Five more sexual misconduct cases released by California Legislature

The California Legislature on Thursday released a limited set of sexual misconduct records for five investigations before 2006 in which a lawmaker or high-level employee was found to have harassed a legislative staff member.

The heavily redacted documents contained complaints, investigative results and monetary settlements. They included a $117,000 settlement, reported by The Bee in 2001, for an aide to former Sen. Richard Polanco who accused him of retaliation after she rejected his sexual advances.

In response to requests from The Bee and other media outlets, the Senate and Assembly in February divulged a decade of investigations that substantiated sexual harassment complaints against lawmakers and senior staffers. More records were released Thursday after a follow-up request for similar material before 2006.

The documents are not a comprehensive account of sexual misconduct cases at the Capitol in previous decades. The Bee reported on at least three other six-figure settlements in the 1990s and early 2000s involving alleged harassment by members of the Assembly. …

Click here to read the full article from the Sacramento Bee

What would make legislation in California truly ‘family friendly?’

CapitolEvery year California politicians push bills advertised as “family friendly.” This label is certainly useful to gain sympathy for a proposal. It’s akin to labeling a bill “The Protect Puppies Act.” Who could possibly object to that except heartless cretins?

Last year a number of bills were advanced as “family friendly” including Senate Bill 63 by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara. Known as the “baby bonding” bill, it is now illegal for an employer of 20 or more employees to refuse to allow an eligible employee to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected parental leave to bond with a new child within one year of the child’s birth, adoption or foster-care placement. It also mandates that an employer maintain and pay for the employee’s continued group health coverage during the duration of the leave. Prior to the passage of this bill, parental leave was mandated only for companies with 50 or more employees.

Another “family friendly” bill that became law last year was Assembly Bill 1127, from Assemblyman Ian Calderon, D-Whittier. It requires that diaper-changing stations be available to dads as well as moms at sporting arenas, auditoriums, libraries, passenger terminals, shopping malls, large restaurants and other places.

It is difficult not to be sympathetic to legislation which, at least on the surface, appears to make life easier for parents. But does the family-friendliness of such proposals cloud the judgment of our policy leaders as to the potential downside? California already has a horrible reputation as being anti-business. Indeed, for more than a decade CEO Magazine has ranked California dead last among states as a place to do business.

It’s no secret that, even with a resurgent economy, California continues to bleed jobs. Its share of the growth in the national labor force is a fraction of what it should be, given our population. The trend line of citizens moving out of California — known as “net domestic outmigration” — is well documented. …

Click here to read the full article from the Orange County Register

Something the CA Legislature Should Pass – But Won’t

CapitolWhen the California Legislature passes “resolutions” — as distinct from actual legislation, it is a meaningless exercise. Sure, it makes people feel better about some issue or crisis de jour, but because resolutions lack any force or effect of actual law, they are quickly forgotten.

Most resolutions are just silly, having to do with “fluff” issues like, “Resolved, we recognize National Puppy Day,” or a resolution establishing another country, such as Cambodia, as a “sister state” to California. Nice gesture, but substantively trivial.

In the last year, resolutions from our decidedly left-of-center legislature have been used to vent against the Trump administration, from establishing a separate immigration policy to whining about the Electoral College. At the beginning of last year’s session, so many days were spent on angry venting that almost no work got done, which for taxpayers may actually have been a good thing.

While those of us who are focused on actual law normally gloss over resolutions, one was recently introduced that caught our eye. Senate Joint Resolution 21 from Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Temecula, would encourage any individual taxpayer in California who disapproves of the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to donate their tax savings to the state of California’s General Fund.

Democrats throughout the nation — and particularly California Democrats — have thundered for months that the tax reform bill is just a tax cut for the rich and would hurt the poor and middle class. Actually, for California, the opposite is true: The middle class is better off but, because of the loss of certain deductions, California’s wealthiest 11-12 percent will likely pay higher federal taxes.

SJR21 correctly points out that while “Californians are struggling with the rising costs of living due to high personal income tax rates and high housing rates due to burdensome regulations … the Republicans in Congress and the President have passed and signed significant tax reform legislation to ease the pain inflicted on California taxpayers.”

The resolution also lauds the new law’s positive effect on economic growth, noting that “leading tax experts have stated the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will significantly lower marginal tax rates and the cost of capital, which would lead to a 1.7 percent increase in gross domestic product over the long term, in addition to a 1.5 percent increase in wages, and produce an additional 339,000 full-time jobs.”

SRJ21 acknowledges that “the Republican Tax Cuts and Jobs Act limits the amount of state and local taxes that can be deducted on individual income tax returns” but notes that “placing limits on the state and local tax deduction allows individuals in high-tax states like California to finally recognize the true amount of their state tax liability.”

The resolution lists the many benefits of the tax reform law for Californians, including the doubling of the federal standard deduction, doubling of the child tax credit, and reduction of individual tax rates and number of tax brackets.

On the business side, SJR21 recognizes that “the lowering of the corporate tax rate has already resulted in at least one million employees receiving significant bonuses, salary increases, and benefit increases” as well as a massive repatriation of billions of dollars from overseas. Other beneficial economic impacts include a marked increase in GDP and record employment levels for African-Americans, Hispanics, and minorities across the United States.

Yet despite the proven benefits of tax relief, “the California Legislature has considered no fewer than 89 proposals in the current legislative session that would cost taxpayers more than $373 billion annually in higher taxes and fees, including taxes on gasoline, diesel fuel, sodas, candy, groceries, and services, among others.”

After listing examples of questionable spending in California — “the High-Speed Rail Program, which has already cost more than $20 billion, and free college tuition for undocumented immigrants while legal residents are subject to tuition rate increases” — SJR21 comes to the real point, declaring that “the Legislature encourages any individual taxpayer in California who disapproves of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to donate their tax savings to the State of California’s General Fund, which pays for programs including, but not limited to, the bullet train that has already cost the state tens of billions of dollars.”

This resolution, of course, has no chance of passing. But it exposes the hypocrisy of the high-tax crowd in a most entertaining way.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

This article was originally published by the Orange County Register

Loss of local control a big issue in new water tax fight

Shower head water droughtThroughout his tenure as governor, Jerry Brown has consistently pursued new revenue for transportation, housing and water. The Legislature, whose default reaction to any problem is to raise taxes on middle-class Californians, has only been too happy to oblige. As a result, California drivers were hit last year with an annual $5 billion gas and car tax and property owners were burdened with a new tax on real estate recording documents to fund affordable housing. As if those tax hikes were not bad enough, now comes the third in a trifecta of tax insults: a new tax on water used by homes and businesses. That’s right, the Legislature is preparing to tax a public good that is essential to life, a precedent-setting tax that is unheard of anywhere else in the nation.

Supporters of the bill will argue that the tax is needed because roughly one million people (mostly in the Central Valley) don’t have access to consistently clean drinking water. This is a legitimate problem due to decades of neglecting basic infrastructure, contamination of water supplies and the failure to make access to water delivery the priority it deserves.

But raising taxes is the wrong solution to this problem. It is unconscionable that California, which has a record-high $130 billion General Fund budget with a $6 billion surplus, can’t provide clean drinking water to a million people using existing resources. Is this not the first role of government, providing a public good essential to life? Moreover, why should taxpayers in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento have to pay higher water bills for a problem that is mostly limited to groundwater contamination in the Central Valley?

Most Californians haven’t even heard of this proposed tax hike. But that’s only because the Legislature is going out of its way to keep it hidden. Originally introduced as Senate Bill 623, the bill failed to advance last year because of widespread opposition. Nearly all residential homeowners would pay a dollar a month if this tax went through. The tax works on a sliding scale based on meter size — heavy commercial and industrial water users could pay up to $10/month. Not content to just abandon the bill, the governor has now decided to drop this tax in a budget trailer bill. These bills, often dozens of pages long with multiple topics, is the perfect place to hide a tax. If the bill moves forward, taxpayer advocates will watch carefully to ensure that the two-thirds vote requirement for tax hikes is enforced. Because most budget bills only need a majority vote, a lawsuit will quickly follow if the higher threshold is not met.

Our concern is that the governor has become so obsessed playing the “hide the tax” game that he hasn’t bothered to look at other alternative funding sources to solve this problem. If using a $6 billion surplus is off the table, there’s an option to tap into federal funding which is available for precisely this purpose. Or there are billions of dollars of unspent bond funds, including the recently voter-approved Propositions 1 and 84 that can be used to provide clean drinking water. Bond dollars are perhaps the best vehicle to provide major infrastructure improvements needed in the Central Valley. …

Click here to read the full article from the Orange County Register

California Democrats Seek to Ban High-Interest Consumer Loans

money bagCalifornia Democrats have filed a bill that would cap annual interest rates at 19 percent and wipe out about $2.7 billion in loans to California residents.

Assemblyman Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) and Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) introduced AB-2500, which would set a 19 percent interest rates cap for consumer loans with balances of between $2,500 and $10,000. The legislation in the last three weeks has picked up eight additional Democrat co-sponsors.

The California Legislature ended interest rate limitations for small loans above $2,500 in the 1980s. As a result, there was an estimated $1.5 billion in un-bankable intermediate-term loans issued to state residents, with over half the lending is at annual interest rates over 100 percent or more.

The new bill does not target very short-term pay-day loans, which can charge interest rates of up to 400 percent annualized to borrow up to $500 to bridge the gap between paychecks. But it would raise the cap from $2,500 to $10,000, for loans subject to a 19 percent interest rate limit.

The forecast impact on the $2.7 billion California industry would be to eliminate 98 percent of the $2,500 to $5,000 loans, and 95 percent of the $5,000 to $10,000 loans.

Kalra and other Democrats tried last year to ban the high interest rate practices, but the effort ran into industry lobbying and consumers desperate for emergency cash.

But as Chair of the Assembly Aging and Long Term Care Committee, Assemblyman Kalra has been able to host a number of large meetings for his “Safe Consumer Lending Act”over the last four months, including his latest in Sacramento on February 15.

Kalra highlights residents like JoAnn Hesson, who suffered from diabetes for many years. She is living on Social Security, and required twin surgeries to amputate a leg and provide a kidney transplant. Although she only borrowed $5,000, Hesson was eventually required to repay $42,000.

According to Assemblyman Kalra: “California has no shortage of predatory lenders. We see them pop-up around the state, especially in low-income neighborhoods. These types of loans, those with exorbitantly high interest rates, hurt hard working families the most,”

Principal co-author Sen. Holly J. Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) added: “Compound irresponsible behavior by unscrupulous lending institutions with a recent federal proposal to end key consumer-protection measures for payday loans, and it is clear California must do more to protect families.”

AB 2500 is also co-sponsored by the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) – 5th Episcopal District; Asian Law Alliance; Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles; Unidos US (formerly the National Council of La Raza); and the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

This article was originally published by Breitbart.com/California

Democratic Assemblywoman’s ex-staffers say she had sex with other lawmakers

The latest sex-harassment scandal in the state Legislature took an interesting turn the other day when four of state Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia’s former staffers alleged that she “spoke graphically” about having sex with other lawmakers in their offices.

According to the ex-staffers, Garcia said having sex with other elected officials “was a good way of getting information,” their lawyer, Daniel Gilleon, wrote in a letter to the Assembly Rules Committee.

The former staffers declined to name the lawmakers “out of respect for their privacy,” Gilleon said. And the lawyer wouldn’t name the former staffers, saying they might want jobs again in the Legislature and figured going public would hurt their chances.

The former staffers also said Garcia pressured them into drinking in the office and at outside events, belittled her aides and often disparaged other lawmakers. …

Click here to read the full article from the San Francisco Chronicle

After billions in tax increases, Californians deserve a tax cut

TaxesFor millions of Californians, the state has been rendered unaffordable because of foolish and counter-productive policies emanating from Sacramento. A shocking one-third of California renters spend at least half of their take-home pay on rent, and only 40 percent can afford to purchase a median-priced home. Little wonder, then, that one in five Californians lives in poverty — the highest poverty rate in the nation.

Small businesses are struggling as well. Nationwide, nearly ten percent of new entrepreneurs start from at or below the poverty line, but according to the Institute for Justice, California is third worst in terms of burdensome licensing laws.

At every moment of every day, Californians are taxed. We have the highest personal income, sales, and gas taxes in the nation. Even though Sacramento is sitting on a $4.6 billion budget surplus, high state taxes are continuing to gouge hard working Californians. In fact, over $15 billion in annual tax increases have been enacted since Gov. Brown took the reins in 2010.

Thankfully, there is a better way to improve the lives of all Californians.

Taxpayers, small businesses, families, homeowners and renters can finally get some relief through the California Competitiveness and Innovation Act (AB1922), which was recently introduced in the state Legislature and is supported by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. …

Click here to read the full article from the Orange County Register

Possible Legislative Process Reforms

 

CapitolCapitol observers have often complained about certain aspects of California’s legislative process. I asked some of my lobbying colleagues, as well as staff in the Legislature from both houses and both political parties, regarding possible reforms to the state’s legislative process that should be considered.

By far, the most common criticisms of the process by both lobbyists and staff concern the budget process. The next most popular topic concerns committees. While I did not conduct a formal poll, it was interesting how both staff and lobbyists expressed similar concerns about the legislative process.  Based upon the suggestions made, the following are some of the collective reforms suggested for improving California’s legislative process.

Budget Process and Bills

Based upon the feedback provided, one reform could be to require the budget conference committee to follow the general rule used by conference committees, which would provide that a bill not be considered as a budget trailer bill unless the subject matter of the proposed trailer bill has been heard and approved in the policy committee(s) that have subject matter jurisdiction in both houses of the Legislature. In other words, budget trailer bills should have to be heard and voted upon in policy committees, in addition to the relevant budget subcommittees.

Another reform would be to require budget trailer bills be adopted prior to the commencement of the new fiscal year, which would mean by June 30, or within 15 calendar days of passage of the main budget bill.

Others believe that budget subcommittees should be required to hear from all departments, boards and commissions under their purview. It has often surprised Capitol observers how many departmental budgets are placed on “consent” on a budget subcommittee’s agenda.

An additional reform would be to require a separate trailer bill for each topic, rather than allowing multiple, unrelated provisions in a single trailer bill. As such, the germaneness rule would be strictly enforced by each house when it comes to budget trailer bills.

There is also a strong sentiment that there only be one Budget Act per legislative year. Thereafter, any changes to that Budget Act would be considered as normal appropriations bills and be subject to a 2/3rds vote requirement.

An interesting reform suggested is that the Governor’s proposed trailer bills be introduced by the Budget Committees, allowing them to be in print for the public to see and for budget and policy committees to analyze, debate and hear public testimony on before votes can be taken.

Committees

The second most common area of concern expressed by legislative staff and lobbyists alike is the dreaded “two and two rule,” which substantially curtails substantive testimony before legislative policy committees. Most observers suggest eliminating this rule or at least increasing the number of persons who can testify and for how long they can do so.

While witnesses should be admonished to keep their remarks brief and not to repeat testimony already provided, substantive testimony should not be limited by the policy committees, particularly those in a bill’s house of origin. Moreover, the rules on testimony should be consistent with all Assembly and Senate standing committees.

Additionally, there should be reasonable and standardized deadlines in both houses for submitting letters to the policy committees. Most committees’ deadlines are a week before the bill’s scheduled hearing, although some are shorter and some are longer (e.g., one Senate committee requires position letters 12 days in advance of the hearing).

Another reform is to reduce the number of committees that any legislator can sit on. This has been suggested to limit the amount of overlap for legislators and so that they will hopefully remain for the duration of the committee hearings for which they are a member. The most common recommendation was three standing committees.

One helpful suggestion is to require all committees to post support and oppose letters online prior to a bill’s hearing.

In addition, most staff and lobbyists suggested that neither intent bills nor spot bills should not be voted on. In other words, there must be a substantive policy change for votes to be cast on bills in committees or on the floors.

Finally, a reform would require proportionate representation of legislators on each committee.

Fiscal Bills

A recommended reform is to amend Joint Rule 10.5 that provides guidance to the Legislative Counsel’s Office to determine whether a bill is “fiscal.” The language of the current Joint Rule is specific and does not take into consideration all potential fiscal impacts of bills.

Appropriations Committees should be limited to fiscal issues and not act as a policy committee that defeats bills on a policy basis after the bills have already passed a policy committee. In other words, the two fiscal committees should simply vote aye or no based on the bill’s fiscal impact.

Bills

A popular reform is to reduce the bill limits, especially now when legislators have a possible tenure of 12 years in one house and there should be adequate time to consider priorities. Of course, like most legislative rules, a member can petition his or her respective Rules Committee for a waiver of the bill introductions limit. The most commonly-suggested bill cap was 30 bills per legislator per 2-year Session.

Another suggested reform is that bills cannot automatically deem regulations emergency or to otherwise exempt regulations from the formal rule-making process covered by the state’s Administrative Procedure Act. This is necessary to ensure public participation in the rule-making process.

Floor Process

A popular reform is that no resolutions may be considered for floor debate during the final week of session. Any resolution to be considered must be on consent that week so that the members’ limited time on the floors is spent processing the hundreds of bills during the last week of session, rather debating resolutions.

Chris Micheli is a Principal with the Sacramento governmental relations firm of Aprea & Micheli, Inc. He also serves as an Adjunct Professor at McGeorge School of Law in its Capital Lawyering Program.

Blowing the whistle on sexual harassers may get easier for Capitol workers

Before sexual harassment allegations rattled the Capitol, legislation by Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, to extend whistleblower protections to workers in the statehouse died in the Senate four years in a row.

Now an amended version of the Legislative Employee Whistleblower Protection Act – with an urgency clause and more than half of the Legislature added on as co-authors – is back in the Senate and expected to come up for a floor vote Thursday.

Assembly Bill 403 makes it illegal to retaliate against a legislative worker who blows the whistle on a lawmaker or another employee with “a good faith allegation” for any action that may violate state law or a legislative code of conduct. The Senate currently operates with a code of conduct, while the Assembly does not.

Anyone who retaliates against a legislative employee faces up to a $10,000 fine and one year in jail, as well as civil liability, under the bill. …

Click here to read the full article from the Sacramento Bee

Democrats return to Sacramento, without their supermajority

Both houses of the California Legislature will convene Wednesday afternoon for the formal beginning of an eight-month session to craft a state budget and consider hundreds of proposed laws.

And they will do so with three fewer lawmakers, two having resigned after being accused of sexual harassment.

The national conversation over sexual misconduct —  including the decision by women in California politics to decry what they call a culture of harassment around the state Capitol —  has taken place during the almost four months in which the Legislature has been in recess.

Two Democrats —  former Assemblymen Raul Bocanegra (D-Pacoima) and Matt Dababneh (D-Woodland Hills) —  resigned in the wake of allegations by women about incidents during their political campaigns and while in office.

A third legislator, Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles), resigned last week, citing serious health issues. …

Click here to read the full article from the L.A. Times