Updates on California politics: Lawmakers send gun measures to Gov. Brown, initiative on parole overhaul makes the Nov. 8 ballot

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Welcome to Essential Politics, our daily feed on California government and politics news. Here’s what we’re watching:

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Southern California lawmakers homeward bound after wrapping up work in Sacramento

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Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to revamp prison parole rules qualifies for the November ballot

California voters will consider expanded opportunities for state prisoners to be paroled under Gov. Jerry Brown’s initiative that qualified for the fall ballot on Thursday.

Brown, who unveiled his proposal at the end of January and successfully fought back a legal challenge that he had waited too late, has insisted the proposal is both an important fix to sentencing laws he helped loosen in 1977 and necessary to help the state comply with federal court orders to shrink the prison population.

(Lenny Ignelzi / Associated Press)

“If approved by the voters, this Public Safety Act will prevent court ordered inmate releases, encourage rehabilitation, and make California safer,” said the governor in a written statement on Thursday.

The initiative, an amendment to the state Constitution, would allow some prisoners serving time for a nonviolent crime to be eligible for early release based on their ability to earn credits for education efforts and good behavior while behind bars.

“Let’s take the basic structure of our criminal law and say, when you’ve served fully the primary sentence, you can be considered for parole,” Brown said when unveiling the proposal in January.

The ballot measure would also eliminate the existing law that sends some juvenile offenders immediately to an adult court hearing.

Brown hinted in a spring campaign fundraising email that the initiative is essential in preventing court-ordered prisoner releases to ease overcrowding.

The initiative was in danger of being blocked by a legal challenge, with district attorneys arguing that Brown had waited too late. The state Supreme Court rejected that challenge earlier this month.

Update 4:15 pm: This story has been updated to include a statement from Gov. Brown.

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Voters will weigh extension of temporary taxes on California’s wealthy taxpayers in November

An initiative to add 12 years to the life of temporary income tax rates on Californians earning above $250,000 a year secured a place on the Nov. 8 statewide ballot on Thursday.

The proposal, championed by a coalition of education and healthcare groups, seeks to extend the income tax provisions in 2012’s Proposition 30. Those taxes are set to expire in 2018.

The independent Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates the tax initiative will bring in at least $5 billion a year. Last month, budget advisors to Gov. Jerry Brown estimated the proposal could be the difference between small budget surpluses or multimillion-dollar deficits two years from now.

Brown, who led the campaign to pass Prop. 30, has not officially endorsed the new tax measure. But it was his insistence that forced the initiative’s backers to revise their plan in January so that a portion of the tax revenues would be placed in the state’s newly expanded rainy-day fund.

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President Obama signs two bills backed by California lawmakers

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What will Gov. Jerry Brown do on gun control bills?

(Andrew Burton / Getty Images)

California lawmakers sent new gun control legislation to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk on Thursday, including a measure to make it easier to confiscate weapons from someone a court deemed dangerous.

Reporters asked the governor whether he would sign or veto the bills as he left an event outside the Capitol.

His answer?

“I’ve got to look at them.”

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California lawmakers pass unprecedented package of gun control bills

California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), from left, Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) and Assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) shake hands after a measure to restrict the sale of ammunition was approved by the Assembly.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Spurred by outrage over recent mass shootings, California lawmakers on Thursday sent Gov. Jerry Brown a sweeping package of gun control bills, including a ban on the sale of semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines, background checks for those buying ammunition and new restrictions on homemade firearms.

The flood of bills was introduced in response to the December terrorist attack in San Bernardino that killed 14 people at a holiday party, but momentum for action swelled after the June 12 mass shooting at an Orlando, Fla., nightclub that killed 49 people.

“The killer sprayed that nightclub with bullets,” Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) said during the floor debate Thursday. “How could someone filled with so much hate have such easy access to ammunition?”

Among the bills the Senate sent the governor was a measure from De León that would require ammunition buyers to show an ID and have their name checked against a list of felons and others prohibited from having firearms.

Most Republicans voted against that bill and others. Republican Sen. Jim Nielsen of Gerber said the measures would hinder citizens who obey the laws and would be ignored by criminals.

“Gun violence is not committed by law-abiding citizens, it is committed by criminals,” Nielsen said during the floor debate.

The measures were expedited to the governor’s desk Thursday in hopes that he might act on them immediately.

Legislators hope to convince Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom to drop an initiative that has qualified for the November ballot that contains many of the same provisions in the gun bills approved Thursday. Newsom has indicated he has no plans to drop his ballot measure by Thursday’s deadline, saying his proposal goes further in controlling firearms.

California already has some of the toughest gun control laws in the nation, including a ban on assault rifles, but lawmakers said the new bills were meant to plug loopholes exploited by gun manufacturers and owners.

The bills sent to the governor include:

Ammunition sales: Requires an ID and background check to purchase ammunition and creates a new state database of ammunition owners

Large ammunition clips: Bans possession of ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 bullets.

Bullet buttons: Two proposals would strengthen California’s assault weapon law by outlawing a small buttonhole used for quickly swapping out ammunition magazines

Limit on gun loans: A new restriction on loaning guns without background checks.

Stolen gun reporting: Stolen or lost guns would have to reported within five days.

False gun reporting: A new punishment for falsely reporting guns as stolen

Ghost guns: Homemade “ghost guns” would need to be registered and there would be new limits on selling them

Long gun limits: Only one rifle or shotgun could be purchased per month

Gun research: Urges Congress to lift the prohibition against publicly funded scientific research on the causes of gun violence and its effects on public health

Gun restraining orders: Bans a person subject to a “gun violence restraining order” from having any firearms or ammunition while the order is in effect

Gun theft: Clarifies that theft of a firearm is grand theft and is punishable as a felony

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Low-income housing bond still alive for November ballot

The author of a $3-billion proposal to build low-income housing statewide still wants the measure to appear before voters in November, even though it won’t meet the deadline for getting issues on the ballot.

The measure from Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose) has passed the Senate but now is in the Assembly Appropriations Committee awaiting action before would reach the Assembly floor. It requires a two-thirds vote to pass as well as the signature of Gov. Jerry Brown before it goes before voters.

Beall is aiming to get the measure approved by the Assembly committee prior to the Aug. 12 deadline for fiscal legislation, according to his office. Lawmakers have routinely bypassed normal election deadlines in years past to add proposals to the fall ballot late into the summer.

The bond would pay for new housing construction — specifically for development near transit and in high-density urban areas — and provide housing for farmworkers and mortgage assistance.

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Lawmakers give final approval to a $2-billion bond to help house the homeless

A bipartisan group of legislators sent Gov. Jerry Brown a $2-billion bond measure on Thursday that would provide housing for the homeless who suffer from mental illness.

The proposal, part of a plan unveiled by Senate Democrats in January, would fund new and refurbished housing in communities across California. The bonds will be repaid with proceeds from a tax on incomes above $1 million, approved by voters in 2004 to fund mental health programs.

“Republicans and Democrats alike recognize that finding permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless suffering from mental illness will improve the quality of life in our communities and give hope to thousands of Californians,” said Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) in a statement.

The proposal, part of the new state budget deal, earned bipartisan support after GOP demands for a separate effort to boost funding for helping homeless veterans and youth.

“We also fought to create more oversight and accountability in how funds to serve the state’s mentally ill population are spent,” said Assembly GOP leader Chad Mayes (R-Yucca Valley) in a statement.

Brown is expected to sign the bond proposal into law.

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Bill sent to governor requires background checks on ammunition buyers

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Lawmakers send governor bill to expand seizure of guns from persons judged dangerous

(Scott Olson / Getty Images)

State lawmakers on Thursday sent the governor a bill that would significantly expand a law that allows certain people to petition to the courts to confiscate guns from persons deemed to be dangerous.

Part of a large batch of gun-control measures expected to be acted on Thursday by the Legislature, the “gun violence restraining order” bill was given final legislative approval by the Senate after a debate in which supporters invoked the mass shootings in Orlando, Fla., and San Bernardino and Isla Vista.

The Isla Vista incident in 2014, in which a disturbed man killed six UC Santa Barbara students and wounded 13 others, resulted in a law that took effect in January that allows the police and family members to petition a court for a “gun violence restraining order,” removing firearms from persons they believe are dangerous for up to one year.

The Isla Vista shooter’s family tried unsuccessfully to alert authorities about his troubling behavior before the incident.

In Orlando, where a gunman killed 49 people this month, co-workers of the killer told authorities beforehand that they were concerned he might be a public danger after he bragged of being part of Hezbollah and said he hoped to die as a martyr when police raided his apartment.

The bill sent to the governor Thursday expands the list of those who can petition for restraining orders to include co-workers, employers, mental health professionals and employees of high schools and colleges.

Those people, according to state Sen. Hannah Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), “are the most likely to see early warning signs when someone is becoming a danger to themselves or others.”

She said 30 restraining orders have been issued under the current law.

“This is trying to prevent a tragedy from happening,” she said.

Republican Sen. Jim Nielsen of Gerber voted with other Republicans against the bill, saying it could lead to disgruntled co-workers reporting each other.

“This goes a little too far,” Nielsen said.

The order to remove guns from an individual can be appealed by the individual who is targeted. So far this year, Los Angeles County reports seven “gun violence restraining orders” have been issued.

The NRA and other gun-owner rights groups are joined in opposing the measure by the American Civil Liberties Union of California, which said in a letter to lawmakers that the bill “creates significant potential for civil rights violations.”

Co-workers with an irrational fear may target a fellow employee without cause, and the bill lacks sufficient due process protections, the ACLU warned.

“An ex-parte order means the person subjected to the restraining order is not informed of the court proceeding and therefore has no opportunity to appear to contest the allegations,” the group wrote.

Meanwhile, legislative leaders including Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De León (D-Los Angeles) have requested that Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom drop an initiative that has qualified for the November ballot that has many of the same gun laws proposed in legislation.

If the initiative passes, its provisions would supersede new laws approved by the Legislature where they overlap.

A squabble has erupted between the De León and Newsom camps over the Senate leader’s decision to amend one of his bills that would require those buying ammunition to show identification so a seller can check that if that person is on a list of felons and others prohibited from possessing firearms.

Under the amendment, De León’s ammo bill would become law instead of a similar provision in the initiative.

Dan Newman, a political consultant for the Newsom initiative, said the change jeopardizes attempts to toughen the law.

“It raises a slew of legal questions which risk giving the NRA the chance to thwart progress by tying it up in the courts,” Newman said.

Dan Reeves, the chief of staff for De León, said the legislation is a better proposal.

“The amendment is designed to ensure a smoother implementation of background checks for ammunition purchases that is less burdensome to gun owners and will cost taxpayers half as much,” Reeves said.

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National Democrats hope to connect Republican in heavily Latino district to Donald Trump

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is forging ahead with efforts to link Rep. David Valadao (R-Hanford) with Donald Trump’s rhetoric, despite the congressman’s announcement last week that he won’t back the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

“The only thing that has changed is that David Valadao has exposed himself as a say-anything politician in deep trouble,” committee spokeswoman Barb Solish said in a statement. “Valadao’s words are too little, too late. Running from Trump is no longer an option, and Valadao must accept the reality that he is on the Trump ticket.”

Democrats have targeted Valadao’s heavily Latino Central Valley district as a potential pickup opportunity in the fall.

Valadao avoided talking about the presidential race for months, saying he would support the eventual nominee.

But in a statement released by his campaign Thursday, Valadao said he can’t support Trump and he won’t back presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton either.

He cited concerns with Trump’s understanding of foreign policy and the legislative process in an interview with KBAK-TV in Bakersfield.

It isn’t yet clear whether Valadao will face Emilio Jesus Huerta or Daniel Parra in the fall. As of Thursday morning, Huerta led by 1,117 votes.

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Voters will consider a new use for bag fees on November ballot

California voters in November will not only decide whether to uphold the state’s plastic bag ban, but will also whether to redirect fees on paper and reusable bags to environmental projects.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla on Wednesday announced that a bag fee initiative, backed by the plastic bag industry, has qualified for the Nov. 8 statewide ballot.

The American Progressive Bag Alliance submitted nearly 600,000 signatures in favor of the initiative after it gathered more than 800,000 signatures on petitions for a referendum on the statewide bag ban.

The bag ban law “has never been about protecting the environment,” Lee Califf, executive director of the bag alliance, said in a prepared statement. “This measure gives voters the opportunity to make sure that any state-mandated fee will go to environmental causes, which is what voters thought they were getting in the first place.”

The ballot measure would require stores to deposit their bag sale proceeds into a special fund administered by the Wildlife Conservation Board. It would mandate the board develop regulations to implement the law.

An analysis by the independent Legislative Analyst’s Office has estimated that revenue redirected from retailers to environmental efforts could total tens of millions of dollars annually.

If the referendum is successful in stopping the statewide ban on single-use bags, then the initiative would only impact bag fees in communities with local bans in place.

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Initiative to speed up the death penalty process qualifies for the November ballot

A death row inmate is escorted at San Quentin State Prison.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

An initiative that aims to speed up executions in California qualified for the Nov. 8 ballot on Thursday, making it one of two competing measures voters will weigh on the death penalty.

The Secretary of State’s Office said it was able to verify a random sample of signatures among the more than 593,000 collected.

Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, co-chair of the Californians for Death Penalty Reform and Savings Campaign, called it an important day for public safety and said the organization would work to kill the opposing ballot measure.

“Death row killers earned their sentences recommended by juries and imposed by judges across California,” Schubert said. “Justice demands that those sentences be carried out. These killers should not be rewarded by repealing the death penalty.”

Both capital punishment ballot measures would require current death row inmates to work and pay restitution to victims. One measure would keep the death penalty, while the other would replace it with life without parole.

The pro-death-penalty initiative limits the number of petitions prisoners can file to challenge their convictions and sentences, and would provide new deadlines intended to expedite appeals.

It requires attorneys appointed to the cases of indigent defendants who take non-capital appeals to accept death penalty appeals, and it exempts prison officials from the state’s regulatory process for developing execution drugs.

Death penalty supporters say the measure would reform a broken system, reducing the time from conviction to execution from as long as 30 years to 10 to 15 years.

The independent Legislative Analyst’s Office has estimated that the initiative could potentially provide the state tens of millions of dollars annually in correctional savings. But it could cost the state just as much annually for appeals proceedings over a period of several years, and its fiscal impact on such court expenses in the longer run is unknown.

UPDATE 6:20 p.m. This story has been updated with additional information.

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California House Republicans ask President Obama to halt benefits for immigrants in the U.S. illegally

(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

Nine California Republican House members are asking the Obama administration to reject California’s application to extend benefits under the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to those in the country illegally.

Earlier this month, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill to make California the first state to ask federal officials to allow immigrants in the U.S. illegally to buy insurance through its state health exchange. Under SB 10, the state will formally ask the federal government to allow those in the U.S. illegally to buy insurance through Covered California, without cost to the state or federal government.

The House members’ letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew was released Wednesday.

“This brazen attempt to circumvent the will of Congress adds insult to injury for the millions of Americans who have already been aggravated and misled by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” the letter states.

The letter also points to a 2009 address Obama made to a joint session of Congress.

“There are those who claim that our reform effort will insure illegal immigrants. This too is false,” Obama said in the speech. “The reforms I’m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.”

The Affordable Care Act explicitly prohibits people from purchasing coverage through a state insurance exchange if they aren’t legal residents.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) said in a statement the letter is about keeping those commitments.

“When this disaster of a law passed, the American people were told under no uncertain terms that coverage under Obamacare would not be extended to illegal immigrants,” he said. “Yet here we are six years later and the state of California is already trying to wipe away this promise.”

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Rep. Maxine Waters slams House Speaker Paul Ryan at L.A. gun control event: ‘He’s spineless’

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Rep. Xavier Becerra hosts gun control discussion at L.A. City Hall

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Billionaire Tom Steyer won’t decide whether to run for governor until after November

Tom Steyer is considering a run for governor of California while spending millions to register voters.
Tom Steyer is considering a run for governor of California while spending millions to register voters.
(AFP / Getty Images)

As he attended a Capitol rally Wednesday with the head of the United Farm Workers and later gave a speech to the Harry S. Truman Democratic Club, billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer looked very much like a candidate running for office.

But the former hedge fund manager hedged when asked when he will decide whether to run for governor of California.

“I am completely committed between now and Nov. 8 to working for a great Democratic victory, and after that I will figure out what the best way is to keep pushing the same values we are pushing this year,” Steyer told The Times in an interview before the UFW event.

At the event, UFW President Arturo Rodriguez praised Steyer for donating thousands of large bottles of water to pickers working in California’s fields during this year’s hot harvest, and both men called for agricultural businesses to abide by tough new rules to protect farm workers from overexposure to the sun.

Steyer was scheduled later to give a speech to the Democratic club on his “vision for California.”

His frequent public appearances have many speculating that he will run for governor in 2018. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is the only high-profile candidate who has already declared his candidacy for governor.

Steyer has spent about $700,000 to help register Democratic voters for this year’s elections and contributed $1 million to help get a measure on the November ballot that would raise the tobacco tax in California.

“We know what we believe in and what we are fighting for. but the right way to take on that fight at any one time I honestly don’t know,” he said. “There’s a lot of water to flow under the bridge before I make a decision about what is the right thing to do after November.”

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State lawmakers still at a stalemate on police transparency rules

California lawmakers have reached a stalemate over how much the public should know about the official activities of police officers.

All but one of this year’s major bills dealing with access to police records are now dead, leaving the state’s strong limitations against releasing law enforcement information in tact.

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Initiative to legalize recreational pot use qualifies for November California ballot

Different strains of pot are displayed for sale at a marijuana dispensary in Denver in 2013.
Different strains of pot are displayed for sale at a marijuana dispensary in Denver in 2013.
(Brennan Linsley / Associated Press)

An initiative that would legalize the recreational use of marijuana in California officially qualified for the Nov. 8 ballot on Tuesday as the campaign for the measure has taken a commanding lead in fundraising for the battle ahead with opponents.

The Secretary of State’s Office certified that a random sample found sufficient signatures among the 600,000 turned in by a coalition that includes former Facebook President Sean Parker and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.

“We think voters in California are ready to end marijuana prohibition and replace it with a more sensible system,” said Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, which has about 200,000 supporters nationwide.

The initiative would allow adults ages 21 and older to possess, transport and use up to an ounce of cannabis for recreational purposes and would allow individuals to grow as many as six plants.

More than $3.7 million has been raised so far by the leading campaign for the initiative, Californians to Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana While Protecting Children.

The opposition campaign, which argues it is bad for public safety, has raised about $125,000 so far from groups including the Assn. of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs State PAC and the Los Angeles County Professional Peace Officers Assn.

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Healthcare workers union is withdrawing its November initiative on hospital CEO salaries

Four days after losing a court battle with hospitals, leaders of California’s healthcare workers union decided Tuesday to abandon a ballot measure that would limit the annual compensation of hospital executives.

The executive board of the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers will now ask to have almost 650,000 voter signatures set aside on the initiative to limit CEO pay at nonprofit hospitals.

“This is only a short-term delay,” said Steve Trossman, a spokesman for SEIU-UHW. “We’re going to be coming back in 2018.”

On Friday, a Sacramento judge agreed with an arbitrator that the union had violated what amounted to a peace pact with the California Hospitals Assn. when it filed the initiative in late 2015.

Based on preliminary data from county elections officials, the initiative was on its way to qualifying for the Nov. 8 ballot. Thursday is the deadline for the checking of signatures on all initiatives to be completed.

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U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez: Extended trip to Spain was ‘on my own dime’

(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

As dozens of House Democrats staged a 25-hour sit-in on Capitol Hill last week to demand votes on gun control legislation, all but one Democratic House member from California joined in.

Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Orange) was unable to participate because she was in Spain after a two-day trade mission there, her representative said. Sanchez extended her stay after the trade mission by six days.

At a campaign event in Santa Monica on Tuesday to discuss education policy, Sanchez responded to questions about her absence from the sit-in, saying there wasn’t much she could do while out of the country once she found out about the action.

“The sit-in was very organic, and it just happened on Wednesday night,” Sanchez said. “I took the first flight available from Spain.”

Sanchez flew out of Spain that Thursday morning.

Initially, Sanchez’s aides told The Times she was unable to participate in the sit-in because she was out of the country for the trade mission. But the trade mission ended June 17, six days before Sanchez left Europe.

Her staff later said Sanchez was meeting with officials in Gibraltar about trade and the “Brexit” vote, and took a personal day.

“That was all on my own dime, by the way,” Sanchez said Tuesday, adding that her husband also paid his way to accompany her on the trip.

Sanchez said her meetings with officials, including the commandant and chief minister of Gibraltar, occurred after the trade mission.

“I like to go and talk to leaders, especially when they’re asking to talk to us without the State Department,” she said.

Luis Vizcaino, a Sanchez U.S. Senate campaign spokesman, said afterward that any suggestion that Sanchez’s absence from the sit-in indicates a lack of commitment to stricter gun controls is “outrageous.”

He pointed to a 2015 report from the state auditor that state Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, Sanchez’s opponent for U.S. Senate, failed to implement recommendations related to a state program intended to keep guns out of the hands of potentially dangerous people.

“If anybody’s putting public safety at risk in terms of gun control, it’s the attorney general,” he said. “When [members of Congress] return in July, and if there’s a sit-in, the congresswoman will be there shoulder to shoulder with her colleagues.”

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House Democrats demand gun control vote during recess

Rep. Doris Matsui and some of her fellow Democrats drowned out the acting speaker Tuesday afternoon during a brief, routine House meeting as they demanded a vote on gun legislation.

The House has recessed until July 5, but meets for short “pro forma” sessions every few days in an effort to block the president from making recess appointments. Typically no legislative business or debate occurs during such sessions, and except for a member chosen as acting speaker, they are rarely attended by members of Congress.

Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) told reporters afterward that the Democrats wanted to remind the public that the House went on a break without holding a vote on gun control or safety. Democrats want increased background checks and to prohibit people on the FBI’s watch list from purchasing guns.

Before House members left, Democrats seized the floor for a 25-hour sit-in, telling personal stories of constituents who have died, shouting down the speaker whenever he moved for a vote and occasionally breaking into song.

“We were standing up for the American people against the intransigence of the Republican majority,” Matsui said Tuesday. “Quite frankly, we need to do something. We had to do something.”

Dozens of House Democrats are holding gun-violence-related events back home Wednesday to keep attention on the issue as news of the June 12 killing of 49 people in an Orlando gay nightclub fades from the headlines.

California Democrats are holding similar events in Los Angeles, San Francisco and other cities around the state this week.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) told a Wisconsin radio station this week that he won’t tolerate another sit-in when the House returns.

“We are not going to handle it the same way,” Ryan said Sunday on WISN’s “UpFront with Mike Gousha.” “We will not take this. We will not tolerate this.”

Matsui said if Republican leaders will work with Democrats there doesn’t have to be another sit-in.

Israel wouldn’t commit to another sit-in when the House returns after July 4, saying the minority party has other tools in its toolbox.

“If Speaker Ryan insists on denying the American people a vote on ‘no-fly, no-buy’ then we’ll reach into that toolbox and continue to avail ourselves of the tools,” he said. “Some will be blunt, some will be sharp. Some will be blunt and sharp. Today we are here.”

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Rep. Loretta Sanchez talks college affordability with recent grads in L.A. area

On the heels of a trade mission to Spain, Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Orange) was back in California on Tuesday, holding a roundtable discussion with recent graduates and other people to discuss education policy.

Sanchez noted that she relied on federal and state education grants when she attended college, and was enrolled as a toddler in the early childhood education program Head Start.

“My parents came to this country with very little education...and with very little money,” Sanchez said, noting that they went on to raise seven college-educated kids. “I think they did pretty well.”

Sanchez listened as recent graduates, a fifth-grade teacher and a grandfather of 13 shared their concerns about the cost of education.

Evan Zemlin-Kisor, 25, said he graduated earlier this year form Chapman University and will attend Loyola Law School this fall.

He emphasized the importance of stabilizing tuition hikes so that students don’t end up owing vastly more than they anticipated.

“I want to know at the beginning what I’m paying for,” he said.

Ann Steinberg, a fifth-grade teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District, said she’s appalled by the amount of debt students leave college with today.

“Today, I really see everybody struggling to pay those fees,” Steinberg said. “The fact that you can buy a house at 3% interest, and these kids are paying 6% or 9% — it’s actually gouging them.”

Sanchez touted college affordability proposals she’s supported, including one to nearly double the amount of Pell grants available and another that would allow students to refinance student debt at lower interest rates.

“Back in Washington, you’re dealing in the millions and the my colleagues, they don’t see that $30,000, that’s a big amount,” Sanchez told the group. “I’m a Head Start kid. Thirty-thousand dollars is a heck of a lot of money to me.”

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Bill requiring ‘tobacco-only’ stores for cigarette sales snuffed out in committee

Just weeks after Gov. Jerry Brown signed a package of anti-tobacco bills, including one raising the smoking age to 21, a coalition of retail stores defeated an attempt Tuesday to also limit cigarette sales to “tobacco-only” stores off-limits to minors.

Sen. Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) introduced the bill that would have banned the sale of tobacco products in supermarkets and other stores where minors are allowed to shop without adult supervision. The lawmaker said his proposal would protect minors from marketing efforts to get them to smoke so they can avoid the negative health effects of smoking.

The proposal had been approved by the state Senate, but on Tuesday ran into trouble in the Assembly Committee on Business and Professions, where it was opposed by the California Retailers Assn.

“While tobacco is a legal product in California, our members would like to continue to responsibly offer it for sale to age-appropriate consumers,” the association said in a recent statement.

On Tuesday, when the committee chair asked if any member wanted to move the bill, nobody spoke up. Without a motion and second, the bill died without a vote.

“It’s disappointing that Assembly support didn’t match public support to reduce the ubiquitous presence of tobacco retailers and thereby improve the health of Californians,” Wieckowski said..”

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Stricter sex assault punishment approved by Senate committee after outcry over Stanford case

Former Stanford student and athlete Brock Turner appears in a Palo Alto courtroom on Feb. 2, 2015.
Former Stanford student and athlete Brock Turner appears in a Palo Alto courtroom on Feb. 2, 2015.
(Karl Mondon / San Jose Mercury News via Associated Press)

Legislation to close what prosecutors call a loophole in California’s sex assault law, a provision that kept a former Stanford student out of prison after a brutal campus attack, cleared its first legislative hurdle in Sacramento on Tuesday.

“Simply put, rape is rape,” said Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell), the bill’s author. “We believe there should be consistency in addressing this issue.”

Assembly Bill 2888 was quickly introduced in the wake of public outcry over the six-month jail sentence given to Brock Turner for the sexual attack on an unconscious woman after a campus party. Under existing law, Turner was eligible for a sentence that included probation instead of prison.

Santa Clara County Deputy Dist. Atty. Alaleh Kianerci, who prosecuted Turner, told state senators at Tuesday’s hearing that the trauma experienced by the victim was no less than that of any other rape victim.

The woman who was attacked has continued to remain anonymous, identified only in court documents as Emily Doe.

“We all need to try to protect the next Emily Doe,” said Kianerci.

Anyone convicted of eight specific sexual assault crimes would no longer be eligible for probation under AB 2888, with most of the crimes being ones that involve alcohol and any other “intoxicating or anesthetic substance.”

Several lawmakers said that the bill may be best seen as addressing the larger problem of how to punish sex crimes on college campuses.

“It’s about changing a culture and preventing future crimes,” said Assemblyman Bill Dodd (D-Napa), the bill’s co-author.

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U.S. Rep. Janice Hahn brings sit-in against gun violence home to L.A.

(Christine Mai-Duc / Los Angeles Times)

Days after participating in a sit-in on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Los Angeles) brought an event of her own to her South Los Angeles district.

The setting, the multi-purpose room of a high school, was far less ornate and the participants sat in chairs, Hahn noted. But, she added, the sentiment was the same.

“I’m sick of moments of silence. I’m sick of silence,” Hahn said. “Let’s not take ‘no’ for an answer. We’ve had too much gun violence in this country.”

The evening opened with a clip of Rep. John Lewis’ (D-Ga.) impassioned speech at the Washington sit-in, in which he called on House leaders to call a vote for two gun control measures.

Hahn spoke in front of a wall plastered with the photos of dozens of victims of gun violence, with their names, ages and the cities where they died inscribed beneath.

“I’m not going to be shut down on this issue. They can turn off our [microphones], they can turn off the cameras,” she said. “But I’m not going to be shut down.”

One after another, community members and constituents rose to speak tearfully about friends and family members they had lost to shootings.

A woman whose nephew had been shot multiple times in the back spoke, along with a mother who said she’s afraid for her gay son’s safety after the Orlando shooting. A man whose son was killed 24 years ago said he still cries every day for him.

“These types of guns don’t belong here,” said Basil Kimbrew, whose son was killed in 1992. “I’m a strong, black man but when it comes to my kid, I wobble, you know?”

He urged Hahn to “do what you have to do...please send a message to Speaker of the House.”

Two gun rights supporters also addressed the crowd, raising issues about restricting Syrian refugees and encroachment on 2nd Amendment rights. They were booed by the crowd before being allowed to continue.

“When you do a sit-in, you do it to get rights, not take rights away,” said one speaker, who called the congressional sit-in a “waste of time.”

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California voters will be asked this November to change the rules for passing bills in the Legislature

An initiative requiring any legislation be in print for three days before final passage at the Capitol earned a spot on the Nov. 8 statewide ballot on Monday, an effort supporters claim will end the long tradition of 11th hour political deals quickly turned into California law.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla reported that the initiative’s proponents, former Republican state Sen. Sam Blakeslee and influential GOP donor Charles Munger Jr., collected more than 644,000 voter signatures. This is the final week for fall ballot measures to qualify, and as many as 17 other measures are poised to earn a spot once the list is finalized on Thursday.

For more than three years, lawmakers have considered efforts to make bills subject to a 72-hour public review period. But each of those proposals failed, leading Blakeslee and Munger to file their initiative last November.

The initiative also imposes new rules on lawmakers to broadcast their proceedings online, and it eliminates long-standing restrictions on the use of legislative video and audio in political campaigns.

In the past few weeks, lawmakers have been scrambling to offer their own version of the proposal and perhaps convince Munger to drop his effort. But in a legislative hearing last week, Munger made it clear: He won’t do it.

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California budget signed by Gov. Jerry Brown

Gov. Jerry Brown approved a new state budget on Monday, signing into law a $171-billion spending plan that will take effect on July 1.

“This solid budget makes responsible investments in California and sets aside billions of dollars to prepare for the next recession,” he said in a statement.

Brown also signed several related measures, and he didn’t veto anything from the legislation, signaling an unusual level of agreement with lawmakers. In previous years, Brown has used his line-item veto power to make small changes to the budget, even if he agrees with the overall spending plan.

The budget will increase funding for state-subsidized child care and remove a limit on welfare payments for families who have additional children while receiving benefits.

It also boosts the state’s reserves, depositing an extra $2 billion into a rainy-day fund intended as a cushion against any future economic downturns.

“California is in stronger fiscal shape than we have been for years,” Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) said in a statement.

More work remains on state spending. The budget sets aside $400 million for affordable housing, but it won’t be spent unless the governor and lawmakers reach a deal on streamlining regulations for building new homes.

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Top lawmakers seal bipartisan deal on homeless bond

A $2-billion bond measure to help house homeless people suffering from mental illness appears poised for approval after an agreement was reached between Democratic and Republican leaders.

The modified legislation includes new requirements for overseeing how the money is spent, and the deal includes a separate bill that sets aside additional money for homeless veterans and youth.

“The millions in new funding championed by Republicans will help our homeless veterans and youth receive the shelter and support they need to get their lives back on track,” Assembly Republican leader Chad Mayes of Yucca Valley said in a statement.

The $10 million for veterans would come from a separate bond measure approved by lawmakers in 2014, and the $10 million for youth would come from an emergency housing fund.

Meanwhile, the $2-billion bond would use revenue raised through Proposition 63, a voter-approved tax on millionaires. Because the measure involves borrowing money, it requires a two-thirds vote in the Legislature.

“Republican and Democrats alike recognize that finding permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless suffering from mental illness will improve the quality of life in our communities and give hope to thousands of Californians currently living in despair across our state,” Democratic Senate leader Kevin de León of Los Angeles said in a statement.

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Travel problems for the Senate leader