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SD10: Wieckowski & Kuo speak out on Tesla

Electric-car manufacturer Tesla’s decision to site its first “gigafactory” for battery production in Nevada has brought a wave of disappointment from Californians, including the two candidates hoping to represent the Fremont-based company’s 10th State Senate District.

Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, looked for silver linings:

Bob Wieckowski“While I am disappointed in Tesla’s apparent decision to locate its battery factory in Nevada, I am proud of California’s partnership with Tesla resulting in significant job growth in Fremont, Santa Clara County and among the automakers’ suppliers. I am hopeful that as the company grows, Tesla may build additional battery facilities or other specialized facilities in California as it scales up manufacturing for current and future products. Our region continues to benefit from the growth of auto research and design investments in the Bay Area and Tesla is an important part of that industry growth locally. With more than 6,000 employees in our state and the new Model X on the way in 2015, Tesla will continue to contribute to California’s position as the green technology leader and highlight our commitment to job creation.”

But Republican candidate Peter Kuo noted the Legislature couldn’t reach a deal before adjourning last week on a bill to provide further incentives for Tesla to put the plant in California:

Peter Kuo “Over the past year California, and specifically the Bay Area, has seen tens of thousands of current and future jobs depart for other states. Jobs fleeing California has become common place, this is unacceptable and unsustainable for our economy.

“While my opponent Bob Wieckowski appears to dismiss the severity of this news, I am concerned about the economy and workers in this district. The type of policies that Bob has led on are a root cause of the exodus of businesses to more business friendly states. Since announcing my candidacy I have often pointed to California’s burdensome business climate that has resulted in an abysmal recovery in the Golden State. Tesla’s latest move hits close to home because many of those jobs could have filled by constituents of the 10th Senate District. I urge the legislature to take this seriously and stop the bleeding.”

Posted on Thursday, September 4th, 2014
Under: 2014 general, Bob Wieckowski, California State Senate | 2 Comments »

ALD newborn-testing advocates fear veto for cost

Supporters of a bill that would require newborns to be tested for a deadly disease fear it may be headed for a veto because of its cost.

Assemblyman Richard Pan’s AB 1559, requiring newborns to be screened for adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), is now headed for a Senate floor vote, having been approved last week by the Appropriations Committee on a 5-0 vote. In fact, no lawmaker has voted against the bill so far; the Assembly approved it 79-0 in May.

But the only entity on record as opposing the bill is a big one: The California Department of Finance. Its analysis found adding a new disease to the current screening panel would require raising the $111.70 fee by another $11 – and that means an added $2.75 million per year in cost to Medi-Cal, which covers testing for about half the state’s births.

The Finance Department noted the federal government is reviewing whether ALD should be added to the list of recommended screenings for all newborns, but that review will take about two years and the state typically waits for that final approval before adding new diseases to its screening panel.

Gov. Jerry Brown typically doesn’t comment on bills before they reach his desk.

ALD – spotlighted in the 1992 movie “Lorenzo’s Oil” – is a degenerative brain disease mostly affecting young boys. The disease affects the myelin sheaths that insulate brain cells, essentially preventing the brain from communicating with the body.

It’s a rare disease – estimated at one in 20,000 to one in 50,000 births – and those who have it often have normal early childhoods. Early symptoms often seem to be behavioral and are misdiagnosed, but once the degeneration begins, it’s very rapid and usually leads to a vegetative state and then death. Advocates say cord-blood and bone-marrow transplants in the disease’s earliest stages can treat and even heal patients – if anyone knows the patient has the disease.

“Every year that California delays testing, we can expect that 30 families won’t get the early diagnoses that could save their vibrant and seemingly healthy child from this cruel disease,” said Pan, D-Sacramento, who is a physician. “For the parents who have lost their child to ALD, it is particularly tragic and painful knowing that a simple and effective test at birth could have saved their child’s life.”

Shane Louisell, 53, of San Leandro, lost two brothers to the disease – Bobby, at age 5, and Richard, at age 44 – the latter having suffered the less-common, adult-onset version of the disease. Now his nephew, in his 30s, has it too.

“The bill is so important – getting newborns screened, at least they have a chance to do something about it before it’s too late,” said Louisell, an artist and retired teacher. “It would save a lot of families grief.”

And supporters say the bill actually would save California millions because the difference in treating an early diagnosed patient and a late-diagnosed patient is roughly $1 million per year.

New York just began testing newborn babies for ALD at the end of last year; so far, six boys and one girl were found to have the disease, and so have been given a chance at life; testing of those babies’ families found a four-year-old who also was diagnosed.

You could’ve heard a pin drop as ALD victims’ mothers told their stories at the Senate Health Committee hearing in June:

Posted on Thursday, August 21st, 2014
Under: Assembly, California State Senate, Gov. Jerry Brown, Jerry Brown | 2 Comments »

Lawmakers OK bill to boost grease-theft penalties

A bill to boost penalties for stealing used cooking oil is on its way to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

Yes, you read that correctly – used cooking oil. Apparently oil from restaurants’ deep fryers has become a hot commodity worth a lot of money, with thieves draining it in the dead of night and selling it for conversion into clean-burning biofuel. Ah, California.

There's gold in that there fryer“As the alternative fuels market keeps growing, the demand for inedible kitchen grease based biofuels will grow as well,” Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, the bill’s author, said in a news release.

“The price increases stemming from this new demand will make grease theft a more lucrative crime in the coming years,” he said. “AB 1566 provides law enforcement with the tools to combat grease theft and protect the burgeoning biofuels market by beefing up requirements for licensed haulers, increasing the penalties for stealing grease and allowing law enforcement to impound vehicles for up to 15 days.”

The penalties have been so minor that many law enforcement agencies don’t even respond when owners report the theft, Holden contends. But according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, a typical fast-food restaurant produces 150-250 pounds of grease a week and a fully loaded pumper truck could bring in as much as $900 at a recycling center.

The Assembly voted 70-0 Monday to send the bill to Brown’s desk. The state Senate had approved it 35-0 one week ago.

Posted on Monday, August 18th, 2014
Under: Assembly, California State Senate | No Comments »

Supporters rally for ‘gun restraining order’ bill

Advocates of a bill that would create a “gun violence restraining order” system are stepping up their efforts in advance of a state Senate floor vote later this month.

Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, along with several Bay Area police chiefs and gun control advocates, rallied Monday morning outside the Emeryville Police Department in support of AB 1014. Skinner and Santa Barbara Democrats Assemblyman Das Williams and state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson announced the bill soon after a May rampage at UC-Santa Barbara left six students dead.

“When someone is in crisis, the people closest to them are often the first to spot the warning signs, but almost nothing can now be done to get guns out of the hands of someone in crisis,” Skinner said in a news release Monday. “Parents, like the mother who tried to intervene, deserve an effective tool to help prevent these tragedies.”

Modeled on domestic violence laws, AB 1014 creates a process to intervene and potentially prohibit the purchase of firearms and/or remove firearms already in possession by a person who shows warning signs of a risk of violence. Law enforcement or family members would have the right to ask a judge to grant an order prohibiting firearms purchase or possession. Connecticut, Indiana and Texas have similar laws, Skinner’s office said.

Current law lets that process start only when therapists notify police that a client is at risk of committing a violent act. Family members can call police, but if no crime has been committed, or the individual doesn’t meet criteria for an involuntary civil commitment to mental health treatment, there isn’t anything police can do about that person’s firearms.

“AB 1014 fills an important gap in the law that prevents law enforcement from acting to prevent violence before it happens,” Emeryville Police Chief Ken James, a longtime gun-control advocate, said in Skinner’s news release. “This need has been obvious to law enforcement for years. But the time to act is now. The tragedy in Santa Barbara makes that obvious.”

The Senate Public Safety Committee approved the bill on a 5-2 vote June 24, and the Senate Appropriations Committee approved it Friday on a 5-0 vote with two Republicans not voting.

Posted on Monday, August 18th, 2014
Under: Assembly, California State Senate, gun control, Nancy Skinner | 9 Comments »

Kevin Mullin mulls election recount reform bill

The politically ugly recount now under way in the race for state controller has inspired a Bay Area Assemblyman to start working on a bill to reform the election recount process.

Kevin MullinAssemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, announced Wednesday he’s researching ways to ensure the recount process in future statewide elections is fair to all candidates, and he plans to introduce a bill when the Legislature returns from its summer recess.

Mullin said options might include setting a threshold that automatically triggers the recount process for very close races, the development of a recount standard across counties, and a state-funded recount process.

“California is in uncharted territory with the Controller’s race recount,” Mullin said in a news release. “It’s imperative to our system of governance that the election process is fair and transparent for all voters and candidates. We are actively researching a variety of options and engaging in discussions with the Secretary of State’s office so we can craft comprehensive legislation on this issue.”

Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, a Republican, clearly finished first in the primary election for controller, but Board of Equalization member Betty Yee edged out fellow Democrat and Assembly Speaker Emeritus John Perez by 481 votes in their race to finish second. Perez has demanded a recount, specifying 15 counties in which he did better than Yee.

Current law lets a candidate demanding a recount specify not only which counties but even specific precincts and the order in which they’re recounted; the candidate must pay for the recount on a daily basis but can stop the process whenever a desired result is achieved. (Clarification: All of the ballots in each county included in a recount request must be recounted in order to change the result, though Perez could halt the recount between any of the 15 counties he specified if he gets a number he wants.) The other candidate can then choose whether or not to demand a recount too. Critics note this gives an advantage to whoever can better afford a recount – in this case, Perez.

“When the recount process is necessary, it should be easily implemented and every vote valued and counted equally,” Mullin said.

Mullin said he also plans to pursue legislation to standardize county-by-county vote counting and reporting procedures for vote-by-mail ballots that are dropped off at polling places on Election Day. His goal is to avoid the kinds of delays experienced in this year’s controller’s race as county vote tallies were aggregated and reported on the Secretary of State’s website.

Posted on Wednesday, July 16th, 2014
Under: Assembly, Kevin Mullin | No Comments »

Rep. Mike Honda calls on Fox to fire Bob Beckel

Rep. Mike Honda has joined the chorus of Asian-American politicians calling for the resignation or ouster of Fox commentator Bob Beckel following Beckel’s racially charged tirade last week.

Here’s the Beckel clip:

Honda, D-San Jose, issued this statement Monday:

honda.jpg“I am outraged and disgusted by Fox News commentator Bob Beckel’s use of the word ‘Chinamen’ and his other racist and xenophobic comments. I agree with State Senator Ted Lieu, Campbell CA Councilmember Evan Low, and everyone else who has called on Fox News to fire Beckel. The ignorance and hatred in his comments are repugnant. The fact that he has yet to apologize for these comments is inexcusable. As the founder of the Congressional Anti-Bullying Caucus, I know that words hurt, and slurs are used to intimidate. Fox News needs to do the right thing and fire Bob Beckel.”

State Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, who is currently a 33rd Congressional District candidate, issued his statement Saturday:

Ted Lieu“I am one of those ‘Chinamen’ with ‘Oriental’ eyes that immigrated to America and majored in computer science. I also served on active duty in the United States Air Force and continue to serve my country in the Reserves. And today, as an American and as a California State Senator, I call on Mr. Beckel to resign.

“America is great because anyone can be an American. Our country is the strongest in the world because of our diversity. Unfortunately, Fox News host Bob Beckel does not understand what it means to be an American.

“But Mr. Beckel’s comments are more than just racist and stupid. His ignorant views are dangerous because it is precisely those types of extreme xenophobic and racist views that caused our government to massively violate constitutional rights during World War II and force more than 100,000 Americans into internment camps.

“It is Mr. Beckel’s extreme racist and xenophobic views that are a threat to the American people and he should resign now.”

But Peter Kuo, the Santa Clara Republican now seeking the 10th State Senate District seat, took a more conciliatory tone Saturday:

Peter Kuo“Beckel’s remarks have invoked strong emotion and sadness among immigrants who call America their home. Having endured racist remarks growing up and hearing these comments from a major media figure is shocking and hurtful. Many have moved to the United States in search of the American Dream and found it through hard work, education and job opportunities. The United States is the home to the greatest technological and medical innovation in the world, in great part because of the diverse group of people that have made these fields their careers.

“Today, I observed public calls for Bob Beckel to be fired from Fox News. I completely understand those emotions and feelings as his actions are very insulting. However, I think we have an opportunity to rise above his insensitive comments and use this sad moment in time to grow as a nation. Calling for termination because my feelings are hurt would be easy, and likely very much understood by the media, the voters and most certainly the Chinese-American community. And that may just be the solution. But in the ever increasingly sensitive, racially charged environment we all seem to live in these days, why not take a step back and reflect and recognize that while regrettable, it is quite possible that Mr. Beckel made a mistake albeit a terrible one. Instead of rallying everyone to call for his termination, I prefer a different approach. I would ask Mr. Beckel to offer a formal apology on the air. If Mr. Beckel were to apologize, and those of us offended were to accept said apology, wouldn’t we have already accomplished so much more than the alternative? If I’m to ask the voters of Senate District 10 and California to trust my ability to make sound judgements, to listen to both sides of the aisle, to think my way through problems and controversy instead of always acting on pure emotion, as many issues like this are often handled, then it is important for me to treat this issue no differently.

“Mr. Beckel, I’m offended by your comments as is the Chinese-American community. Do what is right, apologize and move forward better aware of the repercussions of your actions. If this is done, I call on the Chinese-American community to accept his apology, and hope that Mr. Beckel will reach out to members of the Chinese-American community and offer a meeting or a conversation to discuss these events. I will gladly welcome him to my district to meet with Chinese-American community members if he is willing. Instead of dart throwing and mud slinging, let’s figure out a way to move forward so that we may be a more resilient, unified and a compassionate nation.”

Posted on Monday, July 14th, 2014
Under: California State Senate, Mike Honda, Ted Lieu, U.S. House | 6 Comments »

Steinberg, Corbett to lead trip to Central America

State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Majority Leader Ellen Corbett will lead a delegation of state lawmakers to Central America next week, in part to explore the political, economic and social situation driving a flood of unaccompanied children to the U.S. border.

centralamerica-political-mapThe lawmakers will meet with an array of officials in El Salvador and Guatemala to probe the situation and find out what states like California can do to meet the humanitarian challenge presented by the undocumented immigrant tsunami. Dangerous conditions in those nations and Honduras have driven parents to send more than 52,000 children north to the U.S. border in recent months.

Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Corbett, D-Hayward, will be joined on the trip by Legislative Latino Caucus members Assemblyman Jose Medina, D-Riverside; Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno; Assemblyman V. Manuel Peréz, D-Coachella; and caucus vice-chair Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville.

The trip, from July 14 through 23, will include a stop in Panama to learn about the Canal Zone’s expansion. Some transportation, security and interpreting service costs are being borne by the host countries, and the remaining expenses – including airfare and hotels – will be paid by the lawmakers.

In El Salvador, the lawmakers are scheduled to meet with Salvadoran President Salvador Sanchez Ceren, Vice President Oscar Ortiz, Foreign Affairs Minister Hugo Martinez, Economy Minsiter Tharsis Salomon Lopez Guzman; Legislative Assembly President Sigfrido Reyes; and U.S. Ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte. In Guatemala, they’re scheduled to meet with Vice-minister of Foreign Relations Oscar Padilla Lam; Paul Briere, President of the Congressional Committee for Migrants of Guatemala; and U.S. Charge d’Affaires Charisse Phillips. And in Panama, they’re scheduled to meet with the Panama Canal Authority and U.S. Ambassador Jonathan Farrar.

Posted on Friday, July 11th, 2014
Under: Assembly, California State Senate, Darrell Steinberg, Ellen Corbett, Immigration | 4 Comments »

New law allows wine tastings at farmers’ markets

Salud! Sláinte! Kanpai! L’Chayyim! Wine and hard cider vendors at farmers’ markets can now offer tastings under certain conditions, thanks to a bill signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Jerry Brown.

wine signBrown signed AB 2488 by Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, which had passed the Assembly and state Senate with unanimous votes.

The new law, effective immediately, lets wineries or cider makers who grow all of the fruit in their product to offer tastings to potential customers at farmers’ markets. But nobody’s going to get schnockered: Market managers still have discretion on whether to allow tastings; only one winery can offer tastes at a market on a given day; the tastings must happen in a cordoned-off area; and the grower can pour no more than three ounces of wine or cider per adult customer.

“The farmers’ market shopping experience involves tasting the product,” Levine said in a news release last month. “AB 2488 simply allows tastings at certified farmers’ markets where winemakers are already allowed to sell their products. This bill is a common sense solution for farmers’ markets, wineries and cider makers.”

Paul Kronenberg, president of the Family Winemakers of California, said wine like many other products is traditionally “sold through sampling. Consumers want to understand the wine, decide if they like it and decide if it is a good value.”

Posted on Tuesday, July 8th, 2014
Under: Assembly, Gov. Jerry Brown, Jerry Brown | No Comments »

Former Assemblyman Ira Ruskin dead at 70

Former Assemblyman Ira Ruskin, D-Redwood City, died Thursday. He was 70.

Ira RuskinRuskin served as a Redwood City councilman from 1995 to 2004, including a stint as mayor from 1999 to 2001. In 2004 he defeated Republican Steve Poizner to win the 21st Assembly District seat, despite Poizner having spent $5.75 million of his own money on the race.

As a councilman and Assemblyman, he made a name for himself in environmental affairs, and he chaired both the Assembly Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials as well as the Budget Subcommittee on Environmental Resources.

Term-limited out of the Assembly in 2010, he had planned to run for the state Senate in 2012 but instead withdrew from politics in 2011 when he had to undergo surgery for the brain tumor that eventually claimed his life.

“As a member of the Assembly and as Mayor and City Councilmember of Redwood City, Ira Ruskin was known as the consummate public servant. His loss is not only a loss for his family and many friends, but for the entire State of California,” Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, said in a statement issued Saturday.

“In the Assembly Ira Ruskin was a leader on consumer issues, energy independence and protecting our coast,” Atkins said. “The leadership, intelligence and compassion Ira Ruskin brought to public service will be sorely missed. My Assembly colleagues and I send our thoughts and prayers to his wife, Cheryl, and to all their family and friends.”

Posted on Monday, July 7th, 2014
Under: Assembly | No Comments »

Tim Donnelly wants immigrant kids deported

Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, who lost last month’s gubernatorial primary election, wants California and federal agencies to start deporting the thousands of young illegal immigrants who’ve been rushing to U.S. borders in recent months from violence-ravaged Central American nations.

Tim Donnelly“Rather than dump these children on our streets to become victims again, we need to do what is in their best interest which is to restore them to their natural parents in their home countries,” Donnelly, R-Hesperia – a former Minuteman anti-illegal-immigration activist – wrote in a letter Wednesday to the officials at the state Department of Social Services, U.S. Border Patrol, Riverside County and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“Study after study irrefutably indicate that children who are raised by their birth parents, even if they are imperfect or living in difficult circumstances, have a better chance of achieving long–term success if the family unit stays intact,” he wrote.

Donnelly’s letter comes a day after Homeland Security buses carrying immigrant children and families were rerouted Tuesday to a facility in San Diego after American flag-waving protesters blocked the group from reaching a suburban processing center. The standoff in Murrieta came after Mayor Alan Long urged residents to complain to elected officials about the plan to transfer the Central Americans to California to ease overcrowding of facilities along the Texas-Mexico border.

More than 52,000 unaccompanied children – mostly fleeing at their parents’ behest from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras – have been detained after crossing the Texas-Mexico border since October in what President Barack Obama has called a humanitarian crisis. Many of believed they would receive leniency from U.S. authorities.

“News stations are reporting these children are to be ‘processed’ and ‘released,’” Donnelly wrote. “There have also been credible reports these children are being sent to our country by the drug cartels with only a phone number of a contact in our state. The Border Patrol have been instructed they are not to check the backgrounds or immigration status of the contacts state side … in other words, our government has completed the drug cartels communication ring at taxpayer expense and no government agency is doing their duty to prevent this from happening.”

Donnelly wrote that he wants to know to whom these children are being released, and whether background checks are being done on those people to see if they are “illegally present in our country, and by the very nature of their status, are unable to provide the safety and stability these children desperately need.”

He also wants to know where children without relatives in California will be released, and what sort of action plans various counties have to deal with the influx.

“We have a moral obligation to protect the most vulnerable among us. I can think of no group at greater risk than ‘unaccompanied minors’ – these children are alone and their parents are thousands of miles away,” Donnelly wrote. “The Border Patrol is reporting that nearly one third of the girls, ages 10-14, have been raped during their journey to our country, and many of them are now pregnant. This is unconscionable.”

Posted on Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014
Under: Assembly, Immigration, Tim Donnelly | 4 Comments »