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Essential Politics archive: Updates from Sacramento

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The right stuff: Conservative Tom McClintock endorses Tom Del Beccaro for U.S. Senate

Joe Biden to headline California Democratic Party convention

 (Larry French / Getty Images for ANOC)
(Larry French / Getty Images for ANOC)

Vice President Joe Biden will rally the party faithful next weekend, as California Democrats gather for their annual convention.

The state Democratic Party has announced Biden will speak to attendees on Saturday, Feb. 27, at the convention in San Jose.

It's worth noting that in the last open race for the White House, Biden took a pass on wooing California's Democrats. He was the only candidate in the 2008 Democratic presidential race who skipped the California party's convention in 2007.

Neither of this year's major contenders, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders or former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is scheduled to attend next weekend.

Biden will be joined by Sen. Barbara Boxer and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich as the marquee attractions.

Fracking opponents take aim at Gov. Brown in new movie

A documentary that takes sharp aim at the use of extracting oil through hydraulic fracturing premieres tonight at showings in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and the title makes it clear where the filmmakers are pointing their critique.

The documentary is called, quite simply, "Dear Governor Brown."

The 20-minute film focuses on California's oil industry, with the filmmakers making it clear that Brown and state officials haven't done enough when it comes to fracking.

The team behind the movie, led by filmmaker Jon Bowermaster and actor Mark Ruffalo, produced a similar critique of fracking in New York in 2012 titled "Dear Governor Cuomo."

An invitation to tonight's Los Angeles showing boasts that when it comes to California's governor, the film "will expose his oily record, and lift up the voices most impacted by his decisions."

Brown has faced continued criticism for his dismissal of calls to impose an outright moratorium on fracking in California. After signing a 2013 law to impose new state government oversight, he's subsequently said he supports "efficient" oil production while looking for longer term replacements.

Ruffalo, an actor most recently known for his roles in the Oscar-nominated movie "Spotlight" and as the comic-book superhero the Hulk, has been dogging Brown for months about his record on oil drilling.

Assembly GOP lays out wish list in talks over health plans tax

The long, wonky negotiations over Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to revamp a tax on healthcare plans are now getting more overtly political. 

The Assembly GOP caucus has staked out its bargaining stance, looking to dictate more than $800 million in spending that would be made possible by the new tax package. 

Senate Republicans have taken a more hardline position against the proposal. Other GOP allies, including health insurers and the California Chamber of Commerce, publicly support the plan. 

And on Thursday, the influential anti-tax group the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. said it's neutral on the measure, which could provide political cover for typically tax-averse Republicans to come on board.

Immigrants would get financial help to become doctors, nurses under new legislation

State Sen. Ricardo Lara wants to provide financial help for immigrants seeking to be medical workers. (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)
State Sen. Ricardo Lara wants to provide financial help for immigrants seeking to be medical workers. (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

Immigrants in the country illegally who study to become physicians and nurses would be able to get the same financial help from the state provided to citizens under legislation announced Thursday by state Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens).

Lara, who has pioneered other immigrant laws, said his bill is necessary to help address a shortage of medical workers in California, especially in under-served immigrant communities.

“Despite the ability for undocumented students to apply for a professional license, these future physicians, nurses and clinical social workers and medical assistants are unable to apply for scholarships or loan repayment,” Lara said in a statement. “This bill will strengthen California’s workforce by ensuring our skilled medical professionals can complete their education and contribute to the well-being of our state.”

The state Health Professions Education Foundation is a nonprofit group that awards scholarships and loan repayments of up to $105,000 to health professionals who are qualified to serve patients for whom English is a second language. The money comes from administrative fines and penalties on health plans, the millionaires tax for mental health services imposed by 2004's Proposition 63, and health professional licensing surcharges.

Currently, health professionals need to be able to provide a social security number to be eligible for payments, which limits it to legal residents. Lara’s bill would allow applicants to use taxpayer identification numbers, which are available to noncitizens.

Follow along!

Former Central Valley legislator tapped for Air Resources Board

 (Stefano Paltera / Los Angeles Times)
(Stefano Paltera / Los Angeles Times)

A former state senator who points to air pollution in his native Central Valley as a priority has been appointed to the California Air Resources Board, one of two spots on the powerful panel created through a law signed last year.

Dean Florez, a native of Kern County, was tapped on Wednesday afternoon by the Senate Rules Committee to become the newest member of the air board.

Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) said in a written statement that the former Democratic legislator has "the experience to fight for kids struggling to breathe in our communities and the resolve to stand up to the oil lobby who want to keep the status quo."

Florez, 52, served for 12 years in the Legislature with most of that in the Senate, before leaving in 2010. He currently owns a public affairs company and has been active in higher education issues since leaving elected office.

Earlier this month, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) appointed environmental advocate Diane Takvorian to the air pollution agency's governing board. Both positions were created after Gov. Jerry Brown signed Atkins' bill last year to expand the air board's membership by two spots, with both new members tasked to speak on behalf of disadvantaged communities.

"“Today’s ground zero on air pollution is located in communities of color in Los Angeles, Central Valley, and the Inland Empire," said Florez in a written statement. "People there don’t drive high end cars, but they breathe dirty air and suffer from pollution more than others."

Legislators introduce bipartisan student privacy bill

A trio of state Assembly members wants to prohibit school districts from collecting students' Social Security numbers and other sensitive information.

The measure was inspired by news that 10 million public school students' records -- that include Social Security numbers and medical information -- must be turned over to a parents advocacy organization that is suing the state Department of Education.

The parents' suit contends that special needs students are not getting enough school resources.

Two Democratic Assembly members, Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego and Mike Gatto of Glendale, and one Republican, Melissa Melendez of Lake Elsinore, want to stop schools from collecting such data in the first place.

Their bill, which was introduced Wednesday, would bar schools from asking for Social Security numbers and other sensitive information.

“As a mom, I've seen my kids' schools over the years request Social Security numbers, medical information, and other private information that they don't need or have a right to,” Gonzalez said in a statement. 

“Rather than expecting parents to have the knowledge and capacity to fight to protect their child's privacy, we should get schools out of the business of asking in the first place.”

Legislation aims to close racial wage gap

A new wage-equality law aimed at helping women in California should be extended to also reduce disparities in pay by race, a state lawmaker said Wednesday.

Sen. Isadore Hall III (D-Compton) introduced a bill that would prohibit employers from paying workers a wage rate less than the rate paid to employees of a different race or ethnicity for “substantially similar” work.

“No employee should be denied an equal wage for an equal day of work,” said Hall, who is chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, during a Capitol news conference. “It is an economic injustice. It is discriminatory. It is just wrong.”

Hall cited a 2013 study by the American Assn. of University Women that found African American men earn 75% of the average salary of a Caucasian male worker in California, while African American women make 64 cents, and Hispanic or Latina women make just 54 cents for every dollar that a white man earns.

The new standard would make it easier for employees to challenge what they believe is unfair pay, borrowing language from a gender pay law approved last year by the Legislature and governor.

Hall said his mother had to work three jobs to care for her six kids, which was difficult. “It is even more difficult to do when your job pays you less than your white co-workers,” he said.

The measure is supported by several civil rights activists, including Cassandra Jennings, president of the Greater Sacramento Urban League, who said the wage disparity is “unacceptable.”

“This puts many of our participants at a huge disadvantage in entering the workplace,” she said during the news conference to announce SB 1063.

School bus safety bill introduced after Whittier student's death

Concerned by the death last year of a special needs teenager left on a bus during a heat wave, a state lawmaker on Tuesday proposed that California school buses be equipped with child-safety alarm systems.

Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia) said such alarms prompt the driver to inspect all seats before leaving the bus, making sure drivers do not leave children unattended.

“No parent should fear that their child will not return home safely at the end of the day,” Mendoza said. “My hope is that SB 1072 will prevent future tragedies by requiring every school bus in the state to be equipped with a child-safety alarm system.”

Mendoza was reacting to the September death of 19-year-old special needs student Hun Joon Lee, who regularly rode a school bus from his home in Whittier to the Sierra Education Center in Whittier.

When he didn’t return home on time one day, his parents called the school. Lee was found slumped in the aisle of a bus that had been parked for the day. 

State senator tries again to ban elephant bullhooks

State Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) is making another run at a measure to outlaw the use of bullhooks when handling elephants.

Lara tried last year to make it a misdemeanor to use the sharp devices in order to train or manage elephants. But the measure was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown, who nixed a number of bills that would have created new crimes.

This time, Lara proposes adding a new section to the state's Fish and Game Code to outlaw the use of bullhooks.

“I remain committed to protecting elephants from abusive management practices. It is a privilege to possess elephants in California and we should not tolerate mistreating elephants for any reason,” Lara said in a statement.

The city of Los Angeles passed a bullhook ban in 2014.

Some voters skipping intra-party races, says analyst

 (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times)
(Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times)

One of the selling points for California's top-two primary system was that when two candidates from the same party moved on to the November election, they would have to court voters whose party was left out and thus create an advantage for more centrist candidates.

But if the voters without a party standard bearer simply skip that race altogether, then is the new system really working as promised?

That's the question posed in a new column penned by Paul Mitchell, vice president of Political Data Inc. for the online news publication Capitol Weekly.

Mitchell has been tracking the "undervote" ballots from the last two election cycles, a phenomenon where a voter leaves one or more races blank. And he's found that the percentage of undervotes is demonstrably higher in races featuring either two Democrats or two Republicans.

"And this undervote contains an unpleasant truth about the open primary," writes Mitchell. "In some cases, voters from both sides just abstain from the process rather than serve as a counterbalance to extreme partisanship."

Mitchell says that since 2012, there have been more than a dozen legislative races in which the percentage of undervotes was substantially higher than normal — and that all of them were intra-party contests.

"It is possible that trends will change as more voters become familiar with intra-party general elections," he writes. "But for this to happen, it would probably require a big statewide intraparty race for governor, U.S. Senate or another constitutional office."

Like-minded governors sign energy accord

The big, expensive ballot season is coming

A number of California's most experienced political consultants say to keep an eye on what happens between now and early April, when backers of potential ballot measures are going to have to make some tough decisions about what they're willing to spend on a November statewide election.

And at this point, there's at least one analysis to suggest the grand total could be as high as $500 million by the time voters have their say on a bumper crop of ballot measures Nov. 8.

Scalia's death prompts speculation about Kamala Harris

California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris on Monday morning holds her first public event since Justice Antonin Scalia's death and the subsequent speculation about her potential consideration to fill his vacancy.

Harris' spokesman politely says the candidate is flattered, but focused on her Senate race.

Here's why the speculation is unlikely to amount to more than just talk.

Congressmen want federal employees to use ride share

 (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) and Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin) are asking that federal employees be allowed to be reimbursed for using ride-sharing services such as Lyft or Uber.

The letter asks the General Services Administration to instruct federal agencies to issue a guidance that using the services is permitted, encouraged and reimbursable.

Issa and Swalwell are co-chairmen of the House Sharing Economy Caucus. Uber and Lyft, the best-known ride share services, are based in San Francisco.

"Ride-sharing companies are often a more efficient and less expensive way to travel. A little [administration] guidance would go a long way toward getting all agencies on board with the future of local transportation,” Swalwell said in a statement.

Issa said the federal government should embrace the use of ride-sharing services, as consumers have.

“In many cases it will save a traveler time and money, making it a common sense choice the [administration] should allow for government business travel,” Issa said in a statement.

In October, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation allowing the state’s 228,000 employees to be reimbursed for the cost of using the sharing-economy businesses for business travel. The legislation took effect last month.

Loretta Sanchez garners backing of Latino Victory Fund

Rep. Loretta Sanchez (Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)
Rep. Loretta Sanchez (Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

Senate hopeful Rep. Loretta Sanchez has earned the backing of the Latino Victory Fund, a political action committee that supports Latino candidates and includes billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as co-chairmen.

The endorsement, which the Washington-based group will announce this morning, is not a major surprise. If elected, Sanchez would be the Senate's first Latina. But she has a long way to go, and first faces a primary against California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris.

That's what is intriguing about the endorsement — Maya Harris, the sister of Sanchez’s top Democratic rival, is on the board of directors of the group’s parent organization, the Latino Victory Project.

Cristóbal Alex, president of the Latino Victory Project, praised Sanchez as a champion of “issues that the Latino community cares about, including working to improve the economy, to ensure that our children receive access to quality education and that our communities have a clean, safe environment.”

The Latino Victory Project was founded by actress Eva Longoria and businessman and Democratic fundraiser Henry R. Muñoz III. The group also aims to increase voter registration and turnout among Latinos.

Steyer, a former hedge fund manager and deep-pocketed Democratic donor, joined the Latino Victory Fund in January. He serves as a co-director along with Villaraigosa, Texas Rep. Joaquín Castro and Melissa Mark-Viverito , speaker of the New York City Council.

Newsom gets some celebrity support for gun effort

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