Video game law SCOTUS arguments set for Nov. 2

The U.S. Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments in the challenge to California’s law against sale of excessively violent video games to children for Nov. 2.

The 2005 law — authored by then-Assemblyman and now state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, and signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger — never took effect because it was immediately challenged by video game industry trade groups and struck down by a federal judge in 2005 and by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2009.

The nation’s highest court agreed in April to review the case; State Attorney General Jerry Brown last month submitted the state’s written argument, while Yee joined the California Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, California, in submitting a “friend of the court” brief. Eleven other states – Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia – also submitted an amicus brief in support of California’s law.

The video game industry trade groups challenging the statute have argued it violates First Amendment rights to free expression and 14th Amendment rights to equal protection under the law. They said it’s unnecessary because of the voluntary ratings education and enforcement programs already in place, and would provide no meaningful standards to know to which games it applies.

But the state’s brief argues the law promotes parental authority to restrict unsupervised minors’ access to a narrow category of material in order to protect their physical and psychological well-being — a vital state interest — and it’s well-recognized that minors don’t always have the same First Amendment freedoms as adults to see sexual or violent material.

Yee issued a news release today saying he intends to attend the arguments in Washington, D.C.

“I am hopeful that the Supreme Court will help us give parents a valuable tool to protect children from the harmful effects of excessively violent, interactive video games,” he said. “We need to help empower parents with the ultimate decision over whether or not their children play in a world of violence and murder. The video game industry should not be allowed to put their profit margins over the rights of parents and the well-being of children.”


Last-minute pot taxation scheme raises hackles

An eleventh-hour legislative effort to establish a state licensing and taxation scheme for legalized marijuana has activists atwitter.

When state Sen. Ron Calderon introduced SB 1131 in February, it dealt with prohibiting the state from spending any money to film or produce commercials outside of California. But Calderon, D-Montebello, gutted and amended the bill Aug. 20 – the deadline to do so for this session – to instead create “the Cannabis Licensing Act.”

The bill now would provide for the licensure by the State Board of Equalization of growers, importers, wholesalers, retailers, and transporters of cannabis and cannabis products doing business in California. Each wholesaler would be required to prepay the retail sales tax on its gross receipts derived from the sale of cannabis and cannabis products.

It would require such licensees to keep records of every sale, transfer or delivery of cannabis or cannabis products; would authorize any peace officer and certain BOE employees to conduct inspections; and would prohibit anyone from selling or purchasing cannabis or cannabis products without a license. Cannabis or cannabis products bought or sold in violation of this law could be seized, and violators could face license revocation or suspension, civil penalties or criminal prosecution.

An Aug. 20 Assembly staff analysis of the bill says:

According to the author’s office, this bill “creates a licensing structure similar to the Tobacco Licensing Act of 2003 (Act) which imposed licensing requirements on all retailers, wholesalers, and distributors of cigarettes and tobacco products and all manufacturers and importers of cigarettes. The Act, intended to decrease tax evasion on the sales of cigarettes and tobacco products in California, also included provisions for new recordkeeping requirements, inspection and seizure of any untaxed cigarettes or tobacco products, and imposed civil and criminal penalties for violations.”

Calderon tells Capitol Weekly that his bill would help the board collect taxes on medical marijuana sales, letting the state reap up to $160 million per year it otherwise would miss. He also said it’s aimed at the existing medical marijuana industry in California, and isn’t a response to Proposition 19, the marijuana legalization measure on November’s ballot; however, much of the bill’s language applies to marijuana sales in general and likely could encompass non-medical sales if voters decide to allow them.

Dale Gieringer, executive director of the California chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, wrote online that “SB 1131 would require all commercial growers, retailers, wholesalers, and transporters to register with the state, but would DO NOTHING to legally protect them by changing the law to explicitly legalize wholesale or retail sales. The bill would also create an extraordinary, new, complicated system to require wholesalers to pay part of the retailers’ sales tax in advance.”

Gieringer urged people to contact Assembly Rules Committee Chairwoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, through whose committee the newly amended bill must go first. “Please tell the Committee to reject Calderon’s underhanded effort to pass this ill-considered bill into law without proper hearings.”


Harris campaign blasts Cooley for campaign cash

The race for state Attorney General got hotter yet today with a report that the Republican nominee, Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, never noticed that one of his donors was using straw men to bypass campaign contribution limits, even as he prosecuted others for doing the same thing.

Steve CooleyThe LA Weekly reported that Gladwin Gill, a twice-convicted felon who is about to enter federal prison for campaign-finance fraud, had employees and associates donate to Cooley’s re-election campaign in 2003 and 2004 and then reimbursed them – exactly the kind of scheme for which Cooley prosecuted a billionaire real estate developer’s associates in 2003.

“The bottom line is that all the things that Steve Cooley has been shouting from the mountaintops at and persecuting and prosecuting and hounding people on for years, it seems that when the same thing happens under his own roof, nobody notices,” Ace Smith, campaign manager for Democratic Attorney General nominee and San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, said on a conference call with reporters this afternoon. “This (Gill) is a man who had gotten in trouble with the very same DA’s office, this is a man who was involved in a well-publicized case, and it didn’t dawn on anyone? My goodness, this is unbelievable.”

Smith said Cooley should bring in criminal investigators from outside his office to do an independent probe of what Cooley and his staff knew and when they knew it. Cooley also should return all contributions and gifts to Gill and his associates, and release all records of any contacts between Gill, his associates and his business entities and Cooley’s office, Smith said – all to be accomplished “quickly, rapidly and transparently.”

Told Cooley’s office has said the statute of limitations for any possible offenses expired in 2008, Smith fumed that’s “one of the most disgraceful answers I’ve ever heard from a law enforcement person.” For someone who claims to have built a career on corruption-busting to reject an investigation on such grounds is “pathetic,” he said.

“The only thing pathetic is Ace Smith’s hollow outrage and the story they’ve contrived,” responded Cooley campaign spokesman Kevin Spillane, who accused Smith of having planted the story with the LA Weekly in the first place.

Unlike Cooley, Harris has no real record of prosecuting public corruption cases, and so this is a “pathetic, lame attempt by the Harris campaign to distract from her vulnerabilities,” Spillane added, saying law enforcement groups are overwhelmingly endorsing Cooley.

As for repaying the contributions, Smith said, “If he needs to, he should write a personal check. Maybe he should cash in some of those gifts he took.”

“We’re talking about something that was three campaigns ago,” Spillane replied, noting Los Angeles County requires that campaign accounts be closed after the races are run. “The bottom line is that the money has long since been spent.”

Cooley – who as a popular Republican already holding public office in a Democratic stronghold seems to be one of the strongest members of the GOP statewide slate this November – leads Harris slightly in the polls. Harris’ campaign has made much of the San Francisco Chronicle’s report earlier this month that Cooley accepted gifts from prominent Southern Californians; all of the gifts were reported and none exceeded any legal limits.


Obama to give a second back-to-school speech

Remember how President Barack Obama’s back-to-school speech to students across the nation last year – encouraging them to study hard, stay in school and take responsibility for their education – ignited all kinds of indignation from his political critics?

Well, here we go again. The White House today announced the President will deliver his second annual address to the schoolkids on Tuesday, Sept. 14; more details will be announced soon.


Sup’t of Public Instr. ballot fight in court today

A Sacramento County Superior Court judge is likely to rule later today, after a 3:30 p.m. hearing, on a lawsuit challenging state Superintendent of Public Instruction candidate Larry Aceves’ ballot designation as a “Retired School Superintendent.”

Larry AcevesAceves, 66, a Fremont Democrat, is competing with Assemblyman Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch, for the nonpartisan office in November’s general election.

This lawsuit was filed last Wednesday against Secretary of State Debra Bowen (who approved the designation) not by Torlakson’s campaign, but by Torlakson campaign donor Betty Sue Cleveland of Livermore, a life member of and political organizer for the California School Employees Association – which supports Torlakson’s campaign. (Here’s someone’s Flickr shot of Torlakson and Cleveland together at a CSEA event earlier this month.)

Cleveland is represented by the Los Angeles-based Kaufman Legal Group, whose client list is a who’s who of Southern California labor and Democratic politics; there’s no requirement that Cleveland or her attorneys disclose who’s bankrolling the lawsuit, and neither have done so.

California Election Code Section 13107(a)(3) says a candidate is entitled to a ballot designation of “(n)o more than three words designating either the current principal professions, vocations, or occupations of the candidate, or the principal professions, vocations, or occupations of the candidate during the calendar year immediately preceding the filing of nomination documents.”

The lawsuit claims Aceves has done something else as his principal vocation since working as a school superintendent from 1991 to 2006; he was a partner in Leadership Associates – an employment search and placement firm focusing on school district managers – from 2006 through 2009.

Bowen contends she has no way to independently verify what Aceves has done since retiring as a superintendent. And Aceves contends he worked no more than 210 hours for Leadership Associates during the three years he was a partner there, and was drawing retirement benefits all through that time, so his designation is sound.

The deadline for a ruling draws nigh; tomorrow (Thursday, Aug. 26) is the day Bowen is supposed to send county registrars a certified list of candidates with ballot designations.

Torlakson’s ballot designation, by the way, is “Teacher/California Legislator.” Torlakson, 61, holds a secondary teaching credential and a Master’s degree in education from the University of California, Berkeley, but has held elected office for a loooong time – as an Antioch councilman from 1978 to 1981; a Contra Costa County supervisor from 1980 to 1996; an Assemblyman from 1996 to 1999; a state Senator from 2000 to 2008; and an Assemblyman again since 2009.

The League of Women Voters’ SmartVoter.org site says he hasn’t worked at the Mt. Diablo Unified School District in 30 years. He says he’s on the faculty at Los Medanos College in Pittsburg, but I don’t see his name in the faculty directory. I do, however, see that he’s teaching a one-credit “short course” this fall – six lectures of about three hours each – on California politics and governance.

UPDATE @ 10:48 A.M. THURSDAY: Aceves won.


More heat for Facebook over Prop. 19 ads

The national Libertarian Party today joined the chorus of those complaining that Facebook has banned ads advocating for marijuana legalization.

facebook_adThe party says the Palo Alto-based social networking giant sent a July 23 e-mail – eight days after Facebook had notified the party that the ad had been accepted – saying that “We do not allow ads for marijuana or political ads for the promotion of marijuana.”

The party argues its ad isn’t intended to promote marijuana itself, but rather to take a position on the high-profile political issue of legalization, as embodied by Proposition 19 on California’s ballot this November.

“Whether or not the folks at Facebook like marijuana, we think they should end their ridiculous censorship of our ad, which expresses the Libertarian position on a political issue of interest to many people,” Libertarian Party Executive Director Wes Benedict said in a news release. “We recognize Facebook’s right to control their content and censor whoever they want. But we’re also exercising our First Amendment right to complain about their bad decision, and to alert other consumers to put pressure on them.”

Facebook also has revoked approval of similar ads from other groups, including Just Say Now and the District of Columbia Patients’ Cooperative.

It’s not as if the marijuana legalization debate is completely banned from Facebook; the “Yes on 19: Control & Tax Cannabis 2010” page as of today has 157,064 people who “like” it, while “Public Safety First,” the main coalition opposing the measure, has 535 “likes.”

Facebook spokeswoman Annie Ta this morning explained that “(l)ike many content services, we have different policies for our paid and free services. Our advertising policies prohibit the paid promotion of illegal content, and when we find this, we take action as necessary.”

“We want Facebook to be a place where people can openly discuss issues and express their views, while respecting the rights and feelings of others,” she continued. “Our team has worked with ‘Just Say Now’ directly and explained our policies in depth. We’d like to reiterate that ‘Just Say Now’ can promote their campaign and petition through Facebook Ads as long as they use another image.”

But it was actually the Libertarian Party’s ad, pictured above, that I’d inquired about, so I asked again about that one specifically. “We don’t allow any images of drugs, drug paraphernalia, or tobacco in ad images on Facebook,” Ta replied. “The Libertarian Party can continue to advertise on Facebook using a different image.”

So talking about marijuana legalization is OK, but depicting a leaf is out of bounds.