CA nears letting undocumented immigrants buy health care

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

Immigrants living in the country illegally would be allowed to buy health coverage on California’s insurance exchange under a bill that passed the state Assembly on Tuesday.

Already at the forefront of enacting immigrant-friendly policies, California could become the first state permitting immigrants to use the insurance exchanges created by the new federal healthcare law. Senate Bill 10 would have California petition the federal government for the right to do so. Undocumented immigrants using the exchange would not be eligible for the public subsidies that extend to other lower-income shoppers.

The measure passed 54-19, with two Republicans locked in tough re-election campaigns joining every Democrat in voting in favor. The measure now heads to the Senate for a final vote, before advancing to Gov. Jerry Brown.

Earlier in May, California began extending full benefits to undocumented children enrolled in Medi-Cal, the state’s low-income insurance program. …

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Democrats win 31st Assembly District showdown

As reported by the Fresno Bee:

In the days leading up to the 31st Assembly District’s 2004 election, then-Assembly Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield made a prediction: “Someday, this will be our seat.”

That day may never come.

There was a special election Tuesday to fill the unexpired term of Fresno Democrat Henry T. Perea, who resigned a year early to take a job with the pharmaceutical industry, and it appears all but certain that Kingsburg Democrat Joaquin Arambula will win the race. Just before midnight, his main opponent, Fresno Republican Clint Olivier, conceded.

Republicans always like their chances in special elections, which historically have …

Array of gifts given to California lawmakers in 2015

As reported by the Los Angeles Times:

State legislators accepted more than $892,000 in gifts last year, including foreign trips, expensive dinners, concert and sports tickets, golf games, spa treatments, Disneyland admissions and bottles of tequila and wine, according to filings released Wednesday.

Lawmakers had their expenses covered by others for educational and trade trips to France, China, Argentina, Australia, Taiwan, Singapore, Mexico and Israel.

In fact, travel costs dominate the gift tallies from last year with a large number of lawmakers deciding to fly overseas for conferences or policy meetings paid for entirely by influential interest groups and foundations.

The travel included 21 lawmakers who attended a conference in Maui in November at a cost of about $3,000 per person, paid for by a nonprofit group funded by oil and tobacco firms and other interests lobbying the Legislature. …

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Lowest-Paid Legislators Wear Distinction As Badge of Honor

Richard RothOnly in public office could the distinction of lowest paid be worn as a badge of honor.

But Richard Roth, a Riverside Democrat, has refused every pay increase since being elected to the state Senate in 2012, making $90,526 per year in base salary.

Most members of the California Legislature make $100,113 per year, with leadership drawing checks for as much as $115,129. In fact, Roth is the only senator currently paid below the going rate, although there are several like-minded members of the Assembly.

Roth spokesperson Shrujal Joseph told CalWatchdog that Roth believes he has an obligation to perform his duties at the pay rate voters agreed to when he was elected.

“If fortunate enough to be re-elected, Senator Roth will accept the pay that is in effect then, whether it be higher or lower,” said Joseph.

Members of the Assembly

Fullerton Republican Young Kim is the lowest paid member of the Assembly, earning $95,291 annually. Like Roth, she’s refused every pay increase since being elected in 2014 — including one that passed right before she was elected but came into effect afterwards.

Six other members of the Assembly refused one pay increase, earning $97,197. Four are Republicans: Catharine Baker of San Ramon, Shannon Grove of Bakersfield, David Hadley of Torrance and Tom Lackey of Palmdale. Two are Democrats: Ken Cooley of Rancho Cordova and Jacqui Irwin of Thousand Oaks.

California Citizens Compensation Commission

Pay for legislators, and constitutional officers like governor and attorney general, is determined annually by the California Citizens Compensation Commission, which will meet again on April 27. The CCCC also determines benefits.

The CCCC is a seven-member panel, appointed by the governor, which is supposed to represent different segments of the community and different areas of expertise, including one member with expertise in compensation (like an economist); one representing the general public (like a homemaker/retiree/person of median income); one representing the nonprofit world; one who is an executive at a large CA employer; one who represents small business; and two labor representatives.

According to Tom Dalzell, the CCCC chairman, it’s unclear if another raise will be in order as he hasn’t “begun to think about it,” but noted the sacrifice many legislators make by leaving lucrative careers for public office. And in general, pay is considered one of the biggest lures of top talent.

Dalzell, who is a business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245 and occupies one of the CCCC’s labor seats, said that in determining whether to increase, freeze or reduce pay, the CCCC considers the state budget, the consumer price index and survey data on local elected officials.

Pay Scale History

California has the highest paid state legislators in the country, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. They are also paid well above the state’s median income of around $61,084.

On the whole, base salary for legislators has increased since 2005. To be more precise, legislators have received six increases, three freezes and two reductions since 2005. To be even more precise, base salary went from $99,000 in 2005 to the $100,113 base salary it is today — after salaries had been frozen between 1999 to 2005.

The two reductions were largely orchestrated by the former chairman Charles Murray, a holdover appointee from the Schwarzenegger administration. Murray stepped down almost a year ago to the day.

The six increases: 2005 – 12 percent increase; 2006 – 2 percent increase; 2007 – 2.75 percent increase; 2013 – 5 percent increase; 2014 – 2 percent increase; 2015 – 3 percent increase.

The two decreases: 2009 – 18 percent reduction; 2012 – 5 percent reduction.

And the three freezes were in 2008, 2010 and 2011.

As readers can probably imagine, the decreases were unpopular in Sacramento. In fact, one former legislator fought a cut — the 18 percent reduction in 2009 that slashed salaries from $116,208 to $95,291 — by appealing to both Brown and the California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board.

Neither appeal was successful.

This piece was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

June Ballot “Orphaned,” But Likely to Pass

CA-legislatureWhile dozens of measures are vying to make it on the November general election ballot, one proposal is ready for the June primary — even though no one is campaigning for or against it.

Proposition 50 is a constitutional amendment empowering legislators to suspend other legislators without pay with a two-thirds vote of the respective chamber.

The measure is in response to three suspensions with pay in 2014: Democratic state Sens. Roderick Wright of Inglewood, Leland Yee of San Francisco and Ron Calderon of Montebello. Wright was suspended after being convicted of felony perjury and election fraud and the other two were suspended after federal corruption charges were filed.

The measure has a good chance of passing, as public perception of the Legislature took a hit following the rash of incidents in 2014 (in February of 2015, it rebounded a bit but was still in the low 40 percent range).

“From a voter’s perspective, it’s pretty straight forward,” said Kathay Feng, the executive director of the good government group California Common Cause. “There’s not much love for misbehaving legislators.”

Feng said some may question whether this measure violates the spirit of innocent until proven guilty, but others are sure this won’t be an issue.

“Guilty until proven innocent when it comes to legislators,” said Steven Maviglio, a Democratic campaign strategist, noting that the measure is “totally non-controversial.”

Politics and Process

The measure doesn’t have any opponents actively fighting it. But no one is pushing for it either. When contacted by CalWatchdog, former Democratic Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, who introduced the measure, deferred through an aide to sitting senators or the Senate Rules Committee for more info.

But sitting senators would refer it to an outside group to handle the campaign, yet no such committee has been formed. No one is campaigning for it.

“All of the people who were originally involved seemed to have left this as an orphan for somebody else,” said Feng.

If the measure’s passage is truly inevitable — a slam dunk — then there may be little need to push for it, especially in the absence of opposition. But some observers say it could be that the pressure is off now that no one is in trouble.

“Out of sight, out of mind,” said John J. Pitney, Jr., a Roy P. Crocker professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College. “The idea may regain currency if another legislator gets into major trouble, but until then it is in the political memory hole.”

The measure will appear on the June ballot because it is a constitutional amendment added by the Legislature. Measures that go through the signature gathering process can only appear on the November general election ballot — of which it appears there will be plenty.

How Else Can They Be Punished?

Besides suspension, legislators have other punitive actions they can take against lawmakers, although they are rarely used.

According to Alex Vassar, who runs the California political website One Voter Project, censure (it’s basically a public shaming by peers) was last used in 1982 to strongly condemn comments made about abortion rights protesters by O.C. Republican John G. Schmitz.

Expulsion, according to Vassar, was last used in 1905 against legislators colluding to solicit bribes (Wright was threatened with an expulsion vote). And members can also be stripped of committee assignments, which was used last with Yee, Wright and Calderon.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Chavez drops Senate campaign, recommits to Assembly

As reported by CalWatchdog.com:

In dramatic fashion, Assemblyman Rocky Chavez announced Monday he was suspending his campaign to replace the retiring Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer while at a debate for that seat.

“I think the best role I can fill for the Republican Party and moving the agenda forward … is to run for my Assembly seat,” the Oceanside Republican said during the debate’s opening comments. “I’m not going to be running for the United States Senate, and I’ll leave the field right now.”

And like that, he was gone.

Chavez had struggled to keep up financially. As of the end of 2015, Attorney General Kamala Harris, the Democratic frontrunner, had nearly $4 million in the bank. Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Garden Grove, was relatively close …

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CA Assemblyman Resigns to Take High-Paying Job in Pharmaceutical Industry

henry-perea-california-sate-assembly-Assemblyman Henry Perea, who announced earlier this month his intention to resign from the Legislature, has revealed that he’ll be taking a job with the pharmaceutical industry.

State law bans the Fresno Democrat from lobbying his former colleagues for one year following his tenure in the state Assembly. Yet, the state’s ban on influence-peddling hasn’t stopped the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America from hiring Perea as a senior director of state advocacy. Perea, according to published reports, began talking job prospects with the industry group in September.

Beginning on January 4, Perea will direct political operations in California, Arizona and Nevada for the group known around the Capitol by the acronym PhRMA. The group represents the country’s biggest pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, including Allergan, Amgen, AstraZeneca, Bayer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Celgene, Eli Lilly and Company, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co., Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation and Pfizer.

“They innovate, they discover cures, they represent a lot of California employers,” Perea said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “The debate in health care, especially after the Affordable Care Act, is going to be very robust over the next decade or two and I look forward to being a part of that.”

PhRMA’s Robust Lobbying Operation

Since Perea’s first term in the state Assembly in 2010, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America has spent big money to lobby the governor, state lawmakers and other state government officials.

A CalWatchdog.com analysis of state lobbying disclosure forms found that Perea’s new employer has spent more than $2.59 million in state lobbying over the past five years. That half-million dollars per year in annual lobbying fees doesn’t include money spent by PhRMA’s member organizations.

Just one PhRMA member, the multinational pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, spent more than $3.18 million in lobbying over the same period, according to CalWatchdog.com’s review of disclosure reports.

Perea’s Campaign Contributions from PhRMA

The pharmaceutical industry’s robust lobbying operation in Sacramento has frequently crossed paths with Perea. Over the course of his career, Perea has accepted $157,144 in campaign contributions from the industry, according to FollowtheMoney.org’s analysis of campaign contributions. That ranks him 119th of every politician in the country and, according to FollowtheMoney.org, means he’s accepted more pharma money than Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, Speaker of the Assembly Toni Atkins and former Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

During the 2011-2012 legislative session, the pharmaceutical industry contributed more than $74,000 to Perea’s campaign accounts, making it the second largest industrywide contributor to Perea’s campaign, according to an independent analysis by the transparency group MapLight.

Perea’s multiple campaign committees also appear frequently on campaign finance disclosure reports and political action committee summaries filed by pharmaceutical companies. Earlier this year, his campaign committee for a 2018 Insurance Commissioner campaign accepted $2,000 from Amgen. In 2014, Pfizer gave Perea $3,500 and counted his re-election among its important wins.

“We continue to face significant legislative and regulatory challenges and each election cycle is critical to our industry,” Sally Susman, chair of Pfizer PAC, wrote in its 2014 Pfizer PAC annual report, a 102-page report detailing the company’s effort to build “positive public will.”

Perea’s history of luxury gifts, trips

Although Perea has refused to disclose his new salary, it’s likely to be more than the $97,197 annual salary and $33,000 in annual tax-free per diem payments he received as a member of the state Legislature.

Over the course of his career, Perea supplemented his income with tens of thousands of dollars in luxury goods, entertainment and travel, according to his economic disclosure reports.

Money Stackof BillsIn 2011, Perea accepted $9,397 worth of lodging, meals and transportation for a junket to Italy sponsored by the California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy, “a San Francisco-based nonprofit made up of oil companies, utilities and environmental groups.” Two years later, Perea again accompanied the group on its junket to Eastern Europe – a trip valued at $9,984.

Perea’s biggest haul came last year, when he accepted $16,090 from the group, including a $10,221 trip to Chile. He also traveled to: Maui on a $2,148 trip paid for by the Independent Voter Project, Israel on a $11,550 trip paid for by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and Central America on a $1,500 trip paid for by the government of El Salvador.

3rd lawmaker resignation since 2013

Perea will become the third California lawmaker in two years to quit in the middle of a term in order to take a job with a Capitol interest group. In 2013, Democrat State Senator Michael Rubio abruptly quit his position to take a job with Chevron’s government affairs unit. That same year, Republican State Senator Bill Emmerson quit mid-term for a high-paying job with the California Hospital Association.

Perea’s resignation will trigger a 2016 special election that is expected to cost Fresno taxpayers several hundred thousand dollars. The March 2014 special election to fill Emmerson’s seat cost Riverside County taxpayers $415,000, according to the Press-Enterprise.

Two candidates had already announced their intentions to run for the 31st Assembly District: Democrat Joaquin Arambula and Republican Fresno City Councilman Clint Olivier.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Jerry Brown signs new post-redevelopment bill

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

Four years after approving legislation that ended the anti-blight redevelopment program in California, Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday signed a bill giving local agencies a way to pay for similar projects.

Assembly Bill 2, by Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, authorizes local governments in economically depressed areas to use certain tax revenue for public works and affordable housing improvements and to help businesses.

Alejo said in a prepared statement that the bill signing was a “major victory for our state’s most disadvantaged communities.”

Brown also signed Senate Bill 107, which supporters said …

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Capitol heats up with end-of-session rush of legislation

As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle:

SACRAMENTO — With more than 300 bills and a Friday deadline to vote on them, the state Legislature is on a hurried pace this week to decide weighty issues ranging from how much Californians will pay in taxes to how ambitiously the state will combat climate change.

The end-of-session push will also include legislation on whether doctors should be allowed to help terminal patients die earlier, whether students who failed the high school exit exam in past years should be awarded their diplomas, and whether the smoking age should be raised from 18 to 21.

The Friday deadline coincides, coincidentally, with the day Sacramento throws a huge heroes’ parade near the Capitol for the Americans who stopped a gunman on a French train — and on what is expected to be the Capital’s hottest day of a weeklong heat wave. The temperature is forecast to peak at 107 degrees.

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California bill would close ‘insidious’ wage gap between men and women

As reported by the San Jose Mercury News:

A pay equity bill expected to pass the California Assembly this afternoon would strengthen existing laws and “close that insidious wage gap” between men and women, a bipartisan group of women legislators said Monday.

If passed and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, it would be the toughest equal pay law in the country and become what supporters hope will be a model for the rest of the country, said state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, chair of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus and author of SB358, the California Fair Pay Act.

The bill, supported by Republicans as well as the Chamber of Commerce, ensures that women are paid equally for work that is substantially similar to the work of their male colleagues. It also requires that women do not face retaliation if they discuss or ask how much their male colleagues are paid. …

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