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New bill would revamp California’s voting system

California elections would be radically retooled, with neighborhood polling places replaced by “voting centers” serving much larger swaths and a vast expansion of early voting, under a bill announced Thursday by two lawmakers and California Secretary of State Alex Padilla.

Padilla, along with state senators Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, and Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, say a similar system adopted by Colorado a few years ago has brought much better turnout because voters are freer to cast their ballots when and how they please.

Their SB 450 not only would let a voter cast a ballot at any voting center in his or her county, but also would require that all voters receive ballots by mail and that those voting centers be open at least eight hours a day for the 10 days before Election Day. Voters could mail in their ballot or drop it off at a vote center or a secure 24 hour ballot drop off box.

“California ranked 43rd in voter turnout nationally for the 2014 General Election. This problem cannot be ignored. Civic participation is the foundation of our democracy,” Padilla said in a news release. “SB 450 would provide citizens more option for when, where and how they vote. Providing more options will help more citizens vote, despite our often busy lives.”

Padilla and the lawmakers said that since implementing the vote center model, Colorado has been a national leader in voter turnout. For the November 2014 general election, voter turnout of eligible citizens in Colorado was 56.9 percent, compared to only 30.9 percent in California.

From 2006 to 2010, Colorado’s voter turnout was an average of 7 percentage points higher than in California; since implementation of the vote center model, voter turnout in Colorado has been an average of 20.7 percentage points higher than in California.

That’s not the only way Padilla is hoping to boost voter participation. The Assembly last week approved a bill that Padilla sponsored, AB 1461, to modernize California’s motor-voter registration system so that every eligible citizen who goes to a Department of Motor Vehicles office to get or renew a driver’s license or state ID will be registered – potentially adding millions to the rolls. Voters would retain their right to opt out or cancel their voter registration at any time, and the bill would protect those covered by existing confidentiality policies such as victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking.

Posted on Wednesday, June 10th, 2015
Under: Alex Padilla, California State Senate, Secretary of State, voter registration | 6 Comments »

SD7: Steve Glazer gets his committee assignments

State Sen. Steve Glazer, the Bay Area’s newest lawmaker, will serve on the Governmental Organization, Insurance, and Public Safety committees, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon announced Thursday.

Glazer, D-Orinda, defeated Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla in May 19’s 7th State Senate District special election after a bitterly fought campaign rife with independent spending on both sides. The former Orinda mayor was sworn into the Senate last Thursday, May 28.

Posted on Thursday, June 4th, 2015
Under: California State Senate, steve glazer | 3 Comments »

Padilla chalks up win on eve of East Bay visit

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla arrives in the East Bay on Wednesday with a legislative win under his belt.

Alex PadillaThe Assembly on Tuesday approved a bill that Padilla sponsored, AB 1461, to modernize California’s motor-voter registration system so that every eligible citizen who goes to a Department of Motor Vehicles office to get or renew a driver’s license or state ID will be registered – potentially adding millions to the rolls. Voters would retain their right to opt out or cancel their voter registration at any time, and the bill would protect those covered by existing confidentiality policies such as victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking.

The bill, jointly authored by Assembly members Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego; Luis Alejo, D-Salinas; and Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, now goes to the state Senate.

“Government has a responsibility to facilitate the civic participation of citizens and remove barriers to voting,” Padilla said in a news release issued Tuesday afternoon. “The New Motor Voter Act could seamlessly register millions of eligible California citizens, which would promote greater voter turnout.”

Padilla is scheduled to deliver the keynote speech Wednesday morning at a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services naturalization ceremony at Oakland’s Paramount Theater; about 1,000 new citizens are expected to take the Oath of Allegiance at the ceremony.

And Padilla also is scheduled to be the guest speaker at the City of Alameda Democratic Club’s monthly meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday night at the College of Alameda Student Center. He’s expected to discuss his office’s work to encourage higher voting participation and bring more Californians into the political process.

Posted on Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015
Under: Alex Padilla, Secretary of State | 4 Comments »

Catharine Baker returns tobacco industry money

The Bay Area’s only Republican lawmaker won praise Friday for returning a campaign contribution from the tobacco industry.

Catharine BakerAssemblywoman Catharine Baker, R-Dublin, gave back a $4,200 contribution from Altria, parent company of Philip Morris USA and other tobacco companies. In doing so, Baker “serves as a model for other elected officials by returning dirty money and refusing to let Big Tobacco exert undue influence in the political process,” said Jim Knox, vice president of California government relations for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

“Her prompt actions should be recognized because we do not often see politicians willingly giving back tobacco money let alone make a statement publicly to set an example for other elected officials who don’t want to be beholden to cancer-causing cigarette makers,” Knox said in a news release.

Baker said Friday that “everyone has to make his or her own choices about tobacco products. For me, I choose not to accept contributions because tobacco is just something I prefer my own kids not ever use.”

Knox’s organization recently wrote to politicians and political action committees that accepted tobacco-industry money in this year’s first quarter, asking them to give it back. Altria and its affiliates reported making more than a dozen contributions totaling $175,700 in 2015’s first three months.

Other recipients included Assembly Republicans Rocky Chavez, Don Wagner and Travis Allen, as well as state senators Isadore Hall, D-Compton; Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga; and Sharon Runner, R-Lancaster. Political action committees taking tobacco money in the first quarter included the California Chamber of Commerce’s JobsPAC; in fact, tobacco was the biggest industry sector contributing to JobsPAC in the 2014 election cycle.

Baker will host a community coffee from 9 to 10:30 a.m. this Saturday, May 30 in the Robert Livermore Community Center, 4444 East Ave. in Livermore, at which constituents can share their thoughts and Baker will present a legislative update. To RSVP for this free event, please contact Baker’s district office at 925-328-1515.

Posted on Friday, May 29th, 2015
Under: Assembly, Catharine Baker | 7 Comments »

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.”

Posted on Thursday, May 28th, 2015
Under: Darrell Steinberg, education, George Miller | 1 Comment »

State Senate OKs bill to curb ‘doctor shopping’

Voters soundly rejected Proposition 46 – which would’ve raised California’s 40-year-old cap on certain medical malpractice damage awards – in November, but a lesser-known part of that measure moved forward Thursday in the Legislature.

The state Senate voted 28-11 to approve SB 482 by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, which would require California doctors to consult an already-existing state prescription database before prescribing addictive medicine to their patients. This was another part of Prop. 46, albeit less controversial than the medical malpractice segment. The bill now goes to the Assembly.

It’s a win for Bob Pack, the Prop. 46 proponent and Danville resident whose two children were killed by a drunk and drugged driver on Oct. 26, 2003. The motorist who hit Troy and Alana Pack, 10 and 7, had consumed alcohol, Vicodin and muscle relaxants before getting behind the wheel; Jimena Barreto in the weeks before the crash had received six Vicodin prescriptions from six different Kaiser Permanente doctors, who had failed to check into the injuries for which she claimed she needed the pills.

To prevent this kind of “doctor shopping” by abusers and addicts, SB 482 will require prescribers to check the Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System (CURES) before prescribing Schedule II and III drugs like OxyContin and other opioids for the first time to a patient, and annually if the treatment continues.

“Prescription drug overdose kills thousands every year, but a simple check of a patient’s medical record can give doctors the information they need to intervene with those who are at risk or may be abusing medications,” Carmen Balber, executive director of Consumer Watchdog, said in a news release. “Requiring doctors to check California’s prescription database before prescribing the strongest, most addictive drugs will save lives and help stem the overdose epidemic.”

Results are promising in other states with similar laws, and Consumer Watchdog estimates that a 75 percent drop in doctor-shopping in California – as experienced in New York – would reduce state and local spending on prescription drugs for Medi-Cal patients by up to $300 million a year.

Posted on Thursday, May 28th, 2015
Under: ballot measures, California State Senate | 2 Comments »

SD7: Steve Glazer has been sworn in

State Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, was sworn in this morning to represent the East Bay’s 7th State Senate District, a little more than a week after winning the fractious special election over Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla.

Gov. Jerry Brown, to whom Glazer has been a campaign advisor, administered the oath of office in a brief ceremony at the start of today’s floor session.

photo by Alex Vassar

Glazer issued this statement:

Steve Glazer”I was a 13-year old taking the bus on Freeport Boulevard to volunteer on a campaign for Governor in 1970 because I thought elections mattered.

“Even at that age, I saw the struggle for civil rights, concerns about the war in Vietnam, and worries about nuclear proliferation. I gave my Bar Mitzvah speech expressing hope for my future contribution to a better world and a healthier environment.

“I worked a minimum-wage job during high school sweeping floors at Orange Julius and cooking at Jim Boy’s Tacos just down the street from the Capitol. I was a bus boy during college to help pay the rent. After working in the State Capitol for a few years, I took a break and spent five months picking oranges and grapefruits in the orchards of a Kibbutz in Israel. I have great appreciation for all those who grow and harvest our food. I have always felt the pull of public service as the highest calling. And so I am here today humbled and honored to serve with some old and new friends in this State Senate.

“I thank the members of the Senate for their warm welcome. I especially thank the voters of the 7th district for their trust in my ability to represent them in the Capitol of the greatest State in the Union.”

Posted on Thursday, May 28th, 2015
Under: California State Senate, steve glazer | 2 Comments »

AD16: Sbranti won’t run, joins Swalwell’s staff

Former Dublin Mayor Tim Sbranti, a Democrat who lost November’s 16th Assembly District race to Republican Catharine Baker, won’t challenge Baker in 2016, he said Wednesday.

Instead, he’s ending his 17-year teaching career and starting work June 15 as deputy chief of staff to Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin – his former student at Dublin High.

Tim Sbranti“Everything comes full circle in life,” Sbranti said Wednesday. “He talks about how he learned from me, and now I learn from him. It’s actually kind of an honor to have a student who has done so well that I can now go work for him.”

Sbranti, 40, who has a 1-year-old daughter, said he’ll spend a lot of time in Washington, D.C., this summer getting oriented to the job; after that he’ll be based in Swalwell’s district office with trips to D.C. about once a month. He’ll be the main liaison between the D.C. and district staffs, with an eye toward ensuring the legislative team’s work is in line with the district’s priorities and “expanding our office’s relationship with the community,” he said.

Sbranti’s decision not to run against Baker in 2016 could start a mad scramble among ambitious local Democrats as the state party makes a priority of ousting Baker, the Bay Area’s only Republican lawmaker. Baker, R-Dublin, is expected to be vulnerable as the presidential election’s high turnout gives Democrats, who have a 7.3-percentage-point registration edge in the district, more of an advantage.

I hear that Sbranti made his intentions known a few weeks ago, but East Bay Democrats were so pre-occupied with the 7th State Senate District special election – in which party pariah and Orinda Mayor Steve Glazer defeated Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, on Tuesday – that they’re only now pivoting to consider AD16.

Names mentioned in the past include former Walnut Creek Mayor Kristina Lawson, but the word on the street is that she’s not interested right now. Likelier candidates might include Danville Mayor Newell Arnerich, who finished fourth in last year’s AD16 primary behind Baker, Sbranti and Glazer; five-term Orinda Councilwoman Amy Worth; and Danville attorney Jerome Pandell, a Democratic activist who ran for the San Ramon Valley School Board last year. Or, some in the party might be hoping for a businesswoman from outside the usual political circles – like Baker – to get into the race.

Sbranti said he’ll miss being in the classroom, though he’ll stay involved in education as a member of the governing board of the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence, which advises and assists school districts, charter schools and county education offices on meeting the goals set forth in their Local Control and Accountability Plans. And he also might keep helping out as a basketball coach at Dublin High as time allows, he said.

“I want to stay connected,” he said, “but at the same time I’m excited about what lies ahead.”

He won’t rule out some future run for elected office. “Not any time soon, certainly not in my immediate future, but I think it would be foolish to rule out at any point down the line that I would run for something. It’s just not on my horizon right now.”

Swalwell said he’s excited to welcome Sbranti aboard after nearly 20 years as a teacher, state legislative staffer, councilman and mayor.

“His work has produced results that have helped create jobs, protect our environment, and provide affordable housing. But his work is not done, and I’m lucky he wants to continue serving our community as my deputy chief of staff,” the second-term congressman said. “Tim inspired me when I was his student to go into public service. I couldn’t be more thrilled to now have his counsel as I work to serve the East Bay.”

Posted on Wednesday, May 20th, 2015
Under: Assembly, Catharine Baker, Eric Swalwell, U.S. House | 6 Comments »

SD7: What they’re saying about Glazer’s win

My esteemed colleague Matt Artz has full coverage of the 7th State Senate District special election’s denouement, in which Oridna Mayor Steve Glazer defeated Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla by a whopping 9.2 percentage points.

From California Democratic Party Executive Director Shawnda Westly:

“Assemblymember Susan Bonilla ran as a progressive candidate who fought tuition increases for UC and CSU students and delivered balanced budgets.

“Her opponent claimed to be Democrat but ran a cynical campaign to appeal to Republican voters in a low-turnout election. We know that low-turnout elections favor Republicans. When Democratic voters show up and vote, Democrats win.

“We will not back down from races like this in the future, and Democrats will go to bat for our endorsed candidates who put the needs of working and middle class families first.”

From Independent Women’s Voice President & CEO Heather Higgins, whose group spent $8,600 to support Glazer:

“On behalf of Independent Women’s Voice, I want to congratulate Steve Glazer on his resounding victory in Senate District 7. This is a great victory for east San Francisco Bay Area families, who have made it clear that they want to move their state in a new direction.

“Steve Glazer realizes it’s time for change in Sacramento. Voters are ready for political leaders who are willing to hold government accountable, restore fiscal responsibility and stand up to powerful and moneyed interests, including the unreasonable demands of unions. It is crucial that we restore government to promoting accountability and economic freedom. The people of Senate District 7 have paved the way for that positive path forward in California.”

From Jon Youngdahl of the union-funded Working Families Opposing Glazer 2015 Committee, which spent $2.23 million to support Bonilla:

“This low-turnout special election was a special circumstance where a Democratic candidate was able to pander to Republican voters to gain an edge. Our opponent received less than 30 percent of the Democratic vote, which will not be sustainable in future elections in a Democratic-leaning district. His campaign was bankrolled by a record-shattering $5.1 million in spending; $2 million from a Los Angeles developer more and than $1.3 from a PAC funded in part from the tobacco industry plus millions more from corporate education interests that we were unable to match.”

“This election was not about the soul of the Democratic Party. It was a craven political strategy designed by corporate special interests and Republicans to clear the field of credible Republican candidates and then spend records amount of money to keep Democrats away from the polls.”

Posted on Wednesday, May 20th, 2015
Under: California State Senate, steve glazer, Susan Bonilla | 5 Comments »

SD7: Open thread

Well, ladies and gents, it’s almost over – in a few hours, polls will close in the 7th State Senate District‘s special election, and either Steve Glazer or Susan Bonilla could be declaring victory soon thereafter.

Polls close at 8 p.m., and if you haven’t voted yet, please get up off your keister right this instant and go cast your ballot. If you need to find a polling place, check online with the registrars in Contra Costa County and Alameda County.

Here’s your final chance to embarrass – er, assert yourselves with predictions and prognostications, credit and blame, or just expressions of relief that your mailboxes will no longer be stuffed chock full of ugly accusations. Post your comments below; keep it clean, don’t get personal.

Posted on Tuesday, May 19th, 2015
Under: California State Senate | 11 Comments »