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New chairmanships for Bay Area lawmakers

Some Assembly members from the Bay Area were given influential committee chairs as Speaker John Perez reshuffled his leadership yesterday.

Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, takes over as chair of the Education Committee, on which she has served since her election to the Assembly in 2008; earlier, she’d served on the San Ramon Valley school board for 18 years.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues and with stakeholders in the education community on legislation that will make the best use of our resources to benefit California’s students,” she said in a news release issues this morning. “We are currently facing unique challenges in funding education in our state, but we will hold steadfast to our mission of preparing students to be the workers, leaders and innovators of tomorrow’s global economy.”

Bob WieckowskiAssemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, takes the Judiciary Committee’s chair; a bankruptcy attorney by trade, he has served as the Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee’s chairman.

Wieckowski issued a statement saying he has enjoyed serving on the Judiciary Committee under chairman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles and looks forward “to working with the Judiciary consultants in this new position. I appreciate the Speaker giving me the opportunity to lead this important committee.”

Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Redwood City, will Chair the Assembly Business, Professions and Consumer Protection Committee.

Assemblyman Michael Allen, D-Santa Rosa, now chairs the Assembly Public Employees, Retirement and Social Security Committee, and also steps up as Assistant Majority Floor Leader. (I love the Majority Floor Leader’s job description: “Represents the Speaker on the Floor, expedites Assembly Floor proceedings through parliamentary procedures such as motions and points of order and promotes harmony among the membership.” Harmony!)

And within the powerful Budget Committee, Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, will Chair the subcommittee No. 3 on Resources and Transportation.

Assemblywoman Nora Campos, D-San Jose, steps up as Assistant Speaker Pro Tempore until Sept. 1, when she’ll become Speaker Pro Tempore (responsible for presiding over floor sessions in Speaker Perez’s absence). Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, will be Assistant Speaker Pro Tempore.

Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, continues chairing the Rules Committee.

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Assembly OKs anti-Citizens United resolution

The state Assembly voted 48-22 today to urge Congress to amend the U.S. Constitution as a means of overturning a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that unleashed a deluge of unlimited political spending by corporations and unions.

If the state Senate passes it as well, Assembly Joint Resolution 22, co-authored by Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, and Assemblyman Michael Allen, D-Santa Rosa, will put California amid a national grassroots movement. Hawaii and New Mexico have passed similar resolutions, as have more than 100 cities across the nation including Oakland, Berkeley, Richmond and Fairfax.

Today’s vote was along straight party lines, with all the ayes from Democrats and all the nays from Republicans; 10 members were absent or not voting.

Bob Wieckowski“The Citizens United decision is judicial activism run amuck,” Wieckowski said in a news release. “For more than a century, Congress and the Supreme Court have recognized the need to differentiate between people and the vast amount of wealth at the disposal of large corporations. The floodgates were opened by this ruling and now a small number of very wealthy interests are having a greater influence on our national politics than ever before.”

The Supreme Court’s holding that the First Amendment bars the government from restricting political spending by corporations and unions led to the creation of the “Super PACs” – often funded by a just few wealthy donors – that now essentially serve as shadow campaigns for the presidential candidates, but without any fundraising limits.

Groups including Public Citizen, Common Cause, the California Public Interest Research Project (CalPIRG), California Church Impact, California Labor Federation, California Nurses Association, California Professional Firefighters and the California League of Conservation Voters support AJR 22.

Jonah Minkoff-Zern, senior organizer with Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People campaign, said this movement has percolated up from the streets. “It is because of the work of dedicated activists throughout the state that California’s elected officials are joining them in taking a stand to say that democracy is for people, not for corporations.”

Public Citizen helped lead the introduction of similar resolutions in Massachusetts, Vermont and Maryland, and has supported activists’ and lawmakers’ efforts to introduce similar resolutions in Alaska, Iowa, Kansas and New York.

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Lawmaker touts ‘fracking’ disclosure bill

Oil and gas producers engaged in hydraulic fracturing must be required to disclose the chemicals they’re pumping into the ground, an East Bay lawmaker said today.

Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, held a news conference at the State Capitol just before his AB 591 was taken up by the state Senate Appropriations Committee, which will decide next week whether to let the bill advance.

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” (not to be confused with “frakking”), is a process in which a highly-pressurized mix of water, sand and toxic chemicals is injected underground to crack rock formations and tap into petroleum deposits. Some fear this can contaminate water supplies. Wieckowski’s bill would ensure that the state Conservation Department’s Division of Oil Gas and Geothermal Resources gathers information on the chemicals used, and on the volume and source of water used in this process.

“Roughly 50,000 Californians have signed on-line petitions expressing their support for passing AB 591 and protecting our state’s environment,” hei said today. “They all agree with us that it is time to pull back the curtain and shed more light on fracking.”

With Wieckowski at today’s news conference were Assembly Assistant Majority Leader Michael Allen, D-Santa Rosa; Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento; and representatives from the Environmental Working Group, California League of Conservation Voters, Clean Water Action, Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund.