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New advertising campaign targets lawmakers over votes for climate change policies

A coalition of California businesses launched a new advertising campaign on Saturday to pressure lawmakers against enacting tighter policies on climate change and air pollution.

The campaign includes online videos and television advertising that warn of higher costs for business and residents. It arrives as Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers are debating whether to extend the cap-and-trade program, which requires companies to buy permits to release greenhouse gases, and how restrictive the system should be.

The first lawmaker being targeted is Assemblyman Ken Cooley (D-Rancho Cordova), accusing him of allowing "unelected state employees" to raise "hidden taxes" on gasoline and electricity because he voted last year for a tougher target to reduce emissions by 2030. Other lawmakers could face similar advertisements.

“We’re locked, loaded and ready to go statewide,” said Rob Lapsley, president of the California Business Roundtable, which is funding the campaign through an advocacy group called Californians for Affordable and Reliable Energy.

The roundtable represents the state’s largest corporations, including oil refineries and manufacturers who have been critical of climate policies.

A dollar figure was not disclosed for the advertising campaign, which will represent a balancing act for the roundtable. It supports the cap-and-trade program as an alternative to more restrictive regulations, but it opposes some of the current proposals to extend it. 

One measure would tie the program to air quality, targeting a wider range of pollutants than just greenhouse gases, and another would make it function more like a tax and charge higher prices for emission permits. 

“We’re at a tipping point here," Lapsley said. "We need to get this information out into the public in order to try and create balanced policies.”

Although polls show broad support for fighting global warming in California, concerns about higher costs for constituents could be influential with some lawmakers who recently passed legislation to raise gas taxes to fund road repairs. Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) is facing a recall campaign over his vote.

Nonpartisan legislative analysts have said cap and trade could boost the price of gasoline by 24 cents to 73 cents by 2030. Environmentalists have said it's inaccurate to tie any single policy to fluctuations in gas prices. 

California DemocratsPolitics podcast

California Politics Podcast: The debate among Democrats didn't end at their convention

The official gathering of California Democrats lasted only three days, but the lingering debate and simmering tensions could keep going well into next year's elections.

On this week's California Politics Podcast episode, we look back at the line in the sand drawn at last week's California Democratic Party convention by some of the party's most passionate progressive activists -- including the blunt speech delivered by an influential labor union leader last weekend.

We also discuss big new developments this week on the topic that energized those Democratic activists: a single-payer healthcare system for California. On Monday, a fiscal analysis put a large price tag on legislation to enact that sweeping healthcare change.

I'm joined this week by Times staff writer Melanie Mason.

California LegislatureCalifornia politics

California lawmakers quietly refuse to stop unlimited cash flowing from political parties to their campaigns

 (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

An ambitious effort to close a widely used loophole that allows large donations from political parties to be funneled into California races was rejected on Friday.

The bill by Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-San Rafael) would have made political party money donated to statewide and legislative candidates subject to the same contribution limits as individuals. Under the language of a voter-approved initiative, Proposition 34, money from political parties is exempt from those existing limits.

“It’s a money-laundering scheme that has completely duped voters,” Levine said last fall when he first promised to introduce the bill.

The proposal was quietly killed, without a formal vote, by the Assembly Appropriations Committee during its biannual session to act on bills placed on the so-called suspense file due to their estimated costs. Committee staff estimated that Levine’s AB 1234 would have six-figure costs both for enforcement and for placing the issue before voters in 2018.

Veteran Democratic operative criticizes Kimberly Ellis for refusing to concede party chair race

Supporters of Kimberly Ellis make signs, refusing to accept her loss to Eric Bauman for the California Democratic chair post. (Jay Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Supporters of Kimberly Ellis make signs, refusing to accept her loss to Eric Bauman for the California Democratic chair post. (Jay Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Veteran Democratic operative Bob Mulholland slammed infighting among California Democrats, and urged Kimberly Ellis, who came up short in a nasty party chair election, to work to unify the party.

“I … and others did not understand some of your supporters' … attacks on those of us who have spent decades or years building the Democrats in California as the most successful political Party in the country,” he wrote in an open letter to Ellis on Thursday.

He sent the email in the aftermath of the party’s rancorous convention last weekend that featured a bitter leadership battle between Ellis, a favorite of newer members including the backers of Bernie Sanders’ failed presidential bid, and longtime party leader Eric Bauman.

After Bauman was declared the winner by a razor-thin margin of just over 60 votes, Ellis refused to concede and demanded an audit of the vote as some of her backers floated rumors of ballot-box stuffing and discarded ballots.

Ellis demurred when asked about Mulholland's scathing letter.

"While our review continues, we are refraining from making any statement that might cause further division," Ellis said. "If we hope to truly unify this party, it will require patience by all."

Officials with the Ellis campaign have been reviewing ballots this week. A spokesman said they had looked at about two-thirds by the end of Friday and hope to be done by the middle of next week. 

Joe Macaluso, Ellis' strategist, declined to discuss the results and said her team needed to review additional documentation beyond the ballots.

“We’re trying to stay true to our process and not release anything, but we’re in it,” he said. "It's an extensive process."

Mulholland argued in his public letter that the convention should have showcased the party's message, not intraparty spats.

“Our annual Conventions should take care of internal business (Platforms, election of Officers, Resolutions, etc.), but more importantly a communication to voters, especially moderate Democrats and Independents about their concerns and issues,” Mulholland wrote. "If such busy people had a minute to read some news about our Convention, they saw Democrats yelling and arguing about ballots being stuffed, sounding like a Trump event. This Convention failed them.”

Mulholland listed the party’s successes in the state, including Democrats’ lopsided voter registration edge, its nearly three-decade record of supporting Democratic presidential candidates, its election of female senators since 1992 and its hold of every statewide office, supermajorities in both chambers of the Legislature and nearly three-quarters of the congressional delegation.

“Over the last 29 years, that's a [1.000] batting record,” he wrote.

Mulholland called on Ellis to hold a news conference with Bauman once she is satisfied with her audit of the vote. Then, he wrote, "let's move on."

California Legislature

California lawmakers block proposals meant to make it easier to track and report hate crimes

Graffiti mars the steeple on the Greater Holy Faith Missionary Baptist Church in Compton in January. Cases of vandalism make up close to one-third of reported hate crimes, according to a new report. (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times)
Graffiti mars the steeple on the Greater Holy Faith Missionary Baptist Church in Compton in January. Cases of vandalism make up close to one-third of reported hate crimes, according to a new report. (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times)

California lawmakers Friday stalled measures meant to help report and track hate crimes across the state, proposals filed amid a wave of incidents reported after the 2016 presidential election.

The state Assembly Appropriations Committee shelved bills that would have created new hate-crime reporting requirements for police and a hotline under the attorney general's office for victims wishing to report an attack.

Of those bills, a proposal filed by Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra (D-Pacoima) initially sought to develop a state government database with the names of felons convicted of hate crimes related to race, religion and sexual orientation. 

That proposal was amended to instead require every law enforcement agency to forward a summary of a reported hate crime, upon conclusion of an investigation, to the human relations commission within its jurisdiction. But a committee analysis found it could cost the state more than $150,000 to help agencies redact personal information from their records.

The committee also shut down bills that would have required police to update policies to address hate crimes and include a checkbox on the front pages of reports that would prominently provide an option to indicate whether a crime was bias-related.

Local law enforcement officials have reported a recent rise in reported hate crime incidents. Existing state laws require local and state law enforcement officials to compile hate crime information. California jurisdictions reported a 10.4% statewide increase in those incidents last year.

Obama staffer Buffy Wicks running for California Assembly

Congressional races

Here were the top six moments from last night's L.A. congressional race debate

Robert Lee Ahn, left, and Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez sparred in a debate Thursday night ahead of the runoff for the 34th Congressional District seat. (Michael Owen Baker / For The Times)
Robert Lee Ahn, left, and Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez sparred in a debate Thursday night ahead of the runoff for the 34th Congressional District seat. (Michael Owen Baker / For The Times)

Attorney Robert Lee Ahn and Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez sparred Thursday night at the first and only debate in the runoff race for the 34th Congressional District seat.

The candidates, both Democrats, offered little in the way of policy differences. Both agreed President Trump has "racist tendencies," that keeping the Affordable Care Act is a top priority, and that they would fight to protect immigrants' rights.

Ahn came out swinging, repeatedly calling Gomez an "insider" who's "sponsored by special interests," while Gomez pointed to his work supporting progressive policies in the Legislature and endorsements he's received from left-leaning groups.

Here are the top six exchanges:

  • The numbers problem: Gomez again criticized Ahn for a response he gave in an L.A. Times questionnaire that suggested he would negotiate with Republicans to protect parts of Obamacare. Gomez said Democrats need to take a "hard line" and that Ahn was too soft on support for Medicaid. "In case you haven't noticed, we have a numbers problem in Congress," Ahn shot back. "Until we're able to take back the House, we're going to have to talk to the other side."
  • Gomez fact-checks Ahn's name-check: Ahn made the case that voters should send an attorney to Congress to help in the legal battles against the Trump presidency. "I will join fellow attorneys and Congress members Ted Lieu and Adam Schiff in the fight," Ahn said to the crowd. Gomez, who spent much of the evening bringing up his legislative experience and vast array of endorsements, responded: "I hate to mention it, but, you know, Adam Schiff and Ted Lieu have endorsed me."
  • Getting more personal: In discussions about immigration and healthcare, Gomez and Ahn delved a little deeper into their backgrounds. Gomez talked about his young nephew who feared that his mother, a permanent resident, might be deported after Trump was elected. Ahn told the story of how his parents came to the United States with $700 each and cobbled together enough money to open a hamburger stand, eventually building their "piece of the American Dream."
  • Ahn on the attack: Ahn repeatedly criticized Gomez for taking money from corporate interests. "Special interests, big pharma, big bankers. ... It's all payback time [for Gomez donors] on Day One," Ahn said. "On Day One, I owe the people of the 34th District and that's it." Ahn pitched himself as an outsider who understands the district and whose small-business experience will help him relate to the problems facing everyday residents.
  • 'A litmus test': Gomez fought back against the idea that he's a "corporate Democrat," primarily by pointing to several endorsements he's received from left-leaning groups. "If I was so establishment, I don't think Our Revolution ... would actually endorse me," Gomez said of the Bernie Sanders-affiliated group. "If you want a litmus test, that's a litmus test if you're a progressive ... if you're actually able to take on the status quo."
  • Gomez gets skewered on gas tax: As part of his argument that he has fought for the "little guy," Ahn expressed outrage that California's gas taxes will increase July 1, saying there's "nothing progressive" about the gas tax hike Gomez voted for. "We already paid 38 cents per gallon. Where is that money going?" Ahn said, echoing a line many legislative Republicans have used. "Sacramento politicians, this is what they do, they take our money and they spend it and there's no accountability." Gomez responded by saying public safety was at stake and that fixing roads was the "responsible" thing to do.

If you missed it, you can watch the entire thing here.

The election is set for June 6.

Rob Reiner, Hollywood bigwigs and Netflix co-founder team up to give Villaraigosa's campaign a major cash boost

 (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Hollywood heavyweights are set to host a major fundraiser for Antonio Villaraigosa’s gubernatorial campaign on June 15, ensuring an infusion of large contributions shortly before a key fundraising deadline.

Donors are being asked to contribute up to $29,200 to attend a “summer reception” at the home of media executive Peter Chernin and his wife Megan, the site of a celebrity-studded fundraiser for President Obama in 2013.

Co-hosts include Paramount Pictures chief Jim Gianopulos, Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings, video game honcho Robert Kotick, comedian George Lopez, Sony chief Michael Lynton, NBCUniversal vice chairman Ron Meyer, producer Rob Reiner, super-agent Rick Rosen, producer Orly Adelson, former U.S. Ambassador to Spain James Costos, former White House decorator Michael Smith and attorney Michael Tuchin.

Villaraigosa, the former mayor of Los Angeles, entered the governor’s race in November. Through the end of 2016, he raised $2.7 million, a respectable haul in a short time period when Democratic donors were reeling from the presidential election and distracted by the holidays.

But his fundraising lags behind that of his top rivals, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and state Treasurer John Chiang. So political observers will be scrutinizing his next financial disclosure report, which will cover the first six months of 2017. The fundraiser occurs 15 days before the fundraising period closes on June 30.

State government

A delay on cap-and-trade vote would be a victory for Donald Trump, Gov. Jerry Brown's office says

 (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Despite hesitance and resistance from state lawmakers, Gov. Jerry Brown is refusing to budge from his goal of reaching a deal next month to extend California's cap-and-trade program.

The latest tug-of-war on the issue came this week in an email exchange circulated among Capitol staff members and advocates working on climate change policies. 

Kip Lipper, an environmental advisor for Senate leadership, wrote in a Thursday email that there were "no plans to take up a cap and trade reauthorization bill anytime soon."

Echoing concerns that have percolated among lawmakers, Lipper said senators were "gas tax weary" about the possibility of another difficult vote after deciding to raise gas taxes to pay for road repairs earlier this year. 

The cap-and-trade program, which is a cornerstone of California's fight against global warming, requires companies to buy permits to release greenhouse gas emissions and could boost the price of gasoline.

With votes hard to come by, Lipper wrote, the issue "should not be rushed."

Camille Wagner, Brown's legislative secretary, responded on Friday saying there was no reason to delay.

"We’ve all been meeting for months on this issue," she wrote. "We know the areas of agreement and disagreement – now is the time to work through those."

She added that "NOTHING is more important" than getting a deal as soon as possible.

"This is not a time for retreat or a time to give aid and comfort to Donald Trump by undermining a pillar of California’s bold program to arrest climate change," Wagner wrote. "If California’s Cap and Trade falls because we fail to act, climate denial wins."

Brown had already faced resistance to his push to reach a deal on cap and trade in June, when the state budget is due. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) previously said "we don't have to extend it this year." 

The disagreement over the timeline for reaching a deal is only one of the disputes surrounding cap and trade. 

Assembly leaders have raised the possibility of pushing legislation with only a majority vote, an idea the governor's office rejected. Brown wants a two-thirds vote to insulate cap and trade from legal challenges. 

There are also varied ideas about how the program should function in the future. Assembly legislation would modify cap and trade so it also targets local pollution, rather than just greenhouse gases. Senate legislation would make the program function more like a carbon tax. 

California Legislature

California lawmakers shelve bills that would have broadened the state's legal definition of a 'violent crime'

 (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

California won't be expanding its legal definition of a violent crime soon.

The Assembly Appropriations Committee on Friday shelved the last of several bills that sought to broaden the number of violent-felony offenses under the California penal code. The legislation would have added to the list additional forms of rape, sodomy and human trafficking. It carried a heavy price tag.

A bipartisan proposal filed by the committee's chair, Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), and Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore), would have cost the state more than $1 million in corrections expenses. It would have increased the length of incarceration for more than 100 prisoners.

Another bill by Assemblyman Freddie Rodriguez (D-Pomona) was estimated to add annual costs in the millions for increasing the sentences of more than 200 inmates. They joined two other legislative proposals shelved in the Assembly Public Safety Committee this year.

The bills sought to change the legal definition of a violent crime as California undergoes a massive overhaul of its parole system.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s Proposition 57, which voters overwhelmingly approved in November, will expand good behavior credits and give new power to the state parole board to consider the early release of prisoners who have served the full term of their primary sentences, and whose crimes are not designated as “violent” under the California penal code.

But opponents have argued that list is both short and porous.

California Legislature

The effort to make tampons tax free in California has been delayed until 2018

 (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Legislation to eliminate California sales taxes on the purchase of tampons was delayed Friday by the Assembly's fiscal committee until 2018, a blow to advocates who say the tax is an unfair burden on low-income women and families.

The delay imposed on AB 9 is the second setback this month for efforts to eliminate taxes on products for women and children. A separate bill that included a tax-free provision for diapers was killed in a legislative committee on May 8.

The bill that was held back on Friday, written by Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens), would have excluded tampons, sanitary napkins and other menstrual products from sales taxes. A legislative committee analysis estimated the proposal would reduce state general fund revenues by $10.5 million a year.

Dozens of other bills with a cost to state government were killed by the Assembly Appropriations Committee, while AB 9 was instead reclassified as a "two-year bill," meaning it is eligible to be heard again in the second year of the legislative session.

Gov. Jerry Brown last year rejected a similar measure that sought to make tampons tax-free, writing in his veto message that "tax breaks are the same as new spending – they both cost the general fund money."

Congressional races

Outside money spills into L.A. congressional race as election day nears

Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, left, and Robert Lee Ahn are running to replace Xavier Becerra in the 34th Congressional District. (Los Angeles Times)
Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, left, and Robert Lee Ahn are running to replace Xavier Becerra in the 34th Congressional District. (Los Angeles Times)

Spending by outside groups hoping to influence Los Angeles' congressional race is picking up, with less than two weeks to go before the runoff for the 34th Congressional District.

Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez and attorney Robert Lee Ahn, both Democrats, are competing to fill the former seat of Xavier Becerra in the June 6 election. Becerra stepped down months ago to become the state's attorney general.

Spending separate from the candidates' campaigns is reaching into the six-figure range, with most of the outside money going to support Gomez, the heavy favorite of establishment Democrats.

One group funded primarily by an Ahn donor, Citizens for a Better Government, has spent $40,264 on data, printing and postage for mailers, and $8,000 on treasury services to support Ahn's bid.

The Latino Victory Fund, which has endorsed Gomez, recently spent $29,640 on direct mail and $30,000 on phone banking and voter canvassing for the candidate. Billboard company Outfront Media LLC has spent $1,973 on billboards for him.

Also backing Gomez is a group called Middle Class Values PAC. The group spent $19,653 on mailers supporting Gomez despite not having reported receiving any major contributions so far this year.

The group's biggest donors last year were a handful of Nevada casino owners and developers, but most of that money appears to have been spent on Democrats running for Congress in Pennsylvania and Nevada.

Outside spending in the 34th Congressional District race has been dwarfed by candidate spending. As of March 31, Gomez had spent $446,455 and Ahn had dropped about $767,315 on his run.

New campaign finance figures from both candidates are due at midnight Friday.

California budget

Gov. Jerry Brown's budget team drops its hotly debated plans to redefine the state's spending limit

 (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

With questions mounting about the legal justification for omitting some $22 billion in expenses from California's long-standing spending cap, Gov. Jerry Brown's administration dropped the plan Thursday while promising to work on the issue again later this year.

Brown's advisors told the Assembly Budget Committee that this could include some changes in state law to clarify the rules surrounding what's known as the "Gann limit," a cap on state spending growth imposed by voters in 1979. The cap has rarely come into play in state budgeting in recent years, as it was loosened by a subsequent ballot measure in 1990. The governor's administration said it continues to worry about how the law interacts with other mandates related to school funding.

"School financing has changed significantly since the limit was first established in 1979," said H.D. Palmer, Brown's budget spokesman. "Because of that, we continue to believe we need statutory clarifications related to these school funding changes."

Legislative analysts warned lawmakers in April that the governor may have been overestimating how much room for spending was left under the cap, a dispute that continued for weeks while lawmakers began drafting plans for formal budget negotiations next month.

Earlier this week, state senators again raised concerns about the complex estimates used to determine how much spending the Gann law would allow in the budget year that begins July 1. And they provided an analysis by the Legislature's lawyers that suggested Brown's proposal could be unconstitutional.

The spending limit is enforced over two fiscal years, which means Brown and lawmakers have time to reconcile different estimates. But absent changes similar to those advocated by the governor, a portion of future tax revenues would have to be split between schools and rebates to taxpayers.

California budgetCalifornia Legislature

California Senate, Assembly advance their own plans on how to spend tobacco tax revenue

 (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Perhaps the biggest budget skirmish that remains unsolved this year is how California should spend revenue from the tobacco tax voters approved last fall.

Gov. Jerry Brown wants to put that money to expand overall spending on Medi-Cal, which provides subsidized healthcare for the poor. But the some of initiative's backers, namely doctor and dental groups, have cried foul, arguing that money is meant to go to increasing payments for providers.

Now, the Senate and Assembly are weighing in. In plans approved in their respective budget committees this week, both houses stray from Brown's proposal to put the money toward general Medi-Cal costs and lay out their own ideas on how to divvy up the revenue.

But while both houses reject Brown's approach, there are key differences between their proposals. Most significantly, the Assembly would allocate all $1.1 billion in projected tax revenue in the next budget year. The Senate, meanwhile, would spend just under $350 million next year, gradually ramping up spending to $1.1 billion by fiscal year 2020-21.

Both houses also would increase provider payments, but in different ways. The Assembly would put around $857 million toward once-yearly "incentive payments" to physicians and dentists that would be tied to their Medi-Cal and Denti-Cal caseloads.

The Senate proposed putting $150 million next year to physician rate increases that would be targeted for those working in high-need areas and specialties. That number would increase in successive years, topping out at $700 million by 2020. The Senate also would put $130 million toward higher rates for dentists.

The California Medical Assn., which has been pushing for higher reimbursement rates, praised both houses for including the higher rates, but group spokeswoman Joanne Adams noted that "the current Legislature cannot tie the hands of a future governor or Legislature," indicating a preference toward the Assembly approach.

Each house would allocate $50 million for reimbursement rates for family planning providers, a priority of Planned Parenthood.

And both houses put money toward expanding Medi-Cal to cover young adults up to age 26 who are in the country illegally. The proposal builds on California's policy of making children without legal status younger than 19 eligible for Medi-Cal, which went into effect last year.

Anthony Wright, of the advocacy group Health Access, noted that by expanding coverage for those up to age 26, it would align with Obamacare's policy of letting children stay on their parent's health insurance until that age.

"This is a concrete and tangible way to show we are actually taking steps forward" in expanding coverage, Wright said.

The Brown administration estimates that around 130,000 people would be eligible for Medi-Cal under such a proposal, and such an expansion would cost the state just under $230 million.

The Senate proposal would put around $63 million toward that expansion in the upcoming budget year and around $85 million in subsequent years. The Assembly would put $54 million toward the plan.

The Brown administration did not take a position on the Medi-Cal expansion proposal, but H.D. Palmer, spokesman for Brown's Department of Finance, noted that the Senate was using higher revenue projections than Brown's plan, which allows legislators to propose more funding.

Palmer said the administration was sticking with its original proposal to use tobacco tax dollars for general Medi-Cal spending.

"The budget’s proposal for Prop. 56 will provide increased funding for healthcare programs and services in a way that’s consistent with the measure that voters approved last fall," Palmer said.

------------

FOR THE RECORD

May 25, 2017, 4:58 p.m.: A previous version of this article reported that both houses were using higher revenue projections than Gov. Brown's budget proposal. The Senate is using higher projections; the Assembly is using the same estimates as the Brown administration.

 

California politics

California chief justice says she stands by her decision to speak out against Trump's immigration actions

California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye on Thursday said she stands by her position that courthouses should be areas where immigration arrests should not occur.

Cantil-Sakauye, a former prosecutor who rose through the judicial ranks as an appointee of Republican governors, drew national attention in March after she blasted the federal government’s expanded immigration actions, among which she said included “stalking” immigrants at courthouses.

Speaking at a Sacramento Press Club luncheon on Thursday, she said the Supreme Court chambers fielded an outpouring of calls and letters after her comments. Some were “profane” and angry, from residents living outside the state. Others came from supporters.

Many said that as a judge, she should not wade into politics. U.S. Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly admonished her in a letter, spurring California state leaders to respond in defense of state policies.

On Thursday, Cantil-Sakauye stood by her decision to denounce the actions, saying, “If I couldn't speak out as chief justice, I don’t know who could.” 

Courthouses in California have numerous programs to encourage people to come forward and ask questions, seek services and mediate issues, Cantil-Sakauye said.

“If we have a segment [of the population] that is afraid to come, then we are looking at no access to justice, [and] potentially public safety issues, which is antithetical to what the justice system exists for,” she said. “To me, it is a safe zone, and I ask that courthouses be placed on par with school districts and hospitals and churches."

California in Congress

Rep. Darrell Issa says the federal employee insurance program should be expanded to all Americans

 (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Though it wasn't included in the House Republicans' healthcare bill, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) still believes Americans should have access to the same insurance plans federal employees pick from, and he's hoping the Senate will embrace the idea.

In a letter Thursday, Issa asked the Senate Health Care Working Group to consider opening the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program to more, or all, Americans. It's a national insurance idea that's persisted since the program began in 1960, and a proposal Issa has pitched before.

The program allows more than 8 million current and retired federal employees across the country to shop among hundreds of health insurance plans and then apply their employer contribution to whatever plan they choose.

Private insurance companies have pulled out of several state insurance marketplaces, where people whose employers don't offer insurance can purchase insurance using a federal subsidy. That leaves people with fewer health insurance choices, a common complaint cited by Republicans as a reason to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

“It’s choice. If the government can maximize choice to you and then subsidize where appropriate based on need, then we’ve met the two bases for government involvement,” Issa said.

Issa voted for the American Health Care Act, the GOP bill to roll back much of Obamacare that passed May 4 without Democratic support, but he stresses that he did so just to keep momentum.

“One of the reasons I voted for this in the House was to keep the process alive so we could do reform,” Issa said. “Leveraging business models that work is the goal that somebody like me wants to do. Find out what works and invest in it, find out what doesn’t work and fix it or abandon it.”

On Thursday, the Congressional Budget Office said the bill as passed by the House would cause 23 million fewer people to have health insurance by 2026. The budget office, which Congress relies on to analyze the complex legislation, projected that many additional consumers would see skimpier health coverage and higher deductibles.

The Senate has essentially said it will write its own version of the bill.

Issa's letter to his Senate colleagues also urges members to protect people with preexisting conditions, safeguard coverage for people with mental illnesses and protect people near retirement age from a spike in their premiums.

"There's still more to be done. This bill is going to be about compromise, and a down payment on change," Issa said.

2018 electionCalifornia DemocratsCalifornia Legislature

Senate President Kevin de Léon is busy raising campaign funds — but for what office?

Senate President pro Tem Kevin de Léon. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
Senate President pro Tem Kevin de Léon. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Léon (D-Los Angeles) stirred up speculation about a possible run for governor or U.S. Senate when he released a slickly produced video just before the California Democratic Party’s convention last weekend, but he has remained coy about his future political plans.

That doesn’t mean he isn’t padding his campaign war chest, though. De León has two fundraisers lined up in Los Angeles in June, presumably for his 2018 campaign for California lieutenant governor.  

The question is whether De León actually will run for lieutenant governor. In the past, he has said he hasn’t made a decision. He has also given his supporters the go-ahead to endorse state Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-Azusa), a longtime political ally, in the race.

De Léon’s campaign account for lieutenant governor had $1.7 million in the bank at the end of last year. He raised close to a half-million this year, according to state political financial disclosure reports.

The first fundraiser in June is being hosted by veteran Hollywood executive Peter Guber and his wife, Tara, in Bel Air on June 8, with suggested contributions ranging from $500 to $2,500.

The second is in late June at the Palm in Los Angeles. The fundraiser is hosted by Craig Darian, CEO of the Occidental Entertainment Group, and his wife, Kimberly, as well as Albert Sweet, the founder of the company. The suggested donations are the same as for the earlier fundraiser.

De León made history in 2014 when he was selected by his colleagues as the first Latino to lead the California Senate. The tenure has been marked by significant action on climate change, immigration and gun control.

Volkswagen's clean car plan falls short in low-income neighborhoods, California regulators say

 (Markus Schreiber / Associated Press)
(Markus Schreiber / Associated Press)

State regulators have asked Volkswagen to revise its plan to invest in zero emission technology in California, a victory for critics who said the automaker wasn't doing enough in disadvantaged communities.

The investment plan, which will total $800 million over 10 years, is part of Volkswagen's obligation under a multi-billion settlement for evading pollution rules. 

California, which is struggling to get enough zero emission vehicles on the road to meet its goals, is "eager to move forward," wrote Air Resources Board Executive Officer Richard Corey in a Wednesday letter to Electrify America, a Volkswagen subsidiary.

However, Corey wrote, "we need more information" on how the company will meet its target of spending 35% of its investment in disadvantaged communities, a target set by state regulators in hopes of broadening the adoption of electric vehicles. 

Corey also asked Electrify America to consider supporting hydrogen fueling stations, rather than just electric chargers. 

Once the company submits an updated version of its plan, state regulators will consider whether to approve it. 

Electrify America said it is reviewing the letter. 

Dean Florez, a member of the Air Resources Board, said the original investment plan had "significant holes" and "included no real investment in disadvantaged communities."

He praised the decision to request revisions and said the board should "hold VW's feet to the fire." 

This story has been updated with additional comments.

 

California Legislature

Lawmakers scrap effort to make it easier to pass local transportation taxes

 (Los Angeles Times)
(Los Angeles Times)

An effort to boost the chances of local ballot measures raising taxes for transportation needs was quietly killed Thursday in the state Capitol.

The proposal, which would have ultimately required changing the California Constitution through a statewide vote, was in response to the high hurdle set decades ago for local taxes earmarked for specific projects.

Those kinds of taxes in cities and counties require two-thirds of the vote. The constitutional amendment by state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) would have lowered the vote threshold to 55% of ballots cast for any transportation proposal.

Wiener argued the long list of local transportation projects lacking funds won't completely be erased by the $52-billion transportation plan signed into law last month. And he pointed specifically to examples like a transportation tax plan in the Bay Area last year that garnered 62% of the vote — still slightly shy of the two-thirds mandate.

While the effort can be brought back before lawmakers adjourn the current session in the summer of 2018, Thursday's action represented a major setback for transportation groups and labor unions that supported it. The measure was opposed by business and anti-tax advocates.

Wiener said he intends to re-introduce the measure in the coming weeks. "We must improve and expand transportation throughout our state, which has suffered from decades of underfunding," he said in a written statement.

Update 1:29 p.m. This story was modified with additional information regarding constitutional amendments and the legislative process.

Update 4:10 p.m. This story was updated with comment from Sen. Wiener.

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