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DeSaulnier bill would lower student loan rates

Student loan borrowers would be able to refinance their interest rates at the rate offered to banks by the Federal Reserve, under a bill announced Monday by Rep. Mark DeSaulnier.

DeSaulnier, D-Concord, held an event at the University of California, Berkeley to roll out H.R. 3675, the Student Borrower Fairness Act, which would offset its costs by increasing corporate tax rates on companies that pay their CEOs or highest paid employees more than 100 times the median compensation of all employees.

Mark DeSaulnier“It is patently unfair that the same big banks that toppled our economy borrow from the federal government at extremely low interest rates while student borrowers are struggling to pay back their loans,” DeSaulnier said in a news release. “Meanwhile, people of all ages are buried in student loan debt which holds them back from being able to buy a car, purchase a home, save for retirement, or start a family. This bill is a first step toward making sure our students can emerge from under their piles of crippling debt and enter tomorrow’s highly-trained workforce.”

Congress acted on student loan rates in 2013, but the changes only applied to new borrowers.

UC-Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks applauded the bill. “College students and their families depend on student loans to access higher education,” Dirks said in the congressman’s release. “At Berkeley, we are proud that 61 percent of our undergraduates graduate without debt and the average debt of students who do borrow is only $17,584, much lower than the national average. This legislation would benefit all borrowers because it will help them manage their debt and repayment.”

James Donahue, president of St. Mary’s College of California in Moraga, said his college “is built on the idea that education has the power to transform lives. The Student Borrower Fairness Act will provide opportunities for all students to pursue their dreams of a higher education, and ultimately highly successful lives. Student loan debt is a national issue and reducing it must be a national priority.”

DeSaulnier’s office said outstanding student loans now total more than $1.3 trillion, surpassing total credit card debt. More than 37 million Americans have outstanding student loan debt, with an average outstanding balance of $29,400 for those who borrowed to get a bachelor’s degree. From 2004 to 2012, student loan debt rose an average of 14 percent per year.

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Jerry Brown signs beer-bike bill, goes for a spin

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill into law Sunday creating inspection and safety standards for pedal-powered quadricycles – sometimes called “beer bikes” – on which up to 15 people can tool around town knocking back drinks.

Off the Chain beer bikeCompanies in cities including Sacramento, San Diego and Palm Springs already have been offering guided tours through tourism and entertainment areas, often including stops at bars and restaurants. But until now they’ve been licensed by host cities without any state involvement, creating some uncertainty about whether the car-sized rigs can lawfully use city streets because there was no existing vehicle definition that covered them, according to a legislative analysis. And while they could stop at bars, no alcohol could be consumed on board.

State Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, pedaled to the rescue with SB 530, which expands the definition of a pedicab to include a device which is primarily pedal-powered, has a seating capacity of not more than 15 passengers, and cannot travel faster than 15 miles per hour.

The new law requires this type of pedicab to have basic safety equipment including seat belts, seat backs, brakes, reflectors, headlights, and grab rails, and to be operated by a 21-year-old adult with a valid California driver’s license. Existing devices have until January 1, 2017, to retrofit with this equipment. The quadricycles still must be authorized by local ordinance and cannot operate on a road with a speed limit greater than 30 mph, and any accidents in which they’re involved must be reported to the California Highway Patrol.

But perhaps most important to keeping the party a’pedalin’, the law now provides for allowing consumption of alcohol on board so long as the locla municipality allows it and the operator provides an on-board adult safety monitor; both this monitor and the driver must have completed the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control’s licensee education program.

The Assembly and state Senate both passed the bill unanimously last month.

But Brown didn’t just sign the bill Sunday. Oh, no – he signed it in style.

Brown signs SB530

Brown signed his name to the new law aboard a quadricycle run by Sacramento’s Off The Chain Bike Bus Tours and then – accompanied by his wife, Anne Gust; his top aide, Nancy McFadden; and Senator Pan – immediately took off on a ride.

Cue the Chris Christie jokes here.

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Dave Jones to run for Attorney General

California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones announced Thursday that he’ll run for state attorney general in 2018.

Dave Jones (Oct.2015)That could set up an interesting situation, as Gov. Jerry Brown might well have to appoint someone in 2017 to fill the rest of current Attorney General Kamala Harris’ term if she’s successful in her campaign to succeed U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer next year.

Having a statewide constitutional officer’s hat already in the ring for the office could nudge Brown to appoint a “caretaker” – someone not inclined to seek election in 2018 – to the potential vacancy should Harris go to the Senate.

But plenty of others covet the post, too. Those who’ve filed statements of intention to run for attorney general in 2018 – not a commitment, just a sort of placeholder that lets them keep money in campaign committees – include former state Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett, D-Hayward, who has $183,405 banked for the race; former state Sen. Lou Correa; D-Santa Ana, who has $384,982 banked; former Assemblyman Dario Frommer, D-La Canada Flintridge, who has $657,535 banked; Assemblyman Don Wagner, R-Irvine, who has $2,980 banked but other money spread across other committees (including one for a 2016 state Senate run); and San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos, a Republican who has $74,975 banked.

Jones starts the race with $2.6 million cash on hand in his prior campaign account, which can be used for the Attorney General race, and a base of support throughout the state, according to a news release from campaign consultant Parke Skelton.

Jones, 53, was a Sacramento councilman from 1999 to 2004 and a state assemblyman from 2004 to 2011, when he began the first of his two terms as insurance commissioner.

“I am very excited at the prospect of working to make California’s communities safer,” he wrote in an email to prospective supporters Thursday. “I will hold accountable all who commit crimes, including corporations, corporate leaders, and public officials who violate the public trust. I will continue my work protecting consumers. And I will work hard to help all Californians succeed in an economy that is increasingly characterized by haves and have nots.”

Jones wrote that his Insurance Department already investigates major insurance crimes and protects consumers, his more than 300 law enforcement officers making more than 3,800 arrests since he began his tenure there and working closely with district attorneys across the state. He wrote that he’s starting his campaign so early due to “the reality of the cost of campaigning in California and the amount of Super PAC money likely to be spent against me by special interests.”

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Congressional reax to Pope Francis’ speech

Here’s how some of the Bay Area’s voices in Congress are responding to Pope Francis’ address today.

From U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., a series of tweets:

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

Nancy Pelosi“The Holy Father Pope Francis’ address to Congress was extraordinary. With absolute clarity, beauty and moral urgency, Pope Francis called on all of us to be better stewards of Creation and instruments of God’s peace.

“Standing in the very heart of our democracy, Pope Francis spoke to the better angels of our nature and of the American people. He reminded us of our sacred and inescapable responsibility to those struggling to escape poverty, persecution and war. He challenged us to rescue our planet from the climate crisis that threatens the future of our children and the health of God’s creation – and to do so sensitive to the needs of the poor. His Holiness urged us to live our values and reach beyond our divisions.

“On a personal note, my husband Paul, my children and I have more than 100 years of Catholic education among us, and this has been a day of profound joy for my family. It has been an awesome privilege to welcome His Holiness to the Congress. My deepest thanks to the Pope for the honor of his historic visit and the elevating, illuminating leadership he continues to provide Catholics and non-Catholics the world over. May the Holy Father’s message of hope, peace and dialogue echo through the halls of the Capitol and across the country for a long time to come.”

From Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland:

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)“During a joint-session of Congress today, His Holiness Pope Francis reminded us of our sacred duty: to protect and advocate for the most vulnerable and voiceless in our society and our world.

“His call for peace and justice should inspire Congress and our entire nation. As we work to address the immense challenges facing our nation – climate change, persistent poverty, and global conflicts – the Pope’s call for mutual understanding has never been more timely or necessary.‎ We must strive to end all injustices that devalue human dignity, especially inequality and war.

“During his speech, the Pope called on Congress ‘to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome.’

“He is right – we cannot afford to delay cooperation, however difficult it might be, while our planet and our people suffer.”

From Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord:

Mark DeSaulnier“Pope Francis’ unprecedented address to Congress was truly aspirational. His message of shared social responsibility in the face of global challenges comes at an important time for our country. Of particular note, were his comments on President Lincoln ‘the guardian who labored tirelessly that this nation, under God, [might] have a new birth of freedom. Building a future of freedom requires love of the common good and cooperation in a subsidiarity and solidarity.’ Whether addressing climate change, poverty and inequality or the global refugee crisis, it is my hope Members of Congress will embrace Pope Francis’ message of moral responsibility and working together for the common good.”

More, after the jump…
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CA17: Kevin de León endorses Ro Khanna

17th Congressional District candidate Ro Khanna will be endorsed Thursday by state Senate President Kevin de León, one of the highest-profile California Democrats so far to turn his back on eight-term incumbent Rep. Mike Honda.

Kevin de Leon“Ro Khanna values the ideals that the Democratic Party stands for: equal rights, standing up for working families, protecting social security and Medicare, fighting for clean air and water, expanding the middle class and making sure everyone has a fair shot at the American Dream,” de León, D-Los Angeles, said in Khanna’s news release. “As an educator, Ro is committed to making sure public schools have the funding and technology to ensure all our kids have the opportunity to succeed in the 21st Century.”

Khanna, a former Obama administration official, is making his second run against Honda, D-San Jose; Honda beat him by 3.6 percentage points last November.

In the last election cycle, most prominent elected Democrats lined up behind Honda, while a few – notably including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed – endorsed Khanna. It remains to be seen whether the House Ethics Committee’s pending investigation of Honda will affect his endorsements this time around.

“As a community organizer against Prop 187 and for the NEA, I am impressed with Ro’s commitment to grassroots organizing,” de León added. “Not only is he bringing more people into the political process, but I know his commitment to ground-up power will ensure his office stays in touch with the needs of the people he represents, and not just wealthy donors and the special interests.”

Khanna said de León “embodies everything that’s great about the Democratic Party.”

“He’s a leader in the effort to combat climate change, has spearheaded forward-thinking and compassionate immigrant rights laws, worked to make colleges more accessible and affordable, and he has helped spur an innovation economy around renewable energy technologies that has helped create more good paying middle class jobs while protecting our environment,” Khanna said. “I am deeply honored by the confidence and trust Kevin de Leon is placing in me. I look forward to being a strong and active partner with him as we take these California policies and work to adapt them in Washington.”

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House OKs John Muir park expansion

The House on Wednesday approved Rep. Mark DeSaulnier’s bill to expand the John Muir National Historic Site in Martinez, sending it on to the U.S. Senate.

H.R. 1289, DeSaulnier’s first stand-alone bill as a House member, would add 44 acres of donated land to the existing 330-acre plot, improving access to the park and its scenic trails. DeSaulnier’s predecessor, Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, had introduced the same bill last year; the House approved it but the Senate failed to vote on it before adjourning.

“This historic site is the place where Muir, the father of the National Park system, championed the revolutionary idea that wild spaces should be set aside for all to enjoy,” DeSaulnier, D-Concord, said in his news release. “I look forward to seeing this bill passed by the Senate and signed into law.”

Linus Eukel, executive director of the John Muir Land Trust, said Muir “often walked this land with his two daughters, to admire the coast live oak that grow there, as well as the annual wildflowers that punctuate its grassy hillsides. Expansion of the John Muir Historic Site will forever protect this beautiful property and allow future generations to share in the same delights as Muir’s daughters,”

DeSaulnier’s bill has 31 cosponsors from both sides of the aisle. U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., has introduced companion legislation.