Sen. De Leon removes panel staffers who questioned his legislation

Sen. Kevin De Leon removes staffers who questioned his legislation on energy loans

In yet another shakeup in the state Senate, new President Pro Tem Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles) has removed the top staff from a Senate committee that last session blocked one of his priority bills.

De Leon, who took over leadership of the Senate in October, has this week terminated Kellie Smith as chief consultant of the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee. He also has removed Jacqueline Kinney as the panel’s principal consultant. The terminations were separate from the previous layoffs of 39 other staffers for budget reasons.

Smith and Kinney were replaced by two experts in climate change issues to reflect De Leon’s emphasis on that area, according to Dan Reeves, his chief of staff.

“He wanted the committee to have a greater focus on renewable energy and the green economy, and he felt like he needed to have a different set of resources to help the committee drive the agenda forward,” Reeves said.

Smith was replaced Monday by Jay Dickenson, formerly the assistant executive director of the California Energy Commission, while Kinney’s position is going to Nidia Bautista, a former De Leon consultant and director of the Coalition for Clean Air who helped him negotiate a deal on spending revenues from the state’s cap-and-trade system in this year’s budget.

Smith and Kinney “did outstanding work but this change is a reflection of Sen. De Leon’s priorities in the policy arena,” Reeves said. De Leon has not always been on the same page as the departing staffers.

The committee rejected a De Leon bill in April 2013 after its staff raised several objections to the measure, which would have required utilities to develop programs to loan residential customers the cost of energy-efficiency projects and have the debt paid back monthly through their utility bills.

The bill was strongly supported by companies that provide green power and energy-efficiency projects, many of which are backers of De Leon.

But the committee staff analysis concluded that parts of the measure “have potentially harmful effects for consumers.”

After the staff raised questions, the bill was opposed by two Democrats, including committee Chairman Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), and it failed passage.

One source familiar with the committee who spoke on condition of anonymity said the removal of staff members is seen as payback for their opposition to De Leon’s legislation. Reeves rejected that claim.

“It wasn’t a factor at all,” he said.

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