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Essential Politics: State Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra to open Washington office, cap-and-trade auction revenue results are revealed

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Former President George W. Bush says his recent remarks have been misconstrued as criticism of Trump

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Former President George W. Bush on Wednesday pushed back at the notion that his recent remarks about the media were criticisms of President Trump.

“I’m asked the question, ‘Do I believe in free press?’ and the answer is absolutely, I believe in free press … because the press holds people to account,” he said. “Power is very addictive and it’s corrosive if it becomes central to your life and therefore there needs to be an independent group of people who hold you to account. And so I answered that question and of course the headlines were, ‘Bush criticizes Trump.’ And so therefore I needed to say, ‘There should be a free and independent press, but it ought to be accurate.’”

Bush made the remarks at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley during an hourlong question-and-answer session promoting “Portraits of Courage,” his new book that features his paintings of veterans. While doing media interviews about the book in recent days, he has raised eyebrows by making comments about the media, immigrants and allegations of Russian interference in the November presidential election that were widely viewed as criticisms of the new president.

He said that he decided once he left the office not to second-guess his successor, former President Obama, and that the same holds true for Trump. Doing so would undermine the office, Bush said, adding that he wants all of his successors to succeed because it is good for the nation.

“I don’t want to make the president’s job worse, no matter what political party it is. It’s a hard job,” Bush said. “Sometimes my remarks can be construed as criticism. They’re certainly not meant to be, and after I finish this book tour you probably won’t hear from me for a while.”

But he was willing to offer advice to those who follow him.

“Know what you don’t know and find people who do know what you don’t know and listen to them,” he said. “My advice is that the job is different once you get in. It looks one way and then you get in the Oval Office and it looks different. Trust me.”

Bush also made an implicit criticism of Obama’s foreign policy when asked whether the world is more dangerous than it was four years ago.

“This may be taken as criticism of one of my successors and I don’t really mean it to be. There is a lesson however when the United States decides not to take the lead and withdraw,” he said. “Vacuums can be created when U.S. presence recedes and that vacuum is generally filed with people who don’t share the ideology, the same sense of human rights and human dignity and freedom that we do.”

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Aside from a handful of serious moments, Bush was jovial and self-effacing as he described how he became an oil painter after leaving the White House. Seeking ways to fill his time, he said he read an essay by Winston Churchill about painting.

“I basically said, ‘What the hell, this guy can paint, I can paint,’” Bush said.

He hired an instructor and started painting a cube and a watermelon before moving on to portraits. Former First Lady Laura Bush was not pleased with his depiction of her, so when he painted his mother, former First Lady Barbara Bush, he decided to depict her from behind.

Barbara Bush and former President George H.W. Bush are doing well despite their recent hospitalizations, the younger Bush said.

“They’re both great given their limitations. Dad can’t walk, he’s confined to a wheelchair and yet his spirit is joyful,” Bush said. “… Mom’s doing fine. She’s shrinking, and as she does, her voice gets louder. But she’s a, she’s a piece of work is what she is.”

Bush has been reclusive since leaving office, but said he wrote the book and is publicizing it to raise money for veterans and to draw attention to the “invisible wounds” many of them suffer.

“I think when you read [their stories] you’ll be moved by stories of courage, injury, recovery willingness to help others,” he said. “… I’ve got a platform – it’s not as big as it once was — and I intend to use it to help our veterans for the rest of my life, and this is one way to do so.”

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California legislative leaders deluged with gifts, including foreign trips, sports tickets and liquor

Gov. Jerry Brown, left, with Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), center, and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount).
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press))

The California Legislature’s four top leaders accepted $60,000 in gifts last year, including sports tickets, expensive meals, golf games and travel to foreign countries, according the annual reports they were required to file Wednesday.

Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) accepted 60 gifts worth $24,381, the largest amount of the four lawmakers, including travel expenses to Morocco, El Salvador, Mexico and Puerto Rico.

He received $3,100 in expenses at the Pebble Beach golf resort from the Assn. of California Life and Health Insurance Cos. and the Governor’s Cup Foundation in exchange for speeches. He also accepted free tickets to SeaWorld, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and a soccer game at the Rose Bowl. The gifts were topped off with a $50 cigar from the Sacramento County Labor Council.

Assembly Republican leader Chad Mayes of Yucca Valley reported accepting gifts worth $19,955, including dinners, a game ticket from the San Francisco 49ers and $880 in golf games, half of it provided by the state prison guards union.

Mayes’ biggest gift was $11,077 in travel expenses for a study trip to Germany and the Czech Republic paid for by the California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy, a San Francisco think tank financed by interests including PG&E, Shell, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the State Building and Construction Trades Council, Tesoro and Chevron Corp.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) accepted 63 gifts valued at $12,949. The biggest was $5,680 in travel expenses to China paid for by the Chinese People’s Assn. for Friendship with Foreign Countries.

Rendon also received about $1,000 in art from Assembly staffers and a $68 bottle of scotch.

Senate Republican leader Jean Fuller of Bakersfield reported 29 gifts worth $2,942, including $763 in travel expenses from the California Independent Petroleum Assn. to speak at a conference in Newport Beach.

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‘You need to speak out’: Former President George W. Bush says he has been urged to raise his voice

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A Sacramento Kings ticket and a trip to Yale were among $4,500 in gifts Gov. Jerry Brown accepted last year

(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Gov. Jerry Brown accepted 27 gifts worth about $4,500 last year, including dinners and travel expenses, a cellphone, bottles of wine and a ticket to a basketball game from the Sacramento Kings, according to his annual filing of an economic interest form.

The amount is down significantly from 2015, when Brown accepted gifts valued at $22,136, including money from the California State Protocol Foundation to attend a climate change conference in Paris.

Last year’s biggest gift was $1,883 in travel expenses from his alma mater, Yale Law School, for a speech he gave at the New Haven, Conn., institution during reunion week. The event included him receiving the school’s prestigious Award of Merit.

Other travel expenses were provided by groups for speeches he gave in Santa Rosa and Mount Shasta. Brown also reported receiving dinners valued at $100 each from the U.S. State Department and United Nations.

He also received $191 worth of wine from Sen. Bill Dodd (D-Napa). The $299 cellphone was given to him by Yueting Jia, the founder of internet firm LeEco of San Jose. That would have run afoul of legislation vetoed in 2014 by Brown that would have reduced the value of gifts that could be accepted by an elected official from a single source in a year from $440 to $200.

It also would have banned gifts from lobbyists and lobbying firms to the governor and legislators, and barred officials from accepting many kinds of gifts, including tickets to professional sports contests, entertainment events and amusement parks, as well as free golf games and entertainment.

Brown also reported selling some large investments last year. He sold stock worth between $100,000 and $1 million in Health Fusion Inc., a medical office software company. He sold stock with the same value range in Edgewater Park Plaza, a development firm.

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California’s secretary of state and attorney general criticize federal decision to shift course on Texas voter ID law

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State Senate Republicans begin discussing transition of leadership, but some are reluctant to take on the job

State Senate Minority Leader Jean Fuller (R-Bakersfield)
(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

Senate Republican Leader Jean Fuller of Bakersfield has begun talking to colleagues about eventually stepping down and passing the torch to another member given that she is termed out of office next year, but so far nobody has publicly agreed to take over the job, officials say.

An attempt by the 13-member Senate Republican Caucus to discuss a possible transition Tuesday was interrupted by a fire alarm drill, so the subject was put off at least until the next weekly caucus meeting, March 7.

“[Fuller] has been calling all of us to say, ‘Hey, are you interested,’” Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) said. “The question is, who is willing to take it and when do we do it?”

Fuller declined to comment on the issue, saying “It is the custom and practice to respect the members of the caucus and the discussions that we have.”

Sen. Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) has been approached about the job by colleagues because term limits will not force her out of office until 2022, but she declined comment on Wednesday.

“Sen. Bates said that it would not be appropriate for her to comment at this time,” said Ronald Ongtoaboc, her spokesman.

Sen. Ted Gaines (R-Rocklin) is among those not interested in becoming the leader, a representative said. Moorlach is in the same boat.

“Who wants that job? I’ve got other things to do. It’s a busy job,” Moorlach said. “I was a business major, not a poli-sci major.”

The job is made more challenging by the fact that Democrats hold two-thirds majorities in both houses, meaning Republicans are no longer in a position to alone block major actions including tax increases.

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Only a few drips of cash expected from cap-and-trade auction

Mary Nichols is chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board, which runs the cap-and-trade program.
(Carl Costas / For The Times)

California’s cap-and-trade program limped through another weak auction of pollution permits last month, according to results provided by state regulators Wednesday.

Demand for the permits, which are required to release greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, has fluctuated over the last year amid questions about the program’s long-term viability.

A state appeals court is expected to rule soon on whether cap and trade represents an unconstitutional tax, and lawmakers are debating whether they should ensure the program continues past 2020.

Final details on the latest auction have not been released, but the summary of results posted Wednesday indicates that revenue likely will be only about $8 million. Less than 20% of the permits offered through the auction were claimed.

That’s a drop from the two previous auctions, which saw higher demand, and roughly equivalent to the May 2016 auction.

Regulators insist that generating revenue is not the goal of the cap-and-trade program. But among lawmakers, the money has been in high demand to fund transit projects and other initiatives. Gov. Jerry Brown also is counting on the program to help finance the bullet train from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) said he’s looking forward to working more on cap and trade and questioned whether it was delivering on its goals.

“The program is not producing stable revenues for important priorities like increased transit and other clean transportation investments,” he said in a statement. “According to California Environmental Protection Agency, it may not even be achieving pollution reduction in disadvantaged communities, when that should be our utmost priority.”

Chris Busch, who tracks the cap-and-trade market for environmental firm Energy Innovation, said the results announced Wednesday were surprising.

“It’s going to take some more unpacking to really understand them,” he said.

Busch expects demand to pick up in the coming months and years because more permits will be needed to cover the state’s economic activity.

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Immigrants with criminal records would be eligible to apply for services under changes to legal defense bill

Immigrants wait in line on consultation day at the Central American Resource Center in Los Angeles.
Immigrants wait in line on consultation day at the Central American Resource Center in Los Angeles.
(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

A state senator plans to amend a bill that would create a legal defense program for immigrants, making all people facing deportation in California eligible to apply for services regardless of criminal background.

Immigrant advocates and legal aid agencies have lauded the compromise, which they said would counter anti-immigrant rhetoric from the Trump administration associating illegal immigration with violent crime.

But it remains to be seen how moderate Democrats and Republicans, who have argued against using taxpayer funds to defend dangerous offenders, will accept the move.

The bill, introduced by state Sen. Ben Hueso (D-San Diego), would require the California Department of Social Services to contract with local nonprofits to provide lawyers for immigrants caught in deportation or removal proceedings. It also would create a trust to accept private and philanthropic donations to cover legal aid.

From its inception, lawmakers have debated over who should benefit from the state-funded initiative as California faces a budget deficit and potential cuts to federal funding.

Hueso initially sought to provide counsel to all immigrants. But before the bill’s first hearing in January, he amended it to exclude services for all those convicted of a violent felony under the state penal code.

Hueso’s office is now considering an amendment that would make all immigrants eligible for screening. But it would prohibit representation of clients convicted of a violent crime unless they have “a meritorious claim for relief from deportation,” meaning the person has a high likelihood of not being removed from the U.S. based on the facts of the case.

The change is being weighed because immigrants in some cases have been convicted of crimes they did not commit.

At a hearing Wednesday before the state Senate Judiciary Committee, representatives from several legal service groups said they were rescinding their opposition to the legislation based on the coming amendments.

Everyone in the U.S. is entitled to due process, or fair treatment under the law, regardless of legal status, lawyers told the committee. And “the consequences in removal proceedings are just as dire... in some instances more so than in a criminal context,” said Raha Jorjani, an immigration lawyer with the Alameda County public defender’s office.

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To curb opioid epidemic, California bill would tax painkillers to fund treatment

(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

As concerns mount over prescription drug abuse, a California legislator wants to impose a tax on addictive opioid medications and use the funds to expand prevention and rehabilitation services.

Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) has introduced a bill that would impose a one-cent-per-milligram surcharge on prescription opioids sold in California. The tax would be imposed on wholesalers who import the medication into the state, not at the point of sale, and it would require a two-thirds approval vote in the Legislature.

“California’s opioid epidemic has cost state taxpayers millions and the lives of too many of our sons and daughters,” McCarty said in a statement. “We must do more to help these individuals find hope and sobriety. This plan will provide counties with critical resources needed to curb the deadly cycle of opioid and heroin addiction in California.”

McCarty’s office estimates the surcharge would raise tens of millions for county drug treatment programs.

The measure, AB 1512, is not the only proposal offered by lawmakers this year to combat the growing problem of prescription drug abuse, which is closely linked to an explosion of heroin use.

State Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) is carrying a bill that would prohibit prescriptions of the painkiller oxycodone for anyone under 21, in an effort to quash opiate addiction among young people.

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California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra to set up a Washington office as he prepares to fight Trump administration

California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra.
California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra.
((Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times) )

California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra said Wednesday that he is setting up an office in Washington, an unusual move for a state attorney general. Opening the new office is reflective of the fact that much of his attention will be devoted to Trump administration actions that might conflict with California policies, Becerra said.

Becerra, who has already filed three amicus briefings in lawsuits challenging Trump immigration orders, said the office will help him collaborate with members of California’s congressional delegation on policies that affect the Golden State.

“Decisions that are going to affect California are going to be played out in Washington, D.C., and I think it’s important for my office to have a presence here,” Becerra said.

The state attorney general said he has hired Alejandro Perez, a former legislative affairs director for the Obama administration, to run the Washington office. It will be located in existing office space maintained by the California governor’s office.

Becerra’s predecessor, Kamala Harris, did not operate an office of the state Department of Justice in the nation’s capital, officials said.

Meanwhile, in their first face-to-face meeting since he became California’s attorney general, Becerra has told U.S. Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions that the federal immigration crackdown can hurt public safety by making the immigrant community less willing to report crimes and cooperate with law enforcement.

Becerra said Wednesday that he was one of nearly 50 state and territorial attorneys general who met the day before with Sessions in a hotel ballroom during the winter meeting of the National Assn. of Attorneys General in Washington.

“I mentioned that in order for us to do our public safety [work], that you can’t really do it from Washington, D.C., and to continue to go after the folks who are committing crimes -- you’ve got to give people in the community a sense that law enforcement, locally or federally, is there to work with them,” Becerra said.

“I asked him if he would consider the fact that when people are panicked and are not willing to approach any law enforcement because of what they are hearing about the immigration actions that it makes it more difficult to protect public safety for everyone,” Becerra added.

Sessions responded that he has heard that argument before and that federal law enforcement does need to be careful not to undermine local law enforcement, Becerra recalled.

“He went on to say that they are going to do what they need to do to try to enforce immigration law to get people off the streets,” Becerra said of Sessions.

Becerra was also part of a large delegation of state attorneys general who went to the White House on Tuesday to meet briefly with President Trump, but said he and the president did not exchange words.

The attorney general noted he did not participate in a photograph of the attorneys general with the president, but declined to say why.

Updated 4:24 pm: This post was updated with information that the new attorney general’s office will be located in building space already maintained by the governor in Washington, D.C.

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Former President George W. Bush to speak in Simi Valley tonight after recent criticism of Trump

Former President George W. Bush with Johnnie Yellock, a veteran featured in Bush's new book "Portraits of Courage," at his presidential library in Dallas on Feb. 28.
(Laura Buckman / AFP/Getty Images)

Former President George W. Bush’s speech Wednesday evening at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley is billed as a discussion of his new book featuring his paintings honoring members of the military and veterans he became close to after leaving office. But all ears will be listening for whether the former president speaks out about President Trump.

Though Bush painstakingly avoided criticizing former President Barack Obama, his Democratic successor, after leaving office in 2009, he has raised eyebrows in recent days with remarks viewed as barbs aimed at Trump, a fellow Republican.

While promoting his book, “Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors,” Bush has spoken out about the importance of the media, immigrants and investigating allegations of Russian interference in the November presidential election.

“I think we all need answers” about the claims of Russian influence, Bush said Monday on NBC’s “Today” show.

Days after Trump’s administration banned several media outlets including the Los Angeles Times from a briefing, Bush also called the free press “indispensable to democracy.”

“We need an independent media to hold people like me to account,” Bush said, adding that when he was president, he tried to impress the importance of a free press upon Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Bush, 70, also told People magazine that he was displeased by the current political tone in the country.

“I don’t like the racism and I don’t like the name-calling and I don’t like the people feeling alienated,” he said in the magazine, which goes on sale Friday. “Nobody likes that.”

Bush was immediately slammed by conservative outlets.

Bush undercuts Trump a month into presidency after staying silent on Obama for 8 years,” read a Monday headline in the Washington Times.

The fraternity of living American presidents is small, leading to relationships that can cross party lines.

Bush and his wife Laura attended Trump’s inauguration in January, though his representatives said that neither voted for the GOP nominee. Bush’s brother Jeb, the former Florida governor, ran for the GOP presidential nomination against Trump and tangled with the billionaire, who labeled him “low-energy.”

Bush’s relationship with Obama is unclear, but pictures earlier this year of him and former First Lady Michelle Obama warmly embracing at the opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture were widely circulated on social media. His father, former President George H.W. Bush, has a famously warm relationship with former President Bill Clinton, who unseated the elder Bush in 1992.

George W. Bush has largely eschewed the public limelight since leaving office, instead picking up the hobby of painting.

But he has made exceptions for promoting causes that are important to him, notably veterans. Tickets for Bush’s speech about “Portraits of Courage” are sold out.

Proceeds from the book, which contains 66 portraits and a mural Bush painted of soldiers who served in the U.S. armed forces during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, will benefit groups that help veterans.

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California’s statewide politicians pan Trump’s speech in real time, but Gov. Jerry Brown stays silent

Top Democratic officeholders in California gave unsurprisingly negative reviews of President Trump’s first speech to Congress.

Here’s a sampling of the live-tweeted comebacks from statewide officeholders:

Absent from the insta-commentary was the Democrat at the very top of California’s political hierarchy: Gov. Jerry Brown. His Twitter feed had no immediate mention of the president’s speech.

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California legislators react to Trump’s prime-time speech with a predictable split by party

California lawmakers were quick to react through social media to President Trump’s speech to a joint session of Congress.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) and Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) wrote a number of tweets critical of both Trump’s tone and his policy proposals.

De León took issue, in particular, with the president’s comments on changes to the nation’s immigration system that would end what he called the “current system of lower-skilled immigration.”

Republicans praised the speech. Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore) applauded promises on education, healthcare and illegal immigration.

Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula (D-Fresno), an emergency medicine physician, disagreed with the president’s pledge to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Others retweeted various items related to the speech, from news organization fact-checking efforts to excerpts provided by the White House.

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California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra misses photo op with President Trump

President Donald Trump.
President Donald Trump.
(Andrew Harnik / AP)

After weeks of criticizing President Trump over his travel ban, California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra was noticeably absent Tuesday when two dozen state attorneys general posed for a photo with Trump at the White House.

Becerra was in Washington with 47 counterparts from other states for the winter meeting of the National Assn. of Attorneys General, where the elected officials were set to discuss healthcare fraud, abuse and waste.

Trump stood on a riser with some 24 attorneys general for the photo in the East Room, according to a pool report.

Representatives for Becerra did not return emails and phone calls seeking information on whether he was invited or decided to skip the event.

“Some great people, some great people,” Trump said during the photo session.

Florida Atty. Gen. Pam Bondi, who was standing to his left, responded: “Thank you, Mr. President.”

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The ‘Bernie vote’ is split in the race to replace Xavier Becerra in Congress

Some of the hopefuls running for the 34th Congressional District appeared at a candidate forum Saturday.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders don’t have many clues yet on whom to back in the dizzying array of candidates vying for the 34th Congressional District.

Sanders himself has been coy about the race: When asked whether he would endorse Arturo Carmona, a former deputy political director for his campaign, he said: “We’ll see.”

Three prominent Sanders endorsers have publicly announced their support for Wendy Carrillo, another early Sanders backer.

Lucy Flores, a former Nevada legislator Sanders endorsed for Congress last year; Rania Batrice, former deputy campaign manager for Sanders’ presidential bid; and Linda Sarsour, a Muslim American activist and co-chair of the Women’s March on Washington, announced Tuesday that they support Carrillo, who recently spent time at the Standing Rock protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Although Flores has been campaigning for and supporting Carrillo on social media for months, her endorsement was highlighted as part of an effort to emphasize Carrillo’s support within the Sanders political network.

“Wendy is a woman of the revolution, and I am so proud to support her as she continues her activism and tireless work on behalf of the people,” Batrice said in a statement released by Carrillo’s campaign.

Our Revolution, the political group Sanders helped start that now operates independently, decided recently not to endorse in the April 4 primary, in which 23 candidates are running.

The group has endorsed six candidates nationwide so far in 2017, including Gil Cedillo for Los Angeles City Council.

Shannon Jackson, executive director of Our Revolution, said its board carefully weighed the decision not to endorse.

“We listened to our supporters, and the base is split,” Jackson said. “We don’t want to go against the people who are there on the ground, doing the work.”

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

UPDATES

5:28 p.m.: This post was updated to include context about Our Revolution’s other endorsements.

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Artist known for nude Trump portrait proposes initiative to add gender identity protections to California Constitution

Artist Illma Gore submitted paperwork to the state attorney general on Monday proposing a ballot initiative to add gender identity protections to the California Constitution.

A Los Angeles artist has proposed a new ballot initiative to add protections for gender identity to the California Constitution.

Illma Gore submitted paperwork to the state attorney general on Monday proposing a ballot initiative to add a new section to the state Constitution declaring “free exercise and enjoyment of gender identity without discrimination or preference are guaranteed.”

The initiative is dubbed the Gender Identity Liberty and Freedom Act.

The language mirrors an existing section protecting religious beliefs that reads: “free exercise and enjoyment of religion without discrimination or preference” in the Constitution.

The painting by L.A. artist Illma Gore at London's Maddox Gallery
(Andy Rain / EPA)

Gore, the artist behind the measure, became something of an Internet sensation after she was banned from Facebook for sharing a painting she made depicting a nude Donald Trump. She also said she was punched by a Trump supporter last year.

The attorney general is tasked with crafting a brief title and summary of each measure that will end up on the state ballot.

There is a 30-day public comment period on Gore’s proposal. The state Department of Finance and the Legislative Analyst’s Office also have 50 days to prepare a fiscal impact analysis of the proposal.

After a title and summary are issued, Gore has 180 days to gather 585,407 valid signatures to qualify the proposed initiative for the ballot.

Gore said volunteers are starting to prepare for the signature-gathering process.

“California is one of the leaders of the country in diversity and LGBT rights. I don’t think we will have a problem gathering signatures here,” she said in an email.

She said the goal of the measure is to “protect gender identity as a form of free speech under the Constitution.”

The initiative would essentially make LGBT rights the same as religious rights in the Constitution, said Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor who specializes in election law.

“It is trying to stave off or prevent individual laws that, for instance, deal with a landlord who doesn’t want to rent to a transgender person, or an employer who doesn’t want to provide the same level of benefits, or maybe a pediatrician who doesn’t want to serve a gay couple,” she said.

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Meet the anti-poverty crusader who now has a top role in crafting the California state budget

State Sen. Holly Mitchell
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Two years ago, Holly J. Mitchell stood on the state Senate floor and, in a crisp, deliberate voice, laced into the budget that her fellow Democrats were poised to approve.

The plan “picks winners and losers,” the state senator from Los Angeles said. “It appears to me that poor people in California and their children continue to be on the losing end of that equation.”

Mitchell had never been shy in urging her colleagues to do more for the poor. But this time, she went even further — withholding her support when the bill came to a vote, a flagrant violation of an unwritten legislative rule among the Capitol’s ruling Democrats that could best be described as “thou shalt not defect on a budget vote.”

The plan passed anyway, and Mitchell could’ve been shunned and made a pariah. But since that rebellion, her influence has only grown. Last year, her signature cause — repeal of a decades-old rule capping aid to certain mothers on welfare — became law. And this year, she was awarded the job she’s long coveted: chair of the Senate budget committee.

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Three Californians whose relatives were killed by immigrants in the U.S. illegally will be Trump’s speech guests

(Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times)

Three Californians whose relatives were killed by people in the U.S. illegally will be among President Trump’s guests as he addresses a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night.

Their presence indicates that illegal immigration -- on which Trump staked his campaign -- will likely be a major part of his speech to the Senate and House .

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State lawmaker proposes bill to help determine how many untested rape kits exist in California

(Los Angeles Times)

Tens of thousands of rape kits are sitting untested in evidence locker rooms across the country. But no one knows exactly how many, and police and sheriff’s departments rarely track the reasons why the exams go unanalyzed.

A bill authored by Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco) would require local law enforcement agencies in California to report information on their rape kit evidence to the state Department of Justice through a database within 120 days of the collection of a sample.

Chiu said the improved recording would help policymakers assess which departments need resources to tackle their backlogs, and provide greater transparency around an intrusive procedure that lasts hours.

“We know the value and the power of DNA evidence,” he said. “But for thousands of survivors and victims in California, they don’t know why the DNA evidence has not been tested.”

The legislation moved out of the Assembly Public Safety Committee on Tuesday on a 7-0 vote.

Speaking before the committee, Cory Salzillo, legislative director with the California State Sheriffs’ Assn., said his organization opposed the bill due to its fiscal and workload implications.

“It creates another unfunded mandate,” he said, while state law already requires law enforcement agencies to notify victims when their samples will not be examined.

But supporters said the state needed better reporting mechanisms as it attempts to measure and potentially reduce a backlog that the state Justice Department has estimated to reach upward of 400,000 untested rape kits.

Alameda County Dist. Atty. Nancy O’Malley said police agencies log all of the kits in their property collection databases. The additional work the bill would require would amount only to a “few extra keystrokes,” she said.

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Jimmy Gomez consolidates support from major labor unions with endorsement from L.A. County Federation of Labor

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Lawmakers support creating task force to study impaired driving by marijuana users

Customers buy products at a medical marijuana dispensary in San Francisco in April.
Customers buy products at a medical marijuana dispensary in San Francisco in April.
(Haven Daley / Associated Press)

The California Highway Patrol would form a task force to develop methods for identifying when drivers are impaired by marijuana or prescription drugs, under legislation that moved forward on Tuesday.

The study would also look at technology for measuring impairment by the chemical THC, under legislation proposed by the California Police Chiefs Assn. and introduced by Assemblyman Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale).

“The bill, AB 6, is a reasonable approach forward to address our fight against drugged driving,” said Lackey, a retired CHP sergeant. “The urgency of this should be very clear to all of us.”

The task force would include law enforcement officials, a prosecutor, physician, drug researcher, defense attorney and representatives of the marijuana industry.

The Assembly Public Safety Committee unanimously recommended the bill after hearing emotional testimony from Antelope Valley teacher Karen Smith about how her husband was killed by a car driven by a young man who had allegedly used marijuana. She said she had to push hard to get blood tests analyzed.

“What has happened here is a disgrace, and no other family should have to go through it,” she told the panel.

Proposition 64, which California voters approved in November to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, provides funds for studies on the impact of cannabis on driving and to develop training and procedures for identifying drugged driving.

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Republican lawmakers blast removal of state senator from the floor, call for full investigation

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León on Monday pledged a nonpartisan review into actions taken last week by Democratic leaders to remove Sen. Janet Nguyen from the house floor, saying he was troubled and unsettled by the tense events that unfolded.

“Members, last Thursday was not one of the finest moments of the Senate,” he said. “As the leader of this body, I take full responsibility for what transpired and in making sure that it never happens again.”

Republican lawmakers commended the statement. But they blasted what they described as the majority party’s infringement of free speech. They demanded a formal apology for Nguyen and called for the resignation of De León’s chief of staff, who they said made inappropriate comments about the incident to the media.

Nguyen (R-Garden Grove), a Vietnamese refugee, on Thursday was escorted from the Senate floor by sergeants-at-arms after she tried to offer what she said was a different historical perspective on the late Tom Hayden and his opposition to the Vietnam War.

Reading a letter to Secretary of the Senate Daniel Alvarez, Sen. Jean Fuller (R-Bakersfield), leader of the Senate Republican Caucus, called for a complete and transparent investigation.

Fuller said Nguyen spoke from the heart when she said Hayden’s being honored triggered outrage among the constituents in her district’s Vietnamese community, where memories of the war were still raw.

“Brutality of the Vietnamese Communist party continues to haunt the collective memory of the Vietnamese American community,” Fuller said. The letter was submitted to the Senate journal through a unanimous vote.

Before the start of session, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle shook hands with Nguyen as she entered the chamber for her first time back since her ouster last week. Some Republican lawmakers embraced her and whispered words of approval and encouragement.

“Thursday’s events were shocking and distressing,” she later said. “But what happened today on the floor reaffirmed my faith in America’s deep belief in the democratic process.”

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Gun rights activists win round in free-speech court case against state of California

(Andrew Burton / Getty Images)

A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction Monday against the state for continuing to demand the removal of a blog post that listed the home addresses of legislators who voted for California’s newest gun control measures.

The lawsuit is funded by the Firearms Policy Coalition on behalf of one of the group’s members, who is listed in the lawsuit under the pseudonym “Publius” and writes a blog called The Real Write Winger.

Last year, the blog published the names, home addresses and home phone numbers of 40 legislators who voted for a package of gun control measures in June, saying the lawmakers “decided to make you a criminal if you don’t abide by their dictates. So below is the current tyrant registry.”

The Web hosting company WordPress took the post down after it received a letter from Deputy Legislative Counsel Kathryn Londenberg saying the information put elected officials at “grave risk,” and citing state law barring the release of such information.

Chief U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill in Fresno issued an order Monday granting the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction in the 1st Amendment civil rights lawsuit, saying the plaintiffs are “likely to succeed” on their claims that the state law violates the 1st Amendment.

“We are delighted that Judge O’Neill saw the statute and the State’s enforcement of it for exactly what it was: an unconstitutional restriction on free speech,” said coalition president Brandon Combs.

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Sen. Kamala Harris and other black senators to talk tonight about diversity, economics and black leaders

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House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes warns against ‘witch hunt’ over Trump-Russia ties

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Tulare) talks to reporters about his committee's Russia investigation.
(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes said on Monday he had seen no evidence from the intelligence community that there was contact between Russia and the Trump campaign.

“I want to be very careful; we can’t just go on a witch hunt against Americans because they appear in a news story,” said Nunes (R-Tulare). “We still don’t have any evidence of them talking to Russia.”

He said the committee had been briefed on the “highlights” of what the intelligence community had found but was still collecting evidence.

The committee’s ranking Democrat, Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), quickly responded, saying the committee’s investigation is in its “infancy” and it’s too soon to reach conclusions about the evidence.

“We haven’t obtained any of the evidence yet, so it’s premature for us to be saying we’ve reached any conclusion about the issue of collusion,” Schiff said. “The most that we’ve had are private conversations, the chair and I, with intelligence officials. That’s not a substitute for an investigation.”

The House and Senate intelligence committees are conducting separate investigations into Russia’s reported attempts to influence voters in 2016 in an effort to curtail Hillary Clinton’s chances and boost Donald Trump’s. A leaked U.S. intelligence report on the attempts did not look at whether the effort succeeded.

The House committee has expanded a previous ongoing investigation of Russia cyberhacking to include a look at efforts to interfere in the 2016 election, Nunes told reporters Monday. Though it is still in its early stages — the leaders of the committee are still discussing the investigation’s scope — Nunes said he expected the findings to be made public.

Schiff and Nunes spoke separately to reporters Monday. Schiff said the two agreed privately that they would jointly address reporters about the investigation going forward.

Nunes, who served as a member of Trump’s transition team, said he continued to be concerned about leaks of classified and sensitive information from the White House and intelligence communities. The leaks — one of which resulted in a report about the FBI investigating Trump campaign officials — will be part of the committee’s investigation.

“A government can’t function with massive leaks at the highest level,” Nunes said.

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California state leaders are officially asking for records on recent immigration enforcement moves

(Charles Reed / AssociatedPress)

Amid national debate over whether the Trump administration is following through on its campaign promise of mass deportations, state Senate leader Kevin de León and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon on Monday filed a federal records request to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The Democratic leaders, who have been vocal opponents of Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, want to see documents related to ICE’s implementation of the president’s January immigration executive order and Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly’s February memo on immigration enforcement and sanctuary cities.

They also asked for records on the planning and execution of February immigration raids, which ICE has said were not part of a new crackdown.

In the letter, De León (D-Los Angeles) and Rendon (D-Paramount) said there should be transparency about the agency’s policies on immigration enforcement at or near government entities and community buildings, including churches, schools and hospitals.

They also asked about the agency’s policies on access to lawyers for people who have been detained and treatment of people registered for immigration programs such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

ICE has released little information, they said, resulting in “increased confusion and fear in many communities.”

California is believed to be home to huge portion of the millions of immigrants living in the country illegally, and many families have a mixture of immigration statuses.

“All of these parents and children are potentially at risk of separation at the hands of ICE,” the request says. “To set the community’s fear to rest, much greater clarity is needed about what ICE’s enforcement policies, procedures and priorities will be going forward.”

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California’s campaign finance and lobbying violations are down, but total fines are up

The California Capitol in Sacramento.
The California Capitol in Sacramento.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

California’s campaign finance watchdog found fewer lobbyists and campaigns to sanction in 2016, while collecting more in fines as it focused on bigger cases.

The Fair Political Practices Commission reported Monday that last year’s violations were at a three-year low. But the agency collected $200,000 more in fines than it did in 2015, raking in $900,000 because it pursued bigger cases.

The agency issued fines in 311 cases last year, down from the record 333 such cases the year before, and 332 cases in 2014.

The agency also sent out 489 warning letters last year for technical or minor violations, but didn’t fine those violations. It sent out hundreds more warning letters in 2014.

Big cases last year included one in which state Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia) and supporters agreed to pay $57,000 for making campaign contributions over state limits, improperly controlling multiple committees and filing inaccurate campaign statements.

A case against Oakland business AB&I Foundry discovered that 37 campaign contributions it made were laundered, hiding the true source of the money, and the company was fined $100,000.

The numbers reflect an agency “focusing on strict enforcement of serious violations,” chairwoman Jodi Remke wrote in the agency’s annual report.

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L.A. County Young Democrats endorse Sara Hernandez in congressional race

Sara Hernandez received the endorsement of the Los Angeles County Young Democrats over the weekend. On Twitter, Hernandez said the local club “represents the changing face of progressive politics,” and called their endorsement “an honor.”

The endorsement comes days after the local club co-hosted a forum featuring Hernandez and five other candidates for the 34th Congressional District seat.

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Trump provides excitement for California Republicans, but at home there’s less to cheer about

San Diego Republican Party Chairman Tony Krvaric attends the California Republican Party convention Saturday in Sacramento.
(Carl Costas / For The Times)

California Republicans were in a festive mood at their weekend convention in Sacramento.

They toasted their airy new downtown headquarters with views of the Capitol and decorated with pictures of Ronald Reagan and other memorabilia from the party’s storied history in the state. They reelected leadership that had turned a practically bankrupt party into one that raised $19 million last year. And they celebrated having helped elect a Republican president for the first time in more than a decade.

“Isn’t it nice to win?” Rep. Devin Nunes of Tulare asked hundreds of delegates and guests during a dinner speech Saturday night.

But for all the cheer, the state GOP still faces a hard reality. It has not elected a statewide politician in more than a decade, its numbers are dwindling, Democrats have a supermajority in both houses of the Legislature and, after three consecutive election cycles where Republicans ceded the top posts in government to Democrats, it has no major prospects to run for governor or Senate next year.

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Election officials question financial reports of Darrell Issa’s opponent

(Charlie Neuman / San Diego Union-Tribune)

As Democrat Doug Applegate begins raising money for a second challenge to Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, federal elections officials are questioning his campaign’s financial reporting, and filings show a nearly $400,000 drop in cash on hand that the campaign has yet to explain.

Applegate, a retired Marine colonel from San Clemente, lost a close race in November as a first-time candidate against Issa, of Vista. Applegate soon after announced he would run again in 2018.

Applegate’s campaign has missed deadlines for five requests for additional information from the Federal Election Commission since July, records show. Election officials’ concerns include mathematical errors, misidentification of contributors, failure to adequately describe expenditures and discrepancies in accounting for loans Applegate made to the campaign.

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Resolutions backing Trump agenda sail through on last day of California GOP convention, but internal politics bubble up

(Christine Mai-Duc / Los Angeles Times)

There was no debate before delegates easily passed a slate of resolutions supporting key tenets of the Trump administration’s agenda Sunday, the last day of the California Republican convention.

The four resolutions, all supported by the Tea Party California Caucus, were to support Trump’s travel ban, repeal and replace Obamacare, and to oppose a gas tax hike proposed in Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget and Democrats’ efforts to create sanctuary cities.

But although those measures, controversial with many other Californians, sailed through with an easy voice vote, internal politics of another sort took center stage for a brief moment.

The question was whether or not a newly formed group, the California Impact Republicans, should be chartered as an affiliate of the state party. The group was started by former members of the California Republican Assembly, part of the most conservative wing of the state GOP.

Although Ronald Reagan once described the California Republican Assembly as the “conscience of the Republican Party,” it has been declining in numbers and influence for some time.

Baron Night, a CRA board member from Buena Park, rose to oppose the new group’s charter.

“If you can’t trust a person or an organization, there is no relationship,” Night began, before listing four officers of the Impact Republicans and saying they hadn’t complied with party rules.

After being warned by Brulte about avoiding personal attacks, Night said the committee “didn’t do enough research” into the backgrounds of the officers, all of whom are former CRA officers.

After about 10 minutes of procedural confusion and debate, a loud voice vote showed clear division among the ranks of the party delegates, with so many opposing the group’s charter that Brulte called for a second vote.

“In the opinion of the chair, the ayes have it,” Brulte said after another clearly divided voice vote.

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California Republican Party convention delegates elect Jim Brulte to third term as chairman

Jim Brulte
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

The California Republican Party on Sunday voted to keep Chairman Jim Brulte in the job for a third term to steer the party toward what is expected to be a crucial election for the GOP in 2018.

Brutle, a former state Senate Republican leader from Rancho Cucamonga, took over as chairman in 2013 and is credited for putting the state party on a firm financial footing and launching a rebuilding process.

At the party convention last year, Republican delegates voted to extend the term limits for the GOP chair. The change was written in a way to make it apply only to Brulte, so it will not affect future party chiefs.

Prior to that, party rules limited state Republican chairs to two two-year terms.

Delegates also reelected the rest of the party’s current leadership team: Stanislaus County Supervisor Kristin Olsen, a former Assembly Republican leader, as vice chair; former Nevada County Republican Party chair Deborah Wilder as secretary; and former Downey mayor Mario Guerra as treasurer.

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Rep. Devin Nunes tells California Republicans to push five ballot initiatives, though each could face tall hurdles

Rep. Devin Nunes on Saturday night urged California Republicans to regain relevancy by pushing ballot initiatives that could be a tough sell with the state’s voters, ones that would create battles potentially costing tens of millions of dollars to wage.

The ideas he floated in his speech to the state GOP convention include increased offshore oil drilling, elimination of the state income tax, shifting the Legislature into one body or part-time status, moving bonds earmarked for high-speed rail to water storage and changing how public employee union dues are collected.

Nunes, a Central Valley representative who chairs the powerful House Intelligence Committee, said the state’s Republicans needed to be as bold as President Trump was during his campaign.

“Isn’t it nice to win?” Nunes told hundreds of supporters attending the convention’s dinner event. “This guy put it all on the line. He was willing to lose. We have to be willing to lose.”

Most of the proposals have either proven unappealing to California voters in the polls, have lost at the ballot box already, or would require enormous structural changes to the state’s government and finances.

For example, a ballot initiative to transfer high-speed rail money to water storage failed to garner sufficient donors to earn a spot on the fall 2016 ballot.

More than 6 in 10 likely California voters opposed increased offshore oil drilling in a July 2016 poll by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California.

In 2012, a ballot measure that would have banned automatic public employee union dues from being used for political purposes, Proposition 32, failed by a 56%-43% margin.

Nunes’ suggestion of eliminating California’s personal income tax stands in stark contrast to data from the state Department of Finance estimating it will comprise 68% of all general fund revenues in the fiscal year that begins this summer.

Nunes, speaking to reporters after his speech, said the money could be replaced by changing the state’s sales tax.

“It’s been a few years since I worked on it, but we looked at doing, basically, a broader type of sales tax,” he said. “You would just basically get rid of the income tax and just basically have a consumption type system.”

He said such a move would not be regressive.

“It’s a very transparent way to do it, 150 countries around the world do it that way, there’s no reason why the state of California couldn’t do it,” Nunes said.

A state commission studied a similar tax plan in 2009, but the proposal was summarily rejected by state lawmakers.

Nunes told the delegates and their guests that if the ballot measures fail, Republicans should keep trying until they succeed. He later told reporters that he estimated it would cost the state GOP $10 million to $12 million each election cycle that the initiatives appear on the ballot.

“I would argue that’s the best $10 or $12 million we could spend by putting the initiatives on the ballot” and therefore putting a Republican agenda on the ballot each election, he said.

“I think it would show people in California what we actually stand for. I think right now it’s very difficult to get our message across because we’re drowned out.”

Kevin Spillane, a veteran GOP strategist, said Nunes’ proposals were not realistic.

“It sounds like smoke and mirrors rather than a practical political strategy for Republicans in California. Congressman Nunes has failed to sponsor any ballot measures in the past. It’s hard to believe he would do so in the future.”

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