Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

July 7, 2014
Sentencing for California Sen. Rod Wright delayed a third time


The criminal sentencing hearing for suspended state Sen. Rod Wright has been delayed for a third time as his lawyers argue that the judge should throw out the jury's verdicts that found Wright guilty of eight felonies for lying about where he lived when he ran for office in 2008.

Wright's sentencing hearing -- originally scheduled for March, then delayed until May, then delayed until July 21 -- is now scheduled for Sept. 3.

"We filed a lengthy document and the prosecutor needs time to respond," said Wright's attorney, Winston Kevin McKesson.

Wright's lawyers are asking the court for two things: to not enter, or ratify, the jury's guilty verdicts from January, and to grant Wright a new trial.

Los Angeles prosecutors charged Wright with perjury and voter fraud, arguing that he broke the law in running to represent the Inglewood area in the state Senate because he lived outside the district in the tonier neighborhood of Baldwin Hills. Wright's lawyers argued that he owned homes in both areas, and that the Inglewood home is his legal domicile, allowing him to run for office in that district.

Testimony at the trial noted that Wright rarely slept or prepared meals at the Inglewood home, which he rents to a family member, and prosecutors showed photos of Wright's clothing in the closets of the Baldwin Hills home with his cars parked outside.

Wright's attorneys maintain that state law concerning residency requirements for legislative candidates is vague. A core argument in their request for a new trial is that the prosecution misled by focusing on where where Wright lives.

"The statute doesn't require that you live in the district," McKesson said.

"It was a problem with the continued use of the word 'live' -- not only by the court but by the media as well."

The Los Angeles District Attorney's Office has not yet responded to the motions asking for a new trial and a not-guilty verdict, said spokeswoman Jane Robison.

Many legislators own multiple homes or change their legal addresses as political opportunities arise. Political opponents have brought challenges in some instances, but Wright's case marks the rare criminal prosecution over the question of residency in a legislative race.

Wright continues to earn his $7,543 per month pay as a state senator even though the Senate voted to suspend him in March, taking away his ability to participate in the legislative process. Senate Democrats quashed Republican motions to expel Wright and take away his pay, with Democratic Senate leader Darrell Steinberg arguing that permanently expelling him from the Senate was premature because the jury's guilty verdicts could be overturned by a judge. Steinberg also said the state Constitution doesn't allow the Senate to yank the pay of members who are temporarily suspended.

Facing an unprecedented spate of criminal charges for state senators -- including federal corruption indictments for suspended Democratic Sens. Leland Yee and Ron Calderon -- Steinberg this year wrote a constitutional amendment that, if approved by lawmakers and voters, would allow the Legislature to take away the pay of suspended legislators.

Steinberg issued a statement Monday urging the court evaluating the case against Wright to decide whether the jury's verdicts stand before the Legislature begins its next session on Dec. 1.

"This latest delay sought by the prosecution reflects the complexity of the case and ambiguities in existing law surrounding domicile and residency," Steinberg's statement says.

"However, these deferments weigh upon our institution and they cannot continue indefinitely. With just one month of this legislative session remaining and with Senator Wright's defense brief already prepared and completed in time for July's hearing, I urge the court to resolve this issue before the new legislative session begins."

Editor's note: This post was updated at 3:07 p.m. with response from Senate leader Darrell Steinberg.

PHOTO: Sen. Rod Wright in the Senate chambers on Feb. 3, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

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.

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 4, 2014
California Senate to vote June 16 on Steinberg replacement


The California Senate is set to vote June 16 to formally name Sen. Kevin de León the next leader of the upper house.

De León, a Los Angeles Democrat, emerged from a closed-door Democratic caucus today and said that "by acclamation" -- rather than a vote -- his colleagues chose him as the next Senate President Pro Tem. The move essentially formalizes a decision Senate leaders announced in January because no other candidates have emerged since then.

"I love the Senate and I'm honored and humbled by my colleagues," de León said.

Sen. Darrell Steinberg, the current Pro Tem, will remain in his leadership position until the end of November, said his spokesman Rhys Williams. Steinberg, the Sacramento Democrat who is forced by term limits to leave the Legislature this year, released the following statement:

"I offer my wholehearted congratulations to Kevin, and the Senate Democratic Caucus on their decision today. As we build upon the most productive years in the Legislature's recent history, California can look forward to many more under Senator De León's leadership"

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

June 2, 2014
Public memorial for John Vasconcellos in three weeks


Friends of the late state Sen. John Vasconcellos have organized a public memorial service for Saturday, June 21 at the Mission Church at Santa Clara University.

The service begins at 9 a.m., said Ken Patterson, a former Vasconcellos chief of staff. More information about the event is available here.

Also, there will be a Capitol memorial service in the Senate chambers at 3 p.m. on June 11. Former colleagues of Vasconcellos, such as John Burton and Willie Brown, are expected to be among the speakers.

Other events are in the works, Patterson said. They include a private service in Maui, where Vasconcellos lived much of the year. His ashes will be dispersed there, Patterson said.

In addition, some Japanese leaders in the South Bay are talking about holding a service to honor Vasconcellos, who carried 2001 legislation to help preserve California's Japantown neighborhoods.

Vasconcellos died May 24 after leaving a San Jose hospital for hospice care. He was 82.

Editor's note: This post was updated at 6:50 p.m. on June 2 to include information about a Capitol memorial to Vasconcellos.

PHOTO: Former state Sen. John Vasconcellos, D-Santa Clara, makes a telephone call from the floor of the Senate chambers in February 2003, during his final term in the Legislature. The Sacramento Bee / Dick Schmidt

May 28, 2014
Fracking moratorium dies in California Senate


An effort to halt the oil extraction process known as fracking failed in the California Senate as lawmakers rejected a bill that would have banned the practice until a state-commissioned study proves it is safe.

Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, argued that her measure amounted to hitting "pause" on an oil extraction method that has raised concerns among environmentalists as it's become more common in California and across the nation. Opponents argued that Senate Bill 1132 didn't make sense because California passed a law last year to regulate hydraulic fracturing. Abandoning the practice, they said, would cause some people to lose their jobs.

Mitchell's bill failed when four business-friendly Democrats voted against it and three more Democrats withheld their votes. Its defeat illustrates the influence big business has on moderate Democrats in the California Legislature. Some of the same lawmakers also cast swing votes in the Senate Wednesday that killed bills to limit evictions in San Francisco and require the labeling of genetically-modified foods.

SB 1132 is eligible for reconsideration Thursday.

PHOTO: Fracking wells run day and night near Jack and Shafter roads in Shafter on June 10, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/José Luis Villegas.

May 28, 2014
California lawmakers reject bill to label GMO foods


California lawmakers on Wednesday rejected a proposal to label foods that contain genetically modified ingredients despite calls from advocates who say consumers should know when they're buying food that has been bioengineered.

Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, said her measure would have added California to the 64 countries around the world that have laws requiring labeling on genetically-engineered foods. Senate Bill 1381 would allow people who are concerned about their diets to have more information about what they eat, she said.

Opponents of GMO labeling – including major growers and biotech companies – have argued that genetic engineering is safe and labels are not necessary. The process is so common with certain crops, opponents argue, that labels would be required on most packaged food that is not organic. Most of the corn, sugar beets and soybeans grown in the United States are genetically engineered, and those commodities make their way into many common foods.

Evans' bill was supported by organic farmers and environmental organizations, and opposed by major business interests, including grocers, retailers, chambers of commerce and non-organic growers. The same interests engaged in a multi-million dollar battle in California in November 2012 when voters rejected Proposition 37 to label genetically-engineered foods.

Evans' bill fell two votes short of passage in the 40-member Senate. The measure is eligible for reconsideration Thursday.

PHOTO: Dr. Eduardo Blumwald holds genetically modified rice in a greenhouse at UC Davis in March 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Lezlie Sterling

May 27, 2014
California Senate passes bill to ban sterilizing prison inmates


California jails and prisons would be forbidden from sterilizing inmates for the purpose of birth control under a bill the state Senate passed Tuesday.

Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, wrote Senate Bill 1135 after the Center for Investigative Reporting found that over a five-year period, doctors under contract with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation sterilized nearly 150 female inmates without required state approvals. Former inmates and their advocates said that prison officials coerced women into consenting to the procedures if the officials thought they were likely to return to prison.

"This measure is absolutely necessary to make sure sterilizations are not performed in a coercive prison environment," Jackson told senators Tuesday.

The bill spells out limited circumstances in which prisons would be allowed to sterilize an inmate, such as if it is necessary to save her life. It passed the Senate with unanimous support and now heads to the Assembly for consideration.

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

May 19, 2014
Bonnie Garcia's campaign blasts GOP rival for 'oldest profession' link


Republican Bonnie Garcia's campaign denounced a comment attributed to Jeff Stone, saying the GOP rival in Riverside County's 28th Senate District is equating her fundraising efforts to prostitution.

Stone and fellow Republican candidate Glenn Miller teamed up last week to condemn the influx of money to support Garcia in the GOP-dominated district. Among the contributors is moderate Republican benefactor Charles Munger Jr., a Stanford physicist whose Spirit of Democracy California committee has spent more than $300,000 on behalf of Garcia, a former assemblywoman from Cathedral City.

"Ronald Reagan once said: 'Politics is the second oldest profession, although it bears a close resemblance to the first,'" Stone said in the news release. Prostitution is often called the oldest profession. "We can see this now first hand in this election."

Garcia strategist Matt Rexroad said Stone's critique goes too far.

"They basically call Bonnie Garcia a whore," Rexroad told The Bee.

"This is politics at the worst, and should be denounced by any group that wants to see women elected to office at any level," he added.

Stone's campaign rejected the link.

"Those are their words, not ours," Dave Gilliard said. But he stuck by the campaign's assertions that Garcia would represent the interests of her financial supporters.

Stone and Miller charged Garcia with cozying up to former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger by supporting the state budget to receive an appointment to the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board.

"She is selling out her votes – like she has done in the past – in order to fund her campaign," Gilliard said.

The rivalry between Garcia, a former lawmaker, and Stone, a county supervisor, has grown more personal as the June 3 primary nears. Each has accused the other of ethical lapses.

While there are two Democrats in race, new election rules allow the pair of Republicans to prolong the competition by advancing to the general election in November.

This isn't Munger's first foray into Riverside County politics. In late 2012, Munger largely bankrolled a Republican voter registration effort meant to help GOP candidates in the county.

PHOTO: Ex-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger explains tape-recorded remarks about Assemblywoman Bonnie Garcia at a news conference in 2006. Schwarzenegger apologized for saying during a closed-door meeting that Cubans and Puerto Ricans are temperamental because of their combination of "black blood" and "Latino blood." Garcia said she was not offended by the governor's comments. AP/Reed Saxon

May 12, 2014
California Senate passes bill banning fundraisers at lobbyist homes


California lawmakers would be forbidden from holding campaign fundraisers at the homes of registered lobbyists under a bill the state Senate passed today.

Senate Bill 1441 by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, seeks to eliminate a loophole in California's campaign finance laws that allows lobbyists to host campaign fundraisers at their homes and offices if the cost of the event is less than $500, even though lobbyists may not otherwise contribute to a political campaign. A prominent Sacramento lobbyist and nearly 40 politicians got in trouble earlier this year with the Fair Political Practices Commission for home-based fundraising events that went past the $500 limit.

In February, lobbyist Kevin Sloat admitted in a settlement with the FPPC that he had hosted luxurious fundraising events at his Sacramento home that exceeded the $500 threshold, including expensive liquors and cigars. Sloat paid a fine of $133,500 for hosting the events, setting a new record for the highest fine ever paid in California for violating the state's lobbying laws. Nearly 40 politicians -- including legislative leaders from both houses as well as Gov. Jerry Brown -- received FPPC warning letters for benefiting from the fundraisers at Sloat's home.

SB 1441 passed the Senate without a single vote in opposition; it now heads to the Assembly for consideration.

PHOTO: Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, talks in March 2014 about his bill to ban fundraisers at lobbyists' homes, part of a package of legislation dubbed the "California Accountability in Public Service Act." The Sacramento Bee/Renée C. Byer

May 9, 2014
California Senate to consider whistleblower protection for staff


Senate staff members would get whistleblower protection when reporting misconduct and senators would be banned from political fundraising during the last four weeks of session under a draft of new rules the California Senate will begin to consider this month.

The Legislature's upper house has been rocked this year by criminal charges against three of its members -- including one case of perjury and two of corruption -- and the recent revelation that its in-house law enforcement chief withheld information about an employee who used drugs the night he was involved in a fatal gunfight.

Now the Senate is considering the following rule changes, according to a draft obtained by The Bee:

Fundraising Blackout Period: Effective August 1, 2014, Senators would not be allowed to engage in fundraising during the last four weeks of the legislative session.

Whistleblower Protection: Senate employees would be given whistleblower protection when reporting suspected wrongdoing by senators or other employees.

Senate Ombudsperson: The Senate would create a new position of ombudsperson to act as an "independent and confidential avenue" for staff and senators to report unethical behavior. The ombudsman would establish a public hotline for reports of alleged misconduct.

The Senate Rules Committee, headed by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, will begin considering the rules. The Senate could set the new rules with a simple majority vote of the 40-member body. Unlike a change in state law, the rules would would not need approval by the Assembly or Gov. Jerry Brown.

Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff voiced objections to the proposal to ban fundraising during the end of session.

"The intentions are good, but it's unworkable," Huff said in a statement.

"If he truly wants to achieve this objective it should apply to all elected officials in the Legislature and in statewide office, as well as political candidates for those offices. That is a reform we can support. Unfortunately, this doesn't strike at the issue of the three Democrat Senators whose actions have perpetuated a cloud of scandal over this house."

Republican Senators Ted Gaines, Steve Knight and Mike Morrell made their own ethics proposal Friday, saying they want to double the prison sentence for officials convicted of bribery.

PHOTO: Darrell Steinberg during session in the Senate chambers on March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

Editor's note: This post was updated at 5:40 p.m. with a response from Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff.

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 16, 2014
Leland Yee shuts down ballot-measure committee


State Sen. Leland Yee has closed his ballot-measure committee, only days after authorities indicted him on corruption and gun-running conspiracy charges.

The account, One California For All, was terminated effective April 9 after the roughly $1,300 in it as of March 17 was used to pay off campaign expenses. The termination statement was filed with the secretary of state's office Tuesday.

Yee created the committee in fall 2008 and it raised about $72,000 from 2009 through 2012, records show. Beginning in 2011, the committee's stated purpose was "school bond."

In the criminal complaint against Yee and more than 20 others that became public March 26, Yee allegedly encourages an undercover agent seeking contracts with the state to give to his ballot measure account.

"When (the agent) asked if there was some way that he could contribute money 'outside the campaign,' and not have to be worried, Senator Yee said that (the agent) could contribute unlimited sums to a committee supporting a ballot measure for school funding that Senator Yee also supported," the complaint reads, describing an October 2011 meeting between the senator and agent. "Senator Yee explained that the ads for the measure would feature Senator Yee in a positive piece supporting schools and education."

PHOTO: State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, leaves Federal Court in San Francisco on March 26, 2014. Bay Area News Group/Karl Mondon

April 10, 2014
No campaign cash for fighting criminal charges, says Jerry Hill


Politicians facing criminal charges would not be allowed to use campaign funds to pay their legal bills under an amendment Sen. Jerry Hill said he plans to introduce in the wake of the indictment of his colleague Sen. Leland Yee on charges of corruption and conspiracy to traffic weapons.

Under current law, politicians have wide latitude on how they spend campaign funds. Expenses have to have a legislative, governmental or political purpose, but can be used for everything from hiring campaign consultants and TV ads, to travel and paying legal bills.

Hill, a San Mateo Democrat, proposes several changes to the rules regarding how politicians can use campaign funds in his Senate Bill 831. Among them: prohibiting officials from giving campaign funds to nonprofits operated by their political colleagues and banning the use of campaign funds for things like rent, utility bills, vacations, tuition and gifts to family members.

(Alert readers may remember that Sen. Ron Calderon, now indicted on corruption and money laundering charges, and his brother, former Assemblyman Charles Calderon have a history of using campaign accounts to pay for their Christmas gifts to each other.)

SB 831 would also place a new $5,000 cap on the amount of travel gifts officials could receive from nonprofit organizations, and require groups providing the travel to disclose their financial donors to the Fair Political Practices Commission. It's one of many ethics proposals to surface this year as the Capitol responds to a string of scandals.

Yee and Calderon have both pleaded not guilty in separate cases.

PHOTO: Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, in March 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

April 4, 2014
Feds seek to return Leland Yee consultant to jail


Less than a day after he walked out of jail, the federal government moved Friday to revoke the bail of Keith Jackson, calling the former consultant to state Sen. Leland Yee a flight risk and a danger to the community.

Jackson and Yee, D-San Francisco, were among 29 people indicted Friday on charges of corruption and conspiracy to traffic weapons. Jackson also is accused of trying to arrange a murder-for-hire and other crimes.

Yee has been out on bail since his March 26 arrest. A judge ordered Jackson's release Thursday after Jackson arranged $250,000 bail secured in part by a mobile home in Texas.

In Friday's filing, prosecutors contend they had no time to challenge Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins' release order because they were presenting to the grand jury for much of Thursday afternoon. Jackson poses major risks and his bail is inadequate, they argued.

"While it is true that defendant has no criminal history, this case is very different than the normal one where a defendant is caught committing a single isolated crime and, if he has no criminal history, may be presumed to have messed up once," federal prosecutors wrote in Friday's filing. "Here, as the complaint and Indictment establish, there is probable cause that Defendant engaged in a wide variety of serious, frequent criminal behavior spanning the course of many years. While he has not previously been arrested or convicted, there is unquestionably probable cause to believe that defendant is not a one-time offender but a one man crime wave."

Jackson's legal team had no comment on the federal filing, a spokeswoman said Friday.

Yee, Jackson and other defendants are scheduled to appear in federal court Tuesday. The judge could act then on the government's motion.

PHOTO: In this file photo taken March 16, 2011, Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, second from right, poses with several inducted consultants, including Keith Jackson, left, a former San Francisco school board member.. The Associated Press/Sing Tao Daily

April 1, 2014
After Yee raid, federal authorities return to Sacramento

Beard.JPGFederal authorities returned Tuesday to Sacramento, visiting a fifth-floor office of the Legislative Office Building across N Street from the Capitol that Senate authorities said belongs to Sen. Leland Yee, the San Francisco Democrat who was arrested last week and charged with corruption and conspiracy to traffic weapons.

Two men who were part of the FBI raid at the Capitol last week were seen leaving Room 549 early Tuesday, accompanied by the Senate's Sergeant-at-Arms, Tony Beard. Beard would not comment substantively, but politely asked a reporter not to take photographs of their faces.

Mark Hedlund, a spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, said the office is occasionally used by a staff member of Yee's who normally works in his district office. After the arrest and the FBI raid on the Capitol last week, the Senate informed federal authorities that Yee had an additional office in the Legislative Office Building, Hedlund said.

"So they came back this morning with a warrant to check that office (because) it wasn't part of their investigation before," Hedlund said.

"They served that warrant over there and were there for a couple hours and then left."

Agents looked through the computer, desk and boxes in the office early this morning, Hedlund said.

FBI spokeswoman Gina Swankie confirmed the agency was executing a search warrant but did not say what case it pertained to.

The action comes less than a week after the latest misconduct case to grip the Capitol.

California Senators on Friday voted to suspend three of their own -- Yee, along with Sens. Ron Calderon of Montebello and Rod Wright of Baldwin Hills -- accused in separate cases of corruption and perjury.

Wright is scheduled to appear in court in May after a Los Angeles County jury convicted him of lying about his place of residence in 2008.

Last month, Calderon was indicted on two dozen counts including bribery, money laundering and tax fraud that carry a maximum sentence of 400 years in prison.

The flow of legal action has hurt morale in the Senate and cost Democrats the supermajority in both legislative houses the party worked more than a century to attain.

Editor's note: This post was updated at 10:17 a.m. to include comments from Mark Hedlund. Laurel Rosenhall of The Bee Capitol Bureau contributed to this report.

PHOTO: Senate Sgt. at Arms Tony Beard stands outside room 549 in the Legislative Office Building on Tuesday, April 1, 2014 in Sacramento.
The FBI confirmed they executed a search warrant in the room.The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

March 31, 2014
California senator suggests an ethics ombudsman

State Sen. Richard Roth went on Los Angeles radio Monday morning to float an idea for a Senate ethics ombudsman who could take tips of wrongdoing from staff members, lawmakers, and others.

Roth, D-Riverside, chairs the Senate Legislative Ethics Committee. Monday's proposal, which Roth emphasized is a personal idea that he has yet to run past colleagues, follows last Wednesday's arrest of state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, on federal corruption and weapons trafficking charges.

Last month, state Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, was indicted on corruption charges. And in January, a Los Angeles County jury convicted state Sen. Rod Wright, D-Baldwin Hills, of lying about his residence when he ran for the Senate in 2008.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg announced Friday that the Senate will cancel one day of floor session and committee hearings and instead have an intensive, mandatory office-by-office review of Senate ethics policies.

Roth said his idea would build on that, and reflects concerns that some people with knowledge of wrongdoing may be intimidated by the existing process of voicing concerns. Under Senate rules, people can make allegations of suspected violations of Senate standards of conduct. But the complaints must be in writing and be signed under penalty of perjury.

"It's not as open a process, as free a process, as I would like to see," Roth said. "We need to create a different system, where staff or other individuals, and legislators, are free to contact someone like an ombudsman."

Roth, elected in 2012, said his office is just starting to survey ethics procedures in other states. His goal, he said, is to make sure "we have the best ethics program in the nation, period."

PHOTO: State Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, during session in March 2013. 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
Charting the connections in Leland Yee case

Leland_Yee.JPGMultiple undercover agents were involved in compiling the sweeping criminal case against state Sen. Leland Yee, consultant Keith Jackson, alleged crime boss Raymond Chow and others included in Wednesday's 137-page federal complaint.

Click and drag to see how the five-year investigation came together. The text below explains the agents' different cover stories.

UCE 4599: Posed as an east-coast member of La Cosa Nostra, an Italian organized crime syndicate. He told people his money money came from illegal gambling, bookmaking, sports betting, drugs, and outdoor marijuana grows.

UCE 4773: Posed as a businessman engaged in real estate development who also represents a variety of investors and clients. He represented himself "as particularly being interested in expanding his business interests to California in general, and the San Francisco Bay Area in particular, and in making business and political contacts who could facilitate that expansion."

UCE 4212: Posed as "Sonja Schmidt," a business development manager helping CHS 12.

UCE 4684: Posed as a man that UCE 4559 talked to Sullivan and others about wanting to have killed in a murder-for-hire.

UCE 4138: Posed as "Ravi," a staff services manager with the Department of Public Health in Richmond, who talked to Yee about UCE 4212 and UCE 4773's "client."

UCE 4180: Posed as a businessman involved in the medical marijuana business in Arizona, who wanted to be the "Anheuser-Busch" of medical marijuana.

CHS 12: Posed as the owner of a software consulting business being helped by UCE 4212.

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 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 26, 2014
Yee criminal complaint "Word Cloud"
March 26, 2014
Mike Morrell elected to California State Senate


Assemblyman Mike Morrell won an easy election to the state Senate on Tuesday, filling the unexpired term of former state Sen. Bill Emmerson, R-Redlands.

Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga, received 62.6 percent of the vote in a five-way special primary election, easily clearing the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a June 3 runoff, according to semi-official results. His closest rival, Democrat Ronald J. O'Donnell of Highland, received 15.3 percent of the vote.

"The residents of the 23rd Senate District will be in great hands through Mike¹s commitment to public service," Senate GOP Leader Bob Huff said in a statement.

The 23rd Senate Districts large parts of Riverside and San Bernardino counties and a sliver of Los Angeles County's eastern edge. Since 2010, Morrell has represented an Assembly district that wrapped from Rancho Cucamonga to Redlands.

Emmerson easily won re-election to the redrawn 23rd Senate District in November 2012. He resigned Dec. 1, 2013 and shortly later became a senior vice president for the California Hospital Association.

Morrell barely won re-election in 2012 in the redrawn 40th Assembly District and faced a tough re-election in November. There will not be a special election to fill Morrell's vacancy after he resigns the Assembly because the vacancy will come after the candidate filing date in the final year of Morrell's two-year term.

PHOTO: The campaign website of state Sen.-elect Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga.

March 26, 2014
Sen. Leland Yee arrested, Capitol office searched by FBI

Yee_KPIX.jpgFBI agents are in the Capitol office of state Sen. Leland Yee this morning, and Bay Area news stations are reporting that the San Francisco Democrat has been arrested on suspicion of corruption.

FBI spokeswoman Gina Swankie would not confirm anything about Yee or others who may be targeted by the agency, but said "the FBI is executing multiple search warrants and conducting arrests in multiple locations today."

"At this time we are not elaborating due to the need for agent safety," Swankie said.

Yee's press secretary Dan Lieberman said he had no information but expected to provide a statement later today. Yee was photographed entering the federal building in San Francisco, apparently to be formally charged.

News reports said that a well-known former Chinatown gangster, Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, also had been arrested.

Yee, a child psychologist, has served in the Assembly and the Senate and is now running for secretary of state, with another state senator, Alex Padilla of Los Angeles, his chief Democratic foe. Yee has carried a wide variety of legislation during his career and is best known for his measures dealing with violence in video games and his advocacy for open records.

Two other Democratic state senators, Rod Wright and Ron Calderon, are already on leaves of absence due to criminal charges against them, and their departure erased the Senate's Democratic supermajority at least temporarily. Were Yee also to depart before his term expires, it would drop Democrats to 25 seats in the Senate and give Republicans a larger role in legislation that requires two-thirds votes, such as tax increases, constitutional amendments and a pending water bond issue.

A spokesman for Senate leader Darrell Steinberg said the pro tem planned to talk to media this afternoon. Minority leader Bob Huff issued a statement by email saying he is "deeply troubled" by Yee's arrest.

"Once again, the Senate has been tarnished by another FBI raid of a Senator's capitol office. There are hundreds of visitors in the State Capitol each day, and those who witnessed this morning's events have every reason to be concerned about whether the Legislature is more concerned about serving themselves than the people."

Updated at 11:48 a.m. with additional details.

PHOTO: State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, arrives at the San Francisco Federal Building on March 26, 2014 after being arrested on suspicion of corruption charges. Courtesy of KPIX


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'

Darrell Steinberg to Leland Yee: Resign or be suspended

March 24, 2014
GOP Senate candidate suffers another ballot setback


A fight by California Senate Republicans to qualify a GOP candidate for the ballot in the open 26th district appears to have stalled Monday, after elections officials again notified Beverly Hills Mayor John Mirisch that his paperwork was not accepted.

Mirisch submitted 49 signatures, 12 of which were originally deemed invalid by the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk. He needed to provide 40 valid signatures, spokeswoman Elizabeth Knox said Monday.

A single signature was later resuscitated, bringing the total valid to 38.

Mirisch's appearance on the ballot - alongside seven Democrats and one no-party preference candidate - would significantly alter the dynamics of the race covering coastal Los Angeles. At the least, a Republican likely would advance to the November runoff, and Democrats could be left without a candidate altogether in the fall.

Mirisch, aided by party attorney Chuck Bell, essentially argued that at least three households who signed for his campaign should have been allowed to have just one representative fill out their information such as a printed name and address.

The form requires that signers personally affix their own printed name, signature and registered address.

This is the second setback for Mirisch in as many weeks. Previously, he successfully sued state and county elections officials after they refused to accept his faxed candidacy papers. Mirisch was drafted by Senate Republican leadership on the eve of the deadline to run in the heavily Democratic district left open after Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, mounted a run to succeed retiring Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Beverly Hills.

Mirisch worked as an executive at Paramount Pictures and previously oversaw international distribution for IMAX. The field of Democratic candidates includes former Assemblywoman Betsy Butler, attorney Sandra Fluke, school board member Ben Allen, Manhattan Beach Mayor Amy Howorth and state surgeon Vito Imbasciani.

PHOTO: John Mirisch (City of Beverly Hills)

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 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
California drought relief package heads to Gov. Jerry Brown


In a concerted effort to aid California's drought-stricken communities, the Legislature on Thursday sped a $687 million relief package to Gov. Jerry Brown.

One week after Brown and legislative leaders unveiled the emergency legislation, both houses of the Legislature approved the bill with little resistance. The Assembly passed the bill 65-0, and the Senate sent it to Brown's desk with only three dissenting votes.

Relying largely on unspent bond money, the measure sets aside more than $500 million to quench the thirst of afflicted communities with infrastructure projects like capturing storm water and distributing recycled water.

It also sets aside millions for drinking water in communities at risk of running out and allocates food and housing aid for Californians, like those in the agricultural industry, who have seen their livelihoods damaged by diminished water supplies.

In the Assembly, Republicans used the opportunity to call for more storage capacity, an issue being debated via a set of water bond proposals. But they agreed with their Democratic colleagues that the emergency water package marked a needed intermediate step.

"This is part of the puzzle, part of the solution for the entire state," said Assemblyman Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield.

Things went a little less smoothly in the Senate, where the water debate occurred against the backdrop of Republicans seeking to expel a state senator who has been convicted on eight felony charges stemming from lying about his residence. Senate Democrats rebuffed that attempt, preserving a status quo that has seen Sen. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood, accept a paid leave of absence.

The drought bills passed the Senate handily in the end, though during floor debate Republicans accused Democrats of maneuvering the procedure to avoid a two-thirds vote. Democrats do not have a supermajority this week because Wright and Sen. Ron Calderon, indicted last week by a federal grand jury, are out dealing with legal problems.

Republicans argued that the bills should be urgency measures -- which require two-thirds approval -- instead of budget trailer bills that take a simple majority to pass. They also argued that taking up budget trailer bills several months after the budget was approved violates a voter-approved initiative that the Legislature cannot get paid if it doesn't complete the budget by June 15.

"This bill is just another example of how our budget process has been twisted over the years," said Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, one of three opposing votes.

Laurel Rosenhall of The Bee Capitol Bureau contributed to this report.

PHOTO: Aerial view of Folsom Lake looking northeast from near Beals Point on Thursday, December 26, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton.

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 27, 2014
Former California assemblywoman joins Senate payroll

Garcia.JPGFormer Assemblywoman Bonnie Garcia, who is running for the state Senate, recently got a jump on getting a Senate paycheck.

With no public announcement, Garcia, R-Cathedral City, joined the staff of then-state Sen. Bill Emmerson in October. Garcia is the field representative in the Palm Desert office of the 23rd Senate District, which Emmerson represented until he resigned Dec. 1.

Garcia represented much of the Coachella Valley in the Assembly from 2002 through 2008, and before that was a field representative for former state Sen. Jim Battin. That background, she said, is why Emmerson picked her for the $1,006-a-month part-time job, which Garcia called "an honor and a privilege."

"It was an opportunity to make sure the community is still getting the representation it needs," said Garcia, who added that she receives no Senate benefits for the job.

She dismissed any suggestion that the job helps her bid for the new 28th Senate District, which includes Palm Desert, the rest of the Coachella Valley and other parts of Riverside County. Emmerson has endorsed Garcia, as have most state lawmakers.

"I seriously doubt that such a minimal amount of time gives anyone an advantage," Garcia said. Her campaign website includes no mention of her Senate position.

The Palm Desert office exists because of a quirk in the 2011 redraw of the state's political map. The area is not part of any Senate district in 2013-14, so Senate leaders made Emmerson its caretaker senator. The special election to replace Emmerson is March 25 and, if necessary, June 3.

Garcia is one of three well-funded Republicans running for the GOP-leaning 28th. The others are Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone and Indio Councilman Glenn Miller.

PHOTO: Bonnie Garcia cheers Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee as he speaks to delegates during the third day of the Republican National Convention on Tuesday, September 2, 2008. The Sacramento Bee/Brian Baer

February 25, 2014
California Sen. Rod Wright to take leave of absence


State Sen. Rod Wright will take an indefinite leave of absence until he resolves his legal problems, Senate leader Darrell Steinberg announced Tuesday.

Wright will continue to draw his $95,291-a-year salary but will not be eligible to receive the $163-a-day living expenses other lawmakers get.

The announcement comes several weeks after a Los Angeles County jury found Wright, D-Baldwin Hills, guilty of eight counts of voter fraud and perjury stemming from charges that he lied about where he lived when he ran for the state Senate in 2008.

Wright's sentencing, initially scheduled for March 12, was postponed last Friday until mid-May. Some Republican senators, meanwhile, have pushed for a vote on Wright's continuing presence in the Senate.

"Today I met with Senator Wright and he requested an indefinite leave of absence pending the conclusion of the legal process now before the trial court in Los Angeles," Steinberg said in a statement. "I've accepted this request and wish him well going forward."

Wright sent The Bee a statement saying he asked for a leave of absence "so that I may devote my full attention to pending legal matters."

"It is a great honor to represent the people of the 35th Senate District. I remain hopeful that - through due process - I will once again have the opportunity to fight for laws that strengthen our communities and support those most in need," Wright's statement said.

Wright's departure leaves the Senate with 38 voting members, including 27 Democrats, a bare two-thirds majority. Monday, Steinberg gave state Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, a week to resign or the Senate would suspend him following his indictment on corruption charges last Friday.

PHOTO: Sen. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood, sits in the state Senate on Monday, Feb. 3, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

Editor's note: This post was updated at 2:16 p.m. to include Wright's statement.

February 21, 2014
Live blog replay: Coverage of FBI announcing political corruption charges

Check on coverage by The Bee's Laurel Rosenhall, David Siders, Chrisopher Cadelago, and Dan Walters of the FBI's announcement of specific political corruption charges that involve state Sen. Ron Calderon.

Click here to access the live blog from any mobile device.

February 4, 2014
Trio of California Republican senators seek Wright's resignation


Three Republican state senators called Tuesday on Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg to hold a vote on expelling state Sen. Rod Wright and to make a "forthright effort to the senator requesting his resignation."

In a letter Tuesday to Steinberg, state senators Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, and Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, said the Senate cannot wait for Wright's appeal of his felony convictions on voter fraud and perjury charges.

"The fact remains that felony convictions have been handed down from a jury upon a member of the Senate," the senators wrote. "Whether an appeal is granted by a judge or not is irrelevant to the fact that a vote of this body should be granted by leadership and/or a forthright effort to the Senator requesting his resignation."

"The California State Senate is an esteemed body and should always conduct itself with respect to the public and reverence for the laws that we are entrusted with," the letter reads.

Wright office was not immediately available for comment on the senators' letter.

In a statement, Steinberg said it is prudent to let the process play out.

"As I have stated before, I believe that it is premature for this body to act before the verdict is accepted by the judge. An expulsion cannot be undone if the judge does not accept the verdict," Steinberg said.

January 31, 2014
Rod Wright introduces bill to convert some felonies to misdemeanors

wright.jpgTwo days after a jury found him guilty of eight felonies related to living outside the district he represents, Sen. Rod Wright introduced a bill that would allow people convicted of non-violent felonies to have their crimes converted to misdemeanors.

Wright did not attend the Senate's floor session Thursday, but legislative records show that on that day he introduced Senate Bill 929, which would grant new benefits to non-violent felons who are not sentenced to prison.

The bill says that a felony offense would be deemed a misdemeanor "if the court finds that certain circumstances apply, including that the defendant was not imprisoned in the state prison for the offense, the offense for which the defendant was convicted was not a serious or violent felony, as defined, the offense does not require registration as a sex offender, the defendant is not currently charged with and has not been convicted of an offense in the preceding 5 years, except as specified, and the defendant presents clear and convincing evidence that he or she has been rehabilitated."

While Wright has lost his chairmanship of the Senate Governmental Organization Committee, his Democratic colleagues have stopped short of asking him to leave office.

Yet it does not appear the felony-to-misdemeanor bill will advance. A spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said the legislation will not be referred out of the Senate Rules Committee.

"Putting the merits of the policy aside, it's the wrong author at the wrong time," said spokesman Rhys Williams.

Wright's office has not returned a call for comment.

A Los Angeles jury on Tuesday found Wright guilty on all eight felony counts he was charged with in a case that challenged whether he lived in the Inglewood home he claimed as his domicile when he ran for office in 2008. Prosecutors alleged Wright really lived in Baldwin Hills, a tonier area outside the district he represents.

Wright's sentencing hearing is scheduled for March 12. His lawyer has said he plans to appeal the case.

SB 929

Editor's note: This post was updated at 11:30 a.m. Jan. 31 to include comment from Steinberg's office and lack of comment from Wright's office.

PHOTO: Sen. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood, walks into the California Senate floor during the first day of session Jan. 6, 2014 in Sacramento. Hector Amezcua/Sacramento.

January 30, 2014
Darrell Steinberg will not ask Rod Wright to leave California Senate


California Senate leader Darrell Steinberg said today that he is removing Sen. Rod Wright from his position as chair of the Senate's Governmental Organization committee but is not asking the legislator found guilty this week of eight felonies to leave office.

"Where we stand today, there is no final conviction, but a jury verdict," Steinberg said. "Unless and until there is a final conviction for a felony I do not believe it is appropriate or necessary to expel Senator Wright or ask him to resign."

Steinberg said Wright plans to appeal Tuesday's convictions, in which a Los Angeles jury found him guilty of eight felonies for not living in the Senate district he represents. He said Wright asked to be removed from chairing the committee that oversees California's gambling and alcohol laws.

"What I'm trying to do, what I'm endeavoring to do, is to balance the fact that he has not been fully and finally convicted, with respecting the fact that a jury of his peers have rendered their part of the judgment, and to suggest a course of action that recognizes both of those things," Steinberg said.

Video: Sen. Steinberg talks about Rod Wright's future:

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PHOTO: Sen. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood, shown inside the Capitol in February 2009. The Sacramento Bee/Brian Baer

January 30, 2014
VIDEO: Parliamentary game gave Rod Wright a taste of his own zingers


One of the most entertaining orators in the state Capitol is the Democratic state senator who was convicted Tuesday of eight felonies for not living in the Los Angeles-area legislative district he represents.

Sen. Rod Wright -- who routinely speaks out during debates over vocational education, gun rights, energy policy and gambling -- often peppers his testimony with the kind of zingers you don't usually hear from elected officials. He talked about the "po-po" in discussions about the police; spoke out against bills he believed were "robbing the hood"; and often argued something was obvious by saying, "even Ray Charles can see that..."

Wright's colleagues playfully tossed the one-liners back at him on the last night of the legislative session last year, as he presented Senate Bill 470 around 9 p.m. Here's a video clip of the Wright-themed round of legislative bingo, in which lawmakers try to insert a list of certain words into their floor speeches, including quips from Senators Ron Calderon, Lois Wolk, Fran Pavley and Ben Hueso.

PHOTO: Sen. Holly Mitchell covers her ears jokingly as Sen. Roderick Wright talks to her and Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson earlier this month. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

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


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

A sentencing hearing has been scheduled for March 12.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 22, 2014
California Legislature launches a Jewish caucus


A group of California lawmakers have banded together to form a new legislative caucus focused on issues they believe matter to the Jewish community.

The Legislative Jewish Caucus will also form a political action committee to raise money to support Israel-friendly candidates, said Sen. Marty Block, the San Diego Democrat who chairs the new group.

"This isn't a religious based organization. We see this as an ethnic organization," he said.

"My guess is very few of the members would define themselves as being terribly religious, but we all consider ourselves to be part of the Jewish people."

The Jewish caucus includes five Senators and four Assembly members who identify themselves as Jewish, as well as a handful of other lawmakers who are not Jewish but want to participate, Block said. All participants so far have been Democrats, but Block said the group would welcome Republicans.

The Legislature has several caucuses organized around various identities, including race, sexuality and geography. The Jewish caucus will work to fight discrimination against all minorities, Block said, partly based on religious beliefs that favor equality, "but also out of a personal concern that if folks are treated unequally, Jews will be among those who are treated unequally."

January 22, 2014
California Senate to hold off confirming forestry board appointees


Concerned that officials are leaving millions of fire-prevention dollars unspent, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said Wednesday that he will put off a Senate vote to confirm two appointees of Gov. Jerry Brown to the California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The Senate Rules Committee recommended the confirmations of forestry board members of Stuart L. Farber, Jr. of Redding and and Mary E. Rickert of Fall Rivers Mill. Brown appointed both in March 2013.

Steinberg, though, said the full Senate will not consider the appointments until the Brown administration provides more information about how it proposes to spend the money generated by a $150 fee on properties in 31 million acres of state responsibility area. The fee will raise an estimated $76 million in 2013-14, according to Brown's budget plan this month.

"I just don't want money sitting there when there's a lot of prevention to be had," said Steinberg, the chairman of the rules panel, pointing to the drought and worsening wildfire danger.

Governor's appointees must be confirmed within one year. Farber's 365th day is March 19 and Rickert's is March 20.

The fire-prevention fee has been controversial since it was included in the 2011-12 budget. Opponents have gone to court to overturn the charge, which they call an illegal tax.

"Are we going to be able to quantify what we get out of it?" state Sen. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, who voted against the legislation creating the fee in 2011, asked Wednesday. "How are we going to find out if this is helping or if this is hurting?"

PHOTO: California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection crews work to contain a wildfire that burned several acres of dense brush and threatened homes in Pollock Pines in Thursday May 15, 2008. 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 2, 2014
California Senate ethics committee hires outside counsel for Calderon inquiry


The California Senate's ethics committees has hired a former federal prosecutor as a $600-an-hour independent counsel to assist the panel's inquiry into corruption allegations involving state Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello.

The committee's chairman, state Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, announced Thursday that he has retained Charles J. Stevens, a litigation partner in Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher's San Francisco office. Stevens was involved with prosecuting political corruption cases as a U.S. Attorney and assistant U.S. attorney,

"I have retained an independent counsel with expertise in federal political corruption investigations to review the facts and make recommendations to the Senate Legislative Ethics Committee on the appropriate course of action moving forward," Roth, an attorney, said in a statement. He called Stevens' appointment "an important first step to restoring the public's trust."

The appointment comes several weeks after Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg ordered the panel to look into allegations in an FBI affidavit published Oct. 30 by Al Jazeera America. The affidavit alleges $88,000 in bribes to Calderon, D-Montebello.

Calderon has denied wrongdoing. In a federal court filing, Calderon claims that federal authorities retaliated against him for refusing to assist an investigation of Steinberg and state Sen. Kevin de Leon.

In an interview, Roth said the status of the federal investigation is unknown. Stevens' initial job, Roth said, is to review the affidavit and communicate with federal authorities to determine if the committee should open a formal inquiry into any of the issues raised in the affidavit.

It's rare for either house to hire outside attorneys to assist on non-personnel matters. Independent counsels were involved during investigations of former Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush in 2000 and of alleged wrongdoing by energy companies during the energy crisis more than a decade ago.

December 30, 2013
FPPC will not investigate Sen. Kevin de León


California's political watchdog agency has decided not to open an investigation of state Sen. Kevin de León, and will instead investigate the political action committee that made a $25,000 contribution to a nonprofit group run by the brother of Sen. Ron Calderon, who is under federal investigation for alleged bribery.

"We opened an investigation into...the transaction itself and not against anyone specifically," said Gary Winuk, chief of enforcement for the Fair Political Practices Commission.

"We are not targeting Senator de Leon."

Yes We Can, a political action committee run by the Latino Legislative Caucus, made the contribution early this year after a fight over leadership of the Latino caucus. Calderon, D-Montebello, was in line to become chairman of the influential caucus, but state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, did not want to give up the post.

A few weeks after the caucus voted to keep Lara as chairman, the PAC gave $25,000 to Californians for Diversity, a nonprofit group run by Calderon's brother, former Assemblyman Tom Calderon.

An FBI affidavit published by Al Jazeera America in October alleges that de León, D-Los Angeles, brokered a deal between Calderon and Lara to settle the leadership dispute with the $25,000 payment. The affidavit quotes a conversation between Ron Calderon and an undercover FBI agent, in which the senator says he and his brother planned to draw income from the nonprofit group.

No charges have been filed in the federal investigation.

But based on allegations in the affidavit, the state's Fair Political Practices Commission earlier this month sent de León a letter saying it wanted more information about the contribution. The FPPC wanted to know whether it constituted a payment made at the behest of a government official, which has to be reported under California law.

De León maintained that he helped mediate the chairmanship fight but was not involved in any financial transactions.

"Senator De León did not request the contribution, did not recommend the contribution, and was not part of any vote or decision to make the contribution," the senator's lawyer, Stephen Kaufman, wrote in a letter to the FPPC.

Winuk said the FPPC found no evidence that de León behested the payment, but that he wants to open a broader investigation to see who directed the money be moved from the Latino caucus's political fundraising account to Calderon's nonprofit.

"Was it someone who needed to report it?" Winuk said. "And if so, did they report it?"

De León said in an email that he is happy with the outcome.

"I had nothing to do with the contribution and am pleased that after reviewing the evidence the FPPC quickly closed this matter," his email said.

PHOTO: State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, left, with Sen. Ron Calderon, center, and Sen. Kevin de Leon, right, on the last day of the legislative session in September 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Renee C. Byer

Editor's note: This post was updated at 4:17 p.m. on December 30, 2013, to include a response from Sen. Kevin de Leon.

December 9, 2013
Bill Emmerson to oversee hospital association lobbying


A month after announcing plans to step down in the middle of his term as state senator, Bill Emmerson has been named a senior vice president of the California Hospital Association.

State law forbids lawmakers from lobbying the Legislature for a year after leaving office. But it doesn't stop them from directing an organization's lobbying operation, which is what Emmerson will do for the hospital association based in Sacramento.

"In his new role, Emmerson will oversee CHA's state-level legislative advocacy efforts," says an announcement from the group.

The statement says Emmerson will supervise the hospital association's lobbyists and provide the group with "political analysis and strategic guidance."

The hospital association has been a consistent donor to Emmerson's campaigns in recent years. The Republican from the San Bernardino County city of Redlands was an orthodontist for many years before being elected to the Assembly in 2004.

He was re-elected to the Senate last year, and was one year into a four-year term when he announced last month that he would step down Dec. 1. At the time, Emmerson said his passion for legislating had waned.

Duane Dauner, president of the hospital association, described Emmerson as "a person of high integrity."

"His knowledge of health care and the political process will be invaluable to California's hospitals," Dauner said in a statement.

Emmerson fills the position left open in July when Marty Gallegos moved from the California Hospital Association to the Hospital Association of Southern California. He begins his new job on January 1.

PHOTO: Sen. Bill Emmerson, R-Redlands, listens to discussion on the main budget bill as senators prepared to vote on the state budget in June 2011. 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 14, 2013
Tom Berryhill rejects FPPC's charges of money laundering

IMAG0346_BURST002.jpgState Sen. Tom Berryhill on Thursday rejected state investigators' assertions that he illegally laundered tens of thousands of dollars in campaign cash in 2008 to help the Assembly campaign of his brother, Bill Berryhill.

Taking the stand on the third day of an administrative law hearing in Sacramento, the Twain Harte Republican testified he has long spread his political money among Republican county committees and candidates.

The fact that more than $40,000 he donated to GOP central committees in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties ended up going to his brother's race was a decision he had no role in, he said.

Asked by his attorney Charles Bell whether he had ever earmarked any money for a specific candidate, Berryhill answered, "Absolutely not."

"It's against the law," the senator said, adding later that there was no "wink and a nod" arrangement with the county parties.

The California Fair Political Practices Commission contends that Tom Berryhill and Bill Berryhill orchestrated the money shifts in the closing days of the fall 2008 campaign. The political ethics watchdog agency contends that the brothers' goal was to bypass individual contribution limits of $3,600 per election. County committees could give $30,200 to candidates at the time, but coordination is prohibited.

November 13, 2013
Calderon lashes out at Garcia; says 'all politicians live in glass houses'


As a group of civic leaders from southeast Los Angeles began a press conference this morning to call for Sen. Ron Calderon's resignation, the besieged state senator released a statement blasting Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia for organizing the event and saying "what has happened to me could happen to anyone in public office."

"In politics one expects politicians to act in their own interests. But it is still shocking to me when a politician acts out in such an opportunistic way as in the actions taken by Cristina Garcia. Without knowing the full story and waiting to hear all the facts in this case, she has assumed the role of judge and jury by calling for my resignation," says the statement from Calderon, a Montebello Democrat.

Garcia is the only state legislator to call for Calderon's resignation since an FBI affidavit made public last month alleged he's accepted $88,000 in bribes. Today Garcia gathered with the mayors of Norwalk, Montebello, Downey and Pico Rivera, as well as city council members from Bell and Commerce, to again ask Calderon to step down.

Garcia has a long-standing feud with the Calderon family; she beat the senator's brother Tom Calderon in her race for Assembly last year.

"During her campaign for State Assembly she said time and again that she was not a politician. She told the voters that she was going to be different. Soon after her election she confessed to the voters that she lied about having a PhD. She said that she made a mistake and was sorry for misleading the public about her qualifications. She asked the voters to give her the benefit of the doubt and to judge her on her actions as their new Assemblywoman," Calderon's statement today said.

During her campaign for Assembly last year, Garcia told the Los Cerritos Community Newspaper that she had finished coursework for a PhD but did not yet have the degree, contrary to the way she had portrayed herself.

"I take full responsibility for using the term PhD instead of PhD candidate in my campaign literature. For that I humbly apologize and ask for the forgiveness and understanding of all the voters of the 58th Assembly District," Garcia said, according to the local newspaper.

Garcia lives in Ron Calderon's 30th Senate District, which means she could run for his seat if he stepped down. But because new district boundaries kick in during next year's Senate elections, Garcia could not run in the November 2014 race to replace him in what will then be labeled the 32nd Senate District. Garcia's chief of staff Tim Reardon has said she has no intention of leaving the Assembly.

Calderon's statement today concluded by saying his current problems could befall "anyone in public office":

"It is now clear that she is a politician after all - quite an ambitious one at that. I would not wish on my worst enemy what I have been going through. But I do hope that Ms. Garcia comes to understand that what has happened to me could happen to anyone in public office. Sometimes one is better served to act in kindness than in self-righteousness because all politicians live in glass houses."

PHOTO: Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, pauses during session in Assembly chambers on March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/ Hector Amezcua.

November 12, 2013
Ron Calderon, stripped of committee assignments, rejects federal allegations


After being stripped of his ability to participate in legislative committees, Sen. Ron Calderon on Tuesday denounced "false allegations and illegal acts" leading to his being disciplined.

While Calderon's statement did not explicitly make mention of an FBI affidavit alleging that the Montebello Democrat had accepted bribes from an undercover agent and a hospital executive, it faulted a "federal agency" for unfairly targeting Calderon. In his first direct rejection of the affidavit's version of events, Calderon defended his work in the Legislature, including his chairmanship of the Senate Insurance Committee, and again lashed out at the media.

"I have not been charged or convicted with any unjust doing, yet I am being treated by this committee and some media outlets as if I had," Calderon said in reference to the Senate Rules Committee. "The appropriate action to take would be to allow me to continue the work I was elected to do and to allow me to remain on my committee assignments."

The strongly worded statement followed the Senate's Rules Committee unanimous vote on Wednesday to remove Calderon as chair of the Senate's insurance committee, and remove him as a member of the banking, environmental quality and government organization committees. The committee also voted to disband a so-called "select committee" chaired by Calderon and focused on the film and television industries.

"Our job here is not to determine whether or not there have been any violations of criminal law," said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, who chairs the rules committee.

"Our job is to uphold the code of ethics of the Senate and the standard of conduct expected of elected officials. It is in an attempt to strike that balance that I believe this decision is not only sound, but it is necessary."

November 11, 2013
Possible candidates eye soon-to-be vacant CA Senate seat

emmerson_budget.jpgState Sen. Bill Emmerson's surprise announcement Friday that he was resigning effective Dec. 1 has created an unexpected opportunity for would-be senators.

First out of the gate is Assemblyman Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga, whose 40th Assembly District includes about one-half of Emmerson's 23rd Senate District. Morrell said he has been lining up endorsements and plans to announce his candidacy Tuesday.

"Everything looks like a go," Morrell said Monday.

The vacancy in the safely Republican 23rd Senate District presents a political stroke of luck for Morrell -- and perhaps Democrats who think they have a shot at picking up Morrell's 40th Assembly District seat.

November 8, 2013
Ron Calderon calls request that he resign 'outrageous'

CristinaGarcia.jpgIn Sen. Ron Calderon's first public comments since an FBI affidavit alleging he accepted $88,000 in bribes became public last week, the Montebello Democrat blasted an assemblywoman who has been calling for his resignation.

"It is outrageous in a democratic society for Cristina Garcia, an elected official, to trample on the Constitution by making a mockery of the presumption of innocence, a fundamental right, and seek political gain by embracing the criminal acts of media outlets that violate federal law by revealing the contents of sealed federal documents," Calderon wrote in a statement emailed to the media.

He added that Garcia "would best serve her constituents by reviewing her notes from her eighth-grade civics class."

Garcia, a Democrat who defeated Calderon's brother Tom Calderon in the race for the 58th Assembly District, ran for her Assembly seat on a platform of ousting corruption in the Los Angeles city of Bell. She has been the only legislator who has publicly called for Ron Calderon to step down in the wake of the federal corruption investigation.

October 23, 2013
Tom Calderon drops bid for California Senate


Former Assemblyman Tom Calderon has dropped out of the race to replace his brother Ron Calderon in the state Senate next year.

"I'm not running," Tom Calderon said today in a phone call with The Bee.

"I just need to take time for myself and my family. I've been through a lot this year."

In June, the FBI raided the Capitol offices of Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, and attempted to contact Tom Calderon, who works as a consultant. Federal authorities appear to be looking into businesses that have ties to Tom Calderon. This year they subpoenaed the Central Basin Municipal Water District and raided the Pacific Hospital of Long Beach -- both businesses that have been clients of Tom Calderon's consulting practice. Ron Calderon, meanwhile, has opened a legal defense fundraising committee to cover expenses related to his "public corruption investigation."

Tom Calderon said today that he has not testified before a grand jury in the case and has had no contact with federal authorities in recent weeks.

September 26, 2013
Holly J. Mitchell becomes latest California state senator

MITCHELL.JPGCalifornia's state senate can again claim a full house.

In front of a Senate chamber humming with friends, family members and a handful of fellow lawmakers, former Assemblywoman Holly J. Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, took the oath of office Thursday afternoon to represent the 26th Senate District.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, lavished praise on the newest Democratic senator.

"She has demonstrated over her years in the Legislature on the green carpet a tenacity, a purpose and a willingness to fight for the least among us," Steinberg said, alluding to the green color scheme decorating the Assembly chambers. (The Senate's is red.)

For her part, Mitchell fought back emotion as she vowed to focus on working families and noted that her presence in the Senate marks a milestone.

"I will be the first black woman (to serve in the Senate) in over 10 years," Mitchell said, "and I am going to wear that badge with honor."

Mitchell's chances of claiming the seat former senator Curren Price vacated after winning election to the Los Angeles City Council were never seriously in doubt. Democrats now control 28 seats in the Senate, one more than they need for the two-thirds majority that allows them to raise taxes, pass urgency measures or put constitutional amendments on the ballot without Republican assent.

PHOTO: Senator-elect Holly J. Mitchell shares a moment with Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg in the Senate chambers in Sacramento on Sept. 26, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Jeremy B. White.

August 23, 2013
Noreen Evans raising campaign money... but not running for office


Democratic Sen. Noreen Evans hosted a fundraiser at her Santa Rosa home last night, billed as a "night under the redwoods" for those willing to give at least $1,000 to her 2014 re-election campaign.

Donors were invited to "enjoy a catered, multi-course meal of delicious, organic local foods," according to the invitation, ingesting and imbibing "the best that Sonoma County has to offer."

Thing is, Evans announced 10 days earlier that she doesn't plan to seek re-election next year.

The Senator wouldn't answer The Bee's questions about why she's raising money after announcing she's not seeking re-election, but had her campaign consultant Terry Price give us a call. He said Evans' campaign committee has certain ongoing expenses -- such as bookkeeping and office supplies -- that continue even though she's not actively campaigning.

"There are some things that need time to wind down and she needs a little money to pay off those expenses," Price said.

As of June 30, Evans' 2014 account had about $10,600 on hand, records show. Campaign expenditures include payments to her son Joel Evans-Fudem, who does what Price described as secretarial and database work. Evans paid her son $19,113.39 between January 2011 and June 30 of this year.

PHOTO: Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, speaks with Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, in the Capitol on Monday, March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

August 12, 2013
California Sen. Noreen Evans to step down at end of term


Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, will not seek re-election at the end of her current term.

While term limits allow Evans to remain in office until 2018, she announced in a Facebook posting that she intends to step down at the end of next year to return to her private law practice. That will put her seat in play in 2014.

"Sacramento is not my home and politics not how I planned to spend my life," Evans wrote in the post. "Though I enjoyed my job as a lawmaker, my first love is the administration of justice."

Evans won her Senate seat in 2010 after serving three terms in the Assembly. As chair of the Senate Judiciary committee, Evans has been vocal in pushing back on cuts to the court system budget that she saw as endangering the swift administration of justice.

PHOTO: Senator Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa during session in the Senate chambers in Sacramento, Calif. on Monday, March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

July 11, 2013
California Senate confirms Jeffrey Beard as new prisons chief

JeffreyBeard.JPGAfter a partisan debate in which Republicans criticized Gov. Jerry Brown's nominee to run the state's prisons and Democrats praised him as the best man for the job, the California Senate today voted to confirm Jeffrey Beard as secretary of the state's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

The move comes as nearly 29,000 prisoners are holding a hunger strike to protest the use of solitary confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison, inmates at two San Joaquin Valley prisons are getting sick with valley fever and recent reports of prison doctors sterilizing female inmates in violation of prison rules.

July 5, 2013
Fourth of July claims Senate per diem expenses

emptysenate.JPGFireworks and barbecue for daily expenses.

That's the tradeoff members of the California Senate made this week, when the Fourth of July interrupted the schedule that usually keeps their $160-a-day per diem allocation flowing.

To claim that money, lawmakers have to meet at least every three days. Typically that allows them to convene on Thursday, head to their districts on Friday and be back on Monday in time to satisfy the rule.

When there's a Monday holiday, legislators will often meet briefly on Friday to make sure they're entitled to their per diem for the intervening days. That's what happened earlier this year on the Friday preceding President's Day weekend, for instance.

But that wasn't the case this week -- the state Capitol was bereft of lawmakers on Friday (the Assembly is out on recess), and lawmakers are forfeiting the expense payment from Thursday through Sunday, according to the secretary of the Senate's office.

PHOTO: Empty Senate chambers. The Sacramento Bee/Jeremy B. White.

June 24, 2013
CA Senate passes revised public records bill

California Budget Public Re (1).jpgThe Senate voted to reverse changes to the California Public Records Act on Monday, leaving the final decision on the records law to Gov. Jerry Brown.

The Democratic governor will have the opportunity to choose between two nearly identical budget bills, Assembly Bill 76 and Senate Bill 71. Brown's spokesman has suggested the governor will support the revised bill.

Open government advocates and media groups spoke out against the original bill,AB 76, which would have made full compliance with the public records law optional for local agencies.

The Legislature then simply revised SB 71 to remove the changes the original bill made to the public records law. Senators passed the new bill on a party-line, 28-11 vote, with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed.

Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, supported the bill as a "stop-gap" measure until the constitutional amendment he and Senate leader Darrell Steinberg proposed on Friday goes on the ballot in June 2014.

Leno said the bill would calm anxieties that local agencies would stop complying with portions of the records law before the constitutional amendment could be voted on.

"We don't need a mandate for those cities and counties and public agencies that will recognize this as best practices. We need the mandate for those few who may not," Leno said.

Though most of his colleagues agreed with Leno, several senators raised concerns about other issues with the bill.

Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, objected to the suspension of other sections relieving local agencies from complying with domestic violence protocol. Several other senators spoke out against the parts of the bill that limit restitution for crime victims.

Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, said that while he supports the idea of transparent government, he would not vote for something that only made a "bad bill less bad."

"It's the press's access to open government that keeps the government open and free," Anderson said. "And while I'd like to change it, I think the bill is moving in the right direction."

The Senate expects to take up the constitutional amendment that would incorporate the public records law into the state constitution on Thursday.

PHOTO: Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, left, and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, talking to reporters at the Capitol, Wednesday June 19, 2013. Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli.

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
Chevron Corp. taking political fire from both right and left

California_Greenhouse_Gases.jpgIt's been a rough week, politically speaking, for Chevron, one of the state's oldest and largest corporations, as it takes fire from the left and the right.

Chevron, which has been dodging political and legal bullets over a 2012 fire at its refinery in Richmond, is under fire from farmers, especially Republican farmers, over hefty political contributions to a group that backs Democrat Leticia Perez in her state Senate battle with Republican farmer Andy Vidak.

What makes the situation especially dicey is that the San Joaquin Valley Senate seat that one of them will fill after a special election next month was vacated by Democrat Michael Rubio after Chevron hired him as a political affairs executive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RELATED POST: Help us examine California's budget bills

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 24, 2013
California Senate votes to regulate e-cigarettes


Electronic cigarettes would be subject to the same prohibitions as regular cigarettes under a bill passed Friday by the Senate.

Perhaps you've had this experience: you're sitting in a bar and you see what appears to be someone smoking a cigarette, blatantly violating an indoor smoking ban; you get a little closer and realize that the person is in fact drawing on an e-cigarette, exhaling vapor that's distinct from the acrid smoke produced by conventional cigarettes.

That would no longer be possible under Senate Bill 648 by Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, that would ban e-cigarettes inside public buildings, near a playground, inside restaurants and on an airplane. It would also restrict the places where e-cigarette companies could advertise.

Corbett said she had authored the legislation in pursuit of "consistent regulation" that holds the burgeoning e-cigarette industry to the same standards as tobacco-based products, and added that studies of e-cigarette smoke had found harmful particles of metal components.

"This bill does not ban the use of e-cigarettes," Corbett said, "it just treats them the same as other cigarettes."

The measure passed on a 21-10 vote. One of the dissenting lawmakers, Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, argued that e-cigarettes are an effective way to help people quit regular cigarettes, something he asked senators to consider given the fact that "we spend tens of millions, billions of dollars trying to get people off cigarettes."

"While it may not be perfect, it's a step in the right direction," Anderson said of substituting the futuristic-looking smokes for conventional cigarettes, adding that e-cigarettes have given "a new lease on life" to constituents who have struggled to kick the habit.

PHOTO CREDIT: A pack of "blu" brand electronic cigarettes. Friday, Aug. 27, 2010 by Gerry Broome/The Associated Press.

May 22, 2013
Republican win shaves Democratic supermajority in Senate

The Democratic supermajority in the state Senate thinned a bit Tuesday when Republican farmer Andy Vidak captured more than 50 percent of a special election vote to win in a heavily Democratic San Joaquin Valley district.

Vidak had nearly 52 percent of the votes in the low-turnout election early today, with some provisional and mail ballots yet to be counted. His opponent, Democrat Leticia Perez, a Kern County supervisor, conceded shortly after midnight on Wednesday morning.

The election was called when Democratic Sen. Michael Rubio unexpectedly resigned early this year to become an executive in Chevron Corp. It was conducted in the 16th Senate District, which no longer exists, because Rubio was elected from that district in 2010. Vidak will have to seek re-election in the new 14th Senate District, which was created by an independent redistricting commission.

Both districts have lopsided registration majorities, but the 16th SD is heavily weighted toward Fresno County while the new 14th SD is more oriented toward Kern County. Both also include counties in between those two.

"Special elections are unique voter-turnout environments and this is clearly not the last we've heard of the immensely talented Supervisor Perez," Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said in a statement. "I'm proud of how our Democratic Senate supermajority and our accomplished campaign team responded to this unexpected vacancy and rallied in support of Leticia's candidacy."

Vidak's victory shaves the Democrats' margin in the Senate, which had been 29-11, by one seat, but another Democratic senator, Curren Price, is due to resign to take a seat on the Los Angeles City Council. Thus chances have dimmed for the Democratic supermajority to pass a constitutional amendment or a tax increase, both of which would require two-thirds legislative votes.

Also Tuesday, Democrat Lorena Gonzalez, a community organizer, easily won a special election in the 80th Assembly District in San Diego County, defeating another Democrat, and will succeed Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, who left the Assembly after winning a special election for the state Senate. Gonzalez' victory does not affect the Democratic supermajority in the Assembly but it, too, is experiencing vacancies due to other looming resignations.

May 20, 2013
Former California Sen. Newton Russell dies at 85

newt.jpgNewton Russell, who represented a swath of the San Fernando Valley in the state Legislature for more than three decades, died Saturday at his Southern California home. He was 85 and succumbed, his family said, to lung cancer.

Russell, a Republican, was dubbed the "conscience of the Senate" for his frequent admonitions to colleagues about following procedural rules and understanding the details and potential consequences of legislation. He was particularly critical of expanding "peace officer" status to additional blocs of state and local employees that would qualify them for higher pension benefits.

Russell, an insurance agent by profession, was first elected to the Assembly in 1964 from a Glendale-centered district, and a decade later won a special state Senate election. He retired in 1996. The area he represented was dependably Republican during his career but after his retirement became dominated by Democratic voters and legislators.

Russell's brother, John, who preceded him in death, was best known as the star of a popular television series, "The Lawman," in the 1960s. Both brothers served in World War II, John in the Marine Corps and Newt in the Navy.

Newt Russell is survived by his widow, Diane The couple had three children and eight grandchildren. The family is planning private services. A public memorial gathering is planned, but the details have not been set.

May 14, 2013
Daughter-in-law of former Sen. Don Perata drowns in pool

PerataInvestigation.jpgThe daughter-in-law of former Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata died over the weekend.

Catherine Perata, who was married to the son of the Oakland Democrat, drowned in a pool at the family's Napa home Saturday morning. She was 38.

The Associated Press reports:

Napa Police Capt. Jeff Troendly says 38-year-old Catherine Perata was found unresponsive Saturday morning by her husband in their backyard pool. ...

Troendly says while foul play is not suspected, investigators are waiting for a toxicology report before concluding the death investigation.

Don Perata served more than a decade in the Legislature, including four years as pro tem, before leaving office due to term limits in 2008. He lost a 2010 bid to become mayor of Oakland.

Read more from the Associated Press at

PHOTO CREDIT: Don Perata, shown in 2008. Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli

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.

May 6, 2013
FPPC: Michael Rubio real estate transactions didn't break laws

MicahelRubioPicture.JPGCalifornia's political watchdog agency has determined that a former state senator who engaged in real estate transactions with a friend and campaign donor did not violate the state's political ethics laws.

The Fair Political Practices Commission had been reviewing both a short sale and a loan related to properties owned by former Democratic Sen. Michael Rubio, who resigned in February to take a job directing California governmental affairs for Chevron Corp.

Shortly after Rubio stepped down, it was revealed that a company managed by San Joaquin Refining Co. President Majid Mojibi purchased a Bakersfield home Rubio put up for a short sale after he had to move to remain eligible to represent the Central Valley's 16th Senate District. That company, DCM Asset Management, also provided Rubio with a loan to purchase a $681,000 home in El Dorado Hills last year when he was unable to receive a traditional mortgage. Rubio later sold the five-bedroom house back to Mojibi, whom he describes as a close personal friend, and began renting it.

The El Dorado Hills transactions, first reported by The Bee, was later disclosed in Rubio's annual Statement of Economic Interests form. That form also showed that Rubio was involved in another real estate deal with ties to the Mojibi family.

Those exchanges raised questions about whether the loan and the sale violated the Political Reform Act, which limits elected officials to $440 in gifts from a single source per year. A central issue for the ethics agency officials was whether the terms of the loan Rubio received would have been available to the general public.

April 30, 2013
Frogs 'have a lot on the line' in annual Capitol jumping contest

frogcooley.JPG Democracy! One of its greatest aspirations is treating elected representatives and the everyday people who elected them equally -- a leveling that, once a year in Sacramento, includes California lawmakers trying to grasp slimy frogs and then dancing around and stomping to encourage said frogs to hop.

Tuesday was the 39th annual Capitol Frog Jump day, a hallowed occasion that honors Mark Twain's well-known story, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County."

Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Oakdale, whose district encompasses Calaveras County, emceed the festivities.

"These frogs have a lot on the line here -- if they lose they could end up in the frying pan," Berryhill announced. A staffer told him, "We don't bite the leg that feeds us."

The results of today's festivities: A 10-foot-5-inch hop secured the longest jump title for "Notorious H.O.P." on behalf of Morgan Morales with the office of Assemblyman Eric Linder, R-Corona. On the opposite end of the spectrum was the amphibian coached by Theresa Pena of the office of Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica-- "Herkimer" managed only 1 foot, 4 inches. The Media Jump award went to defending champ Joe Michaels of Newstalk 1530 KFBK's "Christopher Ribbit II.

For the record, Capitol Alert's favorite frog names were a tie between M.C. Hopper and Betty Croaker. But enough talk, here's some videos of lawmakers and frogs.

Frog wrangler D.W. Elley was very helpful -- here he is giving Assemblyman Steve Fox, D-Lancaster, some positive reinforcement. (Elley's technique summed up: "Set him on the pad, and scare him and make him hop.")

Fox's frog, by the way, was named El Zorro. "Zorro means fox in Spanish," the assemblyman explained to Capitol Alert.

Assemblyman Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova, is a freshman but has been around the Capitol for a while, so he seemed pretty confident in his technique.

Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown, D-San Bernardino, was less enthused...

...although ultimately she got into it. Her frog, Larry B., though, remained indifferent.

PHOTO CREDIT: Sadly, Assemblyman Ken Cooley -- seen here with Tenaya -- did not find his prince. April 30, 2013 by Jeremy B. White/The Sacramento Bee.

April 22, 2013
California Senate approves bill to close loophole in rape law

HA_noreen_evans.JPGThe California state Senate moved today to change what has been called "historical anomalies in the law" that led a rape conviction to be overturned in Southern California.

Senate Bill 59, by Democratic Sen. Noreen Evans, was introduced in response to the Los Angeles-based 2nd District Court of Appeal's decision to throw out the conviction of a man who was accused of raping a woman while she was asleep in bed. The court's ruling was based on defendant Julio Morales' claim that the victim was awake and could have been under the impression that he was her boyfriend. Current law, the court said, provides protections for victims raped by someone impersonating their spouse, but not other sexual partners.

"Justice should not be conditioned on a person's marital status or sexual orientation," Evans said in introducing the bill on the floor.

Republican Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian is carrying a second bill on the same issue. The San Luis Obispo Republican authored similar legislation in 2011 that failed to clear the Senate Public Safety Committee.

Evans' version passed the Senate on a bipartisan 37-0 vote. Senate GOP leader Bob Huff spoke in support of the measure. He raised questions about a Public Safety Committee policy to hold bills that could cause the prison population to rise.

The bill, which requires a two-thirds vote so it can take effect immediately, now heads to the Assembly for consideration.


Legislators vow to shut legal loophole in Los Angeles rape case

PHOTO CREDIT: Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, in a 2009 file photo. Hector Amezcua, Sacramento Bee.

April 19, 2013
Senator calls on CPUC president to testify at budget hearing

HA_michael_peevey253.JPGThe California Legislature's ongoing public battle with the state agency that regulates oil and gas pipelines continued to escalate this week, with one senator asking CPUC President Michael Peevey to "justify your continued appointment" in front of a Senate subcommittee next week.

The request came one day after another budget subcommittee held a public hearing on a report detailing a perception among employees that the California Public Utilities Commission does not prioritize safety and is too cozy with the utility companies it regulates.

The letter, sent Thursday by Democratic state Sen. Jerry Hill, also notes other reports raising concerns about the agency's commitment to safety conducted in the wake of the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion.

"For all of the shortcomings under your leadership at the CPUC over the last ten years as documented by independent reports, it's critical that you testify before the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Subcommittee hearing next week to justify your continued appointment as president of the California Public Utilities Commission," Hill, who represents San Bruno and is a vocal critic of CPUC leadership, wrote in the letter.

A CPUC spokesperson has not responded to The Bee's inquiry about whether Peevey plans to attend the April 25 hearing.

Peevey, who is married to Democratic state Sen. Carol Liu of La Cañada Flintridge, was first appointed to the commission by then-Gov. Gray Davis in 2002. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed him to another six-year term in 2008.

Gov. Jerry Brown's office released the following statement via email in response to a request for comment from The Bee: "Commissioner Peevey's term is up on January 1, 2015. If something changes before then, we'll let you know."

PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Peevey of the California Public Utilities Commission waits to speak to Senate Rules Committee members as they consider his confirmation in December 2009 as his wife, state Sen. Carol Liu, sits behind him. Hector Amezcua / Sacramento Bee file, 2009

04-18-13 - Letter to Peevey

April 10, 2013
Bill targeting Boy Scouts' nonprofit status clears committee

LS_MUSIC_FESTIVAL11.JPGCalifornia Boy Scout troops that ban openly gay members could lose their nonprofit tax status under legislation that advanced in the state Senate today.

Senate Bill 323, by Democratic Sen. Ricardo Lara, would repeal the state tax-exempt status of any youth organization that discriminates based on gender identity, sexual orientation or religious affiliation.

Lara said the bill is intended to "make sure all our youth get to participate in our youth programs."

The legislation comes amid increased public pressure for the Boy Scouts of America to change its blanket ban on openly gay troops. A former president said the organization has been reviewing that policy in an ongoing effort to stay relevant with families, but opposes the legislation because of the potential financial impact on troops across the state.

"You're talking about taxing revenue that is very important, especially to the local scouts," Rick Cronk, a former president of the Boy Scouts of America, told the committee.

Critics also raised concerns about the constitutionality of the legislation, citing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling affirming the private organization's right to make membership decisions, and safety issues they said could arise when straight and gay scouts and leaders go on camping trips or other outings.

Still, supporters said the change, which would not impact churches that charter scout troops, would send an important message about equality.

"(Senate Bill 323 will) let the scouts and other groups know that at least in the state of California, we will not support any organization that thinks it can get away with discrimination" said Ryan Andersen, who has become an advocate for lifting the policy int the wake of his gay son's experience with the Boy Scouts.

The bill cleared the Senate Governance and Finance Committee on a party-line vote of 5-2. It will now be scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

PHOTO: Members of the Boy Scouts of America march in a parade at the Sacramento Music Festival in Old Sacramento in May 2012. Lezlie Sterling / Sacramento Bee file.

April 9, 2013
PUC official in hot water for trying to secretly record meeting

CAP3.JPG.JPGA routine staff meeting at the Capitol turned controversial last week when a California Public Utilities Commission official was allegedly caught trying to secretly record the conversation.

A briefing on an upcoming Senate budget subcommittee hearing was underway Friday when a smart phone belonging to PUC Energy Division Director Edward Randolph interrupted with an announcement that the recording space on his device was full, several sources told The Bee. The discovery surprised -- and angered -- many of the more than a dozen attendees of the off-the-record, private meeting, which was quickly called to an end.

Randolph initially denied that he was trying to covertly record the meeting, but later apologized to some attendees. The meeting included members of the Senate subcommittee staff, the office of Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, the Department of Finance and the PUC's Division of Ratepayer Advocates, an office that has clashed with PUC leadership.

Now, officials are reviewing whether Randolph's actions broke California law, which requires consent of all parties involved to tape private conversations. Steinberg spokesman Rhys Williams said the senator's office is aware of the issue and is looking into "whether any rules or laws have been broken and any appropriate recourse based on that."

April 9, 2013
Proposal to repeal California's rural fire fee fails in committee

antifee.JPGA Republican-authored bill to eliminate a fire prevention fee levied on some California residents failed to make it out of committee Tuesday morning.

Senate Bill 17, by Sen. Ted Gaines, R-Rocklin, fell on a 4-3 vote in the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee.

Supporters wearing bright red T-shirts bearing the phrase "Burned by the Fire Tax" packed the hearing room and lined up to register their support, joining fire officials and advocates for taxpayers and homeowners. No one appeared to voice opposition.

The state Office of Legislative Council has questioned how the administration of Gov. Jerry Brown spends revenue from the fee, which is assessed on property in rural areas. Lawmakers approved the fee in 2011 on a majority vote, rather than the two-thirds vote required for new taxes. Revenue from a fee must be spent to benefit those who pay it.

Opponents of the fee have argued that it has been used for other purposes. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has sued the state on those grounds, arguing that the fee is in fact an unconstitutional tax.

But some committee members said the fee was warranted to guard against blazes spreading from rural areas where they are more likely to start.

Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, who voted against the bill, endorsed awaiting the results of the lawsuit before moving to a legislative fix.

"The issue of tax vs. fee, I'm sure the courts will straighten this out," Jackson said.

PHOTO CREDIT: Opponents of California's fire fee wait to testify at an April 9, 2013, hearing before a Senate committee. Jeremy B. White / Sacramento Bee

April 9, 2013
Bill to let non-doctors perform early abortions clears committee

SPECIAL_ELECTION_ABORTION.JPGA proposal to let medical professionals other than doctors perform an early abortion procedure advanced Tuesday in the California Legislature.

Assembly Bill 154, by Democratic Assemblywoman Toni Atkins of San Diego, authorizes nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives, and physician assistants who undergo training to conduct aspiration abortions, a procedure that uses a suction method to remove a fetus early in a pregnancy.

The bill cleared the Assembly Business and Professions Committee on a 8-4 party-line vote.

The measure would expand a state pilot program that's been in effect since 2007, and supporters say it would ensure women have early and safe access to abortion providers in their communities. They cite a University of California, San Francisco Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health study that found low rates of mostly minor complications related to the first trimester abortions performed by pilot participants.

"The goal is to ensure that there are providers, qualified and trained, throughout every county in the state," Atkins said.

Critics at the hearing raised concerns about safety, training and expanding access to abortion in general, especially among teenage women.

"I don't think we should treat it as taking a pill or anything like that," said Assemblyman Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills. "This is a very complex situation."

An earlier attempt to allow non-doctors to perform the procedure fell short last year. The California Nurses Association opposed that proposal, raising concerns that a full study of the pilot program had not been completed. The bill also ran into opposition in a key Senate committee, whose members included two Democrats who opposed abortion rights.

PHOTO CREDIT: An intake worker waits for paperwork from a teenage client at a family planning and abortion clinic in San Francisco. Julie Plasencia / Associated Press file, 2005

April 9, 2013
Fracking bill passes CA Senate committee

frack.jpgA bill to more tightly regulate the drilling process called hydraulic fracturing passed the California Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee on a 6-2 vote Tuesday.

Fracking, as the extraction technique is commonly called, has become a flash point for environmental advocates as the process has become more commonplace in recent years.

California is in the incipient stages of regulating fracking -- shooting a mix of chemicals, sand and water deep underground.

Skeptics argue that fracking could endanger public health by contaminating water public water supplies. Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, the author of Senate Bill 4, called the bill a needed mechanism for holding the energy industry accountable.

"We need to at the minimum ensure that someone, some public agency, is monitoring the public health and safety of Californians," Pavley said.

The legislation would require the energy industry to disclose more information about the amount of water and types of chemicals it uses. It would also set up a permitting process, create a framework for tracking waste water and dictate that communities are notified 30 days in advance of a new well being constructed.

April 2, 2013
Senate committee shuffle gives Correa Banking & Finance gavel

loucorreaphoto.jpgOngoing shuffling to fill vacancies on state Senate committees has put Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, at the helm of the upper house's powerful Banking and Finance Committee.

Correa, a moderate Democrat who also chairs the Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee, takes the gavel from Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, who was recently appointed as chair of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee.

Sen. Ben Hueso, D- San Diego, who won a seat in the upper house in a recent special election, will take Correa's spot as chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee.

The committee dominoes began in January, when Sens. Juan Vargas and Gloria Negrete McLeod left the Legislature to take congressional seats they won in November. More changes were sparked when Democratic Sen. Michael Rubio, who chaired Environmental Quality, resigned to take a job leading governmental affairs for Chevron Corp.

The full list of announced changes, which were approved by the Senate Rules Committee, is posted after the jump.

April 1, 2013
Remembrance for reporter Virgil Meibert set for April 12

meibert.jpgFriends and colleagues of long-time Capitol reporter Virgil Meibert will gather in Sacramento State University's alumni center April 12 for a memorial service.

Meibert represented the Oakland Tribune in the Capitol for nearly 20 years and held the same post for the Contra Costa Times for three years before retiring from newspapers in 1995. He died in his sleep March 18 at his Sacramento home after a lengthy battle with a variety of illnesses. He was 78.

March 26, 2013
Senate hopeful has same residency issue as ex-Sen. Rubio

LeticiaPerez.jpgSenate Democrats' pick to replace former state Sen. Michael Rubio in a Central Valley district is on the move -- literally.

Bakersfield Democrat Leticia Perez, a Kern County Supervisor, learned this week that she will have to find a new home by Friday in order to run in the May special election for the seat Rubio gave up to take a job with Chevron Corp. earlier this year.

Perez apparently faces the same residency issue Rubio, her former boss, experienced when he first ran for the state Senate in 2010: her home is in a part of Bakersfield that election officials mistakenly included in the 16th Senate District for years

Rubio moved during his campaign and later had to short sell his original home. That sale, along with his later purchase of an El Dorado Hills house, involved an oil executive who gave to his campaign. Both transactions are the subject of a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission, which has yet to decide whether to open a formal investigation.

March 21, 2013
Pay panel boss says changes to CA lawmakers' pay unlikely

thomas.JPGThe chairman of the state panel that sets pay for California legislators and statewide officials said today he expects the salaries to remain the same next year, even if the state's finances are strong enough to justify raises.

The California Citizens Compensation Commission met for about an hour today in Sacramento, but decided to delay a decision until after the panel gets an updated report on the state's fiscal health from the Department of Finance. By law, the commission cannot raise officials' pay unless the state shows a surplus in May.

Commission Chairman Thomas Dalzell said he sees it as "very unlikely" that members decide to increase -- or reduce -- pay levels when they meet again on June 13. Giving raises in the first year of a projected surplus, he said, would "probably be unseemly."

"The economy's fairly volatile and things could flip around and I think there are priorities greater than the legislator and constitutional officer salaries," he said after the meeting. "What we do is largely symbolic because it has no significant effect on the budget, but I think it's important symbolically to not rush ahead and to restore the cuts on the first year out."

March 21, 2013
Ben Hueso takes Senate seat, restores Democratic supermajority

photo.JPGSen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, was sworn in Thursday morning, restoring a two-thirds supermajority Senate Democrats had temporarily lost.

At his swearing in, Hueso spoke about his father's experience of emigrating from Mexico, obtaining an education at San Diego State University and eventually sending several children to college. Flanked by his wife and four sons, he talked about sustaining those types of opportunities.

"I want to dedicate my service here to ensure that, together," lawmakers can "offer [Californians] in the future opportunities they do not have today," Hueso said.

The homage to Hueso's Mexican heritage continued when he left the Senate chambers, where a traditional mariachi band greeted him.

Hueso formerly served in the Assembly. He won the 40th Senate district seat that U.S. Rep. Juan Vargas, D-San Diego, surrendered after his election to Congress in November.

PHOTO CREDIT: Newly sworn in Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, speaks at a reception on March 21, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Jeremy B. White

March 20, 2013
Former Oakland state Sen. Nicholas Petris dies

NicholasPetris.jpgNicholas Petris, who served in the California Legislature for 37 years, representing Oakland and other East Bay communities, died Wednesday morning. He was 90.

Petris died at Piedmont Gardens, an Oakland retirement and nursing facility, after a years-long struggle with dementia.

Democrat Petris was regarded as a leading liberal voice during his long career in the Assembly and the Senate before being compelled to retire in 1996 by term limits. He was a major advocate of tax reform, farmworker rights, mental health services (the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act) and environmental protection. He penned laws banning smoking on airplanes, trains and buses, and required redevelopment agencies to build housing for low- and moderate-income families.

Petris, who was of Greek ancestry, often peppered his floor speeches with references to ancient Greek scholars.

Services are scheduled for the Greek Orthodox Church in Oakland, 4700 Lincoln Ave., at 11 a.m. Tuesday. A viewing will take place Monday night at 7 p.m. at the church.

PHOTO CREDIT: Sen. Nicholas Petris, D-Oakland, is honored on his last day in the Legislature in 1996. Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli

March 19, 2013
Darrell Steinberg endorses Leticia Perez to replace Michael Rubio

Darrell_Steinberg.jpgThe field is taking shape to replace Shafter Democrat Michael Rubio in the state Senate, and President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has endorsed Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez for the job.

As The Fresno Bee's John Ellis explains in this post, the race is now likely a three-way affair between Perez, fellow Democrat Fran Florez and Hanford Republican Andy Vidak.

"Leticia Perez is well known and respected for being a fiscal conservative and a proven advocate for equal rights, good paying jobs, public education, and safe neighborhoods," Steinberg said in a prepared release. "I am very happy she will be adding her voice to the State Senate to strongly advocate for the people of the Central Valley."

PHOTO CREDIT: Darrell Steinberg speaks on the Senate floor in 2012. Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli

March 13, 2013
Report: Unsealed document details threat against CA senator

RB Leland Yee 4 (1).JPGNew unsealed court documents detail the explicit threats a Santa Clara man upset about efforts to tighten gun laws made against Democratic state Sen. Leland Yee, according to a report in the San Jose Mercury News.

Everett Fred Basham was arrested last month after law enforcement officials identified him as the alleged author of a death threat received by Yee and searched his Santa Clara home. He has pleaded not guilty to multiple charges, including some related to the possession of explosive materials and a gun found at his residence.

In an email sent to Yee's office in January, Basham wrote that he had "39 confirmed kills in afganistan (sic)...Don't make me get to 40."

The Mercury News story, posted in full at this link, has more on the threat:

The message proceeds with a nine-point list in which the author claims, among other things, to be a trained Marine sniper with "over 200 rounds of ammunition" and a high-powered rifle that "can hit a spinal cord at 1.5 miles making a head become red mist."

The numbered points grow increasingly specific: "I know where your office and where the state capital (sic) building is in Sacramento. I have hiding spots around both with clean view," followed by "I can wait hidden for you to walk past my mil dot scope," the latter part referring to a specific type of rifle targeting scope.

Yee's office has declined to provide further comment on the unsealed documents. His office referred to an earlier statement in which the senator said "these threats and any others will not deter me and my colleagues from addressing the critical issues surrounding gun violence."

"This case is very troubling and only further demonstrates the need to address this epidemic," the statement reads.


VIDEO: Yee details threat, says it won't stop gun control effort

Sen. Leland Yee receives threat after objecting to Limbaugh

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

March 13, 2013
Senate Democrats get back supermajority with Hueso win

Ben_Hueso_Special_Election.jpgCalifornia Democrats have recaptured a supermajority in the state Senate as Democrat Ben Hueso sailed to victory in a special election for a vacant San Diego-area Senate seat Tuesday night.

Hueso, a state assemblyman from San Diego, had 52.3 percent of the vote in unofficial results in the race to replace former Sen. Juan Vargas in the 40th Senate District. Vargas resigned to assume a House seat he won in the November election. Because Hueso tallied above 50 percent, he won the seat outright, avoiding a later runoff election. He is scheduled to be sworn in on March 21.

The Senate briefly lost its supermajority status last month, when Sen. Michael Rubio, D-East Bakersfield, resigned unexpectedly to take a job with Chevron Corp.

The Assembly will hold on to its supermajority status when Hueso departs for the upper house, but not for long. At least one other Assembly Democrat, Bob Blumenfield, is expected to resign this summer to take a Los Angeles City Council seat he won in a recent primary. Successors to both Blumenfield and Hueso will be selected in later special elections.

The results of runoff elections for other Los Angeles seats being sought by current legislators and another vacant Senate district up for a vote Tuesday could also shift the balance of power in both houses.

Assemblywoman Norma Torres, D-Pomona, tallied 43.6 percent of the vote Tuesday night in a contest for the Inland Empire's 32nd Senate District, which was left open when former state Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod, D-Chino, joined Congress in January.

Torres will face Republican Paul Leon, who had 26.4 percent of the vote, in a May 14 runoff.

The supermajority status could allow legislative Democrats to pass new taxes, place measures on the ballot and override a gubernatorial veto without any GOP votes. Most of the seats that are expected to open up as a result of the upcoming election dominoes are considered safe Democratic districts, leaving leaders with little cause for concern about the temporary shifts in their majority power.

PHOTO CREDIT: In this May 29, 2012 file photo, Assemblyman Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, talks with Assemblywoman Kristen Olsen, R-Modesto, during the Assembly session in Sacramento, Calif. Hueso won Tuesday's special election for the 40 District Senate seat vacated by Juan Vargas, who was elected to the House of Representatives last November. (AP Photo/ Rich Pedroncelli, file)

March 2, 2013
Rubio was business partner to oil exec who lent money for home

Rubio_house.JPGWhile serving as a state senator, Michael Rubio also was a business partner with a Kern County oil executive who contributed to his campaign and loaned him money to buy a home in El Dorado Hills, newly released state records show.

Rubio, a Shafter Democrat who resigned weeks ago to work for Chevron, was a partner with Majid Mojibi in a Bakersfield-based real estate investment firm, M&R Investment Group, the records show.

The partnership participated in two real estate deals in 2012 - one involving ownership and operation of a Bakersfield office building, the other involving agricultural land.

Rubio said he received no income from the venture. The partnership apparently received loans of six-figure sums from Mojibi, however. On the FPPC disclosure form Rubio listed an "over $100,000 loan" for each of the two real estate ventures.

March 1, 2013
Assemblyman Perea says he won't run for open Senate seat

20121203_HA_ASSEMBLY1252.JPGAssemblyman Henry Perea has decided not to run for the Central Valley Senate seat that fellow Democrat Michael Rubio resigned last week.

The Fresno Democrat said in a statement that while the opportunity to run in the 16th Senate District is "appealing," he wants to serve out his most recent term in the Assembly and honor a commitment he made to his wife and family to "create a balance between my home life and work."

"We are anxiously awaiting the arrival of our second child in July, and I want to uphold my commitment to my family and the 31st Assembly District," he said.

Rubio, a freshman Democrat from Shafter, resigned his 16th Senate District seat last week to take a job heading California governmental affairs for Chevron Corp.

Gov. Jerry Brown has not yet set a special election date, but there is no shortage of candidates interested in seeking the seat.

PHOTO CREDIT: Two-year-old Ava Perea looks at the gallery as she is carried by her father, Assemblyman Henry T. Perea, D-Fresno, after he is sworn in during the first day of session at the state Capitol in Sacramento on Dec. 3, 2012. Hector Amezcua / Sacramento Bee file, 2012.

February 22, 2013
Jerry Brown says he was counting on Michael Rubio

jerrybrowndc.JPGWASHINGTON - Gov. Jerry Brown said today that state Sen. Michael Rubio's resignation from the state Legislature took him by surprise, and he suggested it could complicate his effort to overhaul the state's signature environmental law.

"He's a good man," Brown said as he arrived here for a conference of the National Governors Association. "I was kind of counting on him for this year."

Asked if Rubio's resignation would hurt his effort to make changes to the California Environmental Quality Act, the Democratic governor said, "Well, he was certainly the foremost champion" of enacting changes.

Rubio announced today that he is leaving the Legislature to take a job at Chevron Corp. Brown had expected the Shafter Democrat to help him enact legislation limiting the reach of CEQA.

Brown said of Rubio's announcement, "That was a surprise."

PHOTO CREDIT: Gov. Jerry Brown and first lady Anne Gust Brown arrive at Washington Dulles International Airport on Friday, Feb. 22, 2013. David Siders / Sacramento Bee

February 22, 2013
State Sen. Michael Rubio resigns, will take job with Chevron

AP120417140783.JPGState Sen. Michael Rubio announced today that he is resigning from the state Legislature and taking a job directing California governmental affairs for Chevron Corporation.

The Shafter Democrat cited a desire to spend more time with his family in a statement released today, saying he "realized that my current professional path has left little opportunity to be home for those who are most important to me, which is why I am making a change."

"My wife and I have been blessed with two beautiful daughters, from whom we have learned a great deal," he said. "Our youngest child, who has special needs, has given me great perspective as to life's priorities and our eldest has reminded me that the most critical decisions are made at home and not under the Capitol dome."

Rubio, who was elected to the state Senate in 2010, dropped plans to run for Congress in 2012 after his daughter was diagnosed with Down syndrome. One of the upper house's most moderate members, Rubio was leading a push to overhaul the California Environmental Quality Act. He was named chair of the Environmental Quality Committee last year and has worked closely with Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg on drafting legislation for the upcoming session.

Rubio said in the statement that his resignation is effective today. His decision means Senate Democrats will temporarily lose their supermajority, as two other Democratic seats are currently vacant. A special election will be held to fill his seat for the remainder of his term.

PHOTO CREDIT: State Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Bakersfield, left, a member of the Senate Transportation and Housing committee, explains to Sen. Doug La Malfa, R-Willows why he would vote against La Malfa's proposal to put a $68 billion high-speed rail plan back before California voters, during a hearing at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif. Tuesday, April 17, 2012. After more than an hour of testimony La Malfa was granted his request to postpone the committee's vote on the bill. He did not say when he would seek a vote.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

February 14, 2013
VIDEO: Yee details threat, says it won't stop gun control effort

RB_Leland_Yee_3.JPGSen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, has gotten menacing notes before, but this time was different.

The message that appeared in Yee's inbox about four weeks ago was much more explicit, Yee said at a press conference Thursday afternoon in his Senate office.

The email warned Yee to stop pursuing gun control legislation; if Yee persisted, the author -- who described himself as a trained sniper -- warned he would assassinate the senator in or around the state Capitol building.

"The threat was unlike any of the other ones I've received in the past," Yee said. "In the past I've received racial slurs, rants about my ethnicity and culture, about China. But instead this was a rather detailed, deliberate and exact set of strategies as to how he would carry out that threat."

Particularly worrisome were the signs of a concrete plan, Yee said. He said his training as a psychologist has taught him that detailed plans are usually a red flag indicating that someone is closer to action.

Yee said he immediately notified his chief of staff, who turned the case over to the Senate sergeants. They passed it on to the California Highway Patrol, and on Tuesday authorities arrested a suspect in Santa Clara County whose apartment contained explosive materials and a firearm. Authorities detonated some bombs they found onsite, Yee said.

The senator has been harassed before, notably when he received a disturbing fax after denouncing radio host Rush Limbaugh. Despite the most recent threat, Yee said he has not requested additional security and would not change his agenda.

"Let me make it very, very clear - I'm going to make it crystal clear - that despite this particular threat and any other threats I am not going to be deterred from addressing the issue of gun violence in this community and this state," Yee said.

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

February 12, 2013
Bill would require polling places on California college campuses

US NEWS ELN-ELECTION 93 SA.jpgDemocratic state Sen. Leland Yee is looking to bolster the youth vote with legislation to establish more polling places on California's college and university campuses.

Senate Bill 240 would require at least one polling place on each University of California and California State University campus and seek to expand the number of polling stations on community college campuses across the state.

While some campuses, including UC Davis, do serve as voting sites, the final decision of where to locate the voting stations is up to the county registrars. Yee said the bill is aimed at making it easier for the hundreds of thousands of students enrolled in the state's UC and CSU systems to vote.

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 11, 2013
Bill targets use of smart car technology for California teens

Cell Phone Driving (1).jpgCalifornia minors are already banned from using their smart phones behind the wheel, even with a hands-free device. But new legislation introduced in the state Senate last week would expand those rules to include the use of new smart car technology while driving.

Senate Bill 194, by Stockton Democrat Cathleen Galgiani, would expand the state's ban on talking on the phone and texting while driving for motorists under 18, prohibiting those drivers from using any "electronic wireless communications device," even if it's hands free. The aim of that change is to make sure drivers with provisional licenses don't use touch-screen or voice-command technologies that have been introduced in new car models. Mercedes-Benz USA, for example, made headlines last month by announcing a new feature that provides Facebook access through a car.

February 7, 2013
Environmental groups, unions team up to oppose CEQA push

CAP1NEW.JPG.JPGThe battle lines are being drawn in the upcoming legislative fight over California's environmental review laws.

More than a dozen environmental, labor and social justice groups announced Wednesday that they are joining forces to oppose an expected push to overhaul the California Environmental Quality Act.

Members pledged to fight "radical reforms that would limit public input into land use planning, threaten public health, and weaken environmental protections."

The group, CEQA Works, includes the California League of Conservation Voters, Planning and Conservation League, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club California, the California Teamsters Public Affairs Council, State Building and Construction Trades Council, United Food & Commercial Workers and the League of Women Voters of California.

February 7, 2013
California Democratic lawmakers unveil gun control legislation

steinbergvilalr.JPGFlanked by police chiefs, big-city mayors and gun control advocates, a group of California Democratic legislators announced a series of proposals Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said would "once again make California's gun laws the very toughest in the nation."

Thursday's announcement was the latest gun control push from state lawmakers in the wake of December's mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school. The massacre, which claimed the lives of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, has sparked calls for action across the country. Lawmakers in New York recently enacted measures making its laws the nation's strictest, a title previously held by California.

"We need to lead the way," Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said. "New York has stepped up and stepped forward. California needs to answer the call."

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 18, 2013
Legislature won't say where lawmakers drive on taxpayers' dime

By Torey Van Oot and Jim Sanders

State legislators billed taxpayers more than $450,000 for on-the-job driving in the last legislative year, but officials won't say where the lawmakers went.

The Legislature began reimbursing members for work-related travel in their personal cars, including trips from their home to the Capitol, in Dec. 2011, after a program providing state-leased cars to members was cut by the Citizens Compensation Commission. The change saved taxpayers nearly $240,000 in its first year, a Bee analysis found.

The mileage reimbursements varied significantly by member, however. Some legislators declined to seek reimbursement, while others received large sums for driving thousands of miles for legislative or other official business. While some of the members logging the most miles represent vast, rural districts within driving distance of the Capitol, others from geographically compact districts in Southern California also racked up thousands of dollars in reimbursement costs.

January 18, 2013
Resolution on domestic violence delayed mid-presentation

A routine resolution urging Congress to reauthorize federal legislation aimed at curbing domestic violence was temporarily shelved in an unusually public fashion today, as the Senate's top Democrat stepped in to appease concerned female legislators.

Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, was interrupted by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg shortly after he began introducing his Senate Resolution 8, which calls on Congress to re-introduce and renew the Violence Against Women Act, on this Senate floor this morning. After a brief discussion on the floor, Yee announced that he would hold off on bringing the resolution up for a vote.

Steinberg told reporters after session that the confusion was caused by an "innocent miscommunication."

January 17, 2013
Former GOP Sen. Tony Strickland takes fellowship at USC

Former GOP Sen. Tony Strickland is going from practicing politics to preaching it as a fellow at the University of Southern California's Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics.

The Ventura County Star's Timm Herdt has the details on the Moorpark Republican's new gig:

Strickland, a Republican, will become one of about six former legislators to participate in the program since its start three years ago. The unpaid fellowship involves participation in panel discussions on political and public policy issues and interaction with students in small group discussions.

In addition, plans are being made for Strickland to partner with Dan Schnur, the institute's director, in teaching a class in the fall called "The Future of California." That position would be paid.

Strickland, who lost a 2012 bid for an open House seat to former Democratic Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, might not stay on the campaign sidelines for long. The two-time former state controller candidate told Herdt he is "seriously considering" challenging Brownley again in 2014.

January 14, 2013
Mark Nechodom, fracking regulator, confirmed in CA Senate

The Senate unanimously confirmed Mark Nechodom's appointment to head the Department of Conservation on Monday, with Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg pronouncing himself satisfied with Nechodom's commitment to managing hydraulic fracturing.

"...Assessing the qualifications as well as the direction of the director of this department, I am satisfied. I think he'll make a fine director," Steinberg said.

Nechodom had faced stiff questioning over his department's role in crafting regulations governing hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, an energy extraction process that involves blasting a mix of water, sand and chemicals into the ground.

Critics worry that fracking could endanger public health by compromising drinking water supplies, and Steinberg last week sought an assurance from Nechodom that the need to safeguard public safety would trump energy companies' desire to keep secret the identity of the chemicals they use.

January 8, 2013
Jim Nielsen wins election to open state Senate seat

ha_APAPA13699.JPGRepublican Jim Nielsen is heading back to the Legislature.

The Gerber Republican easily won election to the vacant 4th Senate District seat in a special contest held Tuesday. He led Democrat Mickey Harrington by double-digits, 66.5 percent to 33.5 percent, in early returns. The Associated Press called the contest for Nielsen about 10 p.m.

Nielsen, who spent the last four years representing the 2nd Assembly District, served as Senate GOP leader during an earlier stint in the state Legislature in the 1980s. He succeeds former Sen. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, who stepped down ahead of his election to Congress. LaMalfa had hoped that his September resignation would allow his replacement to be elected in a primary consolidated with the November general election, avoiding the cost of a separate runoff vote. But Nielsen fell just below the more than 50 percent threshold needed to win outright in the special primary election.

Nielsen will be eligible for two full four-year terms in the Senate after filling out LaMalfa's remaining two years representing the safe Republican Northern California district, which covers all or part of a dozen counties.

Click here to see the updated election results.

PHOTO CREDIT: Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, speaks at a 2010 forum in Sacramento. Hector Amezcua, Sacramento Bee.

January 7, 2013
Jerry Brown sets election dates for two open state Senate seats

Two open seats in the state Senate could be filled as soon as mid-March.

Gov. Jerry Brown announced today that special primary elections for the Inland Empire's 32nd Senate District and the San Diego-area 40th Senate District will be held March 12. If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff between the top two vote-getters will be held May 14.

The vacancies were created when former Sens. Gloria Negrete McLeod, D-Chino, and Juan Vargas, D-San Diego, stepped down to take seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Both won election to the Congress in November.

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.

January 2, 2013
State Sens. Negrete McLeod, Vargas resign to take House seats

California Budget (1) Gloria Negrete McLeod.JPGJD_JUAN_VARGAS (1).JPGDemocratic Reps.-elect Gloria Negrete McLeod and Juan Vargas are stepping down from the California Senate today ahead of the start of the 113th Congress.

The two will be sworn in as members of the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday. A spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg confirmed that both members have submitted their letters of resignation, which take effect later today.

Negrete McLeod, of Chino, ousted Democratic Rep. Joe Baca in the Inland Empire's 35th Congressional District, while Vargas won election in San Diego's open 51st Congressional District.

Special primary elections to fill the vacant Senate seats will be held in the coming months, on a date set by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Candidates for Negrete McLeod's 32nd Senate District seat include Assemblywoman Norma Torres, D-Pomona, and San Bernardino County Auditor-Controller Larry Walker.

Democratic Assemblyman Ben Hueso of San Diego, meanwhile, has announced his candidacy to succeed Vargas in the 40th Senate District.

PHOTO CREDITS: Left, then Assemblyman Juan Vargas, D-San Diego. John Decker / Sacramento Bee file, 2003. Right, Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod, D-Chino, speaks at the Senate session in Sacramento, on June 14, 2012. AP Photo / Rich Pedroncelli.

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 7, 2012
Ken Cooley joins seven NorCal legislators in nixing per diem

20121203_HA_ASSEMBLY_Ken_Cooley.JPGNewly elected Sacramento County Assemblyman Ken Cooley has joined six other capital-area legislators in rejecting the $142 per day in living expenses that lawmakers are entitled to while the Legislature is in session.

The decision will cost Cooley and each of the other local legislators between $25,000 and $30,000 for the upcoming year, based on the number of days that per diem was paid in 2012, records show.

Three other Sacramento-area assembly members who rejected per diem in 2012 have submitted letters to the Assembly asking to do the same for 2013: Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento; Beth Gaines, R-Rocklin; and Mariko Yamada, D-Davis.

Late Friday, the Assembly added another name to the list of those turning thumbs down to per diem for the coming legislative session: Freshman Democratic Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman of Stockton.

Newly re-elected Assemblyman Richard Pan opted to begin accepting per diem last January after obtaining a second residence, in the Pocket area, to run for a newly drawn Assembly seat that had no incumbent. He has not rescinded last year's request to accept the $142 per day compensation, records show.

December 4, 2012
Assemblyman Ben Hueso to run for open San Diego Senate seat

Assemblyman Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, is already readying a run for the Southern California Senate seat set to be vacated by state Sen. and Democratic Rep.-elect Juan Vargas in the coming weeks.

Hueso confirmed his decision to U-T San Diego reporter Michael Gardner Monday -- the same day he was sworn in for a second term in the state Assembly. Vargas, who has yet to announce when he will give up his Senate seat, has already endorsed his candidacy.

Hueso, who just took the oath of office Monday for his second term, said he wants to move up to the Senate because it offers a "bigger base of support" to accomplish key goals. One of those is improving trade between Mexico and the U.S. and easing border crossing gridlock.

"Mexico is our largest trading partner -- larger than China," Hueso said in an interview. "They are big friends of ours."

Once Vargas resigns, Gov. Jerry Brown will call a special election to fill the seat. The primary contest will be held about sixteen weeks from that date. Sen. Gloria Negrete-McLeod, D-Chino, will also step down from the Senate to take a seat in Congress.

Because both senators were last elected to their seats in 2010, the contests will be held using the state's pre-redistricting political maps.

December 3, 2012
CA leaders take different approaches to marking supermajority

Democrats started the 2013-2014 legislative session today with a supermajority in both houses, but the respective leaders took different approaches to marking the occasion.

In the Senate, members were serenaded by a children's choir singing "What a Wonderful World." Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg cheered when a letter certifying the unofficial election results was read.

The Sacramento Democrat addressed the supermajority power, which could allow Democrats to raise taxes or put measures on the ballot without GOP votes, throughout his address on the floor. He called the results of the election "a validation that the Legislature faced incredible challenges with strength, with decisiveness and we never flinched from the hardest of hard decisions," chronicling the deep cuts that helped the state climb back toward the black from a $42 billion budget deficit.

December 3, 2012
New California legislative session brings new leadership posts

Some of the California Legislature's newest members are adding more than an elected title to their resume as the 2013-2014 session begins.

New leadership assignments announced by Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez today put five Democratic freshman members of the Assembly in a caucus post, with more than a dozen more controlling a committee gavel as they begin what could be 12 years in the lower house. Returning Democratic Assemblyman Roger Hernández, who has been in the news over allegations of driving under the influence and other bad behavior, will not serve as Democratic whip, a position previously announced.

The Senate has not released its full committee chair lineup for the new session, but Democrats announced that they have retained Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, as majority leader. Newly elected Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, was added to the Rules Committee roster, along with Democratic Sen. Kevin de León and Republican Sens. Bill Emmerson and Jean Fuller. Senate Republicans announced that Sen. Ted Gaines, R-Rocklin, will serve as caucus chair.

Pérez , Assembly GOP leader Connie Conway, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, and Senate GOP leader Bob Huff will all remain in their leadership posts.

The full list of Assembly leadership assignments is posted after the jump, with new members designated with an asterisk.

December 3, 2012
Bills to target disclosure by nonprofits giving to CA campaigns

A pair of Democratic state senators announced today plans to introduce legislation aimed at requiring more disclosure of campaign contributions made by nonprofits.

Senate Bills 2 and 3, by Sens. Ted Lieu and Leland Yee, are being crafted in response to an $11 million contribution an Arizona-based nonprofit made to influence two November ballot measure campaigns in the state. The Fair Political Practices Commission's efforts to force the group to reveal the source of the funds, which were used to support Proposition 32 and oppose Proposition 30, led to transactions involving two additional nonprofits that do not have to disclose their donors. Current law requires disclosure only when the donation is given to the nonprofit for the purpose of becoming a campaign contribution.

"Laundering money through nonprofits in an attempt to avoid transparency is fundamentally undemocratic," Yee said in a statement. "Our democracy should not be bought and sold in shady backroom deals."

November 23, 2012
Senator-elect Galgiani says voters responded to issues, not mud

Reacting to her come-from-behind victory for a state Senate seat, Cathleen Galgiani said voters responded to a campaign in which she focused on legislative issues, not mudslinging.

The Stockton Democrat, who had trailed in ballot counting since Election Day, overtook Republican Bill Berryhill on Wednesday night to win the 5th District Senate seat in San Joaquin, Stockton and a tiny portion of Sacramento counties. Both currently are Assembly members.

Galgiani's campaign touted her support of California's proposed high-speed rail system and her efforts to create and develop UC Merced. She also cast herself as a protector of the San Joaquin Delta, water rights for farmers, and mental health care for youth, including those in the gay and lesbian community.

"I believe I made a case to the voters about what I have done as their Assembly member," Galgiani told The Bee. "I kept my message positive and I talked about my record and what I wanted to do if elected, and voters in my district responded."

November 21, 2012
Cathleen Galgiani defeats Bill Berryhill in hot Senate race

After trailing since Election Day, Democrat Cathleen Galgiani overtook Bill Berryhill by more than 2,100 votes Wednesday night, assuring her of victory in their hotly contested 5th Senate District race.

Thomas Lawson, Galgiani's campaign manager, said the trend is clear and that her victory will make Thanksgiving Day even sweeter.

Berryhill's campaign consultant, Duane Dichiara, stopped short of conceding defeat but admitted, "It's a tough row to hoe" now.

Galgiani inched ahead of her Republican opponent on the strength of her showing in San Joaquin County. She started Wednesday about 1,500 votes behind and now leads by 2,111 votes.

Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties currently are counting provisional ballots, which are ballots that are in question for some reason, such as a vote cast when the voter is not on the list at the polling place. A ballot will not be counted unless the question surrounding it is resolved.

About 1,600 provisional ballots remain uncounted in San Joaquin County and an estimated 2,100 in Stanislaus and Sacramento counties combined that stem from 5th District voters.

November 21, 2012
Ferret lovers look for bill sponsor in newly-elected Legislature

ha_FERRETS.JPGNov. 6 wasn't a great day for California ferret lovers.

Two candidates supportive of legalizing ownership of the animals, including one who told the leader of the movement his wife wanted a ferret as a pet, lost in the general election balloting, leaving the informal lobby behind the cause to once again start its annual "Hunt for a Ferret Legislative Sponsor."

Despite having "no known supporters" in the new Legislature, Founder Pat Wright found a reason for hope in the election results.

"There was one person elected who had some ferret knowledge," he wrote to supporters in a newsletter this week. "Brian Maienschein was elected in the 77th Assembly district and met Alice Kaiser and her ferrets."

Wright called on his fellow ferret lovers, who have been working for years to persuade legislators and the Fish and Game Commission to allow ownership of the animals, to create a committee tasked with calling and visiting the newly elected San Diego Republican to seek his support.

Those efforts, however, could be in vain. Maienschein's campaign manager says the assemblyman elect has no recollection of interacting with the pets belonging to Kaiser, who Wright said had to move to Arizona after former Gov. Arnold Schwarzengger vetoed legislation related to the animals in 2004.

"Brian has not ever met a ferret and he will not be sponsoring legislation to legalize ferret ownership," campaign manager Lance Witmondt said.

Still, Wright wants to rally supporters to storm the Capitol in January and meet with staff in every office until someone agrees to carry their bill.

"We have 120 targets," he wrote. "Who's interested - please contact me!"

PHOTO CREDIT: A ferret plays in a plastic toy in early January 2011 at the home of an owner who did not want to be identified. Hector Amezcua, Sacramento Bee.

November 20, 2012
Richard Pan opens Senate committee - one day after Assembly win

Assemblyman Richard Pan opened a campaign committee to raise money for a possible Senate campaign just one day after winning re-election to the lower house from a newly drawn district he had moved into to run, records show.

The Sacramento Democrat signed documents to launch the "Dr. Richard Pan for Senate 2014" committee on Nov. 7, while absentee and provisional ballots were still being counted in Pan's easy victory over Republican Tony Amador. The filing was reported by the secretary of state's office Tuesday.

November 19, 2012
California senator drops plan to ask voters for a car tax increase

Lieu.jpgDemocratic Sen. Ted Lieu is dropping a push to ask voters to triple the state's vehicle license fee rates.

The Torrance Democrat told the editorial board of the Los Angeles Daily News last week that he planned to introduce legislation to put a measure on the 2014 ballot asking voters to raise the state's vehicle license fee. He said increasing the rate from .65 percent to 2 percent -- the level it was before former GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger slashed the fee in 2004 -- could generate up to $4 billion a year for roads, public transit and other projects.

Lieu called his proposal at the time "a test to see what the two-thirds (majority) Legislature means," a reference to the supermajority vote required for lawmakers to place measures in front of the people.

But today he scrapped the plan, saying in a statement that "over the last few weeks California's political landscape has changed."

"I have listened carefully to those who have contacted my office or me. Additionally, more stakeholders weighed in on this important issue," Lieu said in a statement. "As a result, I will not be introducing the proposal. Instead, I will work with transportation stakeholders and the public next year on alternative ways to mitigate the transportation infrastructure problem."

PHOTO CREDIT: State Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, during a hearing at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Tuesday, May 8, 2012. AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli.

November 16, 2012
Galgiani inching closer to Berryhill in hot battle for Senate seat

Republican Bill Berryhill continues to lead, but Cathleen Galgiani has cut into his margin considerably in their nail-biting battle for a Senate seat.

Berryhill, who once led by about 4,800 votes, ended Friday with a 1,465-vote advantage as counting of provisional and mail ballots continued in the 5th Senate District of San Joaquin, Stanislaus and a tiny portion of Sacramento counties.

The fight for the 5th Senate District was one of the most contentious statewide, with both parties targeting it for capture.

If she wins, Galgiani would represent the Democrats' 29th vote in the 40-member house, two more than necessary for a two-thirds supermajority. That extra cushion could be crucial to the party, at least in the early months of 2013, because two incumbent Democratic senators won seats to Congress in the Nov. 6 election. Once they resign from the state Senate, their strongly left-leaning districts would not pick a replacement for months.

In the Senate race pitting Berryhill against Galgiani, a majority of the ballots left untallied are from San Joaquin, the only county in which Galgiani has garnered more votes - by about 4,000 -- than Berryhill, a current Assembly colleague and fellow Stockton resident.

November 14, 2012
California legislators attend policy conference at Hawaii resort

More than a dozen California legislators are lodged in Hawaii's fancy Fairmont Kea Lani hotel this week -- hobnobbing and talking public policy with dozens of corporate, union and other officials that do business at the Capitol.

The annual invitation-only conference is sponsored by the California Independent Voter Project, a nonprofit public policy group that is funded through various business, labor and other groups.

Legislators' travel to Maui and their hotel tabs will be picked up by the nonprofit unless they opt to pay their own way.

Dan Howle, event organizer, declined to identify members of the California Legislature participating in the annual conference. He said they consist both of Republicans and Democrats. Several of the lawmakers are paying their own way.

November 5, 2012
Senate GOP leader 'cautiously optimistic' about blocking two-thirds

It's not just Democrats making a final push in the state's four competitive Senate seats.

Senate GOP leader Bob Huff hit the trail last week to boost candidates he needs to win to prevent Democrats from winning a veto-proof supermajority in the upper house.

The Diamond Bar Republican visited all four targeted races starting on Thursday, touring the 5th, 39th and 31st Senate Districts before landing at Republican Todd Zink's headquarters in the 27th Senate District today.

Huff said he's feeling good going into tomorrow's election, despite The California Republican Party's money challenges and California's new district lines, which the GOP sought unsuccessfully to have blocked by the court.

"We're actually feeling cautiously optimistic," he said.

November 5, 2012
Darrell Steinberg makes final push for CA Senate super majority

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg is spending the final days of the campaign touring a handful of swing districts that could give his party a super majority in the upper house.

Democrats need to win two of four competitive Senate districts Tuesday to capture a two-thirds majority for the first time in more than 40 years. A super majority could allow Democrats in the upper house to approve tax increases and override vetoes without GOP votes. Assembly Democrats are not expected to hit two-thirds this year.

Steinberg was in Modesto Sunday for a campaign rally for Democratic Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, who is competing against GOP Assemblyman Bill Berryhill in the Stockton-based 5th Senate District.

Steinberg, who campaigned with Sen. Fran Pavley in the 27th Senate District last weekend, has stops planned in two other swing seats today.

Spokesman Rhys Williams said the Sacramento Democrat will do an event with Assemblyman Marty Block in San Diego's 39th Senate District and campaign with Richard Roth in Riverside's 31st Senate District today. He'll also join Gov. Jerry Brown in Los Angeles to promote Proposition 30.

Senate GOP leader Bob Huff has also been campaigning in the competitive seats since last week. Read more about his schedule here.


California Democrats bid for two-thirds control of state Senate

Stealth group of corporations funds pro-GOP campaign in Senate races

Editor's note: This post was updated at 1 p.m. with information about Senator Huff's schedule.

November 1, 2012
Two senators demand answers on CSU's legislative scorecard

Two state senators - one Democrat and one Republican - demanded Thursday that the California State University system's trustees tell them who authorized spending for a "legislative report card" that rated lawmakers on how well they supported the system's political goals.

Sens. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, and Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, both received low marks in the CSU compilation of votes and other actions affecting the system's political agenda this year.

The report card was apparently a parting gesture by Chancellor Charles Reed, who has announced his retirement. No legislator earned an "A" grade in the report.

"The scorecard is to inform the public on lawmakers' support of the CSU and public higher education," CSU said in a statement when it released the report on Oct. 17. "Just as California has charged the university with educating and graduating well-prepared students, the university holds state elected officials accountable for supporting that mission."

October 31, 2012
Groups spend more than $20 million on CA legislative races

Independent groups have spent more than $20 million on state legislative contests ahead of Tuesday's election.

The heaviest spending has occurred in two Sacramento-area seats so far. Independent expenditure committees reported spending nearly $2.7 million through Oct. 30 on the 5th Senate District battle between Republican Assemblyman Bill Berryhill and Democratic Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani. The Stockton-based seat is one of three swing districts that could determine whether Senate Democrats win a two-thirds majority in the upper house.

The 8th Assembly District is home to the second most expensive race, with outside groups dropping more than $2.5 million. Democrat Ken Cooley and Republican Peter Tateishi are fighting for that suburban Sacramento seat.

Spending by independent expenditure committees is certain to increase in the last week of the campaign, as the groups make their final appeals to voters. The committees can raise and spend unlimited amounts on state elections, provided they do not coordinate with candidate campaigns.

October 29, 2012
See which California legislators are most loyal to their party

With Election Day just over a week away, many California legislators and candidates are highlighting their interest in working across the aisle.

But voting records suggest those promises won't translate to frequent splits from the party line once they get to Sacramento.

An analysis of voting records by The Bee's Phillip Reese found that even the most independent legislators voted against the majority of members of their party less than 10 percent of the time.

See the full analysis, as well as a ranking of the most and least independent legislators when it comes to party loyalty, at this link.

October 24, 2012
Beware the barbarians? New group sends mail in Senate race

With less than two weeks to go until Election Day, barbarians are entering the fray in the heated 5th Senate District race.

A new committee going by the name of "Barbarians at the Gate" is sending mail pieces opposing Democrat Cathleen Galgiani in her bid for the San Joaquin County swing seat.

The committee, first noted by daily political email newsletter The Nooner, has reported spending almost $12,000 so far.

Chris Orrock, who is working as a political consultant for the committee, said the name is "just a reference to what's happening in California politics."

"It can b