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As the March 1st deadline for automatic federal budget cuts approaches, their potential effect on California is becoming increasingly clear. 

Ben Adler reports from Sacramento that “sequestration” cuts could slow the state’s economic recovery – and perhaps even create a new budget deficit.

There are two ways sequestration could affect California: direct federal spending cuts of about $4 billion dollars, and the reaction to those cuts from the state’s people and businesses. 

California lawmakers are deciding how geography can affect health insurance premiums in the individual marketplace.

Lawmakers got one step closer to ironing out new rules that would guarantee insurance to individuals regardless of their prior health history. But, they still need to decide how companies will factor in where someone lives into premium rates.

Valley Public Radio

Several lawmakers introduced nine bills Wednesday they say are designed to help the more than 21 million Californians who rely on contaminated groundwater for drinking. 

Environmental groups and several Democratic legislators stood on the Capitol steps to call for an end to contaminated water.

They say so many poor communities lack access to safe drinking water that California will have to invest about $40 billion over the next two decades to solve the problem.

Democratic Assemblymember Henry T. Perea represents Fresno and parts of the Central Valley.

Valley Public Radio

President Obama’s call for increasing the minimum wage in his State of the Union address this month  could face a tough road in Congress.  But a proposal in the California legislature could stand a better chance.  Ben Adler has more from Sacramento.

California’s current minimum wage is eight dollars an hour.  A bill at the State Capitol would bump it up gradually over the next several years to $9.25 an hour … then require annual increases for inflation.  UC Berkeley labor economist Sylvia Allegretto says too many Californians are underpaid:

Ben Adler / Capital Public Radio

A non-partisan legislative report suggests expanding California’s Medicaid program under the federal health law would make good sense in terms of finance and policy. 

The Legislative Analyst’s Office says the state should move ahead with the Medi-Cal expansion that Governor Jerry Brown recently laid out in his budget. 

It says not only could the coverage mean better health for the newly eligible, but it says the money both the state and counties would save would far outweigh the costs in the short and long term. 

Ben Adler / Capital Public Radio

A California lawmaker wants to create a “zero tolerance” law for driving under the influence of drugs.

Democratic State Senator Lou Correa says his bill would expand the current law against drunk driving to cover drug use as well. 

“It took us decades to pound into people that you should not drink and drive.  Then, we started talking about texting and talking on the phone and driving.  And today, this is about being drugged and driving.” 

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio


State lawmakers will be looking at changes to insurance market rules under the Affordable Care Act this week.

As health care reporter Pauline Bartolone reports from Sacramento, lawmakers and the administration still need to reach agreement about the link between state and federal law. 

Lawmakers To Hold Hearing on "Fracking" Regulations

Feb 12, 2013
Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

The controversial drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” will be the subject of a joint legislative hearing at the California state Capitol today.

As Amy Quinton reports from Sacramento, recently released fracking regulations have some lawmakers concerned.

 The Department of Conservation recently released draft regulations for energy companies that inject chemicals into the ground under pressure to release oil.

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

 What some see as California’s most important environmental law, others see as an economic impediment. The 43-year-old California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, guides almost every development project in the state.

Governor Jerry Brown and many lawmakers say it’s time to modernize it. But As Amy Quinton reports, how to do that is a question with no easy answers.

Capital Public Radio Network

The California State Senate’s Democratic leadership is rolling out a package of 10 measures it says will help reduce gun violence.

Lawmakers want to eliminate what they call loopholes in the state’s current laws.  For example, California currently bans the sale or manufacture of ammunition magazines with more than 10 rounds.  A bill by Senator Loni Hancock would ban the possession of them as well.

“The grandfathering-in of weapons is something that our police chiefs have told us and law enforcement has told us makes it very difficult to enforce existing law,” said Hancock.

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

The author of a bill that would exempt 20,000 California union members from last year’s pension overhaul is defending the measure against criticism that it breaks a promise to voters who just approved tax increases. 

Democratic Assemblyman Luis Alejo says he introduced the bill because of a conflict between the new state pension law and U.S. labor law that applies to 20,000 local and regional public transit workers.  As a result, he says, $2 billion in federal transportation funds are at risk.

Capital Public Radio

There appears to be significant bipartisan support in the California legislature for the proposed federal immigration overhaul under discussion in Congress.  But as Ben Adler reports from Sacramento, some Republicans still have concerns.

Twenty Democrats and five Republicans stood together to say they want Congress to get something done after years of putting it off.  

California Lawmakers Hold Hearing on Gun Violence

Jan 30, 2013

California lawmakers say they will seek consensus as they look for ways to reduce gun violence. As Amy Quinton reports from Sacramento, they heard from gun rights advocates, law enforcement, and gun violence prevention experts at a joint legislative hearing.

Lawmakers had a chance to hold the kinds of guns and ammunition used in recent mass shootings. They saw how easy it can be to change a gun magazine.

"He can do it in very rapid succession…that gun today can be purchased in California," said Bureau of Firearms Chief Stephen Lindley.

Brown's Attempted Balancing Act Earns Bipartisan Praise, Criticism

Jan 25, 2013
Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

He quoted Franklin Roosevelt and William Butler Yeats.  And he told the stories of Pharaoh and Joseph and the “Little Engine that Could.”  Governor Jerry Brown turned to every trick in his book Thursday to push an ambitious agenda in his State of the State address – all while urging fiscal discipline from the Democratic-controlled legislature.  We have two reports today from Ben Adler and from Amy Quinton.

Ben Adler on Governor Brown's speech:

The governor packed his speech with references from the biblical …

Office of the Governor

 California Governor Jerry Brown says California has “confounded our critics.”

“We have wrought in just two years a solid and enduring budget and by God, we will preserve and keep it that way for years to come," said Brown.

In a wide-ranging State of the State Address today Brown quoted the bible, Oliver Wendell Holmes and Franklin Roosevelt, and laid out a blueprint for his next two years in office.  He included a warning for Democrats who might be eager to spend more on social programs now that the state no longer has a deficit.

Photo used under Creative Commons from Andy Patterson / Modern Relics / http://www.flickr.com/photos/modernrelics/4461010654/

The most important members of the California legislature this year might not be the two Democratic leaders - despite the two-thirds supermajorities they hold in each chamber.  And it almost certainly won't be the Republicans. 

They've been courted for key votes in recent years but now don't have the numbers to block any bills on their own.  As Ben Adler reports from Sacramento, the leverage in this legislative session may well lie with a newly-critical voting bloc: moderate Democrats.

New Audit Reveals California PUC Misrepresented Funds

Jan 18, 2013

California’s Public Utilities Commission has a math problem: Its budget staff has been misreporting the balance in special funds the agency manages.  That’s the finding of a new state audit that blamed the mistakes on “general confusion and lack of knowledge.”  

The Public Utilities Commission manages 14 special funds that use monthly fees from consumers to pay for special programs like the Universal Lifeline telephone service for low-income Californians.   It turns out that in 2011, agency staff miscalculated how much those funds held.

Brown Budget Proposal Marks New Era at Capitol

Jan 11, 2013
Pauline Bartolone / Capital Public Radio Network

Governor Jerry Brown’s new California budget proposal marks an end to the crippling deficits that have plagued California for years.  It’s also an attempt to make major policy changes – without big increases in spending.  But the governor’s message of fiscal restraint could find a warmer reception from Republicans than from his fellow Democrats.  Capital Public Radio's Ben Adler and Amy Quinton bring us this two-part report from Sacramento.

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Photo used under Creative Commons from Andy Patterson / Modern Relics / http://www.flickr.com/photos/modernrelics/4461010654/

Most California lawmakers say they agree with Governor Jerry Brown that now is the time for fiscal discipline in light of a balanced budget.

But as Amy Quinton reports from Sacramento, Democratic lawmakers have not ruled out restoring some cuts.

Legislative Democratic leaders expressed relief at the announcement of a balanced budget. They say the extra $2.7 billion in education funding is also a step in the right direction.

Senate Budget Chair Mark Leno says lawmakers are now in a position to talk about policy rather than cuts.

Jerry Brown
Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

The annual California budget cycle begins anew tomorrow as Governor Jerry Brown unveils his proposed spending plan.

As part of his budget, the governor is expected to propose major changes to the state’s education funding system. 

They include removing state spending requirements so districts have more flexibility, and introducing a weighted funding formula that gives more money to schools in poorer areas.

Republican Assemblyman Jeff Gorell  says he could support that proposal with some adjustments – such as making sure all schools get a minimum amount of money.

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