Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

July 3, 2014
Huff, Steinberg tangle over press access to chambers


With the subject of his ire working in the press bay, Senate Republican leader Bob Huff of Diamond Bar called for the removal of a liberal documentary journalist on Thursday, saying only accredited media are allowed to access the floor of the chambers.

"I would ask that the sergeant at arms enforce the rules of the Senate," Huff said,

The office of Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, had issued a one-day pass to James Gannon, who trekked to Sacramento from Los Angeles with the group 99Rise as part of their effort to get money out of politics.

Steinberg said Huff's concern was cloaked in the mantel of order and process, but was motivated by his displeasure with the journalist's political views. A conservative blogger like Jon Fleischman of the FlashReport would not have generated that kind of fury, he said.

Two years ago, Steinberg came under heavy criticism and later apologized after canceling television access to a hearing on a ballot measure to hike sales and income taxes.

"Whether it is the FlashReport, or a blogger which supports repeal of Citizen's United, I say as the leader of this chamber 'I welcome you all, so long as you act respectfully,'" Steinberg said, adding lawmakers have agreed to review the rules amid the changing media landscape. "In the meantime, we should err on the side of embracing freedom of the press."

Gannon, who said his background was in producing national cable news, told The Bee that he marched with the group before deciding it best to operate as independent media. Gannon said he wanted to be there to capture the spirit of the legislative process and that his final product would be a work of documentary journalism.

"The intention of my coverage is to be objective," he said.

99Rise organized the march to protest "out-of-control political spending of a small, wealthy elite." It is among the supporters of a bill that passed the Senate Thursday to place on the fall ballot an advisory measure calling for federal action to overturn Citizens United.

Huff insists the group and the reporter's politics have nothing to do with the discussion. Through a spokesman, he said he worried that the chambers were devolving into a political photo-op for groups that want to use the content obtained there to further their own agendas.

"I am ashamed," Huff said. "Change the rules; then we abide by them."

PHOTO: James Gannon, a liberal documentary journalist with ties to the group 99Rise, captures footage of the Senate floor session Thursday. The Sacramento Bee/Christopher Cadelago.

March 27, 2014
Pressure mounts on Leland Yee to leave Senate

Yee_desk.JPGA day after Democratic state Sen. Leland Yee of San Francisco was charged with corruption and conspiracy to traffic weapons, the state Senate's Republican leader introduced a resolution to suspend him and California's two U.S. senators called on him to resign.

"The allegations against Senator Yee are shocking. It has become clear he has lost the confidence of his colleagues and for the good of his constituents should step down," said a statement from U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer said in a statement that she agreed with Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg's demand Wednesday that Yee step down.

"If these allegations are true, they are beyond outrageous," Boxer's statement said.

The state Senate's Republican Leader, Bob Huff, introduced a resolution calling for the Senate to suspend Yee, an action that would require a majority vote of the 40-member house.

"We need to act decisively in order to begin restoring the public's trust," Huff said in a statement. "Senate Republicans agree with Senate President pro Tem Steinberg that Leland Yee is not welcome here anymore and he must resign from the Senate or face swift suspension by his colleagues."

Huff also called on the Steinberg-led Senate Rules Committee to act on two other resolutions he wrote that would suspend two other disgraced senators, Ron Calderon of Montebello and Rod Wright of Baldwin Hills, who are both Democrats. A grand jury last month indicted Calderon on corruption charges. In January, a Los Angeles jury found Wright guilty of eight felonies for lying about his residence when he ran for the Senate in 2008.

Huff had asked for the Senate to suspend Wright and Calderon a few weeks ago but Steinberg blocked a vote on the measures by sending them to the Rules Committee.

"While I appreciate Senator Steinberg's assurances that 'neither Calderon nor Wright are coming back,' we must treat all three equally," Huff's statement says.

"Only then can the Senate move beyond this dark cloud of ethics violations and corruption."

The Senate is scheduled to meet Friday at 9 a.m.

PHOTO: State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, speaks to members of the press in his office at the Capitol in Sacramento on February 14, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

March 10, 2014
Democrats block GOP move to suspend Wright and Calderon


For the third time in less than two weeks, Democrats in the California state Senate have blocked Republican attempts to formally oust two Democratic senators who are involved in criminal cases.

The latest move came Monday after Senate Republican leader Bob Huff introduced two resolutions, one calling for the Senate to suspend Sen. Rod Wright and the other to suspend Sen. Ron Calderon. Republicans have previously asked for Wright to be dismissed but Monday was the first time they asked for a vote on Calderon's fate in the Senate. The resolutions, SR 34 and SR 35, call for temporarily removing the senators, with pay, until their legal cases are resolved.

Wright, of Baldwin Hills, has been found guilty of eight felonies including perjury for lying about whether he lives in the Inglewood-area district he represents. Calderon, of Montebello, has been indicted by a federal grand jury on 24 counts related to corruption. Both men are on a voluntary paid leave of absence from the Senate.

"I believe we should have the opportunity to weigh in on something that is not breaking new ground... it's merely out there and codifying what's already been done," said Huff, of Diamond Bar.

Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat from Sacramento, called the resolutions a waste of time and ordered them sent to the Rules Committee, where they could permanently stall.

"Another day here on the floor of the Senate, another drill," Steinberg said. "Senators Wright and Calderon have already left the building."

The Senate voted 22-12, largely along party lines, to support Steinberg's maneuver to delay action on the resolutions. Sen. Ted Lieu, a Torrance Democrat running for Congress, and Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, a Stockton Democrat in a competitive district, joined Republicans in the vote.

Monday's votes followed an attempt on Thursday by Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, to permanently expel Wright, which Steinberg quickly shot down, and a similar effort by Anderson and three fellow Republicans the week before.

PHOTO: Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento speaks with Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff on Thurs., Feb, 27, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

February 27, 2014
Senate Dems delay Republican move to expel Rod Wright

Knight.JPGSenate Democrats delayed debate on a resolution to expel Sen. Rod Wright today by moving a Republican proposal to the Rules Committee, where it could permanently stall.

Sen. Steve Knight, a Republican from Palmdale, introduced a resolution to expel Wright from the Senate because a jury found him guilty of eight felonies last month for lying about living in the district he represents.

"This will be precedent setting," Knight said as debate on his measure was being quashed on a 21-13, mostly party-line vote.

"We have gone past any time period where someone has been convicted of a felony and not resigned."

Wright went on a paid leave of absence on Tuesday and has been removed from his committee assignments. Democratic Senate leader Darrell Steinberg has said he does not want the Senate to permanently oust Wright unless a judge upholds the jury's verdicts at his sentencing, now scheduled for May 16. Wright is planning to ask the judge to overturn the jury's verdicts.

"Senator Wright has already left the building," Steinberg said during a speech on the floor, adding that he would not come back unless the judge overturns the jury's verdict against him.

Steinberg said that several Republican senators face allegations that they do not live in the districts they represent. He looked toward Senate Republicans as he quoted a passage from the New Testament in which Jesus says, "Let he who is without sin among you cast the first stone."

PHOTO: Sen. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale during session in the Senate chambers in Sacramento, Calif. on Monday, March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

June 13, 2013
Delayed release of budget bills angers Republican senators

20120104_PK_LEGISLATURE 0602.JPGWhen Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, introduced a motion in the Senate on Thursday to move the budget trailer bills to the floor, it sparked heated debate from several Republican senators.

Senate Republican leader Bob Huff, Sen. Bill Emmerson, R-Hemet, and Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, all urged the Senate not to send the bills out of committee without a public hearing.

Huff accused Senate Democrats of wanting "to skip another step" and questioned the fairness of the process. Without public debate, Huff said, the budget would not be a fair representation of the people's needs.

"Colleagues, ask yourself how comfortable you are with a final product produced by three people in a closed room that neither you, nor your constituents, have had a chance to review," Huff said.

Emmerson voiced similar concerns about what he called a "shameful" process, telling his colleagues that "the people of California deserve better."

Nevertheless, the motion passed 23-9. Links to the trailer bills were later posted online and are listed here. The Senate is expected to take up the budget Friday morning.

RELATED POST: Help us examine California's budget bills

PHOTO: Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, and then state Sen. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, talk during a Senate session in Sacramento in January 2012. The Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.

May 30, 2013
California Senate passes modified state tax break for investors

AP_Ted_Lieu_2012.jpgLegislation that would partially reinstate a tax break for investors in small California companies cleared the state Senate on Thursday despite complaints from some senators that it doesn't go far enough and others that it goes too far.

The tax break - a 50 percent exclusion from state income taxes on capital gains from investments in certain businesses - was enacted two decades ago, but a state appeals court last year declared it unconstitutional because it limited the benefit to California firms.

The Franchise Tax Board then declared that taxpayers who had taken advantage of the break in recent years would have to repay the tax savings, plus penalties and interest. That generated an outcry from business groups that said the move would discourage investment in job-creating business.

Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, introduced Senate Bill 209 to reinstate a modified tax break and protect those who got the tax savings from the repayment demands.

May 14, 2013
VIDEO: Republicans react to 2013 California budget revision

gorellrevise.JPGRepublicans in California have taken to aligning themselves more with the fiscally cautious budget priorities of Gov. Jerry Brown than with their Democratic colleagues in the Legislature, and party leaders had some tentative praise for the governor's revised 2013-2014 budget on Tuesday morning.

Assembly Budget Committee Vice Chair Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo, said it was "appropriate for the governor to have conservative revenue projections" given that a surge of surplus revenue is "probably short-lived." But he criticized Brown for moving to scale back enterprise zones, saying the proposal would undercut businesses who had "relied on this program in good faith," and called on the governor to dedicate more reserves as a cushion against a future downturn.

"To truly preserve the legacy for any sort of austerity for the governor, he needs to identify a very hard and fast, solid rainy day fund into which revenues are placed when they come in over projections so we can use those to buffer the peaks and troughs or the fits and starts of California financing and budgeting we've had over the last twenty years," Gorell said.

January 14, 2013
Watch: Kevin Yamamura, lawmakers talk budget

The release last week of Gov. Jerry Brown's 2013-2014 budget proposal has kept reporters busy, particularly Capitol Alert's resident budget expert, Kevin Yamamura.

In the video below, Kevin hosts a California Connections discussion analyzing whether this budget marks California moving beyond the era of gaping budget deficits. He is joined by Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff; Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, who sits on the Budget and Fiscal Review Committee, and H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for California's Department of Finance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 23, 2012
Bid to overhaul California environmental law falls short

A late-hour bid by business interests and some lawmakers to overhaul the California Environmental Quality Act fell apart this afternoon, with Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg saying the upper house will not take up the measure before the legislative session ends next week.

"The Senate will not take up comprehensive CEQA reform in the last days of the legislative session," Steinberg told reporters at the Capitol. "This law, for all of its strengths and its faults, is far too important to rewrite in the last days of the session."

The announcement cheered environmentalists, who had been lobbying furiously against the bill. The proposal would have limited the reach of California's signature environmental law, insulating from litigation certain projects that comply with a city general plan or other planning document for which an environmental review already has been done.

"I'm relieved," said Sierra Club California director Kathryn Phillips, who called the bill "one of the worst attacks on environmental protections that we've seen in the 40-year life of this law."

August 8, 2012
Republicans call for former State Parks director to testify about financial problems

From Matt Weiser:

Republican leaders in the Legislature on Wednesday called for former State Parks director Ruth Coleman and others to testify about financial problems at the agency.

In a letter to Democratic majority leaders, the authors list at least 17 people they want to testify. They specifically name 11, some of whom departed in the wake of the fiscal scandal, including Coleman, her chief deputy Michael Harris, former administrative deputy director Manuel Harris, and chief counsel Ann Malcolm.

The letter was signed by Senate Republican leader Bob Huff of Diamond Bar; Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway of Tulare; Bill Emmerson of Hemet, vice-chair of the Senate Budget & Fiscal Review Committee; and Jim Nielsen of Gerber, vice-chair of the Assembly Budget Committee.

"It is essential that we thoroughly investigate and remedy the special fund budgeting process to prevent such abuses in the future," they wrote.

The letter is meant to guide oversight hearings now being planned by the Legislature to get to the bottom of the scandal, in which it was discovered State Parks had hidden nearly $54 million in two special funds for at least 12 years. Last year, Lopez also carried out an unauthorized vacation buyout program for parks headquarters employees that cost taxpayers more than $270,000.

The four lawmakers also specify that they want leaders to testify from other key agencies, including finance, the controller's office, the attorney general and personnel administration.

February 24, 2012
Jerry Brown calls GOP senators 'petty' in CSU confirmation spat

WASHINGTON -- Gov. Jerry Brown said today that Senate Republicans are getting "a little petty" in their unwillingness to confirm the appointment of Herbert L. Carter as chairman of the California State University Board of Trustees.

"They don't have much power left, so when they can take a shot, they will," the Democratic governor told reporters after meeting with governors and President Barack Obama in Washington.

Brown said he has "no idea" if Republicans will also move to block his appointment of Steve Glazer, Brown's political adviser, to the CSU board.

But, Brown said, the "reserve of good appointments is very large," adding that he is "prepared to make annual appointments if they're unprepared to collaborate."

January 18, 2012
VIDEO -- Rapid Response Roundup: State of the State

Gov. Jerry Brown began his speech Wednesday by chiding Republican lawmakers who responded a little too rapidly to his State of the State address. Assembly Republican leader Connie
and Senate Republican leader Bob Huff put out their videotaped response a day earlier.

"I noticed that Connie and Mr. Huff put out their critique of my speech 24 hours ago," Brown said. "I'll let you in on a little secret -- my speech wasn't finished 24 hours ago."

Given what he called their "powers of precognition and clairvoyance," Brown said he planned to check with Conway and Huff on some stock tips after the speech.

"We could use them -- especially the state," he said.

Here's an assortment of responses that arrived after Brown stopped talking:


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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