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Sam Farr will vote for Trade Promotion Authority

By Josh Richman
Thursday, June 11th, 2015 at 12:00 pm in Ami Bera, Sam Farr, U.S. House

Rep. Sam Farr has broken with most of his fellow California Democrats, announcing Thursday morning that he’ll vote in support of the “fast-track” Trade Promotion Authority that the Obama Administration and Republican congressional leaders want.

Until Farr, D-Carmel, posted a statement to his constituents online Thursday, the only California House Democrat known to be supporting TPA was Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove – a second-term member in a vulnerable swing district, compared to the 12-term Farr’s safely deep-blue district. The House could vote on it Friday.

Sam FarrFarr wrote that the Central Coast’s economic strength lies in adapting to meet global demands, with local businesses relying on access to new markets in order to compete.

“Trade opens up those markets. It puts the goods we produce and the crops we grow here in California into the hands of more buyers around the world. More sales abroad create more jobs here at home. Trade is good for the Central Coast,” he wrote.

Trade Promotion Authority “simply defines the process Congress will use to vote on future trade deals,” Farr wrote, and “sets the strongest human rights, environmental and labor standards for trade in the history of our country. These are not ceilings but instead are floors that have to be met, giving President Obama the leverage necessary to push for even stronger standards when negotiating with other countries.”

Farr wrote that he expects the pending Trans Pacific Partnership – a trade deal with almost a dozen Pacific Rim nations, which will be the first pact to proceed under TPA – “to be the strongest trade deal ever negotiated. It will require all of the signatories to address issues like conditions in their factories or fair pay for their workers. It will also improve environmental standards leading to cleaner air and cleaner water.” But if it doesn’t contain adequate protections, he said, he’ll vote against it.

After listening to labor, human rights and environmental groups, as well as local businesses and growers, “I concluded voting for TPA is the right thing to do for our district, our economy and our environment,” he wrote.

“To put in bluntly, I trust President Obama to deliver a better trade deal than Speaker Boehner and Senator McConnell,” Farr wrote. “Under TPA, any deal brought to Congress by the President will be made public and reviewed for 60 days. At the end of that time period, Congress will hold a simple up or down vote. Without TPA, the Republican controlled Congress would be able to strip out any of the tougher standards put in place by the White House.”

Farr acknowleged many in his party will disagree, and it would be easier to vote with them, “but I did not come to Congress to do what is easy. I came here to do what I feel is right, no matter how hard that vote will be. A yes vote on TPA is right. It means moving us forward while a no vote on TPA means remaining stuck.”

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New bill would revamp California’s voting system

By Josh Richman
Wednesday, June 10th, 2015 at 12:48 pm in Alex Padilla, California State Senate, Secretary of State, voter registration

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.

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House OKs permanent Internet access tax ban

By Josh Richman
Tuesday, June 9th, 2015 at 3:35 pm in Anna Eshoo, John Boehner, taxes, U.S. House

Tuesday’s House voice vote on making permanent a ban on taxing Internet access was a rare moment of bipartisan rapprochement.

State and local governments currently can’t tax Internet access or place multiple or discriminatory taxes on Internet commerce; that ban is set to expire Oct. 1, but H.R. 235 permanently extends it.

Co-author Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, spoke in favor of the bill on the House floor before the vote.

“At a time when affordability continues to be a key barrier to widespread broadband adoption, this bill reflects our commitment to universal broadband in America. According to a study by the Phoenix Center, an average tax rate of 2.5 percent on broadband could reduce subscribership by anywhere from five to 15 million people,” she said. This is a sensible, bipartisan and effective bill.

Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, issued a statement after the vote saying that “Americans are taxed enough already, and they shouldn’t have to worry about facing new taxes on something as important as access to the Internet.”

“The web is a powerful tool that fosters equality, education and opportunity,” he said. “This bill will help keep it that way and encourage economic growth by permanently shielding families and small businesses from higher costs. I applaud Chairman Goodlatte for his leadership on this issue.”

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Lawmakers demand answers in Refugio oil spill

By Josh Richman
Friday, June 5th, 2015 at 1:28 pm in Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, Environment, U.S. House, U.S. Senate

California’s U.S. Senators joined with other lawmakers in demanding answers Friday from a pipeline company connected to the state’s worst oil spill in a quarter-century.

Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, along with Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. – a leader on environmental issues who formerly was the House Natural Resources Committee’s top Democrat – and Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, wrote Friday to Plains All American Pipeline Chairman and CEO Greg Armstrong about last month’s spill of more than 100,000 gallons of crude oil near Refugio State Beach near Santa Barbara.

News outlets have reported Plains has one of the worst safety records of any pipeline company, with 175 safety and maintenance violations since 2006 that have resulted in more than 16,000 barrels of oil spilled and more than $23 million worth of property damage.

The lawmakers called for immediate answers after federal regulators found this week that the company’s pipeline was heavily corroded. Although a May 5 inspection report ordered by Plains Pipeline showed corrosion metal loss of 45 percent in the area of the rupture, third party investigators found 82 percent of the pipe’s thickness actually had worn away.

“We are deeply concerned about the recent findings from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) that revealed that the pipeline that ruptured showed signs of extensive corrosion,” the lawmakers wrote. “We are also concerned about inconsistencies in the inspection reports about this pipeline, which raise questions about the safety of other pipelines that you operate.”

New reports also indicate that Plains Pipeline initially stopped pumping after the anomalies were first detected, but then resumed pumping about 20 minutes later. “Any delay in detecting or reporting this spill or shutting down the pipeline could have exacerbated the extent of the damage to the environment,” they wrote.

They want answers by the close of business on June 19.

“Plains has received the letter from Senators Boxer, Feinstein and Markey and Congresswoman Capps and will respond timely,” company spokesman Brad Leon said later Friday. “Plains shares the desire to diligently examine the recent incident to help inform regulators and the industry regarding the cause of the incident. Plains is cooperating with the investigation led by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and looks forward to being a fully engaged partner in that process.”

Read the full letter, after the jump…
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SD7: Steve Glazer gets his committee assignments

By Josh Richman
Thursday, June 4th, 2015 at 3:57 pm in California State Senate, steve glazer

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.

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Obama honors San Francisco Giants at White House

By Josh Richman
Thursday, June 4th, 2015 at 3:30 pm in Barack Obama, Obama presidency

Sure, everyone’s in a tizzy about Thursday night’s NBA Finals Game 1 between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers in Oakland, but another Bay Area champion team was lauded in our nation’s capital earlier in the day.

President Barack Obama hosted and honored the World Champion San Francisco Giants at the White House on Thursday.

Read the president’s remarks, after the jump…
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CA17: Mike Honda touts budget bill victories

By Josh Richman
Thursday, June 4th, 2015 at 12:37 pm in Mike Honda, U.S. House

Rep. Mike Honda, facing a second consecutive challenge from fellow Democrat Ro Khanna, wants his Silicon Valley district to know it was front and center in his mind as he pursued certain funding in the Commerce, Justice and Science budget bill that the House passed Wednesday.

honda.jpgHonda, D-San Jose, issued a news release Thursday saying he used “his senior position on the Appropriations Committee and long-standing relationships” to ensure that the bill prevented NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy – which includes researchers at Ames Research Center in Mountain View – from being prematurely terminated; directed the FBI to explore using outside labs for DNA testing, to end the backlog of untested rape kits across the country; and called for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Program to focus on plastic marine debris, one of the main types of waste harming fish and other wildlife.

“I will always work to bring Silicon Valley’s unique voice to Congress,” Honda said in the release. “We represent the very best of America – a diverse population made up of forward thinkers and innovators who have a deep understanding and respect of our history. Serving as a senior member of the Appropriations Committee has allowed me to champion initiatives critical to the continued success and growth of our region.”

Khanna, a former Obama administration Commerce Department official who lost last year’s race to Honda by 3.6 percentage points, launched his 2016 campaign this past Saturday and announced this week his lead campaign strategist will be netroots guru Joe Trippi. One of Khanna’s key criticisms of Honda has been that the eight-term congressman is ineffective, authoring too few successful bills and accomplishing too little.

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Rick Perry is running for president

By Josh Richman
Thursday, June 4th, 2015 at 11:14 am in 2016 presidential election

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday became the 10th Republican to declare candidacy for president in 2016:

Here’s the brief video he launched today:

California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton issued a statement Thursday taking Perry to task.

“Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry compared homosexuality to alcoholism, rejected Medicaid expansion for more than 1 million of the poorest Texans, and denies climate change science. He fits right in to the Republican presidential primary pack,” Burton said. “Last year I sent an open letter to Gov. Perry when he said he was weighing a move to the Golden State. Gov. Perry’s retirement in California will have to wait until voters see through his cruel healthcare policies and the sham of Texas’ economic miracle.”

Read the text of Perry’s speech as prepared, after the jump…
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Barbara Lee bets on Golden State Warriors win

By Josh Richman
Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015 at 12:56 pm in Barbara Boxer, Barbara Lee, Dianne Feinstein, U.S. House, U.S. Senate

Rep. Barbara Lee and Rep. Marcia Fudge have laid a friendly bet over the NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

If (ed. note: WHEN) the Warriors win, Fudge, D-Ohio, will send Lee chocolates, peanuts and pastries made in the heart of Cleveland. If (ed. note: impossibly) the Cavaliers win, Lee, D-Oakland, will supply Fudge with Clif bars, Ghirardelli chocolates, Peet’s coffee and an autographed photo of Stephen Curry, all in an Oaklandish tote bag.

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)“The Cleveland Cavaliers are a good team but the Warriors will win this, hands down,” Lee said in her news release. “With the strong support of the East Bay and leadership of MVP Stephen Curry, I am confident of a Warrior’s win! While I am proud to put some of the East Bay’s finest products on the line for this friendly wager, I look forward to enjoying the sweetness of a hometown victory along with Cleveland treats from my friend, Congresswoman Fudge.”

Fudge replied the Warriors “are a strong team, but it’s time to end our city’s 50-year championship drought. The Cavaliers will be victorious. Led by Akron’s own LeBron James, the Cavaliers have been relentless in their pursuit of victory. All of Northeast Ohio is ‘all in’ and proud of their determination to bring the championship home. While confident in our victory, I proudly wager chocolates from Malley’s, peanuts from Peterson’s and pastries from Davis Bakery. These delectable foods are the best in the nation, just like our home team.”

UPDATE @ 2:48 P.M.: U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein have laid similar wagers with their Ohio counterparts.

Boxer put up Peet’s “Warriors Grounds” coffee and a case of Linden Street Brewery’s “New Oakland Glow” pilsner against beer that U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, will provide from Akron’s Hoppin’ Frog Brewery. The loser will deliver the bounty to the winner’s office while wearing a jersey from the victor’s team.

“The Golden State Warriors have been the best team in basketball all season long because of their selfless style of play and some of the best shooting that the NBA has ever seen,” Boxer said. “LeBron James is a huge talent, but he’s no match for Stephen and Riley Curry!”

And Feinstein bet some California Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon against some of Cleveland’s Great Lakes beer on offer by U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

“As mayor of San Francisco, I wagered with my fellow mayors on the Super Bowl and my 49ers came out on top four times. As senator, I bet on the World Series with my colleagues, and my Giants have been victorious three times in the last five years,” Feinstein said. “Now, I’m looking forward to yet another streak as the Golden State Warriors play the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. … With Klay Thompson’s shooting and Andrew Bogut’s defense, not to mention Steph Curry’s MVP talent, this squad is set to bring another trophy to the Bay Area.”

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Marijuana reform advocates win 3 of 4 in House

By Josh Richman
Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015 at 12:44 pm in marijuana, Sam Farr, U.S. House

Marijuana reform advocates won three of four battles in the House on Wednesday, as lawmakers approved amendments that forbid federal interference in state laws allowing medical use of marijuana and marijuana-based oils or industrial hemp uses.

“There’s unprecedented support on both sides of the aisle for ending the federal war on marijuana and letting states set their own drug policies based on science, compassion, health, and human rights,” Bill Piper, the Drug Policy Alliance’s national affairs director, said in a news release. “The more the DEA blocks sensible reforms the more they will see their agency’s power and budget come under deeper scrutiny.”

California is one of 23 states, plus the District of Columbia and Guam, that have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes.

The House voted 242-186 for an amendment by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, and Sam Farr, D-Carmel, that prohibits the federal government from using any funds to arrest or prosecute medical marijuana patients or providers that are in a compliance with their state’s laws. This amendment also passed the House last year with strong bipartisan support – after a decade of failed efforts – and made it into the final spending bill signed into law, but because it was attached to an annual spending bill, it will expire later this year unless Congress renews it.

“The majority of the states have said they want medical marijuana patients to have access to the medicine they need without fear of prosecution,” Farr said in a news release. “For the second year in a row, the people’s house has listened to the will of the people and voted to give them that access.”

The House voted 297-130 to pass an amendment by Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., that protects laws in 16 states allowing use of CBD oils, a non-psychotropic marijuana component that’s been shown to be effective in managing children’s epileptic seizures.

And the House voted 282-146 to pass an amendment by Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., and Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Kent., prohibiting the Drug Enforcement Administration from undermining state laws allowing the industrial use of hemp. A similar amendment passed the House last year.

Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington have legalized marijuana for recreational use, and voters in California, Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada are expected to face legalization ballot initiatives next year. But an amendment by Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Roseville, and Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., to bar the DEA and Justice Department from undermining such state laws narrowly failed on a 206-222 vote.

Kevin Sabet, a former White House drug policy staffer who now is president and CEO of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said his anti-legalization group is “re-energized” by the recreational amendment’s defeat.

“This is a victory for the science, and it’s a victory for our nation’s kids,” Sabet said in a news release. “It’s a crushing blow to the new Big Marijuana industry special interest group. Legalization is not inevitable and we will continue to discuss why today’s high THC marijuana runs counter to mental health and basic principles of public health and road safety.”

But Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, issued a statement saying “now that the House has gone on record with strong bipartisan votes for two years in a row to oppose using federal funds to interfere with state medical marijuana laws, it’s time for Congress to take up comprehensive legislation to actually change federal law.”

“That’s what a growing majority of Americans wants, and these votes show that lawmakers are on board as well,” Angell said. “Congress clearly wants to stop the Justice Department from spending money to impose failed marijuana prohibition policies onto states, so there’s absolutely no reason those policies themselves should remain on the lawbooks any longer.”

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