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California politics updates: Gov. Brown blasts Trump on climate change, state lawmakers weigh in on hundreds of bills by week’s end

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This is Essential Politics, our daily look at California political and government news. Here’s what we’re watching right now:

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Sen. Kamala Harris says she hasn’t considered running for president

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Despite swirling speculation, California’s U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris said she’s not giving “any consideration” to running for president in 2020.

Harris was appearing at the annual Code Conference hosted by the tech news site Recode in Rancho Palos Verdes on Wednesday night when site co-founder Kara Swisher asked if she had eyes on the White House.

“I’m not giving that any consideration. I’ve got to stay focused,” said Harris, a Democrat who was elected to the Senate in November after serving as California’s attorney general. After she won the seat vacated by former Sen. Barbara Boxer, Harris quickly gained a reputation as a potential presidential candidate in 2020.

Harris took questions from Swisher alongside Laurene Powell Jobs, a philanthropist and the widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs.

Though she brushed off the presidential rumors, Harris urged Democrats to try harder to make convincing arguments on issues such as climate change instead of just criticizing those who disagree with them.

She told the audience at the posh Terranea Resort where the conference is being held that it would be a mistake to dismiss the concerns of Americans who supported Trump in the November election. She said the issues that concern them — good jobs and the future of their families — are the concerns of all working-class Americans.

“There is a healthy number of people in our country who are feeling displaced, rightly,” Harris said. “I think we have to deal with that.”

Still, Harris dished out plenty of jabs at the Trump administration. She criticized Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions for “resuscitating the war on drugs” and told him to “leave Grandma’s medical marijuana alone.” Harris also criticized the Trump administration’s more hard-line immigration policies, and said she was concerned about allegations of collusion between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government.

“These are serious times. These are not issues we can just sit around with a glass of Chardonnay debating and philosophizing about,” Harris said. “The decisions that are being made right now are impacting real human beings.”

Watch the entire interview:

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Trump wouldn’t release his tax returns, so lawmakers move to make it mandatory for California’s primary

(Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

Legislation to require presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns in order to gain a spot on California’s presidential primary ballot won passage in the state Senate on Wednesday, but only after a tense debate that largely centered on President Trump.

Senate Bill 149 was approved on a strict party-line vote, 27-13. The bill now moves to the state Assembly, and was one of the last bills debated during a marathon session at the state Capitol to consider bills before a Friday deadline for action.

The bill would require presidential candidates to file copies of their income tax returns with state elections officials for the five most recent taxable years. Failure to do so would mean their name wouldn’t appear on California’s presidential primary ballot. The legislation was introduced in December, in the wake of Trump’s refusal to disclose his tax returns during the 2016 campaign. The president has continued to reject calls for the information.

“He’s shaping international policy which could enrich himself, and the American public has no way to know,” state Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) said of Trump during Wednesday night’s floor debate. “This legislation will help make transparency great again.”

Republicans denounced the bill as another in a long line of efforts by Democrats in the Legislature to lash out at the election of Trump and the defeat of Hillary Clinton.

“I get it that some people hate Trump,” state Sen. Joel Anderson (R-Alpine) said. “We’ve got to move ahead. We’ve got to get over it.”

Tensions flared after Anderson tried to amend the bill on the floor — first, to require statewide and legislative candidates to also release their tax returns, and then to require a birth certificate from candidates who want access to the state’s primary ballot. Both were rejected by Democrats.

A legislative analysis of SB 149 said some legal scholars believe the plan, which would be the first of its kind in the nation, would pass muster with the U.S. Constitution. Nonetheless, the analysis concluded that it would probably be challenged in court if signed into law.

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California Senate moves forward with bill that would overhaul Los Angeles County MTA

Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia) proposed to revamp the Los Angeles County MTA.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

The state Senate on Wednesday approved a bill that would expand and reshape the agency that oversees mass transit in Los Angeles County.

Opponents of the measure include Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, the city and county of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.

The bill by Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia) was sent to the Assembly for consideration after squeaking by with a 22-11 vote in the Senate.

The measure would expand the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority board from 12 to 15 members. It would also reduce the number of county supervisors on the board from five to two, remove the appointment of two public members and increase Los Angeles City Council member appointments by the mayor from two to five.

“This will allow for proportional and fair representation,” Mendoza told his colleagues, adding that the board currently is made up of “haves and have-nots fighting to get their share.”

Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) opposed the measure because he said he saw it as Sacramento meddling in local policymaking.

But Sen. Scott Wilk (R-Palmdale) supported SB 268.

“Too much power is concentrated in too few people,” he said of the current board.

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Single-payer healthcare is popular with Californians — unless it raises their taxes

(Rich Pedoncelli / Associated Press)

Almost two of every three Californians in a new statewide poll said they like the idea of a single-payer, government healthcare system, but far fewer support the idea if it includes a tax increase.

The poll released Wednesday night by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California found that 65% of adults surveyed support the creation of a single-payer state healthcare program to cover all of the state’s residents, and 56% of likely voters approved of the idea. Opinion was sharply divided between Democrats (75% support) and Republicans (66% oppose) who were surveyed.

The single-payer proposal under consideration in the state Capitol, Senate Bill 562, assumes at least $50 billion in new taxes to fund the healthcare system. Asked about taxes, support drops to 42% of the adults surveyed and 43% of likely voters. While a majority of Democrats in the PPIC poll continued to support the idea if it means more taxes, support drops substantially among unaffiliated “independent” voters.

The state Senate is expected to consider the single-payer bill before the end of the week. A legislative analysis put the estimated total cost of a new healthcare system that covers all Californians at $400 billion, while an analysis released on Wednesday by supporters provided a $331-billion estimate. The pending legislation by state Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) does not identify what taxes would be raised but makes the enactment of the plan contingent on a full funding proposal.

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Knowingly exposing others to HIV should no longer be a felony, state Senate says

The Senate voted to no longer make it a felony for HIV-positive people to donate blood or semen without telling the blood bank they are infected.
( (Toby Talbot / Associated Press))

The state Senate on Wednesday voted to no longer make it a felony for someone infected with HIV to knowingly expose others to the disease by having unprotected sex without telling his or her partner about the infection.

The crime would be downgraded to a misdemeanor, and the bill would also apply to people who donate blood or semen without telling the blood or semen bank that they have acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS, or have tested positive for human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, the precursor to AIDS.

The measure, which next goes to the Assembly for consideration, was introduced by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), who said it is unfair to make HIV/AIDS the only communicable disease given such harsh treatment by prosecutors.

“These laws are irrational and discriminatory,” Wiener told the Senate, adding that the current felony status is “creating an incentive not to be tested, because if you don’t know your status you can’t be guilty of a felony.”

The measure was widely opposed by Republican lawmakers including Sen. Joel Anderson of San Diego. “If you intentionally transmit something that is fundamentally life-threatening to the victim, you should be charged and go to jail,” he said.

Sen. Jeff Stone (R-Murrieta) said, “My friends, it’s not a gay issue. It’s a public health issue. We shouldn’t allow someone to play Russian roulette with other people’s lives.”

Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), a physician, voted for the bill and argued that it undermines public health to imprison those with HIV under the current law.

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Hillary Clinton: ‘I was the victim of a very broad assumption I was going to win’

Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday that she has no plans to run for office again, but she plans to remain involved in civic life, particularly helping the Democrats’ efforts to regain control of the House in 2018.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Clinton said at the annual Code Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes. “I have a big stake in what happens in this country. I am very unbowed and unbroken about what happened because I don’t want it to happen to anybody else. I don’t want it to happen to the values and the institutions I care about in America.

“And I think we’re at a really pivotal point,” she said. “And therefore I’m going to keep writing and keep talking and keep supporting people who are on the front lines of the resistance.”

The 2016 Democratic presidential nominee said she woke up on election day expecting to win. Clinton told the gathering that she was responsible for every decision the campaign made, though she did not believe they caused her surprise loss. She attributed that to several things, including alleged Russian interference in the election and “weaponizing” stolen information and fake news. She also pointed a finger at the Democrats for falling behind the GOP in using technology and data to target voters, the media for covering her e-mail controversy “like it was Pearl Harbor,” misogyny and the high expectations many had for her candidacy.

“I was the victim of a very broad assumption I was going to win,” she said, adding that she always expected the race to be close.

Trump responded on Twitter, saying that Clinton still refused to accept that she lost because she was a “terrible candidate.”

Clinton, who has increasingly jabbed President Trump, including at last week’s commencement address at Wellesley College, blasted his reported plan to pull out of the Paris climate accord as “really stupid” because of the economic implications. She described his personality as “impulsive” and “reactive.”

And she joked about his peculiar overnight tweet about “constant negative press covfefe,” saying she thought it was “a hidden message to the Russians” to laughter from the audience.

Going forward, Clinton said that she believes that it was “realistic” for Democrats to retake the House in 2018, notably by focusing on Republican congressional districts she won — including seven in California. She sounded less optimistic about the Senate.

Updated at 6:06 p.m.: This post was updated to add President Trump’s response to Clinton’s remarks.

This post was first published at 5:41 p.m.

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California lawmakers take aim again at establishing statewide rules for drones

A drone flies in the middle of the Lucerne Lake dry lake bed in the Mojave Desert.
(Los Angeles Times)

A state senator from Santa Barbara is taking another shot at establishing statewide regulations for the use of drones after the budding industry thwarted her efforts to pass similar legislation last year.

Senate Bill 347, introduced by Democratic Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, would limit disruptive drone use near private property and prohibit the weaponization and reckless operation of the unmanned aerial vehicles. It also would require pilots to obtain insurance and to license, register and mark the aircrafts per federal regulations.

The bill moved out of the Senate on Wednesday with a 26-13 vote. It heads to the Assembly for consideration.

Speaking on the Senate floor, Jackson urged support for what she called comprehensive drone legislation, saying California needs “common-sense rules that provide certainty for everyone and keep the public safe.”

“Washington is not going to be acting on this issue very soon,” she said, citing a federal appeals court decision that this month found the Federal Aviation Administration doesn’t have the authority to regulate the use of drones by hobbyists.

Debate has raged in recent years over just where federal authority begins and ends. And Jackson’s attempts at drone legislation last year were blocked amid opposition from lobbyists who argued against creating a patchwork of laws that varied by state.

Under Jackson’s new proposal, violations would be punishable by a fine of up to $250 or a misdemeanor, and the California Department of Transportation would be tasked with developing liability insurance requirements.

It has the support of the California State Assn. of Counties, the League of California Cities and the Los Angeles County Professional Peace Officers Assn, but it once again faces tough industry opposition.

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School districts would be prohibited from ‘shaming’ students whose parents haven’t paid for school lunches

Students eat lunch at Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School in Los Angeles.
Students eat lunch at Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School in Los Angeles.
(Christina House / For the Los Angeles Times)

Students whose parents have not kept their school lunch bills current would no longer go through “shaming” that includes marking their hand so they cannot be served, under legislation approved Wednesday by the state Senate.

The measure by Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) would require school districts to ensure that any student whose parent has unpaid school meal fees is not treated differently, or delayed or denied a nutritiously adequate meal.

Hertzberg introduced the legislation after hearing of school districts taking lunch trays from students whose accounts were not current and throwing the food in the trash, embarrassing the students in front of their friends.

“No more shaming,” Herzberg told his colleagues. “Don’t visit the failures of the parents on their kids.”

The measure passed on a 39-0 vote and was sent to the Assembly for consideration.

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Emilio Huerta, undaunted by 2016 loss, is back to challenge Rep. David Valadao

(Sarah D. Wire / Los Angeles Times)

Bakersfield lawyer Emilio Huerta came more than 13 percentage points short of winning California’s 21st Congressional District seat in 2016, but he plans to try again in 2018.

Huerta, 59, blames his loss to Rep. David Valadao (R-Hanford) on inexperience and a rash of negative ads at the end of the campaign.

“We learned a lot in the last campaign. As a first-time candidate there was certainly a lot to learn and I think we did a good job,” Huerta said Wednesday.

The son of labor icon Dolores Huerta, he has worked for the United Farm Workers union — which his mother co-founded — throughout the Central Valley district.

Huerta said Valadao’s vote for the Republican healthcare plan shows he’s “ignoring Valley residents” needs because it would end the expansion of the MediCal program, which many of the district’s residents use for healthcare.

“It’s going to be a pretty significant issue,” he said.

He is the first Democrat to announce a bid for the seat.

Democrats are heartened by the fact that, while Valadao won the seat with 56.74% of the vote, the district has continued to trend Democratic in voter registration and chose Hillary Clinton for president with 54.72% of the vote.

“That tells me that there were die-hard Democrats, committed Democrats that vote, Democrats that were not convinced that my campaign should be supported and I think a lot of that has to do with me being a first-time candidate,” Huerta said.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has made the seat a target for 2018.

The majority-Latino district includes parts of Fresno, Kern, Kings and Tulare counties.

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Gov. Jerry Brown and Democrats say Trump is going ‘backwards’ if he pulls out of Paris climate pact

Gov. Jerry Brown warned Wednesday that a decision by President Trump to withdraw the United States from a 2015 global climate change agreement could be “tragic,” and vowed to keep California’s ambitious efforts in place and on track.

“Here we are, in 2017, going backwards,” Brown said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “It cannot stand, it’s not right and California will do everything it can to not only stay the course, but to build more support — in other states, in other provinces, in other countries.”

The governor also criticized efforts to the president to dismantle climate change initiatives launched by former President Barack Obama.

“Trump is going against science. He’s going against reality,” the governor said. “We can’t stand by and give aid and comfort to that.”

News that the president had either made the decision to pull the country out of the Paris Accord on climate change or was on the verge of doing so drew swift condemnation from California leaders. Brown and other top lawmakers attended the talks in late 2015 that resulted in the international agreement, and insisted on Wednesday that it would not hurt the state’s own efforts to sharply curtail greenhouse gas emissions.

“As with so many other matters, from human rights to healthcare, the Trump administration has continued to surrender our nation’s longstanding role as a global leader,” Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) said.

Others pointed out that a decision to remove the United States from the agreement would leave it in rare company among other nations. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom tweeted that such a decision by Trump would be more than just “dumb + destructive.”

Brown, who leaves Friday for a weeklong visit to China to encourage more climate-change cooperation, predicted any decision to step away would suggest the country’s priorities aren’t clear.

“It sends a very muddled message,” the governor said during an interview in his state Capitol office. “Is the message [that] we like dirty cars and gas guzzlers? And we’re going to have a coal future? That can’t happen.”

And Brown again suggested that California’s experience on the issue offers a road map for others.

“If we want to retain and enhance manufacturing, we have to do what California is doing, in clean energy and clean technology,” he said. “That’s the future of jobs, the future of sustainability. And we better get on board. And California will be right there with the best of them.”

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Antonio Villaraigosa questions whether a state single-payer healthcare system is affordable in California

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Antonio Villaraigosa said he supports universal healthcare but advocates for a state-sponsored single-payer system may be “creating false expectations” given the enormous costs involved.

The former Los Angeles mayor, speaking on KPPC’s “AirTalk” with Larry Mantle on Wednesday morning, said California’s top priority should be to replace the estimated $20 billion in federal money the state may lose for healthcare programs if the Affordable Care Act is repealed.

The comment came after Mantle asked Villaraigosa if he supported a bill in the California Legislature that would create a single-payer health system for California. According to a legislative analysis, the cost of the proposed healthcare system would be $400 billion annually.

Villaraigosa said he supports the ideal of single-payer health care but was skeptical about California being able to afford a state-run program. Supporters first have to explain how the state can pay for it, he said.

To afford the program, California also would need waivers from the federal government so it can use Medicare and Medi-Cal funds, which is not likely given the state’s hostile relationship with the Trump administration, he said.

Villaraigosa also chided Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democratic rival in the 2018 governor’s race, for voicing his support for a state single-payer system.

“Let’s not sell snake oil,” Villaraigosa said.

In March, Newsom said he plans to propose a universal healthcare system for the state modeled on a city program he supported while he was mayor of San Francisco.

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