Essential Politics May archives

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Welcome to the archive of May posts on our Essential Politics news feed on California politics and government news. If you’re looking for something from June, find it here.

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State Senate flexes its muscle with Southern California’s clean-air board

Amid charges that polluting industries are taking over Southern California’s clean-air board, the state Senate on Tuesday approved countermeasures including an expansion of the board by three state apppointees.

Senate leader Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles) introduced the bill that would expand the South Coast Air Quality Management Board from 13 to 16 members and require the board to submit to the state Air Resources Board its plans to meet federal and state air quality standards.

“As a result of deliberate efforts to weaken the board’s clean-air majority, there is not one single Latino on the board,” De Leon told his colleagues before they approved SB 1387 and sent it to the Assembly for consideration.

The new board members would be appointed by the governor, the Senate Rules Committee and Assembly speaker.

De Leon criticized recent actions by the board to dismiss its long-standing executive officer and take steps he said will weaken clean-air regulations.

“The air basin is still among the most polluted areas in the United States of America,” De Leon told his colleagues. “Simply put, we can’t go back on our progress nor can we afford a delay.”

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No smoking or vaping at California beaches or parks under this bill

Smoking would be banned at California parks and beaches as a health and wildfire risk under legislation approved Tuesday by the state Senate.

Sen. Marty Block (D-San Diego) introduced SB 1333, which would make smoking or disposing of tobacco waste an infraction subject to a fine of up to $250.

“Cigarettes are non-biodegradable and contain over 164 toxic chemicals,” Block told his colleagues. “They cause a substantial trash issue and health problems at our beaches and parks.”

He also noted second-hand smoke is a health risk to nonsmokers. The bill applies to electronic cigarettes and medical marijuana as well as combustible cigarettes. Block said that the tossing of lighted cigarettes has caused many wildfires. “If this measure prevents just one wildfire, it will save millions” of dollars, he said, as wildfires can cost as much as $3 million each.

The action comes just weeks after Gov. Jerry Brown approved a package of other anti-tobacco bills, including one that raises the smoking age in California from 18 to 21.

Officials estimate it will cost up to $1.1 million to install 20 signs at each of the state’s 280 parks and state beaches.

The bill is supported by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Lung Assn. in California and Sierra Club California.

The vote was 25 to 11 to approve the bill and send it to the Assembly.

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Assembly passes ‘right-to-try’ bill for terminally ill Californians

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Bid to extend criminal reclassification under Proposition 47 passes Assembly

An effort to allow felons additional time to reduce their punishments under guidelines established by a 2014 ballot measure made it through the Assembly on Tuesday.

Proposition 47, the 2014 ballot measure, changed some nonviolent property and drug crimes from felonies to misdemeanors and allowed those previously convicted under the old rules to ask the courts to lower their punishments. But that provision ends next year, and Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) wants to give felons eligible for the relief five more years to reduce their punishments.

“We’re going to find a lot of cases where justice has been denied to individuals,” Weber said during debate on the bill.

Weber said keeping the existing deadline would lead to a flood of petitions that would tie up the courts and force prosecutors to rush through cases. Weber noted that the bill was sponsored by the San Diego County district attorney’s office and unopposed by law enforcement organizations.

But issues surrounding Proposition 47 generate significant controversy. The California Police Chiefs Assn. has blamed the initiative for a recent increase in property crimes across the state.

“Prop. 47 has enough problems,” said Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach). “Let’s not give them more years.”

Because it modifies a ballot measure, Weber’s bill required a two-thirds vote of the Assembly to pass. After debate on the floor, the measure was roughly 10 votes short of passage. But a few hours later, Weber had rounded up enough support.

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Measure aims to tackle unequal pay based on race

A year after approving a tougher equal-pay bill for women, the state Senate on Tuesday passed legislation aimed at closing a wage gap in California based on ethnicity.

State and federal law already ban employers from providing different pay based on race or ethnicity. The new measure proposed by Sen. Isadore Hall III (D-Compton) would broaden that prohibition by saying bosses cannot pay employees of one race less than they pay people of other ethnicities for “substantially similar work,” even if their titles are different or they work at different sites.

The legislation, which now goes to the Assembly for consideration, would make it easier for employees to file legal claims over disparate pay.

Hall cited a U.S Census Bureau report that found that black men on average earn 75 cents for every dollar earned by white men.

“It’s the year 2016. It’s unnacceptable,” Hall told his colleagues. “No employee should be denied an equal wage for an equal day of work.”

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Assembly rebukes State Bar of California by rejecting funding bill

“This is new territory for me,” said Assemblyman Mark Stone (D-Scotts Valley) as he counted the votes for his committee’s simple bill to reauthorize membership dues charged to attorneys for joining the State Bar of California.

The bill only garnered eight votes in support, after a bipartisan group of assembly members rose to criticize the agency’s operations in the wake of a recent audit and accusations leveled by its former executive director.

“It’s time that we send a clear message to the state bar,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego).

The agency, which answers to the California Supreme Court, has faced enormous criticism for its business practices and internal operations. The state audit earlier this month concluded that the agency had a “lack of transparency” in its dealings with both attorneys and the public.

Assembly Bill 2878 attempted to address some of the concerns that have been raised while re-upping the authorization to impose $390 annual membership fees for attorneys.

“Everyone agrees that the bar needs to be reformed in some significant ways,” said Stone.

But his colleagues were unmoved when it came to the plan in front of them.

“I hope we have the opportunity to vote on a bill that reflects real reform,” said Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco).

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Congresswoman who was on the fence endorses Hillary Clinton

U.S. Rep. Norma Torres endorsed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid over the weekend, leaving just three California House Democrats who haven’t publicly backed a candidate.

In mid-May, the Pomona Democrat said she wanted to hear more from Clinton about immigration and Native American issues before making a decision.

Torres made the endorsement while opening a campaign office for Clinton, saying she wants Democrats to focus on defeating the likely Republican nominee, Donald Trump.

Torres endorsed Obama early in the 2008 race and campaigned for him when she was mayor of Pomona.

Going into the final days before the June 7 primary, 36 House Democrats and the state’s two Senators have endorsed Clinton. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (San Fransisco), Reps. Alan Lowenthal (Long Beach) and Barbara Lee (Oakland) are staying out of things — for now.

Lowenthal and Lee still haven’t decided whom to back, according to their staffers.

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Citizens would draw lines for L.A. County supervisor districts under new measure

Los Angeles County would be required to create an independent citizens panel to redraw county supervisor district boundaries after the next U.S. Census under a bill approved Tuesday by the state Senate.

Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) modeled his legislation after a process approved by state voters for redistricting at the state legislative level after the last U.S. Census.

“For a county with over 10 million residents … it is imperative that we have a fair and impartial process for drawing districting boundaries,” Lara told his colleagues.

His bill would require the redistricting plan approved by the citizen panel to stand, taking away the county’s current powers to modify it.

SB 958 was approved 25-11, with most Republicans in opposition. It now goes to the state Assembly for consideration and has a good chance of passage.

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State Senate acts to reimburse agencies for San Bernardino massacre response

The state Senate on Tuesday took initial action to pave the way for the state to reimburse San Bernardino-area agencies for the full $18-million cost of responding to the Dec. 2, 2015, mass shooting that left 14 people dead and even more injured.

Sen. Connie Leyva (D-Chino) said the attack created unusually high expenses for police and medical agencies that responded to the terrorist act.

State law would only allow the agencies to get 75% reimbursement, but Leyva said that would create a financial burden for local agencies. Leyva’s bill allows 100% reimbursement.

“Their quick and selfless response saved countless lives and prevented this tragic act from becoming much worse,” Leyva told her colleagues before the uninimous vote to approve SB 1385 and send it to the Assembly for consideration.

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Senate candidate Tom Del Beccaro gets tea party nod

The Tea Party Express on Tuesday endorsed Republican Tom Del Beccaro in California’s U.S. Senate race, calling him a “conservative thought leader.”

The political action committee’s support comes just a week before California’s June 7 primary election.

“Tom Del Beccaro has long been a leading California advocate for limited government, fiscal responsibility and policies that promote economic growth,” said Tea Party Express cofounder Sal Russo.

Russo praised Del Beccaro’s call for a federal flat tax and his efforts to broaden the Republican base when he was chairman of the California Republican Party from 2011 until 2013.

Recent opinion polls show Del Beccaro and the other top Republicans in the race — George “Duf” Sundheim and Ron Unz — lagging behind Democrats Kamala Harris and Loretta Sanchez among likely primary election voters. About one-third of voters said they were undecided.

Under California’s “top-two” primary system, the two candidates who receive the most votes in the primary will face off in the November general election, regardless of political party.

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Two Democrats continue to lead the pack in California’s U.S. Senate race, poll finds

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Gov. Jerry Brown wants to take development power away from cities. But he needs their help for his housing plan to work

If Gov. Jerry Brown’s housing plan passes, local governments will lose some of their power over development.

But at the same time the governor wants to force cities to approve affordable housing projects more quickly, he’s relying on the same cities to zone enough land for housing in the first place. Without enough cooperation from cities, it’s unlikely the governor’s plan is going to have much of an effect on the state’s housing shortage.

I’ve written a lot about the governor’s housing plan since he unveiled it earlier this month. I’ve put all my coverage in one place so you can keep track of what’s happening, and I hope to keep it updated as the proposal winds its way through the Legislature.

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Gov. Jerry Brown backs Hillary Clinton for president

With just a week to go before California’s June 7 primary election, Gov. Jerry Brown wrote an open letter saying he will vote for Hillary Clinton “because I believe this is the only path forward to win the presidency and stop the dangerous candidacy of Donald Trump.”

The Democratic governor announced his decision after playing coy for months.

In the letter to California Democrats and independent voters, Brown praised Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for running a strong campaign for the Democratic nomination.

He lauded Sanders for his message that “the top one percent has unfairly captured way too much of America’s wealth, leaving the majority of people far behind.”

Brown noted that mounted a similar campaign when he ran unsuccessfully for president in 1992. (He also ran in 1976 and 1980.)

Clinton touted the Brown endorsement in a press release. It isn’t yet clear to what extent the governor will work to help the former secretary of state, who will be back in California this week to campaign.

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California police misconduct records will remain secret after bill dies in committee

California’s strict policy against releasing information about police misconduct will remain in place after a Senate committee killed a bill Friday that would have opened up some records to public disclosure.

SB 1286 from Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) would have allowed the public to access internal reports in cases where police departments found their officers had committed sexual assault or racial profiling, lied on the job or other significant examples of misconduct. It also would have made available investigations of officer-involved shootings and other major use-of-force cases.

The bill had faced substantial opposition from law enforcement groups and was held in the Senate’s Appropriations Committee on Friday without discussion.

California is one of just three states that specifically protect all internal police records from public view. Leno, who will leave the Senate at the end of the year because of term limits, had tried multiple times over the past decade to unwind some of the state’s police confidentiality rules. In recent years, police shootings and other high-profile use-of-force cases across the country had eroded trust in law enforcement, Leno had argued, and opening up the police disciplinary process would help gain it back.

But law enforcement organizations contended the bill would invade officer privacy while existing civilian review boards and potential prosecution provided enough outside accountability of police.

“Strong relationships between the community and law enforcement is critical to good policing,” Craig Lally, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League said in a statement. “However, SB 1286 was poorly written, with no input from law enforcement and would have done nothing to improve relationships with the community.”

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Republicans believe partisan politics killed their bills during ‘suspense file’ hearing

Assembly Republicans were more than disappointed by some of the bills quietly killed on Friday during the final action taken by the lower house’s appropriations committee.

They smelled politics at play.

“The majority party speaks often of the need to help Californians who are living in poverty,” said Assembly GOP leader Chad Mayes (R-Yucca Valley). “I am disappointed that Assembly Democrats chose instead to put partisan politics first and block these important bills to give those in need a pathway to a better life.”

Mayes was the author of AB 2058, which would have offered monthly grants of between $100 and $300 for those in the state’s welfare-to-work program, CalWORKs. The bill received bipartisan support in its first committee hearing last month.

Republicans also pointed to bills that would have made forgiven mortgage debt tax-free, and a small monthly boost to the state’s tax credit for renters that has been unchanged for more than a quarter of a century. These bills also sailed through policy committees without any Democratic opposition.

The chairman of the Assembly’s fiscal committee, though, said it was all about the money.

“The Republican Party argues for limited government, yet my Republican colleagues in the Assembly sent more spending bills to the Appropriations Committee than in any year in recent memory,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego).

It should be noted that not all Republican bills were killed, either in the Assembly or Senate’s “suspense file” actions on Friday.

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Bills to ban balloons and impose rules for fashion models killed in legislative ‘suspense file’ action

Not all bills killed in Friday’s action by the Legislature’s fiscal committees were attempts to resolve huge public policy debates.

Even some of the most narrowly tailored proposals were “held” in the Assembly and Senate appropriations committees. And like all other bills quietly killed during the clearing of the “suspense file,” there was neither public debate nor explanation.

Bills of note and, in many cases, novelty that were killed include:

  • AB 2539 by Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-San Rafael) would have required California health standards for the fashion modeling industry. The standards would have required employers to adopt workplace rules to help models avoid developing eating disorders. One former model penned a Times op-ed in support of the bill.
  • SB 1467 by Sen. Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) would have placed new limits on how politicians use money raised by their ballot measure campaign committees — committees that can accept donations in unlimited amounts, and where Bates said too many lawmakers spend money to promote themselves.
  • AB 2709 by Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D-Hayward) would have banned the sale of balloons made of shiny metallic material that can cause power outages when coming into contact with electricity lines.
  • AB 2602 by Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Glendale) would have limited free disabled parking to only those Californians with severe “mobility and dexterity” disabilities.
  • SBl 1002 by Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel) would have required the state to set up a toll-free hotline for people who have questions about California’s new aid-in-dying law, which takes effect June 9.
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Driving-while-high bills die in California Legislature

While the use of marijuana is skyrocketing in California, two bills aimed at cracking down on motorists who drive under the influence of pot were shelved Friday after cannabis industry officials said they were not supported by science.

The Assembly Appropriations Committee sidelined a measure by Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell) that would have made it a crime for a person who has 5 nanograms or more of THC, the active ingredient in pot, per milliliter in their blood to drive a vehicle.

The Senate Appropriations Committee also killed a measure by Republican Sen. Bob Huff of San Dimas that would have allowed law enforcement officers to use oral swab tests to strengthen cases.

Huff said his bill is needed, given that medical marijuana is legal in California and a measure proposed for the November ballot would allow recreational use of the drug.

“The use of both legal and illegal drugs while driving is rampant and fatal accidents are on the rise,” Huff said. “I’m disappointed that members of the Appropriations Committee killed this bill, imagining a state cost where none existed.”

He said he had hoped to get federal grants so law enforcement could buy new technology to test motorists.

The decision to shelve the bills was welcomed by Amanda Reiman, a manager with the Drug Policy Alliance.

“California is wise to express a desire to better understand the relationship between cannabis use and impairment before passing laws that could unduly impact those in California most in need of cannabis to alleviate their suffering,” Reiman said.

She noted that the Adult Use of Marijuana Act proposed for the November ballot sets aside revenue to research how to detect impairment.

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Senate panel shelves bill requiring employers to provide employees their schedules a week early

A measure that would have required many bosses in California to give their employees a work schedule at least one week in advance was shelved Friday after it was labeled a “job killer” by the California Chamber of Commerce.

Sen. Connie Leyva (D-Chino) said her bill applying to employees in restaurants and grocery and retail stores was in response to an increase in unreliable scheduling that she said can leave employees unable to plan child-care, attend college or take a second job.

The bill was held on suspense Friday by the majority-Democrat Senate Appropriations Committee.

“Workers with reliable schedules also have reliable paychecks, which are vitally important so that they have an idea how much they will be making week to week,” Leyva said.

Leyva said Friday she is disappointed that the bill failed but promised to pursue the proposal in the future. “Progress takes time and today is simply another step towards ensuring that workers and their families are treated fairlym,” Leyva said.

SB 878 was a priority of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus and was modeled loosely after a policy adopted by the city of San Francisco in 2014.

However, the Chamber led business groups in fighting the measure, arguing it would “eliminate flexibility in the workplace for employers and employees, deny employees the opportunity to work additional hours if desired” and “subject employers to unnecessary layers of penalties, investigative actions, and costly litigation.”

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Lawmakers kill plan to force statewide vote on Brown’s water tunnels

A closely watched effort to force a statewide vote on Gov. Jerry Brown’s water tunnels project was blocked Friday in the Assembly -- a big victory for Brown in a year where the plan faces some key hurdles.

AB 1713 by Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) would have required voters to approve the construction of twin underground water tunnels in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The bill’s language would have meant a statewide vote as soon as 2018.

Like all bills killed during the clearing of the Assembly appropriations “suspense file” there was no discussion and no explanation. Nor was there any public announcement of how legislators on the committee voted.

Though the bill received bipartisan support during an earlier committee vote, it was opposed by water agencies — most notably the powerful Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

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Bill that would have opened up some police misconduct records to public disclosure dies

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Bill to force a public vote on the governor’s delta tunnels plan is dead

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Governor-backed housing bill passes Assembly

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With transplant patients waiting, lawmakers fast-track bill allowing organ donations by HIV-positive people

With a seriously ill patient waiting for a new liver, the Legislature took the extraordinary action Friday of having both houses — within an hour — approve a bill that would allow HIV-positive people to donate organs to others who are HIV-positive.

Gov. Jerry Brown later Friday signed the bill, which becomes effective immediately. “This is a life-saving matter that aligns California with federal law,” said Deborah Hoffman, a spokeswoman for Brown. ,

The Assembly and Senate acted on the measure after San Francisco surgeon Peter G. Stock told lawmakers he has two HIV-positive patients needing liver transplants, including one who has identified a donor. However, state law makes it illegal for HIV-positive people to donate organs.

“I am deeply concerned for these patients because their health is failing, and I am concerned that, by the time the Legislature is able to act in the ordinary course, the patients will be unable to receive a transplant due to deterioration or unavailablity of a donor,” wrote Stock, professor of surgery at the UC San Francisco Medical Center.

Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) introduced SB 1408, which he said could prolong the life of seriously ill patients.

“Right now there is a felony associated with that donation,” Allen told his colleagues on the Senate floor. “We can save a life this month.”

He said 22 Americans die every day waiting for an organ transplant. “Let’s take care of this stigma. Let’s take care of this injustice,” he said.

With a life on the line, the case drew the involvement of state Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris, who supported the change in the law. Harris wrote to lawmakers that they should “quickly remove these outdated criminal penalties and permit Dr. Stock and others to perform these groundbreaking and life-saving surgeries.”

Word of the governor’s action thrilled Dr. Stock, the surgeon.

“I’m stoked,” he said. “It’s going to mean something for 60 patients on the waiting list who have HIV but it also means something for the 4,000 other people on the waiting list who don’t have HIV because for every donor we add, somebody benefits.”

The patient whose husband has agreed to donate part of his liver will undergo surgery in a matter of weeks, “as soon as possible,” Stock said.

The surgery will take half of the liver of the husband with the understanding that livers can regenerate back to full size in weeks, he said.

UPDATED at 1:55 p.m. to reflect that the bill was signed by Gov. Brown.

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‘Restorative justice’ criminal rehabilitation bill passes Assembly

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White House signals support for Gov. Jerry Brown’s housing plan

Cecilia Muñoz is the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. She’s talking about how regulations can make homes less affordable, and she favorably cites Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed legislation to limit local government review over affordable housing projects.

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Republicans call on Roger Hernández to resign over domestic violence allegations

Three California Republican officials called on state Assemblyman Roger Hernández (D-West Covina) to resign from public office Thursday and end his congressional campaign a day after the lawmaker’s wife accused him in court of repeatedly assaulting her over the course of their three-year relationship.

“Given the serious and growing list of accusations, Assemblyman Hernández’s continued presence in the State Assembly brings dishonor to the entire California State Legislature,” state Sen. Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) said in a statement.

Rep. Mimi Walters of Orange County and California Republican Party Vice Chairwoman Harmeet K. Dhillon also called for Hernandez to step down and end his campaign challenging Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Norwalk).

Baldwin Park City Councilwoman Susan Rubio, who is seeking a domestic violence restraining order against Hernández while the two are going through divorce proceedings, detailed several episodes of domestic violence in court Wednesday.

She testified that he became physically violent with her more than 20 times during their relationship, alleging that he choked her with a belt, beat her with a broom and once held a knife over her head.

Hernández is mounting an intraparty challenge against Napolitano for her 32nd Congressional District seat in California’s June 7 primary. A spokeswoman for Hernández’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“Hernández has an obligation to the people of California to represent them equally, and the repeated, serious allegations of abuse that surround him are in no way conducive to his role in representing California in the State Legislature,” Dhillon said in a statement. “Domestic violence is a very serious issue in our society, not a ‘private matter’ to be brushed under the rug by a man holding public office.”

In a May 3 declaration, Hernández denied earlier allegations by Rubio when she sought a temporary restraining order against him.

In a statement released by his spokesperson Thursday, Hernández said he would continue his campaign and maintained that the accusations were politically motivated.

“These allegations are retaliation,” he said in the statement. “At no point throughout our lengthy 16-month divorce process did Susan Rubio ever raise any accusation of domestic violence.”

Updated 6:50 p.m. This story has been updated with a response from Hernández.

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Where bills go to die: Today lawmakers will clear ‘suspense file’ for hundreds of measures in limbo

From commercial fishing to tax credits and even fashion model regulations, a massive stack of proposed laws faces a major deadline Friday morning at the state Capitol.

To survive, they must clear what’s known as the “suspense file” -- the place where bills that would cost taxpayers money are held in legislative limbo.

By law, bills with a fiscal impact must be sent to the floor of the Assembly and Senate by the close of business on Friday. That means it’s decision time for 694 pieces of legislation: 245 in the Senate, 449 in the Assembly.

Bills are generally sent to the “suspense file” if their projected cost to the state is $150,000 or more. The procedural move was widely used during California’s deficit years as a way for lawmakers to weigh the pros and cons of proposals in light of limited resources.

But government watchdog groups have long pointed out that the clearing of the “suspense file” ends up hiding some of the legislative sausage-making from public view.

That’s because bills that don’t clear Friday’s hurdle are essentially killed without a recorded vote.

And neither chamber offers any explantion for why those bills were killed. Decisions on the fate of the “suspense file” are made in private, hours or days before the public hearing.

In the Assembly, the Appropriations Committee chairperson will simply tell the public that a decision has been made to “hold” the bill. In the Senate committee, killed legislation won’t even be mentioned during Friday’s hearing.

That means that no one will know for sure whether a bill is really killed because of its price tag or its politics.

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Senate approves tobacco-free zone at kids’ athletic events

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Big-money groups back not one, but two candidates in San Bernardino Assembly race

Why are well-funded interest groups spending money to support both a Republican and a Democrat in the same Assembly race?

In Assembly District 47, one of the most hotly contested races this cycle, they may be trying to game California’s top-two primary system.

The California Realtors Assn. has poured in more than $207,000 toward getting Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown (D-San Bernardino) reelected in her tough fight against Colton attorney Eloise Reyes.

But it has also been quietly funneling money into a committee that’s backing the race’s sole Republican, Aissa Chanel Sanchez, a 24-year-old regional sales training manager for SolarCity with no political experience and who has raised no money of her own.

Sanchez does not have an official campaign manager or a campaign website. She has not raised or spent any money, she said.

“It was just more of a confidence booster,” Sanchez told The Times. “I know people are looking at how young I am, but it’s just a learning experience.”

The Reyes campaign is crying foul.

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Pink razors and blue razors should cost the same under gender-pricing measure the California Senate just approved

Sen. Ben Hueso (D-San Diego)
Sen. Ben Hueso (D-San Diego)
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

The state Senate on Thursday approved a bill that would prohibit businesses in California from charging customers different prices for similar goods on the basis of gender.

State Sen. Ben Hueso (D-San Diego), the author of the bill, cited the example of two substantially similar disposable razors sold by the same company. A package of 12 blue razors marketed for men cost $7.99. A package of 12 pink razors for women sold in the same store for $12.99.

“We understand that women already earn less income. Why are we charging them more for essential products that they need in their everyday lives?” Hueso said during the floor debate. “This bill would prohibit the sale of goods on the basis of discrimination to women or men.”

He also cited a 2015 study by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs that looked at a wide variety of products, including toys and clothing, which found that women’s products cost more 42% of the time while men’s products cost more 18% percent of the time.

California has, for two decades, protected consumers against gender price discrimination in the service industry.

Hueso’s bill would allow consumers to challenge different prices by the same brand for similar or identical products.

But it allows price differences based specifically on the labor, materials, taxes or other gender-neutral reasons.

Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) joined most Republicans in opposing the bill, predicting it would lead to a flood of frivolous lawsuits that could drive small retailers out of business. He said consumers and the marketplace will weed out unfair pricing.

“I don’t think we need to have a pricing police going into retail shops,” Moorlach said. “I see it as a nightmare for retailers.”

State Sen. Connie Leyva (D-Chino) brought up an example in which one company sells a red boy’s scooter for $29.99 and a pink girl’s scooter for $49.99.

Other lawmakers joked about consumers saving money by using a product marketed to the opposite sex.

“Members, sex discrimination isnt a joke,” responded state Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley). “It’s a reality that women have been living with for centuries.”

The bill goes to the Assembly for consideration.

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A chance to cuddle small animals before Congress breaks for Memorial Day

Retiring Rep. Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara) tweeted this photo of her holding a kangaroo at an annual reception held on Capitol Hill by the Assn. of Zoos and Aquariums.

Also attending the reception were an armadillo, penguins, sharks and a sloth, according to Capps’ staff.

After voting this morning, the House left for the Memorial Day break. Members aren’t scheduled to return until after California’s June 7 primary.

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Large majority of California voters favors raising tobacco tax $2 per pack, poll says

A new poll finds that 67% of likely voters in California support a proposed initiative that would increase the state’s tobacco tax by $2 per pack of cigarettes.

The poll by the Public Policy Institute of California also found that 60% of likely voters say that, in general, marijuana use should be legal, and 37% say it should not be legal.

The poll results are a boost to a coalition of health groups called Save Lives California that has submitted signatures it believes are sufficient to qualify the measure for the November ballot.

“Voters are poised and ready to save lives and ask smokers to pay their fair share to improve healthcare and fight cancer,” said Ken Wallis, a dentist and president of the California Dental Assn.

The measure, which also taxes electronic cigarette products, is opposed by the tobacco and vaping industries.

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‘You are an ignorant bigot’: California Democrat clashes with San Diego law professor on transgender issues

U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren and a University of San Diego law professor got into a sharp back-and-forth over transgender rights during a House Judiciary Committee hearing this week about federal regulations.

Amid the national conversation about bathrooms and transgender rights, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights issued guidance on what facilities transgender students should be allowed to use at public schools.

University of San Diego School of Law professor Gail Heriot said the guidance is an example of the executive branch overreaching what the legislative branch intended.

Lofgren, a Democrat from San Jose, took issue with how Heriot described being transgender in her written statement. It is common for witnesses to submit a lengthy statement to the committee along with brief remarks.

“We are teaching young people a terrible lesson. If I believe that I am a Russian princess, that doesn’t make me a Russian princess, even if my friends and acquaintances are willing to indulge my fantasy,” Heriot’s written statement reads.

Heriot is a member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights.

“I found this rather offensive,” Lofgren said. She theorized that the professor had never met a transgender child.

Heriot asked to comment, and Lofgren shot back: “No, it’s just my opinion.”

The video below shows the clash, starting with Lofgren reading from Heriot’s written testimony. Fingers are pointed. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) ultimately cut Lofgren off.

“We allow witnesses to say offensive things, but I cannot allow that kind of bigotry to go into the record unchallenged,” Lofgren responded.

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Assemblyman Roger Hernández faces new accusations of domestic violence in court

The estranged wife of Assemblyman Roger Hernández (D-West Covina) accused him of assaulting her more than 20 times over the last three years at a divorce court hearing in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

Baldwin Park City Councilwoman Susan Rubio, who is seeking a domestic violence restraining order against Hernández, detailed eight episodes of alleged violence during her testimony, including one in which she said Hernández choked her with a belt and another in which she said he “dropped” her on the floor and beat her with a broom.

Rubio testified that during one argument Hernández accused her of having an affair, retrieved a knife from the kitchen, held the knife over her head and told her, “Keep talking, watch what happens,” before backing away from her.

Hernández, who was at the hearing, declined to comment through his lawyer, Donald Schweitzer. In his opening statement, Schweitzer accused Rubio of coming forward with the allegations to hurt Hernández’s political career.

The assemblyman is challenging Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Norwalk) for her 32nd Congressional District seat in California’s June 7 primary. Rubio’s sister, Blanca Rubio, is running for the Assembly seat Hernández is vacating because of term limits.

In court, Susan Rubio said Hernández accused her of “hooking up” with state Sen. Ben Hueso (D-San Diego) when Rubio and Hernández went on a trip to Rosarito, Mexico, for her birthday with Hueso and his wife. Rubio said Hernández was upset that she and Hueso had separated from the others while horseback riding on the beach. She accused her estranged husband of pushing her when the other couple weren’t looking.

A spokeswoman for Hueso said that he remembered the trip but that there was no fight and Rubio and Hernández never argued. Hueso denied any allegation of an affair.

Rubio also alleged Hernández yelled at her for “ignoring” him during a separate trip to a Rosarito wine festival with other members of the Legislature. She said he stepped on her toe so hard that her toenail broke. He threatened to throw wine on her if she did not stop crying before other lawmakers saw her, she said.

“So I just held the pain,” Rubio said in court.

Rubio testified she tried to conceal bruises by wearing long sleeves and turtleneck shirts. She said she urged Hernández to seek professional help.

“I loved him,” she said.

In a May 3 declaration, Hernández denied earlier allegations by Rubio when she sought a temporary restraining order against him.

“I would never engage in the type of conduct respondent has accused me of committing,” he said in a court document.

Schweitzer said he would not comment on the case until he was able to cross-examine Rubio at the next court hearing on June 9. The temporary restraining order barring Hernández from contacting Rubio remains in place until then.

Times staff writer Liam Dillon contributed to this report.

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GOP Senate candidate Tom Del Beccaro is targeted by independent political committee

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Poll shows close contest between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in California

(Charlie Neibergall / Associated Press)

The Democratic primary appears to have narrowed in California, according to a new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California.

The poll showed a statistical tie between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders among likely Democratic voters. Clinton had 46% support, Sanders had 44%, and the margin of error was plus or minus 5.7 percentage points.

A previous poll, released in March, had Clinton leading 48% to 41%.

The survey counts both registered Democrats and independents who said they would cast ballots in the Democratic primary as “likely Democratic voters.”

But any independents who want to vote in the Democratic primary on June 7 still must request a Democratic presidential ballot.

When only registered Democrats were counted, Clinton was ahead 49% to 41%.

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Assembly, Senate move state budget plans to conference committee

Lawmakers have approved Gov. Jerry Brown’s effort to stash away an extra $2 billion in budget reserves, but Democratic leaders are gearing up for a showdown with the governor over spending levels for welfare and child assistance programs.

Passage of a spending plan by the Assembly Budget Committee on Thursday turns the focus to a conference committee of the two houses.

The Senate’s budget writers approved their own proposal on Tuesday.

In a sense, budget plans from both houses suggest a series of nips and tucks to Brown’s plan, cobbling together enough additional cash to fund a handful of Democratic legislative priorities.

Some of the more notable differences between legislators’ budget plans and Brown’s:

  • Brown has proposed putting an extra $2 billion into the state’s rainy-day fund as insurance against future economic downturns. While the Assembly agreed, Senate Democrats want to put the money into a different cash reserve that could be more easily tapped in the months to come.
  • Democrats in both houses are pushing for repeal of the long-standing law that denies families on welfare assistance additional help in the event of a new child. The change in the so-called “maximum family grant” would add about $100 million in spending in 2016-17.
  • The Assembly has included some $600 million for child care and preschool programs, a key demand of the Legislative Women’s Caucus but opposed by the Brown administration.
  • Both houses seek to slow down the spending on the Brown administration’s plan to earmark $1.5-billion for the construction and replacement of new state government buildings. Doing so would free up more money for spending on other government programs.
  • Assembly members want to redirect $250 million set aside by the governor for local jails. Their budget plan would send the money to mental health and community services. “We have to carve out new solutions,” said Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), the Budget Committee chairman, on Thursday.
  • Lawmakers are assuming that voters will approve a ballot measure on Nov. 8 to extend existing income tax rates on the most wealthy Californians. While the tax issue wouldn’t affect revenues in the fiscal year that begins July 1, it’s built into expectations about revenues for 2018 and beyond.

Updated 5:07 p.m. This story has been modifed. The original version incorrectly stated that the Assembly’s budget proposes putting $2-billion into a cash reserve fund that’s easier to access, but that proposal is contained in the Senate plan.

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House rejects bid to strip California water provision from appropriations bill

(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press )

The House voted 247 to 169 Wednesday to keep to a measure affecting California’s drought in an appropriations bill.

Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Stockton) had moved to strip the measure from the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for fiscal year 2017. He and other Northern California Democrats argue it would have a severe effect on the Endangered Species Act and Clean Air Act.

The House passed Hanford Republican Rep. David Valadao’s bill almost a year ago, but the Senate has refused to take it up, and many state Democrats object to it. His legislation focuses on funneling more water to San Joaquin Valley growers by reducing the amount used to support endangered fish populations.

Including the text of Valadao’s bill forces the two chambers to reconcile the versions of the bill.

The Senate is reviewing a bill proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) as part of a broad package of water bills for Western states.

California Republicans and Democrats took to the House floor Tuesday night to debate keeping the language in the bill.

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Sen. Barbara Boxer sits down with President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) met with Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland in her office Wednesday.

“I was truly impressed by his brilliant legal mind and his quiet pursuit of justice,” she said on Facebook after the meeting.

On his way to the meeting, Garland passed a framed photo taken the day Boxer and several other then-House members stormed to the Senate to demand that Anita Hill’s sexual harassment claims be heard before voting to confirm Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court.

Boxer credits that fight for her ascension from the House to the Senate. The California senator has met with and considered six Supreme Court nominees since her 1992 election.

Garland has met with senators in both parties — including Sen. Dianne Feinstein — even as Republican Senate leaders say they will not consider a nominee put forward by President Obama.

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Elections officials now checking signatures on 10 potential statewide propositions

Elections officials across California are doing more than just preparing for the fast-approaching June 7 presidential primary. They are also making key decisions that will determine the size of the statewide ballot six months from now.

Backers of 10 potential propositions are watching as county elections workers check hundreds of thousands of voter signatures gathered over the past few months, most of which were submitted last week.

In doing so, there are two key questions: Did the campaigns -- on issues ranging from gun control to the salaries of hospital executives -- collect enough valid signatures? And can local officials make that determination through a random sampling of the signaures submitted?

If the random sample estimates that between 95% and 110% of an initiative’s signatures are valid, Secretary of State Alex Padilla will order that every signature must be checked. That process would undoubtedly not be complete by June 30, the legal deadline to qualify for this fall’s ballot.

In other words: Any initiative that can’t qualify for the ballot by the “random sample” method would have to wait until the November 2018 election.

Eight measures have already secured a spot on this fall’s ballot, though one of them -- to increase the statewide minimum wage -- is expected to be withdrawn in the coming weeks after Gov. Jerry Brown signed a wage boosting law last month.

An updated report on Monday shows that of the 10 measures with signatures being checked, five appear in solid shape for clearing the “random sample” hurdle. State officials have yet to receive full county reports on signatures submitted for the remaining five initiatives.

An additional measure, which would ask voters their opinion on federal campaign finance rules, could be placed on the ballot by the Legislature. That would bring the total for Nov. 8 to 18 statewide propostions -- the most since March 2000.

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Bernie Sanders gives Tommy Chong the cold shoulder -- but it is chill

Tommy Chong is a big Bernie Sanders guy. He regularly tweets out love for the senator from Vermont. Earlier this year he and some volunteers got together and made a video supporting Sanders for president.

So he was kind of bummed when he was disinvited from introducing Sanders before a rally in East Los Angeles on Monday.

“It’s lip service to get the votes, but they don’t want to endorse what I stand for and what I’ve stood for all my professional career,” Chong told The Hollywood Reporter after he was uninvited to the rally. “It was an insult.”

A Sanders spokesman told the Reporter: “We appreciate his support but a scheduling issue came up.”

Later in the day Chong seemed to have mellowed out about the snub.

When The Times last spoke to Chong about the presidential race, he was upfront about his low opinion of Donald Trump and other Republicans in the race at the time.

He said Hillary Clinton would make a fine commander in chief, but he didn’t like her big-money donors.

“It is a money dance. They are dancing for whoever is pulling the strings,” he told The Times. “That’s what I like about Bernie; there is no one pulling the strings.”

Either way, Chong seemed to be all right on Tuesday. After all, it is his birthday. He is 78.

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