Hancock: Defeat spending cap, roll back 2/3 vote

For someone who’s sleeping better now that she’s no longer locked down with 38 colleagues inside the State Capitol, state Sen. Loni Hancock still doesn’t sound terribly happy about the budget deal.

That’s because she believes the deal clearly illustrates the fault lines along which California’s government has cracked, Hancock, D-Berkeley, told about two dozen members of the Alameda County Democratic Lawyers Club this afternoon over plates of mole and carnitas at Cocina Poblana in Oakland’s Jack London Square.

Those cracks should be read as a road map for government reform, said the chairwoman of the Senate Elections, Reapportionment and Constitutional Amendments Committee: In the short term, abolition of the requirement that budgets be approved by 2/3 votes of the Legislature, and substantial reform of California’s out-of-control ballot initiative process.

The budget process “was a very demoralizing and disheartening process, and it cannot be repeated again and again,” she said.

More after the jump…
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California law students nab D.C. internships

Law students from the University of California, Berkeley and UCLA are beltway-bound in a new full-semester academic internship program.

“UCDC Law” will place second- and third-year law students in congressional offices, the Justice Department, regulatory agencies and elsewhere around the nation’s capital; UC-Irvine students eventually will take part, too. Only a handful of U.S. law schools have academic programs in Washington, D.C.

“This is a direct and powerful way to expose students to aspects of lawyering in Washington and thereby broaden their thinking about professional paths available to them,” says Berkeley Law Dean Chris Edley Jr., who recently advised President Barack Obama’s transition team. “Our new classroom technology will also enable us to connect our students and experts in Washington with law students on campus, combining resources for dynamic interactive instruction.”

The first batch of interns, including seven from Berkeley, already has settled into Washington. Second-year Berkeley student Dyanna Quizon, placed in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said the level of responsibility they’ve been given “is amazing.”

“I’ve been asked to help lead a substantive training session for federal employees on making programs more accessible to non-English speaking communities,” she said. “A law student telling government officials what to do in important situations? Pretty incredible.”

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UC-Berkeley launches climate-change speaker series

UC-Berkeley announced a free speaker series that will “explore the state’s landmark climate control legislation’s critical connections to sustainable development and land-use planning.” The series begins March 17.

Here are the details:

The series, “Growing Sustainability in a Low-Carbon World,” is being sponsored by UC Berkeley’s Institute for Urban and Regional Development (IURD). It will bring together local, regional and state decision-makers, scholars, researchers, environmentalists, non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders from the public sector.

The program, free and open to the public, will take place on campus on Tuesdays, starting March 17, before jumping to March 31 and continuing through May 5. The first event will take place from 6-8 p.m. at The Faculty Club; other programs will be held from 5:15 to 7 p.m. in Wurster Hall. Each seminar will be moderated by a UC Berkeley faculty member or research associate.

Much of the discussions on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the state have focused on technologies, clean fuels and green jobs, which have important roles to play, said Robert Cervero, interim director of IURD and a professor of city and regional planning.

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GAO study: Whisteblower protections still weak

Whistleblowers reporting illegal activities aren’t adequately protected from employer retaliation, according to a recent U.S. Government Accountability Office report requested earlier and rolled out Thursday by House Education and Labor Committee chairman George Miller, D-Martinez; Workforce Protections Subcommittee chairwoman Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma; and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

The GAO’s review of Occupational Health and Safety Administration whistleblower-protection data – the first such probe in about 20 years – found that of the more than 1,800 cases the agency looked at in 2007, only 21 percent of all investigations resulted in a favorable outcome for whistleblowers. And due to inadequate tracking of all complaints, the actual proportion of favorable outcomes may actually be lower.

“OSHA faces two key challenges—it lacks a mechanism to adequately ensure the quality and consistency of investigations, and many investigators have said they lack some of the resources they need to do their jobs, including equipment, training, and legal assistance,” the GAO found, right down to things so simple as laptops, cell phones and portable printers.

Miller said it’s “deeply troubling” that workers still face retaliation for reporting fraud and other serious matters. “With the enormous investments now being made to save or create jobs, and the reforms intended to shed Wall Street of its culture of reckless greed, waste and mismanagement, we must protect workers who come forward at great risk trying to save lives and stop corruption.”

Woolsey said workers are fired and blacklisted every day for exposing violations of federal law. “While a handful are lauded in the press for their actions, most whistleblowers face a lifetime of hardship for their willingness to speak up. This is unacceptable. I will continue to work with my colleagues on the committee, along with our partners in the Senate, to develop a streamlined and efficient review process that protects the rights and reputations of those brave enough to speak out.”

Woolsey said she intends to re-introduce legislation soon to expand and simplify protections for private-sector workers who expose employers’ illegal actions, already-established protections for employees who report violations of critical food safety, drug safety, consumer protection, environmental protection, health care, and homeland security laws.


Chevron sues over Measure T, delays expansion plans

The Chervon refinery in Richmond just sent out this press release, where it outlines plans to file a lawsuit against the city’s recently adopted manufacturing tax and delays to its plant expansion proposal. Both efforts could hit Richmond’s general fund, which was counting on the revenue.


Chevron Questions Business License Tax

Company Also Announces Indefinite Delay in Construction Project

RICHMOND, CA. February 26, 2009 -Today, Chevron filed a lawsuit to resolve whether the new alternative business license tax calculation imposed on the Chevron Richmond Refinery and other Richmond-based manufacturers by the recently enacted Measure T violates state and federal law.

Measure T amended the city’s business license tax and – effective for 2009 – requires Chevron to pay an annual business license tax based on the value of crude oil processed at Chevron’s Richmond Refinery. “A new business license tax negatively impacts not only current Richmond businesses such as the Chevron Refinery and other manufacturing businesses, but also businesses considering locating in Richmond,” said Mike Coyle, Chevron Richmond Refinery General Manager.

Chevron also announced today that due to the continuing uncertain regulatory environment along with global economic downturn and reduced product demand, the company will indefinitely delay the construction of its Continuous Catalyst Reformer (CCR) Project.

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PPIC poll finds shift in abortion opinions

The Public Policy Institute of California’s February statewide survey shows that while Californians strongly favor pro-choice public policies, the are shifting ground on their views about restrictions.

Since January 2000, the percentage of Californians who oppose limits on access to abortion has dropped 10 points to 71 percent while those who back abortion restrictions has increased 8 points to 27 percent.

In other findings,Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s approval rating drops to 33 percent, down from 40 percent in January. The state Legislature’s approval rate remained at a record-low 21 percent. By comparison, President Barack Obama enjoys a 70 percent approval rating for his first month in office.

Other results:

— 66 percent support the retention of Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that provides a woman’s right to access to legal abortions.

— 68 percent would support a state law that requires parents to be notified before a minor obtains an abortion. This is curious finding since voters have rejected three statewide parental notification initiatives.

— 89 percent believe access to birth control and contraceptives is an important factor in the reduction of unwanted pregnancies but only 46 percent were aware that the federal government funds these services for the poor.

— Only 9 percent believe schools do more than enough when it comes to teaching sex education.

— 51 percent say immigration is the biggest reason for California’s population growth and 52 percent say that growth is a bad thing for them and their families.

— 42 percent say two is the ideal number of children for a family.

— 44 percent say the 2010 gubernatorial candidates’ views on abortion are very important to them.

The PPIC conducts monthly surveys on a variety of public policy and political issues. For the full February survey, visit PPIC’s web site.