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Lawmakers urge $$$ disclosure, LGBT protection

Bay Area House Democrats are demanding action on disclosure of government contractors’ political contributions and on protecting LGBT people from assault in immigration detention centers.

Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, led 104 House members while U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., let 26 senators in urging President Barack Obama to issue an executive order requiring companies that do business with the federal government to fully disclose their political contributions.

“Taxpayers have a right to know where their money is spent and you have the power to ensure that the American people can obtain this information,” the House members wrote. “With public funds come public responsibilities, and any company receiving federal tax dollars should be required by executive order to fully disclose their political spending in a timely and accessible manner.”

Among the top 15 recipients of federal contracting dollars, a recent analysis by Public Citizen found that only 47 percent fully disclose their contributions to non-disclosing 501(c)(4) organizations. This is the fourth time since 2011 that Eshoo has led her colleagues in calling on President Obama to issue such an executive order. All Bay Area House members signed the letter except Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco; U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., signed the senate version, but Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., did not.

honda.jpgAlso Tuesday, Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, and Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., led 33 House members in writing a letter to the Department of Homeland Security to express concerns over the treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender immigrants while in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody.

“Detention should almost never be used for vulnerable groups such as LGBT immigrants facing immigration proceedings,” they wrote. “Recent surveys of jails and prisons by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) found that non-heterosexual detainees experience sexual assault at up to 10 times the rate of heterosexual men. The situation is starker for transgender detainees. According to the BJS survey, one in three will be sexually abused within 12 months in custody.”

The lawmakers asked that DHS and ICE consider an LGBT person’s detention to be “not in the public interest” per the department’s November 2014 enforcement memo, and that they work with LGBT and civil rights groups “to develop additional community-based alternatives to detention.”

Bay Area Reps. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, and Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, were among those signing the letter.

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Padilla touts ‘blackout period’ for fundraising

California lawmakers would be prohibited from raising campaign funds in the final 100 days of a legislative session, under a state Senate bill announced this week.

Alex PadillaIt’s one of four campaign-reform bills put forth by state Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Van Nuys, who perhaps not coincidentally is a candidate for Secretary of State, which among other things is the state’s chief elections officer.

Padilla’s other three bills would tighten campaign contribution reporting requirements; prohibit candidates or officeholders from having more than one campaign committee for a state office at any one time; and require public disclosure of campaign communications.

Amending the Political Reform Act of 1974 requires a two-thirds vote of each legislative house plus Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature, Padilla noted.

“Clearly, I cannot do this alone. I will need the support of my colleagues and the governor,” he said. “I believe that the reforms I am proposing will provide a clearer view of the source and use of campaign money, and reduce the likelihood of an unseemly overlap of public policy and campaign contributions.”

SB 1101 would emulate similar laws in 29 states by creating a fundraising “blackout period” of 100 days before and seven days after the end of a legislative session, during which a member of the Legislature could not solicit or accept campaign contributions. That way, Padilla reasons, that lawmaker couldn’t take money during critical budget votes and at the end-of-session rush when all sorts of last-minute “gut-and-amend” measures are up for votes.

SB 1102 would require contributions of $100 or more to be electronically reported within 24 hours during the 90 days before an election and within five business days during the rest of the year. For now, contributions of $5000 and above must be reported electronically within 10 days and contributions of $1000 and above must be reported within 24 hours within 90 days of an election. The requirement also would apply to independent expenditure committees supporting or opposing candidates for state offices, and to statewide ballot measure committees.

SB 1103 would prohibit an officeholder or candidate from declaring candidacy and raising money for more than one state elected office at a time; current law allows multiple simultaneous committees, which could be used to cumulatively raise far more than established campaign contribution limits.

SB 1104 would require all campaigns to electronically report all campaign-funded communications – mass mailings, slate mailers, and advertisements supporting or opposing a candidate or measure – that they do within 90 days of an election to the Secretary of State’s office within one day. Outside of the 90-day window, they’d have to be reported within five days.

“While our current system does provide full disclosure, it lacks timely full disclosure,” Padilla said. “Current law governing disclosure keeps the public and the press in the dark much of the year. Denying the public and the press timely disclosure fuels distrust.”

More, including a rival candidate’s critique, after the jump…
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Boxer spars with nuclear agency on oversight

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer is sparring with the Nuclear Regulatory Committee over congressional access to the agency’s information.

Barbara BoxerBoxer, D-Calif., wrote a letter to NRC Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane on Tuesday, urging her to withdraw its new policy that the senator says will inhibit congressional oversight.

“As an ‘independent agency,’ the NRC is independent from the Executive Branch – not from congressional oversight,” Boxer wrote. “It is the NRC’s responsibility to keep Congress apprised of its activities, as well as to follow the law and use its authorities responsibly and in the public’s interest.”

Yet the NRC “unilaterally devised a drastic change of policy behind closed doors” without notifying her committee, and implemented it without consulting Congress or the public, Boxer wrote.

“This policy is a radical departure from previous NRC document policies and creates significant hurdles and delays that can be used to withhold information entirely from the chairs and ranking members of oversight committees,” Boxer wrote. “It also allows the NRC to broadly deny information to individual members of Congress, even when the information is related to matters affecting their home states.”

The NRC’s claims that the new policy is justified by its need to protect against public release of sensitive materials isn’t supported by case law or by Justice Department guidelines, the senator wrote.

“I call on the NRC to cease its efforts to circumvent Congress’ oversight authority and create a policy that is a model of transparency and respects Congress’ responsibility to oversee the NRC,” Boxer wrote.

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PPIC: It’s time to reform the initiative process.

California voters want to see some changes in the initiative process to connect it with the Legislature, increase disclosure of campaign funders and re-engage citizens, according to a new report from the Public Policy Institute of California.

“These reforms are likely to have an impact beyond the initiative process,” PPIC President and CEO Mark Baldassare, the report’s author, said in a news release. “They hold considerable promise for increasing citizen engagement, encouraging voter participation, and building trust in state government.”

The report, Reforming California’s Initiative Process, notes that in the decade since the gubernatorial recall election, voters have been asked to weigh in on 100 state ballot propositions, 68 of which were citizens’ initiatives.

There’s been a sense that the century-old initiative process has run amok, becoming a tool of the same sort of special interests it was supposed to sideline – in May, 55 percent of California adults polled by PPIC believed the process is controlled by special interests. Yet PPIC polls have found both broad support for the process as well as for improvements to it.

Californians like the idea of expanding the Legislature’s involvement in the initiative process, so long voters remain part of the decision-making. PPIC found overwhelming majorities favor having a period of time that an initiative sponsor and the legislature could meet to seek compromise before a measure goes to the ballot. Overwhelming majorities of Californians also support a system of review and revision for proposed initiatives to try to avoid legal issues and drafting errors.

One way to set up such a system would be to revive California’s indirect initiative, in which sponsors bring their initiatives to the legislature after the required number of signatures has been gathered, the report suggests.

There’s also strong support for increasing public disclosure of funding sources; holding televised debates for initiative campaigns; having initiatives be renewable by voters after a certain number of years; allowing more time for volunteer-only signature gatherers to qualify a measure for the ballot; and creating an independent citizens’ initiative commission.

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California voters already have approved ballot measures to create a top-two primary system and a citizens’ redistricting commission, to change term limits, and to allow budgets to be approved with a simple legislative majority.

“In the last five years, Californians have taken bold actions to reform their state government,” Baldassare said. “Initiative reform — if pursued thoughtfully — could result in a brighter future for the state.”

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Last-minute blitz against data hack disclosure bill

Despite largely unanimous support among lawmakers so far, a bill to require local government agencies to notify workers and constituents if their electronic data has been hacked – as the state and the private sector already must do – faces a last-minute blitz by local government groups.

The California State Association of Counties, the Urban Counties Caucus, the League of California Cities, the California Special Districts Association, the Association of California Healthcare Districts and the California Association of Joint Powers Authorities this week sent a “floor alert” to all states Senators about AB 1149 by Assemblywoman Nora Campos, D-San Jose.

In sum: They don’t want to pay for such disclosures.

“To be clear, none of our associations takes exception to the policy being advanced in AB 1149. It is merely a question of resources,” the memo said. “There will be a cost to implementing the provisions of the bill, and we note there is no identified mechanism to cover these costs.”

“We have a concern that – either in practice or in precedent – AB 1149 would be the first step in imposing additional and potentially costly new responsibilities on local agencies at a time when we are challenged to deliver core public services given difficult fiscal conditions,” the groups contend.

The Legislature at least so far hasn’t shared those concerns. The Assembly approved the bill 78-0 in May, and the Senate Judiciary and Appropriations committees both passed it 7-0.

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Another fight about who pays for public disclosure

On the heels of last week’s California Public Records Act dustup, we’ve seen another sign that local governments don’t want to be told how, or foot the bills, to keep the public informed.

The state Senate Judiciary Committee today voted 7-0 to pass AB 1149 by Assemblywoman Nora Campos, D-San Jose, which would require all local government agencies to notify their workers and constituents if their electronic data has been hacked, as the state and the private sector already are required to do.

But the bill’s opponents include the Association of California Healthcare Districts, California Association of Joint Powers Authorities, California Special Districts Association, California State Association of Counties, the League of California Cities and the Urban Counties Caucus.

“AB 1149 infringes on local governments that have already adopted their own policies related to information breaches, and we are concerned about the potential cost implications for some cities of setting up the breach notifications outlined in the bill,” Natasha Karl, the League of California Cities’ legislative representative, said via e-mail today.

In other words, they don’t want to be told how – or be forced – to do it, or to pay for it. Campos contends that without such a law, there’s a patchwork of local policies – or no local policies at all – on disclosing such information leaks.

Nora Campos“People have the right to know if their personal information has been stolen so they can take appropriate steps to prevent further theft,” she said. “It’s outrageous that local governments are standing in the way of this. They say it would be too costly. But this is a public duty.”

Campos said her account was once hacked when she served on the San Jose City Council, and she was grateful for the alert she received so that she could contact her bank and credit card companies to warn them of any potential identity theft.

Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, said she understood local governments’ misgivings over potential costs, “but this just makes so much sense because local government does use this kind of information… A breach is a breach. It’s very important to have that protection.”

State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, just last week were contending that few if any local governments would hesitate to foot their own bills for compliance with the California Public Records Act. Such entities would be too scared of the public’s wrath to ignore the law, they insisted as they pushed Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal that the state stop funding the law and major sections be reduced to recommended best practices if locals don’t want to pay for them.

Amid a public outcry, the lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown reversed course. The state will keep reimbursing local governments for compliance with the Public Records Act at least until voters can decide next year whether to enshrine the PRA in the state constitution – and in doing so require the locals to foot the bills themselves.