George Miller part of new early-childhood panel

Former Rep. George Miller is among the high-profile members of a new “Right Start Commission” aimed at helping modernize California’s early-childhood services.

The commission, rolled out Thursday by Common Sense Kids Action, will develop a plan for providing universal, high-quality access to early learning and support systems from birth to age 5. The panel will examine both government’s role in providing such services, and the private sector’s responsibility to ensure a good start for employees’ children; its recommendations will become a legislative blueprint.

“Every child deserves a fair start in life and the only way we can ensure that happens is to provide all kids with the care, support and quality learning experiences they need to be successful from day one,” Common Sense Media CEO Jim Steyer, who’ll also serve on the commission, said in a news release. “We know that improving early childhood education is one of the best investments we can make. Yet, across the nation millions of American kids are denied this critical opportunity year after year. With the Right Start Commission, Common Sense Kids Action will kick off an effort to reimagine early childhood services in California and create a model for the nation to ensure every child has the opportunity to succeed.”

The commission’s launch is in conjunction with the Invest In US coalition President Obama unveiled in 2014 to improve the quality of and access to early childhood education for children throughout the country. It will hold a series of statewide and national events over the remainder of the year to collect input from early education and care practitioners, parents, educators and respected researchers.

Besides Steyer and Miller, who just retired after 40 years in the House as a leader on education issues, the commission’s members include Salesforce Chairman and CEO Marc Benioff; PolicyLink Founder and CEO Angela Glover Blackwell; Stanford University Professor Linda Darling-Hammond; Institute for InterGroup Understanding Chair and CEO George Halvorson; Center for Youth Wellness Founder and CEO Nadine Burke Harris; Apple Vice President of Environmental Initiatives Lisa Jackson; Heising-Simons Foundation President Elizabeth Simons; and former state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento.

“Early investment in our youngest children is essential to their long-term success as individuals and a bright future for California,” Steinberg said in the news release. “Now, more than ever, we must move kids to the top of our agenda and provide them with the resources they need to compete and succeed in a global economy. The Right Start Commission is a critical first step toward achieving that vision.”


Steinberg staffers will represent immigrant kids

State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg’s staff counsel will help provide free legal services to undocumented, unaccompanied children arriving in California from Central America.

Steinberg, D-Sacramento, announced Wednesday that his policy director, Anthony Williams, and his senior policy consultant, Margie Estrada, will take part in the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s Legal Assistance Project, in conjunction with the American Immigration Lawyers Association Southern California Chapter.

“These children face a daunting immigration process in a foreign legal system without any legal representation. A kid is a kid, and should be shown compassion regardless of where they were born,” Steinberg said in a news release. “I’m exceptionally grateful to my team and all other volunteering attorneys for taking unpaid time away from their families to ensure that these children receive fair and due process.”

Steinberg noted that many if not most of these children don’t speak English or understand the U.S. legal system, yet some have been requested to appear in courts, sometimes in other states, with less than 48 hours of notice. Those who fail to appear risk deportation orders and a swift return to the violent regions from which they originally fled, he said.

Heather Poole, chair of AILA’s Southern California Chapter, wrote to an immigration court that the timeline reduces the children’s chance to find legal counsel and so compromises their due-process rights.

“These unaccompanied children are in desperate need of competent immigration representation to ensure that every child’s case is thoroughly vetted before an immigration judge before a swift removal takes place to a potentially dangerous place where their safety will be at risk,” she wrote. “Due to political pressure and directives, the immigration courts are now prioritizing these cases on the court’s docket, which has led to fast hearings and some with little notice for many children who remain unrepresented by counsel, having no funds or connections. It is important, more than ever, that we have volunteers from the legal community participate in this humanitarian crisis to ensure that justice is served.”

Steinberg earlier this month led other lawmakers on a fact-finding visit to El Salvador and Guatemala, where they met with national leaders to discuss the gang, drug and other conditions that have led to more than 57,000 minors arriving at the U.S. border since October 2013.


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.


Lawmakers sing ‘Kum-Ba-Yah’ on rainy-day fund

It’s a rare “Kum-Ba-Yah” day under the State Capitol dome, as the Legislature in unanimously approved a new ballot measure to modify the state budget’s rainy-day fund.

The proposal voters will consider in November would double the reserve’s size from 5 percent to 10 percent of the General Fund; the state would set aside 1.5 percent of the general fund each year, and supplement that with extra capital-gains revenue. For the next 15 years, half of what’s set aside would help pay down the state’s debt and unfunded liabilities, including public employee pensions and retiree health care.

The votes were 75-0 in the Assembly and 36-0 in the state Senate.

From Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento:

“This compromise agreement between legislative leaders of both parties and the Governor balances the needs of fiscal stability and planning for the future. It will help attenuate cuts in vital services during economic downturns, aggressively pay down state liabilities and indebtedness, and still maintain the room that we need for investing in California and its people. This is a formula we should embrace not only in the future, but also for the 2014-15 State Budget we’re negotiating now.”

“We always must have a balance. I have long believed we should approach budgeting in a way people can readily understand; one-third of our excess revenue to pay down debt, one-third to put away for a ‘rainy day,’ and one-third left to invest and reinvest in California and its people. By using this agreement as our approach in debating the upcoming budget, we can make sure there is room left for some investment to meet the needs of our children and families who are still struggling to recover from the cuts we were forced to make during the recession.”

From Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, R-Brea:

“I think it demonstrates to the people of California that when you have a robust bipartisan discussion, you can make things better because we all bring something to the table… To that end, we wanted to make sure that it’s truly a rainy day fund, and not an everyday fund.”

From Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro:

“Following today’s bipartisan vote in the California State Senate, I am pleased that legislative colleagues on both sides of the aisle voted to affirm this important Rainy Day Fund proposal that seeks to ensure greater long term economic security for California. Our state can and should save for the future so that we can minimize the potential for future drastic cuts to education, health, human services and other critical programs, while also paying down debt. This new reserve fund, if approved by voters, will be an important step to help secure California’s economic future.”

“California’s economy is one of the largest in the world and is certainly an important driving force within the United States. It makes sense for state elected officials to support efforts that will continue to encourage California’s growth and future economic strength. Just as families must prepare for unexpected job losses or expenses, so too must the state prudently prepare for if and when another recession occurs.”

From Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford:

“This is exactly why I came to Sacramento – to work on bipartisan measures that benefit the people of California. I hope this is the first of many historic agreements. Let this be an example of how we can work across the aisle on a water bond.”

From Assembly Speaker Emeritus John Perez, D-Los Angeles:

“This is a strong proposal for the voters to consider, and I am very proud of the work we have done on a bipartisan basis to take another monumental step forward in making California a model for fiscal responsibility across the country. By putting a genuine Rainy Day Fund before the voters, we can break the bad habits of the past where we overspend in good years and overcut in tough years, and this measure will ensure that we maintain the health of California’s finances in the years to come.”


State Senate’s ethics review is tomorrow

The state Senate will hold its special ethics review and self-flagellation session Wednesday, following the conviction of one senator and the indictment of two others.

State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, announced the special day last month; all senators and staffers are required to attend.

The Senate voted 28-1 on March 28 to suspend Sens. Leland Yee, Ron Calderon and Rod Wright. Yee, D-San Francisco, has been indicted for allegedly selling official favors and conspiring to traffic in firearms without a license and to illegally import firearms. Calderon, D-Montebello, was indicted last month on bribery charges. Wright, D-Inglewood, was convicted in January of voter fraud and perjury related to not living in the district he represents.

Steinberg’s office says the meetings “will be closed sessions to facilitate frank discussions and candid interactive dialogue among the participants,” though Steinberg and Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff will hold a news conference late Wednesday morning.

The group sessions will include a presentation on “Creating a Culture of Ethics – A National Perspective” by Scott Raecker, CEO of the Josephson Institute of Ethics and executive director of Character Counts at Drake University. The nonprofit Josephson Institute works with corporations, governmental agencies and professionals on strengthening standards of conduct in individual and institutional decision-making.

There will also be a panel discussion of the “Challenges of Legal Ethics in a Legislative Environment” facilitated by three attorneys with expertise in political and campaign issues: Lance Olson of Olson & Hagel, who advises some of the state’s foremost Democrats; Charles Bell Sr. of Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk, general counsel to the California Republican Party; and John Panneton, a former federal prosecutor. The panel will present hypothetical scenarios that raise potential ethical and legal issues; those scenarios will also be used by senate chiefs of staff, committee chief consultants and office directors as they lead staff discussions in individual Capitol offices later Wednesday.


Legal scandals lead Dems to cancel golf fundraiser

Chalk up one immediate victim of the ethical and legal scandals sullying the state Senate: Golf.

State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Sen. Kevin de Leon, who’ll succeed Steinberg in the top spot at the end of this year, issued a joint statement Tuesday announcing they’ve cancelled this weekend’s Pro Tem Cup – the annual Democratic party fundraiser at which donors give tens of thousands of dollars to join legislative leaders on the links at Torrey Pines in La Jolla – “in light of the very recent and extraordinary breaches of the public trust by three individuals.”

C’mon, guys, SAY THE NAMES! Roderick Wright, D-Inglewood, convicted of voter fraud and perjury; Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, indicted on bribery charges; and Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, charged last week with trading favors for money and conspiring to traffic arms.

So, no golf!

“In its place, we intend to spend this weekend in our districts having an open and public conversation with our constituents about the work ahead for this Legislature and for this state,” Steinberg and de Leon said in their joint statement. “It’s important that our constituents understand that, despite the appalling acts of a few individuals who – on their own – put self-interest ahead of the public interest, the Senators who are here are here to serve, to do the hard, unglamorous work of fixing tough public-policy problems, and – most important – to do it the right way.”

And that means putting the putters away. Steinberg and de Leon said the modern campaign system makes fundraising “an occupational necessity, but Senate Democrats have always prided themselves on doing it ethically, appropriately, and in full adherence to every rule and regulation governing public disclosure.

“The Pro Tem Cup has long been a successful, signature example of this,” they said. “But these are unprecedented times and they demand that we take a step back and take stock of how we all do the people’s business and balance it against the demands of running for office.”

The lawmakers said Senate leadership in coming weeks will conduct a “rigorous review of existing campaign finance laws and our own internal fundraising practices – and make recommendations on where we can improve as a caucus and a state, with a focus on when, where and how we raise campaign dollars and how we increase public transparency.” They’ll also schedule a public hearing to discuss campaign finance “the constitutional limits on reform.”

“Make no mistake: Senate Democrats fully intend to strengthen our productive, progressive majority this election year and have no intention of unilaterally disarming in terms of campaign resources,” Steinberg and de Leon said. “But this is time for a reality check. And, while the Legislature as a whole cannot be held responsible for the bad acts of three individual members, we do bear a high and profound responsibility to do all we can to repair the excruciating breach of public confidence they left behind.”