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Bay Area Senators revive DISCLOSE Act

Two Bay Area state Senators announced Thursday the re-introduction of a bill requiring that the top three funders of political ads be clearly identified, both on the ads themselves and on the campaign’s website.

SB 52, the Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections (DISCLOSE) Act, by state Senators Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, and Jerry Hill, D-Palo Alto, is sponsored by the California Clean Money Campaign. It applies to advertising for ballot measure campaigns, independent expenditures and issue advocacy. The bill introduced today is intent language, to which details will be added early next year before it’s heard in policy committees.

“We saw evidence in the most recent election cycle of unnamed organizations throwing around large sums of money in order to confuse California voters,” Leno said in a news release. “The only way to stop this covert financing of campaigns is to require the simple and clear disclosure of the top three funders of political ads so voters can make well-informed decisions at the ballot box.”

Hill said the bill is “vital to protecting the integrity of our democratic process and ensuring fair elections in our state. After seeing billions of dollars flow into elections across our country after the Citizens United decision, we need the DISCLOSE Act now more than ever.”

California Clean Money Campaign president Trent Lange said more than 350 groups and individuals signed on to support the last version of this bill and more than 84,000 Californians signed petitions for it, “demonstrating the rising outcry to stop Big Money special interests from deceiving voters when they fund political ads.”

Actually, this effort has had several iterations recently. AB 1148 last January got 52 Assembly votes, falling short of the two-thirds supermajority it needed to pass. And AB 1648 was passed by the Assembly in August after being amended to require only a simply majority vote, but was stuck in a state Senate committee at the end of the last session. Both of those bills were authored by then-Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, now congresswoman-elect for the 26th House District.

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State Senate panel to probe refineries, gas prices

With gas prices soaring and news that the Chevron Richmond refinery’s crude oil unit won’t reopen until 2013, a state Senate committee will hold a hearing next month on the safety and reliability of California’s gasoline production system and its impacts on gas prices and the economy.

State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, announced today he’ll convene the Senate Select Committee on Bay Area Transportation to explore the issue.

Mark Leno“The volatile spikes in gas prices and gas shortages in our state in recent weeks indicate serious problems with California refineries,” Leno said in a news release. “I am concerned that refineries have no incentive for keeping their operations safe and fully functional because their profits increase greatly following any type of disruption, whether it is the consequence of a potentially deadly explosion or failed piping. Meanwhile, consumers are paying the price for these refinery errors, not only at the pumps, but also in the risks posed to public health and safety.”

Leno said the hearing will focus on two main topics: system reliability for California’s refineries and its effect on the economy; and the state’s oversight process and role related to refinery worker safety. Topics may include monitoring health and safety at the state’s 15 oil refineries, state compliance and enforcement at refineries, West Coast gasoline prices and how they may be manipulated, refinery capacity and its relationship to gas prices and the economy, and the Chevron Richmond fire investigation.

“Chevron’s announcement late yesterday that its Richmond (crude oil) facility will be closed for the remainder of the year could further complicate matters for California,” he said. “Economists have estimated that a lengthy shutdown of that facility could slow the growth rate of the state’s economy by half a percentage point.”

This past weekend, Gov. Jerry Brown urged the California Air Resources Board to make an early switch to the state’s winter blend of gasoline to improve supply, and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., renewed her call for the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the soaring prices.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., got into the act Monday, sending a letter urging the Department of Justice’s Oil and Gas Price Fraud Working Group to investigate the recent spike.

“Californians have too often been victimized as unscrupulous traders have created or taken advantage of supply disruptions to drive up energy prices,” Boxer wrote. “We cannot allow market manipulation by those who would seek to profit off the pain of our families at the pump.”

In the letter, Boxer pointed to published reports that cited energy traders saying the sudden rise in gas prices had “many of the hallmarks of a classic short squeeze.”

She acknowledged the maintenance issues facing California refineries beginning with the shutdown of Chevron’s Richmond crude oil unit in August due to a fire, the power outage at Exxon Mobil’s Torrance refinery, and the September shutdown of a Chevron pipeline that supplies crude from the Central Valley to the Bay Area. But noting a pattern of similar maintenance issues at West Coast refineries that led to price spikes earlier this year, Boxer wrote, “it is critical that we ensure that these shutdowns are not part of any broader effort to deliberately keep gasoline supplies tight—and prices high—at the expense of consumers.”

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New laws move to grab human trafficking assets

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a pair of bills into law today to make it harder for human traffickers to hide their assets.

AB 2466, by Assmemblyman Bob Blumenfield, D-San Fernando Valley, ensures that criminal defendants involved in human trafficking can’t hide or dispose of assets that would otherwise be provided as restitution to victims. Existing California law entitles victims are entitled to mandatory restitution, but this new law will let courts order the preservation of the assets and property until there’s a conviction.

“Now, the perpetrators of this despicable crime cannot game the system and keep their money when caught and convicted,” Blumenfield said in a news release. “Justice will come for victims.”

SB 1133, by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, expands the list of assets that a human trafficker must forfeit and provides a formula for using those resources to help victims of human trafficking.

“Today we are one step closer to dismantling the economic infrastructure that convicted child sex traffickers rely on to continue to lure young people into the sex trade,” Leno said in a news release. “In addition to taking away the lucrative profits from these horrendous crimes, we are providing much-needed financial support for increased investigations and victim services.”

The Assembly and state Senate passed both bills without any dissenting votes; both laws will take effect on Jan. 1.

“With these new laws, California prosecutors and law enforcement officials will be able to seize assets of human traffickers, cripple their operations and aid victims,” California Attorney General Kamala Harris said in a news release. “Human trafficking is big business in California. It is a high-profit criminal industry that is expanding rapidly across the globe, including here in California.”

Harris and Mexico Attorney General Marisela Morales Ibáñez signed an accord Friday to expand prosecutions and secure convictions of criminals who engage in the trafficking of human beings. The pact will increase coordination of law enforcement resources targeting transnational gangs engaged in such crimes, and calls for closer integration on human trafficking as well as sharing best practices to recognize human trafficking and provide support and services to victims.

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Reactions to Obama’s same-sex marriage stance

Here’s what some of California’s state and federal elected officials are saying about President Obama’s statement today affirming support for same-sex marriage rights:

From U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.:

Barbara Boxer “This is a historic day and another step in our country’s long march toward equal rights and justice for all. The President’s statement is a milestone and so important for the millions of American families who deserve full equality. None of us can rest until marriage equality is a reality for all Americans.”

From House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco:

Nancy Pelosi “Today marks progress for the civil rights of LGBT Americans and all Americans. With President Obama’s support, we look forward to the day when all American families are treated equally in the eyes of the law.

“Republicans are standing on the wrong side of history. Just yesterday, a Republican-backed amendment to ban same-sex marriage passed in North Carolina. Here in the House, Republican leaders refuse to bring up a bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act that includes critical domestic violence protections for the LGBT community, and they are using taxpayer funds to defend the indefensible Defense of Marriage Act in court. These actions only serve to advance fundamental unfairness in our society.

“Throughout American history, we have worked to live up to our values of liberty and freedom, and to end discrimination in all of its forms. Today, we took another step forward in our march toward equality.”

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

“I have never been more proud of our President than I am today. His journey to acceptance is an example of the one value we honor most in America, freedom; freedom to choose who we love, freedom to choose who we marry, freedom to choose who we partner with to raise a family. Denying the right for any two people to marry is discrimination. I can only hope the President’s personal position will swell the tide of public opinion to end prejudice against the LGBT community.”

From Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles:

John Perez “I am very proud of the President for today’s eloquent and bold announcement that he supports marriage equality for every person in this country. As with many Americans, his views on this issue have evolved towards an embrace of dignity, respect and justice for every American. Like the President’s successful effort to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, I believe today will be remembered as a major milestone in the LGBT movement, and one that gives credence to Dr. Martin Luther King’s observation that ‘the arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.’ I am deeply grateful for the President’s leadership on this fundamental issue of civil rights.”

From Gov. Jerry Brown:

“Equality before the law is a pillar of American democracy. I applaud President Obama’s support for the right of same-sex couples to marry.”

For counterpoint, here’s Alliance Defense Fund litigation staff counsel Jim Campbell:

“This shows that the Obama administration doesn’t understand the public purpose of marriage. Marriage – the lifelong, faithful union of one man and one woman – is the building block of a thriving society. It’s not something that politicians should attempt to redefine for political purposes. The president has spoken eloquently about how fatherless homes often hurt children and society. Today’s statement is a tragic contradiction that promotes the creation of even more fatherless and motherless homes.”

Lots more, after the jump…
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What they’re saying about the Prop. 8 ruling

My esteemed colleague Howard Mintz has the full story on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision that Proposition 8’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, and you can read the opinion yourself (assuming the court’s website doesn’t get overloaded again) by clicking here.

Meanwhile, here’s a treasury of quotes from elected officials.

From House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco:

“Today’s decision is a victory for civil rights and for progress for the LGBT community and for all Californians.

“By declaring Proposition 8 unconstitutional, the Ninth Circuit made a strong statement that laws must not target the LGBT community for discrimination and all of our state’s families deserve to enjoy fair and equal treatment under the law.

“As this battle moves through the appeals process, we must, and will, continue the fight for the fundamental rights of LGBT couples and every American. We will keep up the charge for change and equality in state legislatures and in the courts, and work in Congress to repeal and overturn the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. Together, we will make every discriminatory marriage amendment and law a thing of the past.”

From Gov. Jerry Brown:

“The court has rendered a powerful affirmation of the right of same-sex couples to marry. I applaud the wisdom and courage of this decision.”

From Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom:

“Today’s decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals stands as a victory for the fundamental American principle that all people are equal, and deserve equal rights and treatment under the law. This is the biggest step that the American judicial system has taken to end the grievous discrimination against men and women in same-sex relationships and should be highly praised.

“Proposition 8 has done nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that same-sex couples are inferior to heterosexual couples. These men and women are our firefighters, our paramedics, our law enforcement, our service-members, and to treat their relationships differently is unfair, unlawful, and violates the basic principle of who we are as a nation.

“Today however, it has been made clear that this type of discrimination will not be tolerated—there is no state power or law that can claim one type of love is more deserving of status and benefits than another. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has fulfilled its obligation to all Americans by protecting the fundamental right of all people to marry those whom they love. It has upheld the overall integrity of the American judicial system by placing individual characteristics of judges and justices secondary to their duty and commitment to true justice and equality.

“Although countless people have worked tirelessly to achieve this ruling, I would like to recognize the inspiring dedication demonstrated by the American Foundation for Equal Rights. They have never relented in their mission for equal marriage rights and should be highly commended for these efforts.

“While today marks a historic milestone towards equality for all Americans, our journey is not over until the highest court in the United States reaches the same decision that the Court of Appeals did today. It is on that day that the struggle for equality will be over and the dream on which this great nation was founded will become a reality.”

From state Attorney General Kamala Harris:

“Today’s ruling is a victory for fairness, a victory for equality and a victory for justice. Proposition 8 denied to gay and lesbian couples the equal protection to which all Americans are entitled. By striking this unconstitutional law from our books, the court has restored dignity, equality and respect to all Californians.”

For some counterpoint (although he’s not an elected official), here’s SaveCalifornia.com President Randy Thomasson:

“God created a man and a woman to fit together in marriage. The People of California have twice affirmed this beautiful, natural, and exclusive pro-family institution between a husband and wife, a man and a woman. The Ninth Circuit ruling to strike down man-woman marriage, by a Carter judge and a Clinton judge, is unfair to the voters, against our republic, against our democratic system, against the United States Constitution, against Nature, and against God and His beneficial design of family.

“It’s illogical and unconstitutional to claim that natural, unchangeable race and ethnicity is the same as sexual behavior. That’s not fair or true. Race and ethnicity are inherited, but science has never found homosexuality, bisexuality, or transsexuality to be inherited or unchangeable. Neither is this about commitment. As the divorce of leading anti-Prop. 8 lesbians Robin Tyler and Diane Olson demonstrates, the notion of homosexual ‘marriage’ is not really about ‘commitment,’ but is a political agenda forcing acceptance of homosexuality upon the children of America. Yet nothing is equal to marriage between a man and a woman. If you don’t have a man and a woman, you don’t have marriage.

‘Judicial activists like Stephen Reinhardt and Michael Daly Hawkins need to be reined in like Newt Gingrich has been saying about judicial activists. Marriage is not in the United States Constitution, so this case should never have gone to federal court. Now it will be appealed to the nation’s high court, with Anthony Kennedy being the deciding vote. Fortunately, in past rulings favoring homosexuality, Kennedy has written against redefining marriage, making it likely that he will affirm California’s right to reserve marriage licenses for ‘a man and a woman.'”

Lots more, after the jump…
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What they’re saying about the budget forecast

The Legislative Analyst’s Office today issued a fiscal forecast showing California’s state budget deficit for the fiscal year starting next July 1 will be almost $13 billion.

If the state Finance Department concurs next month, this could mean $2 billion in mid-year “trigger cuts” this year, mostly in the K-12 and higher education budgets.

From Gil Duran, spokesman for Gov. Jerry Brown:

“California’s budget gap is the result of a decade of poor fiscal choices and a global recession. This year, we cut the problem in half. Next year, we’ll continue to make the tough choices necessary until the problem is solved.”

From Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles:

“Today’s announcement by the LAO is indicative, but not determinative of the final decision on whether the budget triggers will be pulled next month and we must wait until the Department of Finance December forecast, which will have up to date information and certainly may alter the trigger calculation to lessen the level of trigger cuts.

“Given the uncertainty in the global economy, we included these triggers as a mechanism to ensure California’s fiscal solvency through this budget year. We approved budget solutions that eliminated seventy five percent of the ongoing structural deficit over time, and we have more work to do to accelerate the elimination of the remainder of that deficit.

“Ultimately, we all know that the best long-term solutions to our budget challenges are rebuilding our economy and putting Californians back to work, and we will continue working to build on the progress we’ve made with respect to job creation in the coming year.”

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

“I am deeply troubled by this forecast and the prospect of making another round of deep cuts to public schools and higher education. The Legislature and governor should explore all of our available options, and do everything we can, to prevent mid-year cuts.

“The bottom line is our public schools and institutions of higher education are woefully underfunded, and we must find a way to reverse this trend of cutting their support if we are serious about providing Californians and their children with a bright future.”

From Assembly Budget Committee Vice Chairman Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber:

“The Legislative Analyst’s Office report indicates, as predicted, that the budget passed by Democrats with only a majority vote was overly optimistic and based on shaky assumptions. In this budget, state spending is predicted to increase by 12 percent by 2012-2013. It is clear that state spending has not been brought under control, and that’s not even factoring in the enormous cost of the federal healthcare mandates.

“It indicates that a lot more needs to be done to get California’s budget under control, and that does not happen through tax increases. Government has changed very little in how it conducts its business in the last three years.”

From state Controller John Chiang:

“Today’s news is no surprise. Our economy’s sluggish growth means a tax windfall is unlikely, and not a penny of the estimated $4 billion has been collected to date. The Governor and lawmakers were smart to backstop their hopeful budget projections with mid-year cuts, but they may not have gone far enough. Today’s report tracks with the troublesome pattern we have seen in the State’s receipts and spending, which could mean a cash-flow problem in California’s near future.”

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

“Today’s numbers make it clear that the state’s first priority must be to get to the ballot in November and raise needed revenues to avoid any more damage to Californians. The notion of cutting deeper into education, public safety and services for those in need is unthinkable. I imagine an overwhelming majority of Californians agree.

“We’ve cut to the point that the results are being felt like never before. The cupboard of easy solutions is bare. Just ask the students in our higher education systems; the more than one million elderly, blind, or disabled living in poverty; the families who see their kids go to school where the classrooms are more crowded and the resources are dwindling. We’ve hit a crossroads where the time has come to turn things around.

“Democrats have tackled more than half of the reoccurring deficit problem we’ve been plagued with ever since Governor Schwarzenegger cut the Vehicle Licensing Fee. As the LAO points out, last year’s budget actions have put our ongoing deficits at the lowest we’ve seen since the recession began. By building on that foundation, new revenue will finally allow the state to recover and reinvest.”

Read more, after the jump…
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