As the first legislature under a Democratic governor since the day Gray Davis was booted out of office, Sacramento's Democratic majority suddenly has the freedom to pass progressive legislation without fear of the checks-and-balances of a Republican veto pen. But have they?
San Diego County's delegation, which includes three freshmen, have largely broken along predictable party lines— Democrats full-throttle in support of Gov. Jerry Brown, Republicans struggling with the emergency break—while making tough decisions about the budget, redevelopment agencies and shark-fin soup. Here's an update on our eight members:
Democrat, District 76
Clout quotient: 77 percent of Atkins' 18 bills have passed out of the Assembly, establishing the legislator as the proportionally most successful Assembly member representing San Diego County.
Her legislation has run the gamut. With AB 826, Atkins (who chairs a committee on homelessness) aims to channel mentally ill parolees, the most likely to fall into homelessness, into supportive-housing programs. Her AB 499 would allow minors older than 11 to make their own decisions when it comes to STD prevention, such as the human papillomavirus vaccine. Another Atkins bill, AB 914, would rewrite how the California Avocado Commission and the California Cut Flower Commission calculate their market statistics. All three bills are working through the Senate.
When it came time to decide on whether to eliminate redevelopment, Atkins supported the governor's budget position, despite the fact that spouse Jennifer Lesar's company derives approximately half of its annual receipts from redevelopment agencies. Lesar Development employed Atkins in 2010.
Like many legislators, Atkins handed out awards to constituents, including “Business of the Year for the 76th District” to Hillcrest bar Urban Mo's and, perhaps controversially, “LGBT Person of the Year for the 76th District” to love-her-or-hate-him political columnist and smack-talker Nicole Murray Ramirez.
We look forward to Atkins' next campaign-finance disclosure, since the numbers don't currently add up. At the end of 2010, her campaign reported a $1,500 balance, yet in April, her committee cut a $25,000 check to the California Vote Project, a political committee registered to Democratic fundraiser Dan Weitzman, and another for $1,000 to the San Diego County Democratic Party. However, the only donations she's reported so far came in June: a $5,000 contribution from the California State Association of Electrical Workers and $6,600 from the California Dental PAC. Meanwhile, the Barona Band of Mission Indians donated $5,000 to the San Diego Unified School District's Harold J. Ballard Center on Atkins' behalf.
Democrat, District 78
Clout Quotient: 66 percent of Block's 21 bills passed out of the Assembly.
Much of Block's attention has gone to AB 648, a bill birthed by the outrage over Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's last-minute commutation of former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez's son's sentence in a San Diego murder case. Block's bill, which passed without opposition in the Assembly (though fellow Democrats Atkins and Ben Hueso were absent for the floor vote), would require the governor's office to alert the district attorney who handled the case before making a commutation decision. The district attorney would, in turn, be required to alert the victims and would have a chance to submit a recommendation.
Block initially proposed a 30-day notice, which the Senate reduced to 10 days.
Block, who chairs the Committee on Higher Education, has also passed six public-university reforms out of the Assembly. These include AB 620, which would allow state colleges to collect data on LGBT students and employees, and AB 795, which would authorize those same schools to impose fines for violation of campus smoking rules. Block also accomplished a multimedia success worthy of Ken burns in collecting 50 video interviews of Holocaust survivors and witnesses from around the state for his 2011 Holocaust Memorial Project. They are currently hosted on the Assembly website.
As Sen. Christine Kehoe faces term limits, Block has opened a committee to go up against former Assemblymember and fellow Democrat Lori Saldaña for the 39th District Senate seat in 2012. This year, his committee has accepted $1,000 from the Washington, D.C.-based Amalgamated Transit Union and $1,500 from the California Hospital Association PAC. At the end of June, Blocked picked up $7,800 from the American Federation of Teachers, Local 1931.
Republican, District 75
Clout Quotient: 36 percent of Fletcher's 22 bills passed out of the Assembly, but he picks up bonus points for his two bills that have also been passed by the Senate: AB 754, which allows active-duty military personnel to have proxies take out candidacy papers for them, and AB 1279, which updates archaic terminology in animal-shelter law.
While last year Fletcher was victorious in pushing through new laws affecting sexually violent predators, his new proposals aren't gaining much traction. His measure to set up email alerts for residents when a sex-offender changes his or her address is nowhere near the Assembly floor. He also co-authored a bill that would require registered sex offenders to disclose their online handles. Opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the bill failed in committee.
Fletcher has embarked on a seven-month, seven-stop “listening tour” with San Diego City Councilmember Tony Young on the issue of education. These are closed sessions, the most recent last week covering issues such as virtual classrooms and educational technology.
The bigger news is that Fletcher has announced his candidacy for mayor of San Diego (strangely at the headquarters of medical-device manufacturer Nuvasive Inc., making the campaign kickoff seem like a pharmaceutical-product rollout). Political observers are eagerly awaiting his campaign totals for June, but many expect special-interest friends in Sacramento to help fill his coffers. His Assembly committee received $7,800 from Blue Shield of California in March, most of which he transferred to local and state Republican Party committees. Time warner Cable also donated $10,000 to the Martin Luther King Jr. Foundation for inner-city student scholarships on Fletcher's behalf, while the Barona Indians donated $5,000 to Christ the cornerstone Academy (a Lutheran private school) at Fletcher's behest for video equipment.
Republican, District 74
Clout quotient: 32 percent of Garrick's 22 bills have passed out of the Assembly, including AB 1281, which allows prosecutors and victims to attend parole hearings for lifers via audio conferencing when video conferencing is unavailable, and AB 1210, which would require plans for storm-water-pollution prevention to be designed by licensed civil engineers. Garrick's profile has dropped significantly since he gave up his post as minority leader, but he did pick up a co-chairmanship of Taxpayers Caucus, which seeks to block attempts to put the decision to raise taxes on the ballot.
Garrick is apparently exploring a run for state Senate, but his ambitions are now being drowned out by his recent bust for drunken driving. According to the North County Times, California Highway Patrol officers spotted Garrick allegedly driving 45 mph in a 25-mph zone and told him to stop. He didn't, instead making a run for the Capitol building. He was eventually caught, tested and cited.
Republican, District 73
Clout Quotient: 29 percent of Harkey's 14 bills have passed out of the Assembly, including AB 649, which extends the priority-class-registration period for veterans in public colleges from three to five years. Harkey's probably better known at the moment for her failed legislation, including bills to protect municipal fireworks displays and to require further analysis of high-speed-rail projects (which she calls “cultural genocide” according to a Sacramento Bee story). Harkey is the only San Diego area Assembly member to vote against the ban on shark-fin soup.
Harkey has plugged $100,000 of her own money into a campaign to run for the state Board of Equalization in 2014 against a fellow Republican legislator, Sen. Mark Wyland. On Harkey's behalf, the Barona Indians donated $5,000 to Palmquest Elementary School in Oceanside for music-education equipment.
In one bizarre note, the Bee reported that Harkey's frog escaped to freedom during the “37th annual Capitol frog jumping contest.”
Democrat, District 79
Clout Quotient: 71 percent of Hueso's 14 bills have passed out of the Assembly.
The last time we check in with Hueso, he had yet to introduce any legislation, but a spokesperson told us he was ready to roll out a bill to protect a local program that tracked graffiti incidents via GPS. Hueso introduced that bill, AB 486, on Feb. 15 but then gutted it last month before it got to the Senate. That bill is now all about artificial stimulants, with a focus on naphthylpyrovalerone, also known as “NRG1.” The bill would make it a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine, to sell, distribute or possess with the intent to sell not only naphthylpyrovalerone but anything deemed a synthetic-stimulant compound. AB 496 is currently awaiting a hearing before the Senate Committee on Public Safety.
Hueso's AB 630 would require school districts to create bullying-reduction programs that would either become part of the regular curriculum or be taught during National Bullying Prevention Month in October.
A resident of the historic-home-filled Logan Heights, Hueso authored AB 654, which would require periodic inspections of properties deemed historic under the state's Mills Act to ensure that homeowners are complying with the preservation law. Though, a Senate analysis of the bill raised a key issue: “Knock, knock, who's there? The Fourth Amendment constitutionally guarantees the right to be secure against unreasonable searches.”
And, with proposed local legislation to put newly hired San Diego municipal employees into a more risky 401(k) retirement plan instead of a traditional pension plan, AB 1248, which made it out of the Assembly in May on a vote pretty much split by party lines, would require public employers to provide Social Security coverage to any employee not covered by a pension. Currently, the city doesn't pay into Social Security for its employees.
Hueso also had the “Aww, cute” story of the session when the San Diego Union-Tribune's Dianne Bell reported on how the Hueso family's 9-month-old terrier, Coco, ran away. They were reunited after Coco turned up at an animal shelter in Fresno.
Republican, District 66
Clout Quotient: 13 percent of Jeffries' 23 bills have passed out of Assembly, making him the least proportionally successful legislator of the local delegation. But passing bills doesn't seem to be Jeffries' goal this time around as he prepares to leave Sacramento for a run for Riverside County's Board of Supervisors. Instead, he's played the role of steadfast opposition to the Democratic majority, shooting out regular Tweets and emails alerting constituents to late night and short-notice action on big issues. Neither his bill to restrict floor sessions to 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. nor his bill to require legislation with amendments to be publicly available 24 hours before a vote have made it to committee. His bill to protect parks died hard on the Assembly floor, which Jeffries later described as political retaliation for his and other Republicans' refusal to support Brown's budget.
Republican, District 77
Clout Quotient: 30 percent of Jones' 10 bills have passed out of the Assembly, including AB 959, which would give CalFresh and Cal- WORKs participants a month's grace period to submit their quarterly reports after missing the deadline, and AB 952, which would tighten ethics requirements for California High-Speed Rail Authority board members and employees.
Jones has also introduced AB 860, which would bar corporations and labor unions from donating directly to candidates. It has yet to receive a hearing. One interest group the bill wouldn't ban is Indian tribes, which were, collectively, his largest source of campaign dough. By the way: This session, the Barona Indians donated $5,000 on his behalf to the Ramona Lutheran School.
Jones joined Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom on a fact-finding junket to Texas, where the delegation was looking to learn how to create jobs. Speaking of Texas: Jones also joined Assemblymembers Harkey and Jeffries in supporting the effort to draft Texas Gov. Rick Perry to run for the GOP nomination for president in 2012.
Update: An earlier version of the story got the bill number—and bill status—wrong on Hueso's AB 1248. We apologize for any confusion.