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House members urge AG to nix hospital sale

Rep. Mike Honda and Rep. Zoe Lofgren led 16 other California House members Thursday in urging California Attorney General Kamala Harris to reject the sale of six Daughters of Charity Health System hospitals to a for-profit company they say has a history of unfair business practices.

Honda and Lofgren, both D-San Jose, cited concerns that under Prime Healthcare Services, “patient care and healthcare worker rights will suffer at these hospitals.”

Los Altos Hills-based Daughters of Charity, a Catholic system, wants to sell Daly City’s Seton Medical Center and Seton Coastside satellite campus, O’Conner Hospital in San Jose, Gilroy’s Saint Louise Regional Hospital and two Los Angeles-area medical centers to Ontario, Calif.-based Prime Healthcare, a $2.5 billion system with 29 hospitals and 4,700 beds in nine states.

Harris may reject the sale based on any factors found relevant, including: whether the sale is in the public interest; whether it would create significant effects on the availability of health care services in the community; or whether the proposed use of the proceeds from the transaction is consistent with the charitable trust under which the hospitals have operated.

“Our biggest concern is Prime’s history of unfair business practices that have resulted in civil and criminal investigations by government agencies for allegedly overbilling Medicare as well as violations of patient confidentiality,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter to Harris. “The National Labor Relations Board has issued charges against Prime for such illegal practices as unilaterally cutting employee health insurance plans, interrogating and intimidating employees who are supportive of their union, bad faith bargaining and bribing employees to vote to decertify the union. Class action and wage and hour violation lawsuits have been filed against Prime at 11 of their 15 California hospitals.”

That, combined with the mission of these hospitals to serve the most-needy residents raises substantial doubts as to the sensibility of this sale, they say.

Others House members signing the letter included Sam Farr, D-Carmel; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo; Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Mike Thompson, D-Napa; and George Miller, D-Martinez.

UPDATE @ 10:07 FRIDAY: It seems these House members have taken a side in a battle between two unions. SEIU-United Healthcare Workers opposes letting Daughters of Charity sell to Prime Healthcare, while the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United supports the deal.

CNA/NNU in October reached an agreement with Prime Healthcare including a pledge to keep open for at least five years O’Connor in San Jose, Saint Louise Regional Hospital in Gilroy, Seton Medical Center in Daly City, and St. Vincent Medical Center in Los Angeles. Prime also promised it has no intention of reducing patient services or taking actions that would put the services at risk, as well as respecting collective bargaining rights, jobs, pension rights and existing labor standards at the hospitals covered by the pact.

Another potential buyer, private equity firm Blue Wolf Capital, refused to commit to keeping the hospitals open, protecting patient services, or honoring employee contracts or existing labor standards, CNA/NNU says.

And so CNA/NNU nurses, joined by nuns associated with Daughters of Charity, will hold a vigil Friday afternoon outside O’Connor Hospital “to urge state officials to take the steps needed to preserve the hospitals for public safety. CNA co-president Zenei Cortez said those opposing the sale “without offering an alternative that would protect our patients and our communities are putting everyone at risk. Nurses will not be silent in the face of this emergency.”

Posted on Thursday, December 11th, 2014
Under: Anna Eshoo, Attorney General, Barbara Lee, George Miller, Jackie Speier, Kamala Harris, Mike Honda, Mike Thompson, Sam Farr, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | 1 Comment »

‘Cromnibus’ includes medical marijuana protection

The final “cromnibus” federal spending bill that Congress will consider this week includes an amendment barring the Justice Department from spending money to undermine state medical marijuana laws – something a growing number of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have been pursuing for more than a decade.

The House in May had voted 219-289 for such an amendment, co-authored by Rep. Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz, and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach – a sudden success 11 years after it was first offered.

When this “must-pass” spending bill – which would keep the government from shutting down when funding runs out Thursday night – was released Tuesday night, the amendment was included. Farr issued a statement Wednesday calling this “great news for medical marijuana patients all across the country.”

“The public has made it clear that they want common sense drug policies. The majority of states have passed reasonable medical marijuana laws but the federal government still lags behind. Our amendment prevents the unnecessary prosecution of patients while the federal government catches up with the views of the American people,” he said.

“We need to rethink how we treat medical marijuana in this country and today’s announcement is a big step in the right direction,” Farr added. “Patients can take comfort knowing they will have safe access to the medical care they need without fear of federal prosecution. And all of us can feel better knowing our federal dollars will be spent more wisely fighting actual crimes and not wasted going after patients.”

Bill Piper, the Drug Policy Alliance’s national affairs director, said Congress for the first time is truly letting states set their own medical marijuana polices. “States will continue to reform their marijuana laws and Congress will be forced to accommodate them. It’s not a question of if, but when, federal marijuana prohibition will be repealed.”

The spending bill also includes a bipartisan amendment that prohibits the Drug Enforcement Administration from blocking implementation of a federal law passed last year by Congress that allows hemp cultivation for academic and agricultural research purposes in states that allow it.

The news wasn’t all good for marijuana advocates, however. The “cromnibus” also includes an amendment blocking Washington, D.C. from spending any federal or local funds to implement the marijuana-legalization initiative approved last month by 70 percent of voters.

Posted on Wednesday, December 10th, 2014
Under: marijuana, Sam Farr, U.S. House | 2 Comments »

Fun with numbers: Bay Area House races

As we await a final result in the 17th District’s Mike Honda/Ro Khanna showdown, here’s how the rest of the Bay Area House races look at this hour, in order from widest margin of victory to narrowest:

    13th District: Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, 87.3% vs. Dakin Sundeen (R), 12.7% (74.6 points)
    12th District: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, 82.4%, vs. John Dennis (R), 17.6% (64.8 points)
    14th District: Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, 75.9% vs. Robin Chew (R), 24.1% (51.8 points)
    5th District: Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, 75.4% vs. James Hinton (i), 24.6% (50.8 points)
    20th District: Rep. Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz, 74.4% vs. Ronald Kabat (i), 25.6% (48.8 points)
    2nd District: Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, 73.6% vs. Dale Mensing (R), 26.4% (47.2 points)
    15th District: Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin, 69% vs. Hugh Bussell (R), 31% (38 points)
    19th District: Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, 66.8% vs. Robert Murray (D), 33.2% (33.6 points)
    18th District: Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, 66.3% vs. Richard Fox (R), 33.7% (32.6 points)
    11th District: State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, 66.2% vs. Tue Phan (R), 33.8% (32.4 points)
    9th District: Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, 51.5% vs. Tony Amador (R), 48.5% (3 points)

Yes, that 9th District race was awfully close – especially since this was the first year since McNerney took office that he wasn’t on the National Republican Congressional Committee’s hit list.

For comparison, McNerney beat Republican Ricky Gill by 11.2 points in 2012 in this district; in his old 11th District, he had beat Republican David Harmer by 1.1 point in 2010, Republican Dean Andal by 10.6 points in 2008; and incumbent Republican Richard Pombo by 6.6 points in 2006. Gill and Harmer both were NRCC “Young Guns,” garnering national support and advice, while the NRCC also worked on Andal’s behalf and GOP luminaries like John Boehner and John McCain shared stages with him.

In other words, most of the times when the NRCC targeted McNerney as vulnerable, it turned out that he really wasn’t; this year, as the NRCC paid the district little mind, Amador came within striking distance. Oops! But that doesn’t mean McNerney will be similarly vulnerable in 2016, when a bigger presidential-year turnout will favor Democrats; for Republicans, this looks like an opportunity missed.

Posted on Wednesday, November 5th, 2014
Under: 2014 general, Anna Eshoo, Barbara Lee, Eric Swalwell, Jackie Speier, Jared Huffman, Jerry McNerney, Mark DeSaulnier, Mike Thompson, Nancy Pelosi, Sam Farr, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | 1 Comment »

The Bay Area House races you haven’t heard about

I feel as if I’ve written a million stories and blog items about the hotly contested 17th Congressional District race between Rep. Mike Honda and challenger Ro Khanna, and I did a story last week about the lopsided race for the Bay Area’s only open House seat, in the 11th District.

Sadly, these and many other election duties precluded me from getting into the Bay Area’s other House races. It’s safe to say none of the Democratic incumbents are endangered, but I wish for the days when we had enough staff and time to cover them all individually.

For now, a summary will have to suffice – a brief look at the candidates, the challenger’s stances on a few issues, fundraising and voter education in those districts.

Dale Mensing2nd District: Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, is challenged in his bid for a second term by Republican Dale Mensing, a supermarket cashier from Redway. Mensing calls for securing the nation’s borders; reforming Social Security to include personal retirement accounts; and replacing Obamacare with a system including personal medical accounts. Huffman reported raising $884,000, Mensing reported raising $5,400. The district is registered 49.1 percent Democrat, 21.3 percent Republican and 23 percent independent.

James Hinton5th District: Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, is challenged in his bid for a ninth term by independent James Hinton of Napa. Hinton calls for a “Next New Deal” including a 1 percent Wall Street sales tax and re-regulation of financial markets; ending free trade with a protective tariff, parity price floors and other protections for U.S. producers; Medicare for all; and expanding Social Security. Thompson reported raising $1.73 million, Hinton reported no fundraising. The district is registered 51.2 percent Democrat, 21.1 percent Republican and 20.8 percent independent.

Tony Amador9th District: Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, is challenged in his bid for a fifth term by Republican Tony Amador, a retired U.S. Marshal from Lodi. Amador calls for cutting taxes to create jobs, improving education, fixing Obamacare, and taking better care of veterans. McNerney reported raising $1.16 million, Amador reported raising $61,300. The district is registered 45.1 percent Democrat, 32.5 percent Republican and 18.3 percent independent.

John Dennis12th District: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, is challenged in her bid for a 15th term by Republican John Dennis, a San Francisco businessman. Dennis calls for auditing the Federal Reserve, bringing U.S. troops home from overseas, ensuring civil liberties and abolishing corporate, capital gains and income taxes. Pelosi reported raising $2.4 million, Dennis reported raising $580,000. The district is registered 56.1 percent Democrat, 8.1 percent Republican and 30.9 percent independent.

Dakin Sundeen13th District: Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, is challenged in her bid for an eighth full term by Republican Dakin Sundeen, an information technology system administrator from Oakland. Sundeen calls for forcing local schools to compete for students, cracking down on surveillance abuses in the name of national security, reforming drug-sentencing laws, reforming and flattening the tax code, and repealing Obamacare. Lee reported raising $1.05 million, Sundeen reported raising $4,900. The district is registered 63.1 percent Democrat, 7.3 percent Republican and 19 percent independent.

Robin Chew14th District: Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, is challenged in her bid for a third full term by Republican Robin Chew of Redwood City, cofounder of an online education marketing company. Chew calls for infrastructure renewal, using technology to reinvent education, controlling federal spending, and new environmental policies to better address climate change. Speier reported raising $1.02 million, Chew reported raising $25,000. The district is registered 51.8 percent Democrat, 16.7 percent Republican and 27.6 percent independent.

Hugh Bussell15th District: Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin, is challenged in his bid for a second term by Republican Hugh Bussell, a technology manager from Livermore. Bussell calls for reducing high taxes and heavy regulation, replacing Obamacare with other reforms, and securing the nation’s borders. Swalwell reported raising $1.93 million, Bussell reported raising $19,800. The district is registered 47.8 percent Democrat, 21.5 percent Republican and 21.9 percent independent.

Richard Fox18th District: Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, is challenged in her bid for a 12th term by Republican Richard Fox, a pediatrician and attorney from Los Gatos. Fox describes himself as “a Libertarian-Republican focused on smaller government as the best way to foster more jobs, better and more affordable healthcare, better schools, and privacy protection.” Eshoo reported raising $1.4 million, Fox reported raising $39,600. The district is registered 45.2 percent Democrat, 23.6 percent Republican and 27.3 percent independent.

Robert Murray19th District: Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, is challenged in her bid for an 11th term by fellow Democrat Robert Murray, a Morgan Hill business executive. Murray calls for repealing Obamacare, cutting spending, improving public education, and cutting corporate and capital gains taxes. Lofgren reported raising $1.04 million, Murray reported no fundraising. The district is registered 46 percent Democrat, 22.3 percent Republican and 27.9 percent independent.

Ronald Kabat20th District: Rep. Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz, is challenged in his bid for a 12th term by independent Ronald Paul Kabat, a Carmel accountant. Kabat’s calls for pruning the federal government’s size, reforming the tax code, reducing the national debt and creating jobs. Farr reported raising $673,000, Kabat reported raising $15,000. The district is registered 52.2 percent Democrat, 21 percent Republican and 22.1 percent independent.

Posted on Thursday, October 30th, 2014
Under: 2014 general, Anna Eshoo, Barbara Lee, Eric Swalwell, Jackie Speier, Jared Huffman, Jerry McNerney, Mike Thompson, Nancy Pelosi, Sam Farr, U.S. House | 3 Comments »

Most Bay Area House members oppose ISIS plan

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Jerry McNerney were the only greater Bay Area House members who voted Wednesday in favor of President Obama’s plan to beat back the Islamic State in part by training and equipping moderate Syrian rebels.

The House voted 273-156 to add an amendment authorizing Obama’s plans to a short-term spending bill passed shortly after that will keep the federal government operating through mid-December. Voting yes were 159 Republicans and 114 Democrats, while 85 Democrats and 71 Republicans voted no.

Nancy PelosiPelosi, D-San Francisco, didn’t whip Democratic votes behind the scenes, but did make a floor speech in favor of the amendment in which she called the Islamic State’s brutality “outside the circle of civilized human behavior.”

“We wish that this action that we’re called upon to do today was not necessary,” Pelosi said. “But the fact is that, with the diplomatic, political and humanitarian foundation that the President has laid out, with the narrowness of the request that he is making to us – it is not pleasant; it is not easy; it is hard – but it really is necessary for the House to approve this.”

A McNerney spokesman didn’t immediately answer an e-mail seeking comment. (See update at bottom.)

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, called the measure “an important, initial step forward” against a group that “represents a direct threat to the safety and security of the United States, and House Republicans are firmly committed to doing everything we can to help keep America safe.”

But several Bay Area Democrats explained why they couldn’t vote for the plan.

honda.jpgRep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, said he supports “the President’s call to dismantle ISIL through robust regional and international partnerships, support for local capacities on the ground, and expanded humanitarian assistance. Arming and training Syrians and Iraqis, and perhaps eventually supporting them with airstrikes, may push back ISIL’s gains. But it will not defeat extremism.”

“There is no lasting military solution to extremism. The only lasting solution is a political solution. One in which the rights and concerns of all religious and cultural groups are respected,” Honda said. “The US must focus on building partnerships in the region, and around the world, to encourage moderate Sunni groups in Iraq and Syria to move away from ISIL, and towards an alternative and inclusive future.”

“Simply arming the Syrian opposition groups comes with great risk,” Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, said in a statement issued after the vote. “Instead, we need a comprehensive strategy that includes a debate and vote in Congress that specifically authorizes the use of force against ISIL, and the involvement of a broad, international coalition of Muslim and Western countries to diminish ISIL and degrade their organizational capabilities.”

“To defeat ISIL, I support U.S. led airstrikes and the building of a real, substantive coalition of regional allies who will stand up to defend their own countries and existence. I do not support putting substantial U.S. resources in, and betting the house on, unproven ‘moderate’ Syrian fighters,” Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin, said in an e-mailed statement. “Over the course of U.S. military history, this proxy-war approach has had disastrous results and no evidence in this case has convinced me the result would be any different.”

“I agree with the President’s decision to remove the threat created by ISIS but the plan laid out by the White House is still too vague,” Rep. Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz, said in his statement. “I could not support the amendment without clear answers to how that threat will be removed and exactly what the United States role will be. ISIS remains a roadblock in creating stability in the region and they must be stopped. However, I am fearful today’s vote does not bring us closer to our ultimate goal of peace.”

Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, issued a statement saying the vote “was not, as some have argued, a choice between supporting the President’s plan and simply doing nothing about ISIL. To be clear, I share President Obama’s assessment of ISIL as a brutal terrorist organization, I support the goal of destroying them, and I believe there should be an American role in a broad, multinational response to ISIL.

“My ‘no’ vote today is because this plan for a new American-led war in Iraq and Syria is being advanced without a proper congressional authorization as required by the Constitution, and because I believe the strategic assumptions underlying the plan are deeply flawed,” Huffman said. “Frankly, we should know better than to provide arms and training to fighters we know very little about – and what we do know is troubling. We should know better than to take the lead in fighting and funding this war without a real multinational coalition where the countries most impacted by the ISIL threat carry their fair share of the risk and cost. And we should know better than to do all of this on the basis of wishful assumptions and rosy assurances that the conflict will not escalate out of control.”

UPDATE 5:24 P.M.: McNerney just emailed me a statement saying that “taking military action is the gravest responsibility of our government, and I take my role in helping decide our nation’s policy very seriously.

“I support the current plan to engage and ultimately destroy ISIL, but it won’t be successful unless we can enlist an alliance of nations within the region that are fully and demonstrably committed to true democratic inclusion and are willing to fight for their own freedom,” he said, including training potential allied military units off the battlefield and arming competent and reliable allies.

“Meanwhile, the President must demonstrate America’s commitment to the region by using very limited American air power in conjunction with local military units to help prevent additional ISIL territorial gains. I do not support the involvement of American ground troops beyond their training mission, or the excessive use of American air power. Both of these are not needed and would likely be counterproductive in the end,” McNerney continued. “While I supported this amendment, I also urged my colleagues to consider the long-term effects of authorizing force: to our soldiers, to the innocent civilians, and to sustained stability in the Middle East.”

Posted on Wednesday, September 17th, 2014
Under: Eric Swalwell, Jared Huffman, Jerry McNerney, Mike Honda, Mike Thompson, Nancy Pelosi, Obama presidency, Sam Farr, U.S. House, War on Terror | No Comments »

Lawmakers urge Obama to consult them on Iraq

Rep. Barbara Lee and a Virginia Republican have lead 78 other House members in urging President Obama to seek Congressional approval before taking any military action in Iraq.

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)Lee, D-Oakland, and Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., last summer led independent letters calling on Obama to consult Congress before taking military action in Syria. Now they’ve joined together on a letter sent to the president Thursday.

“We do not believe intervention could be either quick or easy,” they wrote. “And we doubt it would be effective in meeting either humanitarian or strategic goals, and that it could very well be counter-productive.”

The lawmakers called for a political settlement involving all segments of the Iraqi population.

“As you consider options for U.S. intervention, we write to urge respect for the constitutional requirements for using force abroad,” they wrote. “The Constitution vests in Congress the power and responsibility to authorize offensive military action abroad. The use of military force in Iraq is something the Congress should fully debate and authorize.”

Besides Rigell, other Republicans signing the letter included Chris Gibson, R-N.Y.; John Duncan Jr., R-Tenn.; Walter Jones, R-N.C.; Reid Ribble, R-Wisc.; Justin Amash, R-Mich.; Matt Salmon, R-Ariz.;

Besides Lee, other Bay Area members signing the letter included Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo; George Miller, D-Martinez; and Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael.

Posted on Thursday, July 3rd, 2014
Under: Anna Eshoo, Barbara Lee, George Miller, Iraq, Jackie Speier, Jared Huffman, Mike Honda, Obama presidency, Sam Farr, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | 4 Comments »

USA Freedom Act vote splits Bay Area reps

The Bay Area’s House delegation was somewhat split – and along surprising lines – as the House voted 303-121 on Thursday to pass a bill supporters say would end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of American phone records.

The USA Freedom Act, HR 3361, was amended after it arrived on the House floor, and some former supporters believed it had been watered down too much; for example, a requirement for an independent public advocate on the secret intelligence court that oversees the NSA was dropped from the bill.

Voting for the bill were House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and representatives Mike Thompson, D-Napa; Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; and Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton.

From Thompson:

“Our government has a responsibility to protect people’s civil liberties and our national security, and this legislation does both. It ends the government’s bulk collection of metadata, it strengthens oversight and improves accountability of our intelligence community, and it allows our intelligence community to continue their brave work to keep Americans safe.”

Voting against the bill were representatives Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; George Miller, D-Martinez; Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo; and and Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz.

From Lofgren:

“Across the country, many people were surprised to learn that the privacy rights they believed were protected under the 4th Amendment did not apply to NSA surveillance of their communications.

“I originally cosponsored the USA FREEDOM Act when it was introduced last yearbecause it was a small step toward reform and transparency. Unfortunately the bill was changed in key ways after committee action and will no longer provide the protections I sought.

“I voted against it today because it falls short of the Fourth Amendment protections Americans deserve.

“There is strong bipartisan concern that this bill makes it legal for the NSA to continue mass surveillance of U.S. citizens. Many civil liberties groups and leading tech companies share these concerns and felt compelled to withdraw their support.

“Without much needed improvements to the USA FREEDOM Act, Congress risks a continuation of mass surveillance in this extension of the Patriot Act.”

Posted on Thursday, May 22nd, 2014
Under: Anna Eshoo, Barbara Lee, Eric Swalwell, George Miller, Jackie Speier, Jared Huffman, Jerry McNerney, Mike Honda, Mike Thompson, Nancy Pelosi, Sam Farr, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | No Comments »

Lawmakers cheer tougher penalties for pot grows

Northern California House members from both sides of the aisle are cheering new, stiffer federal penalties for illegal marijuana grows on trespassed lands.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission announced last week it had adopted tougher punishments for high-level offenders who cultivate marijuana grows on public or private lands they don’t own. The amended guidelines will be submitted to Congress and reviewed for six months before officially taking effect Nov. 1.

This had been the aim of a bill introduced last summer and a letter sent to the commission in November by Reps. Mike Thompson, D-Napa; Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; Sam Farr, D-Carmel; and Doug LaMalfa, R-Oroville, as well as by senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.

“Illegal marijuana grow sites that threaten lives, destroy public lands and devastate wildlife have become far too common,” Thompson said in a news release Monday. “These new sentencing guidelines will serve as a strong deterrent against these illegal grow sites, and they will help make sure criminals who wreck our public and private lands are held fully responsible for the harm they cause.”

Huffman said toxic and illegal chemicals used at such sites, plus the potential for violence, make such grows unsafe on many levels. Also, “California is in the midst of a devastating drought, and many of these grow operations illegally divert streams and tap groundwater with untold impacts on downstream water users and wildlife,” he noted.

Both he and Farr noted the nation seems to be moving toward what they consider to be more reasonable laws on marijuana use, but these illegal grows can’t be tolerated. “With these new guidelines in place, we can make public and private lands safer while protecting the environment for everyone to enjoy,” Farr said.

LaMalfa said property owners and local government often are stuck paying thousands of dollars in clean-up costs. “The Sentencing Commission’s recognition of these impacts will go a long way toward ensuring that those who disregard our nation’s laws are held responsible.”

Posted on Monday, April 14th, 2014
Under: Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, Jared Huffman, marijuana, Mike Thompson, Sam Farr, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 10 Comments »

Activists seek ‘Robin Hood tax’ upon Wall Street

Activists organized in part by the California Nurses Association rallied Friday at congressional offices in 22 cities – including four in Northern California – to call for a tax on Wall Street speculation to relieve economic inequality and address basic needs.

The Oakland-based union scheduled the events for Friday because it’s the 46th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who at the time of his death was amid a campaign for economic justice that included anti-poverty and worker-rights issues.

Supporters of HR 1579 – authored by Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and cosponsored by local lawmakers including Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz; Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; and John Garamendi, D-Fairfield – sometimes call it the “Robin Hood tax.”

The bill would levy a tax of 50 cents on every $100 of stock trades and smaller amounts on transactions of bonds and derivatives. Its goal to reduce harmful financial market speculation; discourage high-volume, high-speed trading; and slow down proliferation of complex derivatives while raising hundreds of billions of dollars per year for jobs, health care, education, the fights against HIV/AIDS and climate change, and more.

Several dozen countries have similar taxes, and the United States had one until 1966. Business leaders including Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, Jeffrey Sachs, Robert Pollin, and Larry Summers have recommended adopting a financial transaction tax, and after Wall Street’s crash 1987, such a tax was endorsed by President George H.W. Bush and U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan. And former Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, carried a similar bill in 2010.

There’s no chance the Republican-led House will ever advance this bill.

Still, Northern California activists rallied Friday at the offices of congressmen George Miller in Concord, Mike Honda in San Jose, Ami Bera in Rancho Cordova and Jeff Denham in Modesto – three Democrats and a Republican, respectively.

“My patients are trying to heal from an illness or surgery and when they go home they are forced to make a decision between buying medication or food,” California Nurses Association co-president Malinda Markowitz, an RN at San Jose’s Good Samaritan Hospital, said in a news release. “That’s why I want Rep. Mike Honda to support the people of this community by supporting the Robin Hood Tax.”

The nurses’ union notes King once said, “This is America’s opportunity to help bridge the gulf between the haves and the have nots. The question is whether America will do it.”

Posted on Friday, April 4th, 2014
Under: Ami Bera, Barbara Lee, George Miller, Jared Huffman, Jeff Denham, John Garamendi, Mike Honda, Pete Stark, Sam Farr, taxes, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | 1 Comment »

Lawmakers urge Obama to reclassify marijuana

Eighteen House members, including six from the Bay Area, wrote to President Obama today urging him to use his authority to move marijuana off the federal government’s list of most-restricted drugs.

Marijuana currently is listed on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, a list for drugs deemed to have a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in the United States and a lack of accepted safety under medical supervision. The lawmakers’ letter says this “makes no sense” for marijuana, and calls on the president to instruct Attorney General Eric Holder to reclassify the drug.

“Classifying marijuana as Schedule I at the federal level perpetuates an unjust and irrational system,” the letter says. “Schedule I recognizes no medical use, disregarding both medical evidence and the laws of nearly half of the states that have legalized medical marijuana.”

The letter comes days after Obama told the New Yorker magazine that he believes marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol, a comment that has brought criticism from anti-drug activists.

Among those signing the letter were Reps. Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; and Eric Swalwell, D-Pleasanton. The only Republican among the 18 signers was Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach.

The Controlled Substances Act gives authority for rescheduling controlled substances to Congress, but it also grants executive branch authority to the U.S. Attorney General and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Several rescheduling bills have gone nowhere in recent years.

“President Obama just told the nation during his State of the Union address that because Congress has been unable to act, he would take executive action where he could on behalf of helping the American people,” said Steph Sherer, executive director of Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access. “The president has the authority to reclassify marijuana and could exercise that authority at any time.”

Posted on Wednesday, February 12th, 2014
Under: Barbara Lee, Eric Swalwell, Jared Huffman, marijuana, Mike Honda, Obama presidency, Sam Farr, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | No Comments »