As most of you know, we successfully passed and signed a state budget before the end of the fiscal year. Thanks to the passage of Proposition 25 in 2010, a majority of the legislature was able to secure a budget on time.
Unfortunately, to do so meant that we were forced to make terrible cuts. Despite months of negotiations, not a single Republican legislator would support a special election to let the people vote on whether to maintain existing taxes which were set to (and did) expire. While the legislature can now pass a budget allocating the money we have by a simple majority, it still takes a 2/3 vote for any new revenue.
After almost daily meetings and hearings on the budget and with few revenue options available, Democrats made the tough choices including deep cuts to health and human service programs, higher education and the judicial system, an essential arm of our constitutional government. There is no doubt that these cuts will have long term harmful repercussions for the people of California.
Many of you know that I spent the better part of the last 3 years working to gain acknowledgement of the reality that a 2/3 vote requirement by the legislature to pass the state budget is unworkable in today's political climate. The coalition that was formed around this issue succeeded in passing Proposition 25 and I'm proud to have been part of it.
Now I'm introducing a new bill that will allow a simple majority of the legislature to place a tax measure on the ballot that can be passed by a majority of the voters. SCA 15, the Taxpayer Right to Vote Act, would not replace the existing two-thirds requirement to pass taxes. Instead, it would create an alternative to it. It would allow a "double majority" to adopt taxes: a majority vote of the legislature followed by a majority vote of the people. Voters should be able to decide if they want to have teachers in the classroom, police officers on our streets, and well-maintained parks and roads; my proposed legislation will allow them to make those choices.
We need to mend our broken and dysfunctional systems so that we can move forward and solve our social and financial problems in a responsible way. The public systems that made California a great place to live must be restored and passed on intact to the next generation.
Along with the budget, one of my revenue bills, SB 234, was also signed into law. This bill, along with two others authored by Assemblywoman Skinner and Senator Calderon, requires out-of-state internet companies like Amazon and Overstock.com to comply with California's sales tax laws. This will bring in much-needed revenue, and ensure a level playing field for our locally owned "brick and mortar" businesses that hire local people and help build the local economy.
It is unfortunate that Amazon - a multi-billion dollar corporation - recently filed a self-serving referendum to repeal these laws. Amazon says it would rather cease doing business in this state rather than contribute its fair share to our economy.
However, the legislature also took many positive and forward-looking actions this session and I am optimistic and hopeful that we have begun to put our state back on the right track. If we stay focused on needed structural reforms and equity and opportunity for all our people, we will successfully rebuild. The Summer Newsletter discusses my proposed legislation to assist in this process.
Senator Loni Hancock
FEATURED IN MAY NEWSLETTER
SB 490 - REPLACING CALIFORNIA'S DEATH PENALTY
SB 490, which I introduced in late June, would replace the death penalty in California with permanent imprisonment and convert current death penalty sentences to life imprisonment with no possibility of parole.
While facing another year of heartbreaking budget cuts to our education system, health and human services, and the courts, I believe it is time to re-evaluate the use of our public safety dollars.
Recently, U.S. 9th Circuit Judge Arthur Alarcon and Loyola Law School professor Paula Mitchell, released a study that provided the cost-benefit analysis of capital punishment in California.
Capital punishment is an expensive failure and an example of the dysfunction of our prisons. California's death row is the largest and most costly in the United States. We currently have 714 people on death row, with the number expected to grow to 1,000 by 2030. Since the death penalty's reinstatement in 1978, taxpayers have spent $4 billion dollars. There have only been 13 executions in California since that time, which means approximately $308 million per person, per execution, has been spent. In addition to those statistics, Judge Alarcon and Professor Mitchell forecast that that total amount spent on the death penalty will grow to $9 billion by the year 2020 if we continue down our current path. It is not helping to protect our state; it is helping to bankrupt us.
The study shows that capital punishment as a penalty is not a deterrent and that the multiple appeals that drag on for years and years multiply costs and add to the uncertainty and anxiety of victims. Many death penalty advocates say that it takes too long to execute a person. According to the Alarcon and Mitchell report, speeding up executions would cost the state an additional $90 million per year. Where will the money for that come from? The state has capped out in terms of revenue and $90 million dollars can be used for education and crime prevention programs. The bottom line is that the death penalty failings cannot be fixed; it must be replaced. Our failed policies show that we are not tough on crime; we are tough on the taxpayer. It is time to let the people decide.
It is not simply a cost issue. More than a dozen people were wrongly convicted in Illinois before that state banned the death penalty earlier this year. We cannot allow that kind of tragic statistic in California. We need to join Illinois and the 15 other states that have chosen to substitute life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for a failed death penalty.
Every time we spend money on the death penalty, we drain money from having more police officers on the street, more job training, more education and more of the things that would truly make for safer communities.
The bill would need both a signature from the Governor and a passage by the voters to become law. The bill has passed successfully though the Assembly Public Safety Committee in July and is now headed to the Assembly Appropriations Committee. It is time for us to prioritize again what is important in our state. It is time to let the people decide.
SB 740 - 2nd GRADE TESTING EXCLUSION
This bill would exclude 2nd grade students from taking the required standards-based achievement test, something that has never been mandated by the federal government, and viewed as an unnecessary use of educational resources. It would also provide school districts with information regarding assessments for diagnostic use by 2nd grade teachers through the statewide pupil assessment program. Teachers would use the assessment to modify their curricula to ensure that students are being taught and are learning the material that will keep them in line with overall academic requirements for that grade level.
SB 740 is currently in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
2011 SMALL BUSINESS OF THE YEAR: SEMIFREDDI'S
Every year, the California Small Business Association gives legislators the opportunity to recognize the contributions of small businesses throughout California. This year, I had the pleasure of honoring Semifreddi's as the 9th Senate District's 2011 Small Business of the Year. In attendance at the award ceremony were founders/owners Tom Frainier and Michael Rose.
Opening the doors to a modest 450 square-foot bakery in Kensington in 1984, Semifreddi's has grown over the past 25 years to become one of the Bay Area's premier artisan bakeries, baking over 180,000 loaves of bread and 30,000 pastries a week at its current location; a 33,000 square-foot environmentally sustainable bakery in Alameda.
In addition to its growth and success as a small business, Semifreddi's demonstrates a strong commitment to the community, donating baked goods to dozens of local charities on a daily basis, as well as a commitment to its employees, providing fair wages and benefits and the opportunity to be promoted from within.
Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia, a general term for memory loss and other intellectual abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. Every person suffering from Alzheimer's has one or several of the following symptoms: memory loss, challenges in problem solving or planning, difficulty completing tasks, confusion of place & time, visual images /difficulty reading - color recognition, problem completing sentencing, poor judgment, withdrawn from work or social environments and mood personality changes.
Statistics show that there are currently over half a million adults over age 55 living with this disease in California alone. Due to the inability of an Alzheimer's patient to care for oneself, they become completely dependent on others for care. Family members are taking on the difficult role of caregivers, which can cause physical, emotional and financial challenges.
Some support groups and services are available to families encountering challenges with Alzheimer's. For more information, please contact the Alzheimer's Association of California to locate services in your area: (800) 272-3900.
EAST BAY AIDS WALK
In June, I presented to local community activists and organizations a Legislative Resolution in recognition of the Fifth Annual East Bay AIDS Walk, co-signed by Assemblymembers Mary Hayashi, Nancy Skinner, and Sandre Swanson.
Five years ago the City of Oakland hosted its first AIDS Walk to increase awareness of HIV/AIDS in at-risk communities, educate participants about prevention and treatment strategies and involve the public financially to support community-based organizations that were addressing this widespread epidemic.
Funds raised are directed to non-profit organizations that participate in the Walk and provide support to programs and services in Alameda, Contra Costa, and Solano Counties.
I am proud to have been a part of this very special event.
NEW CONTRA COSTA COUNTY HEALTH CLINIC GROUNDBREAKING
In May, I joined Congressman George Miller, Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia and others at a ground breaking celebration for the construction of a new state-of-the-art health clinic, located in San Pablo. When completed, the 53,000 square foot facility will be the latest health center to be built in Contra Costa County. It is expected to be operational by summer of 2012 and be LEED certified -- a building standard for green construction, maintenance, and operations, which will have less impact on the environment.
Culminating years of planning and searching for a new site, the new West Contra Costa County Health Center will better serve the region by improving access to high quality healthcare services and providing outpatient and ancillary services in a modern and efficient facility.
With students present from a neighboring high school health academy, the groundbreaking celebrated effective local, state and federal partnerships that can improve health outcomes for West County residents.
PUBLIC SAFETY REALIGNMENT
Recently, I co-hosted a Public Safety Realignment Forum in the city of Richmond with Senator Mark DeSaulnier and Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia. Panelists included, Darby Kernan and Erin Sasse of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, David Twa, the Contra Costa County Administrator and Phil Kader, the Contra Costa County Chief Probation Officer. We discussed in detail new legislation, AB 109, which realigns and restructures the California prison system to keep lower level offenders at the local level, allowing for more core activities, such as rehabilitation, to take place closer to the community.
Changes in our prison system are necessary in light of the ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that California's prison system has failed and that the current overcrowding of our prisons constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. Our prison population needs to be drastically reduced and realignment will serve that purpose, in addition to allowing those within the prison system a greater chance for effective rehabilitation, reducing recidivism rates.
While there are many challenges, public officials throughout California can work together to implement successful programs. If done effectively and carefully, we will have safer communities and true rehabilitation.
President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, at the beginning of the third year of our nation's bloody Civil War. The Emancipation Proclamation declared "that all persons held as slaves" in the Confederate states "...are, and henceforward shall be free." While the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect in 1863, it would not be until two and a half years later- June 19, 1865 - that Union soldiers arriving in Galveston, Texas would read the order to the quarter of a million slaves living in that Confederate state.
The day following the Union Army's arrival in Galveston, former slaves celebrated in the streets and the celebration's future name would derive from the combination of 'June' and 'nineteenth.' Thus, 'Juneteenth,' celebrates the oldest national commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.
I participated in Juneteenth celebrations in Oakland and in Richmond, along with other elected officials and community leaders. Both events shared messages about the freedoms, opportunities and rights that took our country to war. It is up to all of us to protect our freedoms and liberties by always remembering the path that those before us created.
JOINT CENTER FOR ARTIFICIAL PHOTOSYNTHESIS-NORTH OPENS IN BERKELEY
Peidong Yang, director of the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP)-North, Paul Alivisatos, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, along with other officials, recently opened the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP), located in West Berkeley. The mission behind JCAP is to develop an artificial version of photosynthesis that can do what green leaves do, only much more efficiently, for the purpose of producing fuels for cars, trucks and aircraft.
When the project was first introduced, I knew that this would be an exciting opportunity for our Bay Area region to participate in research and development for the discovery of alternative fuelsó particularly through solar energy research. In addition, more than 200 in-state jobs would be created. JCAP carries great expectations and I look forward to seeing many accomplishments from it.
SPOTLIGHT: 2011 DISTRICT OFFICE LEGISLATIVE INTERNS
Each summer, I have the pleasure of hosting a terrific group of legislative interns in my district office. Representing diverse backgrounds and life experiences, they are bright and talented young people with wonderful futures ahead of them.
Throughout the summer, the interns are given the opportunity to take on a number of responsibilities. These include attending meetings and community functions throughout the district, assisting constituents with problems concerning state agency issues, assisting with office administration and learning about the California legislative process and state issues.
Here, in their own words, are brief profiles on our summer interns:
Alannah Tomich: "I am a public health student at UC Berkeley, entering my senior year. I grew up in Africa and South East Asia where my parents were doing non-profit work, and now love my new home in the Bay Area. I am thrilled to be learning about education and health policy with the Senator's office, and seeing how government can work for communities."
Tessa Savakus: "I am entering my fourth year at UC Berkeley, double majoring in Public Health and Rhetoric. I am very much looking forward to learning more about how state government works through this internship. I'm also interested in learning about how state government addresses health issues and how it interacts with both community organizations and the private sector."
Amanda Alderton: "I am currently studying history at UC Berkeley, specializing in 20th-century American history. I am particularly interested in the history of policies that have affected education, the environment and social justice on both the federal and state levels. Through this internship, I have had the opportunity to view state policies through a historical lens while also learning about current legislation and the ways in which state policy is changing and evolving."
Emma Stamp: "I am a third year student at UC Berkeley, double majoring in History and Political Science. Since moving to Sebastopol at a young age, I have spent much of my time exploring the Bay Area. I have been able to see the vast diversity of the area and am particularly excited to aid the Senator's office with constituent services, as well as issues pertaining to education, public safety and health."
Nareene Karakashian: "Originally from Pasadena, California, I recently graduated from Cal State East Bay with a Bachelor's in Political Science with a pre-law emphasis. I hope to attend law school and use the knowledge and experience I gain to one day work for the state legislature. My main interests are higher education, public safety, and community outreach programs."
Elaine West: "I am entering my third year at UC Berkeley, pursuing a B.S. in Society and Environment. I was raised in Sacramento, and my interests include a wide scope of environmental health and justice issues. I am honored to work with Senator Hancock this summer on account of her lengthy and strong record of protecting our environment."
My District Office offers internship positions throughout the year. If you or someone you know is interested in interning for my district office, please contact either Melissa Male or Pedro Rosado at (510) 286-1333.