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BART strike bill is dead, but another is coming

Assembly Democrats on Wednesday killed an East Bay lawmaker’s bill that would’ve essentially banned strikes by BART workers, like the ones that threw Bay Area commutes into chaos in 2013 – but another lawmaker is preparing to take another stab at it.

Assemblywoman Catharine Baker, R-Dublin, introduced AB 528 last February, delivering on a campaign promise that had helped her become the Bay Area’s only Republican lawmaker.

Catharine Baker“In June 2017, the current BART contract expires. We should never be subject to BART strikes again,” Baker said in a news release issued Wednesday after the Assembly Public Employees, Retirement and Social Security Committee killed the bill on a party-line vote. “This is just the first step in the fight to protect us from BART strikes and I will keep pursuing solutions that will prevent the entire Bay Area from coming to a grinding halt in the face of another strike.”

Many didn’t think the bill would last even this long in the Democrat-dominated Legislature. The committee first heard it in May, and rather than voting it down, agreed to make it a two-year bill; then-chairman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, said that would give more time for legislators and other interested parties to discuss the issues. Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, now chairs the committee.

Baker’s AB 528 instead would have barred BART workers from striking as long as they continue to get wages and benefits – in other words, if an existing contract has a no-strike clause and management keeps honoring the pact’s financial terms after it expires, unions couldn’t strike. Baker campaigned on pursuing a bill like this after two 2013 strikes brought BART to grinding halts, snarling Bay Area traffic and costing the local economy $73 million per day by one business group’s estimate.

Democrat Steve Glazer made a similar campaign promise when competing with Baker in 2014’s 16th Assembly District primary, and again in his successful campaign in last year’s 7th State Senate District special election. Glazer intends to introduce a BART-strike bill sometime in the next few weeks, spokesman Steve Harmon said Wednesday.

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Might California ban gun sales to terror watch lists?

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy proposed Thursday to use an executive order to ban gun sales to those on federal no-fly watch lists – begging the question of whether California might seek to do the same.

The Democratic governor said state officials are working with the federal government to get access to the lists. “If you cannot fly due to being on a government watch list, you should not be able to purchase a firearm while on that watch list as well,” Malloy told reporters at the Capitol. “This is basic common sense. The American people get it.”

Congress repeatedly over the past two weeks has turned away efforts to enact this as a federal law. Critics say the government’s terrorist watchlists are error-prone and bureaucratically generated, so using them to deny gun purchases could mean violating Americans’ constitutional right to bear arms without due process of law.

Gov. Jerry Brown was just arriving back in California on Thursday after attending an international conference on climate change in Paris. Spokesman Gareth Lacy said he didn’t anticipate commenting on Connecticut’s action.

A spokesman for Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom – who has proposed a ballot measure for next November that would require people to give up their high-capacity ammunition magazines and require background checks for ammunition purchases, among other things – said this might not be practicable at the state level.

“States aren’t able to compel the federal government to share that information,” spokesman Rhys Williams said in an email. “But Lt. Governor Newsom believes it could and absolutely should be a federal action, as simple as adding the relevant information to the NICS (the FBI’s firearm background-check system) – and it should be done today.”

Still, Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, said Friday he plans to introduce legislation barring individuals on the government’s no-fly list from being able to purchase guns and certain chemicals, the Sacramento Bee reported.

“You are not going to stop every single one of these occurrences,” Gatto told the Bee. “But it does make sense to make sure that the people who have been deemed too dangerous to even board a quick flight to Vegas, that they are not allowed to go out there and buy guns and chemicals en masse.”

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Jerry Brown & gun control: How much is too much?

As I noted in my story published Saturday, Gov. Jerry Brown in 2013 vetoed a bill that would have classified all semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines as assault weapons – rifles like those used in last week’s terrorism massacre in San Bernardino, and like those owned by many Californians.

That bill, SB 374, had been the centerpiece of a package of gun control bills that lawmakers introduced in the wake of December 2012’s massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

“This ban covers low-capacity rifles that are commonly used for hunting, firearms training, and marksmanship practice, as well as some historical and collectible firearms,” Brown wrote in his veto message. “Moreover, hundreds of thousands of current gun owners would have to register their rifles as assault weapons and would be banned from selling or transferring them in the future.”

Brown told the Sacramento Bee on Saturday that “California has some of the toughest gun control laws of any state. And Nevada and Arizona are wide open, so that’s a gigantic back door through which any terrorist can walk.”

Eddie Kurtz, executive director of the California-based progressive grassroots Courage Campaign, said Brown is “is correct that deeply irresponsible gun laws in other states make it more difficult to protect Californians, but the guns used in the San Bernardino attack were purchased legally in California.” The rifles were modified after purchase in ways that made them illegal under the state’s assault weapons law.

“When Gov. Brown had the chance to sign into law bills preventing the sale of such semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines, he made an unconscionable and short sighted decision to veto SB 374 and other LIFE Act bills in 2013,” Kurtz said. “While guns used in the San Bernardino attack appear to have been purchased prior to 2013, Gov. Brown failed to do everything in his power to prevent mass shootings in California.”

Kurtz said “Brown needs to stop making excuses and immediately announce his support for the full policies of the LIFE Act, including a ban on semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines and background checks for ammunition.”

But Brown believes it’s time for national action. In Paris for an international climate-change conference, Brown told CNN on Monday that he believes stricter federal laws are needed, but that he’s not sure a ballot measure – like that proposed by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom to ban possession of high-capacity magazines and require background checks for ammunition purchases – is the best way to enact further state gun controls.

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CA17: Sec’y of State Alex Padilla backs Ro Khanna

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla has endorsed Democratic candidate Ro Khanna to unseat Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, in the 17th Congressional District.

Alex Padilla“Ro Khanna will help get Congress working again with his innovative ideas and freedom from special interests,” Padilla said in Khanna’s news release. “Ro’s commitment to building a grassroots campaign has shown me that he’s serious about increasing participation, and being accountable to the people he represents. I look forward to working with him as a United States Congressman.”

Khanna said he’s honored to have Padilla’s support. “As he did in leading the charge to bring automatic voter registration to California, Alex has proven he can offer new solutions and get things done. I look forward to working as his partner in Washington to bring about results for the people of California.”

This is Khanna’s second bid to unseat Honda, who is now serving his eighth House term. Honda defeated Khanna last year by 3.6 percentage points.

Padilla is the state’s second prominent Latino politician to endorse Khanna; state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, did so in September. The 17th District’s population is about 16 percent Latino, according to the U.S. Census Bureau‘s 2014 American Community Survey.

Other Democrats picking the challenger over the incumbent this year include San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, Santa Clara District Attorney Jeff Rosen and Santa Clara County Assessor Larry Stone. Khanna also has peeled away two local officials who had endorsed Honda last year.

Honda recently announced his endorsement by Northern California House members Nancy Pelosi, Zoe Lofgren, Barbara Lee, Jerry McNerney, Jared Huffman and Ami Bera, as well as by former U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton.

UPDATE AT 6:40 A.M. MONDAY: I’ve noticed now that Padilla had endorsed Honda in last year’s race.

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Jerry Brown honored by GOVERNING magazine

Gov. Jerry Brown is among nine public officials nationwide honored as the year’s most outstanding leaders in state and local government by GOVERNING magazine.

From the magazine’s website:

Not that long ago, people were questioning whether California could be governed. The state faced multibillion-dollar shortfalls every year, leading to questions about whether California would go broke before Greece. In terms of dysfunction, Sacramento appeared to have beaten even Washington.

Then Jerry Brown returned as governor. When he took office in 2011, the state was $26 billion short. This year, lawmakers were fighting about what to do with a surplus. Much of that had to do with the state’s rising economy, but Brown had helped put the state back on a sustainable course.

In 2012, he convinced voters to raise sales and income taxes. Since then, he has managed to curb the impulse legislators have to spend money as fast or faster than it’s coming in, using his veto power freely and instead diverting the money to the state’s rainy day fund. “His ability to follow through on his promise to voters that he was going to stabilize the financial situation, which every year had been a problem, has made all the difference in the world,” says Mark Baldassare, president of the Public Policy Institute of California.

GOVERNING’s profile also praised Brown’s work on benefits and rights for undocumented immigrants, higher education funding, climate change, and combating the state’s historic drought.

“We’re thrilled to be recognizing such remarkable officials,” GOVERNING Executive Editor Zach Patton said in a news release. “These outstanding men and women are tremendous examples of the power of public service, especially at the state and local level.”

“We are all too aware of the daunting challenges facing many of our states and localities and the people who live in them,” said GOVERNING Publisher Mark Funkhouser. “But this year’s award recipients inspire me with great optimism, showing how determined leadership can address even the steepest challenges.”

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Rule change would hide politicians’ disclosures

The state’s political watchdog agency is mulling a rules change that would mean dropping elected officials’ economic disclosures and “behested payments” reports from its website after seven years – effectively removing them from public view.

And in a state where lots of people often hold one or more public offices for way longer than seven years, that seems like a bad idea.

The proposed rule change would require that Form 700 Statement of Economic Interests disclosures and records of behested payments – charitable contributions directed by a public official to a charity of their choice – be taken off the Fair Political Practices Commission’s website after seven years.

Keep in mind that even in this age of term limits, a person can serve up to 12 years in the Legislature and up to eight years in a particular statewide constitutional office – though many politicians play “musical chairs” through several such posts for careers spanning decades. Many officeholders would still be in office when their earlier disclosures start disappearing, these disclosures are crucial tools for exposing the influence of deep-pocketed donors and possible conflicts of interests.

A rule like this would’ve made it much harder for me and my colleague, Thomas Peele, to fully report our October 2014 story about Gov. Jerry Brown’s extensive business dealings, or my May 2015 story about the many millions Brown has directed in behested payments as California’s attorney general and governor.

The FPPC had opposed a bill this year to reduce transparency around behested payments by allowing funds solicited from government programs to go unreported, but the Brown signed the bill into law last month, Consumer Watchdog executive director Carmen Balber noted in a Capitol Watchdog article Wednesday.

“A sole contribution solicited in 2008 may not reflect direct influence over a vote or action in 2015, but it can certainly help paint a trend and pattern over time of a politician’s relationships and who they rely on for support,” Balber wrote.

“Once upon a time, too much data might have felt like dead wood, too voluminous to be used in any meaningful way. Today, technology is giving us new and innovative ways to manipulate government and campaign data every day,” she continued. “We can do more this year with data provided in 2000 than we could for the previous 15 years. It’s the worst time to be taking information out of public view.”

FPPC staff will hold an “interested persons” meeting on this proposed rule change at 2 p.m. next Thursday, Nov. 12 at the commission’s offices on the 8th floor of 428 J St. in Sacramento. People also can take part in this meeting by teleconference, by calling 877-411-9748 and using access code 723284. Or, Californians can make their opinions known in writing, addressed to Commission Counsel Val Joyce at vjoyce@fppc.ca.gov, or via snail mail at 428 J St., 8th floor, Sacramento, CA 95814.

UPDATE @ 4:35 P.M. THURSDAY: FPPC spokesman Jay Wierenga noted in an email today that the proposed regulation change would let the commission remove the forms from the website after seven years “but will not require us to do so. It will be based on a ‘as-needed’ basis, which gets to section 81009 (g) which states that we (or any agency) may remove the form for space-saving or technical purposes as long as an original is still available.”

“And as for behested payment reports, we put them online as part of our goal and attempt to provide disclosure, and to provide meaningful and timely information,” he said. “As for why only certain ones are posted with us right now, it’s been a matter of practicality and labor availability.”

Wierenga said the FPPC’s goal “is to increase transparency through technology, and the new e-filing will do so. It’s also a goal to provide meaningful, current, timely information that matters most to most people, especially before an election.”

I replied that I didn’t understand why the FPPC, once it already has the Form 700s and behested payments information online, would take them down.

Wierenga replied that the commission’s staff in reworking its website found it had more than 300,000 PDF documents and began considering “what makes common sense in balancing the public’s right to know with privacy concerns, possibly outdated information, etc.” The proposed change would give staff some flexibility rather than having to go to the commission for approval, he said, and since the agency already goes beyond the letter of state law by not only retaining records for seven years but making them available online, “we figured it’s just consistent at this point to keep the time frame the same.”

“Once e-filing is the norm, and fewer and fewer forms come in to our offices physically, taking up time to scan and space to store –, yes, you’re right, we can and probably will re-visit the issue,” he said. “And there are obviously no plans for someone to sit at a computer in a few years to start deleting information at seven years and one minute and counting. We already go above and beyond what’s statutorily required… so there’s no reason to think, and under the current Chair’s direction, no movement to do anything other than streamline, make more efficient, look for ways to improve technology and disclosure, etc.”

UPDATE @ 10:10 TUESDAY 11/10: The FPPC staff has withdrawn the proposed rule change.