Rep. Adam Schiff called on U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric Hodler on Wednesday to accept an appellate court decision to repeal Bush-era background checks for employees at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and instead develop a new security system “without trampling on the privacy of our best scientists and engineers.”

JPL scientists and engineers won a legal victory June 4 in their fight against a Bush-era directive to submit to more intrusive background checks after the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upheld a 2008 injunction against the practice.

The class-action lawsuit against Homeland Security Directive 12, issued under the Bush administration in 2004, was filed in 2007 by 28 JPL employees after they were told they would have to submit to an extensive background check that could include interviews with friends, neighbors and co-workers or anyone the agency deemed important. The checks could also include questions regarding an individual’s health history and sexual orientation.

In his letter urging Holder to accept the appellate court’s decision, Schiff acknowledged the need to safeguard cutting-edge NASA research performed at JPL’s Pasadena campus, but urged the attorney general to accept the appellate court’s decision, arguing that the terms of Directive 12 “are clearly unnecessary and violative of the plaintiffs’ privacy without any corresponding gain to national security.”

The federal government now has 60 days from the June 4 ruling to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Antonovich joins protest over cut funding to jails

Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich on Thursday announced his intent to introduce a motion that would join a growing chorus of opposition to proposed cuts in federal funding for the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, who runs the largest county jail system in the nation, has said the loss of about $14 million in federal funding — proposed as part of President Obama’s budget released last month — would be especially harsh in light of potential cuts that could come down as a result of the state budget crisis.

The county spent $97 million to incarcerate illegal immigrants last year, and that’s expected to increase slightly this year, according to the Sheriff’s Department. The law requires immigrants be prosecuted, sentenced and incarcerated before they can be deported, putting county officials in a tough bind without the federal subsidy.

Antonovich visited the White House last month to lobby for more assistance program funds, which have become increasingly scarce as more states apply for the subsidy.

In a statement released Thursday, Antonovich said the latest proposal to cut funding “shifts another unfunded responsibility to county taxpayers already overburdened with over $1 billion in health care, welfare, public safety and other costs resulting from the federal government’s failure to enforce its borders.”

An amendment co-written by Rep. David Dreier that would instead boost funding for the subsidy by $100 million was unanimously passed by the House this week. Rep. Adam Schiff and other area representatives signed on to the proposal. If approved, it would bring funding to $400 million for the next fiscal year.

Dreier, whose district includes portions of the foothills, said the increased funding was necessary given California’s “disproportionate burden of the nationwide cost of illegal immigration.”

Bill to ban trucks on Angeles Crest advances

State Sen. Carol Liu’s bill banning semi-trucks from the steep and windy Angeles Crest Highway was unanimously endorsed by the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee on Tuesday.

Assembly Bill 1361, co-written by state Sen. Anthony Portantino, now goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration. The bill would ban commercial, five-axle trucks from using the highway to reach the 210 Freeway.

The California Department of Transportation announced a similar 90-day ban two days after a runaway big rig killed two people and injured 12 others after it blew through the Foothill Boulevard intersection and rammed into a bookstore.

Palmdale residents Angel Jorge Posca, 58, and his 12-year-old daughter, Angelina, were killed.

The driver of the double-decker, car-carrying truck, 43-year-old Marcos Barbosa Costa of Massachusetts, was charged with two counts of vehicular manslaughter.

La Cañada Flintridge officials have for years been calling for restrictions on trucks using the mountainous pass as a shortcut, pointing to a history of big rig-related accidents at the foot of the pass.

In September, a tractor-trailer carrying 78,000 pounds of onions lost its brakes while coming down Angeles Crest Highway and careened into cars in a restaurant parking lot on the 1000 block of Foothill Boulevard.

Schiff calls for the release of reporters

Rep. Adam Schiff, co-chairman of the Congressional Caucus for Freedom of the Press, introduced a resolution Thursday urging North Korea to release American journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee on humanitarian grounds.

The women have been held since March 17, when they were detained by North Korean soldiers on the border with China. On June 8, the Korean Central News Agency reported that Ling and Lee had been tried for violating North Korean law and sentenced to 12 years of hard labor.

U.S. officials have since worried publicly that the women will be used as political pawns in the ongoing nuclear nonproliferation issue with the reclusive Communist country.

— Jason Wells

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