bill supporters said investment in youths is wise because studies show that former foster youths are less likely to finish high school, attend college and get jobs and more likely to end up homeless and incarcerated.

Beall, who introduced the bill, said, "California has made a clear statement today: The lives of our foster care kids are important to all of us and we have a moral obligation to help them succeed."

"For generations," Beall said, "foster care youth faced being kicked out of their foster homes simply because they had turned 18 or graduated from high school. Without any means of support, they were left to wander the streets for shelter and food. Many had no choice but to return to the parents who had neglected or abused them."

The new bill paves the way for California to take advantage of federal funds for kinship guardians. California was one of the first states to establish the Kinship Guardianship Assistance Payment program to provide financial assistance for children placed under legal guardianship with a relative, Schwarzenegger noted.

The County Welfare Directors Association of California called the legislation "a monumental stride" to aid foster youth as they enter adulthood.

Each year, the group noted, approximately 4,500 foster youth "age out" of the foster care system at age 18.

September 29, 2010
Schwarzenegger signs inmate medical parole bill

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill late Tuesday to allow medical parole for severely incapacitated inmates who currently require costly full-time guards and contract or prison medical care.

Senate Bill 1399 by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, allows the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to approve this special parole if the parole board approves it for certain inmates who are comatose or completely bedridden and require 24-hour care to live.

"Public safety is my top priority," Schwarzenegger said in a message, "and I signed this legislation because it ensures the medical parole of specific incapacitated inmates will not compromise public safety. This bill also makes the important distinction that offenders sentenced to death or life without parole will not qualify."

Parolees, many of whom would likely remain in nursing-care facilities, could be returned to prison in the "unlikely event' their condition improves.

Schwarzenegger said the state wastes millions of dollars providing mandatory guards and care for these inmates, and that "this legislation will allow us to put that money toward important programs like education."

Inmates cannot receive federal disabled assistance, but would be eligible upon parole. The state would agree to pick up any additional costs so counties would not be burdened. The state could eventually save $200 million by dropping care and guard duty costs for these inmates, the governor estimated.

September 28, 2010
Schwarzenegger signs bill targeting state computer services

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation today to ensure that the state government's information technology services remain consolidated under the direction of one state agency.

Assembly Bill 2408 codifies a reorganization ordered by Schwarzenegger last year that was designed to enhance efficiency and bolster performance of computer services costing taxpayers about $3 billion annually.

"This action will strengthen project oversight, increase transparency in spending, promote greater cost savings, and define specific targets to reduce energy usage in our IT systems and further consolidate services," Schwarzenegger said of AB 2408 in a written statement.

Legislative committees estimated the consolidation of IT services would save the state about $1.5 billion over five years.

Schwarzenegger's executive order of 2009 expanded the duties of the state Office of the Chief Information Officer to absorb about 1,200 state employees and $500 million in funding from other departments. Under AB 2408, that office will be renamed the California Technology Agency.

Schwarzenegger's reorganization and AB 2408 call for reducing energy consumed by IT and telecommunications equipment by 30 percent by July 2012, and for reducing data center square footage by 50 percent by July 2011.

AB 2408, which received bipartisan support from the Legislature, was proposed by Assembly members Cameron Smyth, R-Santa Clarita, and Assemblywoman Alyson Huber, D-El Dorado Hills.

September 28, 2010
Schwarzenegger vetoes bill to force FPPC to post gifts online

Among the 37 bills vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger yesterday was a measure to require that the Fair Political Practices Commission post online gifts that interest groups report giving to lawmakers and staff.

Assembly Bill 2007, by Assemblyman Anthony Adams, R-Hesperia, was introduced after dozens of lawmakers incurred fines for failing to report gifts interest groups claimed to have given them. Some legislators said they did not report the items because they had never been notified of the gift value.

Gift reports from lobbyist employers are already posted on the secretary of state's website. The FPPC opposed the measure, arguing that requiring that staff collect and post the information would cost the agency an additional $90,000 a year.

Schwarzenegger wrote in a veto message that the measure was unnecessary.

"Requiring the Fair Political Practices Commission to extrapolate this information and host it on their website is duplicative and costly," he wrote.

Click here for a full list of bills signed and vetoed last night. Schwarzenegger has until Thursday to act on more than 500 more bills approved by the Legislature.

September 27, 2010
New law allows life sentence for child abuse causing major injury

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger today signed legislation allowing lifetime prison sentences for caregivers who shake or abuse young children in a way that causes a coma or paralysis.

Republican Assemblyman Mike Villines of Clovis proposed the bill in response to a 2004 shaken-baby case involving a 1-year-old boy, Adam Carbajal, who suffered permanent brain damage and paralysis on his right side.

Adam's abuser received a 10-year prison sentence, which would allow him to be released after 7.5 years.

The newly signed law, called "Adam's Law," permits such offenders to be sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole. The measure will take effect Jan. 1.

"As governor, my number one priority is to protect the citizens of this great state, most importantly children that are too young to defend themselves," Schwarzenegger said in a written statement.

"Those that abuse and cause physical harm to children deserve the most severe punishment possible. Adam's Law means harsher punishment for child abusers and greater justice for our children."

Villines said he has worked for three years to stiffen penalties on child abusers and "bring to justice those who would commit such unthinkable acts against our innocent children."

"By signing this bill today, we will ensure that no other family has to endure the pain that Adam's family has gone through," Villines added.

This post was updated at 3:17 to add comment from Villines.

September 27, 2010
Schwarzenegger signs crackdown on chronic drunken drivers

Legislation allowing the driver's licenses of California's chronic drunken drivers to be revoked for 10 years was signed today by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Implementation of Assembly Bill 1601 will be delayed for one year, however, so it will take effect in January 2012.

Schwarzenegger hailed the measure by Democratic Assemblyman Jerry Hill of San Mateo as a lifesaver.

"Those who have multiple DUI convictions should not be on the road threatening lives," Schwarzenegger said in a written statement.

AB 1601 will permit judges to impose a 10-year license revocation on motorists convicted or three drunken driving offenses within a 10-year period. Current law allows a three-year revocation.

California recorded 187,987 drunken driving convictions in 2008, of which 9,164 were three-time offenders within a 10-year period, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

Schwarzenegger noted that drunken drivers killed more than 1,000 people and injured another 28,000 in 2008, the most recent year for which figures are available.

AB 1601 received bipartisan support from the Legislature.

September 24, 2010
Schwarzenegger approves horse racing bill, kills ski helmet restrictions

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed 76 bills, including legislation making major changes to the horse racing industry, this evening.

Senate Bill 1072, by Sen. Charles Calderon, D-Montebello, will increase the prize pool for race winners and allow consumers wagering on the races to bet on horses to lose under an Internet-based system known as "exchange wagering."

The governor also vetoed 43 bills late Friday. Among the bills killed by the governor were measures to exempt some state workers from furloughs, ban dormancy fees for gift cards and set new safety reporting requirements for ski resorts.

Schwarzenegger signed a bill that would require that youth wear helmets while skiing or snowboarding, but it will not take effect because it was tied to the vetoed the ski resort bill.

More than 600 bills are still sitting on the governor's desk. The deadline or acting on legislation is Sept. 30.

Click here for a full list of bills acted on by the governor tonight.

This post was updated to reflect that the final version of the gift card bill banned dormancy fees.

September 16, 2010
Costly, yes, but if nothing else, it's an entertaining bill

CORRECTION: This item erroneously reports that Assembly Bill 2032, now on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk, would raise about $2,700 in new fees for state work permits that allow minors to work in the entertainment industry. The correct estimate, according to a legislative bill analysis, is about $2.7 million. The Bee regrets the error.

The exact cost of processing a single bill through the California Legislature is unknown, but $20,000 would be a reasonably good guess - which brings us to Assembly Bill 2032.

Sponsored by the Screen Actors Guild and carried by Assemblyman Mike Davis, D-Los Angeles, AB 2032 would authorize the state labor commissioner to charge a $50 fee to process work permits for minors in the entertainment industry and, it's said, to underwrite enforcement of child labor laws in the industry.

The problem, however, is that the Legislature's official analysis of the bill says at most it would generate just $2,700 a year in revenue, more than half of which would be consumed by costs of collecting the fee and depositing it in a special account in the state treasury. Thus the general fund savings, the analysis says, would be $767 to $1,100 - yep, just a few hundred bucks.

If the bill's signed, therefore, it would take the state about 20 years to recoup the cost of processing it through the Legislature. Chances are it won't be signed, since Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, himself an actor, already vetoed a nearly identical measure, saying, "Rather than creating a new fee and duties for the Department of Industrial Relations, it is important to administer this program in the most efficient manner by transferring this function to the schools."

AB 2032 is one of 20 bills that, the state's most-read conservative political website, lists as most deserving of Schwarzenegger's rejection this month, a list compiled by two Republican legislators from Orange County, Assemblyman Chuck DeVore and Sen. Mimi Walters.

The two fashioned a similar list of 20 bills last year and Schwarzenegger vetoed 12 of them, but that earned him just a "D" grade from Flashreport.

This year's list can be found here.

September 15, 2010
VIDEO: Sing along to the ballot measure song

Having trouble keeping the nine propositions on the Nov. 2 ballot straight?

The nonpartisan California Voter Foundation has given the list a lyrical twist in hopes of helping voters remember what each initiative would do. The group has been occasionally putting the propositions in song since the 2000 primary, when there were 20 measures on the ballot.

CVF President Kim Alexander performed the ballot measure ballad today at the Congress of California Seniors conference. Watch the video of the sing-along below or see the lyrics yourself here.

Video by Torey Van Oot.

September 1, 2010
Measure to name complex after Ron George crumbles

Chief Justice Resigns.jpgState Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George might not walk out of a building bearing his name when he leaves the bench in January.

A resolution supporting naming a complex of judicial buildings at San Francisco's Civic Center Plaza after the retiring justice crumbled in the final hours of the legislative session, as a union that represents court workers objected to the change.

Under Senate Concurrent Resolution 126,the complex of court buildings that includes Earl Warren Building and the Hiram W. Johnson State Office Building would have been designated Ronald M. George Justice Center "in deep and lasting honor to the extraordinary and exemplary service" of the longtime jurist. The Senate voted 28-0 to approved the resolution, authored by Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, last week.

But the measure died in the Assembly on Tuesday night after the California State Council of the Service Employees International Union stepped in to oppose the name change.

As the resolution was awaiting approval by the Assembly Rules Committee, the union penned a letter to Rules Chairwoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, saying that it would be improper for lawmakers to bestow the judge with a namesake complex while the Legislature is a party in a lawsuit challenging Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's line-item veto cuts, which the state Supreme Court has agreed to review.

September 1, 2010
Playing games in the Assembly? Yes, 'Doogie Howser'

Doogie Howser MD.JPGOh, the games people play -- as lawmakers.

In what has become an end-of-session tradition, various Assembly members participated in a Capitol floor game Tuesday in which they receive an oddball word or phrase and must try to slip it into debate on a bill.

"Legislative bingo" is not listed on any agenda or public document, it's meant as an inside joke among lawmakers, but it began to raise eyebrows among onlookers as phrases such as "you're not the boss of me" popped up in floor debate.

One legislator, talking privately, said he had received a word to slip into debate but had not yet done so as the session neared its midnight end. Another legislator rolled his eyes when asked about the game. Participants included both Democrats and Republicans.

The Bee was not able to obtain a list of words or phrases used in Tuesday's game, but floor debate included references to "Humpty Dance," "cougar pay," "cheap money shot," and "Doogie Howser."

PHOTO CREDIT: Sacramento Bee file photo

September 1, 2010
Kindergarten changes approved

PK_KINDERGARTEN 0131(2).JPGBy Susan Ferriss

Just minutes before a midnight legislative deadline, the California Senate approved a proposal Tuesday to require children to be older to start kindergarten.

Senate Bill 1381 sets Sept. 1 as the new date for when a child must turn 5 years old to start kindergarten, but the proposal phases in the change over a period of three years. The bill passed 21 to 15, with two Democrats voting against it and some Republicans objecting that amendments by the state Assembly would create new public education costs.

The bill by Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, must now go to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for his signature or a veto. Children now must turn 5 to begin kindergarten by Dec. 2, but some educators have long contended that many children are not developmentally ready at 4 years of age for the increasing rigors of kindergarten.

The bill would change the age cutoff to Nov. 1 in 2012, followed by Oct. 1 in 2013 and Sept. 1 in 2014. The bill retains an existing exemption that allows parents to send their child to kindergarten if they and educators agree he or she is ready.

PHOTO CREDIT: Four-year-old Abigail Castellanos naps in Laura Bingham's kindergarten class at Regency Park Elementary School on Aug. 23, 2010, in Sacramento. Sacramento Bee/ Paul Kitagaki Jr.

August 31, 2010
Bill requiring shotgun and rifle records dies in Senate

The Senate has killed Assembly Bill 1810 by Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles, which would have allowed the state to keep permanent records of anyone buying a shotgun or rifle.

Such records are already required for handguns.

Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca supported the proposal, arguing that it would increase the safety of law enforcement by closing a loophole in state law, according to a Senate analysis. Other backers included the police chiefs of Chico, Davis, Fresno, Santa Ana, West Sacramento and several other California cities.

The bill was opposed by the National Rifle Association, the Gun Owners of California, among other gunowners associations, as well as the sheriffs of Kern, Mariposa, Mendocino and several other counties. They argued that such a requirement would increase administrative costs without reducing crime.

August 31, 2010
Bill to roll back cutoff date for entering kindergarten wins OK

Heavily debated legislation that would gradually roll back the cutoff date for children to be old enough to enter kindergarten won Assembly approval Tuesday and appeared headed to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk.

Senate Bill 1381 by Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, still needed a final vote in the Senate on the last night of the 2009-10 legislative session. The Senate approved an earlier version of the bill in June. Tuesday's Assembly vote was 41-13.

If enacted, the measure would roll back the cutoff date for the minimum age to enter kindergarten one month a year for three years in a row, culminating in a requirement that a kindergartner be 5 years old by Sept. 1 in the 2014-15 school year.

The measure, however, would also create a "transitional kindergarten" program that would, in effect, give some students two years of kindergarten experience before they enter first grade.

August 31, 2010
Bill targets parents of chronically truant kids in grades K-8

Parents who habitually allow their children to skip school could face criminal charges under legislation receiving final legislative approval today.

Senate Bill 1317 by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, would apply just to children in grades K-8.

While misdemeanor charges could result, advocates said they would be used mostly to pressure parents into making sure their kids attended school. Courts would be empowered to decree "deferred entry of judgment" to hold criminal charges over heads of parents without sentencing.

August 31, 2010
Steinberg's teacher layoff bill buried in Assembly

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and civil rights groups lost big Tuesday when an Assembly committee rejected his legislation that would have changed how teachers are laid off.

Steinberg's loss in the Assembly Appropriations Committee was a win for teacher unions and other education interests, including the giant Los Angeles Unified School District, which had opposed his bill that would require layoffs not to disproportionately affect low-performing schools.

The bill, which has had several numbers but finally settled in Senate Bill 691, was a followup to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against LA Unified earlier this year, alleging that low-performing schools, especially those with large numbers of non-white students, had been adversely affected by layoffs and reassignments when strict seniority rules were followed.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger supports the lawsuit and also wanted legislation, although not precisely what Steinberg was willing to do. "It is unacceptable that school districts cannot determine their staffing based on the needs of students, and that is exactly why I am introducing this legislation and supporting the ACLU lawsuit," Schwarzenegger said recently in backing the lawsuit.

As finally written, SB 691 would have required that layoffs and reassignments not cause any more staff disruption in low-performing schools than in the district as a whole. "This is about teaching stability," Steinberg told the Appropriations Committee before the roll call in which the measure received just four votes.

Republicans laid off the bill, apparently because they wanted to go further than Steinberg in requiring school districts to use teachers' performance - what's called "value added" - as shown by students' test scores to decide which instructors should lose their jobs.

But Democrats with ties to the California Teachers Association and other school unions also refused to vote for the bill, including Assemblyman Tom Torlakson, D-Pittsburg, the union-backed candidate for state schools superintendent this year. "It's just not had enough time," Torlakson told Steinberg, adding, "the goals are noble."

August 31, 2010
Compassionate-release bill sent to Schwarzenegger

The Senate voted 21-14 today to send Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger a bill to create a compassionate release and parole program for prisoners who are permanently medically incapacitated, need 24-hour care, and are not serving sentences of death or life without parole.

SB 1399 by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, is supported by Schwarzenegger's state Department of Corrections.

It is estimated that it will affect approximately 32 inmates and save the state some $30 million a year. The savings comes because the state would not have to provide security for the incapacitated inmates released on parole and because medical coverage would shift from a state responsibility to a state-federal responsibility under Medi-Cal.

August 31, 2010
Oil rigs could be converted into reefs for fish

Oil Rig Frankenstorm Scenario(2).JPGOffshore oil drilling rigs due to be retired may be converted into artificial reefs for fish and other marine life under legislation winning unanimous Assembly approval today.

The Assembly sent Assembly Bill 2503 by Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on a 54-0 vote after Pérez took amendments that eliminated the initial opposition to his late-blooming measure.

Oil companies seeking to convert platforms to reefs would have to share their financial savings with the state, and the proceeds would finance marine improvement programs.

PHOTO CREDIT: This Jan. 20, 2010, file photo shows high-storm surf pounding the beach in front of an oil rig at California's Seal Beach. (AP Photo/ Nick Ut, File)

August 31, 2010
Anti-pension spiking bill wins final approval

A much-amended bill aimed at "pension spiking" by state and local government employees was sent to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger today.

Assembly Bill 1987 by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, cleared the Assembly on a 56-0 vote after Ma made late amendments that eliminated opposition from pension reform advocates.

Those advocates supported her bill initially, then backed away from it after amendments they said would make pension spiking easier. They supported the final version after Ma made some more changes.

The measure, if signed, would prohibit pension calculations from including payments that are clearly aimed at increasing -- or spiking -- the retirement pay. It's one of several pension reform bills moving through the Legislature this year in response to demands from Schwarzenegger for reform and to media disclosures about abnormally high pensions granted to some local government officials.

August 31, 2010
Bill bans use of credit reports in hiring decisions

Employers would be prohibited from using credit reports to decide whom to hire under legislation winning final approval Tuesday.

The Assembly sent Assembly Bill 482 to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on a 42-25 vote after a sharp debate in which backers, including its author, Assemblyman Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, said it was a matter of fairness and Republican critics said it would damage the state's business climate.

If signed, the bill would prohibit use of credit reports in hiring decisions unless the information is "substantially job-related" or it's a management position or a law enforcement appointment.

August 31, 2010
Schwarzenegger gets bill cracking down on paparazzi

AP080301043008 paparazzi.JPGThe Assembly voted Tuesday to crack down on paparazzi photographers who harass celebrities, turning back criticism that it would be an illegal restriction on free press rights.

Assemby Bill 2479 by Assemblywoman Karen Bass was sent to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger -- a much- photographed celebrity himself -- on a 43-13 vote.

If Schwarzenegger signs it, AB 2479 would declare that someone could be sued for "false imprisonment" by physically harassing someone else for photos or sound recordings and also tighten up penalties for reckless driving to capture a "visual image."

An Assembly analysis of the bill says it's "intended to curb the reckless and dangerous lengths that paparazzi will sometimes go in order to capture the image of celebrities. Of particular concern is the practice of surrounding a celebrity or the celebrity's vehicle in a manner that does not permit an avenue of escape. In addition, paparazzi have allegedly engaged in dangerous and high-speed chases on the public highways in their efforts to capture photographs. The author contends that this kind of behavior is especially a problem in Los Angeles, with its high concentration of stars and celebrities."

PHOTO CREDIT: Paris Hilton speeds away from the paparazzi running through the streets in chase in West Hollywood, on March 1, 2008. Hilton spoofed the paparazzi while taping a segment for a television show "Pop Fiction," a prank show targeting paparazzi. (Associated Press File Photo/ Kevork Djansezian)

August 31, 2010
BPA bill fails to garner enough votes for passage

80717102 BPA.JPGBy Susan Ferriss

A major environmental proposal that chemical companies opposed -- Senate Bill 797 by Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills -- has failed to muster enough votes for passage today.

The proposal would have banned in California, starting in 2012, baby bottles, sippy cups and plastic bottles made with bisphenol A, or BPA, and cans that contain baby formula and are lined with BPA.

New York enacted a similar ban this year on BPA, which is suspected of disrupting hormones. A ban in another populous state such as California would have forced companies to reconsider using BPA in baby products generally.

Amendments by the Assembly would have required that the bill's provisions be subject to decisions by the state's Green Chemistry Council, a new regulatory body that legislators voted to create in 2008. The council's formation is past due, said Pavley, which has forced the state into a "moratorium" on taking action against toxic substances that could harm children.

The vote was 17 against and 16 for the bill. One Democratic senator didn't cast a vote, Lou Correa of Santa Ana. Four other Democrats joined Republicans voting against it. Two liberal Democrats who supported the bill were absent.

Sen. Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, said he thought legislators didn't have the training to make conclusions about toxic substances and should defer to the Green Chemistry Council once it has formed.

PHOTO CREDIT: Some makers of plastic water bottles, including Nalgene and Camelback, have begun producing Bisphenol A-free containers. (Photo by David McNew/ Getty Images)

August 31, 2010
Massage parlor bill goes to Schwarzenegger

Two law enforcement members would be added to the quasi-public commission that regulates massage parlors under heavily lobbied legislation that was sent to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger today.

The Assembly gave final approval to Assembly Bill 1822, carried by Assemblyman Sandré Swanson, D-Alameda, on a 58-6 vote.

Law enforcement groups sought membership in the "Massage Therapy Organization" while massage parlor operators said the bill implied that their industry has an illicit purpose.

August 30, 2010
'Chelsea's Law' given final legislative approval

Calif Chelseas Law.jpgLegislation that would ramp up penalties for sex crimes, dubbed "Chelsea's Law" for a 17-year-old high school senior who was murdered earlier this year, won final approval in the Legislature Monday.

Assembly Bill 1844 by Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, R-San Diego, is the latest in a strong of measures named after the victims of sensational crimes.

John Albert Gardner, a convicted sex offender, has pleaded guilty to killing Poway High School senior Chelsea King and also a 14-year-old Escondido girl, Amber DuBois, and faces life sentences. Both were abducted while jogging or walking near their homes.

Fletcher's measure, sent to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on a 70-0 vote, increases penalties for a wide variety of sex crimes and includes life imprisonment without parole for some sex crimes against minors and lifetime parole supervision for habitual sex criminals.

"This is something we can all be proud of," Fletcher told the Assembly prior to the vote.

Fletcher's office released a statement from King's parents, Brent and Kelly King, after the vote: "Oh behalf of Chelsea, and the 100,000 people who have given us the momentum to complete this process, we offer a symbolic sunflower ovation to all California Assemblymembers and Senators who voted in favor of Chelsea's Law. This is a uniquely collaborative achievement, powered by people who care passionately about the children of California."

PHOTO CREDIT: Kelly King, right, of Poway, the mother of murder victim of Chelsea King, seen in photograph, wipes her eyes during a news conference she and her husband, Brent King, left attended at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Monday, April 12, 2010. AP Photo/ Rich Pedroncelli.

August 30, 2010
Lawmakers approve bill aimed at cutting down motorcycle noise

BIKING WITH ARNOLD.jpgCalifornia's motorcycles may get a bit quieter if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger - a dedicated two-wheeler himself - signs a bill that was sent to his desk Monday.

The Senate approved the measure, Senate Bill 435 by Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, on a 21-16 vote. If signed, it would require motorcycles manufactured after Jan. 1, 2013, and sold in California to carry noise control labels from the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Motorcyclists would be required to maintain and display the labels.

Health and law enforcement groups support the bill but motorcycle manufacturers and dealers oppose it, saying it places an unreasonable burden on motorcyclists to prove they have the required labels.

Motorcycle owners could not be cited unless they were stopped for some other offense. And tickets could be voided if they made corrections.

PHOTO CREDIT: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger riding his motorcycle in a 2004 file photo. Monica Almeida/.The New York Times

August 30, 2010
Anti-human trafficking bill goes to Schwarzenegger

Large California companies would have to tell consumers what, if anything, they are doing to eliminate human trafficking in their supply chains under legislation sent to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger Monday,

The Senate gave final approval to the legislation, Senate Bill 657 by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, on a 22-14 vote.

Originally, Steinberg's legislation would have required companies to adopt anti-trafficking practices aimed at reducing slavery, especially in overseas suppliers. But it was softened markedly before being approved in the Assembly and now merely requires large retailers and manufacturers (those with $100-plus million in annual business) to report anti-trafficking activities on the Internet or report to consumers that they are not doing anything.

Even so, it's still opposed by major business groups which will seek a veto from Schwarzenegger.

August 27, 2010
Free wine, beer or liquor? Bill gives taste testing thumbs up

MAJ TERI CHRISTY.JPGSip some beer, wine or hard liquor?

Taste testings could be as near as your neighborhood supermarket under legislation that passed the Legislature on Friday and went to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Supporters say Assembly Bill 605 would simply extend taste-tasting opportunities already available in many bars and restaurants to supermarkets and other large liquor outlets, but not to small convenience stores or gas stations.

The bill by Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge, cleared its final legislative hurdle Friday when the Assembly voted 45-6, with 27 legislators abstaining.

Opponents complain that SB 605 is an irresponsible marketing gimmick - a liquor giveaway meant to introduce Californians to more varieties of alcohol in an attempt to hike future sales.

August 27, 2010
Bodily manipulation gets legislative attention

Bodily manipulation in one form or another is drawing attention in the closing days of the legislative session.

The Assembly has given final approval to a measure that would create statewide standards for tattoo artists, reflecting the increasing popularity of bodily needlework, and other forms of body piercing. The measure, Assembly Bill 223, by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, was sent to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on a 65-6 vote.

"Manicurists have more training than tattooists or piercers," Ma said. "They need 400 hours of training before they can cut your nails, yet tattooists and piercers have no training requirements to stick a needle in you."

Legislation that would expand the quasi-public commission that oversees masseuses and masseurs by adding two law enforcement members, meanwhile, is pending in the Senate as law enforcement groups and massage parlors vie for votes.

The former want the bill, AB 1822 by Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Alameda, enacted while the latter say it's insulting to their business, implying that its a nuisance.

August 27, 2010
Bill cracks down on prison cellphone smuggling

Update: This post has been updated to reflect a decision to pull back bill after initial passage.

California's prisons are keeping up, it would appear, with the proliferation of cellphones and other portable communication devices in the wider society.

State prison officials say they confiscated 261 contraband cellphones in 2006, but the number zoomed to 992 in 2007 and 2,629 in 2008. The phones, they say, are used not only to keep in touch with friends and family but allow inmates - especially gang leaders - to continue their criminal ways by long-distance.

The phones, like drugs and other contraband, are smuggled into prisons by visitors, despite metal detector and personal searches, and by prison guards. The going price appears to be around $1,000 for a no-name "throwaway" phone that can be purchased for a few dollars outside prison walls.

The increasing traffic in contraband cellphones prompted Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, to introduce legislation, Senate Bill 525, that makes possession of a cellphone or cellphone components with intent to deliver to a prison inmate a misdemeanor crime with up to a $5,000 fine.

The legislation cleared the Senate on a 34-0 vote, but rather than send it to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Padilla held it back and it's still pending in the Senate as the session nears its conclusion.

The measure, as now written, would also allow prison officials to confiscate any cellphone or other wireless device brought into the prison by a visitor, must return it when the visitor leaves the prison.

August 26, 2010
Assembly rejects pet sterilization bill

Pet Sterilization Bill.JPGAn immense outpouring of opposition from dog and cat owners had an impact today when the Assembly rejected a bill aimed at forcing more pet sterilizations as an alternative to euthanizing hundreds of thousands of strays.

Legislators' office had been inundated with protests, as several mentioned during the emotion-tinged floor debate that preceded the vote on Senate Bill 250. The measure, which had already passed the Senate, garnered just 33 votes, eight short of the required margin, even after several hours of effort by backers to change minds.

Most Republicans opposed the measure and Democrats split. Forty Assembly members wound up voting against the bill, carried by Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter.

Florez and other supporters contended that taxpayers are footing a quarter-billion-dollar bill each year for rounding up and euthanizing a million strays. His bill would have required pet owners to license their animals and, with few exceptions, to have them sterilized.

But opponents in and out of the Legislature maintained that the decision on whether to spay or neuter should be left to pet owners, raising the specter that those who refused would be hit with fines. Opposition was especially heavy in rural areas.

PHOTO CREDIT: Laurie Walker, gets a lick from her Chinese Crusted dog, Wednesday, July 11, 2007, on the west steps of the Capitol in Sacramento after AB 1634 was moved for a vote to January. The bill would require owners to spay and neuter their animals or face a fine of $500. (Sacramento Bee file photo, Hector Amezcua)

August 26, 2010
Bill requires health insurance to cover maternity care

Private and group health insurance policies would have to cover maternity care under legislation approved by the Assembly on Thursday.

The 44-11 Assembly vote sent the measure, Assembly Bill 1825 by Assemblyman Hector De La Torre, D-South Gate, to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

De La Torre said the measure, which would become effective on July 1, 2011, would cover a 2-1/2 year gap until the new federal health insurance program becomes effective.

August 26, 2010
Bill stems from Fairfield worker's murder

Legislation inspired by the 2006 murder of a Fairfield store employee by a white supremacist, barring denial of workers' compensation benefits for racial reasons, was sent to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger Thursday.

Taneka Talley was murdered as she was opening a Dollar Tree store. The store's worker's compensation insurer, Specialty Risk Services, denied her family's claim for workers' compensation benefits on the grounds that her death was not job-related because it was racially motivated.

After the refusal gained wide publicity, Dollar Tree declared that it would provide full benefits to the family, saying, "we feel this is the right thing to do."

The Senate gave final approval to Senate Bill 145 on a 22-13 vote without debate. The measure, by Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, prohibits denial of workers' compensation benefits if an employee's injury or death was related to race, ethnicity, religion, age, gender, martial status. sexual orientation or genetic characteristics.

August 26, 2010
Price of getting married may rise soon

The cost of getting married in California may soon go up to shelter women whose marriages turn violent.

The Senate Thursday gave final approval to legislation, Senate Bill 662, that would allow county boards of supervisors to boost the portion of marriage license fees that support women's shelters from $23 to $33. It's needed, advocates said, to keep shelters for victims of domestic abuse from closing.

"We don't have any other solution," the bill's author, Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, told the Senate before the 21-13 vote.

Yee was responding to Republican criticism that the additional fee violates state law that requires fees to have a connection, or "nexus," to the services they finance.

"The bad relationship was consummated at the courthouse," Yee said.

August 26, 2010
Bill extends health insurance to mental illness

Health care insurers would have to cover treatment for mental illness under legislation winning final legislative approval Thursday.

The Assembly sent Assembly Bill 1600 by Assemblyman Jim Beall, D-San Jose, to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on a 41-22 vote.

Late amendments removed nicotine addiction and a few other conditions, such as adult antisocial behavior, from the list of maladies that would be covered. Republicans complained about the impact of mental health coverage on insurance premiums but Beall said it would raise premiums by just 25 cents a month.

August 26, 2010
Cure for homosexuality? Lawmakers turn thumbs down

California is poised to give up on "curing" gays and lesbians.

Legislation to eliminate a decades-old law requiring the state to seek a cure for homosexuality has been sent to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The long-ignored provision in the state's Welfare and Institutions Code was written 60 years ago in response to the molestation murder of 6-year-old Linda Joyce Glucoft in Los Angeles.

Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, a Long Beach Democrat likened the little-known provision to race restrictions on property deeds, characterizing both as outdated and offensive.

"Until we change the books, California law still says the government needs to cure homosexuality," Lowenthal said. "Can you imagine how ridiculous that is?"

Lowenthal's legislation, Assembly Bill 2199, was sent to the governor Wednesday after the Assembly concurred in amendments, 75-1. The Senate passed the bill Monday, 36-0.

Lowenthal targets a statute that orders the Department of Mental Health to research the "causes and cures" of sexual deviation and homosexuality. It also seeks ways to identify potential sex offenders.

After some initial attempts to comply with the law, it has been ignored by state officials, Lowenthal said.

AB 2199 recasts the statute to eliminate any reference to homosexuality but leave intact the push to research sex crimes against children and methods of identifying those who commit sex offenses.

August 25, 2010
Bill to boost student voting clears Legislature

Voting would be more convenient for college students under legislation sent to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger Wednesday.

Senate Bill 970 by Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, creates a pilot program of establishing absentee vote drop-off boxes on one University of California campus, one state university campus and one community college campus.

Corbett characterized it as just making voting easier, but Republicans complained that Democrats were pushing the college voting bill while killing legislation that would have made voting by overseas soldiers more convenient.

College students generally favor Democrats and their turnout can be critical in legislative districts and local governments with high numbers of students.

August 25, 2010
Southland cities still get their kicks on Route 66

Route 66 was California's most famous highway in the pre-freeway era of the 1930s and 1940s - the "mother road" that brought hundreds of thousands of newcomers to Southern California from other states.

By and by, the heavy east-west traffic shifted a couple of miles southward to Interstate 10, and State Route 66, as it was re-designated, became a local artery for the "Inland Empire" east of Los Angeles.

Nevertheless, vestiges of the old Route 66 - which also inspired a very popular song and a television series -- remain, such as a few funky old motels. And the cities that lie along its route want to capitalize on its fame.

One by one, those cities have petitioned the state to turn over their portions of Route 66, also called "Foothill Boulevard" to local control so they can be incorporated into local development plans. Rialto and Fontana have already taken control of their shares, and on Wednesday, the state Senate gave final approval to a bill that would cede another portion to Claremont.

The measure, Senate Bill 993 by Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, was sent to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger by a 35-0 vote.

August 25, 2010
Kids' ski helmet bill sent to governor

The Senate gave final legislative approval today to a bill that would require young skiiers and snowboarders to wear helmets while hurtling down snowy slopes.

The bill, Senate Bill 880 by Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, was sent to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on a 21-11 vote. It would apply to skiers and snowboarders 17 years old and younger.

Read a previous Capitol Alert post about the bill here.

August 25, 2010
Assembly cuts fines for illegal red light turns

RED LIGHT CAMERAPIC.JPGThe Assembly voted today to reduce fines for motorists who failed to make complete stops before turning right on red lights.

The 48-8 vote sent the measure, Assembly Bill 909 by Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk for signature or veto.

If signed, AB 909 would reduce the base fine for rolling red light turns from $100 to $35 and the total fine, including assessments, from $450 to $219. Hill said it corrects an error in a 1997 bill that boosted traffic fines but local governments, seeing a loss of tens of billions of dollars in revenues, lobbied heavily against it.

Most red light tickets are issued via automatic intersection cameras, which have been criticized as being unfair revenue-generators and reducing the fines could make the cameras uneconomic for local governments.

PHOTO CREDIT: Anselmo Saucedo (left, in bucket) of San Francisco's traffic sign shop watches Martin Schaufelberber (right, atop ladder) of Multanova AG complete installation of a red light camera in San Francisco. Jerry Telfer/AP File photo.

August 25, 2010
Tax loophole sunshine bill goes to governor

The Assembly gave final legislative approval today to heavily lobbied legislation that would post corporations' use of tax loopholes on the Internet.

Business groups oppose the bill, Assembly Bill 2666 by Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, so it's uncertain that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger would sign the measure.

AB 2666 is one of a series of bills dealing with state tax loopholes - an issue that will be placed before voters in November in the form of Proposition 24, which would repeal two major corporate tax breaks that the Legislature enacted last year.

The bill, sent to Schwarzenegger on a 41-19 vote, sparked a sharp debate on the Assembly floor with Republicans saying that exposing corporations' state tax breaks would discourage business investment. Skinner and other supporters said it would bring sunshine into an multi-billion-dollar indirect expenditure that usually escapes public notice.

Specifically, AB 2666 would require the Franchise Tax Board to compile information on "tax expenditures" claimed by publicly traded companies and the data to be published on the "Reporting Transparency in Government" website.

August 25, 2010
Assembly rejects bill to aid juvenile lifers

A volatile election year was probably the wrong time to propose a bill that would allow prison inmates sentenced to life terms without possibility of parole to petition for sentence modification.

Senate Bill 399 by Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, would have allowed lifers who were under 18 when convicted to petition for re-sentencing under some circumstances.

Yee moved the measure, which would affect about 250 inmates, through the Senate and then through Assembly committees. But when it hit the Assembly floor this week, it sparked a very lengthy and emotion-tinged debate, and when all the votes had been counted, it fell well short of passage.

Yee needed 41 Assembly votes but garnered just 34 Tuesday. More than a dozen Democrats - especially those from relatively conservative districts and/or facing tough competition in the Nov. 2 election - either joined Republicans in opposing the bill or, as Capitol jargon puts it, "took a walk" by not voting. The final count was 34-38 with six Democrats not voting.

August 24, 2010
Bill to mark Japanese American internment approved

OBIT KOREMATSU.JPGThe Assembly passed a bill creating an official annual observance of the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

The 52-0 vote sent the measure, Assembly Bill 1775, carried by Assemblyman Warren Furutani, D-Gardena, to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The measure, if signed, would declare Jan. 30 as Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution. It's named for an Oakland man who lost his shipyard job and went into hiding when President Franklin Roosevelt ordered Japanese Americans to be rounded up and held in "relocation camps" as national security threats.

Korematsu was later captured and convicted of refusal to obey a military order and his conviction as upheld by the Supreme Court. However, in 1988, Congress passed and President Ronald Reagan signed legislation that apologized for the internment. In 1998 Korematsu was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He died in 2005.

PHOTO CREDIT: President Bill Clinton, right, presents Fred Korematsu with a Presidential Medal of Freedom during a ceremony at the White House in Washington. Associated Press file photo, Jan. 15, 1998, Dennis Cook

August 24, 2010
Senate approves 'Chelsea's Law' targeting sex offenders

Calif Chelseas Law.JPGThe Senate unanimously approved a bill today targeting sex offenders convicted of crimes against minors.

Under Assembly Bill 1844, offenders convicted of sex crimes that inflict bodily harm on a minor under the age of 14 would face a required sentence of life without parole. The bill, known as "Chelsea's Law," also includes provisions to increase tracking of paroled sex offenders and up prison sentencing requirements for other sex crimes.

The legislation was sparked by the murders of two Southern California teens -- 17-year-old Chelsea King and 14-year-old Amber Dubois. Convicted sex offender John Albert Gardner III has pleaded guilty to killing both teens.

"The heartbreaking loss of Chelsea earlier this year revealed a broken public safety system, and it called our entire community and our entire state to action," Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, the bill's author, said in a statement. "With the King family's unwavering dedication and with the good faith of many who contributed to shaping this measure, we've built a solution that will protect children and spare other families from tragedy."

The Assembly, which passed the bill 65-0 in June, must OK new amendments before it is sent to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk.

PHOTO CREDIT: Kelly King, right, of Poway, the mother of murder victim of Chelsea King, seen in photograph, wipes her eyes during a news conference she and her husband, Brent King, left attended at the Capitol in Sacramento on April 12, where they spoke in support of "Chelsea's Law." (AP Photo/ Rich Pedroncelli)

August 23, 2010
Legislature wants state to promote 'financial literacy'

Money Expo(2).JPGThe state budget is eight weeks overdue with no end in sight to the political stalemate, but the Assembly today passed a bill to improve the "financial literacy" of Californians.

The measure, Assembly Bill 2457, was sent to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk by the Assembly. The measure is the handiwork of Assemblywoman Mary Salas, D-Chula Vista, and would create a Financial Literacy Fund in the state controller's office to accept private donations that would be used to educate Californians about financial matters.

Salas, in a statement for the Assembly's bill analysis, said, "Financial illiteracy and the consequences of uninformed financial decisions are a growing problem in California (and) "the creation of a financial literacy fund would provide a central funding source for organizations who wish to partner with California on financial literacy efforts. In the long run, educating Californians would result in benefits to the economy by helping to prevent bankruptcies, foreclosures, and job loss."

Final passage was granted despite carping from Assemblyman Chris Norby, R-Brea, that it was unseemly for the Legislature to be promoting financial literacy while failing to balance the state's budget.

PHOTO CREDIT: In this Aug. 10, 2010, photo, a detail from a sheet of $100,000 gold certificate bills is seen inside a plastic casing at a United States Treasury Department display at the World's Fair of Money in Boston. The bills, introduced in 1934, are the largest denomination ever issued by the federal government. Not meant for public use, the notes were used for federal bank transfers. (AP Photo/ Steven Senne)

August 20, 2010
Legislature deplores WW II treatment of Italian Americans

RP_ITALIAN_INTERNMENT.JPGMore than six decades after World War II, the California Legislature has passed a resolution calling the U.S. government's treatment of Italian Americans following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor a "fundamental injustice."

While the federal government's forced internment of Japanese Americans is more widely known, thousands of Italian Americans also were characterized as enemy aliens and forced to leave their homes or endure other hardships.

Senate Concurrent Resolution 95, characterizing such treatment as unjust, passed the Assembly and Senate this week without a dissenting vote.

"The Legislature formally acknowledges the events of World War II represented a fundamental injustice against Italian Americans, deeply regrets these acts, and reaffirms its commitment to preserving the rights of all people," the resolution said.

August 20, 2010
Flurry of bill amendments sparked by today's deadline

Dozens of bills were amended in the Legislature before today's deadline for making such changes.

Lawmakers must pass, kill or shelve all pending bills, more than 500, by Aug. 31 unless the governor calls a special session to consider legislation targeting a particular emergency, such as the budget crisis.

Amendments proposed this week included:

August 20, 2010
New senator Emmerson gets rare opportunity

bill emmerson.JPGWhen Bill Emmerson was an assemblyman, he introduced a bill that would allow marriage counselors and others licensed by the Board of Behavioral Sciences to be issued special retiree licenses.

The bill (Assembly Bill 2191) cleared the Assembly in April. Two months later, Emmerson, a Hemet Republican, was elevated to the state Senate in a special election.

That gave him the rare opportunity today to present his own Assembly bill on the Senate floor, where it passed handily.

PHOTO: Bill Emmerson, Sacramento Bee file photo, 2009

August 19, 2010
Ted Gaines and Roger Niello clash over ski helmet bill

84254614JJ004_ALLI_DEW_TOUR.JPGTed Gaines and Roger Niello, two Republican assemblymen who are special election rivals for the late Sen. Dave Cox's seat, clashed on the Assembly floor today over a bill that would require kids to wear helmets while skiing or snowboarding.

The 1st Senate District in which they are running contains the largest single concentration of the state's ski slopes and the ski industry has endorsed the measure, Senate Bill 880, which would require helmets for those 17 years old and younger.

Gaines, of Roseville, spoke for and joined most Democrats in voting for the measure, Senate Bill 880, while Niello, of Fair Oaks, denounced and joined other Republicans in voting against it. The final vote was 41-20, returning the measure, authored by Democratic Sen. Leland Yee of San Francisco, to the Senate for final action.

The two are rivals in a Nov. 2 special election to fill the seat of Cox, who died last month. If no one receives an outright majority, the top Republican vote-getter will face a Democratic candidate in a Jan. 4 runoff.

The district has a strong Republican registration and former Assemblywoman Barbara Alby is also weighing whether to enter the race. Ken Cooley, the mayor of Rancho Cordova, is likely to be the Democratic candidate in the runoff, if one occurs.

PHOTO CREDIT: Shaun White competes during the snowboard slopestyle portion of the Alli Dew Tour on Feb. 20, 2009, at Northstar Resort in Truckee. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/ Getty Images)

August 19, 2010
Bell scandal sparks six-bill package targeting excessive pay

California lawmakers unveiled a six-bill package of legislation today in response to a scandal involving sky-high salaries paid to council members and top officials in the tiny city of Bell in Los Angeles County.

Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez characterized Bell's compensation practices as a "gross affront" to the public trust and said "elected officials and civic leaders need to be tightening their belt along with everyone else."

"Our response must be swift, our response must be strong," Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg added.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was noncommital about the package today.

"We're outraged at what happened in the City of Bell and the governor will take a close look at these bills once they are in their final form," said Matt Connelly, a spokesman for Schwarzenegger.

"At the same time, the City of Bell is only one example of pension abuse and the Legislature should be just as concerned about reforming the entire public employee pension system as they are about the City of Bell," Connelly added.

Democratic leaders Steinberg and Perez were joined today by authors of the legislation, including Assembly members Hector De La Torre, D-South Gate; Alyson Huber, D-El Dorado Hills; Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles; and Alberto Torrico, D-Newark.

Public anger has skyrocketed over disclosures that Bell was paying its council members nearly $100,000 per year and other top officials even more, including former city Manager Robert Rizzo, whose base salary of nearly $800,000 was sweetened by about $700,000 in other benefits.

Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, a Santa Clarita Republican who chairs the Assembly Local Government Committee, also attended today's press conference to show bipartisan support for a crackdown on excessive pay.

Pérez said that Republican legislative leaders have not yet committed to the six-bill package but that he is confident that bipartisan agreement can be reached.

Following are the six bills unveiled today:

August 19, 2010
Bill cracks down on unemployment checks for politicians

Gloria Romero Schwarzenegger Education.JPGThe Senate voted 33-1 today to tighten up state laws barring politicians from collecting unemployment insurance.

The vote sent the measure, Senate Bill 1211 by Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk.

The bill was prompted by disclosure last year that John Nunez, a Rosemead city councilman who finished last in a bid for re-election, had been paid $11,250 in UI benefits even though long-standing state law makes ex-officeholders ineligible for such payments.

The city had opposed Nunez's application for benefits but the state Employment Development Department, citing ambiguity in the law, paid them anyway. That prompted Romero, whose district includes Rosemead, to introduced SB 1211.

The legislation makes the UI ban more specific and authorizes EDD to recover any benefits paid illegally, including filing a lawsuit, if necessary. Romero called it a "no-brainer."

PHOTO CREDIT: Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, talks to Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, after a vote Jan. 6. (AP Photo/ Rich Pedroncelli)

August 19, 2010
Senate votes to open college foundation records to public

Calif Palin Contract(2).JPGThe Senate voted today to require auxiliary collegiate fundraising organizations to open their books to public scrutiny -- an issue sparked by reports of clandestine financial dealings, topped by the sensation-tinged appearance of Sarah Palin at Stanislaus State University in June.

The legislation, Senate Bill 330 by Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, was sent to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on a 22-10 vote, but its ultimate fate is uncertain because the governor vetoed a similar Yee measure last year.

Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Merced, whose district includes Stanislaus State, denounced the measure as being "all about politics," adding, "The big issue here is Sarah Palin."

Palin, the former governor of Alaska and the 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate, spoke at a CSU Stanislaus Foundation fund-raising event, capping weeks of controversy about how much she was being paid. Her $75,000 fee was eventually disclosed and the foundation says it netted more than $200,000 from the event.

Attorney General Jerry Brown investigated the Palin case but this month concluded that keeping details secret didn't violate any state law.

August 13, 2010
High school rate-your-teacher bill headed to Schwarzenegger

How to improve high school teachers?

Ask students, perhaps.

Lawmakers this week sent Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger a bill to create the state's first formal system for soliciting opinions of high school students about their classes and teacher effectiveness.

Senate Bill 1422 would authorize student governments at each high school to appoint a committee of students and faculty to develop surveys for "fostering improved communication between pupils and teachers, and improving individual classes."

Sen. Gloria Romero, a Los Angeles Democrat who proposed the bill, said nobody knows better than students which teaching methods serve them best.

"Empowering our students with a voice in their education underscores the need for every classroom to have a quality teacher," Romero said in a written statement today. "Students are the outcomes of the education they receive. They should most certainly be heard."

SB 1422, sponsored by the California Association of Student Councils, passed the Assembly and Senate by votes of 54-12 and 22-4, respectively. The California Teachers Association opposed the bill, said Teala Schaff, Romero's spokeswoman.

High school teachers would decide whether to distribute such annual surveys to their students, whose responses would be confidential, seen only by the affected teacher, and not become a part of any personnel record.

Put simply, lousy teachers could just say no.

August 12, 2010
Legislature OK's bill to bar retailers from charging debit-card fee

Californians who use debit cards to pay for goods and services could not be charged a fee by stores and other retail outlets under legislation sent Thursday to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Democrats succeeded in pushing Senate Bill 933 through the Assembly by the bare minimum number of votes necessary, 41-22, with support from only six Republicans.

Proposed by Sen. Jenny Oropeza, D-Long Beach, the bill would include debit cards in an existing prohibition barring retailers from charging a fee on transactions paid with credit cards.

"The issue is simple fairness," Oropeza said in a written statement about SB 933.

"As it now stands, retailer-imposed checkout fees on top of advertised sticker prices are costing consumers hundreds of millions of dollars. This is hitting lower-income families the hardest, especially those using government-issued cards," she said.

Opponents characterize the bill as harmful to small businesses because it addresses only one side of debit-card fees: It does nothing to bar the issuers of ATM cards from charging retailers when customers use them.

August 6, 2010
Legislation takes shape to delay water bond to 2012 ballot

JV OROVILLE DAM 016.JPGLawmakers are set to vote next week on a set of bills that would move the $11.1 billion water bond to the 2012 general election ballot.

Two bills were amended Thursday in the Senate to push Proposition 18, currently slated for the Nov. 2 election, to the election on Nov. 6, 2012.

Assembly Bill 1265, by Assemblywoman Anna Caballero, D-Salinas, and Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries, R-Lake Elsinore, delays the water bond vote. A second bill, AB 1260, by Assemblywoman Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield, would delay the terms for appointees to the California Water Commission, the body tasked with allocating some of the bond's funds.

The "Safe, Clean, and Reliable Drinking Water Supply Act of 2010," placed on the ballot by legislators as part of the 2009 package of water policy bills, would fund water projects across the state, including water storage, recycling and drought relief.

But with a crowded ballot and a down economy jeopardizing its passage, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other key water bond supporters called in June to delay the vote.

July 28, 2010
Florez: Schwarzenegger to veto farmworker OT bill


UPDATE: 5:12 p.m.: Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill, saying that it would "result in additional burdens on California businesses, increased unemployment, and lower wages." Click here for the veto message.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger plans to veto legislation that would give workers on California farms the same overtime pay standards as most labor forces, the bill's author said today.

Farmworkers in California are currently exempt from a decades-old state labor code requiring overtime after an eight-hour day or a 40-hour work week, instead qualifying for overtime pay after working 10 hours in one day or 60 hours in one week.

Senate Bill 1121, which would create overtime pay equity by lifting that exemption for the state's roughly 400,000 farmworkers, was heralded by farmworkers and immigrant- and workers-rights groups. The bill has faced strong opposition from the agribusiness industry.

Sen. Dean Florez, the bill's author, accused the governor of "(using) his pen in the spirit of the politicians of the segregationist South who pushed to discriminate against the least protected members of our society."

July 23, 2010
AM Alert: Rigs to reefs?

OIL RIG Scenario.JPGShould California allow conversion of decommissioned offshore oil platforms into artificial reefs?

A bill now before the Legislature would do just that, under specified conditions.

Assembly Bill 2503, by Speaker John A. Pérez, would establish a state program for artificial reef research and development.

Under the measure, the Department of Fish and Game could conditionally approve conversion of an offshore oil platform or production facility into an artificial reef if it provided a net environmental benefit and met other criteria.

AB 2503 would also set up a California Endowment for Marine Preservation for what the bill says would be a permanent source of funding for marine conservation and restoration projects.

The oil industry has been trying for years to change the law to let the platforms stay in place even after they're no longer productive. The California Chamber of Commerce is behind the bill. So is the Sportfishing Conservancy of California. The measure passed the Assembly on June 2 on a 73-0 vote and is now before a Senate committee.

Pérez will be talking about his bill today in Huntington Beach at the state's second Rigs to Reefs conference, where National Geographic's explorer-in-residence Sylvia Earle and other experts will debate the options for decommissioning the platforms.

Click here to check out the conference agenda.

FIELD POLL: Speaking of offshore drilling, 61 percent of registered voters say they're opposed to letting oil companies drill more wells along the California coast. But while Democrats and independent voters are strongly against it, a majority of Republicans favor it. Voters are much more split when it comes to building new nuclear power plants in the state. Click here for full results and statistical tabulations prepared exclusively for Capitol Alert.

Dive 1(2).JPGPHOTO CREDITS: Top, high-storm surf pounds the beach in front of an oil rig at Seal Beach on Jan. 20 (AP file photo/ Nick Ut). Right, this photo of a Garabaldi, California's state fish, was taken under Platform Grace, an oil rig platform in the Santa Barbara Channel (Wayne Brown/ Coalition for Enhanced Marine Resources).

July 21, 2010
'Til death do them part? Not for California mayors to say

BPWEDDING GOWNBZ.JPGGov. Arnold Schwarzenegger made sure this week that California mayors do not have the power to wed -- other couples.

Legislation sponsored by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa that would give elected mayors of charter cities -- like Los Angeles -- the right to perform marriage ceremonies was vetoed by the governor.

California law currently allows clergy, judges, magistrates, legislators, state constitutional officers and members of Congress, among others, to solemnize marriages.

For mayors to oversee a wedding, they must be deputized by a county clerk the day of the event.

Assembly Bill 967, by Democratic Assemblywoman Fiona Ma of San Francisco, would have added charter city mayors to the list of those with authority to preside over weddings.

Schwarzenegger said he does not object to granting elected mayors such authority, but it makes no sense to target only those in cities that operate under a charter, not under general law. About 23 percent of California cities have charters.

July 21, 2010
AM Alert: Pet insurance, California style

Is health insurance reform going to the dogs ... and cats?

Assemblyman Dave Jones hopes so. His Assembly Bill 2411 would establish pet insurance as a separate line of insurance under the authority of the state Department of Insurance.

The Sacramento Democrat, who's running for insurance commissioner in November, says the bill would make marketing of pet insurance more transparent so consumers would know the terms of the coverage they're buying as well as any exclusions or limitations under the policy.

"A number of pet owners have complained to me that they bought a policy, and they weren't told about pre-existing conditions," Jones told the Associated Press recently.

The bill passed the Assembly early last month. Assemblyman Mike Villines, Jones' Republican rival for insurance commissioner, was among those voting no.

Supporters include the Humane Society of the United States and PAW PAC.

Also behind AB 2411 is the California Veterinary Medical Board, which discusses the measure today. The meeting starts at 10 a.m. at 2005 Evergreen St.

As for the Legislature, the Senate Appropriations Committee is next to take up the measure at a hearing set for Aug. 2.

RALLY: The Campaign for College Opportunity is urging the next governor to develop a plan for the state to graduate 1 million more people from college by 2025. Among those listed as attending: Assembly members Paul Fong, D-Cupertino; Connie Conway, R-Tulare; and Jim Beall, D-San Jose. The "One More Million Capitol Day" starts at 11 a.m. on the Capitol's north steps.

GOVERNOR: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger delivers remarks, starting at 11 a.m., to the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners at the Sacramento Convention Center. Catch his talk, webcast live, at

July 20, 2010
Farmworkers turn up heat on Schwarzenegger to sign OT bill

cdc_overtime.JPGSeveral dozen farm laborers marched to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office today to deliver a bill requiring overtime pay equity for farmworkers.

Sen. Dean Florez, a Democrat from Shafter and the author of Senate Bill 1121, led the crowd down the steps from his third floor office inside the Capitol.

Florez was also joined by United Farm Workers president Arturo Rodriguez and Monsignor James Murphy from Sacramento's Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament. The crowd knelt and prayed outside the governor's first-floor office, then delivered the official copy of the bill to Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear.

Florez's bill would lift a 1941 exemption in state labor code that excludes farmworkers from getting overtime pay after an eight-hour day or a 40-hour week. The more than a half-million farmworkers in California now get overtime pay only after 10 hours of work in one day or a 60-hour week.

Schwarzenegger has 12 days from today to sign or veto the bill. Agricultural interests are pressuring him to veto it, arguing that employers will cut workers' hours to avoid overtime during long harvest days.

"We're talking about (the governor) taking what might be called a 'profile in courage' choice," Florez said at a news conference in his office before going down the stairs.

July 13, 2010
'President' urges gov to sign farmworker OT bill

2WESah03.JPGMartin Sheen, who played fictional "West Wing" U.S. president Jed Bartlet, is urging one of his fellow actors to sign a state bill granting overtime parity to California farmworkers.

"This measure's time has come at long last! It is fair and just and your signature will add a moral depth to your legacy," says a hand-penned letter by Sheen to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Sheen's letter is dated July 9 and was released today by Sen. Dean Florez, a Democrat from Shafter. Florez is the author of Senate Bill 1121, which would lift a 1941 exemption in state labor code that excludes farm laborers from getting overtime after an eight-hour day or a 40-hour week.

Florez's bill passed the Legislature last month and is headed for Schwarzenegger's desk.

Farm interests are lobbying for the Republican governor to veto the bill. Business groups argue that farmworkers might lose money if employers replace one crew with another during a job to avoid paying overtime.

Sheen has been a longtime supporter of farmworker rights. "Kindly permit me to add my name to the swelling tide of support urging you to sign" Florez's bill, Sheen's letter says.

Sheen played a Democratic president on the popular "West Wing" series.

Here is an image of the hand-written note provided by Florez's office:


PHOTO CREDIT: Pictured: Martin Sheen as Josiah "Jed" Bartlet -- Warner Bros photo

July 13, 2010
State rock debate rocks Twitter

asbestosimg4.jpgGeologists protesting legislation to strip Serpentine of its state rock title aren't using stone-age technology to further their cause -- they've turned to Twitter.

SB 624, by Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, calls for removing Serpentine as the state rock because it contains a mineral that some say can lead to cancer.

Geologists cried foul, saying the cancer connection doesn't pose an actual threat. Some, including Bee columnist Dan Walters, suggested the real intent of the legislation is to aid asbestos litigation (The Consumer Attorneys of California, which supports the bill, dismisses that claim).

And now a band of geologists on the "geoblogosphere" are taking the fight to Twitter, launching a campaign using the #CASerpentine hashtag to save the state rock.

They say the gut-and-amend bill "slipped under the radar of serpentine aficionados" in its early forms because it originally addressed composting.

Modesto Junior College geology professor Garry Hayes, acknowledged that the serpentine can be harmful in some forms, but called the fight a "teachable moment" about the state rock.

"Serpentine has an incredibly deep, rich history in California," added Stanford's Jon Christensen, an environmental historian who is writing a book about serpentine. "It is connected to the Gold Rush, earthquakes, plate tectonics, and habitat for California's iconic spring wildflower displays, as well as endangered species."

Romero spokeswoman Teala Schaff said the legislation is aimed at raising awareness about mesothelioma, asbestos disease and its causes.

"Serpentine (which occurs in "veins" throughout our geography) can contain asbestos. Does every pebble contain every mineral and chemical? No. Just as every raw egg does not contain salmonella. The fact is the public should be aware of the risk," she wrote in an e-mail.

This post was updated with a response from Romero's spokeswoman.

IMAGE: Serpentine rock with veins of asbestos. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

July 13, 2010
Like Harvey Milk, bill says Ed Roberts deserves a day of honor

disability.JPG Legislation to honor Ed Roberts by declaring an annual statewide day of "special significance" to commemorate his leadership in expanding civil rights for people with disabilities cleared its final legislative hurdle this month.

The measure is awaiting Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's signature or veto after the Senate concurred in amendments, 34-0, on July 1. The Assembly previously had approved it without a dissenting vote.

Senate Bill 1256 would recognize Roberts' contributions in the same way that California currently honors gay-rights pioneer Harvey Milk with a day of significance stemming from legislation that took effect Jan. 1.

Unlike a state holiday, California government does not shut down on special days of significance, but schools are encouraged to conduct suitable commemorative exercises within their existing budget.

Other legislation to designate special days of significance include SB 944, to honor Ronald Reagan, and AB 1775, to honor Japanese American Fred Korematsu for his efforts in fighting the federal government's World War II internment order.

Roberts, who died in 1995, was regarded by many Californians as the father of the disability rights movement, according to Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, who proposed SB 1256.

July 9, 2010
Schwarzenegger signs bill to give Jaycee Dugard $20 million

Jaycee.JPGGov. Arnold Schwarzenegger today signed a claims bill that pays kidnap victim Jaycee Lee Dugard $20 million in damages for inadequate parole supervision of her alleged abductor, Phillip Garrido.

The settlement stems from a horrific case in which Dugard, then 11, allegedly was kidnapped off a South Lake Tahoe street by Garrido and held captive for 18 years, during which time she gave birth to two daughters he fathered.

The Legislature approved the deal last week.

The settlement with Dugard was guided, in part, by the notion that Dugard and her daughters will need lifetime counseling, and have received little, if any, medical care for years.

While the Department of Corrections denied specific allegations in Dugard's claim, it acknowledged that it "missed opportunities" to identify her during her time in captivity, according to the legislative analysis.

Jim Sanders of The Bee Capitol Bureau contributed to this report.

PHOTO CREDIT: These three photos show Jaycee Lee Dugard as a child before her kidnapping (left), and artist's age-progressed rendering (middle photo) and the photo published last year by The series of photos was provided by the National Center for Missing Children.

July 7, 2010
Schwarzenegger signs bill requiring "humane" out-of-state eggs

RP CHICKENS.JPGOut-of-state companies that sell eggs to California consumers will have to abide by the same "humane treatment" rules as California businesses under a bill that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Tuesday.

Assembly Bill 1437 by Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, requires that eggs produced in other states but sold in California meet standards set by Proposition 2, which voters approved in November 2008.

The standards, which go into effect in 2015, limit how much certain farm animals, including hens, can be confined and requires that animals have room to move around.

In a signing message, Schwarzenegger said: "The voters' overwhelming approval of Proposition 2 demonstrated their strong support for the humane treatment of egg-producing hens in California. By ensuring that all eggs sold in California meet the requirements of Proposition 2, this bill is good for both California egg producers and animal welfare."

Huffman said that research shows that confined hens can suffer increased exposure to Salmonella, a danger to human health.

PHOTO CREDIT: Randy Pench/Sacramento Bee file photo

July 1, 2010
Reagan centennial commission approved

Legislation aimed at commemorating the centennial of former President Ronald Reagan's birth won final approval in the state Assembly today, but not without controversy.

Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña, D-San Diego, complained that by creating a commission to develop "appropriate means" of marking Reagan's birth in 1911, the state would be wasting money during a period of austerity. She also criticized Reagan as an opponent of government.

Saldaña, however, did not vote against the legislation, Assembly Bill 1911 by Assembly Republican leader Martin Garrick of Solana Beach, as it was sent to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk on a 70-0 vote.

Reagan is the only man to serve as both governor of California and president, winning the first of two terms in the former office in 1966 and the presidency in 1980. He died in 2004.

The nine-member commission includes the four top legislative leaders, one member appointed by the governor and four named by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation. The celebration it would devise could not use any public funds.

July 1, 2010
Legislature OKs $20 million for kidnap victim Dugard

Kidnapped Girl Found.jpgThe state Legislature voted this morning to give kidnap victim Jaycee Lee Dugard $20 million to head off a potentially larger judgment against the state for failing to adequately supervise her alleged kidnapper, prison parolee Phillip Garrido.

The $20 million was placed into an otherwise routine "claims bill," Assembly Bill 1714, on Wednesday. It passed the Senate 30-1 and the Assembly 62-0, sending it to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Because the bill cleared the Legislature in the new fiscal year and the state has not approved a budget, the governor will have to formally request that the measure come to his desk. Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear said the governor will ask for the bill and sign it.

Dugard was 11 years old when she was kidnapped off the street near her home in South Lake Tahoe in 1991, and authorities say she was held prisoner for nearly two decades in Garrido's Antioch home. He and his wife, Nancy Garrido, face numerous charges relating to the case and potentially face life in prison.

Dugard's attorneys filed multiple claims with the state Victims Compensation and Government Claims Board, alleging that Garrido was not adequately supervised while on parole for years following a 1977 conviction for kidnapping and rape. The claims were held in abeyance while negotiations with the state over a settlement continued.

June 30, 2010
Steinberg's teacher bill survives first test

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg's bill to overhaul teacher layoffs and reassignments survived its first legislative test today despite the opposition of teacher unions.

The measure is one of several points of friction between Steinberg and the unions, especially the powerful California Teachers Association, which has used billboards and mailings to criticize the Democratic head of the Senate.

Steinberg's Senate Bill 1285 was approved by the Assembly Education Committee on a 6-2 vote after a lengthy hearing. It's aimed at modifying the long-standing seniority system that, Steinberg and his allies say, creates high turnover and uncertainty in low-performing schools with high numbers of poor and nonwhite students.

"It's about civil rights," Steinberg told the committee.

June 25, 2010
Latest legislative target? Loud television commercials

Assembly Republican leader Martin Garrick railed against Democrats on Friday for getting distracted by minor issues unrelated to the state's massive budget deficit, but he failed to mention lawmakers' latest target: loud TV commercials.

Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, introduced a joint resolution this month to urge Congress and President Barack Obama to do something about commercials that are annoyingly louder than TV shows.

Assembly Joint Resolution 43 says that broadcasters are required to have equipment to prevent such differentials, so "the loudest television commercial should never be louder than the loudest part of any television program."

Garrick, in releasing a text of the GOP's weekly radio address Friday, scolded Democrats for inaction on a new state budget and urged them to "stop wasting time on trivial and symbolic acts" -- but he did not mention that his caucus has not released a budget proposal of its own.

Garrick took aim at Democrats' recent efforts to strip the state's official rock of its title, declare a state golf week, and to impose a $1,000 fine on trespassers at private parties such as those held after the Academy Awards.

Hill's slam at loud TV commercials is a newcomer to the legislative agenda, introduced June 7, records show.

AJR 43 notes that "television networks receive thousands of complaints from viewers bothered by commercials that seem to be getting louder and louder." The problem of loud TV commercials is "exacerbated by the mandated switch to digital television, because it produces a greater range of sound than analog television," the resolution says.

AJR 43 is scheduled to be heard Monday in the Assembly's Utility and Commerce Committee.

June 23, 2010
Forty-four California lawmakers back Arizona boycott resolution

The head of the California Senate and minority lawmakers unveiled a proposal today to urge a boycott of Arizona to protest its new police immigration law.

Sen. Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, said 44 legislators have already agreed to co-sponsor Senate Concurrent Resolution 113, which Cedillo introduced today. The bill urges, but does not mandate, an end to California public entities investing or doing business in Arizona.

It also recommends not traveling to Arizona -- suggesting that ethnic minorities' rights could be violated -- and calls on private businesses to consider severing business ties with Arizona.

Arizona's new law requires police officers to ask to see proof of legal status if they have "reasonable suspicion" that someone they stop could be an illegal immigrant. Officers can detain that person if they are not convinced of the proof that is supplied.

The law, which hasn't gone yet into effect, faces legal challenges by critics that believe it is unconstitutional and will lead to officers racially profiling Latinos and certain other people.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, joined Latino, Asian, black and gay lawmakers at a press conference outside the Capitol to support Cedillo's resolution.

June 21, 2010
Legislature belatedly notes U.S. Open golf tourney

The U.S. Open golf tournament at Pebble Beach ended Sunday with a one-stroke win by Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell.

Oddly, however, the California Legislature waited until today to declare last week as "California Golf Week" in commemoration of the tournament and "to celebrate golf and the golfing industry in California."

The resolution, which passed the state Senate on May 13, finally cleared the Assembly today on a 43-10 vote with the opposition coming from Republicans, who complained that it was a waste of legislative time, especially since the week had already passed.

"Are these the kinds of resolutions we should be spending our time with?" Orange County Republican Chris Norby asked during the brief but sharp debate.

Among other matters taking up time in the Assembly today were resolutions condemning "hate speech" in the media and opposing an American trade agreement with Colombia, alleging human rights violations.

June 21, 2010
EdVoice loses in election, defends charter schools

EdVoice, an education reform advocacy group underwritten by wealthy California philanthropists, was a big loser in this month's primary election.

The EdVoice candidate for state superintendent of schools, Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, ran third in a 12-candidate battle, meaning she won't be in the November runoff between retired school administrator Larry Aceves and Assemblyman Tom Torlakson, D-Pittsburg.

EdVoice's arch-rival in California's perennial education policy battles, the California Teachers Association, backed Torlakson.

While EdVoice may be down, it's not yet out of the fight and has turned its attention to defeating a bill that would impose more regulation on, and therefore perhaps retard the growth of, charter schools, which EdVoice has championed.

June 18, 2010
Uh-oh: California's official state rock can give you cancer?


A state senator says there's something very wrong with serpentine, California's official state rock:

It's bad for your health.

Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, has proposed legislation to strip serpentine of its title because exposure to a cancer-causing mineral inside it, chrysotile asbestos, can increase risk of lung disease, she says.

"California should not designate a rock known to be toxic to the health of its residents as the state's official rock," says Romero's legislation, Senate Bill 624, which is scheduled to be heard Monday by the Assembly's Natural Resources Committee.

Because of serpentine's potential health risks, the Air Resources Board restricts its use as unpaved road surface material, according to the state Department of Conservation.

Serpentine rock typically is green but also can be yellow, brown, gray and reddish brown. It sometimes occurs as large rock masses, and massive serpentine can be cut and polished as an ornamental stone, the conservation department said.

Serpentine rock primarily is composed of one or more of the three magnesium silicate minerals: lizardite, chrysotile and antigorite, the conservation agency added.

Romero's legislation would leave California without an official state rock.

But Californians might not notice because the state has nearly three dozen other titleholders -- including an official state fish (golden trout), an official state grass (purple needlegrass) and an official state fossil (the saber-toothed cat).

IMAGE: Serpentine rock with veins of asbestos. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

June 15, 2010
License-plate advertising eyed as future money-maker for state

BB LICENSE PLATE WALL.JPGCalifornia lawmakers are eying vehicle license plates as a new frontier for advertising and a future revenue boon for the state.

Senate legislation would allow the state Department of Motor Vehicles to develop a program enabling license plates on the rear of vehicles, not the front, to be converted into digital message boards.

Senate Bill 1453 was approved by the Senate without a dissenting vote last month, 25-0, and currently is in the Assembly.

Under the measure, what appear to be traditional license plates when a car is moving would convert to message boards that display advertising or other images when the vehicle stops for four seconds or longer - at a stoplight, for example, or in a traffic jam.

June 4, 2010
Bill sparks rare floor fight among Assembly Democrats

After a rare floor fight among key Democrats, the Assembly passed legislation this week that could make it easier to challenge key air, energy and other future regulations.

The controversy stemmed partly from a business-backed bill's release last week by its author, Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, from the powerful Appropriations Committee that he chairs despite major amendments that had not been heard by a policy committee.

The measure, Assembly Bill 2529, would create a process in which critics of any economic impact analysis used by four key state agencies in creating new regulations could bankroll an independent study.

The bill comes at a critical time, both for California's economy and environment, as state leaders wrestle with how to reduce greenhouse emissions and protect natural resources without overregulating business and stifling job growth.

Democrats rarely quarrel openly among themselves on the Assembly floor and traditionally side with their leader, currently John A. Pérez, when high-stakes legislation threatens to create caucus fireworks.

Not this time.

June 3, 2010
Senate vote: Minor marijuana possession not a misdemeanor

The state Senate narrowly voted today to reclassify possession of less than an ounce of marijuana as an infraction with a penalty of $100 rather than its current status as a misdemeanor with the same fine.

Possession of a less than an ounce of pot has "unique status" under current California law because it is the only misdemeanor that is not punishable by jail time, said Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, author of Senate Bill 1449.

"That's an infraction, by definition. All this bill does is call it what it is -- an infraction," Leno said. "It doesn't change the penalties."

June 3, 2010
State Senate votes to hike fines for cell phone driving laws

The state Senate voted today -- by a bare minimum of 21 votes -- to increase penalties imposed on California drivers who break laws restricting cell phone use while driving.

"The numbers show that compliance is good and that California's hands-free law is working. We can do better though, and save even more lives," said Sen. Joe Simitian, a Democrat of Palo Alto, after his Senate Bill 1475 was approved.

June 3, 2010
Senate shoots down airline passenger rights bill

Legislation that would create a "bill of rights" for airline passengers stranded on stalled flights crashed in the state Senate today.

Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, said his Senate Bill 1264 was needed as a backstop should new federal regulations on the issue be withdrawn. It would require airlines to provide food, water, sanitary services, fresh air and other amenities to passengers if they are stuck on planes that cannot take off.

However, critics said the adoption of the new federal rules negates the need for state legislation, and airline lobbyists threatened to sue if California passed such a bill. Airlines successfully challenged a similar New York law when a federal court ruled that only the federal government can regulate airlines.

The bill garnered just 17 votes, four shy of the 21 needed.

June 3, 2010
Senate approves enterprise zone overhaul

A major overhaul of California's enterprise zone program, eliminating a hiring tax credit for business that has been criticized as being ineffective and substituting a new tax credit for vocational training, cleared the state Senate today.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, who is personally carrying Senate Bill 974, cited a report by the Public Policy Institute of California concluding that the enterprise zone program, which costs the state an estimated half-billion dollars a year in revenue, is ineffective.

Under the program, cities and counties petition the state to create the zones, and businesses located in them are given state tax credits for employees. But PPIC's report -- disputed by enterprise-zone advocates -- says that it could not detect any net increase in employment from the zones.

June 3, 2010
Bill for consumers to opt out of phone directories fails

After spirited debate over what's right for small businesses, the state Senate today turned down a proposal to allow consumers to opt out of getting telephone directories delivered at their front doors.

Senate Bill 920 by Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, would have required language be printed on directories explaining to consumers that they could request not to get a hard copy listings published by third-party vendors.

June 3, 2010
Senate rejects income tax appeal measure

Legislation that would allow the Franchise Tax Board to appeal tax cases in court was rejected today by the state Senate.

Senate Bill 1113 by Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, failed on a 12-18 vote after opponents said it would undermine the state Board of Equalization, which now handles tax case appeals from the Franchise Tax Board.

The latter is a three-member body that administers personal and corporate income taxes. Disagreements on its rulings about tax liability can now be appealed to the Board of Equalization, which consists of four elected members and the chairman of the Franchise Tax Board.

Critics have long complained that having a board composed of elected officials hear appeals creates the appearance that cases are decided for political purposes. Reformers have for years suggested that California create a tax court, similar to the one that hears federal income tax cases.

Wolk's bill would not have gone that far, but it would have allowed the Franchise Tax Board to take appeals to court if it loses at the Board of Equalization -- a right now enjoyed by taxpayers when they lose appeals. Under current law, when the Franchise Tax Board loses an appeal to the Board of Equalization, that's the end of the legal trail.

June 3, 2010
Senate Dems - and a gay GOP senator - vote for LBGT Pride Month

Sen. Roy Ashburn, R-Bakersfield, joined enough Democrats in the state Senate today to approve a resolution declaring June 2010 Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay and Transgender Pride Month.

The Bakersfield Republican acknowledged publicly in March that he is homosexual. He had been arrested on a DUI after leaving a Sacramento gay bar and decided subsequently to reveal that he is gay.

Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, is the author of SR 44, and she said Thursday she was joined in support for the resolution by Ashburn and Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco. All three legislators are gay. The measure passed on a 25-9 vote.

June is the month when gay communities in many cities hold gay pride celebrations.

"True equality is still out of reach for many LBGT people," Kehoe said, who still feel forced to hide their identity and are not allowed to marry.

Leno suggested that gay rights now have more public acceptance - to the point where even socially conservative legislators at an event on Tuesday night could engage in friendly banter about gay colleagues.

On Tuesday night, at a "roast" of Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, GOP Senate leader Dennis Hollingsworth joked about his surprise that Assembly Speaker John A. Perez was gay.

"A gay Latino coming out of the LA rough-and-tumble union politics? The next thing you'll be telling me there's gay Republicans in Bakersfield," Hollingsworth joked.

Leno said Thursday, "We are among every family. . . and different political persuasions."

June 3, 2010
Senate votes to give farm workers overtime pay

The Senate voted today to repeal the exemption of farm workers from the state's 69-year-old law requiring payment of overtime after eight hours of work.

The 23-12 vote sent Senate Bill 1121 by Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, to the Assembly, where approval is also likely. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger would have the last word.

The vote was along party lines with Florez and other Democrats saying that removing the farm worker exemption from overtime is long overdue. But farm groups contend that it will increase production costs and is incompatible with the seasonal nature of farm work.

Although labor and liberal groups lined up behind the bill, the United Farm Workers Union is noticeably absent from the list of backers.

June 3, 2010
Assembly passes 'Chelsea's Law'

By Jim Sanders

Known as "Chelsea's Law," legislation to crack down on child sexual predators was unanimously approved today by the Assembly.

The legislation stemmed from the case of John Albert Gardner III, who was arrested for the murders of Chelsea King, 17, of Poway, and of Amber Dubois, 14, of Escondido.

The measure, Assembly Bill 1844, passed the lower house by a vote of 65-0. It now goes to the Senate, and if it is approved there, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is expected to sign it.

AB 1844 would require that offenders who inflict bodily harm on a child under 14 while committing rape, sodomy, continuous sexual abuse or similar heinous sex crimes receive sentences of life without parole.

The bill would increase prison sentences for committing other forcible sex crimes against minors, with terms varying depending on the age of the victim. In many cases, offenders would be subject to double the terms in current law.

The bill also would make it a misdemeanor for a felony sex offender to loiter in parks where children congregate.

Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, a San Diego Republican, introduced the bill and said of it in a written statement:

"Current California law does not acknowledge or adjust for the true nature of the sexual violent predator that attacks children. Chelsea's law isolates this uniquely dangerous predator and takes disciplined steps to keep them away from our communities."

June 3, 2010
AM Alert: Senate abuzz with phone bills

With one day left until the deadline for bills to pass out of the house of origin, expect a lot more action coming from both chambers.

The Senate has about 30 bills left to take up. Two Democratic members who have been absent due to medical conditions, Jenny Oropeza, who suffered from a blood clot, and Pat Wiggins, who has been unable to attend sessions because of an undisclosed medical condition, will be back on the floor to cast votes for the close calls.

And as usual, both houses are leaving some of the most controversial measures for last.

Chatting on cell phones (and texting third house friends) might be banned on the floor for lawmakers, but that won't stop senators from talking about laws affecting mobile users today.

June 2, 2010
Bill to regulate health insurance passes Assembly

Fueled by anger over soaring health-insurance costs, legislation to require state approval of future rate increases was approved Wednesday by the California Assembly.

The measure, Assembly Bill 2578, would require health insurers to obtain the state's blessing before raising premiums, co-payments or deductibles.

After passing 43-28 with no Republican support, the bill now goes to the Senate.

Assemblyman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento, introduced the measure after Anthem Blue Cross took steps to raise health insurance premiums by up to 39 percent. The firm canceled the plan weeks ago.

AB 2578 sparked intense opposition from health insurers but was supported by the California Labor Federation, Consumer Watchdog, Health Access, Consumers Union, and by Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of San Francisco, among others.

Passage of Proposition 103 in 1988 requires insurers to win state approval for auto, property and casualty insurance. Jones' bill would impose that requirement for health insurance as well.

June 2, 2010
Assembly OKs ban on single-use plastic bags

UPDATED 6:23 p.m. with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's comment.

"Paper or plastic?" could soon be a question of the past in California.

The Assembly approved a bill today that would ban single-use plastic bags at supermarkets, pharmacies, convenience stores and liquor stores.

AB 1998, which would take effect for some stores as soon as January 2012, bans single-use plastic bags in hopes that consumers bring or buy their own reusable bags. Stores could also provide paper bags made of at least 40 percent recycled materials at a charge of 5 to 8 cents per bag.

The measure squeaked through the lower house with the bare minimum of 41 votes it needed to pass. It now heads to the Senate.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a statement after the vote Wednesday praising the effort and pointing out that it would make California the first state in the nation to enact such a ban. Several cities -- including Malibu, San Francisco and Palo Alto -- have passed their own bag bans.

June 2, 2010
Bill targeting repeat DUI offenders passes Assembly

The Assembly passed a bill today that would crack down on repeat drunken drivers.

AB 1601 would allow judges to revoke the license, for up to a decade, of anyone convicted of three or more DUIs in a 10-year span. Current law allows a maximum penalty of a five-year license suspension for individuals convicted of multiple DUIs over 10 years. Repeat DUI offenders typically lose their license for a maximum of three years, according to the office of the bill's author, Assemblyman Jerry Hill.

"This legislation will save lives by keeping dangerous repeat DUI offenders off the road," Hill, of San Mateo, said in a statement. "AB 1601 targets habitual repeat DUI offenders who continue to break the law despite drug treatment programs, fines, imprisonment, and existing license revocation penalties."

The legislation approved today was a watered-down version of the bill that Hill introduced earlier this year. The original language would have allowed judges to permanently revoke the license of a driver with three or more DUIs and to look at a driver's entire record -- not just the previous 10 years -- when making a decision.

The San Mateo County Times reported that the changes were made in response to concerns that the bill would put more inmates into California's already crowded prison system, which a bill analysis estimated could cost the state $10 million a year.

The bill's opponents, including the California DUI Lawyers Association, also argued that taking away a license for life is too extreme and that license revocation wouldn't necessarily bring habitual drunken driving offenders, who often have substance abuse issues, off the road.

The bill now heads to the Senate. We looked at the statistics on repeat DUI offenders and fatal crashes in this post.

June 1, 2010
State Senate passes GOP colleague's immigration resolution

With bipartisan support, the California Senate approved a resolution today urging President Barack Obama and Congress to "exhibit responsible leadership by enacting comprehensive immigration reform."

Senate Concurrent Resolution 108 by Sen. Tom Harman -- a Republican running for attorney general -- also includes language about the problems that come with individual states attempting to come up with their own laws.

June 1, 2010
State Senate OKs kids' snow helmet bill

UPDATED 4:25 p.m. with information about the Assembly measure. The California state Senate approved a bill today requiring children under 18 to wear a helmet while involved in snow sports such as skiing and snow boarding.

Senate Bill 880 by Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, was approved by a 21-13 vote, mostly along party lines. It now goes to the Assembly.

Yee said that the Federal Consumer Products Safety Commission has found that more than 7,000 head injuries per year on snow slopes could be prevented or minimized with a helmet. For children under 15, more than half of the 4,950 snow-related head injuries each year could be avoided or rendered less serious with a helmet.

Sen. Dave Cox, R-Fair Oaks, split with most GOP colleagues and voted for the bill. Yee gave Cox a present to thank him for the vote -- a snow helmet. "Wear it often," Yee said.

Cox said, "Thank you for that token of appreciation for voting for that nanny-government bill."

Republican Sen. Bob Dutton of Rancho Cucamonga, who voted against the bill, told Yee he was concerned about who would be held liable for children not wearing helmets.

Yee said the bill was written to avoid imposing liability on businesses. Law enforcement, he said, is responsible for enforcement. The proposal, he said, is designed to give parents extra support to wear helmets because they will be able to tell kids: "It's the law."

The bill calls for resorts to post signs about the helmet requirement and calls for parents to be fined $25 for a violation. The fine can be dismissed for a first offense.

UPDATE 4:25 p.m.:The Assembly today passed a similar measure, Assembly Bill 1652, on a 41-28 vote.

June 1, 2010
Assembly passes ban on carrying unloaded handguns in public

Legislation to outlaw the carrying of unloaded handguns in public was passed Tuesday by the Assembly.

The measure, Assembly Bill 1934, received the bare-minimum number of votes necessary, passing 41-25, with Republicans opposed.

The bill was crafted in response to a protest movement, "Open Carry," in which activists wield unloaded guns in public places to publicize opposition to gun-control laws as well as difficulties in obtaining concealed-weapons permits.

May 28, 2010
VIDEO: Senators spar over schoolkids' epilepsy-drug bill

In a heated exchange today on the floor, a Republican senator accused Democratic leaders of caving to unions and blocking his proposal to allow nonmedical school workers to administer a drug to students having epileptic seizures.

"This bill is voluntary, members. They are not coerced," said Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, trying to persuade Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg to move a bill he's sponsoring to the Senate floor for a vote.

The fight over who to allow to administer the drug Diastat -- which must be placed in the rectum with a plastic syringe -- is also highlighting the fact that budget cuts have left more than 50 percent of California's public schools with no nurses on site.

Huff's Senate Bill 1051 stalled in the Senate's Appropriations Committee on Thursday, prompting Huff to issue a stinging release accusing Democrats of catering to public employee unions.

May 28, 2010
Bill to extend OK on kangaroo products bounces out of Senate

bp wallaby.JPGGolden State soccer fanatics amped up about the World Cup have one less reason to fret: A bill cleared the Senate today to allow them to keep buying kangaroo kicks in years to come.

Senate Bill 1345, authored by Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, extends a 2007 measure allowing importation of kangaroo skins and products harvested legally in Australia.

The measure, which was set to sunset in 2011, requires that the Australian government provide California with reports ensuring that the kangaroo harvesting quota has not been exceeded.

The original bill was signed into law in 2007, after the state Supreme Court banned the sale of kangaroo-made products, including adidas soccer cleats made popular by soccer sensation David Beckham.

May 28, 2010
Senate vote would bar city traffic fines

The state Senate voted unanimously today to prevent California cities for citing errant motorists under city ordinance rather than state law, thereby allowing cities to keep the resulting fines.

Roseville has been doing that for more than a year, with a flat $100 fine for a range of traffic infractions, far lower than the state vehicle code imposes with various fees and other add-ons. Several other cities, including Oakland and Long Beach, have adopted the same practice.

Sen. Jenny Oropeza, D-Long Beach, introduced legislation, Senate Bill 949, to outlaw the practice. It cleared the Senate today on a 28-0 vote without debate, sending it to the Assembly.

May 27, 2010
Kids' emergency epilepsy drug bill gets shelved

JD_ASSEM_HUFF.JPGA state Senate bill to let school employees administer an emergency drug to epileptic children was shelved today, prompting complaints from its author that unions blocked it.

Senate Bill 1051 would have authorized non-nursing school staff to volunteer to be trained to give children, via the rectum, doses of the drug Diastat if the children were having a seizure. The proposal will not move to the Senate floor because it did not go to a vote today before the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, the bill's author, said in a statement: "It is alarming that Democrats won't permit volunteer, trained adults to help a child suffering from a seizure."

He accused legislators of caving to pressure by unions representing teachers and school nurses who he said wanted to turn the proposal into a "jobs bill."

The bill had Democratic supporters, however, in two Senate committees that approved the measure before it was moved to the Appropriations Committee.

Among groups opposing the bill were the state PTA, the California Teachers Association and the California Nurses Association, whose members have seen their ranks in schools decrease with budget cuts.

May 27, 2010
California Senate bans sports drinks during school hours

BB GOV FOOD 0230.JPGAiming to slim down overweight children, California's state senators voted 21-11 today to ban the sale of sugared sports drinks at public schools during class hours.

Soft drinks are already banned during school hours. But sugar-sweetened electrolyte replacement beverages -- a.k.a. sports drinks -- are still available and have surged in popularity among kids, said Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima, author of Senate Bill 1255.

"This is a a common sense step forward in the effort to address the obesity epidemic in California," Padilla said. His measure now goes to the Assembly.

Eight out of ten drinks sold a la carte at California public schools now are sports drinks, Padilla said, citing information form the California Department of Public Heath.

Studies have repeatedly shown that sweetened drinks contribute to obesity among adults and children, which leads to health problems such as type-2 diabetes.

The bill is part of a package of legislation sponsored by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger aimed at reducing childhood obesity in California.

Padilla, who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Obesity and Diabetes, also authored Senate Bill 1420, which made California the first state in the nation to require restaurant chains with 20 or more locations statewide post calorie information.

PHOTO CREDIT: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sen. Alex Padilla confer during a press conference outside Chili's restaurant in Elk Grove on Sept. 30, 2008, where Schwarzenegger signed Padilla's Senate Bill 1420 on restaurant calorie counts. Sacramento Bee photo file / Brian Baer.

May 25, 2010
Dave Cox asks for municipal bankruptcy bill back in committee

BB Dave Cox.JPGIt took nearly a year and a committee shakeup for Assembly Bill 155 to make out of the Senate Local Government Committee.

Now, a month after the committee approved the measure, the committee chairman wants another shot at considering changes to the bill, which would make it more difficult for local governments to file for bankruptcy.

Senate Local Government Committee Chairman Dave Cox, R-Fair Oaks, wrote a letter to Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg yesterday asking that he route the bill back to the committee in light of amendments added May 20.

May 24, 2010
AB 32 study prompts crackdown on academic reports

A controversial study of impacts that California's landmark greenhouse gas emissions could have on small businesses sparked legislation passed Monday by the Assembly.

Assembly Bill 2656, would require college administrators, professors or staff members who receive public funds for outside research to certify that their work will comply with academic standards of their college.

The measure by Assemblyman Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles was approved 41-22 by the Assembly.

May 24, 2010
Flap over California 'Happy Cows' ad sparks Assembly vote

The message is clear: Never again should a California Happy Cows commercial be filmed in New Zealand.

The Assembly voted Monday to require that California state agencies, commissions or departments shoot commercials inside the Golden State if they are promoting California products with public funds.

Assemblyman Ted Lieu proposed the bill, Assembly Bill 1778, after the California Milk Advisory Board sent a production crew to New Zealand to film 10 commercials that claim California cows are happy.

May 20, 2010
Lawmakers honor man who balked at WW II internment order

OBIT KOREMATSU.jpgNearly 70 years after Fred Korematsu refused a federal order at the outbreak of World War II to evacuate to an internment camp, the Assembly voted Thursday to honor him as a civil rights leader by designating an annual day in his honor.

Assembly Bill 1775, which passed 63-0, would recognize the Bay Area Japanese-American man's Jan. 30 birthday as "Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties," a special day of significance in which schools would be urged to commemorate his memory.

The bill by Assemblyman Warren Furutani, D-Los Angeles, now goes to the Senate.

Democratic Assemblyman Marty Block of San Diego characterized Korematsu, pictured right with President Bill Clinton, as "an ordinary citizen whose fight to protect his own rights reminds us of the importance of preserving them for all people."

A legislative committee analysis of AB 1775 gave the following account of Korematsu's story:

May 19, 2010
Committee kills overhaul of ballot measure titles

The Assembly Appropriations Committee today rejected -- for the second time -- legislation that would shift the writing of ballot measure titles and summaries from the attorney general's office to the legislative analyst's office.

The proliferation of ballot initiatives has resulted in numerous political and legal squabbles over their official summaries, which appear on petitions and the ballot if they qualify -- such as the one over Proposition 8, the 2008 measure that outlawed same-sex marriage.

Proponents contended that Attorney General Jerry Brown, a gay marriage supporter and Democratic candidate for governor, skewed the measure's official summary to bias would-be petition signers and voters against it.

May 17, 2010
Openly gay Episcopal bishop for gay marriage and church bill

The Episcopal Church's first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson, joins Sen. Mark Leno at the state Capitol Tuesday to talk about Leno's bill regarding gay marriage and churches.

Leno's proposal, SB 906, clarifies that under state law no member of the clergy will be required to perform a civil marriage contrary to his or her faith. The also bill "reaffirms" the separation of church and state.

Leno, D-San Francisco, is an openly gay state senator who introduced the bill to address concerns by some religious denominations that they would be forced to perform same-sex marriages if gay marriage is once again permitted in California.

Robinson, bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire, captured international attention when he publicly acknowledged he was gay. His election as bishop caused a rift among parishes and some broke away from the affiliation.

Leno will also be joined at an 11 a.m. press conference by an African Anglican bishop, Christopher Senyonjo, who opposes proposed legislation in Uganda that includes a death penalty sentence for homosexuality.

May 13, 2010
Assembly urges repeal of military's 'don't ask, don't tell'

The Assembly approved a resolution today urging President Barack Obama and Congress to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy toward gays and lesbians in the Armed Forces.

Senate Joint Resolution 9 was approved 51-17, with only two Republicans supporting it -- Assemblymen Anthony Adams of Hesperia and Nathan Fletcher of San Diego. Eleven legislators were absent or abstained.

The resolution, which the Senate approved last August, will return to the upper house for concurrence in minor amendments. SJR 9 was introduced by Sen. Christine Kehoe, an openly gay Democrat from San Diego.

May 11, 2010
Assembly votes to ax 'fireman' from state law


In a bow to gender equity, the Assembly voted 60-0 this week to replace the word "fireman" with "firefighter" in a relatively obscure section of state law.

Assembly Bill 2149, by Democrat Assemblyman Warren Furutani of Gardena, would amend the County Employees' Retirement Law of 1937.

The bill's sponsor, California Professional Firefighters, provided the following written rationale to legislators:

"By changing the reference from 'fireman' to 'firefighter' this bill would assist in broader efforts to ensure gender equity in the state's county retirement law given focus on recruitment and retention of women in non-traditional public safety professions, such as firefighting."

Nineteen Assembly members were absent or abstained from voting when the roll was called Monday.

AB 2149 now goes to the Senate.

PHOTO CREDIT: Sacramento Fire firefighters douse hot spots near the Capitol City Freeway in East Sacramento last December. Andy Alfaro/

May 10, 2010
Schwarzenegger signs law to lower threshold for online campaign disclosure

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed legislation to lower the monetary threshold at which state candidates, lobbying firms and others must file financial disclosures online to the secretary of state's office.

May 6, 2010
Assembly aims to prevent repeat of FPPC gift-disclosure fines

The California Assembly passed legislation Thursday designed to prevent a repeat of this year's enforcement action by the state's political watchdog agency that resulted in dozens of lawmakers paying fines for unreported gifts.

Assembly Bill 2007 would require the Fair Political Practices Commission to post on the Internet all gifts reportedly given to lawmakers so they can cross-check their own records and weed out mistakes before disclosing what gifts they received.

The bill passed the Assembly by a vote of 68-0, four votes more than the two-thirds majority required to amend the state's voter-approved Political Reform Act. AB 2007 now goes to the Senate.

Assemblyman Anthony Adams, a Hesperia Republican who proposed AB 2007, said the intent is to prevent "gotcha politics" in which lawmakers are fined or penalized for inadvertent mistakes or bookkeeping errors.

The bill stems from this year's FPPC investigation in which the agency cracked down on legislators who failed to disclose gifts that donors had reported giving.

More than 30 legislators agreed to pay the FPPC more than $9,000 in fines this year for failing to disclose gifts that included Sacramento Kings tickets, golfing fees, hotel accommodations, restaurant tabs and concert tickets, among other things.

Numerous legislators complained that some of the gifts involved things like parking fees or the fractional cost of meals at large gatherings, and that donors had failed to inform them of the value of such gifts.

"Even before you have a chance to contest whether you actually participated or received a gift, you're now on record as having received an FPPC violation notice," Adams said. "That's inappropriate. It shouldn't work that way."

May 3, 2010
Schwarzenegger vetoes bill to ban smoking at state beaches and parks

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger today vetoed legislation to ban smoking at state-run beaches and parks.

Senate Bill 4 would have established a $100 fine for park-goers caught smoking. Campsites and an off-road vehicle area at Pismo Beach would have been exempt under the ban.

Supporters said the measure would keep the sites clean and clear the air of second-hand smoke. The Department of Parks and Recreation has opposed the bill, saying it would be too hard to enforce.

In his veto message, Schwarzenegger called the measure an "improper intrusion of government into people's lives." He also said he believes the decision should be left to cities and the Department of Parks and Recreation, which already have the authority to ban smoking at specific sites.

"(By) mandating in a state law that people may not smoke outdoors in certain areas, this bill crosses an important threshold between state power and command and local decision-making," he said.

Sen. Jenny Oropeza, who authored the bill, said in a statement that she would continue to push for a statewide smoking ban at beaches and parks. The Long Beach Democrat has made anti-smoking measures a centerpiece of legislative career, fighting for this particular measure since 2006.

"I'm sorry the governor did not agree with this widely supported effort to increase public awareness about the environmental threats carelessly tossed cigarettes are doing to our marine life and to the great outdoors," she said.

April 20, 2010
Pérez talks up bill to prepare state for health care overhaul

ha_perez16325.JPGAssembly Speaker John A. Pérez unveiled a bill today that he says would ready California for expanded new health-insurance options that federal law requires by 2014.

Assembly Bill 1602 sets up the California Health Benefit Exchange, which will serve as a marketplace for small businesses and individuals to buy insurance under terms that will now include federal tax breaks and subsidies, Pérez said at a press conference.

Jan. 1 is the federal deadline for setting up the initial exchange framework. The exchange's executive board will be appointed by the Legislature and the governor.

Pérez said that the option of buying insurance through the exchange will give small businesses new advantages in the form of tax credits and support from the state, which will negotiate terms.

Pérez said thousands of individuals will also get tax breaks and subsidies for buying insurance they can't get through employers.

April 20, 2010
Bankruptcy bill finally clears committee

Highly controversial, union-backed legislation that would make it more difficult for local governments to declare bankruptcy has made it out of the Senate Local Government Committee after a nearly yearlong stalemate.

April 14, 2010
'California Dream Act' clears first hurdle

The "California Dream Act," which would grant illegal immigrants access to student financial aid benefits, cleared its first legislative hurdle today, gaining approval of the Senate Education Committee on a party-line vote.

The author of highly controversial Senate Bill 1460, Sen. Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, told the committee that it would benefit "young people who are here due to no decision of their own."

"They are our future (and) they deserve our support," he added later. No one testified against the bill.

April 1, 2010
Pot debate fuels CalChannel page views

Legislative hearings on whether to legalize marijuana have heated up debates under the dome in this year. But the issue also fueled a traffic spike at, the online hub for viewing committee hearings, floor sessions and other events around the Capitol.

Archived videos of hearings pertaining to AB 390, Democratic Assemblyman Tom Ammiano's bill to legalize and regulate marijuana, racked up a combined more than 6,600 page views during the first quarter, according data provided by CalChannel.

Those numbers greatly outpace the site's typical audience numbers. In March, for example, the top five most viewed hearings received between 240 and 848 hits apiece.

"We are glad to see people taking advantage of the resources that exist to watch these hearings," said California Channel President John Hancock. "We take pride in covering the politics and public affairs that shape California, and these two topics definitely have the potential to shape the state."

March 11, 2010
Simple-majority budget anchors Democrats' reform package

Targeting California's bitter budget fights, Democratic legislative leaders proposed a wide-ranging overhaul Thursday that would allow lawmakers to pass budgets by a simple-majority vote and would require them to forfeit pay if they are late in passing a spending plan.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez hailed the package as a way to restore public confidence by making the budget process more efficient and ensuring that costly new programs are not approved without a way of paying for them.

"We all know that California's system of finance is broken," said Steinberg, D-Sacramento.

Added Pérez, "Californians are frustrated with the status quo. This needs to be a year of real and meaningful reform."

But Senate Republican leader Dennis Hollingsworth said the GOP could not accept any package that would allow Democrats to pass a budget without any Republican votes.

March 11, 2010
Simple-majority budget vote to be part of Dems' reform package

UPDATE 12:32 p.m.: Find an updated, post-announcement version of this story here.

Democratic legislative leaders will announce today an effort to place before voters a package of government reforms whose centerpiece would allow budgets to be passed by a simple majority of each legislative house.

March 8, 2010
California: The nation's Rodney Dangerfield

Just like the late comedian, sometimes it seems the Golden State just can't get no respect.

Take this weekend. Here's the National Public Radio quiz show, "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me," going on and on about the "new law" in California that prohibits residents from cussing for a week.

"It's a law?" asks one incredulous panelist.

Yup, assures the host, passed by the Assembly and everything.

Uh, actually it was just a non-binding resolution that asked Californians to tone it down, language-wise. In fact, the state Senate said *&%$& no, we're not even taking it up because of the *^#%* budget mess."

But the facts didn't deter a long "that's goofy California" riff.

It's enough to make you want to mutter an expletive.

February 25, 2010
Assembly passes three budget bills

NIELSEN.JPGThe Assembly sent legislation to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday that would allow the state to delay payments to schools and local governments to help avoid a cash crisis in future months, as well as enable the state treasurer to sell public works bonds for construction projects.

Assembly Republicans withheld support Monday on Assembly Bill X8 5 and asked for a committee hearing, which took place Wednesday. At the end of the hearing, the GOP budget vice chairman, Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, made remarks suggesting that his party would demand spending cuts before sending ABX8 5 to the governor.

But Nielsen, R-Gerber, backed off that threat Thursday and said in floor debate that it was necessary to pass ABX8 5 and two other bills "to send a very profound message to the people of the state of California that both parties can work together to resolve our very difficult budget challenge."

The two other bills the Assembly passed were:
SBX8 4, extending cuts to the state's regional centers, which serve residents with developmental disabilities. The bill would save $186 million in general fund dollars through June 2011. It went to the Senate for concurrence.
ABX8 7, which would shore up the state's beverage container recycling program. It went to the governor.

IMAGE: Jim Nielsen, file photo 2008

UPDATE (1 p.m.): The previous version of this story said the Assembly sent the regional center bill to the governor; the Assembly actually sent a different version of that bill to the Senate for concurrence.

February 25, 2010
Assembly Republicans leverage cash deferral bill

Assembly Republicans have taken a stand against the Democratic budget package by threatening to block one of the few bills that require two-thirds support, a proposal that would allow state fiscal leaders to delay payments to schools and local governments to help ensure California has enough cash to pay its priority bills.

Assembly Bill X8 5 is one of the more crucial bills in the Democratic budget package, considering that it is designed to shore up California's cash flow in the coming weeks. The legislative delay also forced Treasurer Bill Lockyer to postpone a $2 billion infrastructure bond sale that he had planned for next week.

The bill passed the Senate on a bipartisan 37-2 vote Monday. But Assembly Republicans did not approve the measure and demanded a budget committee hearing before considering it on the floor.

Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, said at the close of the Assembly Budget Committee's hearing Wednesday that Republicans may withhold their floor votes on ABX8 5 unless Democrats negotiate with Republicans to pass "some real cuts." Nielsen and three other Republicans on the committee ultimately voted to move the bill to the Assembly floor, but with the proviso that the GOP caucus wants further negotiations.

"I do not believe it prudent for us to just move some of these solutions along without cuts concomitant," Nielsen said, adding later, "I'm being predictive of floor action. I'm not saying that there are going to be any floor votes for two-thirds things unless we get some cuts, simply put."

Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro, D-Arcata, responded, "I'd just like to express, Madame Chair, some frustration with our friends from the other party who say they want more cuts. And we put up our votes for cuts from things we care very deeply about, and they're (not voting for them)."

February 25, 2010
AM Alert: Proposition 16

Remember that photo we took of Sen. Abel Maldonado and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger just before Schwarzenegger nominated Maldonado for lieutenant governor a second time?

Check out the finalists in Capitol Alert's latest caption contest and vote for the one you think is the winner.

Both the Senate and the Assembly have scheduled floor sessions today, after which the Assembly Utilities and Senate Energy committees take up the matter of Proposition 16.

That's the measure bankrolled by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. that would require public utilities to get two-thirds of voters to OK providing service to new customers or expanding service to new territories using public funds or bonds.

So far PG&E has reported ponying up $6.5 million for the Yes on 16 campaign, including $3.5 million last year and $3 million on Jan. 22, according to Secretary of State filings.

Opposition is being organized by The Utility Reform Network and Local Power Inc. But it's a David and Goliath fight -- TURN has reported giving the No on 16 campaign only $21,500 so far.

Look for the joint hearing on Prop 16 in the Capitol's Room 4202.

Also today, Sen. Tony Strickland will be touting his SCA 29, backed by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which the Thousand Oaks Republican says will "protect California families, taxpayers, and medical practitioners from socialized medicine policies."

According to the Legislative Counsel's Digest, the measure would block enforcement of a state or federal program that does any of the following:

• Requires people to get health care coverage.
• Requires health insurers to issue policies to all applicants.
• Requires employers to either provide health care coverage to employees or pay a fee or tax.
• Allows an entity created, operated, or subsidized by the government to compete with private insurers.
• Creates a single-payer health care system, unless voters approve it in a ballot measure.

Strickland's measure needs a two-thirds vote to pass. His news conference starts at 11 a.m. in the Capitol's Room 1190.

GOV2010: Republican candidate for governor Meg Whitman talks to the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce at noon at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in San Diego.

February 24, 2010
CEQA-exemption bills stalled in committee

Two bills backed by business groups, with the blessing of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, that would exempt some public and private developments from judicial review stalled Wednesday in the Senate Environmental Quality Committee.

February 22, 2010
Bill would raise hands-free, texting fines, extend bans to bicyclists

Maria Shriver take note: the author of California's hands-free and no-texting rules for motorists is looking to up the consequences for chatty drivers caught breaking the state's bans on talking and texting behind the wheel.

Democratic Sen. Joe Simitian's bill, one of hundreds introduced by lawmakers last week in the final stretch of this year's bill-introduction period, would double the fines for first- and second-time offenders of the hands-free law and increase the fine for texting behind the wheel fivefold, from $20 to $100 for the first offense. Motorists caught breaking the law would rack up a point on their driver's record.

An added provision would also prohibit bicyclists from texting or talking without a hands-free device behind the handlebars.

The Palo Alto Democrat has already successfully pushed for the passage of three bills aimed at cracking down on cell phone-related distractions for motorists. He said in a statement that this effort is intended to create "a more significant deterrent" for drivers still breaking the bans.

February 19, 2010
Legislature will vote on governor's fire surcharge as a tax

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has maintained that his budget contains no taxes, but the Legislative Counsel has drafted his fire surcharge as a tax.

The proposal would raise $200 million for the state's general fund by imposing a 4.8 percent surcharge on residential and commercial property insurance. The proposal, Assembly Bill 185, requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature because it has been deemed a tax.

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst said in January he considered the proposal a tax because all California property owners would pay for emergency fire response that largely benefits rural areas. But the governor has insisted it is not a tax.

"We consider it a fee," Schwarzenegger said in January. "I let some people debate over that -- what's a fee and what's a tax. But I mean, I call it a fee."

The practical impact is that the bill requires a two-thirds vote. That threshold may be difficult to reach, given that Republicans have opposed the idea on grounds that it is a new form of taxation.

February 18, 2010
Senate approves 'Amazon tax' as part of budget plan

As part of a stopgap budget solution, the state Senate on Thursday passed a bill requiring and other online retailers to charge sales taxes on purchases in California, generating an additional $107 million annually.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vowed to veto the measure when Democrats proposed it last year, and it stalled in committee. But Democrats reintroduced it Thursday in a tax enforcement bill that was part of a $5 billion budget package moving through the Legislature.

Schwarzenegger has not indicated a change of heart on the issue. "The governor has never supported this proposal, so it would be a very tough sell," Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear said Thursday.

The governor's reasoning last year was that Amazon, Overstock and other online retailers provide employment to hundreds of "affiliates" in California who direct sales to the Web sites. Overstock announced last summer that it would eliminate its affiliate program in response to the legislative tax proposal. When Schwarzenegger vowed to veto the bill, Overstock restarted its affiliate program.

Advocates for the online sales tax bill assert that retailers would merely collect a tax that Californians are supposed to pay already. Residents who purchase products from out-of-state retailers that do not collect sales taxes are required to pay those taxes on their income tax returns. But few actually pay that "use tax."

February 17, 2010
Denham targets Veterans Day in new legislation

JEFF DENHAM.JPGShould California be required to celebrate Veterans Day on -- drum roll, please -- Veterans Day?

Sen. Jeff Denham says yes -- and he proposed legislation this week to require it.

Senate Bill 1057 would bar the Legislature and state agencies from ignoring Veterans Day's traditional Nov. 11 date in order to create a three-day weekend.

Denham's bill was inspired by Marian Forness' letter of complaint to The Sacramento Bee last year after the Senate gave its staff a long weekend rather than celebrate the holiday on a Wednesday.

Created 90 years ago to honor World War I, Veterans Day later was expanded to applaud all veterans.

Denham, R-Merced, has scheduled a news conference with Forness on Thursday to unveil his legislation, which would apply to all state offices except for the University of California because it is governed by an independent board.

PHOTO CREDIT: Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Merced, attends a presentation of seven housing bills by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in Merced on Oct. 19, 2009. Hector Amezcua/Sacramento Bee

February 17, 2010
List of Senate Republicans' special session jobs bills

Here's a list of the 24 bills that Senate Republicans have introduced as part of a jobs-growth plan.

Find the list and summaries distributed by the Republican caucus after the jump. For more information, see the Republican Caucus Web site.

February 11, 2010
List of Senate Democrats' jobs bills

From Susan Ferriss:

Here's a list of the bills that Senate Democrats have introduced or say they'll introduce these bills as part of a jobs-growth plan.

Find the list after the jump. For more information, see the Democratic Caucus Web site.

February 10, 2010
Bill would boost CalPERS, CalSTRS election transparency

Candidates running for spots on the boards of California's two largest public employee pension funds would be required to complete and publicly file more detailed campaign finance information under a bill introduced in the Senate today.

Senate Bill 1007, by Democratic Sen. Loni Hancock of Berkeley, would require candidates for board seats with the California Public Employees' Retirement System and the California State Teachers' Retirement System to file ongoing campaign contribution and spending reports during and after an election.

The bill would make pension-fund board candidates comply with reporting rules that already exist for other elected officials in the state, Hancock said.

February 2, 2010
Gaines wants to rescind last year's tax hikes

More than $12 billion in temporary tax increases approved to help close a massive gap in last year's state's budget would be repealed immediately under legislation proposed this week.

Assemblyman Ted Gaines' measure, Assembly Bill 1700, may be largely symbolic, however, because the state continues to founder in red ink and the Legislature is dominated by Democrats who supported last year's temporary tax hikes.

AB 1700 would repeal higher sales, vehicle license and personal income taxes approved to end a bitter budget fight in February 2009. The bill also would raise a child dependent exemption credit that was cut last year. All are scheduled to expire by July 1, 2011, but Gaines' bill would hasten the process. Passage would require a two-thirds vote of both legislative houses.

January 29, 2010
No-cuss California? Assembly takes aim at four-letter words

Dang you, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Darn it, legislators.

Just practicing, in case lawmakers pass Assembly Concurrent Resolution 112 to declare the first week of March each year as "Cuss Free Week."

The measure applauds a 3-year-old campaign by then-14-year-old McKay Hatch, who founded a No Cussing Club at his South Pasadena junior high school in June 2007 to encourage classmates to clean up their act.

"McKay reasoned that if pupils could say no to cussing it would be easier to stay away from drugs, violence and pornography, and to turn their focus to positive aspirations and goals," the Assembly proposal reads.

January 27, 2010
Mark Leno's new gay-marriage bill lets churches off hook

Democratic Sen. Mark Leno of San Francisco introduced a bill Monday he says should put to rest fears from religious groups that say they'll be forced to perform same-sex marriages one day in California.

Leno's SB 906 is called the Civil Marriage Religious Freedom Act. It would amend California's family code to "reaffirm" the separation of church and state and declare that no no clergy person is required to solemnize a civil marriage that is contrary to his or her faith.

The proposal also assures churches they won't lose tax-exempt status if they refuse to perform marriages contrary to beliefs.

Leno introduced the bill just as a federal trial over Proposition 8 trial began entering its final stages in San Francisco. On Wednesday, the last of witnesses appeared in court. Closing arguments might come in March. Gay couples are challenging the constitutionality of California's gay marriage ban established by Proposition 8.

Here's Leno answering questions about the bill:

January 22, 2010
Expletive-laced veto message? Poof!

What acrostic expletive?

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger did not issue a cryptic, expletive-laced veto message to Assemblyman Tom Ammiano last year after all, judging from a check of online legislative records.

The veto message that left the governor's office last October for Assembly Bill 1176 contained a profane acrostic message: The first letter of each line, read vertically, spelled out a two-word expletive starting with "F" and ending with "YOU."

Though it made national and international news at the time, the odd acrostic slap at Ammiano is nowhere to be found in the Legislature's own online tracking system for bills,

The words in Schwarzenegger's veto message system are the same, but each line is a little shorter than the original, wiping out the two-word acrostic expletive for anyone searching legislative records in decades to come.

Aaron McLear, Schwarzenegger's spokesman, said the governor did not request the change.

Legislative Counsel Diane Boyer-Vine, whose office maintains the online tracking system, said that such changes occur naturally because of differences in formatting between the Legislature's online system and the document sent from the governor's office.

In a random check of six other bills vetoed by Schwarzenegger last year, The Bee found that the visual appearance was exactly the same between the governor's document and the legislative Web site on four of the bills, but different on the other two.

January 22, 2010
Push to charge for shopping bags shelved -- for now

Legislation to require California grocery and convenience stores to charge shoppers for paper or plastic bags was derailed this week by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Assembly Bills 68 and 87 would have required shoppers to pay 25 cents per single-use carry-out bag to reduce waste, promote reusable bags, and decrease the volume of plastic bags that litter waterways and pose a danger to wildlife.

Assemblyman Mike Davis, a Los Angeles Democrat who crafted AB 87, said he expects the issue to be revived later this year because cash-strapped local governments are increasingly struggling with litter cleanup.

The fee would have cost the state about $300,000 to implement and perhaps $1 million annually to enforce and collect, but it could have raised millions each year for cleanup, public service announcements, donations of reusable bags to community groups, and other litter-reduction efforts, according to committee analyses of the two bills.

Mark Murray of Californians Against Waste, which lobbies on recycling issues, said the proposed 25-cent fee faced an uphill fight at a time when the state and its taxpayers are struggling financially.

"I think the idea of a high fee on single-use bags may be more than policymakers are prepared to swallow in light of the economy," Murray said. "I think there will be a look at a more modest (5- or 10-cent) proposal."

January 21, 2010
Ammiano to governor: No way, Arnold

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano fired back Thursday, three months after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed one of his bills with an acrostic message that raised eyebrows worldwide by spelling out an expletive abbreviated as "F-You."

Presenting a similar bill Thursday to the Assembly Appropriations Committee, Ammiano, an openly gay Democrat, noted that his previous bill on San Francisco public works financing had been colorfully vetoed.

"I reject the veto -- and the encrypted offer," Ammiano quipped Thursday, sparking laughter.

Schwarzenegger's profane message came days after the San Francisco lawmaker had greeted the Republican governor's appearance at a Democratic event with the words "you lie." Others said the lawmaker added "kiss my gay ass," but Ammiano said he doesn't recall that.

Asked about the acrostic profanity in the veto of Assembly Bill 1176, spokesman Aaron McLear denied that the jab was intentional. The expletive was visible when the first letters of consecutive lines were read vertically, top to bottom.

"My goodness, what a strange coincidence," McLear said. "I suppose when you do so many vetoes, something like this is bound to happen."

The two may be headed for more head-butting: Ammiano's new measure, Assembly Bill 1199, passed the Appropriations Committee on Thursday and is headed to the Assembly floor.

December 31, 2009
Reporter's notebook: Repeat DUI offenders and fatal crashes

Today's Bee details Democratic Assemblyman Jerry Hill's effort to get motorists who rack up three or more DUI convictions off the road for life.

In explaining why he decided to introduce the measure, Hill emphasized the safety threat of allowing repeat DUI offenders back behind the wheel.

"Today you need to hurt or kill someone before your license is revoked, and that's ridiculous," he said. "We have to wait for tragedy to strike for us to do something."

So how many repeat DUI offenders kill or injure someone when they get back behind the wheel under the influence?

Here's the answer to that question, using the most recent data available from the state Department of Motor Vehicles and the California Highway Patrol.

In 2006, 323 of the 1,420 alcohol-involved fatal crashes were caused by a motorist with at least one DUI on his or her record for the previous 10 years. Prior DUI offenders driving under the influence caused 10,855 of the 20,912 injury-related DUI crashes that year.

Altogether, there were 3,793 fatal crashes on state roads that year.

December 30, 2009
CalPIRG rates lawmakers on consumer issues

CalPIRG released today its annual scorecard grading state lawmakers on their votes on consumer issues.

Thirty-eight legislators, all Democrats, received perfect scores from the left-leaning public interest group.

The rankings were based on votes on a series of successful and failed bills, including measures aimed at preventing foreclosures and loan modification scams, expanding health insurance coverage and informing shoppers about recalled products.

"Despite the difficulties in Sacramento this year, there were plenty of opportunities for legislators to stand up for California's consumers," CalPIRG Consumer Advocate Pedro Morillas said in a statement.

Click here to download the scorecard.