New laws bar threats against illegal immigrants

The TRUST Act wasn’t the only immigration-related bill that Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law this weekend: Others could cost businesses their business licenses and hefty fines if they threaten workers based on their immigration status.

SB 666 by state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg makes it illegal to report or threaten to report workers’ immigration or citizenship status, or that of their family, in retaliation of an employee filing a complaint of unsafe working conditions, sexual harassment, or otherwise attempting to exercise his or her rights in the workplace.

Employers and businesses found violating this new law could be subject to civil penalties of up to $10,000 per incident, and with business license suspension or revocation under certain conditions. Steinberg, D-Sacramento, issued a statement calling the new law “another tremendous victory for civil rights.”

“Workers deserve fairness and safe conditions when they go to their jobs every day without the fear of retaliation when they stand up for their rights. Our labor laws are supposed to protect all California workers, regardless of their immigration status,” he said. “When employers use threats and intimidation like this, the voice of workers is silenced and law-abiding businesses face unfair competition. This law will ensure justice.”

Steinberg said there’ve been many cases in which employers ignore immigration status when hiring, but then use threats of deportation when workers stand up for themselves. This new law prohibits that and clarifies that an employer can’t retaliate against an employee who makes a written or oral complaint regarding unpaid wages, adding a civil penalty of up to $10,000 for violations of California Labor Code Section 98.6.

“There are people every day who come into our office with valid claims (and) with valid complaints,” Michael Marsh, an attorney with California Rural Legal Assistance, said in Steinberg’s news release. “Their rights have been violated and yet they’re afraid … Even when they’re told that they have these protections they don’t want to pursue these claims because they fear deportation. This is a persistent problem and I think it really needs to be addressed.”

In a similar vein, Brown also signed into law AB 524 by Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, which includes threats to report a person’s immigration status in the definition of extortion.

A recent National Employment Law Project report found labor violations and retaliation have become widespread in California’s low-wage labor market. Jose Mejia, director of the California State Council of Laborers, called the bill “a major step toward improving job quality in the low-wage jobs that fuel our state’s economy and to remove the ability of employers to use immigrant status for retaliation or other unlawful purposes.”

Mullin, D-San Mateo, noted “California is home to over one quarter of the immigrants who live in the United States. We have a civic obligation to ensure our laws adequately protect all people from exploitation and workplace retaliation based on immigration status.”

Brown also on Saturday signed:

    AB 35 by Assemblyman Roger Hernández, D-West Covina – Provides that immigration consultants, attorneys, notaries public, and organizations accredited by the United States Board of Immigration Appeals are the only individuals authorized to charge a fee for providing services associated with filing an application under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s deferred action program.
    AB 1024 by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego – Allows applicants, who are not lawfully present in the United States, to be admitted as an attorney at law.
    AB 1159 by Gonzalez – Imposes various restrictions and obligations on persons who offer services related to comprehensive immigration reform.
    SB 141 by Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana – Requires that the California Community Colleges and the California State University, and requests that the University of California, exempt a United States citizen who resides in a foreign country, and is in their first year as a matriculated student, from nonresident tuition if the student demonstrates financial need, has a parent or guardian who was deported or voluntarily departed from the U. S., lived in California immediately before moving abroad, and attended a secondary school in California for at least three years.
    SB 150 by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens – Authorizes a community college district to exempt pupils attending community colleges as a special part-time student from paying nonresident tuition.

State Sen. Leland Yee responds to death threat

State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, today issued a statement regarding the arrest of a Santa Clara man who allegedly made a threat against Yee’s life in response to the lawmaker’s gun-control legislation:

“First, I want to thank the CHP and the various law enforcement agencies who are working on this case.

“Four weeks ago, I received an email to my Senate account detailing a very explicit threat on my life. The author of the email specifically stated that if I did not cease our legislative efforts to stop gun violence that he would assassinate me in or around the Capitol. He stated that he was a trained sniper and his email detailed certain weapons he possessed.

“This threat was unlike any other I had ever received. It was not a racist rant on my ethnicity or culture, but instead it was very deliberate and specific. As a psychologist, I was deeply concerned by the calculating nature of this email.

“My Chief of Staff immediately forwarded the email to the Senate Sergeant at Arms and the CHP to investigate.

“As you know, law enforcement made an arrest on Tuesday and executed a search warrant of the suspect’s home in which they found illegal weapons and bomb-making materials. I have no other details regarding this case and all such questions should be directed to the CHP.

“With that said, I want to make it crystal clear – these threats and any others will not deter me and my colleagues from addressing the critical issues surrounding gun violence. This case is very troubling and only further demonstrates the need to address this epidemic.

“Again, I want to thank the CHP for their swift action and I want to thank my family, staff, and constituents for all their support.”


Swalwell to Stark: ‘Apology’ NOT accepted

15th Congressional District candidate Eric Swalwell says he’s moving forward with plans to sue Rep. Pete Stark, who during a candidates’ forum several weeks ago accused Swalwell of having accepted “hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes.”

Stark, D-Fremont, last week issued a statement saying he “misspoke the other evening when I made allegations against my opponent for taking bribes and for that I apologize.” But Stark in that same statement voiced concerns that Swalwell – a Dublin city councilman, and a Democrat – has voted for projects “by developers who have been raided by the FBI, have plead guilty to destroying natural habitats, and has taken numerous contributions to fund his campaign which he consistently utilizes with negative attacks.”

Eric SwalwellSwalwell today said Stark “did not misspeak – he maliciously lied” not only about bribery but about Swalwell having a spotty voting record.

“Until he retracts those serious allegations, both that I never voted and that I took bribes, we will meet his intentional lies with legal remedies,” Swalwell said. “In the courtroom, a judge will tell the jury that if a witness deliberately lies you should consider not believing anything they say. The voters should treat Pete Stark no differently. They deserve better.”

Swalwell today provided us a copy of the letter that his lawyer – James Wagstaffe, a noted defamation attorney – sent last Thursday (the day after Stark’s semi-apologetic statement) to Stark’s Maryland home and his Washington and Fremont offices.

“The fact that you and our client are public figures in a political campaign does not insulate you from liability for your unlawful comments,” Wagstaffe wrote. “Furthermore, your purported and seemingly insincere apology for these statements, issued today by your campaign, is neither full nor fair. First, it is false and misleading to state that you ‘misspoke’ when you alleged that Councilmember Swalwell was taking bribes, when it is apparent that your statements were deliberate and premeditated. Second, you deliberately juxtaposed your supposed apology with words designed to further defame our client, which also exposes you to liability.”

Wagstaffe demanded “that you, to every extent possible, fully and publicly retract all defamatory statements you have made about Councilmember Swalwell. We also demand that you immediately cease making such false and disparaging statements. While such mitigating conduct is appropriate and necessary, it does not absolve you from the liability that has attached to the statements you have already made.”

I’ll update this item with a response from Alex Tourk, Stark’s campaign strategist, if and when I receive it.

UPDATE @ 4:37 P.M. THURSDAY: This response just in from Alex Tourk…

“As Congressman Stark said last week, he misspoke and apologized. He has committed to staying focused on the issues and that’s what he’s doing. This week he’s co-authored legislation to prevent student loan interest rates from doubling July 1st. On Friday he’ll co-lead a hearing on the Republican plans to convert Medicare to a voucher – where he’ll call them out on their desire to end Medicare as know it. He’s continuing to gather support for his legislation, the WORK Act, which would provide low-income moms with the option to stay home to raise their young children without being forced further into poverty. And today he called on the Administration to conduct a federal investigation of a debt collector that’s going after patients in hospital emergency rooms and at their bedsides. Congressman Stark is busy working on the issues he’s passionate about, and which are important to his constituents.”


Bay Area man cries wolf, goes to federal prison

A Marin County man has been sentenced to four months in federal prison for e-mailing a threat to shoot one of California’s two U.S. Senators, prosecutors said today.

Tras Gustav Karlsson Berg, 35, pleaded guilty in April and was sentenced last week.

The court documents don’t specify whether the threat went to U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., or to U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. A federal agent’s affidavit simply says the FBI’s San Francisco office on March 3 received a complaint from a staffer in one of those Senators’ offices regarding an e-mailed threat on the lawmaker’s life. From that Feb. 24 e-mail:

“I’m going to shoot you with a high powered rifle and bomb your house with poison gas the way wolf hunters do if you don’t do everything you can to oppose legislation that would eliminate Endangered Species Act protections for wolves across the country RIGHT F—ING NOW!”

In a sentencing memo, his lawyer says “Mr. Berg himself describes his personalization of the language and failure to think before he clicked send ‘careless and unwise.’”

Hmmm, ya think?

The U.S. Senate in April approved a sprawling budget bill which included delisting wolves from the Endangered Species Act. Boxer and Feinstein both voted in favor of that bill.


The ballad of Johnny Logan Spencer

Some poetic observations on Johnny Logan Spencer of Kentucky, sentenced today to federal prison for posting to the Internet a poem threatening the life of President Obama.

First, in haiku:

A white-pride dullard
Threatens Obama in verse,
Gets 33 months.

Such a confining form. Perhaps a limerick would work better:

There once was a racist named Spencer,
Whose poetry he didn’t think to censor
He wrote of killing Obama
But the feds said, “Como se llama?”
This moron, he couldn’t be denser.

Or maybe we should make it seasonal:

’Twas three weeks before Christmas, and in Kentucky
Johnny Spencer was feeling fairly unlucky
His poem he’d penned with murderous intent
An ode to assassination, a racist’s lament
The feds they did catch him, and took him to court
And now off to prison with a Marshal’s escort
So let’s learn from Johnny, and remember this day
Threaten the president, and you surely will pay.

OK, those sucked. Anybody out there good with iambic pentameter? Have at it.


Schwarzenegger becomes a budget ‘stunt’ man

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said today he’s going to cross his arms, stomp his foot, hold his breath and turn blue until the Legislature sends him a budget he likes.

Well, not exactly, but close:

“At this point, nothing in this building is more important than a responsible budget and to fix our broken budget system and to create an economic stimulus package, so until the Legislature passes a budget that I can sign, I will not sign any bills that reach my desk,” he said. “That means that some good bills will fail, yes, but we do not have the luxury of stretching this process any longer. The only thing that the Legislature should be focusing on is reaching a budget compromise immediately.”

For context, California’s budget hasn’t been signed by the June 15 constitutional deadline since 1986; a quick search shows me the past 10 budgets were signed on these dates:

  • 2007: Aug. 24
  • 2006: June 30
  • 2005: July 11
  • 2004: July 31
  • 2003: Aug. 2
  • 2002: Sept. 5
  • 2001: July 25
  • 2000: June 30
  • 1999: June 29
  • 1998: Aug. 21
  • So this late date isn’t new, although we are facing a much bigger deficit than usual. But state Controller John Chiang earlier today said that’s not as much of a worry as the governor would have us believe:

    “On Monday, I testified to the Senate Governmental Organization Committee that June revenues provided us with more than $4.2 billion in reserves at the end of September, which is well above the $2.5 billion my office considers a prudent cash cushion. Although I will release the actual cash flow figures in my monthly report later this week, the preliminary numbers from July show that our cash position has further improved, providing added assurance that the State will have the resources to meet its payment obligations for all of September and into October.

    “The Governor based his executive order to cut employees’ salaries to the federal minimum wage on a faulty premise that it would conserve the cash needed to pay our bills next month. Two consecutive months of improved revenues and decreased spending have rendered his executive order to be nothing more than a solution to a problem that does not exist in the immediate future.

    “I have been working with commercial and investment bankers for the past several months to ensure the State can borrow to meet all of our payment obligations, and this news delays our need to borrow by several weeks. In light of our cash flow improvements, I respectfully urge the Governor to reconsider his executive order. To not do so would needlessly subject hundreds of thousands of hard-working public servants to financial harm and add more strain to our already fragile economy.

    “Although the last two months of revenue performance are welcome news, it will not alleviate the need for California to engage in expensive and risky Wall Street borrowing later this year. The only way to avoid this borrowing is with a budget that contains sound revenue and expenditure solutions that are free from get-out-of-town gimmicks.”

    A get-out-of-town gimmick is exactly what this blanket-veto threat seems to be, hot on the heels of his possibly-toothless order to cut state workers’ pay to the federal minimum wage. He’s sounding increasingly petulant as legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle fail to cave to the pressure he tries to exert. It’s a stunt I think people are likely to see worthy of one of his action films, but not of a governor.

    Even his movement off his no-tax-hikes rhetoric — although at least denoting some movement — seems misguided. His proposal to raise the state sales tax by a penny on the dollar for three years would bring in about $5 billion a year, which isn’t even close to the $6.1 billion the state would have in its coffers this year had Schwarzenegger not repealed the Vehicle License Fee back in 2003. And the sales tax is more regressive than the VLF, meaning it has a more disproportionate impact on the poor: The California Budget Project says the state’s poorest 20 percent spent 8.4 percent of their pay on sales tax last year, while the richest 20 percent spent no more than 3.3 percent. And that’s to say nothing of the havoc the governor’s proposal might play with constitutionally mandated Proposition 98 education funding when the sales-tax hike sunsets after three years.

    First he tried to hold state workers hostage, now he’s putting a gun to the head of the very business of government, seeking a budget deal as ransom. If I had to guess, I’d think he’s uncomfortable with giving people any more time to realize how absurd it is that California is one of only three states (Arkansas and Rhode Island are the others) requiring the Legislature’s supermajority support (two-thirds of each chamber voting yes) to pass its budget or tax increases, rather than a simple majority.

    The governor clearly wants the budget done fast. The question is, does he want it done right?