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House passes Credit Cardholders Bill of Rights

The House today voted 357-70 to pass H.R. 627, the Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights, which will require credit-card companies to give 45 days notice of all interest rate increases and significant fee changes; prevent credit-card companies from unfairly increasing interest rates on existing balances; end unfair “double cycle” billing practices; require card companies to mail billing statements 21 days before the due date; and prohibit companies from charging a fee when customers pay their bills.

From Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton:

“I’ve heard from many people that have had their credit card interest rate sky-rocket without due notice or explanation. At a time when Americans are struggling to make ends meet, they shouldn’t have the additional worry of a sudden hike in their interest rate or unexpected fees without notice. This bill will help protect Americans from these unfair practices.”

More from the Bay Area delegation, after the jump…
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Garamendi announces labor endorsements

Lt. Governor John Garamendi

Lt. Governor John Garamendi

State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord

State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord

Let the labor wars begin.

Tenth Congressional District candidate and Lt. Governor John Garamendi just announced a long list of state and international labor endorsements. It’s a move intended, in part, to counteract one of his chief opponent’s strong local labor ties.

State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, has already secured endorsements from the Contra Costa Central Labor Council and the Contra Costa Building Trades Council, umbrella organizations for more than 100 local union chapters.

It is not unusual for labor entities at different levels to support different candidates, particularly in cases where labor likes more than one candidate in a race.

For Garamendi, the higher-level unions often control political action committees, or PACs, which can contribute money to his campaign.

On the other side of the coin, the local chapters can put boots on the ground to help get out the vote for DeSaulnier. Turnout is critical in special elections where far fewer voters participate.

Here is Garamendi’s press release:

SACRAMENTO — Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi enjoys strong support from key labor unions in the event he becomes a candidate for California’s 10th Congressional district.

That seat is presently held by Rep. Ellen Tauscher, who has been nominated to Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Policy; if and when she resigns, Garamendi expects to become a candidate in the special election.

“My friends in labor were the first to ask me to look at this unexpected opportunity,” said Garamendi, “and I’m honored by their early pledges of support.  I have stood with labor in many important struggles over the years, and one of my top priorities in Washington will be passage of the Employee Free Choice Act.”

“With everything going on in the nation, it is crucial that we have someone with the knowledge of the lieutenant governor to replace the experienced leadership of Congresswoman Tauscher in Washington, D.C.,” AFSCME Local 3299 President Lakesha Harrison said in a statement.

Here is a partial list of labor groups that have announced their support for Garamendi for Congress:

AFSCME: American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees
CNA: California Nurses Association

CFT: California Federation of Teachers
UFCW: United Food & Commercial Workers
CSEA: California School Employees Association
Laborers International Union of North America
International Union of Operating Engineers

CWA: Communication Workers of America

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Pete Stark is back in the hospital

Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, had a bout with pneumonia earlier this year, and although he went back to work after that, he still had a rather deep cough when I saw him earlier this month. Acting on a tip given to a colleague, I asked his office about his health today, and got a response from the horse’s mouth:

Your tip was right. I’m back in the hospital to see if they can find an antibiotic that will accelerate my recovery from pneumonia. I’m impatient being a patient and want out! Docs and nurses think I’m faking and only trying to get an insider’s view of medicine for reform. Video camera is rolling — next Michael Moore here.

Be well,
Pete

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Your economic stimulus dollars at work

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was up on the northern edge of Rep. Ellen Tauscher’s 10th Congressional District this morning to announce California’s first construction groundbreaking of an infrastructure project funded by the America Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

It’s improvement of the pavement on a 50-year-old section of Interstate 80, between State Route 12 and Air Base Parkway in Fairfield, a roadway used by nearly 200,000 motorists each day; the governor’s office estimates it’ll create more than 200 jobs.

“When President Obama made infrastructure projects a priority, we immediately took action because we know firsthand this investment provides a shot to the arm for our economy and puts Californians back to work,” Schwarzenegger said in a news release. “The groundbreaking of this project illustrates how quickly and effectively we are pumping Recovery Act funding into our economy to create jobs for Californians and invest in the future of our state’s infrastructure.”

Expected to be completed by the end of 2009, the $13.5 million project will resurface and repair the freeway thereby extending pavement life, saving taxpayers money, and improving road conditions for motorists and truckers moving goods. The winning bid from contractor Top Grade Construction of Livermore was the lowest bid submitted at nearly 40 percent below the California Department of Transportation’s cost estimate. Savings from this project have been directed to advance other highway projects.

Estimates show California will receive nearly $2.6 billion from the Recovery Act for highways and local streets and $1 billion for transit projects. Discretionary programs could add another $300 million, and the governor’s office says California “expects to be very competitive in securing a portion of $8 billion set aside nationally for high-speed rail and intercity rail.”

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U.S. voters more diverse than ever

We heard plenty of chatter in the last election about the expected impact of President Barack Obama, America’s first black president, on voting rates among minorities but the Pew Research Center has come up with the numbers. Here’s what the center tells us after studying the presidential election:

The electorate in last year’s presidential election was the most racially and ethnically diverse in U.S. history, with nearly one-in-four votes cast by non-whites, according to a new analysis of Census Bureau data by the Pew Research Center.

The nation’s three biggest minority groups–blacks, Hispanics and Asians–each accounted for unprecedented shares of the presidential vote in 2008.

Overall, whites made up 76.3% of the record 131 million people who voted in November’s presidential election, while blacks made up 12.1%, Hispanics 7.4% and Asians 2.5%.

The levels of participation by black, Hispanic and Asian eligible voters all increased from 2004 to 2008, reducing the voter participation gap between themselves and white eligible voters.

This was particularly true for black eligible voters. Their voter turnout rate increased 4.9 percentage points, from 60.3% in 2004 to 65.2% in 2008, nearly matching the voter turnout rate of white eligible voters (66.1%).

For Hispanics, participation levels also increased, with the voter turnout rate rising 2.7 percentage points, from 47.2% in 2004 to 49.9% in 2008.

Among Asians, voter participation rates increased from 44.6% in 2004 to 47.0% in 2008. Meanwhile, among white eligible voters, the voter turnout rate fell slightly, from 67.2% in 2004 to 66.1% in 2008.

The report, “Dissecting the 2008 Electorate: Most Diverse in U.S.
History,”  authored by Mark Hugo Lopez, Associate Director, Pew Hispanic Center, and Paul Taylor, Executive Vice President, Pew Research Center, is available at the Pew Hispanic Center’s website, www.pewhispanic.org.

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Contra Costa firefighters agree to defer pay raises

Contra Costa firefighters have agreed to delay wage increases for two years in recognition of “current, unprecedented economic circumstances,” according to the office of Contra Costa County Supervisor Susan Bonilla of Concord.

The members of United Professional Fire Fighters Local 1230 agreed to defer  to 2011 of a 2.5 percent raise scheduled to go into effect on July 1, 2009, and to 2012 a second raise of 2.5 percent scheduled for Jan. 1, 2010.

In return, the county extended all other terms of the firefighters’ contract for two years.

“As firefighters, we experience on a daily basis the hardship many families in our community are facing,” said Local 1230 President Vincent Wells. “We wanted to work with the county in maintaining the level of public safety we have always provided … We are willing to defer our raises out a few years with the hopes that the economy will turn around.”

While the pay deferral was undoubtedly welcomed, the firefighters’ concession does not represent a permanent structural change in wages or benefits.

The county and its numerous labor unions have been in negotiations for months as the county struggles to reverse an unsustainable trajectory of rising wages and benefits. Most county employee compensation levels are prescribed in labor contracts, which cannot be changed other than through negotiation and agreement on both sides.

Unions are usually loath to agree to any concessions because it sets the stage for future talks as well as other unions’ negotiations, so it will be interesting to see if other public employee unions follow the firefighters’ example.

Click through to read the full press release.

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