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Steinberg’s prison plan seeks 3-year extension

State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg’s alternative to Gov. Jerry Brown’s state-prison plan involves relies on asking for three more years to solve the overcrowding problem.

Steinberg, D-Sacramento, unveiled Senate Democrats’ plan this morning in a letter to Brown and to the plaintiffs in the federal lawsuits that led a three-judge panel to order California to further reduce its inmate population by this year’s end.

Darrell Steinberg“The federal courts have put us in the untenable position of either releasing thousands of inmates from our prisons early, or putting our prison capacity on steroids by renting new prison beds at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars for years to come,” Steinberg said today. “Neither option makes any sense. We can do far better, and would be wrong to give up now.”

Steinberg said his plan would “achieve a durable solution” to prison overcrowding by reducing crime through performance-based grant programs. These grants would incentivize counties to expand proven rehabilitation, drug and mental health treatment programs for criminal offenders. This is modeled after a 2009 effort which, in just two years, reduced new prison admissions by more than 9,500, with $536 million in state savings over three years.

Also, the state would create an Advisory Commission on Public Safety to analyze and recommend changes in California’s sentencing laws.

But that won’t do the trick by Dec. 31, so Steinberg is asking the plaintiffs to agree to extend the deadline by three years. He wants all parties to the lawsuit to agree to let an independent state panel evaluate and determine proper population levels for California’s prisons based on standards and practices employed by correctional administrators across the country.

The state is under a federal court’s order to reduce its prison population to 137.5 percent of capacity by the end of this year. California already has reduced its prison population by more than 40,000 since 2006 – more than half of which was via 2011’s “realignment,” which spun some offenders out to county jails instead of state prisons.

The one thing on which all the leaders in Sacramento agree is that granting early release to thousands of inmates in order to meet the deadline isn’t an option. Brown, joined by Assembly Speaker John Perez, Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff and Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway, yesterday unveiled a plan that calls for quickly leasing in-state and out-of-state prison capacity, including county jails, and contracting with community corrections facilities; suspending the closure of the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco; and spending up to $315 million to make it all happen.

“Governor Brown has a well-earned reputation as a good steward of the public purse; throwing this expensive Band-Aid on a hemorrhage threatens to undermine our hard work,” Steinberg said Wednesday. “We cannot build or rent our way out of overcrowded prisons.”

UPDATE @ 10:37 A.M.: The plaintiffs say they might be willing to grant the extension Steinberg seeks. Here’s the statement they just released:

“We are ready and willing to sit down with the Governor and his counsel to discuss ways to end federal court oversight. Senator Steinberg’s substantive proposals are acceptable to us and we are open to an extension of the date for compliance with the three judge court’s order if an agreement produces an effective and sustainable approach that will resolve the chronic overcrowding problem in the state’s prisons. The actual amount of time must be arrived at through these discussions.

“We strongly support Senator Steinberg’s proposal to provide local governments with resources to reduce and prevent crime by treating offenders in the community, and to establish a public safety commission. That commission will be charged with making recommendations based on solid evidence to reduce recidivism by holding individuals accountable in the most effective and least costly way. His solution demonstrates that the state can achieve a real, sustainable approach to safely reducing and managing the inmate population without further federal intervention and wasteful spending on more prisons.

“The Governor’s plan to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to expand the prison system for low risk prisoners will not make the public any safer. Without reform of the sentencing laws California’s prison population will continue to grow, making it only a matter of time before the prisons will once again exceed the population cap and prompt a renewed Court order requiring further reductions in the prison population.”

UPDATE @ 12:00 P.M.: Brown says it wouldn’t be prudent at this juncture.

“It would not be responsible to turn over California’s criminal justice policy to inmate lawyers who are not accountable to the people,” the governor said in a statement issued a few moments ago. “My plan avoids early releases of thousands of prisoners and lays the foundation for longer-term changes, and that’s why local officials and law enforcement support it.”

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California state officials speak on SCOTUS ruling

California’s foremost elected officials are speaking out about the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.

From Gov. Jerry Brown:

“Today’s dramatic Supreme Court ruling removes the last roadblock to fulfilling President Obama’s historic plan to bring health care to millions of uninsured citizens.”

From Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom:

“There is a healthcare crisis in this country, a crisis with profound implications for each citizen in every city and county in America. Today’s United States Supreme Court decision, which upheld the individual insurance requirement, is just a start. But the decision allowing states to opt-out of Medicaid expansion still leaves millions of Americans vulnerable.

“We can — and must – act now to do more to offer healthcare access to all. We do not have time to stand on the sidelines. There is a crisis but there is also a solution.

“Americans know it is much less expensive to keep people healthy than it is to treat their sickness. This is particularly true when much of the treatment for uninsured Americans is provided in costly emergency rooms. Without a universal healthcare plan, our emergency rooms will continue to bear the brunt of this crisis and citizens will pay the price with higher taxes, more expensive premiums, hidden costs and increased fees.

“While serving as mayor of San Francisco, I saw first hand the impact of the healthcare crisis on the insured, uninsured, businesses, emergency rooms and municipal coffers.
We decided to address this crisis head-on and launched the country’s first local universal health care program, Healthy San Francisco. It is blueprint that can be replicated by cities and counties across the nation. A public plan can work. San Francisco is proving it.

“Since being implemented, more than 80 percent of uninsured San Franciscans have received medical coverage. Healthy San Francisco is not health insurance, instead it provides access to affordable basic and ongoing health care services for the uninsured, regardless of immigration status, employment status, or pre-existing medical conditions.

“We must not wait for the federal government to take the lead in the wake of the today’s Supreme Court decision. Cities and counties across the nation, such as Dallas, Indianapolis, and Miami, have already taken steps to establish healthcare service access programs. California must move forward with innovative programs, like Healthy San Francisco, that provide access to healthcare and not simply access to healthcare insurance.”

From Attorney General Kamala Harris:

“Today’s decision is a historic victory for Californians, for the President, and for the country. The Affordable Care Act repairs a healthcare system badly in need of reform and ensures that every American has access to affordable health care. We never doubted the constitutionality of this law, and it is already making a difference in the lives of millions of Californians.”

More, after the jump…
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What they’re saying about the budget forecast

The Legislative Analyst’s Office today issued a fiscal forecast showing California’s state budget deficit for the fiscal year starting next July 1 will be almost $13 billion.

If the state Finance Department concurs next month, this could mean $2 billion in mid-year “trigger cuts” this year, mostly in the K-12 and higher education budgets.

From Gil Duran, spokesman for Gov. Jerry Brown:

“California’s budget gap is the result of a decade of poor fiscal choices and a global recession. This year, we cut the problem in half. Next year, we’ll continue to make the tough choices necessary until the problem is solved.”

From Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles:

“Today’s announcement by the LAO is indicative, but not determinative of the final decision on whether the budget triggers will be pulled next month and we must wait until the Department of Finance December forecast, which will have up to date information and certainly may alter the trigger calculation to lessen the level of trigger cuts.

“Given the uncertainty in the global economy, we included these triggers as a mechanism to ensure California’s fiscal solvency through this budget year. We approved budget solutions that eliminated seventy five percent of the ongoing structural deficit over time, and we have more work to do to accelerate the elimination of the remainder of that deficit.

“Ultimately, we all know that the best long-term solutions to our budget challenges are rebuilding our economy and putting Californians back to work, and we will continue working to build on the progress we’ve made with respect to job creation in the coming year.”

From state Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro:

“I am deeply troubled by this forecast and the prospect of making another round of deep cuts to public schools and higher education. The Legislature and governor should explore all of our available options, and do everything we can, to prevent mid-year cuts.

“The bottom line is our public schools and institutions of higher education are woefully underfunded, and we must find a way to reverse this trend of cutting their support if we are serious about providing Californians and their children with a bright future.”

From Assembly Budget Committee Vice Chairman Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber:

“The Legislative Analyst’s Office report indicates, as predicted, that the budget passed by Democrats with only a majority vote was overly optimistic and based on shaky assumptions. In this budget, state spending is predicted to increase by 12 percent by 2012-2013. It is clear that state spending has not been brought under control, and that’s not even factoring in the enormous cost of the federal healthcare mandates.

“It indicates that a lot more needs to be done to get California’s budget under control, and that does not happen through tax increases. Government has changed very little in how it conducts its business in the last three years.”

From state Controller John Chiang:

“Today’s news is no surprise. Our economy’s sluggish growth means a tax windfall is unlikely, and not a penny of the estimated $4 billion has been collected to date. The Governor and lawmakers were smart to backstop their hopeful budget projections with mid-year cuts, but they may not have gone far enough. Today’s report tracks with the troublesome pattern we have seen in the State’s receipts and spending, which could mean a cash-flow problem in California’s near future.”

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

“Today’s numbers make it clear that the state’s first priority must be to get to the ballot in November and raise needed revenues to avoid any more damage to Californians. The notion of cutting deeper into education, public safety and services for those in need is unthinkable. I imagine an overwhelming majority of Californians agree.

“We’ve cut to the point that the results are being felt like never before. The cupboard of easy solutions is bare. Just ask the students in our higher education systems; the more than one million elderly, blind, or disabled living in poverty; the families who see their kids go to school where the classrooms are more crowded and the resources are dwindling. We’ve hit a crossroads where the time has come to turn things around.

“Democrats have tackled more than half of the reoccurring deficit problem we’ve been plagued with ever since Governor Schwarzenegger cut the Vehicle Licensing Fee. As the LAO points out, last year’s budget actions have put our ongoing deficits at the lowest we’ve seen since the recession began. By building on that foundation, new revenue will finally allow the state to recover and reinvest.”

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California’s online poker bills are dead until 2012

A contentious effort to legalize and regulate online poker in California was pronounced dead for this year by state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg today.

Steinberg, D-Sacramento, wrote a letter to stakeholders saying that although the Legislature has held several hearings with hours of testimony, “significant, unresolved issues remain, including tribal exclusivity and waiver of sovereign immunity, the types of games that would be authorized, who would be eligible to apply for gaming site licenses and potential federal constitutional questions.”

The problems aren’t insurmountable, he wrote, “but not before the end of this legislative year on September 9th, when Interim Study Recess is scheduled to begin. Rushing to meet a legislative deadline on an issue of such significance for our state and our people would be unwise.”

Steinberg said he expects a better proposal will be developed during the recess for consideration when the Legislature reconvenes in 2012, and the state Senate Governmental Organization Committee will hold a hearing in January to move that bill along. “There is time to get this right, and it is imperative that we do so.”

A million Californians per week already play online poker on sites that are operated overseas or may be run illegally, says state Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana. The sites operate despite a 2006 federal law that bars gambling businesses from taking and paying out money online, unless the bets are made and paid within a state that has laws regulating it. No state currently does.

A pending, bipartisan House bill would end that federal ban and set up an interstate licensing program giving states authority to run online sites; U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has pledged cooperation.

And Reid’s home state of Nevada, where gaming is king, is straining at the bit to see the ban overturned: Gov. Brian Sandoval signed a law in June requiring his state to adopt its own online poker regulations by January.

California could be left behind if it doesn’t do the same, Correa has said, as Nevada and other states stand to cut into approximately $7.5 billion in annual revenues now earned by California’s brick-and-mortar card rooms and tribal casinos. He said his SB 40 instead would bring California 1,300 new jobs and — with a 10 percent take from all online poker fees — $1.4 billion in revenue for state coffers in the next decade.

But while a coalition of card rooms and Indian tribes backed Correa’s bill, some gaming tribes opposed it, claiming a $50 million “buy-in” for online poker licenses would create an unfair advantage for certain gaming interests.

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Reactions to SCOTUS ruling on state prisons

California is abuzz about the U.S. Supreme Court’s order this morning that the state must shed tens of thousands of inmates from its unconstitutionally overcrowded prison system.

From Gov. Jerry Brown:

Jerry Brown“The Supreme Court has upheld a lower court’s decision that California must reduce its prison population. In its ruling, the Supreme Court recognized that the enactment of AB 109 is key to meeting this obligation. We must now secure full and constitutionally guaranteed funding to put into effect all the realignment provisions contained in AB 109. As we work to carry out the Court’s ruling, I will take all steps necessary to protect public safety.”

From California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro:

Tom Del Beccaro“The reason for this unfortunate Supreme Court decision lies with those in charge of the California legislature for the last two decades. While the Democrat leadership has wasted $23,000 per Assembly and Senate bill on thousands of unnecessary bills each year, not to mention wasteful programs, they have failed in their most basic obligation to keep Californians safe by building adequate prisons. Now that neglect is taking the form of the forced release of 46,000 prisoners. It is a dereliction beyond shameful.”

From ACLU of Northern California Executive Director Abdi Soltani:

Abdi Soltani“Reduction of prison populations is necessary not only to meet the Constitutional standards required by the Supreme Court, but also to balance prison spending with other priorities as we solve the remaining $10 billion state budget deficit. Felony sentences should be for people who have committed serious crimes – not simple drug possession or writing $450 worth of bad checks.”

From Asemblyman Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber:

Jim Nielsen“The court’s decision is an egregious travesty of justice. I agree with Justice Scalia who called the decision ‘perhaps the most radical injunction issued by a court in our nation’s history’ This decision will result in hundreds of thousands of crimes being committed against our citizens as criminals are released who will then face lesser to no consequences for their continued criminality.

“California citizens must now be more concerned with the safety of their families. Their government and courts are offering less concern.”

Lots more, after the jump…
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The buzz on Jerry Brown’s May budget revision

From state Senate Republican Leader Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, and state Senate Budget Vice Chair Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar:

Bob Dutton“Senate Republicans believe Governor Brown is moving in the right direction by making education and law enforcement funding a top priority. We also applaud the governor for embracing Republican proposals of paying down state debt and providing some job-creation incentives.

“But the May Revise goes too far on taxes and not far enough on reforms.

“Rather than curbing government spending, the governor’s revised budget still sets the state on a course of excessive spending growth in the future – spending that relies on tax increases.

“With $6.6 billion in new revenues, Republicans are right – we don’t need, and it’s ridiculous to ask voters for, five years of new taxes.

“Clearly the California economy is trying to recover, which makes it critical that the state budget include reforms that Senate Republicans have been seeking from day one – a hard spending cap, pension reform and business-regulation relief.

“The Senate Republicans’ long-terms solutions provide the stability small businesses need to grow and create jobs.”

From State Senate Budget Committee Chairman Senator Mark Leno, D-San Francisco:

Mark Leno“The revised budget proposal Governor Brown released today makes use of the state’s unexpected improved revenues in a fiscally responsible way and addresses California’s structural deficit so that we do not dig the hole any deeper. While our cash forecasts are encouraging, we are far from resolving the long-term deficit problem, and must not fall into the trap of utilizing one-time solutions, borrowing and deferments that would only aggravate the problem. This revised budget is an honest and balanced spending plan that extends current revenues to stimulate the economy, secure jobs and protect public investments in K-12 education, universities, public safety and social programs. I am committed to working with Governor Brown, my colleagues in the Legislature and the people of California to help our state recover and flourish once again.”

From Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare:

Connie Conway“In our ‘Roadmap to a No Tax Increase Budget,’ Assembly Republicans showed that we can protect funding for the classroom and law enforcement without raising taxes. We call upon the Governor to stop trying to raise people’s taxes and start working across party lines on a no-tax increase budget compromise. Protecting our core priorities, reforming state government and bringing back private sector jobs – without raising taxes — must continue to be our focus as we work to get California back on track.”

From state Treasurer Bill Lockyer:

“The Governor deserves credit for not succumbing to expediency and remaining focused on California’s longer-term fiscal future. The plan reflects an understanding that, despite welcome revenue increases, the State still faces significant budget shortfalls not just in the next fiscal year, but in subsequent years. It closes those ongoing deficits with a balanced approach that solidifies California’s fiscal foundation without short-circuiting the state’s economic recovery.

“The plan’s effect on our ability to borrow $10 billion to meet the State’s cash-flow needs remains unclear. If full implementation of the Governor’s FY 2011/12 plan remains contingent on voter approval of taxes, my office will not be able to complete a cash-flow borrowing transaction unless the final adopted budget includes real, inescapable, quickly-implemented spending cuts that would be triggered if voters reject the taxes.”

Lots more, after the jump…
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