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News and analysis on California politics
Legislation would raise smoking age in California from 18 to 21

Alarmed by the prevalence of tobacco use among teenagers, state Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina) introduced legislation Thursday that would raise the legal minimum smoking age in California from 18 to 21.

Hernandez, who is an optometrist, has support for the bill from health groups including the California Medical Assn., the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Assn., but the legislation is likely to face strong opposition from the tobacco industry.

“Tobacco companies know that people are more likely to become addicted to smoking if they start at a young age,” Hernandez said in a statement. “We can no longer afford to sit on the sidelines while Big Tobacco markets to our kids and gets another generation of young people hooked on a product that will ultimately kill them.”

Smoking contributes to the deaths of more than 40,000 Californians each year, according to Kimberly Amazeen, vice president for the American Lung Assn. in California. She said 21,300 California kids start...

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California prisons dip below court-ordered population cap

California's beleaguered prison system on Thursday dipped below a court-imposed population cap for the first time, a benchmark the state will have to maintain to satisfy judges overseeing the agency.

A 2013 ruling by a panel of three judges gave California until February 2016 to reduce prison crowding to 137.5% of what state lockups are designed to hold, which currently translates to a population limit of 113,722.


For the Record

Jan. 29, 6:10 p.m.: An earlier version of this post said the current California prison population limit is 114,650. The limit is 113,722.


The state prison system's weekly population report put crowding at a modern low of 113,463, or 137.2% of capacity.

The total prisoner population is currently 132,240, with more than 8,800 inmates housed in private prisons out of state. But federal courts are concerned only with the number of those housed in 34 state-owned prisons.

Population reports shows the number of those inmates has dropped by...

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Sen. Kevin de Leon proposes boosting child care, social services

After a two-day policy retreat by Democratic lawmakers, California Senate leader Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) said Thursday that his caucus’ legislative priorities this year would be economic growth, the environment, education and income equality.

“Too many Californians are not part of this economic growth,” De Leon said at a lunch hosted by the Sacramento Press Club, where he called for making higher education and career technical training more affordable and accessible.

Income inequality is particularily stark in California, he said, adding, “Education is the greatest equalizer we have.” He also said the Senate would pursue efforts to increase the number of jobs associated with green technology.

De Leon said Democratic lawmakers would try to restore the social services safety net, including an expansion of child care for working mothers, by offering changes in this year’s budget but conceeded, “The resources are finite. There’s not a lot ot play with.”

Asked about criticism by some...

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Skin tests identify inmates for valley fever-stricken prisons

Skin tests conducted by California prison officials this month show thousands of inmates have been exposed to valley fever, making them candidates for placement at two prisons stricken by the sometimes deadly fungus.

Officials with the court-appointed medical receiver's office said Thursday that as a result of the massive $5-million screening conducted two weeks ago -- more than 36,000 prisoners consented to the tests -- the state has a better grasp of who can safely be held at Pleasant Valley and Avenal state prisons.

The tests were recommended last year by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which argued that identifying inmates already immune to valley fever would do more to save lives than the state's policy of excluding African Americans and other higher-risk populations from prisons where the disease was prevalent.

The fungus exists in the soil throughout much of Central California and other western states. Most individuals develop only minor, cold-like...

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Jerry Brown spends less than $6 million on reelection

Gov. Jerry Brown spent less than $6 million on his run for reelection, a remarkably low sum for a California governor, and he finished 2014 with nearly $24 million in the bank for unspecified campaigns ahead, according to newly filed finance reports.

Brown devoted most of his reelection spending -- $5.2 million -- to his campaign for Proposition 1, a water bond measure, and Proposition 2, which bolstered the state’s rainy-day fund. The Democratic governor starred in television ads promoting the ballot measures, which voters passed.

He spent less than $800,000 on other election activities, according to the report his campaign filed with the secretary of state's office.

Brown, who defeated Republican challenger Neel Kashkari, 60% to 40%, had the luxury of saving his campaign cash because high poll ratings and the state's strong Democratic tilt meant he faced little chance that voters would oust him.

Before the election, the governor said he planned to save most of his campaign money for...

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Lawmaker wants NFL cheerleaders protected by state wage laws

While NFL fans focus on Sunday’s Super Bowl in Arizona, one California lawmaker is turning her attention to helping improve conditions for a group of workers on the sidelines—cheerleaders.

Legislation introduced by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) would treat cheerleaders of professional sports teams as employees under California law.

A former college cheerleader, Gonzalez said she introduced AB 202 because some sports teams misclassify cheerleaders as non-employee volunteers so they are not given protections granted many workers.

Gonzalez cited reports that some cheerleaders are paid less than minimum wage, don’t get paid overtime and are forced to spend significant personal funds, which she noted are all improper under California employment law.

Lawsuits have been filed by cheerleaders for the Oakland Raiders and Buffalo Bills, claiming they are not receiving fair compensation despite the significant money earned by professional football teams and players.  

“NFL teams and...

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