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Bay Area lawmaker wants to legalize ‘ballot selfies’

A Bay Area lawmaker will introduce a bill making it legal for Californians to take “selfies” of their voting ballots and post them on social media.

Marc LevineAssemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, said it’s good for voters to share their civic participation. He’ll introduce his bill when the Legislature returns to session in January.

“As voters go to the polls this week, I encourage them to declare their participation in the elections process,” he said in a news release. “California law should encourage voter pride, political speech, and civic engagement through social media. Laws prohibiting this activity were written before sharing digital images over the internet was ubiquitous. It is time to update those laws to reflect technology and the world in which we now live.”

For now, section 14291 of the state Elections Code says that “after the ballot is marked, a voter shall not show it to any person in such a way as to reveal its contents.” Anyone photographic their ballot and posting that photo on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or other social media would be in violation.

But Levine notes that a recent federal district court decision indicates this state law might be an unconstitutional denial of voters’ First Amendment free speech rights. The court ruled that a New Hampshire law banning disclosure of one’s ballot – and levying fines of up to $1,000 – is unconstitutional, finding that the ballot selfie is a form of political speech that can be restricted only by meeting the highest standard of constitutional scrutiny.

“The ballot selfie is protected political speech,” Levine said Monday. “Elections officials must demonstrate public harm through nefarious use of ballot selfies before denying voters their First Amendment rights. I encourage California voters to exercise their right to political speech.”

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Good news for California beer & spirits lovers

There’s good news from Sacramento this week for Californians who enjoy a sip of this or a shot of that.

beer tastingGov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday signed into law AB 774 by Assemblyman Marc Levine, which will allow limited beer tastings at certified farmers’ markets.

“This bill recognizes that at farmers’ markets brewers meet consumers face-to-face and build a relationship,” Levine, D-San Rafael. “AB 774 allows tastings where brewers are already selling their products at certified farmers’ markets.”

The new law, which also lets nonprofits receive donated beer as items for auction, will give farmers’ market managers full discretion on whether or not to allow beer tastings; limit tastings to one brewery per day per market; allow tastings only in a controlled, cordoned-off area; and limit tastings to eight ounces per adult customer.

Brown one year ago signed Levine’s similar bill to allow wine tastings at farmers’ markets.

Levine also made headway this week with his bill to create a new license for craft distillers so they can sell up to three bottles of distilled spirits per person per day at an instructional tasting; hold private events at the distillery; and have ownership in up to three restaurants. AB 1295 was approved Tuesday by the Senate Governmental Organization Committee.

Current state law prevents distillers from selling their products directly to consumers.

“This historic legislation changes Prohibition-era laws for craft distillers to reflect the modern marketplace,” Levine said, letting craft distillers “operate in a similar manner as wineries and breweries under existing law. This bill helps craft distillers to be competitive with large out-of-state distillers. Growth of the craft distillery industry means jobs in our local communities.”

Bottoms up!

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Assembly committee chairmanships assigned

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, rolled out her committee-chair choices Wednesday for the upcoming 2015-16 session, with Bay Area members taking some key slots. From the Bay Area:

    Freshman Assemblyman Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond), will chair the Budget Subcommittee No. 1 on Health and Human Services.
    Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, keeps her chair at the Business and Professions Committee.
    Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, keeps his chair at the Public Employees, Retirement and Social Security Committee while also picking up the Health Committee’s chairmanship.
    Freshman Assemblyman Kansen Chu, D-San Jose, will chair the Human Services Committee.
    Assemblyman Mark Stone, D-Scotts Valley, who formerly chaired the Human Services Committee, instead picks up the gavel at the Judiciary Committee.
    Assemblyman Bill Quirk, D-Hayward, will chair the Public Safety Committee.
    Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, will chair the Revenue and Taxation Committee.
    Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, will continue chairing the Rules Committee.
    Assemblyman Jim Frazier, D-Oakley, who used to chair the Accountability and Administrative Review Committee, will now instead chair the Transportation Committee.
    Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, will chair the Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee.

Full committee rosters will be assigned before the year’s end.

See a full list of committee chairs, after the jump…
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Lawmakers urge Jerry Brown to halt all fracking

Nine state lawmakers, including a few from the Bay Area, have signed a letter urging Gov. Jerry Brown to impose a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing to obtain oil and gas, the process commonly called “fracking.”

Marc Levine“The risks are simply too great to allow fracking to continue,” Assemblyman Marc Levine, who authored the letter, told reporters on a conference call this morning.

The technique demonstrably hurts air and water quality, might influence seismic activity, and furthers a dependence on fossil fuel that contributes to climate change, said Levine, D-San Rafael, and so it must be suspended “until we have all the data to address the immediate and long-term dangers.”

Signing Levine’s letter were Assemblymembers Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara; Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica; Adrin Nazarian, D-Van Nuys; Bonnie Lowenthal, D-Long Beach; and Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, as well as state Senators Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa; Lois Wolk, D-Vacaville; and Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley.

Levine, who announced the letter in November, teamed up with CREDO, an activist group which had thousands of members sign petitions and make phone calls urging their lawmakers to sign the letter. Levine and CREDO delivered the letter and held their news conference during this final week of a public comment period on Brown’s proposed fracking regulations, which they say would allow a massive expansion of fracking in California.

CREDO campaign manager Zack Malitz called fracking “one of the greatest environmental struggles to face Califonians in a generation,” and said Brown has proposed “dangerously weak regulations that would only encourage more fracking” despite “massive public opposition.”

“His legacy as an environmental leader is on the line,” Malitz said. “Californians will hold him responsible for putting oil-industry profits ahead of our health and the climate.”

Several bills proposing a moratorium on fracking failed to get enough votes to advance in the Legislature last year. The Legislature did pass SB 4 by state Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Calabassas, which Brown signed into law in September; that bill requires oil companies to go through a permit process, disclose chemical uses, do groundwater tests and send notices to neighboring landowners about their intent to drill.

Brown generally has pursued energy policy that supports increased oil production while expanding California’s goal of producing at least a third of its electricity from renewable sources (such as wind or solar energy) by 2020.

UPDATE @ 12:32 P.M.: This just in from Evan Westrup, Brown’s spokesman: “After extensive debate, the Legislature – including the authors of this letter – voted to enact SB 4, which became effective just days ago. Pursuant to this bill, the regulatory process has begun and we encourage these legislators and other interested citizens to actively participate.”

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Bill proposed to regulate toy guns’ appearance

State lawmakers will introduce a bill regulating toy guns so that they don’t look too much like the real thing, in reaction to a Santa Rosa boy’s fatal shooting by a police officer last month.

Real rifle and toy rifleThis “Imitation Firearm Safety Act” would define what an imitation firearm is and what they must look like to differentiate real guns from fake guns. For now, state law doesn’t include paintball, airsoft and bb guns in its legal definition of imitation weapons.

“Currently these copycat toys are manufactured to be virtually indistinguishable from real firearms,” state Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, said in a news release. “Because the use of lethal force against a person carrying an imitation firearm is a significant threat to public safety, toys must look like toys and not lethal weapons.”

Andy LopezAndy Lopez, 13, was shot dead Oct. 22 in Santa Rosa by a sheriff’s deputy who believed the airsoft gun Lopez carried was a real AK-47-type rifle.

Evans is co-authoring the bill with state Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, and Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael. In reaction to a similar shooting in Los Angeles, De Leon carried a bill in 2011, SB 798, that would have required all BB, pellet and airsoft guns to be painted a bright color.

“This will give police an opportunity to easily identify toy guns for what they really are and avoid these types of tragedies,” De Leon said in Friday’s news release. “Toy gun replicas do not belong on the streets. They endanger children, teens and law enforcement. We can easily protect everyone involved with this simple solution. My strongest hope is that we can enact legislation this time so that no more families are forced to suffer the terrible grief the Lopez family has suffered today.”

A 1990 Department of Justice study found that there are more than 200 incidents per year in which imitation guns are mistaken for real firearms, the lawmakers said.

Levine called Lopez’ death “unfathomable, gut wrenching, and tragic.”

“When a child is playing with a toy gun, there must be no doubt that the toy is not a real gun,” he said. “Consequently, we need a law that fully protects our families from tragedies like this. I am proud to co-author this important legislation.”

Gov. Jerry Brown last year signed De Leon’s SB 1315 to let cities within the County of Los Angeles enact local ordinances more restrictive than state law regulating the manufacture, sale, possession, or use of any BB device, toy gun, or replica of a firearm that substantially similar to existing firearms.