Steinberg, Corbett to lead trip to Central America

State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Majority Leader Ellen Corbett will lead a delegation of state lawmakers to Central America next week, in part to explore the political, economic and social situation driving a flood of unaccompanied children to the U.S. border.

centralamerica-political-mapThe lawmakers will meet with an array of officials in El Salvador and Guatemala to probe the situation and find out what states like California can do to meet the humanitarian challenge presented by the undocumented immigrant tsunami. Dangerous conditions in those nations and Honduras have driven parents to send more than 52,000 children north to the U.S. border in recent months.

Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Corbett, D-Hayward, will be joined on the trip by Legislative Latino Caucus members Assemblyman Jose Medina, D-Riverside; Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno; Assemblyman V. Manuel Peréz, D-Coachella; and caucus vice-chair Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville.

The trip, from July 14 through 23, will include a stop in Panama to learn about the Canal Zone’s expansion. Some transportation, security and interpreting service costs are being borne by the host countries, and the remaining expenses – including airfare and hotels – will be paid by the lawmakers.

In El Salvador, the lawmakers are scheduled to meet with Salvadoran President Salvador Sanchez Ceren, Vice President Oscar Ortiz, Foreign Affairs Minister Hugo Martinez, Economy Minsiter Tharsis Salomon Lopez Guzman; Legislative Assembly President Sigfrido Reyes; and U.S. Ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte. In Guatemala, they’re scheduled to meet with Vice-minister of Foreign Relations Oscar Padilla Lam; Paul Briere, President of the Congressional Committee for Migrants of Guatemala; and U.S. Charge d’Affaires Charisse Phillips. And in Panama, they’re scheduled to meet with the Panama Canal Authority and U.S. Ambassador Jonathan Farrar.


Bills push for ammo tax, assault weapon seizure

Among the gun-control bills being rolled out by Assembly Democrats are a pair from a freshman East Bay lawmaker to tax ammunition and perhaps move toward confiscating banned assault weapons.

Assemblyman Rob Bonta’s AB 187 would place a tax on the sale of ammunition in California with proceeds going to a high-crime prevention fund that would be used in targeted areas suffering from high violent crime rates.

“In communities like Oakland and Stockton, parents are afraid to let their children play outside while gun violence ravages the streets,” Bonta, D-Oakland, said in a news release. “We must take swift action to get these communities the resources they need, and in AB 187 I propose to do so through a tax on ammunition.”

Far more controversial is Bonta’s AB 174, which for the moment reads as follows:

Under current law, certain banned weapons are permitted under various “grandfathering in” clauses. It is the intent of the Legislature to subsequently amend this measure to include provisions that would end all of those exemptions.

Rob Bonta“State laws on the books currently restrict the purchase and sale of assault weapons and large capacity magazines, but almost all laws only apply on a going-forward basis and exempted weapons remain on our streets,” Bonta said. “With AB 174 we will closely examine this loophole and do what’s right for the children and people of California.”

Ending any grandfather clauses presumably would mean a mandatory buyback of all banned assault weapons and large-capacity magazines – just the kind of registration-driven confiscation that gun-rights advocates have been warning about for decades, and that they’ve sworn to resist.

According to the state Justice Department, 77,103 Californians own 166,424 registered, grandfathered assault weapons.

Other Assembly bills touted today include:

    AB 169 by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, to prohibit people who’ve been exempted from restrictions on buying guns that the state designated as unsafe from selling or transferring those guns to anyone who isn’t also exempt. California maintains a list of state-tested handguns that are approved for sale in the state.
    AB 170 by Assemblyman Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, would allow only individuals – not corporations or other associations – to be issued permits for assault weapons and machine guns. “In the same way that we prohibit sharing driver licenses, we should not allow dangerous weapons to be passed from hand to hand within an organization. One person, one permit just makes sense,” Bradford said.

And, yet to be introduced:

    A bill from Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Salinas, to prohibit those involved in gun or ammunition trafficking from possessing any guns or ammo for 10 years.
    A bill from Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, to tighten gun-safety laws already in place by adding a safe-storage requirement when a person prohibited from gun possession is living in the home. Ammiano’s bill also would let the state Justice Department extend the state’s 10-day waiting period when necessary for background checks.
    Another bill from Dickinson also to impose an ammunition tax – this one at a nickel per bullet, with proceeds going to an existing program that screens young children in grades 1 through 3 for mild to moderate mental illness and then intervenes to help those in need.
    A third bill from Dickinson to require CalPERS and CalSTRS to divest any existing pension fund investments from companies that manufacture, sell, distribute or market firearms or ammunition, and to prohibit any such investments in the future.

“Although California already has some of the nation’s best laws to reduce the incidence of violent and fatal shootings, we are always prepared to move when we can improve the safety of our communities and families,” Ammiano, who chairs the Assembly Public Safety Committee, said in a news release. “The Assembly is acting on this challenge and looks forward to seeing other proposals from the Senate. We will work with the other house to protect Californians from those who would misuse weapons. We will take a careful look at each bill when it comes to the committee.”


More on Goodwin Liu’s Supreme Court nomination

I’ve filed a full story on Gov. Jerry Brown’s nomination of Cal law professor Goodwin Liu to the California Supreme Court, but space in the print editions is tight so there may not be room for all of the comments I’ve heard today.

Luis AlejoAssemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Salinas, was on KQED Radio’s “Forum” this morning, representing the California Latino Legislative Caucus in a segment about Gov. Jerry Brown’s relationship with Latinos. The discussion included the question of when the governor might get around to replacing retired state Supreme Court Associate Justice Carlos Moreno, who’d been the court’s only Latino until his retirement in February. Even as they mused about it, the governor was appointing Liu, and now some people are voicing disappointment that the court will lack a Latino perspective.

“Gov. Brown has been very engaged in this process of choosing this replacement for Carlos Moreno, and it’s a thoughtful appointment,” Alejo told me this afternoon. “But I think the disappointment comes that threre certainly was a lost opportunity, there’s this larger question of will Gov. Brown make a concerted effort to appoint a record number of Latinos to the bench.”

honda.jpgRep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, chairman emeritus of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, had staunchly supported President Obama’s 2010 nomination of Liu to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He issued a statement today saying this new nomination “positions California as a front runner in judicial diversity.”

“Goodwin is a personal friend and leader in my home state of California, and I have worked with him for many years, particularly in ensuring access and equity in our education system,” Honda said. “Not only has he been a leader in the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, he has proven himself in the legal profession as well, with support from renowned legal minds from a diversity of ideological backgrounds. Goodwin is an excellent pick for California and as an acclaimed education and constitutional law scholar, he will undoubtedly add immense value to the Court under the leadership of Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye.”

Maribel MedinaMaribel Medina – who chairs the judicial committee of La Raza Lawyers of California, the state’s Chicano/Latino bar association – said she has worked with Liu and knows he’s “an incredible scholar” with “a great commitment to civil rights.”

“But we are also very disappointed that our highest court will not reflect the diversity of this state. If you couple this action with the massive budget cuts the courts are suffering, it really jeopardizes the integrity of our judicial system,” she said. “This I think sends a very negative message to the people of California.”

Dan Schnur Dan Schnur, a longtime Republican political strategist who now directs the University of Southern California’s Unruh Institute of Politics, said nominating Liu is “a great way for Brown to play to his base without upsetting the center.”

“By 2014, most voters are going to judge Liu less by what he has said and done in the past than by what he says and does on the court,” Schnur said. “Reasonable people can disagree over whether he will be an effective justice or not, but unless he starts overturning death penalties, it’s a pretty safe pick from a political standpoint.”

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who had staunchly supported Liu’s federal nomination, kept it short and sweet today. “Goodwin Liu is one of our country’s most brilliant constitutional scholars and he will make a superb justice on the California Supreme Court,” she said.