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Dianne Feinstein endorses CA’s assisted-suicide bill

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein has endorsed California’s assisted-suicide bill.

“The right to die with dignity is an option that should be available for every chronically suffering terminally ill consenting adult in California,” Feinstein, D-Calif., wrote in a letter to the authors of SB 128, the End of Life Option Act. “I share your concern that terminally ill California residents currently do not have the option to obtain end-of-life medication if their suffering becomes unbearable.”

State Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, one of the bill’s authors, said Feinstein’s support “is a big boost for our effort, sending a strong signal that the political momentum has shifted. When one of California’s most respected, thoughtful, and longest serving political leaders takes the unusual step of speaking out in strong support of a bill like this you know you are on the right track.”

The bill’s other authors are state Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, and Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton. They released a list Tuesday of 70 current and former lawmakers who support the legislation, including 19 current lawmakers who have signed on as co-authors.

SB 128, modeled on Oregon’s law, will have its first hearing next Wednesday, March 25 in the Senate Health Committee. The bill would let a terminally ill competent person get a prescription for drugs to hasten and make painless his or her death. The authors say it has “numerous protections to prevent abuse” and “all participation is voluntary;” they note Oregon’s law has been in place for 17 years with no reported cases of abuse. Last year, 155 Oregonians used the law to help end their lives.

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Boxer & Feinstein blast GOP senators’ Iran letter

California’s U.S. Senators say 47 Republicans led by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., went out of bounds by sending an open letter to Iran’s leaders to undermine the State Department’s work to reach a comprehensive nuclear deal.

The letter notes any treaty the Obama administration might ink would require a two-thirds Senate vote for ratification, and another type of agreement would require two-thirds votes of the House and Senate. “Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement,” it says, before observing that Obama will leave office in 2017 “while most of us will remain in office well beyond then – perhaps decades.”

“What these two constitutional provisions mean is that we will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei,” the letter says. “The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”

Before anyone goes saying, “Aw, gee, that’s just a ‘Schoolhouse Rock!‘ lesson in American government, no harm done,” consider how inane and condescending it would be to believe Iran’s government and negotiators don’t know how our government works.

Clearly it’s Republicans’ attempt to scuttle these negotiations without running afoul of the Logan Act – a federal law that makes it a felony for any American to attempt to negotiate with a foreign government or attempt to influence foreign policy without clear authority from the executive branch. By sticking to an explanation of how Congress and the executive branch work, the Republicans can say they’re just engaging in discussions with foreign officials in pursuance of their legislative duties under the Constitution – perfectly legal.

Of course, Cotton said plainly in January that he hoped to scuttle these negotiations. He also was ready to upend the Constitution in 2013, proposing to imprison the families of anyone who violates U.S. sanctions against Iran.

Democrats reacted to Cotton’s ploy angrily Monday.

From Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.:

“This is a brazen attempt by Senate Republicans to sabotage negotiations aimed at preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. This bizarre, inappropriate letter is a desperate ploy to scuttle a comprehensive agreement and the chance for a peaceful resolution, which is in the best interests of the United States, Israel and the world.”

From Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.:

“I am appalled at the latest step of 47 Republicans to blow up a major effort by our country and the world powers to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the Iranian nuclear program.

“This is a highly inappropriate and unprecedented incursion into the president’s prerogative to conduct foreign affairs and is not befitting this chamber. This letter only serves one purpose—to destroy an ongoing negotiation to reach a diplomatic agreement in its closing days.”

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Today’s congressional odds and ends

Sacramento_San_Joaquin_Delta_NHA Oct 2012-page-001DELTA NATIONAL HERITAGE AREA: The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta would become a National Hertiage Area, to be managed by the Delta Protection Commission, under companion bills introduced Tuesday by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove. The lawmakers say the goal is to protect and promote the vast history, resources, and economy of the Delta community. Property owners and tribes are explicitly protected in the bill and capable of opting out of any recommendations, and the bill will have no effect on water rights or water contracts and creates no new regulatory authority or burden on local government or citizens. The bill’s original cosponsors are Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord; Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena; Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton; and Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento. “Covering more than 700 square miles and nearly 60 islands and boasting more than 400,000 people, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is the largest delta in the world and a critical resource for California,” Feinstein said. “With a National Heritage Area designation, we can support a future for the Delta that is sustainable and bright.”

FAMILY ENGAGEMENT IN EDUCATION: Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, joined with Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., to introduce H.R. 1194, the Family Engagement in Education Act, to provide money for schools to promote effective strategies to get parents involved. “Education doesn’t stop at the end of the school day,” DeSaulnier said. “Research shows that family engagement in a child’s learning experience increases student achievement, improves attendance, and reduces dropout rates.” The bill is supported by the National PTA.

e-verifyE-VERIFY FOR ALL EMPLOYERS: Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, blasted a proposal to mandate use of E-Verify – an online government system for determining people’s eligibility to work in this country – for all employers. The House Judiciary Committee advanced the Legal Workforce Act on Tuesday on a 20-13 vote. But Lofgren, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, noted the bill is opposed by the agricultural sector, unions, civil liberties groups and many others. Without comprehensive immigration reform, “expanding E-Verify would devastate the agricultural economy, resulting in closed farms, a less-secure America, and the mass off-shoring of millions and millions of U.S. jobs, including all of the upstream and downstream jobs created and supported by agriculture,” Lofgren said. Expanding E-Verify alone would also increase the deficit and decrease tax revenues. Last Congress, the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation concluded that the Legal Workforce Act would have resulted in a net revenue loss of $39 billion over ten years.”

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Who will skip Netanyahu’s speech to Congress?

The Bay Area delegation is split over attending Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress next Tuesday, March 3.

Democrats and the White House remain miffed that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, invited Netanyahu unilaterally. The Israeli leader is expected to speak against the Obama administration’s ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran, instead urging Congress to impose further sanctions; also, the address comes two weeks before Israel’s legislative election. For these reasons, and as some pro-Palestinian groups urge a boycott, some Democrats are choosing to skip the speech.

Here’s how the Bay Area delegation shakes out:

Skipping the speech: Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton; Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose

Attending the speech: U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin; Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; Rep. Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz

Undecided: U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.; Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord; Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa

Didn’t respond to inquiries: Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo

A few of them offered explanations, or at least, comments:

Lofgren: “I am disappointed Speaker Boehner chose to irresponsibly interject politics into what has long been a strong and bipartisan relationship between the United States and Israel. As President Obama has noted, it is inappropriate for a Head of State to address Congress just two weeks ahead of their election. I agree that Congress should not be used as a prop in Israeli election campaigns, so I intend to watch the speech on TV in my office.”

Huffman: “I call upon Speaker Boehner and Ambassador Dermer to do the right thing and postpone this speech. Once the election in Israel is over and the current P5+1 negotiating deadline has passed, they should respect protocol and confer with President Obama and congressional Democrats on a time for the Prime Minister of Israel to address a joint session of Congress.”

Boxer: “Whether I wind up going or not, it was a terrible mistake by the Republican majority to play politics with this enduring relationship.”

McNerney, via spokesman Michael Cavaiola: “Rep. McNerney is not planning to attend the speech. He’s got several previously planned commitments for that day.”

DeSaulnier, via spokeswoman Betsy Arnold Marr: “Congressman DeSaulnier has not made a final decision as he hopes the Prime Minister will reconsider his plans particularly in light of the upcoming election.”

Honda, via spokesman Ken Scudder: “Congressman Honda regrets that Speaker Boehner ignored protocol in making this invitation. The speaker turned what should have been an important visit of one of our closest allies into a political stunt. Congressman Honda also has concerns about the potential political nature of this speech given Israel’s elections are less than two weeks away. Despite this, and the congressman’s disagreement with the Prime Minister’s opposition to the U.S. nuclear negotiations with Iran, Congressman Honda is going to attend the address on March 3. The United States and Israel share strong cultural, economic and security partnerships, and he will attend the speech to hear firsthand what the Prime Minister has to say on these serious and complicated issues.”

Thompson, via spokesman Austin Vevurka: “We still don’t know what the Congressman’s schedule will be that week, but I will of course keep you posted as we know more. That being said, Congressman Thompson understands the importance of hearing from international leaders, but he is concerned that the speech has become overtly political. He hopes the speech is rescheduled and Netanyahu is invited back at a later date in a manner that respects long-established diplomatic protocol.”

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Feinstein leads push for hearing on sex trafficking

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., led all 20 of the senate’s women today in urging the Judiciary Committee to hold a hearing on sex trafficking in the United States.

“Human trafficking is a $32 billion criminal enterprise, making it the second largest criminal industry in the world behind the drug trade. According to the Department of Justice, 83 percent of sex trafficking victims in the United States are American citizens,” the senators wrote in their letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and ranking member Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

“A hearing would provide an opportunity to shine a spotlight on sex trafficking; receive testimony from victims, advocates, and law enforcement; and provide the committee with an informed perspective as it considers legislation in this area,” they wrote.

Read the full letter, after the jump…
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California lawmakers’ State of the Union guests

Here’s a sampling of guests invited by California lawmakers to attend President Obama’s State of the Union address tonight:

FloresRep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose: Honda is bringing Claudia Flores, an immigration rights activist who was allowed to stay in the United States under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Flores and her family moved to San Jose from Honduras when she was a teenager; she became a leader at San Jose High School and in her community, eventually earning a full-ride scholarship to Santa Clara University. She was an intern in Honda’s office two summers ago and is now a public policy fellow with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. “This hard-working, bright woman, who has done so much in her young career, would have been deported if not for President Obama’s action in 2012,” Honda said. “She is exactly the type of person this policy was meant to encourage to stay in the United States.”

UsafiRep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin: Swalwell is bringing Mohammad Usafi, an Afghan interpreter who worked with U.S. Marines and after waiting nearly four years received a special immigrant visa to move to the Bay Area one year ago. The Taliban kidnapped Usafi’s young brother for ransom and killed his father because of the aid he had worked for American troops; after Swalwell and other House members helped friends and advocates petition the State Department, Usafi’s mother and seven siblings were granted humanitarian parole to join him here in December. “It’s a great relief that today Mohammad and his family live in the Bay Area, but more must be done and can be done in a bipartisan fashion to help interpreters like Mohammad,” Swalwell said.

ChristensenRep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo: Speier is bringing retired U.S. Air Force Col. Don Christensen, that branch’s longest-serving chief prosecutor and a leading advocate of military sexual assault reform. Christensen is president of Protect Our Defenders, a group that’s leading efforts to remove sexual assault cases from the military chain of command. “I invited Colonel Christensen with the hope that he could witness President Obama announce his support of fundamental reform of the military justice system,” Speier said. “A year after requesting a report from the Pentagon, the president now has the results on his desk. He has all the information he needs. Tonight would be a perfect time for him to lead on this issue by supporting taking sexual assault cases out of the chain of command.”

MartinezRep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara: Capps is bringing Richard Martinez, whose son, Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez, 20, was among those slain in last May’s rampage near UC-Santa Barbara. Martinez, of Los Osos, became a face of the tragedy as he urged lawmakers to pursue stricter gun-control measures; he since has joined the staff of Everytown for Gun Safety. “As the 114th Congress begins their tenure, it is time they put the public safety of their constituents first, and that means making gun safety a priority to help reduce gun violence in America,” Martinez said.

OliverRep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove: Bera is bringing Susan Oliver, widow of Sacramento County Sheriff’s Deputy Danny Oliver, who was shot to death in the line of duty in October by a gunman who also killed a Placer County deputy. Their lives “remind us that our law enforcement officers put their lives on the line every day for our safety,” Bera said. “They were true heroes and we are forever indebted to them and their loved ones. Let’s honor their memory by building understanding and trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve, just like Deputy Oliver did.”

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.: Feinstein is bringing Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. He’s been mayor since 2013 and earlier was a councilman; Feinstein said they’ve worked together on issues such as funding for the Metro’s Purple Line extension and efforts to reduce homelessness among veterans.