‘Homeless bill of rights’ diminishes policing authority

homelessIn California, helping the homeless is a popular issue in some cities and some political circles. In San Diego, elected officials of both parties say they don?t just want to reduce downtown homelessness, they want to end it. In Santa Clara County, the leader of the Board of Supervisors last week declared that targeting homelessness was one of his top priorities in 2016. In the state Senate, President Pro tem Kevin de Leon and other Democrats in January unveiled an ambitious plan to build $2 billion in housing for the mentally ill homeless around California.

But advocates of Senate Bill 676, a new bill that would ban police from fining or arresting people for sleeping outdoors, is facing a tough reception.

Sen. Carol Liu, a La Ca?ada Flintridge Democrat who is a sponsor of the bill, depicts it as being about human rights. The language of the measure says it ?would afford persons experiencing homelessness the right to use public spaces without discrimination based on their housing status and describe basic human and civil rights that may be exercised without being subject to criminal or civil sanctions, including the right to use and to move freely in public spaces, the right to rest in public spaces and to protect oneself from the elements.?

It would also allow homeless people to sue authorities if these rights were abrograted and would mandate that all local communities take steps to minimize the ?criminalization of homelessness.?

Bill called counterproductive, poorly conceived

However, the administration of Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and local business groups in the state capital call the proposal poorly conceived and warn it could have huge potential unintended consequences.

The Downtown Sacramento Partnership, a community assessment district of Sacramento merchants, approaches the issue from an entirely different direction.

Allowing people to sleep inside cities not only creates a public safety hazard, but it undermines current efforts to permanently house people because it signals that a city is comfortable with people sleeping on the sidewalk, said Dion Dwyer, who oversees homeless outreach efforts for the partnership.

?I want to provide a social safety net that can lift up that person off the sidewalk and into services and ultimately into sustainable housing,? said Dwyer.

That is from an article in the Sacramento Business Journal.

Mayor Johnson has won backing from Sacramento Councilman Jay Schenirer. ?We fully recognize the good intent of this measure; however, we do not feel that it will make a positive impact in the effort to reduce and address chronic homelessness,? he wrote last month in a formal letter of opposition to Liu?s measure.

Is Sacramento really ?criminalizing the homeless??

Meanwhile, Sacramento Bee metro columnist Marcos Breton is pushing back against some of the tactics and generalizations of those who feel Sacramento is callous toward the homeless. On Jan. 9, he wrote that it was a great misconception that ?

? the city is ?criminalizing the homeless.? This is a claim often made by people with political agendas. Some are seeking to abolish Sacramento?s anti-camping ordinance, which is designed to prevent people from setting up camps anywhere they wish.

The ordinance is about protecting people and property within the city limits. Protesters camped at City Hall for more than a month, however, are challenging the law, saying it unfairly discriminates against the homeless.

This being Sacramento, where political slogans are hatched and exported statewide, the ?criminalizing? concept is being aggressively promoted, an incomplete narrative spread around a liberal city often flummoxed by its homeless problems.

The tension between the views of Liu and those of Breton and the Sacramento establishment appears to be one more example of the intractability of the homeless debate.?Those who argue in an abstract that governments should do much more to help the homeless are countered by those who have been on the front lines of trying to directly address the problem.?Many of the latter group maintain that because so many homeless people are mentally ill, the problem isn?t open to simple solutions involving using more government resources.

Liu?s bill is likely to showcase this argument and launch a statewide debate over whether local laws against sleeping in public areas are reasonable attempts to promote public safety and public health or are tantamount to criminalizing the behavior of some of the poorest, most troubled people in California.

The bill has yet to be subjected to a Senate committee vote. Liu has already amended the measure once to address concerns its language was unnecesarily broad.

Originally published by?CalWatchdog.com

Experts Divulge More Info on Zika Virus at Sacramento Forum

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

A panel of experts spoke Saturday about the prevention, care, and transmission of the mosquito-borne Zika virus at a community forum hosted by the UC Davis Health System.

In February, Yolo County had one confirmed case of the virus. The infected, unnamed person had been traveling outside of the U.S., but made a full recovery, The Sacramento Bee reported.

The California Department of Public Health website reports that as of Friday, there have been three confirmed cases of the virus in California this year and 10 in the state since 2013. Zika is transmitted by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. Fever, rash, reddening of eyes and joint pain are common symptoms.

?The virus and the mosquito are found mainly in tropical and subtropical areas, and recently there have been outbreaks in Latin America and the Caribbean,? said Olivia Kasirye, Sacramento County health officer. Currently, there is no vaccine or medication available to treat Zika, Kasirye said. …

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New California laws 2016: What to expect in the new year

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

Like bubbles ascending a champagne flute, a bevy of recently passed California policies will float to the surface and take effect?this Jan. 1. Here?s a review of some of the major items.

Vaccines

One of 2015?s fiercest fights was over SB 277, which was introduced in the wake of a measles outbreak at Disneyland and requires full vaccination for most children to enroll in school. Schools will begin vetting students to ensure they have their shots in July, before the 2016-2017 school year begins.

Search warrants

Arguing our privacy laws lag behind our technology, lawmakers passed SB 178 to require search warrants before law enforcement can obtain your emails, text messages, Internet search history and other digital data.

Ballot fees

Thinking of filing a ballot initiative? You?ll need more cash. …

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What Taxpayers Want from Santa

Photo courtesy Franco Folini, flickr

Photo courtesy Franco Folini, flickr

A time-tested Christmas joke describes the four stages of life:?First, you believe in Santa Clause.?Second, you don?t believe in Santa Clause. Third, you are Santa Claus. Fourth, you look like Santa Claus.

As they look down from their lofty perches in the State Capitol, members of the political ruling class see taxpayers as perpetually being in the third stage, supplying a never ending supply of goodies (i.e., tax revenue) to be collected by lawmakers and bureaucrats, and kept, or redistributed, as they see fit.

When taxpayers look back at the politicians, they see them in the juvenile first stage, naively believing in Santa Taxpayer who can effortlessly fulfill their every desire and whim.

Of course, taxpayers can best be described as being in the cynical second stage. They don?t believe in Santa Claus, they work hard, they understand there is no free lunch and they are wary of politicians who try to buy voter support with the money they have extracted from our wallets and pocketbooks.

However, if Santa Claus does exist, here is a list of requests that taxpayers might send to the North Pole:

  • A $39.95 toy train to go under the tree. This will be less expensive, and just as useful, as the $100 billion bullet train the governor and the Legislature want taxpayers to put in their stocking.? Based on the current estimate of costs, the dream train for ?good? politicians will cost a family of four over $10,000.
  • Gas tax relief. Counting carbon penalties, Californians pay the highest gas taxes in the nation. Most working Californians, who need their cars for work, cannot afford to drive Teslas. While less expensive alternative fuel vehicles are developed, average folks on modest incomes don?t need to be faced with having to make a choice between being able to fill the gas tank or the grocery cart.
  • Time to catch our breath. In an already high tax state, where the government is running a hefty surplus, taxpayers would like to see a moratorium on tax increase proposals and on efforts to undermine Proposition 13 protections.
  • Reversal of both state and federal policies that have led to the 30 hour work week, instead of the 40 hour week, being considered the standard for full employment.
  • For those taxpayers who have reached the fourth stage of looking like Santa Clause, they wish for a normal life in retirement so they don?t to have to work late in life. That?s a big ask in California because high taxes, which allow government workers to retire comfortably, make life difficult for other seniors who aren?t so lucky.

Asking for more, such as having the politicians stop treating taxpayers like second-class citizens, might seem greedy. So Santa, if you could just deliver any of our wishes above, we would be very grateful.

P.S. There is nothing wrong with looking like Santa Claus.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association ? California?s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers? rights.

Steyer says state oil tax ?looking less likely? for 2016

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer said it?s increasingly unlikely he will follow through with threats to put an oil-extraction tax on next year?s ballot, but he still expects to help bankroll other measures.

While he hasn?t formally closed the book on the oil tax or related transparency measure aimed at oil companies, Steyer said his team has yet to accomplish everything he said needs to happen to qualify and ultimately pass a statewide initiative next year. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking down for prospective proponents.

?It?s looking less likely, I would say,? he said after an event Thursday in Sacramento.

Steyer, an early supporter and co-chairman of a campaign to raise the cigarette tax by $2 a pack, said he plans to get behind a couple of other efforts once the election picture is clear.

The Juiciest Job in Sacramento

hustler_casino71Around the Capitol they?re known as ?juice committees? ? those that oversee lucrative industries, allowing politicians to foster relationships they can squeeze for campaign cash.

These panels preside over business interests that fight obscure industry battles before the Legislature; think of lawyers vs. insurance companies, doctors vs. physical therapists, or card rooms vs. Indian casinos.

?These are non-visible issues that are of high interest to very wealthy groups,? said Stacy Gordon Fisher, a political scientist who studied Sacramento?s juice committees as a professor at University of Nevada, Reno.

So those groups spend what it takes to get noticed, hiring lobbyists and pouring money into political campaigns.

One of the juiciest committees is responsible for regulating booze, cigarettes and gambling. It was called the ?committee on public morals? back in the 1800s but now goes by a more innocuous name: the committee on governmental organization.

G.O., as the committee is known, is one of the Legislature?s biggest, with a total of 34 members in the Senate and Assembly. Its decisions impact profits for California?s gambling factions — card rooms, racetracks and Indian tribes that run casinos. And now, those businesses are bankrolling the political ambitions of the committee?s chairman, Sen. Isadore Hall (D-Compton).

Hall landed in the California Senate in December, following a special election in which just 7 percent of those registered turned out to vote. It was the latest in a long string of political victories for Hall, who advanced from the school board in Compton to its city council to the state Assembly. He represents one of California?s poorer Senate districts, where about 20 percent of people live in poverty.

Hall had served less than three months in the state Senate when he announced plans to run for the Congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Janice Hahn (D-San Pedro), who endorsed him. Through June, he?s raised twice as much money as his closest opponent, attorney Nanette Barragan.

As Hall works to build a campaign war chest for what?s likely to be a competitive election next year, about 8 percent of his donors have come from the district he seeks to represent.

Instead, the bulk of them reflect relationships he?s built as G.O. chairman. More than one-third of the $369,000 Hall raised in the first six months of the year came from people tied to a gambling business. Donors include:

  • Former Assembly speakers Fabian N??ez and Willie Brown, who have worked as consultants to casino magnate Sheldon Adelson in his fight against online poker ? an issue that has come before Hall?s committee for several years.
  • Pornographer Larry Flynt, who owns the Hustler Casino in Hall?s Senate district and pushed for a bill this year that would change a rule about casino ownership.
  • ?Sacramento lobbyists David Quintana and Steve Cruz, who represent casino-owning Indian tribes, and Robyn Black, who represents Flynt and horse-racing interests. They routinely lobby bills in Hall?s committee and are forbidden by state law from contributing to a legislator?s state-level campaign. The law does not apply, however, to federal races.
  • Las Vegas casino executives Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, whose company worked with a California tribe to plan a casino near Fresno with the help of a bill carried by Hall.
  • Seven Indian tribes that run casinos, as well as owners of numerous card rooms and horse racing tracks.

?They want to have access to him to have their position heard,? said Gordon Fisher, the political scientist who wrote a book called ?Campaign Contributions and Legislative Voting.?

?Over the long term they give him money, he hears them out. There?s not necessarily a quid pro quo, but a relationship is built.?

Asked about his fundraising, Hall said he didn?t want to talk about it while inside the state Capitol. And then he did not respond to follow-up inquiries.

Card room owners are supporting Hall?s congressional campaign because he?s ?a champion for the industry,? whose support goes back to his experience in local government, said Jarhett Blonien, a lobbyist who represents several card rooms.

?It?s not so much that they?re looking for favors, it?s that Isadore is their friend and they want to help him out,? Blonien said.

Black, the horse-racing lobbyist who gave $500 to Hall?s campaign, said her donation is unrelated to the business she has before him. She pointed out that she?s donated to several congressional campaigns across party lines.

?There are members that you get to know because you worked with them here in Sacramento and you just know they?re the kind of person you want representing our state,? Black said.

The message was the same from Quintana, the lobbyist for several casino-owning tribes, who gave $2,000 to Hall?s campaign: ?I?ve seen him operate in Sacramento? and I think he would make a great congressman.?

To be clear: donors don?t necessarily get their way. Quintana, for example, lobbied against a bill Hall carried this year to expand the ability for sports teams to host live raffles at their games. The bill passed through the Legislature and is awaiting action from Gov. Jerry Brown.

Which gets back to the allure of a juice committee: Often, the money keeps flowing no matter which way politicians vote.

?It?s not like he always has to represent their interests for this to be a good investment,? Gordon Fisher said.

?Every once in awhile he might be a critical vote on a piece of legislation that?s important to them.?

Originally published by CalMatters.org

Legislators Duel Over Impending Gas Tax Hike

Gas-Pump-blue-generic+flippedDemocratic legislators in the?state Senate have brought Californians closer to new hikes on the cost of driving their cars. But the committee vote represented little more than a first step in a complex, intense negotiation between Republicans, Democrats and the man trying to stay?influential but above the fray ? Gov. Jerry Brown.

Republicans have resisted Democrats? preferred approach, but California?s business lobby?has?pressed both parties to embrace new taxes and fees. ?Last week, business organizations such as the California Chamber of Commerce and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group said any deal should seek to raise at least $6 billion annually by raising gas and diesel taxes and increasing vehicle registration and license fees,? the San Jose Mercury News reported.

Part of the rationale for increasing fees, instead of simply dialing up gas taxes, has centered around the growing popularity of hybrid and electric vehicles in California ? and the state?s interest in squeezing revenue out of every car on the road. ?We have these Teslas that are being sold and they don?t pay any gas tax,? complained state?Sen.?Jim Beall, D-San Jose, as CBS Sacramento noted.

Gas in California has remained higher on average than out-of-state, thanks to cap-and-trade fees and the state?s unique environmental rules about the blends of gasoline that must be sold. Current state taxes?include an excise tax of 39 cents, between 30 and 42 cents in sales tax, and 10 cents for the cap-and-trade levy, as Watchdog Arena observed.

Brown stays secretive

At a recent news conference that left some observers hungry for detail scratching their heads, Brown refused to hint?at a revenue source for the improvements.??I?m not going to say where the revenue?s going to come from, how we?re going to get it,? he?said.??We?ll get it done, but I?m not going to put all my cards on the table this morning,? Brown said, according to ABC 7 News.

Brown was joined at the appearance by Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, who signaled separately that negotiations would be tough.??It will be a bumpy road, but our constituents expect us to work together and figure something out,? she toldthe San Francisco Chronicle.

To date, the governor has?not let slip whether he would support or oppose a tax hike to make up the difference.

Dueling proposals

That raised the possibility that Republicans might get their way, scrounging up revenue from savings and budgetary jujitsu instead of tax increases.?But GOP legislators?have been keen on siphoning revenue away from?California?s?cap-and-trade program, which Brown had availed himself of previously in order to fund construction spending on the state?s much-debated high-speed rail project. That has drawn strenuous objections from Sacramento Democrats.

The current proposal advanced by Assembly Republicans ?would raise more than $6 billion a year by eliminating thousands of state employees and unfilled positions and reallocating existing state money, both from the budget and from other projects,? the Chronicle noted, while the plan pushed by Beall?would raise billions with a suite of increased gas taxes and fees, including an ?annual road access charge of $35 a vehicle,? according to the?paper.

It was Beall?s bill that cleared its first committee test in the Senate this week, with Democrats besting?Republicans in?a party line vote.

For now, just a?few broad outlines of an agreement have come into focus. According to the Chronicle, both sides reject the option of a ?one-time fix, such as?a bond measure that would pile more debt on the state. Any money raised must be earmarked only for road and infrastructure repair, and protected against being siphoned into other parts of the state budget.? Plus, legislators agreed that expenditures should be clearly identified and made public,?with some kind of oversight and monitoring built into the arrangement.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

California?s Political Earthquake On Its Way

Photo courtesy Franco Folini, flickr

Photo courtesy Franco Folini, flickr

California is facing an uncertain future ? and it?s not an earthquake, despite a current blockbuster movie. There?s a water crisis, an education system declared woeful by a state judge and soaring costs on all levels ? water, utilities, energy, housing and taxes. These could all be eclipsed by the huge elephant in the room ? unfunded pensions and health care for state and local government employees that could be $1 trillion or more.

What are our public officials doing? As was recently reported, there are no fewer than a dozen proposals in the legislature to increase taxes AND spending, despite the massive underfunding of pensions and health care. The governor crows about a California ?comeback? but he almost completely ignores the trillion dollar bomb expected to hit over the next 20 years. This government employee pensions and healthcare bomb only gets worse, as life expectancies expand and investments underperform the rosy scenarios built into their projections.

Take heart, California, there is change coming and it?s not the San Andreas splitting apart. It will be a political earthquake and it?s called the Neighborhood Legislature (NL). It will replace the dysfunctional and practically corrupt (if not actually corrupt in some cases) California legislature. We just received Title and Summary and we have built a professional plus volunteer organization that will soon be circulating through the neighborhood precincts of California to collect signatures and build support for this groundbreaking proposal.

Why is this such a political earthquake? Because it holds real promise that it will return power to actual representatives of the people, citizen legislators, who will be able to explore and implement the important reforms unimpeded by the allure and/or sting from special interest money spent to protect the status quo. These citizen legislators will replace the professional fundraisers and special interest representatives we currently endure.

As a result of population growth, the electoral structure of California?s Legislature is ideal for special interest domination. The sheer size of the districts makes campaign funding and massive campaign operations all encompassing and dominant. That size also turns election campaigns into impersonal media efforts that have effectively turned off voters and choked off voter participation and confidence.

The NL changes this by chopping the current gargantuan districts into about 100 tiny ones. After representatives from these tiny districts are elected, they caucus and send one of their number to Sacramento. Thus, the same number, 120 (40 Senators and 80 Assemblymen) go to Sacramento to hold hearings and pass legislation. The Neighborhood Reps get a ratification vote for accountability.

The key is that in tiny districts, campaigns will be about issues, policy and the character of the candidate ? not how much money they raise. Special interest groups won?t be able to win with attacks using independent expenditures. They can try ? but in tiny districts, a candidate can effectively respond by going literally door to door, making the case directly to his or her constituents.

We realize this idea is going to disrupt the status quo. Its defenders will muster their resources to fight it. That?s why we are going into the neighborhoods, to build support door to door, person to person. The political class wants to protect its fundraising operation because it makes them a lot of money and secures their power.

California has huge promise ? it can be the Golden State again if it can overcome its political dysfunction and leadership void. The Neighborhood Legislature is the key ingredient ? an innovative disruptive restructuring worthy of the most innovative state in the U.S. ?The state that gave the world the microchip, personal computer, electric car and cloud computing will also give the world a new electoral structure that will launch California into a sustainable position for the 21st?century and beyond.

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

California-based Businessman and Former Illinois Republican Official

CA Senate Passes Bill to Raise Legal Smoking Age to 21

cigarette smoking ashesAdding another bill to its reputation as a trend-setting Legislature, Sacramento has taken a big step toward raising the statewide smoking age to 21. By an overwhelming tally of 26 to 8, the state Senate voted to prohibit sales of tobacco products to those aged 18-20.

By the numbers

According to the bill?s supporters, the ban would be instrumental in dramatically?reducing?not only?teen smoking but smoking in general. ?Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, said he introduced the bill, SB151, out of concern that an estimated 90 percent of tobacco users start before age 21,? the Los Angeles Times reported.

That statistic emerged from a recent Institute of Medicine study making the rounds in policy circles. Researchers suggestedthat??teen smoking could be curbed by 12 percent if the age limit was raised to 21,? as LAist noted, ?making it harder for minors to find somebody to buy cigarettes for them.? In real numbers, the study concluded, the age-21 limit would ensure??more than 200,000 fewer premature deaths nationally for those born between 2000 and 2019.?

Although critics have pointed out that people?older than 18 are adults eligible to be drafted?and bound to signed?contracts, the Times observed, momentum has gathered to raise?the legal smoking age for reasons unrelated to consistency in the treatment?of individual rights and responsibilities.

Tobacco-related illness has long represented a significant chunk of aggregate health care costs. For policymakers, that?problem grows more serious the more those costs are shifted onto government and taxpayers. ?Tobacco-related disease killed 34,000 Californians in 2009 and cost the state $18.1 billion in medical expenses, according to studies by UC San Francisco,? according to the Times.

A developing?trend

Trendsetting_Teens_Now_Smoking_E-Cigs-c84599d4735c853b900185fa0a93e9ebSome evidence of the policy?s likely impact has accumulated in states where the smoking age was previously hiked. ?Although most states set the minimum age at 18, Alabama, Alaska, New Jersey and Utah?set it at 19,?and some localities have set it at 21,? according to The?Washington Post. ?Higher age limits seem to?correspond with lower smoke rates in these states;?Utah and New Jersey also have among the lowest smoking rates in the country, No. 1 and No. 5, per?Gallup, while Alaska has the most improved, and Alabama is somewhat of an outlier in the South, as it?s not among the states with the highest smoking rates, like its neighbors Mississippi and Louisiana.?

California could be the first state to deny tobacco to under-21s. But?other western states could swiftly follow suit. According to KPPC,??Legislatures in Oregon and Washington are considering similar bills and lawmakers in Hawaii have passed a bill and sent it to the governor.? Among the localities setting the legal age at 21, Hawaii County has been joined by?New York City.

Next, vaping

Traditional tobacco products were not the only ones on the state Senate?s chopping block. SB140, introduced by state?Sen.?Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, also passed handily, on a 24-12 vote.

As?the San Francisco Chronicle reported, that bill ?would include e-cigarettes in the definition of tobacco products in order to prohibit the devices from being used at workplaces, schools and public places, just as tobacco products are under the state?s Smoke Free Act.?SB140 would also make it a misdemeanor to provide e-cigarettes to minors.?

The tandem advance of the state Senate?s anti-smoking and anti-vaping bills raised the prospect?that the two approaches would converge in the near future,?raising the?vaping age to 21. ?California bans the sale of e-cigarettes to anyone under 18,? the Chronicle observed, ?but Leno said young teens still have access to them and they are becoming increasingly popular among middle and high school students.? If?Hernandez?s bill were to pass before Leno?s, vaping would automatically be restricted in the same manner as traditional cigarette smoking.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

California Senate votes to raise smoking age to 21

As reported by the Los Angeles Times:

The state Senate on Tuesday approved a bill that would raise the?minimum legal age for buying cigarettes and other tobacco products from 18 to 21 as part of an effort to reduce smoking by young people.

Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina) said he introduced the bill, SB 151, out of concern that an estimated 90% of tobacco users start before age 21. Raising the minimum age will mean that fewer teenagers pick up the habit, said Hernandez, an optometrist.

He cited a study done by the Institute of Medicine for the federal Food and Drug Administration that concluded that raising the smoking age to 21 would cut smoking by 12% more than existing control policies. …

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