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Obama to visit Fresno next Friday about drought

This just in from the White House:

“On Friday, February 14, President Obama will travel to the Fresno, California area to discuss ongoing efforts to respond to the severe drought. Further details on the President’s trip to California will be available in the coming days.”

As reported here last week, President Obama promised Gov. Jerry Brown that he’s committed to providing the necessary federal support to state and local drought mitigation efforts. And as I reported Tuesday, the president is no fan of the water bill that Republicans pushed through the House this week as a drought solution.

Posted on Friday, February 7th, 2014
Under: Barack Obama, Obama presidency, water | 4 Comments »

Boxer, Ted Cruz agree on military justice bill

Mark the date: This is one of the few times you ever will see U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Ted Cruz supporting the same cause.

Barbara BoxerBoxer, the California liberal, and Cruz, the Tea Party darling from Texas, are among 53 Senators – 44 Democrats and nine Republicans – who have publicly voiced support for a bill to create an independent military justice system. The Senate is expected to vote next week on S.1752, the Military Justice Improvement Act by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., as well as on additional sexual assault reforms sponsored by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

“It is time to bring an end to the broken promises of ‘zero tolerance’ for sexual assault. Enough already,” Boxer said in a news release. “It is time to fix our military justice system and to give survivors a chance at the justice they deserve by enacting the Military Justice Improvement Act.”

My Approved PortraitsCruz commended Gillibrand for her leadership on the issue, saying the bill “will address the most serious crimes in the military while enabling commanders to focus on their wartime mission and ensure that the rights of both victims and those accused of crimes are protected. Our strongest allies have adopted similar military justice changes and their experience shows us that this can be done without harming the chain of command or military readiness. I look forward to continue working with her on this important issue.”

Victims of military sexual assault often have described feeling fearful when deciding whether to report the crimes, because the military chain of command has an inherent conflict of interest and bias in deciding whether to prosecute.

The bill moves the decision whether to prosecute any crime punishable by one year or more in confinement to independent, trained, professional military prosecutors who aren’t beholden to the usual chain of command. Excepted from the bill are 37 serious crimes that are uniquely military in nature, such as disobeying orders or going absent without leave, plus all crimes punishable by less than a year behind bars.

Posted on Thursday, February 6th, 2014
Under: Barbara Boxer, U.S. Senate | 4 Comments »

How liberal/conservative is YOUR lawmaker?

Here’s how Northern California’s Congressional delegation stacks up in the National Journal’s annual ranking of most liberal/most conservative lawmakers, published today. Seeing as how we’re in the Bay Area, we’ll use the “most liberal” scale; some members are tied, hence the same numbers.

In fact, of seven House members across the nation who tied for 1st place in the “most liberal” ranking, three are from the Bay Area:

HOUSE
1. Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz
1. Mike Honda, D-San Jose
1. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael
28. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland
31. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento
44. Mike Thompson, D-Napa
48. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto
49. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo
63. George Miller, D-Martinez
66. Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco
86. Eric Swalwell, D-Pleasanton
99. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose
152. John Garamendi, D-Fairfield
171. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton
178. Ami Bera, D-Rancho Cordova
187. Jim Costa, D-Fresno
222. David Valadao, R-Hanford
223. Jeff Denham, R-Modesto
256. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia
328. Tom McClintock, R-Granite Bay
386. Doug LaMalfa, R-Oroville

SENATE
16. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.
22. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

On the methodology: For the 2013 ratings, National Journal examined all of the roll-call votes in the first session of the 113th Congress—641 in the House and 291 in the Senate—and identified the ones that show ideological distinctions between members. Many votes did not make the cut—those that involve noncontroversial issues or that fall along regional lines, for instance. In the end, 117 votes in the Senate and 111 votes in the House were selected and were categorized as economic, foreign, or social.

Posted on Thursday, February 6th, 2014
Under: U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 10 Comments »

House GOP schedules water bill for vote

House Republican leaders have scheduled a vote next week for an emergency water bill offered by Central Valley Republicans.

The controversial legislation – H.R. 3964, Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Emergency Water Delivery Act, introduced by Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford – is being rushed through on account of California’s severe drought. But the bill would be the biggest reform of California water policy in decades, and has met with harsh criticism from the state’s Democrats.

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, issued a statement Friday saying Central Valley farmers and families were dealt a blow earlier in the day when the California Department of Water Resources reduced State Water Project allocations from 5 percent to zero; the reduction followed a finding on Thursday that the state’s snowpack is at only 12 percent of normal for this time of year.

“Today’s action is a stark reminder that California’s drought is real,” Gov. Jerry Brown of the allocation reduction. “We’re taking every possible step to prepare the state for the continuing dry conditions we face.”

But McCarthy said “the pressure this decision puts on the already dangerously low reservoirs and groundwater banks is unsustainable,” and HR 3964 “is a responsible answer to the hardship the Central Valley is currently facing. I thank Speaker Boehner, Leader Cantor, and Chairman Hastings for appreciating the urgency of this matter and scheduling a vote on this bill next week.”

He noted Brown and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., oppose the House bill.

“Perhaps more disturbing is their failure of leadership in offering a solution of their own to bring Central Valley communities new or additional water,” McCarthy said. “As the House acts on Rep. Valadao’s legislation next week, I urge Governor Brown to use his authority to immediately direct state agencies to relax current state environmental regulations in the delta to ensure any water that does move down the Sacramento River ultimately flows to Kern County and Central California. Absent immediate action, California farmers and communities will continue to be gripped by the damaging effects of the worst drought in a century.”

Rep. John Garamendi, D-Fairfield, on Thursday had blasted the Republcians’ bill as “a political ploy in an election year that does nothing to solve the devastating drought facing the state.

“If enacted, the bill would overturn six decades of California state water and environmental law, tear up long standing contracts between the state, federal government, and water districts, and ignore the California Constitution’s public trust doctrine. This would create massive confusion and environmental damage to all California’s rivers, the Delta, and San Francisco Bay,” Garamendi charged. “This bill hurts Republicans, Democrats, and independents alike by threatening the livelihoods of farmers, fishermen, and small businesses throughout the state. We cannot throw away years of water management experience for the sake of scoring a few political points.”

Posted on Friday, January 31st, 2014
Under: David Valadao, Dianne Feinstein, John Garamendi, Kevin McCarthy, U.S. House, U.S. Senate, water | No Comments »

Obama calls Jerry Brown for drought update

This just in from the White House:

Today, the President called Governor Jerry Brown to receive an update on the situation in California and express his concern for the citizens impacted by the historic drought conditions facing the state – conditions that are likely to have significant impacts on the state’s communities, economy and environment in the coming months.

The President reinforced his commitment to providing the necessary federal support to the state and local efforts. The agencies are working together to target resources to help California and other impacted states prepare for and lessen the impacts of the drought. USDA is also working with farmers and ranchers to increase their irrigation water efficiency, protect vulnerable soils from erosion, and improve the health of pasture and range lands. And the Bureau of Reclamation is working closely with federal and California state authorities to facilitate water transfers and provide operational flexibility to convey and store available water, and facilitate additional actions that can conserve and move water to critical areas.

The National Drought Resilience Partnership (NDRP) will help coordinate the federal response, working closely with state, local government, agriculture and other partners. The NDRP is already helping to enhance existing efforts that federal agencies are working on with communities, businesses, farmers and ranchers to build resilience where drought is currently an issue across the country.

The President made clear that we will continue to work with our federal partners, including FEMA, to support the state and local response, and expressed his support during this challenging time.

Posted on Wednesday, January 29th, 2014
Under: Barack Obama, Gov. Jerry Brown, Jerry Brown, Obama presidency, water | 1 Comment »

Open thread: State of the Union

And, the GOP response:

Go ahead, share your thoughts – but be civil to your fellow commenters.

Posted on Tuesday, January 28th, 2014
Under: Barack Obama, Obama presidency | 14 Comments »

President Obama on George Miller’s retirement

The White House just issued President Barack Obama’s statement on the retirement of Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez.

President Barack Obama“George Miller has proudly represented the people of California in Congress for nearly 40 years, and he has spent his career fighting to grow and strengthen the middle class. Because of his tireless efforts, our air and water are cleaner, our workers’ rights are better protected, more young people can afford to go to college, and more working families can make ends meet. George was a chief author of the first bill I signed into law, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. His decades-long fight to bring quality, affordable health insurance to millions of Americans made him an indispensable partner in developing and passing the Affordable Care Act. And he continues to fight for our shared belief that a minimum wage should be a wage you can live on. Michelle and I thank Congressman Miller for his service and leadership, and we wish him, his wife Cynthia, and their children and grandchildren the very best in the future.”

Read a slew of other comments on Miller’s retirement here, and view a gallery of some of Miller’s finer (that is, more fiery) moments on the House floor here.

Posted on Monday, January 13th, 2014
Under: Barack Obama, George Miller, U.S. House | 1 Comment »

DiFi wants to ban cell-phone calls on planes

Even as the Federal Communications Commission considered a possible rule change today to allow cell phone conversations on commercial airline flights, one of California’s Senators helped introduce a bipartisan bill to prohibit it.

Senators Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., introduced the Commercial Flight Courtesy Act.

“Flying on a commercial airline — in a confined space, often for many hours — is a unique travel experience that is, candidly, not conducive to numerous passengers talking on cellphones,” Feinstein said. “This bill recognizes the use of cellphones to make calls during flights can be disruptive and irritating to other passengers and would prevent such communications during domestic flights. The bill, however, would not affect the ability to communicate via text and email during a flight.”

Alexander spoke more plainly (planely?), saying the bill “is about avoiding something nobody wants: nearly 2 million passengers a day, hurtling through space, trapped in 17-inch-wide seats, yapping their innermost thoughts.”

Perhaps air passengers who still want their daily dose of yapping can watch C-SPAN.

As Feinstein said, the bill would prohibit voice communications through cell phones but not texting or other electronic communications, should the FCC approve them. It would also continue to allow use of personal electronic devices such as Kindles and iPads during flight, which the Federal Aviation Administration recently approved.

The bill applies only to commercial airlines, not private charter flights or foreign carriers unless the latter is flying between U.S. airports, and it exempts federal air marshals and flight crews for official business.

Posted on Thursday, December 12th, 2013
Under: Dianne Feinstein, U.S. Senate | 2 Comments »

California a model for national paid family leave

Advocates say a new bill to establish a national paid family leave program is modeled on California’s law.

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., today introduced the “Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act,” which would let eligible workers receive a portion of their pay when they need time away from their jobs to bond with a new child, to care for a seriously ill family member or for their own serious health condition.

It’s similar in design to California’s law, passed in 2002 and implemented in 2004. The state law has helped about 1.6 million Californians with up to six weeks of paid leave, and was recently expanded to include care for siblings, grandparents, grandchildren and parents-in-law, starting in July 2014.

Existing federal law provides only unpaid, job-protected leave, but the proposed FAMILY Act will offer paid benefits for up to 12 weeks. The bill would create an independent trust fund within the Social Security Administration to collect fees and provide benefits, funded by employee and employer contributions of 0.2 percent of wages each.

“The FAMILY Act has taken important lessons from California, since our state was the first in the country to successfully pass paid family leave,” said Sharon Terman, senior staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center. “After more than a decade since implementing paid family leave, we know that employers are widely supportive of the law and report no ill-effects as a result of implementing it, and that families have benefited from having paid time off to care for ill relatives or to bond with new babies. It’s a win-win for all.”

Ann O’Leary, vice-president and director of Next Generation’s Children & Families program, said the economic stability provided by California’s law is a model for the nation. “We are all mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, grandparents or children—we need a way to care for our families without risking our financial security.”

Posted on Thursday, December 12th, 2013
Under: U.S. House, U.S. Senate | No Comments »

Gun control groups say California is still tops

Eight states including California enacted major gun-control laws in the year since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., two big gun-control groups reported Monday.

Robyn Thomas“We really see this as a turning point on this issue,” Robyn Thomas, executive director of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, told reporters on a conference call Monday morning. “This year after Newtown, we got calls from 30 different states interested in introducing legislation. … That was an absolute watershed change from years past.”

The scorecard report put out by the Law Center and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence ranks all states based on 30 policy approaches to regulating guns and ammunition. States received points for having effective laws in each policy area, with stronger laws receiving more points. A letter grade (A to F) indicates the overall strength or weakness of a state’s gun laws.

California received an A- and continues to top the list of states with the nation’s strongest gun laws. But Connecticut jumped from ranking 4th to 2nd and is joined by New Jersey, New York, Delaware, and Maryland at the top of the list of states with strong gun laws, all of which also passed new legislation in 2013. States ranking at the bottom with the weakest gun laws include Arizona, Alaska, Wyoming, and South Dakota – many of which also have some of the highest gun death rates in the country.

Dan Gross“We think the Sandy Hook tragedy was a watershed moment,” Brady Campaign president Dan Gross said on the conference call. But watershed moments like this are only catalysts, he said: Ultimately laws don’t change unless people rise up and demand it. “Many states have listened to the will of the American people, state lawmakers have represented their constituents, while Congress has not.”

Laura Cutilletta, senior staff attorney at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said some of the new state laws were substantial. Five states – Connecticut, New York, Delaware, Colorado and Illinois – tightened their background check laws to include private sales. Four states – Illinois, New York, Maryland and Delaware – required owners to quickly report the loss or theft of their firearms. Three states – Connecticut, Maryland and New York – passed laws regulating ammunition sales with record keeping and/or background checks. Four states – California, Connecticut, New York and Maryland – beefed up their assault weapons laws in some way. And five states – California, New York, Connecticut, Colorado and Maryland – strengthened existing laws or added new ones dealing with ammunition magazines.

“To see this many states do this many substantive changes… is really quite amazing,” Cutilletta said.
While the states’ progress is encouraging, “we can’t have a patchwork system,” Gross said. “Now it’s time for Congress to follow the lead of these states.

But even though polls show the bipartisan legislation to expand background checks is supported by nine out of 10 Americans including four out of five gun owners, Gross said, getting such a bill through Congress requires reassuring lawmakers that passing it is in their political best interest. “If we can’t do that, we will not succeed in 2014.”

Gun_Rights_vs_Gun_Control_yearlylobying-01The Sunlight Foundation reported Monday that gun-control groups as of June 30 reported spending five times as much on federal lobbying in 2013 as they did in 2012 – about $1.6 million. Yet gun-rights groups still outspent by more than 7 to 1, sinking $12.2 million into the fight.

“The months following Sandy Hook saw not only an increase in the quantity of lobbying over gun control but in the nature of the lobbying,” writes Nancy Watzman of the Sunlight Reporting Group. “Much of the increased lobbying spending by gun control groups at the federal level went to hire lions of the Washington lobbyist establishment, big names who have gone through the revolving door from Congress and the executive branch.”

“Their typical clients are Fortune 500 companies and major trade associations, as opposed to clients with an ideological bent,” Watzman wrote. “For most, this was the first time they reported signing on to the gun issue. In this, the gun control groups were mirroring their opposition: The NRA has long hired outside lobbyists to supplement its staff. Overall, gun control groups reported hiring some three dozen lobbyists at eight lobbying firms. For the vast majority, it was the first time they reported lobbying on behalf of a gun control group.”

Gross said his group, the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and many other groups and individuals are in this for the long haul; he noted that it took six votes over seven years to pass the Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act of 1993. “It doesn’t happen overnight.”

Posted on Monday, December 9th, 2013
Under: gun control, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | No Comments »