Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

January 31, 2014
California water deliveries dropped to zero


State and federal water officials announced Friday that deliveries of state water to agricultural and municipal users south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which had been slashed to 5 percent earlier, will drop further to zero due to the state's severe drought.

It will be the first time that the state has taken such drastic action.

"There's not enough water to go around," state Water Resources Director Mark Cowin said at a news conference. He also said that releases from severely depleted state and federal reservoirs would be dropped to the minimum necessary to prevent salt water intrusion into the Delta.

The reduction is one of a series of steps that water authorities are taking to curtail use because the state is in the third and worst year of drought, despite a light rainstorm that hit the northern part of the state this week.

Agricultural production accounts for most of the state's water use and is expected to be hit the hardest by the reduction. Municipal users in Southern California will fare better because the Metropolitan Water District that serves the area has reported fairly heavy reserves.

PHOTO: Cattle hoof prints mark the dry reservoir bed that normally stretches to Ione road in the east at the Van Vleck Ranch at Wednesday January 22, 2014 in Sacramento County, Calif. The Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.

January 28, 2014
Jury finds Sen. Rod Wright guilty on 8 felony counts


A Los Angeles jury today convicted Sen. Rod Wright on all eight felony counts he was charged with in the case that questioned whether he lived in the district he represented, potentially sending the Democratic state legislator to eight years in prison.

A sentencing hearing has been scheduled for March 12.

Wright will not automatically lose his seat in the Senate, according to Senate secretary Greg Schmidt. That would only happen if two-thirds of the 40-member Senate votes to expel him.

State law requires legislative candidates live in the district they seek to represent. Prosecutors in Los Angeles alleged Wright did not live in the Inglewood home he listed as his address when he ran for office in 2008, and instead lived in Baldwin Hills, a swankier community outside the boundaries of his working-class district. They charged him with eight felony counts -- two counts of perjury, one count of filing a false declaration of candidacy and five counts of fraudulent voting.

Wright pleaded not guilty, and argued he met all the legal criteria for running in what was then the 25th Senate District, including moving possessions into the Inglewood home he had owned since 1977 - where the woman he considers his stepmother lives - and registering to vote at the address.

A major focus of Wright's trial in Los Angeles Superior Court was the legal distinction between a "domicile" - a long-term home - and a "residence," or temporary dwelling. Wright said he bought the Baldwin Hills home in 2000 to use as an office for his real estate investment business and never considered it his legal domicile.

Neighbors testified that they routinely saw Wright at the Baldwin Hills house, while Wright's tenant at the Inglewood home testified she had never seen him spend the night or fix a meal in Inglewood, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Yet Wright testified that he never claimed a homeowners tax exemption, registered to vote or applied for a driver's license using the Baldwin Hills address. He cited a Tuolumne County case in which the court ruled that a local official could claim a home she once lived in as her legal domicile even though she had moved away.

Senate leader Darrell Steinberg said he would consult with lawyers and colleagues before deciding whether the upper house will take any action against Wright.

"Senator Wright is a well regarded colleague," Steinberg said, conveying visible sadness as he talked about the verdict.

Here's a video of Steinberg responding to the verdict moments after it came in:

PHOTO: Sen. Rod Wright in the state Capitol on August 20, 2009. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

Editor's note: This post was updated at 12:55 p.m. to include the sentencing date and a response from Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

January 21, 2014
Toni Atkins poised to become next Assembly speaker


The contest to become California's next Assembly speaker could be over, with multiple lawmakers and staffers telling The Bee that Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, has secured enough votes to lead Assembly Democrats.

The race turned decisively in Atkins's favor this weekend, sources said, when key lawmakers decided to lend their support to Atkins. Currently the majority floor leader, Atkins would become the first openly gay woman to serve as speaker.

A San Francisco-based organization that just last week backed Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, sent out a release praising Atkins.

"The Bay Area Council congratulates Assemblymember Toni Atkins of San Diego, whom we understand has secured the votes to become the next Speaker of the California Assembly," Jim Wunderman, President and CEO of the Bay Area Council, said in the statement.

The Bay Area Council's endorsement of Atkins marked a swift reversal from the group's decision last week to promote Gordon in an effort to ensure the next speaker hailed from Northern California. That came right after Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, anointed Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, as his successor.

There had been speculation that de León's elevation would come at the expense of Assembly speaker candidates from Southern California. But former and current lawmakers discounted the notion that the Legislature must have one leader from Northern California and one from Southern California.

Both the Senate and the Assembly need to elect new leaders this year, with Steinberg and his Assembly counterpart, Speaker John A. Pérez of Los Angeles, forced out by term limits.

PHOTO: Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, D-San Diego speaks with Assembly Speaker John A. Perez, D-Los Angeles as the Assembly members wait for bills from the Senate side at the State Capitol in Sacramento on Friday, June 14, 2013.

January 16, 2014
Jerry Brown to declare drought on Friday in San Francisco

browntwo.JPGGov. Jerry Brown will declare a drought emergency Friday, sources said, after weeks of intensifying pressure on him to take action.

The declaration, which Brown is scheduled to announce at 10 a.m. in San Francisco, comes during one of the driest winters on record in California, following two dry years that already have left many reservoirs depleted.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno and several state lawmakers began urging Brown last month to declare a drought emergency. Brown appointed a committee to review conditions on the ground.

A formal declaration is considered significant as a public relations tool, increasing awareness of residents and, perhaps, federal officials who could accelerate some relief efforts.

Brown's office said Thursday that Brown would "make a major announcement" in an appearance Friday in San Francisco. The administration declined to disclose the nature of the announcement.

But a declaration has been expected, with Brown indicating repeatedly in recent days that he was close to declaring the emergency. Facing calls for a drought declaration while on a two-day swing through inland California this week, Brown said "nobody should discount the seriousness of what we're facing."

Still, Brown has suggested the significance of a formal declaration may be overstated.

"I'm trying to understand what physically we can do in the face of this drought, and then legally what steps can I take," the Democratic governor told reporters in Bakersfield on Tuesday.

Brown said a drought declaration could be helpful, "but at the end of the day, if it doesn't rain, California's in for real trouble. And the governor, through a declaration, can't make it rain."

Brown managed a drought in the late 1970s, when he was governor before. At the time he called for a 25 percent reduction in personal water use statewide and lobbied Washington for federal aid.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown addresses the media at Fresno City Hall on Tuesday, Jan. 14. The Fresno Bee/Eric Paul Zamora

January 14, 2014
Darrell Steinberg says Kevin de León will lead Senate

SteinbergKDL.jpgCalifornia Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said today that "it is clear" Sen. Kevin de León will be the next leader of the state Senate.

"I think he will be a great leader. He's adept at both the policy and the political side," Steinberg said as he and de León emerged from a meeting of Senate Democrats this afternoon, in which the majority party discussed leadership of the house but did not take a formal vote.

"It was a good conversation and the caucus embraced my message. I think we're well on our way. I support Kevin very strongly," Steinberg said.

Steinberg said he told fellow Democrats that he intends to remain the leader of the state Senate until his term ends in November, and that he will call for a vote on de Leon's leadership after the budget is complete in June. It remains unclear whether another candidate will emerge, although Steinberg said he doesn't anticipate anyone else jumping into the race.

"I'm looking forward to leading when my time comes up," said de León, D-Los Angeles.

"I'm deeply honored to have his support and the support of my colleagues. I love the Senate."

The announcement came a day after Sen. Mark DeSaulnier said he was pulling out of the race because he plans to run for Congress this year. The Democrat from Concord is running for the seat vacated by Rep. George Miller, who announced his retirement Monday.

De León said Tuesday that DeSaulnier had given him his support.

Both de León and Steinberg have been accused by their colleague, Sen. Ron Calderon, of being the focus of an FBI sting. They refuted the allegation again Tuesday, saying Calderon is the sole target of the federal corruption investigation.

PHOTO: Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, left, congratulates Sen. Kevin de León as they leave the Democratic caucus this afternoon. The Sacramento Bee/Laurel Rosenhall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 18, 2013
Key deadlines nearing for new healthcare coverage


Peter V. Lee, the head of the state's health insurance exchange, said the pace of registration has quickened as customers face a series of deadlines.

Roughly 15,000 consumers a day were signing up for coverage the first two days of last week.

"We are seeing huge interest," Lee said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday, adding that more people were becoming familiar with Covered California.

Customers who want their coverage for doctors' appointments and prescription drugs to start next month must select plans by Monday and pay their first premium by Jan. 6. The next enrollment deadline is Jan. 15 for coverage to begin Feb. 1. For those customers, a payment is due Jan. 28.

The first open enrollment period runs through March 31.

Lee likened the progress thus far to being in the first inning of a nine-inning game. He noted some trends to emerge since the exchange launched for business Oct. 1.

While some 55 percent of enrollees complete the process in one day, creating an account and selecting their plans, that still means about 45 percent of the applicants take longer, he said.

About 75 percent take a full week to come on board.

Covered California also is seeing major differences in the plans chosen by people with federal premium assistance versus those who pay full freight. About two-thirds of the customers with subsidies select a silver plan and 18 percent pick a bronze plan.

For those without subsidies, the breakdown is evenly spread across bronze, silver, gold and platinum. Higher-valued metals correspond with the higher the percentage of expenses paid for by the plans.

"They want to buy what they think is the best deal for them," Lee said.

PHOTO: Kristy Farrington, a student at Sacramento State University, looks at a pamphlet with information on Covered California on Oct. 16, 2013.

December 11, 2013
Feds: More than 100K select health insurance plans in California


About 107,000 Californians have obtained health insurance plans offered by the state's insurance marketplace, according to the latest figures Wednesday.

Officials with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a report that spans the launch of the exchange through November 30. Covered California has scheduled a more detailed airing of the figures Thursday.

The federal report showed a marked increase in enrollment nationwide since officials ironed out many of the kinks that have plagued activity on

Some 364,682 people selected a plan during the first two months of the initial open enrollment period. The figures include people who have yet to pay their first premium.

For California, the report includes two days of duplicate activity - Nov. 1-2 -- that have yet to be verified by the state and were removed from the total. In all, 158,435 of the residents were eligible to enroll in a plan with financial assistance.

PHOTO: President Barack Obama speaks about the new health care law during a White House Youth Summit, in the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington. Associated Press/Carolyn Kaster


Capitol Alert Staff

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

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

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

David Siders David Siders covers the Brown administration. Twitter: @davidsiders

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

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

Jeremy White Jeremy B. White covers the Legislature. Twitter: @capitolalert

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

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

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