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Archive for December, 2012

House passes ‘Do Not Pay List’ bill

Who says the House can’t agree on anything?

Though apparently not making progress on a solution to the “fiscal cliff,” the House voted 402-0 today to pass a bill that would cut down on wasteful spending in part by creating a government-wide “Do Not Pay List” to block improper payments before they go out and to stop payments to deceased individuals, such as for Social Security.

Mike Thompson “Taxpayers deserve to know that there money is being spent wisely and monitored closely,” Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, one of the bill’s original co-sponsors, said in a news release. “Every dollar counts. This bill will help us lower our debt by cutting down on billions in wasteful spending.”

H.R. 4053, the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Improvement Act (IPERIA), will better identify, prevent and recover payment error, waste, fraud and abuse within federal spending by making sure federal agencies have policies in place to prevent and recover improper payments.

The Government Accountability Office has reported that federal agencies logged an estimated $125.4 billion in improper payments in FY2010.

This legislation builds on a similar improper payments law passed last year, the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act of 2010, which was part of the Blue Dogs’ Blueprint for Fiscal Reform – a 15-point plan to balance the budget and lay the groundwork for sound long-term fiscal policies.

Posted on Thursday, December 13th, 2012
Under: Mike Thompson, U.S. House | No Comments »

Which local House members are targets in 2014?

With House elections only a month behind us, eyes are already turning toward the 2014 election’s landscape.

The fine folks at renowned political prognosticator Larry Sabato’s “Crystal Ball” have tagged several Northern California House members as potentially vulnerable in 2014:

For Republicans, they might take fresh shots against Rep.-elects Scott Peters (D), Ami Bera (D) and Raul Ruiz (D), who all defeated Republican incumbents in razor-thin races. They may have some other opportunities across the state, particularly if some unsuccessful but promising 2012 challengers — Ricky Gill (against Democratic Rep. Jerry McNerney) and Kim Vann (against Democratic Rep. John Garamendi), among others, decide to mount rematches.

The difficulty for Republican candidates in California, though, is that their statewide party is in rump status, akin to Democrats in Texas — and, unlike demographics in Texas (which might very slowly move in the Democrats’ direction), demographics in California provide little hope to resuscitate the California GOP.

The article also notes the potential for a fight in the 10th Congressional District, where Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Modesto, beat back a challenge this year from former NASA astronaut Jose Hernandez, a Democrat from Stockton. “Hernandez is openly considering a repeat run, although he might wait until 2016 — a clear indication that he understands the turnout problems Democrats have in midterm elections.”

Meanwhile, Rep.-elect Eric Swalwell – the Dublin Democrat who unseated 20-term Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, last month – today tells Roll Call exactly what we reported right after Election Day: that it’s never too soon to consider who’ll be coming at you two years hence.

Posted on Thursday, December 13th, 2012
Under: Ami Bera, Eric Swalwell, Jeff Denham, Jerry McNerney, John Garamendi, Pete Stark, U.S. House | 1 Comment »

TV commercial volumes get turned down today

No, you’re not going deaf – a new law taking effect today turns down the volume on television commercials.

Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, and U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., held a news conference this morning on Capitol Hill to highlight the implementation today of the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act, which requires broadcast, cable, satellite and other video providers to keep the volume of commercials at a level consistent with the rest of their programming.

“Earsplitting television ads have jolted and annoyed viewers for decades,” Eshoo, the law’s original author, said in a news release. “With this new law, loud TV commercials that make consumers run for the mute button or change the channel altogether will be a thing of the past.”

National Association of Broadcasters President and CEO Gordon Smith said broadcasters have taken the lead in addressing the issue’s technical challenges, and National Cable and Telecommunications Association President and CEO Michael Powell thanked Eshoo and Whitehouse “for enacting sensible legislation that will improve the consumer TV experience. Our industry will continue to work closely with the FCC and the entire TV ecosystem to prevent loud commercials from being a disruption.”

Loud commercials have been a top consumer complaint to the Federal Communications Commission for decades and were listed as such in 21 of the FCC’s 25 quarterly reports between 2002 and 2009. According to a 2009 Harris poll, almost 90 percent of TV viewers are bothered by high commercial volumes, prompting 41 percent of viewers to turn down the volume, 22 percent to mute the TV, and 17 percent to change the channel altogether. Before this law, the official FCC policy recommended that consumers mute commercials if they found them to be excessively strident.

President Obama signed Eshoo’s legislation into law in December 2010, and the FCC passed its final rules implementing the law in December 2011. An FCC consumer guide to the new provisions of the CALM Act can be found here.

Posted on Thursday, December 13th, 2012
Under: Anna Eshoo, U.S. House | 4 Comments »

Pelosi bids ‘adieu’ to Lynn Woolsey, Pete Stark

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, took a break from the rhetorical carpet-bombing of the fiscal cliff faceoff yesterday for a floor speech thanking the departing California Democrats, including two from the Bay Area – one who retired, and one who was unseated.

John Boehner“Thank you, Mr. Speaker, I thank you for yielding, Mr. Miller. I know that we have a time limitation so I will begin by associating myself with the remarks of Congresswoman Anna Eshoo who spoke so beautifully and knowledgeably about our colleagues who are leaving, who are from California, who are leaving. I rise today to thank my colleagues, who are our friends, and our partners from the great state of California.

“The Members we honor in this special order – I’m just going to do this cause its way down low.

[Leader Pelosi Adjusts Podium Height]

“Recognize the, demonstrate the extraordinary diversity of our great Golden State. They hail from northern California and southern California, from the Bay Area, to the greater Los Angeles [area], to San Diego. They bring Californians’ wide range of interests, and aspirations to the floor of the House every day. Working side-by-side with the entire California delegation, their service, our service has strengthened the Golden State; the commitment of our departing Members has strengthened the Congress; their achievements have advanced the character of our country. Each of these Members has brought a unique voice to the table; yet each shares the same core values – a devotion to public service, a dedication to opportunity, a belief in the promise of America.

“Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey spent her career fighting to improve the education of our children, the economic security of their families, the protection of our workers, as well as our coastline, as Congresswoman Eshoo mentioned. With her departure, I won’t say retirement because she is not a retiring person, the Bay Area loses a powerful advocate in Congress and the nation loses a tireless progressive leader. It was, I think, Mr. Miller said ‘400 times that Lynn Woolsey came to the floor to speak against the war, our involvement in the war in Iraq.’ Thank you, Congresswoman Woolsey. So, it’s about the patriotism of this Congress and of the participation as patriots of our colleagues from California.

“Whether it’s the education of our children, whether it is the health of our people as demonstrated by Congressman Pete Stark. Why we all owe you Pete Stark, a great debt of gratitude. He has been a fixture in the fight to build and strengthen the pillars of health and economic security for the American people. From his seat on the Ways and Means Committee, to the House floor, he always remained a fierce fighter for Medicare and a passionate advocate for the Affordable Care Act because he believed that health care was a right for all Americans, not a privilege just for the few. His legacy will live long in a stronger support for the well-being of our seniors, our families, and our middle class. I hope it is a source of pride, I know it is to your family, that so many of your colleagues respect you so much and honor your leadership and service here.”

More, after the jump…
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Posted on Thursday, December 13th, 2012
Under: Lynn Woolsey, Nancy Pelosi, Pete Stark, U.S. House | 3 Comments »

Mirkarimi is asked to resign, but recall is on hold

Activists who had discussed a recall of San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, who was convicted earlier this year of a domestic violence-related crime, instead have launched a website to gather petition signatures urging him to resign.

Fat chance.

Mayor Ed Lee suspended Mirkarimi early this year after he pleaded guilty to false imprisonment related to a New Year’s Eve altercation that left a bruise on the arm of his wife, Venezuelan former telenovela star Eliana Lopez.

Mirkarimi spent much of 2012 fighting Lee’s effort to permanently remove him from office, through a lengthy series of San Francisco Ethics Commission hearings. The commission ultimately voted 4-1 that he had committed official misconduct, but four members of the Board of Supervisors voted October 9 to reinstate him. (Removing him would’ve required nine votes from the 11-member board.) After fighting that fight, it’s unlikely a petition will convince him to quit.

Nonetheless, political consultant Andrea Shorter today unveiled a website at which San Franciscans can add their names to a call for the sheriff to step down voluntarily.

Shorter, a member of the city’s Commission on the Status of Women since 2001 and a longtime advocate for women’s issues, last month had been talking about a recall campaign, which would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and require organizers to support from more than 50,000 San Franciscans in order to get on the ballot.

Though the website sets a goal of 50,000 petition signatures, Shorter made it clear Wednesday that this is merely a means of building and gauging support, and not yet an actual recall effort.

“We’re interested in him hearing clearly what the interests are of San Franciscans right now,” she told reporters on a conference call, specifying that many city residents believe it’s inappropriate for someone who’s on criminal probation to lead a law enforcement agency. “Maybe he will heed that particular call, we will know in due time.”

Shorter had spoken at the Aug. 16 session of the San Francisco Ethics Commission’s hearing, calling for Mirkarimi’s removal. “This is an issue of governance, this is an issue of public turst and our ability as a city to make sure we provide every single citizen the utmost trust and confidence in all of our officials,” she said at the time:

Posted on Wednesday, December 12th, 2012
Under: San Francisco politics | 1 Comment »

Garamendi honors Dave Brubeck on House floor

Rep. John Garamendi, D-Fairfield, spoke on the House floor today to honor iconic jazz pianist and composer Dave Brubeck, a Concord native who died Dec. 5, one day before his 92nd birthday.

Brubeck grew up in Ione (Amador County), graduated from the College of the Pacific in Stockton and later attended Mills College in Oakland before recording with San Francisco’s Fantasy Records. A long residency at the Black Hawk nightclub in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district helped him establish a reputation that would soon grow to international stature.

UPDATE @ 5:11 P.M. THURSDAY: Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, today introduced a resolution honoring Brubeck. “Dave’s contributions to music, jazz, and the arts have had a tremendous impact here in Stockton and around the world,” McNerney said in the news release, adding he’s “proud to introduce this resolution recognizing his contributions and talents.” Garamendi; Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez; and Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, are among the resolution’s original co-sponsors.

Read the full text of Garamendi’s remarks, after the jump…
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Posted on Wednesday, December 12th, 2012
Under: John Garamendi, U.S. House | No Comments »

Gov. Jerry Brown has prostate cancer

California Gov. Jerry Brown’s office has just announced the 74-year-old executive is undergoing treatment for localized prostate cancer.

Dr. Eric Small, Brown’s oncologist at the University of California, San Francisco, issued the following statement: “Fortunately, this is early stage localized prostate cancer, which is being treated with a short course of conventional radiotherapy. The prognosis is excellent, and there are not expected to be any significant side effects.”

Brown’s office said he’s continuing a full work schedule during the treatment, which is expected to be completed the week of January 7.

Posted on Wednesday, December 12th, 2012
Under: Jerry Brown | 4 Comments »

Woolsey gives her 444th, final antiwar speech

Rep. Lynn Woolsey, who is retiring from Congress in a few weeks, this morning delivered her 444th and final special order speech expressing her opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and her support for a “smart” approach to national security:

http://youtu.be/ztGa932tnwc

Woolsey, D-San Rafael, will be succeeded in the next Congress by Rep.-elect Jared Huffman, a fellow Democrat; the newly drawn 2nd Congressional District stretches from the Golden Gate Bridge’s north end to the Oregon border.

Read the text of Woolsey’s speech as prepared, after the jump…
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Posted on Wednesday, December 12th, 2012
Under: Afghanistan, Iraq, Iraq War, Lynn Woolsey, U.S. House | 2 Comments »

Yee aims to widen online registration’s reach

Hot from the resounding success of the online voter registration system his legislation enabled, a Bay Area lawmaker now wants to expand that system’s reach.

State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, today introduced a bill that would put a link to the online registration system run by the Secretary of State on every state government website.

“The use of online voter registration was overwhelming, but we need to continue to find new ways to get as many citizens as possible involved in our democracy,” Yee said in a news release. “When Californians access their state government via the internet, we should encourage them to vote and have their voice heard at the ballot box.”

“There are more than 5 ½ million eligible Californians who are not registered to vote. Senate Bill 44 will help us reach these individuals and significantly increase the voter rolls.”

The new system, which went live in September, let nearly 800,000 Californians register online to vote in November’s election, helping to boost the state’s registered voters to a record 18.25 million and – some believe – contributing to Democrats’ success in reaching legislative supermajorities.

Yee cited early numbers showing that those who registered to vote using the new online system were significantly more likely to cast a ballot in the November election.

According to Political Data Inc. (PDI), turnout was 84.7 percent in Sacramento County from those who registered online – 10 percentage points higher than the county average. In Orange County, those who registered online turned out at 82 percent versus the county average of 72 percent. Fresno County saw an even larger uptick in turnout among those who registered online: 78.2 percent, versus the county average of only 63.8 percent. Figures for other counties are still being collected.

“Not only were we able to increase turnout among those who registered online, but we significantly increased participation among young people and first time voters,” said Yee.

UPDATE @ 4:19 P.M. THURSDAY: A quick clarification and amplification – these comparisons in Sacramento, Orange and Fresno counties are between those who registered online between Sept. 19 (when the new system went live) and Oct. 22 and all other voters in those counties regardless of when they registered. The turnout rates are much closer if you compare those who registered online during those few final weeks and those who registered on paper during the same time period. Also, it’s worth noting that while Yee sponsored the legislation authorizing the new system, it was Secretary of State Debra Bowen who secured federal funding and built a successful system in only about nine months, a very short time by state IT project standards.

Posted on Wednesday, December 12th, 2012
Under: California State Senate, Debra Bowen, Leland Yee, Secretary of State, voter registration | 2 Comments »

Skinner: Dems must choose battles, but fight some

With supermajorities in both legislative chambers, Democrats must walk a finer line than ever, Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner said Wednesday.

My coffee meeting with Skinner, D-Berkeley, yielded a wide-ranging conversation about her party’s considerable new power and the responsibilities that go with it, as well as her own legislative priorities. The former Berkeley councilwoman has just won re-election to her third and final Assembly term, and she sees a productive but sensitive session ahead.

“We’ve been given this privilege by the voters and we want to be respectful of the privilege we’ve been handed,” she said Wednesday.

The caucus must choose its battles, she said, but not choose them so carefully that none ever get fought.

She’s in a position to help choose those battles because, as the Assembly Rules Committee’s chair, Skinner is among the Legislature’s top leaders. Rules is responsible for assigning bills to committees, setting salaries for legislative staff, waiving rules and overseeing the Assembly’s business; it’s basically an executive committee for the chamber, and its seats are coveted.

But Skinner on Wednesday said the supermajorities were achieved by votes in individual districts, not a statewide vote, and so lawmakers must move cautiously to ensure they don’t salt the field.

For example, she said, voters’ approval of Proposition 30 – Gov. Jerry Brown’s measure temporarily increasing sales taxes and income taxes for the state’s richest residents to fund K-12 and higher education – was “great,” but it would take a lot more revenue to return the state’s schools, colleges and universities to their heyday.

“There’s probably appetite for some more revenue,” she said, but it has to be something that’s palatable to voters.

For example, state Sen. Ted Lieu’s proposal to triple the Vehicle License Fee – which was slashed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, blowing a huge hole in the state budget – was withdrawn almost as soon as it was advanced last month due to public backlash. And voters in November 2010 handily rejected Proposition 21, which would’ve boosted the VLF to bankroll state parks. Voters just don’t like the VLF, Skinner said.

“We have to look at the range of … tax expenditures, what I call tax loopholes or tax giveaways, that were part of various budget deals in order to get a Republican vote” in past years, she said.

One such loophole was the single-sales factor, just repealed last month by Proposition 39; that’ll bring in about $1 billion a year, half of which for the first five years is earmarked for projects increasing energy efficiency and creating green jobs. Skinner this month introduced the Assembly version of a bill to implement that.

“But there’s others like that,” she said, citing the “net operating loss carryback” deduction that was suspended for 2010 and 2011 but will apply to 2012’s corporate taxes.

This and other loopholes, if closed, “could be worth from $2.5 billion to $4 billion, which is significant,” she said.

And of course there’s the possibility of “split-roll” reform of Proposition 13 so that residential properties remain protected but commercial properties are re-assessed more often, she said. Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, already has announced a bill to tighten state laws enacted under Prop. 13 so that it’s harder for businesses to avoid re-assessment and higher taxes when property changes hands – a half-step toward split-roll that wouldn’t require voters’ approval of a ballot measure.

Lots more, after the jump…
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Posted on Wednesday, December 12th, 2012
Under: Assembly, gun control, marijuana, Nancy Skinner, same-sex marriage, state budget, taxes | 2 Comments »