Good morning, California. Ben Christopher is sitting in for Dan Morain, who is off this week.
“Queen @LorenaSGonzalez, first of her name, House of San Diego, protector of budget.”—Assemblywoman Wendy Carillo on the eve of a key legislative deadline, giving a “Game of Thrones”-style shoutout to the chairwoman of the Assembly Appropriations Committee, which will vote on more than 600 bills today.
Legislative Judgment Day
What do we say to the god of the suspense file?
More than 1,000 big-ticket bills meet their fate in the Capitol today as the deadline for clearing a key legislative hurdle arrives.
- Under a longstanding rule intended to keep the gears of democracy from clogging, any measure with a significant price tag has until the end of this week to pass one of the Legislature’s powerful appropriations committees.
- There’s no public vote—as CALmatters’ Laurel Rosenhall has explained, members of the powerful Senate and Assembly appropriations panels can promote a bill or quietly let it disappear into the oblivion of the so-called “suspense file” without committing to a position. Only the favored few don’t die.
Some to watch:
- SB 50 would force cities across the state to accept more dense development. Supporters are warning that “talks have stalled” and the bill could be in trouble.
- SB 230 would require police departments to adopt new use-of-force policies. It’s the more moderate of two bills that tackle the issue. (For a primer, listen to Rosenhall’s excellent podcast, Force of Law. )
- AB 539 would cap the interest rates that lenders can slap on consumer loans up to $10,000. I wrote about it earlier this week.
- SB 276 would tighten school immunization rules. Odds are that it will pass, but only over the objections of a very vocal minority of vaccine skeptics and resisters. A call yesterday to the office of Sen. Anthony Portantino, the Senate Appropriations chair, led to a voicemail warning of “overwhelming call volume…If you’re calling regarding SB 276, please press 1…”
Code enforcers want DMV protection, but timing is everything.
Among the “suspense file” bills awaiting a thumbs up from a legislative appropriations committee is one to add building inspectors and parking enforcers to the list of officials whose information is kept confidential by the DMV.
- SB 517, which the California Association of Code Enforcement Officers says is necessary to protect its members from violent retribution, includes a fee to pay for implementation. Since it pays for itself, the union argues, it shouldn’t be on the suspense file.
Matt Silver, vice president: “It seems almost like our bill is arbitrarily being put in there.”
The Senate Appropriations Committee declined to comment. But their bill analysis estimates the cost of expanding the DMV Confidential Records Program “may be significantly higher” than the typical one-time $20,000. It also notes that long waits and voter registration snafus have put “other pressing matters” on the DMV’s plate.
Oh hey, Pineapple Express
Waves of rain—and May snowpack—will last into next week.
A set of late-breaking atmospheric rivers began rolling through California Wednesday, with forecasts of a 200% increase in May rain and up to two feet of snow in the Sierra Nevada.
Researchers report that wildfire—now a year-round, climate-driven hazard—has been laying the groundwork in burned areas for earlier snowmelt, potentially leaving the state even more fire-prone over the long haul. CALmatters’ new environmental reporter Rachel Becker tells us the findings could have serious implications for water and wildfire management.
- How it works: Snowpack is a key reservoir that releases its freshwater stores during the summer, when thirsty western states need it. And it has been making a comeback. At last count, the state’s snowpack was at 127% of the average at this time of year.
- But in burned areas, researchers found, that reservoir has been melting about 5 days earlier than normal, thanks to soot blackening the snow, making it more heat absorbent, and warm sunlight pouring in where forest canopies once blocked it—an effect that can last for years after a fire and worsen the next one, researchers found.
Check out CALmatters’ explainer on California wildfires here.
Coming tuition bump?
UC may soak out-of-state students again.
University of California regents vote today on whether to raise tuition for non-resident undergraduate students by 2.6%, or $762, for the 2019-2020 school year, reports CALmatters’ Felicia Mello.
- A previous vote scheduled for March was postponed after regents raised concerns about the impact on low- and middle-income students. The new proposal would set aside 10% of the money generated by the increase for financial aid.
UC President Janet Napolitano has argued the university needs the estimated $26 million generated by the tuition bump to pay for increasing enrollment of California residents and other budget priorities. The UC Student Association says the university should instead lobby the state for more funds.
- Context: About 18% of UC undergraduates pay out-of-state tuition, from wealthy international students to middle-class undergrads to undocumented Californians who don’t meet the state’s AB 540 requirements for in-state tuition.
- One UC San Diego student who opposed the increase told the regents Wednesday that her immigration status recently changed and her family would be unable to afford the new $43,662 yearly price tag. “My four-member family now lives in a one-bedroom apartment just so I can receive higher education,” she said.
Camp Fire cause is official
Cal Fire blames PG&E for the deadliest wildfire in state history.
As PG&E’s new CEO Bill Johnson fielded questions from frustrated state lawmakers on Wednesday, fire investigators dropped their verdict: The utility he now runs caused the deadliest wildfire in state history.
- After a “very meticulous and thorough investigation, Cal Fire has determined that the Camp Fire was caused by electrical transmission lines owned and operated by [PG&E] located in the Pulga area,” the state fire agency reported. A second ignition site was also determined to be vegetation that caught fire from distribution lines owned by PG&E.
- The finding confirmed what PG&E had already acknowledged. The power company filed for bankruptcy in January, citing more than $30 billion in potential liabilities from recent blazes. The Camp Fire destroyed the Butte County town of Paradise and was blamed for 85 deaths.
Johnson, who retired from the Tennessee Valley Authority, told lawmakers he didn’t have to take the job but was called to duty, reports CALmatters’ Judy Lin. He said his goal is to rebuild trust but stressed, with the help of his Southern drawl, that he’s new to these parts and has only been on the job for two weeks.
Johnson: “I’ve been to Paradise and to Santa Rosa and San Bruno. I did none of that as a publicity stunt. I don’t do publicity stunts.”
So much for the water tax
Lawmakers want to use existing funds to clean up drinking water.
Democratic lawmakers countered Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to place a 95-cent monthly fee on water users to pay for cleaner drinking water with a proposal Wednesday to pull the $150 million from existing funds.
The Sacramento Bee: “The money would come from the state’s general fund, but lawmakers did not clarify what other programs might be cut to obtain the money or whether they’d dip into a state surplus to pay for it.”
Capitol Republicans have been lambasting the “water tax” since the governor first proposed it in January, and swing-district Democrats, spooked by the ghost of Josh Newman, have been unenthusiastic.
- The governor’s press office told The Bee that Newsom is “encouraged by the conversations with the Legislature.” No word on how the new governor feels about having his plan checked by another branch of government.
Experts estimate that more than a million Californians lack access to clean drinking water, particularly in the Central Valley, with some communities exposed to “arsenic, nitrates or uranium contaminates.”
A Trump pardon for a CA sting
"Shrimpscam" defendant turned justice reformer Pat Nolan.
President Donald Trump on Wednesday pardoned Pat Nolan, the former Republican leader in the Assembly who in the 1980s was at the center of “the most ambitious political corruption investigation in California history.”
- Remind me: Nolan, from Glendale, was arrested with two other lawmakers for accepting bribes from an FBI agent posing as a shrimp importer in need of special legislation. “Shrimpscam” put him in federal prison in the 1990s for two years.
The Los Angeles Times: “After leaving prison, Nolan became a prominent conservative voice on criminal justice reform, serving as president of Justice Fellowship, a Virginia-based group that has advocated for sentencing reform.”
Nolan: “I am so grateful that God used my time in prison to open my eyes to injustice, and equipped me to advocate for the voiceless. And I am thankful that President Trump saw fit to grant me a pardon.”
Trump’s statement seemed to question Nolan’s admission of guilt, though Nolan was caught on videotape taking checks from an undercover FBI agent.
The White House: “He could defend himself against charges of public corruption and risk decades in prison, or he could plead guilty and accept a 33-month sentence.”
Trump also pardoned Canadian media mogul, Conrad Black, who served over three years in prison. Black later went on to write, “Donald Trump: A President Like No Other.”
Commentary: A deep dive on water
California's water wars may be reaching a pivotal point.
California’s infamous water conflicts are deeply interconnected and appear to be reaching climactic phases, CALmatters’ Dan Walters writes in a special overview of the state’s waterscape. Among the major issues:
- How to divvy up water from the overused Colorado River.
- Whether and where to build new water storage projects.
- Whether one or two tunnels should be bored beneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to ease the flow of water south.
- How to manage the state’s badly overdrafted underground aquifers.
- Whether—maybe, one day—to finally change the state’s complex system of water rights.
Walters: “How they are resolved over the next few years will write an entirely new chapter in California’s water history, changing priorities and perhaps shifting water from agriculture to urban users and environmental enhancement.”
Commentary at CALmatters
Sen. John M. W. Moorlach, Costa Mesa Republican: Good government is open, clear government. Citizens who are not accountants also should be able to easily read government financial documents. Senate Bill 598 encourages the adoption of a readily accessible digital reporting standard. Legislators should approve it.
See you tomorrow.