Political Landscape: Gatto garners post and speaker positions

Gatto garners post and speaker positions

On Wednesday, California Assembly Speaker John Perez (D - Los Angeles) named Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Silver Lake) assistant speaker pro tempore, while tapping the freshman lawmaker for several influential committee posts.

Gatto will serve on the Appropriations, Arts and Entertainment, Banking and Government Operations committees, as well as the Water, Parks and Wildlife committee. As assistant speaker, Gatto will preside over the Assembly when Perez is absent.

"I'm honored to have been appointed to this post," Gatto said in a statement. "I appreciate the confidence placed in me by the speaker and my peers, and I will use the new position to continue to push for the common-sense reforms that matter to our district and the state of California."

Schiff differs on tax compromise

The tax compromise between President Obama and congressional Republicans passed in the U.S. Senate Wednesday, and is now headed for Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) and his colleagues in the House of Representatives.

Schiff is among those displeased with aspects of the bill. The measure extends Bush-era income tax cuts to all citizens, whereas Democrats originally sought to limit the continued tax breaks to only those making $250,000 a year or less.

Democrats have given up the fight on that issue, and are turning to another part of the bill that affects estate taxes, paid by heirs to family fortunes and businesses.

"There are certainly parts of the package I like," Schiff said. "I like the extension of the middle-income tax cuts. But there are things in this package that seem gratuitous and unaffordable. The one that seems most misplaced is the expansion of the estate tax (exemption)."

Current law requires family members inheriting property worth $3.5 million or more to pay up to 55% of the net value of the estate in taxes.

Earlier this year, Schiff and other Democrats proposed exempting estates worth up to $7 million and capping the tax rate at 45%.

The bill approved in the Senate on Wednesday lifts the exemption to $10 million and caps the tax at 35%.

Schiff said the difference between the Democratic proposal and the one in the current bill only affects 6,600 families in the nation, but will cost the U.S. Treasury tens of billions of dollars at a time of deep deficits.

"That's a $23-billion Christmas present to 6,600 families. We can't afford to do it," Schiff said.

The House is scheduled to start wrestling with the bill this week.

"I hope we have a chance to take that piece out," Schiff said.

Whether the House succeeds in changing the law, Schiff said the measure must be approved by New Year's Eve or everyone in the nation will face higher taxes.

"We have to act on this before next year," he said.

Court of Appeals rules in heirs' favor

Rep. Adam Schiff (D- Burbank) last week saw returns from a measure he worked on years ago as a state senator.

On Friday, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that heirs of victims of the Armenian Genocide can proceed with lawsuits against insurance companies that have refused to pay off claims dating back to the time of the atrocity. The case was filed by Glendale's Vazken Movsesian, a priest at St. Peter Armenian Church, and more than a thousand other Armenian-Americans.

The court affirmed the use of a 2000 California law allowing Holocaust victims and others to sue insurers over longstanding losses. Schiff was a co-sponsor of that law.

"I have some history with that particular issue," Schiff said. "This is a wonderful result for victims and their families."

Schiff filed a brief with the 9th Circuit urging a panel of 11 judges to overturn a 2009 ruling that rejected Movsesian's claims. Yet Schiff said he was surprised to see the same three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit judges — Stephen Reinhardt, Dorothy Nelson and David Thompson — essentially reverse their decision made last year. Actually, only Nelson, appointed to the bench by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, changed her opinion in the 2-1 ruling.

"I was very surprised by the original opinion, especially by Judge Nelson," Schiff said. "I was delighted to see she reached a different conclusion."

Schiff is now the author of an Armenian Genocide recognition bill pending in Congress. The bill has stalled for several years because of opposition by the Turkish government.

Schiff said he is hopeful that the court case would give the resolution a nudge.

"I think all of these things help move the issue and the resolution forward." Just as importantly, he said, "It helps the victims of the genocide itself get a measure of compensation."

Keeping the lights off the night skies

A starry-eyed Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich saw successful passage of a bill he co-sponsored to preserve dark skies over unincorporated parts of the county.

The board of supervisors on Tuesday passed a measure sponsored by Antonovich, whose district includes Glendale and Burbank, and Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky to impose outdoor lighting standards that supporters said would keep the skies dark enough for stargazers, save energy and reduce the impact of development on wildlife.

Areas expected to benefit the most include the Antelope and Santa Clarita valleys in Antonovich's district, as well as the Santa Monica Mountains, much of which is in Yaroslavsky's district.

The law calls for county planners to create a "rural lighting" zoning overlay, set lighting standards, seek community input and prepare a proposal for the board no later than September 2011.

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