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Legislative battle over self-checkout alcohol sales

Your quick trip to the supermarket for a six-pack of brews or a bottle of vino might take a bit longer if the state Senate approves a bill that would bar retailers from letting customers buy alcohol through self-service checkouts.

self-checkoutAB 183 by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, is based on the argument that self-checkout alcohol sales make it easier for minors or already-intoxicated customers to buy, and increase chances of theft. The Assembly approved AB 183 on a 48-26 vote May 26, sending it to the state Senate.

Similar bills have been offered twice before, both by former Assemblyman Hector De La Torre, D-South Gate. His 2007 bill didn’t make it past the Senate Governmental Organization Committee; his 2009 bill was approved by the Legislature but was vetoed last September by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said there’s “no legitimate evidence to suggest that self-service grocery checkout stands are contributing to the theft of alcoholic beverages and sale to minors or intoxicated persons. … Thus, it is unclear what problem this bill seeks to address.”

Among AB 183’s supporters are the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and Mothers Against Drunk Driving – somewhat strange bedfellows, given they took ardently opposite sides on last year’s marijuana legalization just a few months ago. Other supporters include several police organizations as well as anti-drug and anti-alcohol groups.

“We believe it is imperative that our youth be taken out of harm’s way in regards to underage drinking,” Michael Henneberry, communications director for San Jose-based UFCW Local 5, said Thursday. “AB 183 is a common-sense fix to the issue and will swiftly mitigate against the major problem of youth using self check to procure liquor. The law applies to union and non-union stores alike and is equitable despite the claims of some retailers.”

Nonetheless, the move toward more self-checkouts means a shrinking need for supermarket labor, the UFCW’s potential members. The union for years has been trying to organize clerks at Fresh & Easy supermarkets, which happen to use an all-self-checkout model; most recently, the UFCW has staged an informational picket line outside that company’s new store in Modesto.

The UFCW, always a prolific contributor to Democratic campaigns and causes, spent $15,000 last year just to lobby for De La Torre’s bill. The union’s Western States Council spent $15,348 on lobbying in this year’s first quarter, but Ma’s bill isn’t listed among those the union has tried to influence.

Opponents of AB 183 such as the California Grocers Association say self-service checkout stations already have a lock-out or “freeze” mechanism that requires a clerk’s intervention to verify age before finalizing all alcohol purchases. They also say studies consistently show that most of the time, minors get alcohol by getting adults to buy it for them.

“When this same legislation was vetoed last year the reason was clear – there is no legitimate evidence to suggest that assisted self-service grocery checkout stands are contributing to the theft of alcoholic beverages and sale to minors or intoxicated persons. The same holds true today,” CGA President Ron Fong said Thursday. “Our stores have solid protections in place against minors purchasing alcohol and we see this bill as a solution in search of a problem.”

The California Grocers Association – also a prolific campaign contributor that leans Republican, and gave significant amounts to Schwarzenegger’s committees – spent $60,251 on lobbying in this year’s first quarter on dozens of bills including AB 183.

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Oakland chamber supports Brown’s budget plan

As expected, the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce – serving the city where the governor used to be mayor – today endorsed Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget plan:

The State of California is facing a serious budget problem with an expected shortfall of over $25 billion. The Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce supports Governor Brown’s effort to address the problem in a comprehensive manner. Budget cuts are necessary but can be costly in terms of lost jobs and services. Allowing the voters to decide if temporary tax measures should be extended is appropriate and the Chamber will evaluate those ballot measures at the appropriate time.

While supportve of the overall plan, the Chamber continues its call for action in other areas critical to putting the state on a firm financial footing. These critical policy areas include public employee pension reform, regulatory reform to help attract and retain jobs and improvements to the budget process.

Brown also today trotted out support from the California Grocers Association and the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, a prominent Indian gaming entity.

In a letter to Brown, grocers association Chairman Jim Amen and President & CEO Ronald K. Fong wrote to “express support of your efforts in concept, which will allow voters to decide California’s future. It goes without saying that our state is faced with an unprecedented deficit and that the solution to our current fiscal problems will be significantly burdensome for citizens and businesses alike.”

All this as the governor continues trying to provide enough business-sector cover to any Legislative Republicans who’ll break with their leadership to vote alongside Democrats to enact cuts and let voters decide in a special election whether to extend current income, sales and vehicle taxes for another five years.

So far, no Republican has committed to doing so, but tense meetings continue in Sacramento. Tomorrow is the deadline Brown had set for legislative votes on the package, as he said he’d need this much time in order to call and prepare for a June 7 special election, ahead of the state constitution’s June 15 deadline for adopting next year’s budget.

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This week in big-time campaign cash

I knew it was coming, but it still hurts my head: The number of $25,000-and-up contributions to California campaigns and committees suddenly went through the roof this past week as Election Day neared and polls tightened. Given the sudden, enormous jump in notable contributions, I must resort to a more stripped-down format this week. The highlights in brief:

The campaign to defeat Proposition 8 raked in at least about $2.5 million this past week; I’m quite sure many of the big-ticket donations gathered at high-profile Southern California fundraisers this week have not yet been logged in as of this posting.

Chesapeake Energy doubled down on Proposition 10, putting another $1 million into the alternative fuels intiative from which it stands to make a bundle (though its ante is still chump change next to the $15.75 million put up by Prop. 10 proponent T. Boone Pickens‘ Clean Energy Fuels Corp.)

A bunch of Florida Republicans anted up for California’s proposed legislative redistricting reform.

And labor unions (especially the SEIU) and safe Democratic officeholders with money to burn tithed their cash to the Democratic Party, which seems to smell GOP blood in the water in districts up and down the state.

Details — so many details — after the jump… Continue Reading

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This week in big-time campaign cash

Topping this week’s roundup of big ($25,000 or more) spenders on California campaigns and committees is the $1.25 million that Equality California dumped Wednesday into the campaign against Proposition 8, the proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

Other notable No on 8 contributions this week included $500,000 Tuesday from GeoCities cofounder, venture capitalist and philanthropist David Bohnett of Beverly Hills; $250,000 Wednesday from the Service Employees International Union’s California State Council; $100,000 Monday from San Francisco’s Robert Haas, chairman emeritus of Levi Strauss Inc.; $70,000 Saturday from the National Center for Lesbian Rights; $50,000 Saturday from Anita May Rosenstein of Beverly Hills, a philanthropist and and founder of AR Asset Management Inc.; $25,000 Monday from Vinik Asset Management CEO Mark Hostetter of Boston; $25,000 Tuesday from Johnson Family Foundation chairman James Johnson of New York City; and $25,000 Wednesday from Angle Slate Inc. of Los Angeles.

Fieldstead & Co. — the personal philanthropic organization through which banking heir Howard Fieldstead Ahmanson Jr. funds conservative causes — put up $300,000 Wednesday to support Proposition 8, bringing its total thus far to $900,000. Other contributions supporting Proposition 8 this week included $100,000 Monday from the Brea-based Evangelical Christian Credit Union; $100,000 Tuesday from Los Altos retiree Joseph Moran; and then $25,000 each Tuesday from former teacher Susan Facer of Rancho Palos Verdes, retired Safeway executive and former Oakland Mormon Temple president Lorenzo Hoopes, Atherton property manager Parley Livingston, and Jaquetia Zinn of San Jose. Laura Armstrong of Irvine gave $25,000 Wednesday to support the measure.

The Democratic State Central Committee of California gave a total of $288,473 Monday and Tuesday to Manuel Perez‘s campaign for the 80th Assembly District seat; $164,500 Thursday to Fran Florez‘s campaign for the 30th Assembly District; and $130,000 Tuesday to former Assemblywoman Hannah Beth Jackson‘s campaign for the 19th State Senate District seat. The Santa Barbara County Democratic Central Committee kicked in $28,000 Thursday for Jackson’s campaign.

The Burlingame-based California Teachers Association gave $350,000 Monday to oppose Proposition 4, the proposed state constitutional amendment which would require doctors to inform the parent or guardian of a minor 48 hours before providing an abortion to that minor. That same day, the New Haven, Conn.-based Knights of Columbus gave $200,000 Monday to support the measure.

Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital anted up $347,812.50 Monday to support Proposition 3, which would authorize almost $1 billion in bonds to be repaid from state’s General Fund to pay for construction, expansion, remodeling, renovation, furnishing and equipping of children’s hospitals.

The New York City-based Fund for Animals and the Washington, D.C.-based Humane Society of the United States each gave $250,000 Tuesday to the campaign for Proposition 2, which would prohibit confinement of certain farm animals in ways that doesn’t let them turn freely, lie down, stand up and fully extend their limbs; Gil Michaels of Beverly Hills, owner of GNM Financial Services, gave $50,000 Monday, while retired hedge fund manager Michelle Thomson of Philadelphia and Merriman Curhan Ford & Co. of San Francsico each gave $25,000 Thursday. Ponying up against Proposition 2 this week was the California Grocers Association, which gave $25,000 Wednesday.

The Service Employees International Union’s California State Council gave $200,000 Tuesday to the joint campaign to defeat Proposition 6 and Proposition 9. Proposition 6 is a tough-on-crime package including adult prosecution for gang-related criminals 14 and up; annual criminal background checks for public housing residents; harsher bail conditions and penalties for certain crimes; and so on. Proposition 9 would expand crime victims’ rights including restitution.

The campaign for Proposition 1A, the $10 billion bond measure for high-speed rail, got two big contributions this week: $25,000 each Tuesday from the American Council of Engineering Companies California and from the Members’ Voice of the State Building Trades, a “section 527” group set up by the State Building & Construction Trades Council of California.

And billionaire former Univision chairman and CEO Jerry Perenchio gave $25,000 Wednesday to the campaign for Proposition 11, the legislative redistricting reform measure.