Bills we’re rooting for in Sacramento… and Bills that Died!


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bill from schoolhouse rock

We’re remiss, man.  It’s been a long time since we’ve written about any of the good bills going through the California legislature; as the body reaches its July break we notice that some of those have passed, some need our help in August, and some have sadly been killed when we weren’t looking.  If only we had done a little more, then maybe … maybe … well, let’s start with the good news.

1. Passed & signed – Overturn Citizens United Act!

we the corporationsOn May 27 the Senate passed, and on June 8 Governor Brown signed, SB 254 by Ben Allen (Santa Monica) and Mark Leno (San Francisco) which will let California’s people vote this November to repeal the calamitous 2010 Supreme Court decision known as Citizens United.  In case you don’t remember, this was the controversial decision that invalidated nearly all attempts at campaign finance regulation, declared corporations to have the rights of people, and declared the spending of (unlimited) money to be protected as speech by the first amendment.  This in turn has given rise to an explosion of secretive SuperPacs and the outsize influence of a few BILLIONAIRES on our elections.

It’ll probably happen quicker that, assuming we get a Democratic President and a fifth Supreme who’s not a corporate whore, the High Court will find a way to reverse Citizens United, but our Founding Fathers did put a procedure in place for when enough of us citizens disagree with a decision, in enough states, we can instruct Congress to fashion a Constitutional amendment overturning it.  And I like it when California shows the nation the way.

The bill passed on a nearly straight-partisan vote, every Democrat voting yes, and every Republican except for ONE rogue assemblyman voting no.  I guess Republican politicians reckon the current system is working out okay for them … although countless polls show that Republican voters want the decision overturned.  

moorlach sasquatch modifiedThis means that the only OC legislator we have to thank for this positive outcome is our occasional Democrat from Santa Ana and Anaheim, Tom Daly.  “How could you?” I asked The Moorlach (right),who remains the only OC lawmaker I speak to regularly.  He just doesn’t see a problem with Citizens United, and asked the bill’s author Senator Allen if he had a problem with newspapers endorsing candidates, as “newspapers are also corporations.”  He says he nearly walked up to Allen after the vote and added “And what about unions?” but didn’t want to get into a fight.  I’m pretty sure those are faux-concerns?  We’re mostly talking about the unlimited spending of corporate MONEY, not endorsements, and any fair campaign finance reform constrains union spending to the same degree as the much-more substantive corporate spending.

Some criticize this bill as being a waste of time and paper because even we Californians’ overwhelming YES vote this November will only be “advisory,” and not directly accomplish anything.  Well, maybe they have a point.  Let’s get to some bills that will actually make CHANGE if they pass…

2. Passed Assembly, now in Senate: AB 700, the California DISCLOSE Act

disclose act logoMy friends in the California Clean Money Campaign have been trying for SIX YEARS to get a version of the DISCLOSE Act passed.  Aiming to be “the first law in the nation to stop Dark Money by making political ads list their top 3 true funders in large clear type, one per line, on a solid black background,” it would require a 2/3 vote, and up to this year it has been solidly stymied by Republicans.

But this year we’re closer than ever, as some Republicans are starting to come around to the idea of transparency – AB 700 passed the Assembly in February, as we wrote triumphantly here, with NINE GOP votes.  Unfortunately the only OC Republican you can thank for this bill is, of all folks, Ling-Ling Chang. One can only speculate why Harper, Allen, Brough, Wagner and Young Kim don’t want you to know who is paying for the campaign ads hawking them and other political goods.

And speculate I did, two years ago, in a piece obnoxiously entitled “Why Do Republicans Hate Transparency?

I can’t see another reason than the following, although I’m all ears:  The interests Republicans represent (in Sacramento and Washington at least) are ones that require secrecy because they are RIGHTLY REVILED BY THE PUBLIC:  your big energy billionaires, your polluters, your alcohol and tobacco, your insurance and bankers.  [Whereas Democrats don’t seem to mind if you know they are backed by unions, environmentalists, and consumer protection groups.]  What am I missing?

Click for larger view.

Click for larger view.

One excuse some Republicans used to give for opposing this reform was “It’s too close to election season, you are changing the rules in the middle of the game, which isn’t fair to those who have already started to plan their campaigns.”  This time around they can’t say that, because even if the law is passed this year it won’t go into effect until the 2018 cycle.  So now the holdouts are stuck with “Donors should have an expectation of privacy;  the threat of boycotts or other punishments might intimidate them from contributing and participating in the political process.”  Not very convincing, eh?

But to be positive again – the glacier seems to be melting as nine GOP assemblymen voted yes on transparency.  (It’s been noticed that most of those are looking at competitive races, and may not want a NO vote on transparency to be used against them.)  Now we just need one or two Senators (more would be nice!) to get our two-thirds.  I’m going to work on – you guessed it, Moorlach!  After all, openness and transparency are his watchwords.  Aren’t they, Senator?

3. Passed Assembly, now in Senate:  AB 2298 Gang Databases

shirley weberAuthored by San Diego’s great Shirley Weber (left), AB 2298, unlike most other bills opposed by law enforcement (a lobby that has BOTH Parties by the balls), appears to actually have a chance of passage.  What it will do is “ensure people of all ages right to notification, right to challenge designation with the law enforcement agency, and right to appeal to a neutral party if they are added to a shared gang database (including but not limited to CalGang); automatically removes someone from a database if they have no conviction related to gang within three years (i.e. a violation of the STEP Act); and requires the state to release data every year of numbers and demographics on additions and removals from gang databases.”

To quote youth4justice.org, which has been strenuously lobbying for the bill:

In the early 1980s, Los Angeles and quickly the whole state engaged in an aggressive “war on gangs,” including the creation of gang databases. Since then – for nearly 40 years – gang databases have operated without accuracy, consistency or transparency. Information for local databases is primarily collected through routine police stops – on the street, in schools and traffic stops. Police gather information through a field interview, and local departments then feed this information into shared databases and also into the statewide CalGang Database. Most people are added to local databases and the CalGang Database without having been arrested or accused of a crime. Until the recent passing of Senate Bill 458, no person labeled as a gang member had a legal right to be notified or an opportunity to appeal their designation. NOW, under SB 458, only youth under the age of 18 have those rights.

youth4justice 1Nearly 20% of the people on the CalGang Database are African- American and 66% are Latino. Since only 6.6% of Californians are African-Americans, and just 38.1% are Latino, this represents an alarming racial disparity. Databases are often used to add people to gang injunctions, contribute to arguments by Prosecutors for gang enhancements in court, and are used to deny people access to victims’ compensation when a person is killed or injured. An individual’s information can also be shared and accessed by federal law enforcement agencies including the FBI and ICE, having huge implications for a person’s ability to realize immigration opportunities including deferred action and prosecutorial discretion.

This bill has passed the assembly and the senate public safety committee, and now has to face senate appropriations and then the full senate.  Has any Republican voted for it yet?  Oh, HELL no.  Which is a shame.  Except it only needs a majority, so I’m betting on it becoming law this year.

4. Passed Senate, now in Assembly:  SB 443 Asset Forfeiture

Jalalibuilding-cuffedWe wrote the classic story on the mother of all Civil (or Asset) Forfeiture attempts – the efforts by the Anaheim Police Department, in league with the Feds, to seize Tony Jalali’s $1.5 million office building because he had rented out a space to a medical marijuana collective.  Since then (or maybe before then) our own Diane Goldstein has been a warrior against this “policing for profit,” lobbying tirelessly last year for this reform SB 443, which passed the Senate (Moorlach voting yes) but was defeated in the Assembly (with our Republicans Matt Harper and Bill Brough voting yes – kudos! – and semi-Democrat Tom Daly voting no – shame!)  corrupt copMy sentences are too long.

Anyway, it wasn’t killed for good, but put into “suspense file,” and has now been given a few minor amendments which make it a little more acceptable to the police unions and their servants in the assembly – but it’s still a great and important Civil Forfeiture reform bill, even with these amendments.  So some time in August we’ll be asking you to call your assemblymen so we can finally make this bill law!

Here is Diane’s latest article on this, in the San Diego Union Tribune (we can’t keep her tied down here all the time.)

BILLS THAT DIED!!!

schoolhouse rock bill falling down steps

5. SB 1286 Open Police Records; & 6. AB 1680 Body Cameras

Two good bills that were slowly suffocated to death in committee (the traditional way for lawmakers to kill a bill they don’t want to have to vote yes or no on) were two OTHER ones that piss off cops. I guess we should feel lucky that we’re doing so well on Gang Databases and Asset Forfeiture. Writes the LA Times:

Among dozens of proposals held this year in their respective appropriations committees, either for costing too much or proving politically unpopular, were Senate Bill 1286, by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, to open public access for officer misconduct and use-of-force records, and Assembly Bill 1680, by Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Salinas, body camerato fund a grant program for more local police to buy body cameras.

Both measures are part of a broader, and thus far largely unsuccessful, response at the Capitol to the ongoing national debate over police violence that has roiled cities with protests and riots. SB 1286 was heavily opposed by law enforcement groups that argued it went too far in making their private information available. Several body camera bills failed in the Legislature last year as well, as lawmakers could not agree whether to require their use and under what conditions.

SB 1286, which Juice friend Victor Valladares went up to Sacramento to lobby for, would have been the first baby step at chipping away at POBR, the Peace Officers’ Bill of Rights, the cornerstone for the impunity enjoyed by lawless  policemen.  I was happy to see that it was at least supported by Senator Moorlach, who told me “SB 1286 was a RIGHTEOUS bill.”

And AB 1680, which would have needed 2/3, obviously ran into trouble from both lawmakers who see no need for body cameras, and ones who don’t want to spend any more money.

7. SB 1142: Moorlach’s “Right to Cure” ADA lawsuit reform

Deported "professional plaintiff" Alfredo Garcia, state senator John Moorlach.

Deported “professional plaintiff” Alfredo Garcia, state senator John Moorlach.

Finally, here’s a good and important bill killed mainly by craven DEMOCRATS – Senator Moorlach’s ADA lawsuit reform bill, granting businesses that receive complaints under the American Disabilities Act 30 days to fix the problem, before being hit with a debilitating lawsuit.  We wrote about this bill here. And since one of our more ignorant readers predicted it would be defeated by the all-powerful “trial lawyers,” we decided to check in with trial lawyer and former state senator Joe Dunn next time we saw him.

And no, Joe said, trial lawyers would not oppose such a reform;  they have the lowest opinion of the lawyers who pursue nuisance lawsuits like that, and in fact JOE HIMSELF had tried to pass a similar reform 10 years earlier!  “Tell John the trouble he should expect will be in the Judiciary Committee, and it will come not from lawyers but from DISABILITY ADVOCATES.  And what they’ll say is that the ADA is a CIVIL RIGHTS BILL, and if a restaurant refused to serve a black person they wouldn’t be given 30 days to ‘cure’ the problem.”

Well, the bill DID get killed in Judiciary Committee, and that lame argument WAS heard from disability advocates.  But not only that, most of the committee claimed, with a straight face, that all the problems of ADA lawsuit abuse had already been fixed, that there were no frivolous suits any more, that everything is now hunky-dory.

And Moorlach had what he considered the two best witnesses on his side – a Mexican immigrant lady from Jackson who owned a restaurant, and one day some dude walks in on crutches and asks if he could use the restroom, she says sure, two weeks later she gets a two-week demand for $100,000 and is forced out of business.  And he also brought forward a lawyer who defends businesses from ADA lawsuit abuse, rolling her up in her wheelchair.

And immediately after Moorlach’s bill was killed by a committee that claimed that all abuse had been fixed and prevented, a news story came out, showing that the abuse continues strong and steady:

angry guy

Well … once the legislature is back in session in August, we WILL keep you informed on how you can help those three bills succeed that we mentioned above:  the DISCLOSE Act, and the bills for Gang Database Reform and Asset Forfeiture Reform.  Later!


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.