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Bipartisan praise for Brown’s drought declaration

Praise is raining down from both sides of the aisle for Gov. Jerry Brown’s declaration of a drought emergency.

From U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.:

“I applaud Governor Brown’s decision to issue a drought declaration. The declaration provides the state with greater flexibility to address drought conditions and lays the foundation for federal disaster assistance through a presidential declaration.

“This week Congressman Costa, Senator Boxer and I called on President Obama to approve a federal disaster declaration as soon as possible and to appoint a drought task force to work with the state to mitigate the drought’s effects on the state. Now that the governor has issued the state declaration, I hope the president will act quickly to approve the federal declaration.”

From state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento:

“This bone-dry winter reminds us again that California’s water infrastructure is insufficient. Our lakes and rivers look bleak, including those that feed the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta, upon which we are overly reliant as the sole solution to California’s water future.

“I look forward to working with my legislative colleagues and the Governor on immediate actions that should also guide long-term water policy in California.”

From state Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Modesto:

“I absolutely commend the Governor for taking action on this very serious situation. It is a great first step to setting the wheels in motion to aid California during one of the driest years in history. I look forward to rolling up my sleeves and working with him and my colleagues on this issue.

“California’s reservoirs are at an all-time low. This is a crisis of epic proportions and underscores just how important it is for us to pass a water bond this year to address our infrastructure needs. Additional water storage is key. The Latino Water Coalition rally yesterday, his visits to Fresno, Bakersfield and Riverside on Monday and Tuesday and a weather forecast that includes not a drop of rain make a pretty solid case not only for this drought declaration, but for passing a comprehensive water bond that includes money for additional above ground water storage.”

From state Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford:

“The Valley roared and the governor heard us! Thank you Governor Brown for declaring California is in a drought emergency.”

From state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco:

“With 2013 being the driest year on record, and the Sierra Nevada snowpack at 17% of its normal levels, it is clear California is in the middle of a severe drought. This will result in an increase in devastating wildfires, such as the fire currently burning in Glendora and the many others we’ve seen in recent months. It jeopardizes the farmers in the Central Valley and beyond, putting the local economies and families that depend on that industry at risk. This drought is already negatively impacting the quality life of every Californian, and it is going to get worse before it gets better.

“While we pursue conservation efforts on the state level, it is important that all of us work to lower the amount of water we use. I thank Governor Brown for issuing this declaration, and join him in calling for a 20-30% voluntary reduction in water consumption. There are many simple ways to conserve water, from fixing leaky fixtures and appliances, to installing water saving showerheads and taking shorter showers, to only using your dishwasher or washing machine when you have a full load. As our economy gets back on its feet, this drought has the potential to force us back into a recession. We can help to lessen the suffering of the worst affected if we all do our part.”

More, after the jump…
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Boxer moves to blunt future debt-limit battles

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer has reintroduced a bill that would blunt the ability to use the nation’s debt limit as a political bargaining chip, as Republicans have in recent years.

Congressional Republicans say they won’t approve raising the debt limit – the legal limit on the government’s borrowing, now at $16.4 trillion – unless Democrats and President Obama agree to deficit-reduction measures; the Democrats say raising the debt limit is a matter of paying bills on money we’ve already spent, and the threat of defaulting will wreck the world’s confidence.

The House is expected to vote later today on House Republicans’ plan to suspend enforcement of the debt limit through mid-May, giving everyone some time to cool off, reposition themselves and negotiate after the recently avoided “fiscal cliff.”

Barbara BoxerBoxer, D-Calif., said her S.57, the USA AAA Credit Restoration Act, would establish a predictable and fair process for considering an increase in the debt limit in order to avoid a default that would have catastrophic impacts on the global financial system and the U.S. economy.

“The last time Republicans threatened to default on our nation’s debt, consumer confidence plummeted, our country lost its AAA credit rating and it cost taxpayers more than $18 billion,” Boxer said in a news release. “This bill will bring sanity to future debt limit debates by laying out a clear, orderly process for raising the debt ceiling while allowing all voices to be heard.”

The bill she reintroduced Tuesday would set clear timetables for the Administration to request a debt limit increase and for Congress to consider it. On the day the President submits his budget to Congress each year, the Treasury Secretary would have to submit to Congress and print in the Federal Register the amount by which the debt limit must be increased for the following year. The Administration’s request would become law automatically unless Congress voted to disapprove of the debt limit increase under an expedited procedure.

Boxer said the measure is modeled on provisions in the Budget Control Act proposed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., during 2011’s debt limit debate.

The debt limit has been raised about 100 times since 1940, more often under Republican presidents than under Democrats. President Ronald Reagan holds the record, at 18 debt-limit increases; no other president has exceeded 10, and Obama is now seeking his seventh.

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Barbara Lee becomes Sudan Caucus co-chair

Rep. Barbara Lee is the newest of four co-chairs of the Congressional Sudan Caucus, which is still trying to draw more attention to the ongoing humanitarian disaster in that African nation.

Lee, D-Oakland, succeeds the late Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J., as a co-chair; the other three co-chairs are Michael Capuano, D-Mass., Frank Wolf, R-Va., and Michael McCaul, R-Tex. The caucus was founded in 2005.

In her news release Tuesday, Lee noted ongoing strife in the Sudanese border areas of South Kordofan, Blue Nile, Abyei, and Darfur, and in Yida and other refugee camps in South Sudan. Civilians are subject to the Sudanese government’s indiscriminate bombing and denial of humanitarian aid, leaving nearly half a million at risk of starvation.

Lee said she’ll work with the other co-chairs “to bring Khartoum, Juba, and all stakeholders together to ensure that peace prevails in the region. At this critical time with Sudan and South Sudan on the brink of war, it is critical that Congress and the United States use all tools at its disposal to bring the two sides to the negotiating table for peace talks.”

Lee will take part in a subcommittee hearing on Sudan this Thursday and will host U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice for a special briefing with members of Congress on international efforts to reach a peaceful resolution.

Lee has been active on the issue for some time, sponsoring legislation recognizing acts of genocide in the region and urging China as well as the Arab League to step up efforts to stop the genocide in Darfur. Her bill to allow divestment from companies doing business in the region was enacted into law in 2007.

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Boxer to hold nuclear safety hearing next week

U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee chairwoman Barbara Boxer will convene a hearing next Thursday on Capitol Hill to discuss the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s efforts to shore up U.S. reactors’ safety following Japan’s Fukushima nuclear crisis.

This Sunday marks one year since a magnitude 9.0 earthquake off Japan’s coast caused a massive tsunami that killed about 20,000 people and precipitated the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant – a multiple-meltdown and radiation release that was the world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

The NRC announced today it’s implementing several recommendations based on lessons learned from Japan. All U.S. commercial nuclear power plants, including those under construction, must better protect post-9/11 safety equipment and get enough such equipment to support all of a site’s reactors simultaneously; they also must install better equipment to monitor water levels in spent-fuel pools. Certain boiling-water reactors also must improve their venting systems. They have until the end of 2016 to comply.

All five commissioners are scheduled to appear at Thursday’s hearing.

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Cash-strapped courts offer traffic-ticket amnesty

How hard up for cash are California’s courts? So much that they’re granting partial amnesty to traffic scofflaws.

The state’s Administrative Office of the Courts announced Thursday that Superior Courts in all 58 counties are offering a 50-percent-off discount on some old unpaid traffic tickets – a limited-time amnesty program” for certain outstanding court debt.

Only traffic tickets that were due to be paid in full before Jan. 1, 2009 are eligible, and parking tickets, driving under the influence (DUI), and reckless driving cases are not eligible. To qualify, you have to have either failed to appear in court or failed to pay in full; you can’t owe restitution to a victim on any case within the county where the traffic case was filed, and you can’t have any outstanding misdemeanor or felony warrants in that county.

The courts estimate more than six million cases statewide could qualify.

“This is a win-win,” Ronald Overholt, the interim administrative director of the courts, said in a news release. “People have an opportunity to clear their traffic tickets at a reduced cost, and the courts and the counties will get an injection of much-needed funds to help maintain critical services for the public.”

The program will begin Jan. 1 and end June 30, 2012; contact your county’s court during that time for further details.

The amnesty program was authorized by AB 1358 by Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, D-Sylmar, which the state Senate approved unanimously and the Assembly approved 77-1; Gov Jerry Brown signed it into law Sunday.

California’s courts are facing an unprecedented financial crisis.

“This year, the judicial branch budget is only 2.4 percent of the state budget and we also unwillingly contributed $1.1 billion back to the General Fund,” Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye told the State Bar of California at its annual meeting last month in Long Beach. “That’s 2.4 percent of the state budget to protect the constitutional rights of 38 million Californians, to provide a place for the resolution of civil disputes, to protect public rights, and to protect the rule of law.”

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Foreclosure forum set for Saturday in Oakland

At least three state lawmakers are expected to attend a “foreclosure and economic crisis solutions forum” Saturday at which foreclosure victims, clergy, public employees and others will call for new initiatives to aid struggling communities.

Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Alameda; Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley; and state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, are scheduled to attend the public forum, from 10:30 a.m. to noon Saturday in St. Louis Bertrand Church, 1410 100th Ave. in Oakland. The event is being organized by the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, Oakland Community Organizations, PICO California, and SEIU Local 1021.

The forum will feature testimonies from foreclosure victims and local officials who are still feeling the crisis’ impact, and will offer policy solutions.

“Banks must be held accountable,” Lilian Cabrera, currently in foreclosure proceedings, said in a news release. “I’m a small business owner in Oakland, and if I don’t hold up my end of a contract, I’ll lose my license. Well, the banks certainly haven’t held up their end of the deal and they’re getting away with it.”