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.

July 2, 2014
Could it be Supreme Court Justice Darrell Steinberg?


With the end nearing this fall of Senate leader Darrell Steinberg's long career representing Sacramento in the state Legislature, a political guessing game of sorts has emerged in the capital city: What Will Darrell Do?

In earlier rounds, the Sacramento Democrat has said he'd explore running for Sacramento district attorney (he didn't), Sacramento mayor (he still could) and California attorney general (didn't happen). Steinberg has said he would not challenge incumbents Mayor Kevin Johnson, who could run again in 2016, or Attorney General Kamala Harris, who is now running for her second term.

In the latest iteration of the game, Ventura County Star Columnist Timm Herdt makes the case that Gov. Jerry Brown should appoint Steinberg to fill one of two openings on the California Supreme Court. Herdt praised Steinberg as the "most productive legislative leader" since term limits were imposed, and argued for his broad expertise in state law and his skill as a consensus-builder.

Herdt wrote that Steinberg -- who worked as an employee-rights lawyer and an administrative law judge before being elected to the Legislature -- would be a "soberly creative" choice for Brown.

As for the possibility of a Mayor Steinberg? Herdt says it's "a position for which he seems overqualified."

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown, listens to Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, before delivering his State of the State address on Jan. 18, 2012. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

June 16, 2014
Senate investigations probe sergeant-at-arms shooting

The California Senate will spend more than $40,000 on private contractors to investigate security concerns raised by an in-house law enforcement officer who was found to have used cocaine and marijuana the night he was involved in a fatal off-duty shooting.

In March, attorney Sue Ann Van Dermyden and threat assessment expert James Cawood completed their investigation of issues raised by the December 2012 shooting outside the Sacramento home of Gerardo Lopez, who was a sergeant-at-arms for the Senate until he was fired last month. The investigators billed the Senate $41,486 for the work, according to information provided by Mark Hedlund, spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

The results of their investigation fall under attorney-client privilege and will not be released by the Senate, Hedlund said.

"The Senate is now in the process of drafting new, updated operating procedures and codes of conduct for the Sergeant-at-Arms office," Hedlund said in a statement.

Steinberg fired Lopez after The Sacramento Bee raised questions about court testimony that showed Lopez had used illegal drugs the night he engaged in a gunfight outside his house that left three people injured and one man dead. The Senate's chief sergeant-at-arms, Tony Beard, stepped down from his position after it came out that he had withheld information from Steinberg about the toxicology report showing Lopez had used cocaine and marijuana that night. Prosecutors consider Lopez the victim of a home invasion and are charging three people with robbery in a case scheduled to go to trial this week.

The incident triggered fear among some Senate employees, as well as allegations that Lopez benefitted from nepotism in holding on to his job as long as he did. His mother, Dina Hidalgo, is the Senate's head of human resources.

The Legislature's lawyers, known as the Legislative Counsel Bureau, signed a contract with outside attorneys on May 28 to investigate the claims of nepotism, according to the information from Hedlund. That work went to Heather Irwin of the Gordon & Rees law firm. Her hourly rate is $325 but she has not yet billed the Legislature, Hedlund said.

"She was told the target date of completion was mid-June. However about one week ago, she asked for more time because she had not yet been able to complete her final interviews," Hedlund's statement says.

"We believe that will happen shortly and she will then be able to complete the report."


Editor's note: This post was updated at 9:45 p.m. to say three people were injured in the shooting outside Lopez's home.

June 5, 2014
Jerry Brown, lawmakers mull incentives to land Tesla factory

Brown_signing_bills.JPGGov. Jerry Brown and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg are floating the possibility of regulatory changes or financial incentives to persuade Tesla Motors Inc. to build a massive battery factory in California, one of several states competing to host the facility.

Steinberg, D-Sacramento, will introduce so-called "intent" language Thursday regarding locating a large battery factory in the state, according to a Brown administration official and Sen. Ted Gaines, R-Roseville, who is working with Steinberg on the legislation.

The bill is only a marker, but it signals to Tesla the significance of the $5 billion factory to the Brown administration and lawmakers. Bill language is expected to suggest the possibility of financial incentives or regulatory changes, but it will not say what those might be.

Tesla, which makes luxury electric cars, is considering several states for the location of its "Gigafactory," which is expected to employ about 6,500 workers at full build-out. The Palo Alto-based company has said the factory likely will be built out of state.

The effort by Brown and lawmakers is not specific to a bid in Sacramento County to locate the battery factory at Mather Airport's business park.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

The bill comes after Toyota recently announced plans to close its Torrance headquarters. Brown, who is seeking re-election, has been criticized by Republicans for what they say is California's overly burdensome regulatory climate.

Gaines said the Tesla conversations are bipartisan.

"We ought to be doing everything we can to retain that factory within the borders of California," he said.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown signs bills in Sacramento on March 24, 2011 as Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco look on. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

May 14, 2014
Steinberg pushes for more spending in budget negotiations


Senate leader Darrell Steinberg said Wednesday that Gov. Jerry Brown's revised state budget doesn't do enough to acknowledge the Californians who have been damaged by years of program cuts and suggested the state could divert more money to them by taking a different approach to setting aside money for the rainy-day fund.

The Sacramento Democrat said he will continue to push for expanding California's public preschool program as the Legislature negotiates the state budget with Brown in the coming weeks. He also called out funding for courts, universities and Medi-Cal reimbursement as areas he thinks are inadequate in the budget proposal Brown released Tuesday.

"We have more than lifted to meet the governor's agenda, and his top priority on this. It's time that he do a little lifting as well to help meet our priorities," Steinberg said to reporters.

"It's a two-way street."

Brown's budget sets aside $3.7 billion in reserves and debt payments, Steinberg said. But California could instead set aside $2.4 billion for those purposes, he said, by applying the formula laid out in the rainy-day fund agreement legislative leaders have negotiated with Brown. That approach, if it passes the Legislature, will go before voters this November.

"So when the question gets asked, 'Where are you going to find the money?' Here is a place to start," Steinberg said of the $1.3 billion difference.

Proposition 58, approved by voters in March 2004, requires an annual transfer of 3 percent of general fund revenue to the Budget Stabilization Account. The requirement has been suspended in all but one year, though.

Brown's budget sets aside 3 percent of revenue — half of the money would go to paying off debt-refinancing bonds approved along with Prop. 58 and the other half would be saved.

"What it appears the Pro Tem is suggesting is that instead of a 3 percent deposit, a deposit of 1.5 percent of general fund revenues be made into the Budget Stabilization Account," Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer said. "The governor's budget — both in January and as revised in May — makes that 3 percent deposit as required by Proposition 58, and does not reflect a suspension of that transfer."

PHOTO: Senate leader Darrell Steinberg presents his idea for a rainy-day fund approach to reporters on May 14, 2014.

May 6, 2014
VIDEO: Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Tony Beard retires amid controversy


Tony Beard, the long-time head of the California Senate's in-house law enforcement unit, announced his retirement Tuesday following the revelation that he withheld information from Senate leader Darrell Steinbergabout drug use by a Senate sergeant.

Steinberg fired the employee, Sergeant-at-Arms Gerardo Lopez, after The Sacramento Bee raised questions about court testimony that describes Lopez having cocaine and marijuana in his system the night he was involved in an off-duty gunfight that left three people injured and one man dead.

Steinberg said he first learned of Lopez's toxicology report last week from The Bee. But before he fired Lopez late Thursday, Steinberg said he met with Beard, who confirmed that he had known that a toxicology report showed Lopez had consumed illegal drugs the night in December 2012 when he participated in a shootout outside his Greenhaven-area home.

"He thought at the time that he couldn't disclose the information because he heard it through the process of a confidential investigation," Steinberg spokesman Mark Hedlund said.

"He understands that he made an error in judgment on that."

Beard's departure from the $171,480 per year job marks the end of a 46-year career in the state Senate, including 34 as its chief sergeant-at-arms. Beard, 64, is stepping down immediately as the chief sergeant-at-arms and will begin his retirement later this summer, Hedlund said.

In a letter to Steinberg, Beard said he had "always acted with integrity, dedication and the utmost loyalty to the state Senate and the people of California. To leave a lifelong career is not an easy decision. But nature itself suggests to us when it is time to go. A new eye is needed. A fresh start is necessary."

The criminal case stemming from the shooting outside Lopez's home is heading to trial next month in Sacramento. Prosecutors consider Lopez the victim of a home invasion and are charging three men with robbing his house. Testimony in a preliminary hearing revealed that the shooting happened after Lopez and his wife, Jennifer Delao -- who is a secretary in Steinberg's policy unit -- had invited friends over for a party after a night out at a bar.

Steinberg issued a statement:

"Tony Beard has served California's Legislature with great distinction and honor for more than four decades. Throughout his tenure as Chief, he has raised the standards of the Senate Sergeants-at-Arms office and brought more diversity to his staff. His exemplary service deserves recognition and celebration, which we will do at the appropriate time.

"With Tony's pending retirement, I am asking that effective immediately, Deputy Chief Sergeant-at-Arms Katrina Rodriguez become the interim Chief until such time as the Senate Rules Committee elects a new Chief Sergeant-at-Arms."

Steinberg met with reporters after Tuesday's announcement, saying, "I am dealing with the business that I need to deal with here." See video below.

Editor's note: This post has been changed to correct a grammatical error.

PHOTO: Tony Beard, the state Senate's chief sergeant at arms, escorts FBI agents to Senator Ron Calderon's office in the Capitol on June 4, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Jose Luis Villegas.

May 2, 2014
Darrell Steinberg fires Senate peace officer for drug use


Senate leader Darrell Steinberg fired a Capitol peace officer late Thursday, after The Sacramento Bee asked legislative officials about court records showing the officer had cocaine in his system when he was involved in a December 2012 gunfight that left three people injured and one man dead.

Gerardo Lopez was a sworn peace officer and a member of the Senate's in-house law enforcement unit known as the sergeant-at-arms office. An employee of the Senate since 1999, Lopez lost his job roughly seven months after a preliminary hearing in Sacramento Superior Court revealed that he had consumed cocaine and marijuana the night he participated in the fatal shootout in front of his house.

Steinberg's office released the following statement late Thursday:

"This afternoon, the Senate president pro tem was briefed by the Senate's sergeant-at-arms about the details of an ongoing investigation concerning a law enforcement officer employed in the Senate. During that briefing, the Senate president pro tem was informed for the first time that a toxicology report referenced in court documents showed the presence of illegal substances in the employee's blood-stream. The employee, when questioned, confirmed the presence of illegal substances, notwithstanding the disputed circumstances under which they were consumed."

"While the facts in the case will be determined by the court, the presence of an illegal substance fall well below the standards expected of a law enforcement officer in the Senate. At the Senate president pro tem's direction, the employee's service in the Senate has been terminated, effective immediately."

PHOTO: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, on March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

April 23, 2014
Californians like Common Core education, finance overhaul

schoolkids.JPGTwo major changes in California's public education system - adoption of "Common Core" academic standards and giving extra money to school districts with large numbers of poor and/or English learner students - seem to have gained favor with the state's residents.

A new poll by the Public Policy Institute of California tested the two changes now underway, along with a number of other education-related issues.

The poll found that 69 percent of adults support the Common Score approach to teaching, a system that's being adopted by a majority of the states as a way of ensuring that students leave public schools with skills in a variety of areas.

The change has been controversial, especially in other states, with those on the political right complaining that it will lead to federal control of school curricula. The concept was promoted by a bipartisan coalition of governors to replace the state-by-state determinations of what should be taught, how instruction should be given and how academic progress should be assessed.

The PPIC survey found that support was over 50 percent among all political subgroups but Democratic support was highest at 72 percent, while that among Republicans was 60 percent and among independents, 61 percent.

April 4, 2014
Steinberg invites constituents to meet him in Land Park

It's not Torrey Pines.

But the outing to the Land Park golf course that Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg has scheduled for Sunday won't set you back $65,000 either.

That's how much donors were asked to give the California Democratic Party to send a party of four to the Pro Tem Cup this weekend at Torrey Pines, where politicians mingle with lobbyists at San Diego's glamorous seaside golf course.

Steinberg canceled the annual fundraiser earlier this week, saying the corruption charges against his fellow Democratic Sens. Ron Calderon and Leland Yee have tainted the routine of raising money. A third Democrat, Sen. Rod Wright, has been found guilty of eight felonies for lying about where lived when he ran for office.

"It's no secret that the Senate has been hurt recently by the charges brought against three senators," Steinberg wrote in an invitation asking Sacramento constituents to join him -- for free -- at the Land Park golf course on Sunday to talk about state policy.

"But it's important -- despite the acts of a few individuals -- that you know I am here to serve, to do the hard unglamorous work of fixing tough public-policy problems and most importantly, to do it the right way."

The event is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. at Swanson's Grove in the William Land Golf Course, 1701 Sutterville Road, Sacramento.

PHOTO: A golfer plays at the William Land Park Golf Course in Sacramento in February 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo

April 1, 2014
California Senate Dems cancel annual golf fundraiser

Reeling from a spate of political scandals, leaders in the California Senate have canceled the Pro Tem Cup, a major fundraiser scheduled for this Friday where lobbyists typically mingle with legislators at the Torrey Pines golf course near San Diego to raise money for the California Democratic Party.

Given the taint political fundraising has garnered with the arrest last week of Sen. Leland Yee — coming on the heels of Sen. Ron Calderon being indicted on corruption charges and a record-setting FPPC fine for Sacramento lobbyist Kevin Sloat for hosting lavish fundraisers — Democrats in the Senate were eager to separate themselves from the exchange of money.

"These are unprecedented times and they demand that we take a step back and take stock of how we all do the people's business and balance it against the demands of running for office," said a joint statement from Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and future leader Sen. Kevin de León.

Instead of attending the Pro Tem Cup, Senate Democrats "intend to spend this weekend in our districts having an open and public conversation with our constituents about the work ahead for this Legislature and for this State," the statement said.

The Senate took the unprecedented step last week of suspending three of its members, all Democrats, accused of felonies: Yee is accused of taking bribes from undercover FBI agents to put toward his now-aborted campaign for secretary of state and a failed run for San Francisco mayor in 2011, as well as conspiring to traffic weapons. Calderon is accused of taking bribes from an undercover agent and a hospital executive. Sen. Rod Wright was found guilty by a jury of lying about where he lived when he ran for the Senate in 2008.

"While the Legislature as a whole cannot be held responsible for the bad acts of three individual members, we do bear a high and profound responsibility to do all we can to repair the excruciating breach of public confidence they left behind," says the statement from Steinberg and de León.

Here is a video of the two senators talking to reporters Tuesday about their decision to cancel the event:

PHOTO: Senator Kevin de León, talks with Senate President Pro Temp Darrell Steinberg, during the first California Senate session Jan. 6, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

March 28, 2014
VIDEO: Steinberg: No 'gun-running' in Senate ethics training

Steinberg_Calderon_hearing.JPGLegislators never received ethics training about "gun running or other such sordid activities," California state Senate leader Darrell Steinberg noted during house debate Friday over whether to suspend three senators who have been accused of crimes including corruption, perjury and conspiracy to traffic weapons.

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 on November 12, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

VIDEO: The Sacramento Bee/Laurel Rosenhall

March 28, 2014
Senate to vote shortly on fates of Yee, Calderon and Wright


California Senate leader Darrell Steinberg moved to suspend three of his Democratic colleagues today who have been accused of crimes including corruption, perjury and conspiracy to traffic weapons.

Two of them — senators Ron Calderon of Montebello and Rod Wright of Baldwin Hills — have been on paid leaves of absence for roughly a month. But Steinberg said Thursday that the latest case involving Sen. Leland Yee has caused him to take things up a step by asking the Senate to cast a formal vote on the fate of their three disgraced colleagues. The senators would still be paid if suspended, because the Legislature's lawyers say they don't have the right to revoke pay unless a lawmaker is permanently expelled.

As the debate began, Steinberg said he understands the public concern.

"One is an anomaly. Two is a coincidence. Three?" he said. "I am calling on our entire body to take a deeper look at our culture."

He said he would cancel session on April 7 and conduct an "office-by-office ethics review."

Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, said Steinberg's move does not go far enough.

"Which is it today, more smoke a mirrors, more paid holidays for bad behavior?" he asked. "There should be only one measure on this floor...and that's to expel these members."

Yee, of San Francisco, became the latest state Senator to face criminal allegations when he was charged in federal court Wednesday with corruption and conspiracy to illegally import guns. A 137-page FBI affidavit alleges that Yee took numerous official actions as a legislator in exchange for contributions to his current campaign for secretary of state. The contributions, it turned out, were from undercover agents.

Yee was arrested Wednesday as part of a massive FBI sweep that involved more than two-dozen people accused of running guns, drugs, stolen liquor and cigarettes — and arranging murder for hire.

It was the latest turn in what's already been a tumultuous year for Democrats in the California Capitol. Last month, a federal grand jury in Los Angeles indicted Calderon on 24 counts of corruption. And in January, a Los Angeles jury found Wright guilty of perjury and voter fraud for lying about whether he lived in the district he represents.

Wright and Calderon both requested leaves of absence, so their colleagues in the Senate never actually cast a vote on their fate. Steinberg's move to suspend all three would require a majority vote by the Senate, and be an unprecedented action for the house.

A suspension is temporary, while expelling a legislator is a permanent ouster.

Steinberg said he does not think it's right to expel Calderon and Yee because they have not yet been found guilty. In Wright's case, Steinberg has said he is waiting to see if the judge upholds the jury's guilty verdict before taking an irrevocable action against him.

Steinberg plans to introduce a constitutional amendment that would allow the Legislature to suspend members without pay, though that would have to be approved by voters before it could take effect.

PHOTO: Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, left, speaks on a bill, while his seat mate Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, works at his desk inside the Senate chambers in January 2014. Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli.


Sen. Leland Yee arrested, Capitol office searched by FBI

Ex-con 'Shrimp Boy' linked to Yee arrest was honored by elected officials

Yee's arrest upends contest for California Secretary of State

VIDEO: FBI raids Sen. Leland Yee's office, carts away files

READ: 'Uncle Leland' involved in arms deal, FBI affidavit alleges

Yee criminal complaint "Word Cloud"

VIDEO: Steinberg says Yee arrest leaves him 'extremely disappointed and upset'

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 26, 2014
Darrell Steinberg to Leland Yee: Resign or be suspended


Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said he was shocked and sickened by the allegations brought against a member of his caucus Wednesday, saying Sen. Leland Yee has until Friday to resign from office or face certain suspension.

Flanked by at least 16 of his colleagues, Steinberg characterized the charges against Yee, D-San Francisco, as extraordinary and said they gathered together to express their anger and revulsion at the day's events.

He said while Yee is presumed innocent until proven guilty, the indictment itself is "sickening" and "surreal," comparing it to something out of a Hollywood movie. Yee would be stripped of his committee chairmanship and all of his committee assignments, Steinberg said.

"Leave," Steinberg told Yee, who is accused of conspiring to traffic in firearms and public corruption. "Don't burden your colleagues and this great institution with your troubles. Leave!"

"I am angry on behalf of the people and I am angry on behalf of the 37 other members whose hard work everyday on behalf of the people is being tarnished because of events outside of their control and outside of our control," he added.

Steinberg's caucus has been hit with a string of legal woes - including cases against Sens. Rod Wright of Baldwin Hills and Ron Calderon of Montebello.

Democratic Sens. Kevin de Leon of Los Angeles and Mark Leno of San Francisco took the opportunity to forcefully defend Stenberg given the growing number of scandals gripping his house.

"It is our good fortune that the leader of this house is exemplary, a pillar of integrity," Leno said. "Darrell Steinberg sets a tone and we all respond to that."

De Leon, the incoming Senate leader, echoed many of his colleagues.

"There is nothing that Darrell does that enables or creates conditions for this type of behavior in this great institution," de Leon said.

"Let me underscore and let me emphasize, this legislative body, specifically the Senate, has moved forward some of the most groundbreaking policy measures in the last few decades - in a generation," he added.

PHOTO: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento takes questions from members of the press earlier this month. (The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua)


Sen. Leland Yee arrested, Capitol office searched by FBI

Ex-con 'Shrimp Boy' linked to Yee arrest was honored by elected officials

Yee's arrest upends contest for California Secretary of State

VIDEO: FBI raids Sen. Leland Yee's office, carts away files

READ: 'Uncle Leland' involved in arms deal, FBI affidavit alleges

Yee criminal complaint "Word Cloud"

VIDEO: Steinberg says Yee arrest leaves him 'extremely disappointed and upset'

March 26, 2014
VIDEO: Steinberg says he's 'extremely disappointed and upset'
March 12, 2014
New ad campaign tells California parents to talk, read and sing


Jack and Jill's climb up the hill received a rare mention at a Capitol press conference Wednesday morning, as several legislators touted a new $9 million publicity campaign to get California parents to spend more time talking, reading and singing with their children.

That kind of face-to-face interaction between parents and small children helps young brains develop and leads to greater achievement later in life, according to research promoted by First 5 California, which uses money from cigarette taxes to offer services for children up to age 5.

The agency is required to spend 6 percent of its funds on mass media efforts. It's spending $9 million on an advertising campaign that launches statewide on Thursday pushing a simple message on parents: "Talk. Read. Sing."

Several wriggly toddlers sat through the unveiling of the ad campaign Wednesday that included Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva leading the room in reciting the Jack and Jill nursery rhyme.

"Why do you remember that? Because you were taught it," said Quirk-Silva, D-Fullerton.

"We have entered a decade where many of our favorite rhymes and songs have stopped being taught. We see people on their cell phones. We see people texting and they're not talking. I see moms with their strollers and they're not talking (to their children). They're talking on their phones."

Other legislators used the event to promote their bills on early childhood education. Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, plugged his SB 837 which would create public preschool for all 4-year-olds at a cost of at least $1 billion a year.

"By age 3 kids born into low-income families have heard roughly 30 million fewer words than their more affluent peers. That leaves many California children predestined for success or failure before they enter kindergarten," Steinberg said.

As he pointed to the front row of the press conference, where several parents tried to keep their children quiet with bottles and snacks, Steinberg said: "Parents, all parents, should understand that what they choose to do on a daily basis makes a huge difference. And these little ones are never too young to start learning."

PHOTO: Parents and children listen as legislators and advocates in the Capitol introduce a new ad campaign geared at them. The Sacramento Bee/Laurel Rosenhall

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

March 8, 2014
Darrell Steinberg pushes Jerry Brown on pre-kindergarten expansion

steinbergconvention.jpgLOS ANGELES - Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said Saturday that Senate Democrats will make pre-kindergarten a priority in budget negotiations with Gov. Jerry Brown this spring, calling last year's school funding overhaul inadequate to address shortcomings in public education.

"No funding formula will prevent a 16-year-old from dropping out of high school because she fell behind years earlier," Steinberg told delegates at the California Democratic Party's annual convention. "And no funding formula addresses the reality that the achievement gap is formed well before, well before children arrive in kindergarten."

Steinberg's remarks constituted a glancing response to Gov. Jerry Brown's continued focus on a school funding overhaul that shifts more money to low-income and English language learners. Brown has said he will consider any proposals by legislative Democrats to expand the state's pre-kindergarten program, but he did not propose funding for any such measure in his January budget plan.

Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and other legislative Democrats have proposed allowing every 4-year-old in the state to attend pre-kindergarten classes, at a potential cost of about $1 billion to the state general fund.

The pre-kindergarten proposal is one of several points of contention Brown is likely to have with members of his own party in the Legislature this year, with social service advocates and their liberal allies pushing him to approve increased spending.

Steinberg, who is terming out, said "there is plenty of unfinished business to take care of" at the Capitol this year.

He said, "This is our time."

PHOTO: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, addresses the California Democratic Party convention in Los Angeles on March 8, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

March 2, 2014
Ron Calderon to take indefinite leave from California Senate


Sen. Ron Calderon has agreed to take an indefinite leave of absence from the Senate, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg announced on Sunday.

Under the cloud of an FBI investigation, Calderon's presence in the Senate has been a source of controversy for months. Before a grand jury indicted Calderon on 24 felony counts last week, the Montebello Democrat had already surrendered his committee assignments.

Now he will exit the Senate for the foreseeable future. After Calderon's arraignment last Friday, Steinberg gave Calderon a week to resign, take a leave of absence or face an expulsion vote.

In a statement, Calderon stressed that he has not been convicted. He pleaded not guilty last week to a litany of charges that he had influenced legislation in exchange for bribes.

"This is not a resignation since I still have my day in court," Calderon said in a statement. "However, due to the nature and complexity of the charges, and the discovery materials that I will have to review, I expect this to be a lengthy period of absence continuing until the end of the session in August."

While he will not be eligible for the $163-a-day per diem payments lawmakers draw, Calderon will continue to receive a full salary.

Calderon will be the second Democratic senator in a matter of days to go on leave from the Senate amid legal troubles. Sen. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood, who has been convicted of eight felony counts stemming from lying about his residence, announced he would step away earlier this week.

With Calderon's departure, Democrats have fallen below the two-thirds majority that had allowed them to pass new taxes, move measures to the ballot and enact "urgency" bills without Republican assent.

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

February 20, 2014
Darrell Steinberg expected to introduce new tax on buying gas

gasprices.JPGSenate leader Darrell Steinberg is expected to introduce a controversial proposal today to place a new tax on drivers buying gas at the pump and divert the money to transit projects and tax credits for low- and middle-income Californians.

The proposal would remove an upcoming requirement that oil companies buy carbon credits for the fuels that they sell to consumers, while leaving in place the requirement that they enter the cap-and-trade market for pollution they produce at their refineries. That would be a change to California's landmark greenhouse gas reduction law known as Assembly Bill 32, written by Sen. Fran Pavley.

"This proposal will say, 'OK fuel sector, you don't have to... reduce your greenhouse gas emissions anymore,'" Pavley said.

"It pokes a big hole in the whole policy of AB 32, of treating all the major polluters equally."

Steinberg declined to talk about details of his proposal before his noon appearance at the Sacramento Press Club. This morning, he said only that he would be making an announcement concerning "climate change and poverty," and that he expected his proposal to spark a vigorous debate inside the Capitol.

Editor's note: This post was updated at 3:12 p.m. to clarify the impact of the proposal on oil companies.

February 19, 2014
Jerry Brown, legislative leaders to announce drought aid


Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders on Wednesday will unveil plans to spend roughly $680 million on efforts to alleviate the impacts of California's drought.

The proposal elaborates on a plan Senate leader Darrell Steinberg had been working on to expedite approval of water recycling and stormwater reuse projects by adding emergency food and housing assistance to farmworkers who will be out of work due to the drought, according to sources familiar with the legislation.

Today's announcement -- set for the Governor's Office of Emergency Services at Mather Field -- comes five days after Brown joined President Barack Obama on a visit to Fresno to talk to farmers about the drought and tout federal assistance including money for livestock losses, watershed protection and summer food programs.

The plan being announced today would direct roughly $475 million toward local governments that are ready to build drought alleviation projects. The money would come from Proposition 84, a water bond voters approved in 2006.

The bill also calls for spending roughly $50 million -- largely from a housing bond voters approved in 2006 -- to provide emergency food and shelter to people who are out of work because the farms they normally work on are fallow due to drought.

Another roughly $40 million from cap-and-trade funds would be spent on water efficiency projects that save energy, while roughly $80 million from a 2006 flood bond would be available for projects that prevent flooding while making more water available for dry times, such as infrastructure to capture storm water.

PHOTO: Farmer Tom Muller walks out to a fallow field at his farm in Woodland on February 13, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/ Randall Benton

Editor's note: This post was updated at 11:55 a.m. to delete a reference to a specific bill number.

January 15, 2014
Steinberg urges water bond for 2014 California ballot


With California into a third year of dry weather and several cities imposing restrictions on water use, the time has come for state leaders to "seriously consider" putting another water bond on the ballot, Senate leader Darrell Steinberg said today.

"I think what's going on now creates an urgency to seriously consider putting a bond on the ballot in 2014, and not later," Steinberg said.

The Legislature has twice deferred putting a water bond on the ballot since lawmakers approved doing so in 2009. Gov. Jerry Brown has been noncommittal about whether he thinks voters should be asked this year to approve bond spending on new water projects.

Steinberg said lawmakers need to work on re-writing a water bond for 2014 as well as spending money from prior bonds to address immediate needs.

"When it comes to giving our regions and our local governments the resources necessary to increase water supply, we need to look at those bonds," he said.

"And we ought to consider early in the session working together to appropriate whatever resources are necessary to help California through this particularly difficult time when it comes to water."

The Sacramento Democrat also said state leaders should re-think how they approach the controversial Bay Delta Conservation Plan, which would create two massive tunnels for moving water from north to south. He urged a focus first on measuring how much water could be saved through conservation, recycling and other means.

"That might help us define how much water needs to be ultimately available through an alternative facility around the Delta," Steinberg said.

Sacramento council votes to enact severe water restrictions

PHOTO: The American River as it flows through Sacramento is at its lowest flows since 1993. Shown here on January 11, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton
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

January 13, 2014
Mark DeSaulnier pulling out of race to lead California Senate

DeSaulnier.JPGState Sen. Mark DeSaulnier said he is pulling out of the race to become the next leader of the California Senate to instead pursue a seat in Congress.

"Can't do both," DeSaulnier said Monday afternoon, a few hours after announcing he plans to run this year for the Congressional seat of retiring Rep. George Miller.

DeSaulnier, a Democrat from Concord, and Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, had been the front-runners in a bid to become the next President pro Tem of the state Senate. Current Senate leader Darrell Steinberg is leaving office at the end of this year.

DeSaulnier declined to say whether he would urge his supporters to back de León.

"He came in and said, 'I'd like your support,'" DeSaulnier said of de León. "I told him I'd like to talk to my supporters and see what they think."

De León said the race remains an "ongoing process" and declined to make any predictions, saying just that he plans to talk further with DeSaulnier in hopes of gaining his support.

"He's a senator who I respect tremendously and I'm looking forward to that conversation," de León said.

PHOTO: Sen. Mark DeSaulnier on August 11, 2009. The Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo

January 7, 2014
California Senate Democrats call for universal pre-kindergarten


Declaring it a caucus priority for coming budget talks, Senate Democrats have introduced legislation that would make all four-year-olds eligible for pre-kindergarten classes.

The proposal builds upon a transitional kindergarten program that was part of a 2010 law requiring children to be older when they enroll in kindergarten. That program, though, covers only one-quarter of four-year-olds, about 120,000 children, whose birthdays fall within the last three months of the year.

Tuesday's proposal would phase in all four-year-olds over five years, at an estimated cost of $198 million annually. The total cost for 350,000 pre-kindergarten students would reach almost $1 billion annually by 2019-2020, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said at a news conference at Harkness Elementary School in south Sacramento.

Steinberg acknowledged the expense, but said universal pre-kindergarten was an appropriate way to spend some of California's expected budget surplus because students would benefit greatly.

"I am proud to call this wise spending in California," Steinberg said.

Elk Grove Police Chief Robert Lehner added that students who do well in school are less likely to commit crimes.

Assembly Democrats included universal pre-kindergarten for four-year-olds in a blueprint of budget priorities released last month. Their plan's phase-in is similar to Tuesday's proposal.

December 20, 2013
VIDEO: Steinberg plan would treat mentally ill criminals

Mentally ill criminals could get new resources for treatment under a $50 million proposal Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg unveiled on Thursday. Learn more about the Sacramento Democrat's latest plan in this video:

December 19, 2013
Steinberg proposes $50 million for treating mentally ill criminals


Democratic state Senate leader Darrell Steinberg wants California to spend $50 million on programs that try to keep mentally ill criminals from re-offending.

The proposed legislation calls for bringing back a program that existed for about 10 years in California. The "Mentally Ill Offender Crime Reduction Grant" program allows counties to apply for funding to support mental health courts, substance abuse treatment, and employment training programs. Those efforts would reduce recidivism and crowding in California jails, Steinberg said, and help mentally ill people become more stable.

"We are trying to bring back something that was a great success in the late 90s early 2000s that went away as a result of the budget cuts," Steinberg said during a press conference this morning, where he was backed by law enforcement and mental health care leaders.

"We do not have a specific funding stream dedicated to providing mental health services to people in jail that continue once they leave jail and get into the community... We had that before, prior to 2008. We want to reinstate that and make it part of our overall approach."

Steinberg said lawmakers should treat California's projected budget surplus with an approach that dedicates one-third to paying down debt, one-third to reserves and one-third to spending.

"We shouldn't be shy about saying that there are areas of public investment that we must make, that are important," he said.

Speaking in support of Steinberg's proposal today were Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson; Sacramento County's Chief Probation Officer Lee Seale; Sacramento County's mental health director Dorian Kittrel and Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna.

PHOTO: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, in March 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

November 14, 2013
VIDEO: Steinberg denies ties to hospital linked to FBI investigation


Senate leader Darrell Steinberg today rejected a fellow senator's claim that he is the target of an FBI corruption investigation and said allegations in Sen. Ron Calderon's most recent court filing are "beyond the pale."

"I am not a target of this investigation, I am not a subject of this investigation," Steinberg said in a talk with reporters outside the Capitol.

Calderon, a Democrat from Montebello, filed a motion late Wednesday asking the federal court to hold the FBI and US Attorney's Office in Los Angeles in contempt for leaking an affidavit that alleges he accepted $88,000 in bribes from an undercover agent and a Long Beach hospital executive.

November 13, 2013
Ron Calderon says FBI asked him to secretly record conversations with Steinberg, de León

Thumbnail image for MC_CALDERON_01.JPG

By Jim Miller and Christopher Cadelago

Lashing back at federal officials and Senate colleagues, state Sen. Ron Calderon contended in a federal filing late Wednesday that authorities leaked an FBI affidavit alleging that he took $88,000 in bribes after Calderon refused to participate in a sting operation targeting Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Sen. Kevin de León.

In Wednesday's filing in Sacramento federal court, Calderon contends that FBI agents and federal prosecutors repeatedly pressured him to wear a wire to secretly record conversations with Steinberg and de León.

The document alleges that agents told Calderon that they were investigating Steinberg's financial ties to Michael Drobt, the former chief executive officer of Pacific Hospital of Long Beach.

Calderon, though, said he returned the recording equipment unused. Soon after, on June 4, the filing says, FBI agents raided Calderon's Capitol office.

Steinberg said in a statement that the filing "is pure fantasy." De León declined comment. His office has previously said he was told he is not a target of the investigation.

Late last month, Al Jazeera America posted an FBI affidavit alleging that Calderon took $60,000 in bribes from an FBI agent posing as a film studio owner and $28,000 in bribes from Drobot.

Calderon alleges federal prosecutors attempted to convict him in the press through an orchestrated campaign of "illegal disinformation."

He said in the filing that critical facts regarding the federal government's activities were omitted or misrepresented, including that Steinberg and de León were "main targets of the investigation, for which Sen. Calderon was requested to be the FBI's informant."

Calderon also alleges that leaked sealed records are apparently the "modus operandi" for handling high-profile cases by Assistant U.S. Attorney Doug Miller's office, including one involving champion cyclist Lance Armstrong, who was accused of doping.

"The pattern of illegal leaks in cases handled by the AUSA-CDC has grown more brazen over the years culminating in the most flagrant and prejudicial violations yet with respect to Senator Calderon," the filing says. "There is a systematic and systemic pattern of contempt for secrecy rules in (Miller's) cases resulting in the complete corruption of the legal process and character assassination of his targets. This conduct is deeply disturbing given that (he) purports to represent the public corruption division within the AUSA's office."

Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles, said "We're not commenting tonight."

Calderon alleges the release of the sealed records has prejudiced any future grand jury and that he's faced irreparable harm. It cites Steinberg's comments at a hearing Tuesday where his rules committee stripped Calderon of his committee assignments as well as multiple instances of Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, calling on him to resign his seat.

"Despite the fact that no charges against Senator Calderon have been filed, Senator
Calderon's reputation has been irreparably damaged by the selective and illegal leak of the fabricated FBI affidavit which was ordered sealed," the filing states. "The presumption of innocence has been turned on its head."

Ronald S. Calderon v US Complaint, Nov. 13, 2013

October 28, 2013
VIDEO: Steinberg talks about trip to Switzerland

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and a small delegation of California state senators recently returned from a trip to Germany and Switzerland to learn about the way those countries teach high school. Today Steinberg visited Sacramento's Health Professions High School, where he talked about what he liked in the Swiss public education system:

October 28, 2013
Steinberg: Making high school relevant is 'top focus'


California high schools could see an infusion of new programs that link academics with career exposure to provide students a richer learning experience. That's the goal of a competitive $250 million grant process Senate leader Darrell Steinberg is promoting to schools and businesses.

The Sacramento Democrat joined several local education and business leaders at Health Professions High School today to highlight a piece of the 2013-14 state budget that he hopes will give high school a boost of relevancy by connecting students to the world of work. Steinberg encouraged schools and community colleges to collaborate with employers in their region and apply together for grants to create more opportunities for applied learning.

"We want business, we want lead industries to step up and see this not just as a philanthropic add-on or something that would be nice to do for kids, but to see this opportunity as the beginning of a change in our American culture," Steinberg said. "For business, helping educate and train the next century work force is an indispensable part of the bottom line."

High schools could use the grants, for example, to hire someone to serve as an internship coordinator to match students with businesses, or to train teachers to teach academic subjects in a more hands-on way that shows how they relate to careers.

Educators bill the approach as "linked learning," and hold up Sacramento's Arthur A. Benjamin Health Professions High School as an example. The school teaches a college-prep academic curriculum but blends it with preparation for careers in health care. During a tour, Steinberg visited an English class where students had read "The Hot Zone," a book about the Ebola virus, and were doing a project about its symptoms.

"Linked Learning students understand how their high school education relates to their next step and beyond," said Deborah Bettencourt, superintendent of the Folsom Cordova Unified School District.

August 28, 2013
Steinberg's prison plan asks for 3 more years to reduce population


California would get three more years to reduce its prison population to court-mandated levels while counties would get $200 million a year to expand drug treatment and mental health care for criminal offenders under a proposal Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg unveiled today that calls for settling a long-standing lawsuit against the state over its crowded prisons.

Steinberg presented the plan a day after Gov. Jerry Brown introduced legislation that calls for spending $315 million on additional prison beds to meet a federal court order to reduce crowding in the state's prisons by the end of this year. Brown's plan has the support of Republican leaders in the Legislature, Sen. Bob Huff and Assemblywoman Connie Conway, as well as Democratic Assembly Speaker John A. Perez.

But Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat, is advancing a counter proposal that seeks to address the problem of crowded prisons without paying for more prison space or the early release of inmates. More than a dozen Democratic state senators stood behind Steinberg as he presented his plan to the media this morning, including a spectrum of liberal and moderate Democrats.

In addition to the grants, Steinberg's plan also calls for creating an an Advisory Commission on Public Safety to examine changing California's sentencing laws and suggests that an independent state panel should evaluate and determine the appropriate population for California prisons based on prison practices across the country.

"We cannot build or rent our way out of overcrowded prisons," Steinberg said in a statement.

"Relying solely on more prison beds is repeating the same failed investments of the past. We need solutions rooted in effective strategies to reduce crime, and we need the time to implement these real reforms. That's where I hope the Governor and the plaintiffs will find common ground."

Steinberg's plan calls on the inmate advocates who sued the state over prison crowding to settle their lawsuit against the state by Sept. 13, the last day of the legislative session. His proposal is being put into a bill that will be heard in the Senate budget committee next week.

The legislative wrangling follow court rulings that prison conditions are inhumane, and an order that the state to alleviate crowding. Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an effort by Brown to delay a 2009 order that the state reduce its prison population to 137.5 percent of capacity. Steinberg's plan asks the plaintiffs in the lawsuit to give the state three more years to get the prison population down to that number.

He says his proposal to give counties grants for drug treatment and mental health care is modeled after a 2009 effort that reduced new prison admissions by more than 9,500 and saved $536 million over three years.

Lawyers representing the plaintiffs in the overcrowding cases issued a joint statement praising Steinberg's plan, saying they were "open to an extension of the date for compliance with the three judge court's order if an agreement produces an effective and sustainable approach that will resolve the chronic overcrowding problem in the state's prisons."

PHOTO: Senate President Pro Temp Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, in the Senate chambers on Monday, March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

August 14, 2013
Steinberg still trying to get California environmental law deal

JM_INFILL_TERRASSA_BUILD.JPGSenate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg told his fellow legislators Wednesday that he's still trying to find a middle ground on reforming the California Environmental Quality Act, but he's determined to enact something by the end of the legislative session next month.

"Let's get something done," Steinberg told the Assembly Local Government Committee.

On a 5-0 vote, the committee approved the current version of his reform measure, Senate Bill 731, on assurances that it's a "work in progress."

The current version still lacks support from business groups and some local governments seeking big changes in the four-decade-old law and union and environmental groups that oppose big changes. Gov. Jerry Brown has also made CEQA reform a major cause and has given Steinberg his own list of reforms.

July 10, 2013
VIDEO: Darrell Steinberg wants MICRA negotiations

Darrell_Steinberg_HA_031113.JPGSenate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg sat down with the Capitol press corps today for a chat on a variety of issues. One question that came up was about the 1975 law known as MICRA -- the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act -- which limits the amount courts can award victims of medical negligence for pain and suffering to $250,000.

It's an explosive issue in the state Capitol that pits lawyers against doctors -- two influential interest groups that few legislators want to cross.

Attorneys have mounted a publicity campaign to make the case that the the $250,000 cap needs to be lifted. Many lawyers won't take on medical malpractice cases, they argue, because the award limit is too low to make it worth their time. While the cost of everything else has risen in the last 38 years, they argue, the MICRA cap has not, leaving families with injured loved ones inadequately compensated for their duress. Consumer Attorneys of California and Consumer Watchdog say they plan to file an initiative this summer if the Legislature doesn't take action to lift the cap.

Doctors, hospitals and other medical groups take the opposite view. They say lifting the $250,000 cap on damages would make malpractice insurance more expensive, ultimately making health care more costly for consumers and causing some clinics to go out of business. The California Medical Association and other health groups are urging lawmakers to maintain the status quo.

Steinberg thinks the sides need to get together.

PHOTO: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, gestures during session in the Senate chambers in Sacramento on March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

VIDEO: Senate leader Darrell Steinberg talks to the Sacramento press corps on July 10, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Laurel Rosenhall

June 21, 2013
California cities ramp up fight against union wage bill

AA_NO_NATOMAS_FIRE_station_30_DRILL.JPGThe League of California Cities is ramping up its campaign to defeat a high-profile, union-sponsored bill aimed at preventing charter cities -- those with their own governing systems -- from bypassing the state's "prevailing wage" law on some construction projects.

The measure, Senate Bill 7, is being carried by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg on behalf of construction unions in response to a state Supreme Court decision. The court ruled that charter cities could build projects with their own money, not using any state funds, without requiring contractors to pay prevailing wages, which are generally those set by union contracts. It stemmed from a conflict over the construction of a fire station in Vista, a small San Diego County city.

June 21, 2013
Senators introduce constitutional amendment on California records law

California Budget Public Re (1).jpgSen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg on Friday introduced a measure to incorporate provisions of the California Public Records Act in the state's constitution.

Senate Constitutional Amendment 3 would require cities, counties and other local government agencies to comply with the records law and the Brown Act, which regulates public meetings, and exempts the state from having to pay local agencies the cost of carrying out the laws.

Leno and Steinberg first proposed amending the constitution to solve the ongoing controversy raised by a budget bill making optional several pieces of the records law.

Media and open government advocates balked at the changes the bill made to the law, warning that removing local agencies' legal obligation to comply could hinder the public's right to access government documents.

Leno and Steinberg favored amending the constitution as a permanent solution to problem.

"All of the provisions of the Public Records Act are critically important to preserving open government, and that is why they belong in the California Constitution," Leno said in a press release.

The amendment needs a two-thirds vote to clear the Legislature and appear on the June 2014 ballot.

In the meantime, the Assembly passed a revised bill that does not include the changes to the records law. The Senate has said it will take up the bill, and Gov. Jerry Brown is also expected to support the change.

The amendment language is included below. Because of a technical error, the principal authors and co-authors listed are not correct, according to Leno's office. Leno and Steinberg are the only joint authors of the amendment.


PHOTO: State Senator Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, chairman of the Senate budget committee, left, and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, announced that the Senate will take up a constitutional amendment to address a budget bill that threatens public access to information held by local governments, while talking to reporters at the Capitol on June 19, 2013. Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli)

June 20, 2013
Darrell Steinberg considering run for Sacramento mayor

SteinbergJohnson2.JPGFacing the end of his career in the state Legislature next year, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said Thursday that he is considering a run for mayor of Sacramento.

"I'm fairly clear for myself that there doesn't appear to be a statewide constitutional office that I'm interested in running for in 2014. So as I look at other possibilities down the line, that's one possibility," Steinberg said in response to a question from The Bee about his interest in returning to City Hall, where he was a councilman in the 1990s.

The Democratic Senate leader was quick to add that he has not made any firm decisions and that he is friends with Mayor Kevin Johnson, whose term is up in 2016.

"It's not about him," Steinberg said. "I think he's doing a very good job."

Steinberg and Johnson worked closely together during the recent fight to keep the Kings basketball team in Sacramento, frequently making appearances together to block the team's proposed move to Seattle. While Johnson has not discussed the possibility of running for a third term in 2016, he has said that he does not want any job that would require him to leave Sacramento. A call to Johnson's office this morning was not immediately returned.

Steinberg told The Bee he is "not inclined to pursue" a run for Sacramento district attorney in 2014, a post he had once expressed interest in. Democrat Maggy Krell and Republican Anne Marie Schubert have already announced their candidacies for that race to replace longtime DA Jan Scully.

Steinberg has nearly $800,000 in a campaign account opened to run for lieutenant governor in 2018.

Bee reporter Ryan Lillis contributed to this report.

PHOTO: Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson clasps hands with California Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg on April 29, 2013, following the announcement that the NBA would not allow the Kings to move to Seattle. The Sacramento Bee/Renée C. Byer

June 15, 2013
California Democrats wrap up budget, flex supermajority power


As the state Senate finished voting today on a bill to extend a tax on managed care plans, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg told reporters at the back of the room, "That is what's called a supermajority."

The measure was a relatively modest part of the annual budget package wrapped up by the Legislature today, but it required a two-thirds vote and afforded Democrats an opportunity to flex the supermajority power they gained in November elections.

Democrats in the Assembly mustered two-thirds not only for the managed care tax, but also for a bill that would ask voters to lower from two-thirds to 55 percent the voter-approval threshold for a local government to incur bonded indebtedness for certain public improvements. It is one of several Democratic proposals to lower the voter-approval threshold on local tax and revenue measures.

Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, D-Woodland Hills, said the measure would give local agencies "tools so that they can make the choices and the investments in the infrastructure that they need to grow their economics and make their cities livable."

Assemblyman Don Wagner, R-Irvine, said, "You know and I know that bond is just a four-letter word for tax."

After every Assembly Democrat voted for the bill, Assembly Constitutional Amendment No. 8, Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, said on Twitter, "All Dems went up on ACA 8. Let's just say that, for a few of them, the targets on their backs just got a little larger."

Steinberg called the Assembly's vote a "good sign" and said he personally supports the measure. However, he said the upper house will not consider voter threshold issues until early next year, which is still in time to place them on the 2014 ballot.

After voting Friday for the state's main, $96.3 billion budget bill, lawmakers today finished voting on all but one of the numerous trailer bills required to implement the annual spending plan. Senators were expected in committee Monday to discuss the final measure, involving a coordinated care program for "dual eligibles" - people enrolled in both Medi-Cal and Medicare.

For the most part, however, the budget is done.

"I'm just very pleased," Steinberg said.

Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to sign the spending plan before the next fiscal year begins July 1. After the Senate and Assembly adjourned for the day, he issued a statement on Twitter.

"After two and a half years of struggle and difficult times," Brown said, "California's budget is balanced and sustainable into the future."

The Bee's Jim Sanders contributed to this report.

PHOTO: State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, right, pumps his fist after one of the state budget bills was passed by the Senate on Friday, June 14, 2013. Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli

June 6, 2013
Steinberg calls Jerry Brown's education plan '80 percent there'

20121203_HA_ASSEMBLY0856 (1).JPGWith just nine days of budget negotiations left, Senate leader Darrell Steinberg called the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown "basically aligned" on public education funding.

In a conversation with Mark Baldassare, president of the Public Policy Institute of California, on Thursday, Steinberg credited Brown for including "significant augmentations" to public education in his version of the budget. Steinberg noted only a few points on which he differed from the governor.

"The governor suggested an equity formula that to me was about 80 percent there, but I still object to about 20 percent of it," Steinberg said.

Like Brown, Steinberg wants to include a 35 percent bump in funding for low-income or disadvantaged students. Steinberg, however, championed Senate Bill 69, which would use a different formula to dole out additional money to disadvantaged students in both low- and high-income districts.

"Kids that come from more disadvantaged backgrounds ought to have more resources -- spent well, that's the key piece -- in order to be able to achieve their dreams in life," Steinberg said.

Steinberg also downplayed the role that personality differences play in negotiations, saying his experiences working on budgets with three different governors have been relatively similar.

"In terms of some of the tension points as far as my frustrations at times, I can repeat the same things I've said this budget cycle that I've said in all previous budget cycles," Steinberg said. "The executive is the executive."

Steinberg seemed confident the Legislature and governor could work out the remaining kinks in the budget before the June 15 deadline.

"If there is no creative tension, we're not pushing each other hard enough," Steinberg said.

PHOTO: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento during the first day of session at the State Capitol in December 2012. The Sacramento Bee/ Hector Amezcua

May 29, 2013
California Roast: the clean jokes

blumenfield.jpgClean jokes at the California Roast? There weren't very many.

Lawmakers who gathered to roast Assembly Budget Committee Chair Bob Blumenfield on Tuesday at the Red Lion Hotel tore at him and one another with glee. But very little of what they said can be repeated here.

A few of the family-friendly highlights:

"Next year's roastee will be (GOP gubernatorial hopeful) Abel Maldonado, trying out his new slogan, 'Can I please start over?'" - Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

"That was riveting, in the Bay Bridge-Caltrans sense of the word." - Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, on Steinberg's admittedly lame roast performance.

"When in doubt, call the sergeants." - Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway, with advice for Assemblyman Roger Hernandez following a judge's decision to dismiss his drunk driving charge.

"You try telling Dan Logue the Legislature can't impeach Obama." - Conway again, on the difficulty of her job.

The roast benefited the California Center for Civic Participation, which works to connect teenagers with the Capitol and involve them in public policy-making.

PHOTO CREDIT: The cover of the program for the roast of Assembly Budget Committee Chair Bob Blumenfield on Tuesday, May 28, 2013.

May 13, 2013
VIDEO: Steinberg calls Seattle group's new Kings bid 'desperate'

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg weighed in on the latest developments in the ongoing fight over the Sacramento Kings Monday, saying the hiked bid offered by a group of investors who want to bring the team to Seattle "looks desperate."

Hedge fund manager Chris Hansen.and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer have increased the price they've agreed to pay the Maloof family for a stake in the team to $406 million since a National Basketball Association committee recommended against approving a move. The NBA Board of Governors meets later this week to consider the team's future.


Crucial week ahead for Sacramento group's offer to buy Kings

May 7, 2013
Darrell Steinberg calls for more investment in CA mental health

Steinbergmentalhealth.JPGCalifornia's top Senate Democrat called Tuesday for more investment in mental health services in the state, saying his proposal could improve lives, prevent future tragedies and reduce the burden mentally ill patients put on the state's prisons and hospitals.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg is proposing significantly increasing mental health services in the state by adding 2,000 beds and at least 200 "triage personnel" to help individuals with mental health issues. His plan, which he hopes to enact through the state budget process, would also add 25 "Mobile Crisis Support Teams" to provide a range of resources to help people manage their mental illness without turning to emergency rooms or jails.

Steinberg said "invariably heart-breaking and often tragic" stories of what happens when mental illness goes untreated motivated him to craft the proposal. He highlighted the December mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school, a federal appeals court's ruling on health care in California prisons and stories chronicled by The Bee of Nevada busing mentally ill patients to California and other states as recent examples of the need for care

"How many more sad stories must we hear? With Newtown, Nevada and the 9th Circuit it is time for action," he said at a press conference in the state Capitol.

The unveiling of the plan comes days after Gov. Jerry Brown submitted a court-ordered plan to reduce the state's prison population. Steinberg said while his mental health services plan might not satisfy the three-judge panel's call for further inmate reductions, it will lower the prison population and recidivism rate for mentally ill inmates over time.

"Ultimately, if we are going to reduce overcrowding over the long term, we have to provide more effective, cost effective ways to keep people who leave the prisons and the jails from returning," he said, citing the success one three-year project for mentally ill parolees has had in cutting down the rate of repeat incarceration.

Steinberg said he has not yet calculated the full price tag for the plan, which would include grants of up to $500,000 for eligible projects. He said he envisions paying for the added services through grant funding offered by the California Endowment, a nonprofit that promotes health care coverage, money from the Proposition 63 tax on millionaires for mental health services, general fund revenues and by enrolling eligible individuals for health care benefits under the new state-run marketplace. He argued that any additional investment would provide big returns for the state over time.

"We are paying already, and we are paying big time," he said. "Our current system is a budget buster, also it's inhumane."

PHOTO CREDIT: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg describes his proposal on increasing investment in mental health services as Democratic Sen. Jim Beall, chair of the Senate's mental health caucus, looks on. Sacramento Bee/Torey Van Oot.

April 25, 2013
Senate Democrats defend education plan as 'civil rights' issue, too

steinbergpresser.JPGOne day after Gov. Jerry Brown called his education financing plan a civil rights issue and promised opponents "the battle of their lives," Senate Democrats today said their counter-proposal is better for low-income students.

"The governor, obviously, came out firing yesterday, and we take it all in stride," Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg told reporters at the Capitol. "But I do want to say that no group is more committed to civil rights and the cause of low income kids than my colleagues."

In a proposal to dramatically overhaul California's education financing system, Brown is seeking to give local school districts greater flexibility in how they spend state money, while also directing more money to school districts with higher proportions of students who are poor or learning English.

While offering conceptual support for Brown's plan, Senate Democrats would eliminate a proposal by the Democratic governor to award districts additional money if more than half of their students are low income or meet other criteria, instead distributing that money partly on a per-pupil basis for all students and partly on a per-pupil basis for disadvantaged students.

April 19, 2013
Poll: What should Darrell Steinberg's next job be?

LS KJ AIRPORT 2.JPGSenate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg is weighing what to do once his final term in the state Senate comes to an end in 2014. Let us know what you think the Sacramento Democrat's next job should be in this poll:

PHOTO CREDIT California state Sen. Darrell Steinberg, left, and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson speak to the press at the Sacramento International Airport, Thursday, April 4, 2013, after returning home from a meeting with the NBA in New York about the possible relocation of the Sacramento Kings to Seattle.: The Sacramento Bee/Lezlie Sterling

April 19, 2013
District Attorney Darrell Steinberg? Senator 'may look at it'

SteinbergCalifornia Budget.jpgWith less than 20 months left in Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg's final term in the state Legislature, political circles are buzzing with speculation about what the Sacramento Democrat will do next.

One of the latest theories is that the former assemblyman and city councilman will seek a return to local office by running for Sacramento County district attorney when he is termed out of the state Senate in 2014. Longtime District Attorney Jan Scully announced earlier this year that she will step down at the end of her current term, creating an opening in the office,.

Steinberg, an attorney, hasn't ruled out a run for that seat, but says he's keeping his options open for now.

"I'm at that point now where I'm beginning to look at what I might do next in life, and hopefully I'm going to have all kinds of options," he said Thursday. "A few people are talking about that and I may look at it. I may look at it, but I'm not close to making any decisions."

Other possibilities floated by political insiders include future runs for mayor or Congress, a judicial appointment or a return to private law practice.

Steinberg has plenty of political cash stored away to fuel whatever path he pursues. He had more than $1.4 million in two campaign accounts, including one opened for a 2018 lieutenant governor run, as of the end of last year.

PHOTO CREDIT: State Sen. President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, left, discusses the agreement reached with Gov. Jerry Brown to finalize California's budget, at a Capitol news conference in 2012. Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli)

April 11, 2013
Steinberg: Banning digital-map use for drivers takes law too far

California_Hands_Free.jpgCalifornia lawmakers may give motorists the green light to use a smartphone map while behind the wheel in light of a recent Fresno County court ruling.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said this week that a three-judge panel in Fresno County took California's traffic laws too far when it ruled that a man using his smartphone to check a map at a stoplight violated the state's bans on talking on the phone without a hands-free device or texting while driving.

"Knowing where you're going while driving is actually a good way to avoid having accidents, as opposed to 'Shoot! I missed my turnoff. I better swerve three lanes and try to catch it before I drive by,' " the Sacramento Democrat said. "If that requires some clean-up legislation, I'm sure we can accomplish that."

The court found that the use of a smartphone for other reasons than talking or texting qualifies as the type of driver distraction that is the "primary evil sought to be avoided" by the laws. While the ruling applies only in Fresno County, the opinion suggests that lawmakers change the law to clarify their intent if they believe digital map use is OK.

Court: Fresno motorist can't use hand-held map

PHOTO CREDIT: A driver wears a hands-free ear piece for a mobile phone while waiting in traffic at the Bay Bridge toll plaza in Oakland. Jeff Chiu / Associated Press file, 2008

April 10, 2013
Steinberg: 2013 isn't the year for changing Proposition 13

DSteinbergJPG.JPGThose worried that legislative Democrats will use their supermajority power to make changes to Proposition 13 can breathe a sigh of relief -- for now, at least.

Some Democrats, emboldened by a two-thirds control that allows them to approve taxes or put measures on the ballot without GOP votes, have introduced legislation this year targeting different aspects of the landmark tax changes approved by voters in 1978.

But Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg told reporters today that 2013 is not the time to tinker with Proposition 13, which is often referred to as the "third rail" of California politics because of the perceived political risk of changing the law.

The Sacramento Democrat said lawmakers should instead make 2013 "a year of producing in a whole host of areas unrelated to taxes," including tightening gun control laws, working to implement the state insurance marketplace created by the federal health care law and passing major education policy changes.

Steinberg said, however, that he is open to some of the proposed changes down the road, including proposals that would change vote requirements for local tax measures. Even if the Legislature acted this year, any constitutional amendments approved by the Legislature wouldn't be able to go to the voters until 2014.

"The question of lowering voter thresholds for the specific taxes on the local level, which is really the beginning of that conversation ... definitely should be had and probably will be had at some point in this two-year session," Steinberg said. "But let's have 2013 be a year where we are focused on bread and butter."

Click here to read a list of related bills that have been introduced in the current legislative session.

PHOTO CREDIT: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, during the first day of session at the state Capitol in Sacramento on Monday, Dec. 3, 2012. Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

March 21, 2013
Steinberg pushes privately funded career training program

steintotheb.jpgCiting a desire to get the business community involved in public education, Sen. President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg is promoting a bill that would encourage industry to invest in what he's calling "social investment bonds."

Steinberg's SB 594 would authorize California to issue bonds aimed at curbing high school dropout rates by creating programs that train high school students for specific careers. Businesses would be encouraged to put money into those bonds with a promise of a high return on their investment if the program met certain measures of success like graduating more students.

"The principle behind it, which is unique and could be far-reaching in the state and the country, is to say to private industry 'you can do better financially by investing in high schools than you do investing in Wall Street,'" Steinberg said.

The bill would also establish regional trust funds that would be governed by district superintendents, community college leaders and business and industry leaders. Those funds would be used to pay for initiatives like developing new curricula tailored to certain careers and funding fellowship or apprenticeship programs.

February 11, 2013
National mental health push sends Steinberg to New York

RP STEINBERG TABLE.JPGSenate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg is back on the East Coast this week as part of his ongoing push to expand funding for mental health services nationwide.

Steinberg announced plans to campaign for a $10 billion investment in preventing and treating mental health issues across the country in the wake of the December shooting at a Newtown, Conn. elementary school. He took his call for creating a national mental health initiative modeled after California's Proposition 63 to Washington, D.C., last month, when he spent several days meeting with members of Congress and Obama administration officials.

Now, the Sacramento Democrat has flown to New York City for two days of media interviews and meetings with finance and political leaders, including former Gov. George Pataki.

February 1, 2013
State senator gets free Super Bowl ticket for fundraising duties

Super Bowl Football.jpgState Sen. Kevin de León is heading to New Orleans to watch the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens face off in the Super Bowl -- on the California Democratic Party's dime.

The Los Angeles Democrat is getting a free ticket to Sunday's game as part of a fundraiser to boost his party's bank account. The pass isn't subject to the $420 limit on gifts to lawmakers because the rules provide an exemption for admission to political and nonprofit fundraisers. Face value Super Bowl tickets start at $850.

Jason Kinney, a spokesman for the Senate Democrats' political efforts, said de León, who serves as chair of the Democratic Caucus and the powerful Appropriations Committee, was asked to represent the caucus at the event when Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg could not attend.

Kinney declined to provide additional information about attendees or the itinerary, but said the state Democratic Party paid for all overhead costs and will report those expenditures as well as the contributions received as part of the fundraiser in its campaign filings.

"Personally, I think it demonstrates impressive generosity of spirit that Los Angeles's own Kevin de León is willing to show up and pretend to root for a San Francisco team for three whole hours," Kinney said in a prepared statement.

PHOTO CREDIT: San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis (52), practice squad member Kenny Wiggins (69), and tackle Anthony Davis (76) warm up during practice on Friday, Feb. 1, 2013, in New Orleans. The 49ers are scheduled to play the Baltimore Ravens in the NFL Super Bowl XLVII football game on Feb. 3. (AP Photo/ Mark Humphrey)

January 28, 2013
Microsoft says it's 'not involved' in Kings move to Seattle

Microsoft is distancing itself from CEO Steve Ballmer's involvement in an investor group seeking to buy the Sacramento Kings, saying the software corporation has no stake in the matter.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg stirred controversy last week when he sent the Department of General Services a letter asking for information about California's business dealings with Microsoft. Critics interpreted the move as an unwarranted threat, but Steinberg, who represents Sacramento, said he was merely serving his constituents.

In response to a query from the Bee, a Microsoft spokeswoman said that Ballmer's role in the group seeking to move the Kings to Seattle is unrelated to Microsoft's business operations.

"The effort to build a new professional sports arena in Seattle was initiated and is led by San Francisco-based developer, Chris Hansen, who has announced a number of investors, including Steve Ballmer," said the spokeswoman, who declined to be identified. "Microsoft Corporation is not involved in the effort."

January 24, 2013
Steinberg defends letter to Microsoft over possible Kings exit

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg is not backing down from a request for information about Microsoft's dealings with California, a gesture that many interpreted as a warning to prospective Sacramento Kings buyer and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

After reports emerged that Ballmer was one of the investors seeking to purchase the Kings and relocate them to Seattle, Steinberg sent a letter to the Department of General Services asking for data about California's contracts with Microsoft and the monetary value of the state's past purchases from the technology giant.

January 16, 2013
Steinberg heading to D.C. to talk mental health with officials

20121203_HA_ASSEMBLY0856.JPGCalifornia's top Senate Democrat will be in Washington next week to urge leaders to put a greater focus on mental health services in the wake of last month's mass shooting at a Newtown, Conn. elementary school.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said today that he is extending his trip east for the presidential inauguration to meet with administration officials and congressional leaders, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and the state's two U.S. senators, about increasing aid for preventative and treatment programs for the mentally ill.

The Sacramento Democrat has asked the administration to consider an approach based on California's Proposition 63, the voter-approved tax on millionaires to pay for mental health programs that Steinberg authored and championed.

"We have in California, as we do in so many other areas, led the way by investing a billion dollars a year in a system that is centered on prevention, early intervention and recovery for people who are most ill," he said. "That's worth sharing with the rest of the country."

January 15, 2013
California sees slower population growth, Latino plurality this year

With a declining birthrate and ebbing migration into California from other states and nations, the historically fast-growing state will see only relatively slow population expansion in the foreseeable future, the state's own demographers conclude.

However, these trends also mean that Latinos are likely to become the state's largest single ethnic group sometime this year, a data-packed section of Gov. Jerry Brown's new state budget plan concludes.

That's a couple of years earlier than previous demographic expectations.

January 14, 2013
Public health will be main fracking consideration says conservation department nominee

Ensuring public safety will be the Department of Conservation's main imperative as it moves to regulate the disputed extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing, director Mark Nechodom said in a letter to Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg on Friday.

Nechodom faced a barrage of questions about hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Rules Committee last week. California is still in the early stages of regulating fracking, and several senators criticized the department's draft regulations as weak and vague.

Before the committee voted unanimously to advance Nechodom's nomination, Steinberg extracted a promise that Nechodom would put his commitment to public health in writing. The letter makes good on that promise, stating that "protection of public health and safety in all aspects of oil and gas production is the Department's paramount concern."

January 9, 2013
CA Senate panel approves nominee amid 'fracking' concerns

The Senate Rules Committee voted unanimously today to advance Gov. Jerry Brown's appointment to head the state's Department of Conservation, but not before subjecting Mark Nechodom to pointed questions about regulating the controversial oil drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing.

Fracking, as it is commonly known, has been a lightning rod for environmental advocates who say the method of firing a mix of chemicals, water and sand deep underground is poorly regulated and imperils public health.

Nechodom's predecessor, Derek Chernow, lost his job after pushing back on Brown's request to expedite the permitting process by easing restrictions on underground injection.

January 7, 2013
Darrell Steinberg announces CA Senate committee assignments

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has released the full Senate committee roster for the 2013-2014 legislative session.

The assignments, posted after the jump, are expected to be ratified by a vote of the Senate Rules Committee later today. Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez announced the Assembly committee lineups last week.

Both houses convene today for the first legislative sessions of 2013.

December 21, 2012
Darrell Steinberg names new California Senate committee chairs

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg today announced the leadership lineup for the new session, officially elevating Sen. Kevin de León to head the powerful Appropriations Committee.

The only true freshman in the upper house, Riverside's Richard Roth, was given the chairmanship of the Legislative Ethics Committee and the budget subcommittee on State Administration and General Government.

See the full list, as provided by the Senate, after the jump.

December 5, 2012
Perez, Steinberg set sights on lieutenant governor bid in 2018

Termed out of their California legislative posts in two years, Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg are finding themselves on a collision course for higher office.

Pérez opened a campaign committee last Friday to raise funds for a possible bid for lieutenant governor in 2018, creating the specter of a same-party fight with Steinberg, who opened a similar committee early last year.

Incumbent Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom will be termed out in 2018, creating a vacancy for a position likely to be filled by a Democrat because of the party's dominance in voter registration statewide.

Doug Herman, Pérez's political strategist, said the Los Angeles lawmaker is considering the lieutenant governor post among his "serious options" for continuing public service after leaving the Assembly.

But creation of an exploratory committee does not obligate either Pérez or Steinberg to run for lieutenant governor.

"Six years is a lifetime in politics," Herman said. "I don't expect the two of those guys to run against each other."

Steinberg, a Sacramentan, currently has more than a half-million dollars in his lieutenant governor campaign coffers, while Pérez's newly created committee has not yet reported any donations.

Under California term limits, Steinberg would be ineligible to run for the Legislature after 2014. Pérez is not barred from seeking a state Senate seat and could serve up to eight years there.

October 18, 2012
Jerry Brown stumps for Prop. 30 at Sacramento City College

prop30jerrybrown.jpgGov. Jerry Brown rallied hundreds of students at Sacramento City College today as he continued the campaign to get college students excited about his Proposition 30 tax increase.

"The idea of Proposition 30 is to put some more money into state coffers so we can pay for schools and colleges and the University of California. This is a crucial opportunity," the governor told the crowd gathered in a small courtyard on campus.

Proposition 30 involves two temporary tax increases: raising sales taxes by a quarter cent on a dollar for four years and income taxes for seven years on those making more than $250,000.

September 26, 2012
Jerry Brown signs bill revising California school rating system

Gov. Jerry Brown has signed legislation to de-emphasize standardized test scores when measuring the performance of California schools, his office announced today.

Senate Bill 1458, by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, requires other factors, such as graduation rates and college-going rates, to be used in calculating a school's Academic Performance Index.

The Democratic governor vetoed similar legislation by Steinberg last year. At the time, Brown suggested local panels could be used to evaluate schools, a concept included in the bill he ultimately signed.

Steinberg said in a prepared statement that he believes the measure will be one of the most significant education bills of the decade, "fundamentally changing what we teach and how we measure accomplishment."

Supporters of the legislation have said it could make schools more innovative, allowing them to avoid teaching "to the test." Opponents said it could weaken school accountability.

September 5, 2012
Steinberg eyes Democratic supermajority, praises end of session

After failing to win votes for tax hikes this legislative session, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said he's focused on helping Democrats win a supermajority of his house this fall.

Democrats gave up on seeking GOP votes for taxes during June budget talks, instead asking voters to raise the statewide sales tax and income taxes on wealthy earners in a November initiative. Only one high-profile tax measure passed his house last week - a 1 percent charge on lumber - while other proposals to extend motorist fees and change corporate tax formulas for out-of-state firms died on the final night.

August 31, 2012
Bill to de-emphasize school tests heads to Jerry Brown

California schools would be judged less by student test scores under a bill lawmakers are sending to Gov. Jerry Brown.

Senate Bill 1458 by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg de-emphasizes standardized tests in evaluating schools, and requires other factors - such as graduation rates, college-going rates, and other measures - to be used in calculating a school's Academic Performance Index. It cleared the Legislature today when the Senate approved it, 23-13.

"The real purpose of the bill is to do what I hope creates a shock to the system so there is an incentive for a broader curriculum in high schools that is both rigorous and relevant," Steinberg said.

Brown vetoed a similar bill by Steinberg last year, suggesting local evaluation panels could be a good part of a new system for evaluating schools. That concept is part of SB 1458.

Opponents said the bill would weaken California's school accountability system that uses the same tests statewide to judge school performance.

August 31, 2012
Open-source textbook bills head to Gov. Jerry Brown

California lawmakers are sending Gov. Jerry Brown a package of bills that would allow college students to choose free online textbooks instead of costly printed ones for common undergraduate courses.

Senate Bills 1052 and 1053 by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg cleared the Legislature today, when the state Senate approved them with final votes.

The bills would create an online library of digital textbooks for the 50 most widely-taken lower division courses at the University of California, California State University and the state's community colleges. The project would get under way when state or private funding becomes available.

The digital texts would be "open-source," which means they are not copyrighted the same way traditional texts are, making them much less expensive. The texts are primarily available online; students can typically buy a print-out for around $20, about one-tenth the cost of many traditional textbooks.

"This is the new way to try to bring down the cost of instructional materials, by putting them in an open-source format," Steinberg said.

Publishing companies originally opposed the bills but removed their opposition, Steinberg said. Amendments removed a requirement that publishers provide free copies of textbooks in college libraries.

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 21, 2012
Democratic lawmakers urge legislative leaders to lay off CEQA

In the middle of an end-of-session bid to overhaul the California Environmental Quality Act, 33 Democratic lawmakers urged legislative leaders in a letter released today to oppose any significant re-writing of the law.

"Like many important laws, CEQA is not perfect and could probably be improved while retaining its many benefits - but only if such improvements are undertaken in a good faith process and are crafted very carefully," said the letter, delivered today to Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, both Democrats. "Unfortunately, the proposals we have seen and heard about reflect major changes that have not been vetted and are being advanced by special interests in an end-of-session power play."

The letter's release follows a business group's airing Monday of proposed changes to the law, California's signature environmental protection. In a proposal resembling draft legislation circulating at the Capitol, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and other business interests are calling to exempt from CEQA projects that comply with a city general plan or other planning document for which an environmental review already has been done.

Following the letter's delivery, Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, said he has collected one more signature - from Assemblyman Warren Furutani, D-Gardena - bringing the total number of signers to 34.

"This is the biggest blow to environmental laws in many years and it's being pushed through at the last minute," Huffman said. "And I just think we need to make sure that the whole world is watching."

Steinberg said Monday that he expects a CEQA-limiting bill to come up in the Assembly before the end of the legislative session. He said he is a "strong believer in the importance of our environmental laws" but is open to discussion.

Robin Swanson, Pérez's spokeswoman, said Pérez wants to protect CEQA while encouraging job creation.

"Any reforms that are adopted would be those that are good both for the environment and for job creation," she said. "It's all about finding a balance that makes sense."

CEQA Letter

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

August 20, 2012
Push to overhaul California Environmental Quality Act picks up

An effort to overhaul the California Environmental Quality Act in the last two weeks of the legislative session appeared this morning to pick up, with business leaders calling publicly for changes and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg saying he expects a bill to come up in the Assembly.

The proposal aired by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and other business interests at a news conference this morning resembled draft legislation that would limit the ability to challenge certain projects in court. One proposal would exempt from CEQA projects that comply with a city general plan or other planning document for which an environmental review already has been done.

"We're here to press this effort forward," said Jim Earp, executive director of the California Alliance for Jobs. "We need to do this in California. If there's an opening that opens up in these last couple of weeks of session, we're going to take advantage of it if we can. But if not, it doesn't matter that much. We're going to be in it for the long haul. We'll be back."

The business group, which includes retailers and builders, is being advised by Gov. Jerry Brown's top political adviser, Steve Glazer. Brown himself has been critical of CEQA, the state's landmark environmental law, and he signed three bills last year limiting its reach.

Environmentalists today were already lobbying against the proposal at the Capitol. Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California, said general plans are not sufficiently detailed to address environmental concerns about projects.

"The reason you do this analysis is to figure out how much impact that particular project will have," she said.

Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said he is a "strong believer in the importance of our environmental laws" but is open to discussion.

"If and when something comes over to the Senate," he said, "we'll take a look at it."

August 15, 2012
Steinberg seeks audit of funds from mental health initiative

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg formally requested a state audit Wednesday of billions in mental health funds raised by the Proposition 63 ballot measure he authored eight years ago.

The Sacramento Democrat's letter to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee came after two Republican assemblymen, Dan Logue of Marysville and Brian Nestande of Palm Desert, made a similar request.

Mark Hedlund, Steinberg's spokesman, said the committee will consider the request before the Legislature adjourns for the year Aug. 31.

Steinberg noted that some programs bankrolled by Proposition 63 have been blasted by critics since their inception.

August 13, 2012
Steinberg apologizes for blackout of ballot measure hearing

Darrell Steinberg, the president pro tem of the state Senate, apologized to the public and press Monday for cutting off television access to a Senate hearing on four ballot measures last week.

"I want to apologize to the press and public," Steinberg told reporters at a hastily called news conference outside the Senate chambers. "This was a mistake and it won't happen again."

Wednesday's hearing of the Senate Finance and Governance Committee was called - as required by law - to air pro and con arguments and factual information about four November ballot measures dealing with taxes and the budget, Propositions 30, 31, 38 and 39.

August 10, 2012
Wolk criticizes Steinberg for cutting off broadcast of hearing

State Sen. Lois Wolk, who chairs the Senate Governance and Finance Committee, criticized Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg on Friday for cutting off a cable television broadcast of her committee hearing Wednesday.

The hearing -- one required by law -- was called to present facts and pro and con arguments about four pending ballot measures, Propositions 30, 31, 38 and 39, and as it opened, Wolk said she hoped it would give voters with information to cast informed votes.

But just before the hearing began, someone from Steinberg's office ordered the California Channel, a public affairs channel carried by most California cable systems, to not air the hearing.

A Steinberg spokesman said later that it was to prevent advocates and opponents of the measures from using recordings of the hearing in campaign advertising.

"The decision not to broadcast the hearing was made by the president pro tempore's office without my knowledge or consent, or that of my staff," Wolk said in a statement. "I strongly disagree with the decision, as the hearing was held to fulfill a state-mandated discussion on the initiatives so as to inform the public."

Steinberg has strongly backed Proposition 30, a sales and income tax increase sponsored by Gov. Jerry Brown. One of the opponents to the measure, Jon Coupal of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, cited Steinberg's approval of Senate staff raises as a reason not to vote for the measure. But his testimony, along with that of others on the four measures, was confined to the hearing room and a difficult-to-find Internet audio feed.

July 6, 2012
California Senate approves funding for high-speed rail

The state Senate voted by a bare majority today to fund initial construction of California's $68 billion high-speed rail project.

The approval was uncertain as recently as hours before the vote. With all 15 Republican senators opposed to the measure and several Democratic lawmakers wavering, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg scrambled to muster at least 21 of 25 Democratic votes.

Twenty-one Democratic senators voted 'Yes.'

The approval was a major legislative victory for Gov. Jerry Brown. Steinberg said the Democratic governor "talked to a couple members" ahead of the vote, while Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, reminded colleagues that the project not only had Brown's attention, but also that of President Barack Obama and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

The bill approved by the Senate authorizes $5.8 billion to start construction in the Central Valley, including $2.6 billion in rail bond funds and $3.2 billion from the federal government. Lawmakers tied that funding to nearly $2 billion to improve regional rail systems and connect them to high-speed rail. That regional money was considered necessary to lobby hesitant senators about the project's potential significance to their districts.

"Members, this is a big vote," Steinberg said as he opened floor debate on the bill this afternoon. "In the era of term limits, how many chances do we have to vote for something this important and long-lasting?"

Steinberg and other Democrats said the project would create thousands of jobs and make necessary improvements to the state's transportation infrastructure. Republicans said it is too expensive and relies on uncertain future funding. They criticized starting construction in the sparsely populated Central Valley.

Among Republicans in opposition was Sen. Tony Strickland, who criticized a willingness by the Legislature to reduce spending elsewhere while finding money for high-speed rail.

"I think this is a colossal fiscal train wreck for California," he said.

Sen. Joe Simitian, of Palo Alto, was one of four Democrats to break ranks with his colleagues. Simitian said he supports the vision of high-speed rail, but not the current plan. He said there are "billions of reasons" to oppose it.

Other Democratic senators opposing the measure were Mark DeSaulnier, of Concord, Alan Lowenthal, of Long Beach, and Fran Pavley, of Agoura Hills.

July 3, 2012
How Senate districts would benefit from CA high-speed rail

As lawmakers prepare for a contentious vote later this week over billions of dollars in funding for high speed rail, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg's office distributed a chart that shows the potential benefit of the project to each member of the upper house.


July 3, 2012
Steinberg: Jerry Brown has pension concept but no proposal

After Gov. Jerry Brown's office described a divide in negotiations over cutting public pensions, Senate leader Darrell Steinberg suggested Tuesday that the California governor had been slow to propose bill language on a crucial piece of the package.

Steinberg said Democrats drafted a plan that caps the pension share for new public workers at roughly $110,000, giving them a less lucrative retirement benefit for income above that amount. But he challenged Brown for not providing specifics on his own "hybrid" idea that could shift some retirement risk onto workers.

"The governor has a hybrid concept but does not have a fleshed-out proposal," Steinberg said. "Even if he wanted us to take up his hybrid concept today, we couldn't because the proposal has not yet been developed."

Brown spokesman Gil Duran said in a statement this morning that Brown could not agree on some of the ideas in the Democrats' pension plan and that a legislative vote would have to wait until after this month's summer recess.

Steinberg said Democratic lawmakers are in "common agreement" with Brown on most items, including changes intended to curb spiking of pension benefits and eliminating the option to purchase service credit for years not worked, commonly referred to as "air time."

Based on Steinberg's characterization, Brown and lawmakers must still figure out two major components that would change pension calculations for new employees. One has to do with the hybrid concept, which would reduce pension promises to high-income employees. A $110,000 cap would apply generally, while a higher cap around $130,000 would apply to public-safety workers.

Another has to do with raising the retirement age for new employees. The Democratic plan would hike the starting age for non-public safety workers from 50 to 52, while it would delay full benefits until age 67. Public safety workers would have lower qualifying ages.

"We will do more of a gradation," Steinberg said. "Ultimately, 67 will be the retirement age for the highest level of benefits for 'miscellaneous' employees," referring to non-safety workers.

The changes would go beyond state employees and affect public sector workers in local government, Steinberg said. He said the Democrats' plan would save about $40 billion over 30 years, according to a projection run by CalPERS, but detailed information about that calculation was not available Tuesday.

May 16, 2012
Steinberg: Democrats seeking alternatives to some budget cuts

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg today repeated a pledge to look for budget solutions that would allow lawmakers to preserve some services targeted with steep cuts under Gov. Jerry Brown's revised budget plan.

"I said on Monday, I'm not looking for a public fight here," the Sacramento Democrat said this morning. "We're looking to work collaboratively and yet not be afraid to have our differences or air our differences with the other stakeholders, the other parties, but come to a resolution where we can in fact buy out some of the worst cuts."

The revised budget proposal released by the Democratic governor Monday calls for roughly $8 billion in cuts to close a projected deficit that has grown to $15.7 billion since his January budget was unveiled. Those cuts include reductions to health and welfare programs and Cal Grants for low-income students.

Steinberg said he doesn't like many aspects of the proposal, including using money won in the mortgage settlement with major banks and reducing funding for the courts, but added that cuts with the most severe effect on the state's neediest constituencies will be the first to come off the chopping block.

"To me a cut that, you know, will result in the difference between life and death and a cut that will increase homelessness by definition, it's our obligation it seems that we do everything we can to avoid those cuts," he said.

Steinberg again floated the idea of using the state's planned $1.05 billion reserve to plug some of the cuts. Ratings agency Standard & Poor's warned lawmakers against that approach Tuesday, writing that the reserve "is low but important considering that the potential Facebook initial public offering-related income tax revenue is especially difficult to forecast."

"I respect the rating agencies, but the rating agencies don't represent a hungry kid who can't do well in school because his family has suffered a big cut in his CalWORKs grant," Steinberg said, referring to the state's welfare-to-work program.

He declined to specify other routes that majority Democrats may take to balance the budget without making all of the cuts proposed by Brown.

Here's a video of Steinberg's previous comments on Monday on how he views the cuts and how he hopes to plug the deficit:

May 10, 2012
Steinberg expects 'news to be rough' in Jerry Brown's budget

20110120_HA_STEINBERG1217.JPGLegislative Democrats are bracing for "more work on the cuts side" once Gov. Jerry Brown releases his revised budget next week, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg told reporters during a weekly q-and-a in his office.

"We all expect the news to be rough. That's no secret," the Sacramento Democrat said.

That will likely mean more steep cuts to the state's health and human services programs. An estimated $1.5 billion lawmakers had hoped to reserve for affordable housing programs is also "certainly a very ripe candidate" for use for general budget relief, he said.

"We have not shied away from doing what we have to do and we won't shy away now," he said. "But we will certainly fight to save more than we lose.'

When asked what areas he hopes to protect from future reductions, Steinberg cited CalWorks, the state's welfare-to-work program, as a top priority. He said studies showing correlation between cuts to those services and homelessness make the decision "one of those can you sleep at night kind of questions."

"I would do just about anything to avoid that cut," he said.

Brown's budget is expected to rely on up to $9 billion in revenues from his proposed initiative to temporarily raise income taxes for top earners and enact a quarter percent increase in the state sales tax, with a round of "trigger" cuts after the election if the November ballot measure fails. While the revenues at stake on the November ballot has grown since the governor's January budget proposal because of changes to the tax plan, Steinberg said he expects the triggers to still target K-12 schools, higher education and the courts.

"I don't see that the fundamentals will change even if the number changes," Steinberg said. "But you've got to make up for a bigger number."

PHOTO CREDIT: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, speaks at the Capitol Bureau on Jan. 20, 2011. Hector Amezcua, Sacramento Bee.

April 25, 2012
Darrell Steinberg: Pay ruling a 'victory' for separation of powers

Senate leader Darrell Steinberg said today that it would be "a victory for upholding the separation of powers" if a Sacramento judge finalizes his decision favoring lawmakers over Controller John Chiang in their budget-related pay dispute.

Sacramento Superior Court Judge David I. Brown issued a tentative ruling Tuesday siding with legislative leaders who said Chiang cannot block their pay on the basis of how he interprets their budget. The Democratic controller last year withheld 12 days' worth of pay and expense money by relying a new on-time budget requirement in Proposition 25 and a constitutional requirement requiring their budget to be balanced.

Brown will hear oral arguments today at 2 p.m. before issuing a final ruling.

Steinberg said he was "obviously pleased" with Brown's tentative ruling, which attacked several of Chiang's arguments. The Senate leader acknowledged that he and lawmakers would "take a hit" from the public for suing the controller, but he said, "There is a big difference between how people might feel about this in the present, and what this means for upholding the separation of powers in the long run."

April 19, 2012
Steinberg wants to put initiative process changes on 2014 ballot

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg pledged today to put forward for the 2014 election a package of major changes to California's initiative process, including a provision to make it easier for legislators to place tax measures on the ballot.

The Sacramento Democrat, speaking at a Sacramento Press Club luncheon, outlined a trio of initiative reforms he said "will both strengthen California's tradition of direct democracy and empower the people elected by their make clear choices."

He said he plans to put the proposals on the 2014 ballot either through a vote of the Legislature, a task he said could be easier if Democrats secure a supermajority in the upper house this November, or by gathering the necessary voter signatures through the initiative process.

March 29, 2012
Steinberg: GOP budget plan is 'rehash' with one-time fixes

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said Thursday he considers the Republican budget plan a "rehash" that is legally questionable and would not solve California's fundamental budget problems.

Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative Democrats have gone all-in on their multibillion-dollar November tax initiative, which they say will spare the state from deep education cuts this year and from deficit problems in the future.

Republicans issued their own budget plan Thursday to refute that argument, saying that Democrats do not need higher taxes to fully fund schools and that a growing economy and spending restraint will rescue the state in the coming years.

March 29, 2012
VIDEO: California lawmakers don hoodies

A handful of state lawmakers wore gray-hooded sweatshirts this morning at this morning's session, taking up the symbol of solidarity and protest that has sprung up around the country over the slaying of Trayvon Martin.

Sen. Curren Price, who gaveled the session to order, wore one of the hoodies over his suit jacket and tie. Other Democrats, including Juan Vargas, donned the sweatshirts bearing "In memory of Trayvon Martin" stenciled in black letters on back.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, put on his sweatshirt before addressing the Senate.

Martin's Feb. 26 death has reignited a national debate about race. The 17-year-old was wearing a hoodie when he was shot and killed in Sanford, Fla., by George Zimmerman, a self-described neighborhood watch captain. Zimmerman claimed self-defense under Florida's "stand your ground" law and has not been charged.

Martin's family and those who support them say he was a victim of racial profiling and that law enforcement officials haven't adequately investigated the teen's death.

Hoodie-wearing protesters around the country have said Martin's killing is part of a larger pattern of injustice against African American men. On Wednesday, Rep. Bobby Rush, a Democrat from Illinois, wore a hooded sweatshirt on the floor of the House of Representatives. Rep. Gregg Harper, a Mississippi Republican who was presiding over the chamber, kicked Rush out of the chamber for violating a dress code ban on hats.

March 14, 2012
Assembly panel blocks expansion of court computer system

An Assembly budget subcommittee voted unanimously Wednesday to block expansion of a statewide court case management system that has become the focal point of a months-long political war between the state's judicial leadership and some rebel judges.

The latter -- backed by the politically powerful Service Employees International Union -- have complained that millions of dollars are being wasted on the computer system while local courts are being compelled to curtail their operations and lay off employees as state financing of courts is reduced.

The budget subcommittee's action bolsters the Assembly's position in a conflict with the state Senate over court management. The Assembly has passed legislation, Assembly Bill 1208, that the rebel Alliance of California Judges sponsored to give local judges more power over distribution of operational funds.

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who chairs the state Judicial Council and heads the Administrative Office of the Courts, has publicly complained that the legislation violates judicial independence, and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has declared that the bill will be held in his house without a vote.

Steinberg, however, is under pressure from the SEIU, which represents court employees facing layoffs and is a major source of campaign money for Democrats. Wednesday's action makes the computer system financing a potential bargaining chip in the inter-Capitol maneuvering over the legislation.

The subcommittee's action came after the Legislature's budget analyst and the state auditor delivered reports that strengthened the critics' positions.

So far, legislators were told, the Administrative Office of the Courts has spent $556.5 million on the system but it's been deployed in only a few counties. Even so, Auditor Elaine Howle pointed out, the AOC certified that the system is complete, thereby triggering a limited warranty period from the contractor that could leave the state holding the financial bag if problems crop up later.

Judges themselves are divided over the efficacy of the system, some professing that it lightens their workloads, while others saying it is unusable. In recent weeks, the chief justice and her allies have backed off their previous intent to install it in every county and indicated that they'd give local judges more leeway.

March 1, 2012
Steinberg: Fish & Game Commission head acted 'like a jackass'

ZUMA_Fish And Game Chief-thumb-250x421-23295.jpgSenate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg joined the debate today over the embattled head of the state Fish and Game Commission's Idaho cougar hunt, blasting Dan Richards for acting "like a jackass."

"When you hold a high public position you have a responsibility to act with decorum, act with respect towards the office and, you know, what's he doing?" the Sacramento Democrat said in response to a reporter's question. "You want to make your political point, make your political point at some other stage in your life when you're not an appointee and serving under a governor."

Richards, the commission's president, has been the subject of criticism and calls for resignations since a picture surfaced online of him posing with a mountain lion he killed on a hunting trip in Idaho. California banned hunting mountain lions, which is legal in Idaho, via the ballot in 1990.

Forty members of the Assembly signed a letter last week asking Richards, an appointee of former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, to resign. A group of GOP lawmakers later came to his defense. Steinberg said in a meeting with reporters that he wouldn't mind if Richards, whose term ends next January, "just sort of slithered out of office early."

But with Richards telling the Assembly in a letter, "There is ZERO chance I would consider resigning my position," at least one member is reportedly considering a resolution to oust him with a majority-vote in both houses.

Steinberg said he is not "completely shutting the door" on the idea of a vote to remove Richards from office, but he would prefer to see the Senate "stay focused on the people's priorities," such as the budget.

'I think the guy ought to quit being a distraction and make whatever political point he wants to make on his own time or his own dime, but I'm weary on spending a lot of time on anything other than the core priorities that we have to accomplish this year," he said.

Richards reiterated his intent to stay put this afternoon, telling KFI AM talk radio hosts John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou "I'm not leaving." He said a legislative vote to kick him out of his job "basically would be saying lets remove independent voices on all commissions."

Richards blamed Humane Society of the United States for pushing out the photo and sparking the campaign to oust him, citing long-running disagreements and political differences. He said he did not expect to see such a large public backlash for sharing a photo that captures "what we do as sportsmen."

"Of course, I didn't know it would lead to anything like this," he said of the reaction to the photo. "I expected that potentially there might be some folks who (would) not necessarily enjoy it or appreciate or be in favor of it that would see it, but I didn't have any idea if would get anywhere near what it is right now."

And for those wondering, the hunting enthusiast said the cougar he killed tasted "really good."

"It's like a pork loin and it's white meat and it's really good," he said.

Fish and Game Commission head says defiantly he won't resign

Photo credit: Whitehotpix/

Editor's note: This post was updated to clarify that Steinberg didn't call directly for Richards to step down. This post was updated at 4 p.m. with quotes from Richards.

February 27, 2012
California's 'tort war' reignited with Darrell Steinberg bill

The Capitol's perpetual "tort war" that pits personal injury attorneys against insurance and business groups over the rules governing lawsuits has a new battleground.

Senate President Pro tem Darrell Steinberg has introduced a bill that would overturn one of recent legal history's most closely watched state Supreme Court decisions, dealing with recovery of medical costs by injured parties.

Last August, in a 6-1 ruling, the Supreme Court limited how medical damages could be calculated in auto accidents and other personal injury cases. The issue in the case (Howell v. Hamilton Meats) was whether an injured person could collect the full medical bills imposed by doctors, hospitals and other medical care providers, or would be limited to the amounts actually paid by insurers, which are often pennies on the dollar.

The case, stemming from a 2005 collision in San Diego County, involved $200,000 in medical bills that were whittled down to $60,000 before payment. The trial judge decreed that only the smaller amount need be paid, while an appellate court said it should be the full amount, and the issue landed in the Supreme Court.

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."

February 16, 2012
Darrell Steinberg: Time to rally behind Jerry Brown's tax plan

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said today that it's time to end sparring over competing measures and rally behind Gov. Jerry Brown's tax initiative for the November ballot.

The Sacramento Democrat, in what he characterized as a "clarion call," said that Brown's tax initiative appears to be the state's best alternative. Placing competing measures on the ballot could hurt its prospects, he said.

"It's time to get behind the governor's tax initiative," Steinberg said.

"If you have two or three of them on the ballot at one time, they're all at risk of losing," he said.

Brown's proposal would generate nearly $7 billion in budget relief by raising income taxes on high earners and by enacting a half-cent increase in the sales tax.

Two other revenue-raising proposals are being debated among Democrats supporting a tax hike.

The California Federation of Teachers is pushing a tax increase on millionaires, while attorney Molly Munger, an activist on civil rights and education policy issues, is leading a drive to raise state income taxes for all but the poorest Californians to fund schools and early childhood development proposals.

Steinberg, who led a drive to increase taxes on the wealthy seven years ago, said he is convinced that the newly proposed millionaires tax would spark "significant funded opposition" that could sink it at the polls.

The Senate leader said that he wants to see another round of polling on Munger's proposal but that it is not likely to catch fire among voters because it proposes an income tax hike on most working Californians.

"Her polls and the public polls that I've seen show her initiative as not having great upward trajectory," he said.

"I just don't think this is the time," he said of Munger's proposal. "Because the time is now to get behind one solid proposal that presents the biggest opportunity to both fund education and also to end the deficit in California."

Asked if supporters of the tax proposals competing with Brown's could collect the required number of ballot signatures but delay turning them in, thus qualifying for the 2014 ballot, Steinberg indicated that was a viable option.

"I'm just going to say this: We're looking at that very carefully," he said. "I think all things are possible."

February 13, 2012
Steinberg seeks state review of Sacramento Co. dental program

door.jpgSenate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg is calling for a state review of a Sacramento County pilot program that provides state-funded dental coverage for low-income children.

A Center for Health Reporting article published in The Bee over the weekend detailed the shortcomings of the managed care program, including long wait times and comparatively low rates of dental care among the more than 110,000 Sacramento County children covered by the program.

In a letter to California Department of Health Care Services Director Toby Douglas, Steinberg called for immediate action to address what he called a "crisis in prevention and treatment services."

"Despite that state funding, disturbing specific patient cases as well as the department's own data cited in the article make it abundantly clear that prevention and treatment services are woefully inadequate for those children most in need," the Sacramento Democrat wrote in the letter.

February 9, 2012
Steinberg 'committed' to passing pension reform before budget

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said today that a nonprofit group's decision to scrap a proposed ballot initiative targeting public employee pensions does not alter his commitment to tackle that issue.

"We are committed to getting pension reform done," the Sacramento Democrat said in a news conference.

Steinberg said he anticipated the question after the advocacy group, California Pension Reform, announced Wednesday that it was shutting down its effort to place a pension initiative before voters this year.

Steinberg said he is committed to passing pension reform before adoption of a state budget this year.

The Senate leader said he intends to address all 12 points of a pension overhaul proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown, but added, "That doesn't mean we're going to do every point in the way he suggests."

January 18, 2012
VIDEO: Steinberg, Pérez on future of high-speed rail

Gov. Jerry Brown wants the green light to move forward with construction of California's proposed bullet train.

The Democratic governor called on the Legislature to approve funding for the high-speed rail project today, telling lawmakers in his State of the State address that a revised business plan that will allow construction on the project to start by the end of the year will be released within weeks.

Despite ongoing criticisms about the cost and blueprint for the voter-approved rail project, Democratic legislative leaders appear poised to back the governor's commitment to the bullet train.

See why Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg support the project and where they stand on the question of where to start laying the track in this video from their Capitol press conference today.

December 2, 2011
Sacramento journalists, politicos face off on the dance floor

Niello_2.jpgReporters and politicians are known more for thinking on their feet than dancing on them.

But it was the latter that mattered Thursday night when a dozen journalists and politicos took to the stage of the Crest Theatre in Sacramento for a ballroom dancing competition. Each was paired with a professional dancer to compete in the tango, foxtrot or waltz category.

"Dancing With the Capitol Stars" was a fundraiser for the Sacramento Press Club's scholarship program and a celebration of 50 years of journalism by Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton.

Bee columnist Dan Walters sat on the panel of three judges, handing out Simon Cowell-esque feedback after each performance. He told Assemblywoman Alyson Huber that her dance was "smoother than your re-election campaign will be," and told former Assemblyman Lloyd Levine that his moves proved his reputation as "one of the most slippery members of the Legislature."

Fellow judge Ron Cunningham, artistic director of the Sacramento Ballet, may have delivered the slickest dis when he told former Assemblyman Roger Niello that his performance was "effortless." As in, he made none.

The same couldn't be said for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, who sang a spoof rendition of Frank Sinatra's "That's Life." Steinberg's out-of-pitch opening line was: "The press. What all reporters say. Like my ideas in April, tear them down in May. But a strong poll makes you change your tune. Putting me back on top in June."

At the end of the night, judges named political consultant Karen Skelton the winning dancer. She's the daughter of the LA Times columnist who was being honored at the event. And their family was a major donor in putting it on.

"Someone call the FPPC!" demanded one spectator, with typical Capitol cynicism.

PHOTO: Professional dancer Barnaly Pande and her dance partner, former Assemblyman Roger Niello, R-Fair Oaks, dance the waltz at the Sacramento Press Club's "Dancing with the Capitol Stars" fundraiser Thursday at the Crest Theater. Adam Gottlieb/Sacramento Press Club

October 8, 2011
Jerry Brown suggests local observer panels to improve schools

Gov. Jerry Brown suggested in a veto message this afternoon that California might improve its schools by establishing a system of local panels to observe teachers, interview students and examine their work, among other things.

Brown, a critic of the state's existing testing program, vetoed Senate Bill 547 by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, that sought to change how the state measures high school performance, including factors such as graduation and promotion rates and career readiness.

"There are other ways to improve our schools - to indeed focus on quality," Brown wrote. "What about a system that relies on locally convened panels to visit schools, observe teachers, interview students, and examine student work? Such a system wouldn't produce an API number, but it could improve the quality of our schools."

The Democratic governor called the legislation, a priority of Steinberg's, "yet another siren song of school reform."

The bill, he said, "certainly would add more things to measure, but it is doubtful that it would actually improve our schools. Adding more speedometers to a broken car won't turn it into a high-performance machine."

September 8, 2011
California Senate report says tax breaks are 'bleeding cash'

As Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders dicker over a package of business tax incentives aimed at boosting the state's stagnant economy, an oversight office created by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has concluded that previous corporate tax breaks cost many billions of dollars more than anticipated.

The report, issued Thursday by the Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes, provides ammunition for tax reformers who have called for closing corporate loopholes to raise state revenues and who are leery of opening new ones.

Brown has proposed to change the way multistate and multinational corporations are taxed to raise revenues, then use the proceeds for targeted tax breaks to spur job-creating investment. But with the 2011 legislative session in its final hours, he's encountered resistance from Republicans whose votes would be needed for the tax swap.

Meanwhile, Steinberg's investigators, who are mostly former Capitol reporters, have concluded that "some California tax breaks are acting as blank checks, costing the state billions of dollars more than anticipated when they first were put in place..."

They estimate that over the last decade, 10 major corporate tax breaks have cost the state treasury $6.3 billion more than estimates when they were enacted, including $1.3 billion more in 2010-11.

August 25, 2011
Attempt to keep Cogdill, Kelley on water panel blocked in Senate

HA_cogdill.JPGGov. Jerry Brown's decision to remove two GOP appointees to the California Water Commission sparked a partisan dispute under the dome this morning as Senate Republicans sought to approve the appointees despite Brown's plans to replace them.

Brown said last week that he plans to replace former Republican Sen. Dave Cogdill and former Sonoma County Water Agency Director Paul Kelley on the nine-member panel, but has yet to formally withdraw either appointment, both of which were made by former GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Instead, Brown asked Democratic leaders to let the appointments lapse at year's end by not approving them by their confirmation deadline.

Senate GOP leader Bob Dutton today introduced a motion to bypass the Senate Rules Committee, which has not yet considered the nominations, and immediately hold a floor vote on confirming both members.

August 16, 2011
Steinberg pledges to target regulatory process in final weeks

With less than four weeks left in this year's legislative session, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg says his top priority will be putting Californians back to work.

"It doesn't take any kind of a brain surgeon or political genius to know that the economy and unemployment are the most important issues," Steinberg told reporters yesterday after a Senate floor session.

For the Sacramento Democrat, that means pursuing a handful of proposed changes to the state's regulatory processes, including measures to streamline permitting, take duplicative regulations off the books and create some sort of standardized economic impact analysis to weigh the costs of new regulations. Some of those measures were unveiled in February as part of a package backed by Steinberg and other Democrats, while others were discussed as part of this year's failed negotiations to hold a statewide election on taxes.

July 29, 2011
California budget veterans offer stalemate advice to feds

It's July 29, and California is in the unusual position of having its fiscal house in order while federal leaders are mired in a partisan battle over the debt ceiling.

We asked a few veterans of state budget battles, past and present, how Washington leaders might reach a bipartisan deal in the coming days. They emphasized that the specifics of the state budget and the federal debt ceiling are different, though they saw plenty of parallels in the political dynamics.

July 27, 2011
Steinberg-backed Unity Center gets $300,000 from casino tribe

A wealthy Indian tribe has given another $300,000 boost to a nonprofit center for unity and tolerance championed by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

The Sacramento Democrat reported soliciting the contribution for the planned Capital Unity Center from the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation in a behested payment disclosure to the Fair Political Practices Commission earlier this month. The Capay Valley tribe, which is a major political contributor and lobbying force in the Capitol, operates the Cache Creek Casino and Resort in Brooks.

Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation Chairman Marshall McKay said in a statement that the tribe is supporting the project because it believes "as a society and a people, we all benefit from a culture of openness and tolerance."

"Native Americans have for generations felt the pain of discrimination, and know first hand the harm it can bring," he said. "The Yocha Dehe Community Fund's support for the center is based on our hope that through outreach and education others can be spared this pain."

July 6, 2011
Video: Darrell Steinberg answers Facebook-generated question

We asked our Facebook fans to contribute questions for The Bee Capitol Bureau's interview with Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

The hourlong interview with the Sacramento Democrat touched on many of the topics raised by readers. Here's Steinberg's response to a question based on one submitted by Facebook user who wanted to know whether Steinberg thinks Proposition 25 is a bad thing, given that legislators temporarily lost their pay and some experts believe the first majority-vote budget is unbalanced:

Click here to become a fan of Capitol Alert on Facebook. Check out tomorrow's Bee for Bee colleague Kevin Yamamura's recap of Steinberg's comments on the budget.

July 6, 2011
Steinberg says no-pay decision needs to be challenged

Legislative pay has resumed in the wake of last week's budget deal, but Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said Wednesday that lawmakers still take exception to Controller John Chiang's decision to cut off their wages last month.

Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat, said the issue needs to be legally challenged, though he still doesn't know who will pursue the case.

"In the moment, of course, it was a popular decision," Steinberg told The Bee's Capitol Bureau. "But over the long term, do we really want any governor of the state of California, or a controller, or it could be an attorney general, to say, 'I demand more cuts. I demand solutions different from what you presented or else people aren't going to get paid.' "

After Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed Democrats' first majority-vote budget, Chiang reviewed the plan using new authority under Proposition 25. Voters passed that measure in 2010 to dock pay for late spending plans and reduce the vote threshold for budget passage. Chiang determined that their budget did not meet qualifications for a balanced budget under Proposition 58 and so was insufficient to meet the pay requirement.

Over 12 days, rank-and-file lawmakers lost about $4,830 each in salary and per diem.

"I think it was an erroneous decision," Steinberg said. "And I think over time it will be seen as a decision with very troubling precedent for this state and our system of government."

Lawmakers in both parties questioned the decision, though Democrats seemed to react with more anger than their GOP counterparts. Democrats maintained that their budget was balanced in accordance with the law.

It is not clear that the budget that Democrats passed and Brown signed last week would meet the same tests Chiang used in his analysis, but the controller believes he does not have authority to intervene once the governor signs the budget.

June 27, 2011
Jerry Brown, Democratic leaders announce budget deal

Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic legislative leaders announced today that they have reached an agreement on a new majority-vote budget plan.

"We've had some tough discussions, but I can tell you that the Democrats in both the Senate and the Assembly have now joined with the administration and myself and we have a very good plan going forward with the budget," Brown said at a press conference in his office this afternoon.

The proposal, outlined in this post, assumes that the state will bring in an additional $4 billion in revenues in the upcoming fiscal year, based in part on higher-than-expected revenue figures in recent months. If those revenues fail to materialize, steeper cuts to programs including K-12 schools, higher education, public safety programs and In-Home Supportive Services would occur later in the year.

"We have severe trigger cuts that will be triggered and go into effect (without the projected revenues)," Brown said. "And those are real."

Brown vetoed the majority-vote budget that lawmakers approved ahead of the Legislature's June 15 budget deadline, calling the package of spending cuts, funding shifts and one-time fixes "not a balanced solution." Legislators have also lost their pay in the wake of Controller John Chiang's decision that the plan approved earlier this month fails to meet the requirements for pay under the voter-approved initiative allowing the budget to be passed with a majority vote.

The governor, who has been working for months to secure Republican votes needed to hold a statewide election on expiring higher tax rates, said without a deal on his original proposal, leaders will have to "look very seriously" at using the initiative process to qualify a measure to secure future revenues.

Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez said Brown and Democrats "have not wavered in our belief that new revenues are essential" to balance the budget over the long term.

"The conversation has been started and we will keep that conversation going as we move to the ballot next year," Pérez said.

Senate Republican leader Bob Dutton criticized the plan unveiled today as a "hope without change" budget.

"This latest budget is based on the hope that $4 billion in new revenues will miraculously materialize, but does absolutely nothing to change government as usual," he said in a statement.

Read more about the plan here.

June 20, 2011
Steinberg raises legal questions about withholding pay

It wasn't any legislator's favorite question Monday, but it was the one reporters kept asking: Should you continue receiving pay?

After emphasizing he was more concerned about potential deep cuts in the wake of Gov. Jerry Brown's veto, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, a lawyer, offered arguments for why Controller John Chiang should pay lawmakers.

Chiang, a Democrat in charge of issuing paychecks, is weighing whether to issue salary and living expenses under a new voter-approved law that docks legislative pay for each day the budget is late. Democratic lawmakers passed a majority-vote budget on Wednesday, the constitutional deadline, but Brown vetoed it immediately while questioning its legal viability and balance.

The law itself, Proposition 25, is silent as to whether the budget must be "balanced," but Chiang said earlier this month that it should be read in conjunction with another law requiring a balanced budget. The controller is reviewing the budget bills and is expected to decide this week on whether to issue pay.

Steinberg's first argument had to do with separation of powers. He said that it would be bad precedent to allow a controller - or anyone else from the executive branch - to decide on whether lawmakers should get paid.

"Forget any of us as individuals, it is a bad precedent for anyone in the executive branch to question the quality of a budget passed by the legislators," Steinberg said after a brief Monday floor session. "Because to do so shifts the balance of powers in what is supposed to be coequal branches of government in a way I think is dangerous."

"Think about if there was a governor or treasurer or controller from the other party, think about that," he added. "And they were unhappy with the quality of a budget the Legislature passed. They would then have the ability, if Proposition 25 were to be interpreted in a way some suggest, to say not good enough. We withhold your pay until you make all of the decisions and all of the cuts that we believe are appropriate."

A separate issue, Steinberg said, is whether the controller's interpretation undermines the spirit of the state's conflict of interest law.

The Senate leader noted that lawmakers have a duty to abstain from voting on matters in which they have a personal financial interest. He suggested that if the controller withholds pay, then lawmakers may decide to slash programs just to benefit their own pocketbooks.

"Think about how all that could be turned on its head here if, in fact, we have to make a decision, choices, that have real impact when it comes to cuts on the people of California and our own well being," Steinberg said. "I don't think that even the authors of Prop 25 ... would see that as any kind of healthy development for California. We ought to make the decisions that we make on the level of cuts on the merits."

Torey Van Oot contributed to this report.

June 17, 2011
Steinberg to halt confirmation of Brown's appointees

20110120_HA_STEINBERG1217.JPG Hours after Gov. Jerry Brown roiled majority Democrats with his budget veto, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg made public his plans to halt consideration of the governor's appointees "for an indefinite period of time."

Members of the Senate Rules Committee were informed via email yesterday that gubernatorial appointees requiring Senate confirmation will not be considered by the committee or put up for a floor vote until further notice.

"The Rules Committee will not be meeting to consider any Governor's appointments for an indefinite period of time per the Pro Tem. In addition, no action will be taken on appointees pending on the floor during this time," the email reads.

When asked why Steinberg decided to hold off on confirmation of Brown's appointees, spokesman Nathan Barankin said, "We're focused on the budget right now."

Gubernatorial appointees in need of Senate confirmation must be approved within one year of their nomination in order to retain their posts for the full term. The only Brown appointee currently awaiting a full Senate vote is David Maxwell-Jolly, the governor's pick for undersecretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency, according to Steinberg's office. Several dozen people nominated by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger who still need to be considered by either the committee or the full house face confirmation deadlines this summer.

Editor's note: An update on the number of appointees pending was added to this post at 2:30 p.m.

PHOTO CREDIT: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, speaks at the Capitol Bureau on Jan. 20, 2011. Hector Amezcua, Sacramento Bee.

June 16, 2011
Democratic leaders come out firing against Jerry Brown

UPDATE 6:43 p.m. to add video of the Democratic legislative leaders press conference

The state's two Democratic legislative leaders parted ways with Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday after he swiftly vetoed their budget plan, saying they were "deeply dismayed" by the governor's action in a hastily called Capitol press conference.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles, blamed Republicans for not agreeing to a bipartisan deal to extend taxes. But the two leaders also took shots at Brown and said the governor's inability to secure enough GOP votes forced their hand.

"We are too far down the road for the governor to continue avoiding a specific proposal or specific set of proposals of what he intends to do or wants to be done if he can't gain those Republican votes," Steinberg said. "Governor, over the next two weeks, if you can't get the Republican votes, give us your specific changes to the budget that we passed yesterday that can be adopted by a majority vote."

"The governor's constant references to his January proposal ring hollow if he is unable to deliver Republican votes," Steinberg concluded.

Scroll down to see Hector Amezcua's video of their news conference.

Republicans praised Brown's immediate veto Thursday, but they denied that they were the cause of the state's budget woes.

Four Republicans who had been negotiating with Brown - Senators Tom Berryhill, Anthony Cannella, Bill Emmerson and Tom Harman - issued the following statement: "While the Governor did the right thing by vetoing the Democrats sham budget, we challenge his assertion that Republicans have blocked the right of the people to vote. In fact, it's the Democrats who are holding California hostage by refusing to allow the voters to weigh in on meaningful structural reforms -- not just Governor Brown's tax proposal.

June 15, 2011
Opponents of Steinberg's local tax bill vow referendum fight

Opponents of a controversial bill to give local governments more power to seek tax increases have preemptively launched a campaign to repeal the measure should it become law.

A business-backed coalition called Stop Hidden Taxes has opened a campaign account to fund a referendum on the legislation, which would allow counties, school districts, community college districts and county boards of education to ask voters to approve taxes on a variety of goods and services, including income, sales, alcohol, oil and medicinal marijuana.

"Allowing this bill to become law would undermine the state's struggling economy, kill jobs and send exactly the wrong message about California's business climate to prospective employers. We are confident voters will reject this measure at the ballot box," said California Chamber of Commerce CEO Allan Zaremberg, a co-chairman of the campaign.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, who authored Senate Bill 23 X1, has sought to use the threat of new local taxing authority as leverage in the budget process, saying he will pursue the measure absent a budget solution that provides adequate funding for local services.

The majority-vote bill was approved by the Senate last Friday after a proposal to extend higher tax rates for one year, which requires Republican support, fell short of passage. Steinberg's measure has yet to be sent to the Assembly for consideration.

Steinberg, who transferred the contents of what was formerly Senate Bill 653 into a budget trailer bill earlier this month, has suggested it could not be subject to referendum in its current form. Opponents, citing a Legislative Counsel opinion requested by Assembly GOP leader Connie Conway, dispute that claim.

The opposition coalition says they have already retained a campaign consulting team, pollster and a firm to gather the 504,760 valid voter signatures they would need to ask voters to repeal the measure if it becomes law. Qualifying a referendum within 90 days of the bill being signed into law would block the proposal from taking effect until the bill is put on the ballot.

June 14, 2011
Faith-based, community groups pray for California budget fix

With just one day remaining until the constitutional deadline for the Legislature to pass a budget, some observers are hoping a higher power can help close a deal to extend the duration of temporary tax rates set to expire.

Hundreds of people from across the state gathered at the Capitol late this morning for a march and prayer rally in support of a budget that protects funding for education and social services.

"We're here because we believe balancing the budget is the moral thing to do," the Rev. Sharon Stanley, of Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries, told the crowd. "And supporting the hopes and aspirations of the young people that we love and sharing responsibility for caring for them and caring for the poor is the moral thing to do."

Speakers at the rally, held on the Capitol's south steps and organized by a coalition of faith-based and community groups called PICO California, urged lawmakers to support Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal that the Legislature approve extending higher tax rates temporarily and set an election to ask the voters to decide at a later date whether to approve them for a longer period of time.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg told the crowd that Republican votes needed to pass the tax proposal "don't appear to be forthcoming," but reiterated his pledge to move forward with a budget vote by the June 15 deadline with or without a bipartisan agreement.

"Those votes could come between now and five o'clock, or between now and midnight, or between now and four in the morning, and I have said, 'Call me any time, day or night,' But I will tell you this, if those voters aren't there, the majority party will in fact use its majority power to do the very best we can to pass a budget on time that protects the most vulnerable in California," the Sacramento Democrat said.

Video by Hector Amezcua.

June 10, 2011
Senate OKs local tax authority bill after 'tax bridge' falls short

bp capitol budget_4_darrell_steinberg_bob_dutton.JPGShort on votes to extend higher tax rates for one year, the Senate today approved a bill to give counties and local school officials more power to seek tax increases on their own.

"We mean business, and we take our responsibility very seriously to provide the resources to schools and to people who risk their lives in uniforms," Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, who authored the measure, told reporters after today's floor session. "One way or another, we're going to provide the opportunity for those institutions and those public servants to do their jobs and to serve our kids."

Senate Bill 23 1X, would give county supervisors and school officials the ability to ask voters to increase taxes on a variety of goods and services -- including income, sales, alcohol, cigarettes, medicinal marijuana and oil -- to fund local services.

June 9, 2011
POLL: Should taxes, GOP proposals be linked on the ballot?

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said today he wants the fate of Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed tax extensions to be tied on the ballot to the pension and spending cap proposals that Republican legislators want as part of the deal to call a statewide special election.

"It needs to be linked, no question," the Sacramento Democrat said, adding: "If you're really willing to move towards the middle and you're really willing to try to make a deal, then you ought to be living with the result that says it all goes up or it all goes down."

Republican Sen. Bob Huff, the vice chair of the Budget Committee, said through a spokesman that, like the contents of a possible special election ballot, the number of measures and whether they would be linked are matters that aren't "carved in stone yet."

The Senate plans to continue to tackle this question and other issues as members of the upper house prepare to meet Friday and through the weekend ahead of the June 15 deadline for approving a budget. Cast your vote on the issue in the poll below, and feel free to share your reasoning in the comments field.

June 7, 2011
Senate plans to air warnings of all-cuts budget on floor

With a deal to close the budget deficit with the help of tax extensions yet to emerge, members of the Senate have been asked to come to the floor this week prepared for story time.

The office of Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, who had set tomorrow as a goal to hold a budget vote, has informed members on both sides of the aisle that this week's floor sessions will include sharing testimony from school and public safety officials on the adverse effects of an all-cuts alternative.

"The pro tem is asking all senators to call their sheriffs and the superintendents of their school districts in their Senate districts and get short letters from each of them, describing the cuts they will have to make, worst case scenario (if the Senate must pass a budget without continuing existing revenues)," Kathy Dresslar, Steinberg's chief of staff, wrote in an email to the chief of staff for the Senate Republican Caucus.

"Our floor session on Wednesday and Thursday will include reading these letters aloud on the floor of the Senate," her email added.

A spokeswoman for GOP Senate leader Bob Dutton has yet to issue a response to Steinberg's request, though it's unlikely that Senate Republicans, who have largely opposed Gov. Jerry Brown's tax proposal, would take to the floor to wax poetic on the dangers of more cuts.

Steinberg spokesman Mark Hedlund said the intent of the request "is to have an opportunity to hear from stakeholders about the impacts of the budget."

Tomorrow's scheduled floor session has been tentatively canceled, and members have been instructed to remain on call for possible sessions during the remainder of the week. Hedlund said that Steinberg is still aiming to take up budget bills this week.

June 2, 2011
Steinberg to keep local tax bill on the table amid budget talks

20110120_HA_STEINBERG1217.JPG Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg today moved to keep alive a bill to give local governments more power to seek taxes as budget negotiations continue, pledging to pursue the controversial measure absent a deal to close the remaining $9.6 billion deficit.

Senate Bill 653 would allow local governments, county boards of education and community college districts to ask voters to raise taxes on a variety of goods and services, including sales, income, alcohol and oil severance taxes.

Steinberg said today he will amend the contents of the bill into a budget trailer bill -- a move that allows him to keep the measure active without a floor vote before Friday's deadline for passing bills out of the house of origin.

The Sacramento Democrat called the majority-vote bill "one of the few tools to fulfill our most important responsibility" of ensuring funding for education, public safety and other vital services. But he told members on the floor that he will drop the effort if Republican support for Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed tax extensions emerges as part of a budget deal.

"If we can reach this agreement over the next week, which I believe it vital for public education and public safety in this state, I will then not move 653," he said. "But clearly we are not going to reach a handshake agreement on the state tax extension in advance of tomorrow's bill deadline."

Taxpayer groups and businesses and industries that could be targeted by taxes have rallied against the measure, saying it will burden taxpayers and hurt economic growth. Read the full bill at this link.

PHOTO CREDIT: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, speaks at the Capitol Bureau on Jan. 20, 2011. Hector Amezcua, Sacramento Bee.

May 16, 2011
Brown, Steinberg differ on how soon election should come

Gov. Jerry Brown said in unveiling his revised budget proposal today that any election to ask voters to ratify higher tax rates should be held "as soon as possible."

But Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, told reporters any election on taxes and other budget-related proposals "ought to be as far off as is reasonably possible."

How soon is soon enough to be one of the many issues up for debate now that Brown's updated plan has been released.

Brown said at a morning press conference that he sees the fall as a logical time to ask voters to approve continuing higher sales and vehicle tax rates.

Steinberg, who noted that Brown did not name a target election date in his proposal, said a buffer on the tax vote would give schools and other public services more funding stability in the coming fiscal year.

"2012 to me in the normal election cycle would be an appropriate time to have an election if an election is necessary," the Sacramento Democrat said.

But before an election date is set, Brown and Democrats will still need to secure the two GOP votes in each house to extend the taxes and call an election. GOP Republican Sen. Bob Huff, vice chair of the Senate Budget Committee, called the governor's proposal "short on reforms," saying his colleagues will still need to see serious proposals on a spending cap and other GOP-backed structural changes in order to support the plan.

"Republicans are going to be reluctant to (vote) on something business as usual," the Diamond Bar Republican said. "Unless you fix the underlying problem that takes into account Sacramento, the Legislature's appetite to spend more than we take in, unless we fix that underlying problem, I do not see that there's going to be Republican votes for this."

Steinberg, who praised Brown's proposal as a balanced approach focused on a long-term solution, was optimistic his house would hold a floor vote on the budget "well before" the June 15 legislative deadline for approving a budget.

"We're on a very fast track, we don't have to start from scratch, a lot of the work in terms of analysis and also negotiation has been done... and we intend to finish," he said.

May 16, 2011
Video: Senators differ in critiques of revised budget plan

Watch Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg discuss why he believes Gov. Jerry Brown's revised budget proposal remains the only credible option for solving the state's long-term fiscal problem.

Meanwhile, Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar and the vice-chair of the budget committee, says Brown has not offered the serious reforms needed. He also said the $6.6 billion in unexpected revenue this year and small cuts to state boards and commissions are unsustainable solutions.

May 10, 2011
Ad campaign targets Darrell Steinberg's measure on local taxes

Opponents of legislation to give local governments more power to raise taxes are ramping up their efforts to derail the bill, launching a statewide radio and mail campaign against the measure.

Senate Bill 653, introduced by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, would give counties and school districts the authority to enact a variety of revenue streams with local voter approval, including income, sales and oil severance taxes. The bill was approved last week by the Senate Governance and Finance Committee and will be heard Monday by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Californians Against Higher Taxes is pushing back against the measure with a 60-second radio ad warning that the bill "opens the floodgates for politicians to invent entirely new local taxes on products and services."

"The last thing we need are new and even higher local taxes," an announcer says in the spot, which is running on two Sacramento-area radio stations.

Coalition spokesman Scott Macdonald said the group is also sending mail pieces to "voters in areas where we think there's more sensitivity to these issues" of taxes.

McDonald characterized the radio buy and mail campaign as "moderate" but said the group would turn up the dial if the bill continues to make its way through the Legislature.

"If they are serious about it, we'll get serious about it," he said.

Steinberg said through a spokeswoman that his measure simply gives "local communities another option besides hoping that the minority party supports the Governor's budget proposal."

"I believe the sponsors of this scare tactic would better direct their resources and efforts to convincing enough Republican legislators to vote for the state revenue necessary to save education and public safety," he said in a statement.

Californians Against Higher Taxes was a key supporter of Proposition 26, the 2010 voter-approved measure that raised the legislative vote threshold to two-thirds for some fees. The coalition's 2010 campaign committee was largely funded by the California Chamber of Commerce and other business groups, though the current effort is considered "issue advocacy" and not subject to donor disclosure requirements.

Listen to the full spot at this link.

Editor's note: This post was updated at 5:21 p.m. with a statement from Steinberg.

May 4, 2011
Committee OKs Steinberg bill on local tax increases

The Senate Governance and Finance Committee today approved legislation that would lift longstanding limits on what taxes local governments can propose raising.

Senate Bill 653, by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg would allow counties and school districts to adopt a wide range of taxes -- including income, vehicle, alcohol, cigarette and oil severance taxes -- with voter approval.

Steinberg said the intent of the bill is to give local governments more flexibility to fund key services like schools and public safety if lawmakers are unable to reach a budget solution that includes a statewide revenue stream.

"We cannot leave our communities with just one uncertain option when it comes to closing the 2011-12 budget and putting this fiscal crisis behind us," the Sacramento Democrat told the committee.

Opponents argued that the shift would hinder economic development for businesses and services that would have to comply with varying tax rates and hurt residents by creating unequal levels of funding for services.

Gina Rodriquez of the California Taxpayers Association warned that the bill would create more than 1,000 separate taxing authorities, what she characterized as a fragmented revenue structure that pits "county against county, school district against school district."

"(The Legislature) should be responsible for what the state looks like as a whole," she said.

Opponents also raised concerns about implementing and enforcing the local taxes.

The measure passed on a 6-2 party-line vote.

April 27, 2011
Teachers still calling for Legislature to scuttle election idea

A top adviser to Gov. Jerry Brown suggested Wednesday the governor would veto legislative tax proposals that do not require voter approval, but the California Teachers Association remains steadfast in its belief that lawmakers should pass taxes without going to the ballot.

Brown aide Steve Glazer posted on Twitter this morning that if there's two-thirds legislative support for taxes, "there's 2/3 to override Gov veto."

California Teachers Association President David Sanchez said later that the Education Coalition, which includes a variety of school organizations, still does not believe taxes should be settled at the ballot. Sanchez first made this point two weeks ago, and CTA launched a statewide ad last week urging lawmakers to solve the budget without further cuts.

Sanchez emphasized that a fall election would be a disaster for school districts because they need confidence in their 2011-12 funding level before the school year begins. He again said it would be difficult to persuade voters to pass taxes in September.

Contrary to the position taken by Brown, Sanchez posited that it would be easier to persuade Republicans to pass taxes in the Capitol outright because they'd only have to make a tough vote once this year rather than deal with more cuts should voters reject taxes.

"If you extend taxes by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, it's done and over with," Sanchez said.

Brown's special election remains popular among voters even after his first attempt to call one in June fell short. A Los Angeles Times/University of Southern California poll last week showed that 60 percent of voters support having an election, though fewer voters -- 52 percent -- support the higher tax rates Brown has proposed for the ballot.

One idea under consideration is for the Legislature to maintain higher tax rates past June and then call a special election in September in which voters consider whether to extend them further.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said Wednesday at the Sacramento Press Club he is supportive of bypassing an election to get more tax revenues. But he added that arguing about the mechanism to increase taxes was of lesser importance than getting at least two Republicans in each house to support them, one way or another.

"I'm not looking to distance myself from the governor," Steinberg said. "If we can get the revenue and make an agreement with the Republicans without an election, of course that would save the schools and it would save the universities and it would save the police services. But let's get an agreement first with the Republicans."

Torey Van Oot contributed to this report.

April 27, 2011
Steinberg considers cuts targeting GOP districts

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg today said he is willing to consider calls to target GOP districts with steeper cuts if legislative Republicans will not vote for taxes or to put taxes on a statewide ballot as part of a budget solution.

"When it comes to kids or the vulnerable, I wouldn't want to make distinctions between who lives in a Democratic district and who lives in a Republican district, but when it comes to sort of basic services, convenience services that affect adults... I have an open mind," Steinberg told reporters after speaking at a Sacramento Press Club luncheon.

The Sacramento Democrat said he thinks a targeted-cuts scenario like the one state Treasurer Bill Lockyer laid out in an interview with the Bay Area News Group-East Bay's editorial board comes down to "basic fairness."

"You don't want to pay for government, well then, you get less of it," he said.

Jann Taber, spokeswoman for Senate GOP leader Bob Dutton, said any blame for an all-cuts approach should be placed on the Democrats for rejecting the proposals already offered by Republicans.

"If they're threatening cutting services in Republican districts it's because they're unwilling to stand up to the public employee unions and allow voters to vote on a spending cap and pension reform as part of a budget deal," she said.

April 26, 2011
Senate panel OKs bill to force Kings to repay loan before move

20110120_HA_STEINBERG1217.JPGLegislation that would force the owners of the Sacramento Kings to repay a $77 million loan from the city up front if the franchise moves to Anaheim advanced in the state Senate today.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved on a 3-1 vote Senate Bill 652, which would prohibit professional sports franchises in the state from signing a relocation agreement with another California city if they have outstanding debts to the home city or if the move would breach an existing financial agreement.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, who authored the bill, acknowledged that it is "no secret that the impetus for the bill was the proposed or potential relocation of the Sacramento Kings from Sacramento to Anaheim."

The Sacramento Democrat said while the team's current owners "have always paid their debts and been good stewards," the legislation is "intended to ensure that any sports team honors their financial commitment to their home communities."

"(If) anyone is seeking to make a cold business decision about where they want to relocate, public policy in California ought to be that the city from which they consider leaving is made whole before they in fact do leave," said Steinberg, who voted as a city councilman to approve the 1997 loan to the Kings.

April 5, 2011
Darrell Steinberg to introduce bill to force Kings to repay loan

MAJ DARRELL STEINBERG.JPG Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said today he plans to introduce legislation this week to force the owners of the Sacramento Kings to repay a $77 million loan from the city if they decide to move the team to Anaheim.

The Sacramento Democrat told radio station KFBK (1530 AM) that the measure would state that "no California city can sign a lease with a professional franchise unless that franchise has paid off its existing debt to another city."

"Some might think that has something to do with our Sacramento Kings. It might, but the policy is really what is important to me," Steinberg said in an on-air interview. "California, we're one state. We shouldn't have one city picking off another."

Steinberg acknowledged that the decision to move the Kings boils down to a private business agreement, but said "when there's public money at stake like there is in Sacramento, I think it's proper to say, 'Let's have the debt paid off.' "

The Maloof family, which owns the team, has until April 18 to ask the National Basketball Association board of governors for permission to move the team. The city of Anaheim has taken action intended to draw the team, including approving $75 million in bonds for upgrades to the city's Honda Center.

Steinberg's bill is not the only effort to ensure the loan is repaid. One of the Maloof brothers said that they "have no intention of leaving that town without paying our debt," and the city of Sacramento has asked them to put their assurances in writing.

"They're making a cold business decision -- the city has its right to protect its bottom line," Steinberg said. "This is no sentimentality here."

Listen to the full interview at this link.

PHOTO CREDIT: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, Nov. 13, 2009. Michael Allen Jones/ Sacramento Bee file photo

April 1, 2011
NYC-based research group advising Democrats on tax message

Senate Democrats are turning for the second year to a New York City-based public policy research firm for advice on how to craft their talking points on taxes.

Members and staff are scheduled to attend a Tuesday morning messaging and strategy session put on by representatives from Demos, which bills itself as a nonpartisan organization that "combines research, policy development, and advocacy to influence public debates and catalyze change."

"This will not be an abstract or academic exercise," reads an email memo distributed by the office of Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley. "You will receive specific advice and they will report on their research on how to communicate about tax and budget issues: What to say, how to say it, who to say it to, and how to communicate complex economic issues to reach the widest possible audience with the right message."

The off-site meetings, which will be held in a California Labor Federation conference room, come as legislative Democrats and Gov. Jerry Brown are mulling their next steps to close a projected $15.4 billion budget deficit. Brown has proposed asking voters to continue $11.2 billion in 2009 tax increases. With a June election to extend those taxes before they expire no longer an option, some unions are pushing for other tax increases, including higher tax rates for the top 1 percent of earners, to be included in the budget package.

While the presentation was set up for members of the Senate Majority Caucus and staff, the office of Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said the visit was suggested and arranged by Hancock's office.

"When one of our members has something they'd like to present to the caucus, we accommodate," Steinberg spokesman Nathan Barankin said.

Hancock spokesman Larry Levin said his boss took the initiative to organize the meetings after learning about work Demos has done advising legislators and initiative campaigns in other states. Those efforts including working to "inform public perception of taxes, and to promote a fair tax system that supports effective government structures," according to the Demos website.

Though there is no shortage of budget experts and communications consultants on the payroll at the Capitol, Levin said Demos provides a different perspective for members to consider.

"They were just very impressive in terms of their research and the presentation and how to communicate issues," Levin said. "They're not pollsters and they're not communications people. They're not operational political people. They're a research and policy development independent group."

Levin said Demos is not being compensated by the Legislature but that the visit is part of a California junket sponsored by The San Francisco Foundation, a Bay Area philanthropic and advocacy organization. Last year's visit was funded in part by contributions from individual legislators' campaign accounts, he said.

Sara Ying Rounsaville, vice president of public affairs and communications for The San Francisco Foundation, confirmed that the organization helped arrange and fund Tuesday's trip to Sacramento through its public policy and advocacy program, which supports efforts "designed to achieve social justice and promote progressive social change." The full trip agenda includes Demos workshops for grant recipients and other foundations in the Bay Area and a second Sacramento presentation involving the California Budget Project,which advocates for low-income residents.

"We have a real interest in having an informed and engaged Bay Area population and we include in it our elected representatives in Sacramento," she said.

Rounsaville said organizers sought to target "interested legislators and staff" for the program. Senate Republicans, who were not invited to the Tuesday session, didn't seem to think the added insight would do the Democrats' much good.

"Clearly the Democrats are concerned that California voters are not going to support their tax hike, as they should be," said Jann Taber, spokeswoman for Senate GOP leader Bob Dutton.

March 29, 2011
Jerry Brown declares budget talks dead

Torey Van Oot and David Siders contributed to this report.

Gov. Jerry Brown announced this afternoon he halted negotiations with legislative Republicans over a deal to place taxes on the ballot to help resolve California's remaining $15.4 billion deficit.

A June election appears to be off the table entirely. Brown is no longer pursuing a two-thirds vote for a June tax election, while Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, told reporters he will not pursue a majority-vote option, either.

"Yesterday, I stopped the discussions that I had been conducting with various members of the Republican party regarding our state's massive deficit," Brown said in a statement this afternoon. "The budget plan that I put forth is balanced between deep cuts and extensions of currently existing taxes and I believe it is in the best interest of California. Under our constitution, however, two Republicans from the Assembly and two from the Senate must agree before this matter can be put to the people."

"Each and every Republican legislator I've spoken to believes that voters should not have this right to vote unless I agree to an ever changing list of collateral demands," the Democratic governor added.

Senate Republicans on Friday released a list of major policy changes they wanted as a condition of voting for Brown's budget proposals. The move was widely seen as disruptive to talks, but the governor had reached out to three Senate Republicans this weekend in hopes of salvaging a deal before deciding to call off talks.

One of the three, Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, blamed trial lawyers, unions and "other stakeholders" for being unwilling to negotiate on pension cuts, a long-term cap on spending and regulatory changes.

"As a result of these groups' refusal to challenge the status quo, it has become clear the governor and legislative Democrats are not in a position to work with us to pass the measures necessary to move California forward," Cannella said in a statement. "Thus, I do not foresee a path to compromise."

Brown did not specify what he would do next.

"Much is at stake, and in the coming weeks I will focus my efforts on speaking directly to Californians and coming up with honest and real solutions to our budget crisis," he said.

Brown is considering alternative ways to put tax extensions on the ballot, possibly by gathering signatures for a November ballot initiative. He suggested in his release that he may be skeptical of the majority-vote approach, saying the Constitution requires a two-thirds majority.

The governor does not need to call an election to approve higher taxes; he can do so with a two-thirds vote of the Legislature. But he promised voters last year he would seek their opinion before seeking more taxes.

The absence of a June election casts doubt on whether state leaders can resolve the budget before the next fiscal year starts in July. Democrats did not indicate how they would attempt to do so.

"They've done a pretty good job of running out the clock here," Steinberg said, referring to legislative Republicans.

March 25, 2011
Steinberg's mood meter

As we come down to a key decision point in the budget process, Capitol Alert introduces one gauge for keeping track of how things are going. On Thursday, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said his "mood meter" was more positive. Today, he was using some of the stronger language he uses: "God darn it."

March 25, 2011
Steinberg's ready to 'pull the plug,' call a vote on tax election

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg expressed frustration at the pace and status of budget negotiations today, saying he feels "prepared to pull the plug" and move forward with floor votes on a June tax election if a deal does not emerge in the coming days.

"We are going to get to our floor, we are going to put up the vote and if the vote isn't there then we are going to consider the other pathways," said Steinberg, adding he will support the direction the governor chooses. "It is high time that this come to a close here."

Steinberg's comments, posted at this link, come as time is running out for lawmakers to set a June special election to ask voters to continue higher tax rates for five years to help plug a projected $26.6 billion budget deficit.

Talks continue between Gov. Jerry Brown and Republicans whose support he needs for a two-thirds vote to put the proposal on the ballot, though attempting to call the election with a majority vote and launching an initiative campaign are two other possibilities now under consideration.

Budget Committee Vice-Chairman Bob Huff as well as several members of the so-called "GOP 5" group of senators confirmed today that Huff and Senate GOP leader Bob Dutton are now taking the lead roles in negotiations. The two were seen entering the governor's office late this morning.

Steinberg slammed Republicans' negotiating tactics, complaining that despite weeks of talks GOP lawmakers have yet to release a "term sheet" outlining what it will take for Republicans to put up the necessary votes.

"Whether it is fear or just sort of the inability to negotiate in a way that narrows differences as opposed to a way that continually expands them, this is ridiculous," he said.

Members of both houses were told after morning floor sessions to remain within several hours of the Capitol this weekend in case floor votes are called.

But comments from Republicans seemed to reinforce notions that an agreement is not yet imminent. When asked after the session whether he thinks a deal will be reached this weekend, Huff said, "That remains to be seen."

"I don't think we're at a point where trying to describe the state of negotiations is a terribly fruitful exercise," GOP Sen. Sam Blakeslee, a member of the GOP 5 said during the floor session.

March 24, 2011
VIDEO: Steinberg still aims for 2/3 vote as budget talks continue

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg is still seeking to reach a deal this week to approve Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed June election on taxes by a two-thirds vote, saying after a morning floor session that his "mood meter" is more positive in light of ongoing negotiations with Republicans.

"The discussions on the specifics are intensifying," he said of budget talks involving some of his GOP colleagues.

As the window for calling an early June election to keep higher tax rates in place narrows, other options for placing taxes on the ballot are circulating. Routes under consideration include a majority vote, which could face legal challenges, or a drive to qualify a November initiative. Steinberg said he has not ruled out any alternative scenarios, but hopes a deal on a two-thirds vote can be reached.

"It's no secret. We're looking at every option because we have to, but the preferred way to go is to make a bipartisan agreement, and that's what we continue to focus on," he said, adding that a resolution will be necessary by week's end.

Watch a video of Steinberg's remarks below:

VIDEO CREDIT: Torey Van Oot, Sacramento Bee

March 23, 2011
Steinberg: Expect next steps in budget 'very, very soon'

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said today that the next steps in Gov. Jerry Brown's ongoing effort to call a special election on extending expiring tax rates could emerge as soon as tomorrow.

"I think that you can expect a resolution in terms of direction very, very soon," he said after a meeting of the Senate Rules Committee.

With time running out to put the tax proposal on a June special election ballot, several alternatives are being floated. Options include seeking to qualify the plan for a ballot later in the year through the initiative process or attempting to set a June special election by a majority vote.

"I think the question before the state now is whether there are at least several members of the Republican Party who want to help govern California. We hope the answer is yes, but of course we are preparing for the possibility that the answer is no," the Sacramento Democrat said.

The Senate has scheduled a 9 a.m. floor session for tomorrow, which a spokesman said was called to accommodate an upcoming deadline for confirming two appointees.

Steinberg wouldn't specify whether the impending "direction" will include floor action tomorrow or pursuing a majority vote strategy.

"We are in the process of talking about all the alternatives, so I'm not going to say definitively," he said.

March 15, 2011
Jerry Brown coy on budget talks, expects vote this week

Gov. Jerry Brown said this morning that he expects floor votes on the budget in the Legislature this week, after talks with Republican senators appeared Monday to lose steam.

Brown had asked Democratic legislative leaders last week to delay any vote, citing progress in negotiations with Republicans. Brown lacks the GOP votes necessary to ask voters to extend tax increases, a central part of his budget proposal.

The Democratic governor had been negotiating with a splinter group of five Republican senators, but he declined to say how many of those Republicans he still is contacting, if any.

"I'm talking with some people," he said while walking from the Capitol to the Hyatt Regency Sacramento, where he was addressing a group. "That's all I can say."

Brown, who huddled with Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John A. Perez this morning for less than an hour, said he expects budget votes in the Legislature this week, even if those votes only address spending reductions, one part of his budget.

"I think there are some Republicans who are very committed to doing something, but so far there's no, there's no agreement," he said. "We'll have some votes, though, sometime during the week, and then we'll see where we are."

Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said he will make an announcement today about when the Senate might vote on Brown's budget. He said it will be "very soon."

"We're going to get to our floor, begin the debate and keep coming back day after day," Steinberg said.

It was less clear what to expect on the Assembly side.

"Still moving forward," Perez said. "We're hopeful to have a resolution soon, but we'll see how conversations proceed."

Brown maintained he will not try to push his tax measure through the Legislature on a majority vote. He said he wants Republican support and that, "No matter how many times you ask me, I'm going to say the same thing."

Brown is proposing a mix of spending cuts and tax extensions to resolve a $26.6 billion deficit.

He criticized Republicans for failing to propose spending cuts they could support.

"Most of the time they want to spend more money, like redevelopment or this project or that project," Brown said. "Those who really want to cut the budget appear to be more in the Democratic majority than in the other party."

March 10, 2011
Steinberg expects budget vote by early next week

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said this morning that budget negotiations with Gov. Jerry Brown and Republicans will continue throughout the weekend, with a floor vote likely by next week.

"We are certainly shooting for, you know, at the very latest Monday, or early, early next week," Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said as he left the governor's office with Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles. "We're going to work it hard through the weekend."

Brown, negotiating with a splinter group of Republican senators, asked Steinberg and Pérez on Wednesday to delay budget votes planned for today, missing his self-imposed deadline but affording him more time to negotiate.

"There comes a point in any process or negotiation where it's very hard to turn back," Steinberg said. "I hope that that's where we're at."

Steinberg and Pérez declined to be specific about negotiating points. The Republican senators have demanded pension, regulatory and other reforms.

Pérez said, "We've got some more work to do, but we're making progress."

March 8, 2011
Steinberg: Senate will pass cuts Thursday

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said after meeting with Gov. Jerry Brown this afternoon that the Senate will vote Thursday to pass spending reductions in Brown's budget plan, despite lacking Republican support for tax extensions.

"We plan to go ahead and take the governor's proposal up in a serious way, including passing the cuts on Thursday," Steinberg said. "We're prepared to pass cuts. ... If the Assembly passes them as well, they get sent to the governor, and I assume he would sign cuts."

Brown acknowledged Monday he does not have the Republican votes necessary to ask voters to extend temporary tax increases on vehicles, income and sales, a central part of his budget proposal.

Brown, who said Monday that he might not reach his Thursday budget deadline, said today that there has been some "movement," though he declined to say what that might be.

"There's a little movement, yes there is," Brown said after meeting with Steinberg. "Not as much as I want, but it's there."

The Democratic governor said he still is talking to Republican lawmakers. Five Republican senators said Monday that they were at an impasse.

The five senators, Tom Berryhill, Sam Blakeslee, Anthony Cannella, Bill Emmerson, and Tom Harman, said in a joint statement this afternoon that they met again with Brown today "out of a mutual desire to keep the conversation moving forward."

Brown said he remains "reasonably confident" that he will reach a budget deal.

Steinberg said of Thursday's vote, "We're going to put up the governor's plan."

UPDATE 4:30 p.m.: This post was updated to include a statement from five Republican senators who said they met again with Brown.

February 22, 2011
Steinberg responds to GOP opposition to Brown's budget plan

20110120_HA_STEINBERG1217.JPG Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said today that Republicans opposing Gov. Jerry Brown's tax extension election proposal without signaling a willingness to compromise need to understand that voters elected Brown and a Democratic majority in the Legislature.

Senate GOP leader Bob Dutton said last week in an interview with The Bee that he's "not interested in providing any votes" for the plan, which needs two-thirds approval to pass, and doesn't expect members of his caucus will be either.

Steinberg called the Rancho Cucamonga Republican a "good guy and a good Californian," but said taking the approach of "if I can look at this and say that it will solve the problem, I'll vote for it" doesn't hold up because "his view of how to solve the problem is different from the majority party's."

"That's where compromise is required," Steinberg said, adding: "We get nowhere when you take the position that if we were in the majority we would do things this way. They're not in the majority and that's the decision of the people, so help us create fiscal stability in ways that are, I think, consistent with the views and the values of the majority of California voters as reflected in the last election."

Steinberg said he believes a majority of Republicans "know that this (budget proposal) is the most responsible and down-the-middle framework that has been advanced."

PHOTO CREDIT: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, speaks at the Capitol Bureau on Jan. 20, 2011. Hector Amezcua, Sacramento Bee.

February 22, 2011
Steinberg: Maloofs should take economic crisis into account

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said today he hopes the owners of the Sacramento Kings are keeping the impact of the economic crisis in mind as they contemplate the future of the professional basketball team.

"There just isn't a lot of money, and I hope the Maloofs would recognize that and would say look, believe in Sacramento and recognize the loyalty that Sacramento has provided in its fan base and with its great enthusiasm for this team over many years," the Sacramento Democrat said. "This can be worked out. The economy is improving. People see a lot of light at the end of the tunnel here."

News broke in recent days that the Maloofs, who own the team, and Anaheim officials have discussed moving the team to Orange County.

In 2006, after he was termed out of the Assembly and before he was elected to the Senate, Steinberg represented the Maloof family in failed negotiations for public financing for a new arena.

While Steinberg said he hopes "whatever they're talking about in Anaheim doesn't work out and there's a little more time," he echoed Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson's comments that city and business leaders' latest effort to construct a new downtown arena will continue -- with or without the Kings.

"I don't think it changes our commitment to try to build a downtown entertainment arena," he said. "When it comes to the world of professional sports, you only have so much control. Sacramento is great with the Kings and if they leave we will still be great."

But he said his underlying message for the team remains: "Don't go."

"This can be worked out," he said. "The economy is improving. People see a lot of light at the end of the tunnel here and stay, stay where you are, we want you here"

February 16, 2011
Democrats introduce bill targeting unnecessary regulations

What could compel a trio of Senate Democrats as well as environmental and business leaders to come together and start combing through 28,000 pages of state regulations?

"We want to talk about Section one-oh-one-oh-hundred-point-one here today," Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said as he scanned one of dozens of binders stacked next to a podium at a morning press conference.


"No, not really," he said, laughing.

The actual occasion? Legislation the sponsors say will create a better business environment by shedding unnecessary regulations from the books.

Senate Bill 366, co-authored by Democratic Sens. Ron Calderon and Fran Pavley , would give state agencies 180 days to review regulations and identify "duplicative, overlapping, inconsistent, or out of date," provisions that should be eliminated. The bill would also direct the the state agency heads to join forces for one year to streamline the business permitting process.

"If we can eliminate the duplication, if we can make government more user friendly, helping people and businesses comply with the law instead of making it more difficult to comply with the law, we can make a real difference in growing jobs here in California," said Steinberg, who had outlined the proposal in an earlier interview with The Bee.

The final decision of what regulations to remove from law would require action from either the Democratic-majority Legislature or Gov. Jerry Brown. Steinberg and the bill's supporters, which include the Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and the California League of Conservation Voters, pledged to keep in place existing regulations that protect consumers, the environment, health and public safety.

"I wouldn't be standing here today if I didn't think we could do both, maintain a strong healthy, vibrant economy and maintain a healthy environment as well. It's not mutually exclusive," Pavley said.

Metro Chamber President and CEO Matthew Mahood said the legislation and other steps to better the climate for business in California could bring his and other business groups on board to support Brown's proposal to ask voters' to extend temporary tax rates set to expire.

"We want to see this regulatory reform happen in a timely manner and if we start seeing the state legislature move in that direction, our board and our members are willing to support the extension of the sales tax and fees," Mahood said.

He said the Metro Chamber and members plan to "push" legislators to "think big" about overhauling the regulatory system, but did not list specifics.

Senate GOP leader Bob Dutton expressed skepticism about the impact the Democrats' bill would actually have, saying "actions speak louder than words so you'll have to see what happens."

"I'm kind of interested to see exactly what they're talking about, because it sounds good but if they don't really go through and actually evaluate these regulations and their impact, then frankly it's not going to do us a lot of good," the Rancho Cucamonga Republican told The Bee Capitol Bureau this afternoon.

Others criticized the proposal for not going far enough. California Republican Party spokesman Mark Standriff said Democrats should embrace recent GOP-backed proposals that would target regulations that have the most impact, not just duplication or ineffective portions of the code.

"This is regulatory spring cleaning," he said of the Senate Democrats' plan. "What the Republicans in the Senate and the Assembly are looking at is real regulatory reform."

VIDEO CREDIT: Binders containing all the regulations currently on the California books are brought into a morning press conference at the Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce office. Hector Amezcua, Sacramento Bee.

February 14, 2011
Steinberg gaffe creates a 'Wanna Get Away?' moment at forum

A light-hearted blunder by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg could have been grist for a "Wanna Get Away?" commercial.

The 51-year-old Sacramento Democrat was presiding in Citrus Heights over a community town hall meeting about the state budget Saturday when a middle-aged woman, perhaps his age, took to the microphone and heaped praise on him.

"That's very kind," Steinberg told the woman, then he tried to make light of the compliments by turning to the crowd and quipping: "That's my mother!"

Spectators laughed, but the woman seemed taken aback as to how she could be mistaken for someone in her 70s or 80s.

Steinberg, blushing, regrouped quickly.

"Just joking, just joking," he told her, smiling.


The crowd roared.

Minutes later, the two shared a good-natured hug.