News and analysis on California politics
California lawmakers reject background checks for ammo buyers

The state Assembly on Saturday failed to muster the votes to approve legislation aimed at identifying criminals and others who are improperly buying ammunition in California.

Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) originally proposed that residents who buy bullets be required to get a state permit and undergo a background check before the purchase to make sure they can legally own guns, but Gov. Jerry Brown opposed that scheme.

The revised bill that failed Saturday would have required ammo sellers to provide information on purchasers to the state Department of Justice after the fact, including name, address, date of birth, date of the sale, brand type and amount.

If the buyer was discovered later to be disqualified from owning guns because of a criminal history or severe mental illness, authorities could then have obtained a warrant to confiscate the ammunition and any weapons found.

SB 53, which fell six votes short, was supported by law enforcement leaders including Los Angeles police...

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Lawmakers could face restrictions on soliciting money for nonprofits

Lawmakers early Saturday approved a measure that would prohibit elected officials from soliciting contributions for nonprofit groups controlled by the official or a family member and that would limit the personal use of campaign funds.

The bill by Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) also prohibits gifts of campaign funds controlled by an official to a nonprofit run by the official or a family member.

"It's just another way in which we can control the use of campaign funds, prevent their misuse, while also bringing transparency to nonprofits," Hill said.

The bill, which now goes to the governor for consideration, was introduced after Democratic state Sen. Ronald Calderon (D-Montebello) was indicted for taking bribes. An FBI affidavit in the case indicated that Calderon participated in a deal in which $25,000 from a group tied to the Latino Legislative Caucus was donated to a nonprofit run by his brother, former Assemblyman Tom Calderon.

The affidavit also alleged that an undercover FBI agent...

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California lawmakers seek more frequent campaign finance reporting

California lawmakers approved a measure Saturday that would require the state to develop a new Internet-based campaign filing and public display system and that candidates file electronic disclosures of their campaign finances every calendar quarter, instead of the current semi-annual filing schedule.

State Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) introduced the bill in response to scandals including the indictments of Democratic state Sens. Ronald S. Calderon of Montebello and Leland Yee on public corruption charges.

Yee is accused of accepting campaign contributions from undercover FBI agents in exchange for official action and help in brokering a deal for guns and shoulder-fired rockets.

Lara said more frequent disclosure would allow the public to better follow who is contributing to campaigns and what elected officials are doing with their campaign money.

The new database called for by SB 1442 is estimated to cost up to $15 million and the new reporting requirements do not take effect...

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Despite fractures among labor, paid sick days bill clears Legislature

A bill that would significantly expand working Californians' access to paid time off for sick leave cleared the Legislature early Saturday morning. 

The measure by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) would require employers to give their workers at least three paid sick days per year. Supporters say it would provide paid leave to approximately 6.5 million workers in the state. 

Gonzalez, speaking in the Assembly, acknowledged the bill had been trimmed back, but said "we’ve been able to maintain the integrity of a bill that … would expand workers' rights in a way that is unprecedented in this state or in this nation when it comes to paid time off."

Under the proposal, employers would be required to provide paid sick days to employees who work 30 or more days within a year of being hired.  The paid sick days would accrue at a rate at least one hour for every 30 hours worked.

San Francisco County is the only county in California that requires employers to provide paid sick  leave...

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California lawmakers send governor a ban on single-use plastic bags

The state Senate on Friday gave final legislative approval to a measure that would phase out single-use plastic bags in supermarkets, pharmacies and convenience stores as part of an effort to rid beaches and streets of litter.

The measure, which now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown for consideration, would allow stores to charge customers 10 cents to provide paper or reusable plastic bags as an alternative to single-use bags.

California would be the first state government to approve such a ban although the bags are outlawed throughout Hawaii because of local jurisdiction laws.

Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) said his bill just makes statewide what more than 120 cities and counties in California have already done.

“We have seen a groundswell of action in this direction at the local level,” Padilla told colleagues. “But this is a statewide problem meriting a statewide solution.”

The ban would kick in for grocery stores and pharmacies on July 1, 2015, and would extend to convenience and liquor...

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'Gun violence restraining order' measure clears Legislature

The Assembly gave final approval Friday to a measure that would temporarily remove firearms from potentially dangerous individuals.

Lawmakers introduced the measure after the massacre near UC Santa Barbara, when a disturbed man killed six university students and wounded 13 others.

The parents of the gunman, Elliot Rodger, were concerned about the his mental health. But because he had no criminal record and did not meet the legal standard for involuntary commitment, he was not prohibited from possessing guns.

Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), who co-wrote the bill, said of Rodger and other men who have committed mass shootings in recent years that "none of those individuals had a criminal record or a criminal background. So we need tools such as this." 

The bill would allow law enforcement or family members to petition the courts if they believe an individual poses a danger to themselves or others. A judge could then grant a restraining order that would prohibit that person from...

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Push for more disclosure on state political ads dies in Legislature

Democratic legislative leaders on Friday pulled a bill that would have required greater disclosure of the major financial supports of political advertising for ballot measures, saying the measure did not have the votes to pass this session.

The bill, SB 52, would have required the three largest financial backers of television and print advertisements, and the two largest backers of radio and robocall ads, to be clearly identified. The intent of the bill was to prevent financial backers from hiding their identities by having their financial support funneled through obscure political committees.

The measure needed a two-thirds vote to pass in both the Senate and Assembly, which it did not have, according to the bill’s author, Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco). The measure was opposed by Republicans and some labor unions.

Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) said labor's opposition meant they could not even get a Democrat in the Assembly to present the bill.

"Labor has made it a priority, so we...

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Lawmakers approve landmark groundwater regulation plan

Lawmakers approved Friday a package of bills that would lay the foundation for regulating California's groundwater statewide for the first time in its history.

Supporters said the landmark proposal would bring much needed oversight to the underground water sources that more than three-quarters of the state's residents rely on for some or all of their drinking water.

"California has no comprehensive groundwater management statute. Amazingly, this fact sets us apart from all other western states, including Texas," said Assemblyman Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento), the author of one of the measures.

"By the way, I often hear around this building that we should be more like Texas. For those of you who believe in that, here’s your chance," Dickinson said prior to the vote.

The regulatory plan is broken up into three bills: SB 1168 by Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) would direct local agencies to create management plans, while AB 1739 by Dickinson would set conditions for when the state...

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Another political pickle? Federal deputies spotted at the Capitol

Federal agents came knocking at the state Capitol again this week.

News of the raid spread fast, and sight of the deputies sent rumors swirling around the marble hallways. But this time a sandwich shop, not an elected official, was targeted.

In spring, FBI agents raided the office of Democratic state Sen. Leland Yee after allegedly ensnaring the San Francisco lawmaker in a sting operation. Yee faces federal corruption charges and stands accused of trying to arrange the illegal sale of machine guns and shoulder-fired missiles to an undercover FBI agent.

In June 2013, FBI agents raided the office of Democratic state Sen. Ron Calderon of Montebello, who now faces federal political corruption and bribery charges.

On Thursday, it was the U.S. Marshals Service that showed up.

Only this time, much to the relief of legislative leaders, the investigation had nothing to do with an elected official.

The target was O! Deli, a tiny, independently owned sandwich shop in an annex off the historic...

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California proposes isolation units for mentally ill prison inmates

To comply with federal court orders to improve the care of mentally ill inmates in solitary confinement, California proposes to create special isolation units that handle only those prisoners.

In the new units, mentally ill inmates would get extra time outside their isolation cells and have added access to treatment programs. Under policies previously submitted to the court, they also would be placed in isolation only if their treating clinician agreed.

The state's solitary confinement cells -- called Security Housing Units -- are used for prisoners who commit new crimes while behind bars, break rules or are involved with gangs. Currently, only those with the most severe forms of mental illness are segregated in special psychiatric units.

California's treatment of mentally ill prisoners has been controversial, and a federal judge in April ruled that the state violated those inmates' rights by subjecting them to excessive punishment, including pepper spray and solitary confinement....

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California lawmakers send governor new gift rules after scandals

The state Senate on Friday acted on stricter ethics rules meant to restore public confidence in the Legislature after three senators were charged with criminal wrongdoing.

Lawmakers sent Gov. Jerry Brown a bill that would reduce the limit on gifts from a single source to elected officials  from $440 to $200, bar gifts from lobbyists and prohibit elected officials and legislators from accepting free tickets to professional sports and entertainment events, horse races and amusement parks.

Elected officials would also be barred from receiving free golf and skiing, as well as hunting and fishing trips, spa treatments, cash and gift cards.

“It brings in reasonable limitations that restore the public’s confidence in their political institutions and, more importantly, in their elected officials,” said Sen. Kevin De León (D-Los Angeles) on Friday after the unanimous vote.

De León introduced SB 1443 as part of an effort to counter bad publicity following the suspensions in March of Democratic...

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Lawmakers send Gov. Jerry Brown bill for more university funding

When California lawmakers settled on a new state budget in June, they included triggers that would send more money to public universities if property tax revenue outpaced expectations.

The expectations weren't met, but lawmakers are moving forward with additional funding anyway.

On Friday night, the Legislature approved $50 million each for the University of California and Cal State University systems. The money is intended for projects like overdue maintenance work.

State taxes have generated nearly $500 million more than expected -- a combination of money left over from the last fiscal year and strong receipts in July -- and supporters say there's enough cash available to send more to universities.

But Gov. Jerry Brown's administration opposes the bill, said H.D. Palmer, spokesman for the Department of Finance.

He said it's too risky to dish out more money to universities when tax revenue could fluctuate over the next year. In addition, fighting wildfires during California's drought...

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