GKU2TJ10E.2Senior Photojournalist
Renee C. Byer/ rbyer@sacbee.com
Democratic state Sens. Darrell Steinberg, Ricardo Lara, Kevin de Leon and Jerry Hill at a Capitol news conference where they announced a package of political ethics bills on March 6, 2014.

In a year marked by scandal in the state Capitol – including two senators indicted on bribery charges and dozens of politicians warned by the state’s campaign finance watchdog for raising money at the home of a prominent lobbyist – California lawmakers pledged to clean up some of their political practices.

By the time their legislative session ended for the year early Saturday morning, the record of change was mixed.

Legislators sent Gov. Jerry Brown a highly-touted package of bills to ban campaign fundraisers at lobbyists’ homes and offices, lower the value of gifts public officials may receive and require politicians to file their campaign finance statements more frequently.

They sent him a wide-reaching political reform bill that, among other things, would require more disclosure of who pays for the trips public officials are often treated to, and prohibit politicians from using their campaign funds for clothing, vacations and other non-campaign purposes.

Rich Pedroncelli/ AP
State Sen. Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield, urged lawmakers to reject legislation that would make California the first state to ban single-use plastic bags, on the final night of the legislative session, Friday, Aug. 29, 2014, at the Capitol in Sacramento.

Among the slew of bills lawmakers sent to Gov. Jerry Brown as the legislative session ended Saturday morning was one that was not even printed when it got its first hearing at 2:09 a.m.

“This bill, it’s a mock-up, is it not? Is this bill even in print?” Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte, asked during the brief hearing on Senate Bill 792.

“It’s a mock-up,” Sen. Kevin de León, the incoming Senate leader, said with a nod.

The scene that played out is an annual one: as the year’s lawmaking closes in the dark of night, legislators race to push through last-minute, changes with no public notice. They’re sometimes called “mushroom bills.”

Hector Amezcua/hamezcua@sacbee.com
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, talks with Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens who sponsored her bill to provide workers with three paid sick days on the senate floor on Saturday, August 30, 2014. Gonzalez' bill which drew criticism from both parties passed to move on to the Governor's desk.

In the waning hours of their session, California lawmakers passed a measure to provide workers with three paid sick days a year, capping tense negotiations that splintered supporters.

The top Democratic priority squeaked through both houses of the Legislature despite losing backing from major labor unions following amendments. The Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees abandoned the bill after it was rewritten to exempt home healthcare workers.

But it benefited from a late-session push by Gov. Jerry Brown and author Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a San Diego Democrat and former labor leader who corralled enough votes to keep it moving. Brown’s office rarely weighs in publicly on pending legislation, typically doing so to help push prominent measures – like a recent water bond – across the finish line.

“Tonight, the Legislature took historic action to help hardworking Californians,” Brown said in a statement. “This bill guarantees that millions of workers – from Eureka to San Diego – won’t lose their jobs or pay just because they get sick.”

Rich Pedroncelli/ AP
In this photo taken Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014, plastic single-use bags are carried past the State Capitol in Sacramento, Calif.

California lawmakers narrowly approved a sweeping plastic bag ban Friday, leaving Gov. Jerry Brown to decide the fate of the controversial bill in an election year.

The ban, the subject of years of debate, was one of the most heavily lobbied issues in the final days of the legislative session, with back-and-forth votes this week. The Senate approved the measure 22-15 on Friday.

The measure could be politically difficult for Brown, a longtime champion of environmental causes but a relatively moderate Democrat, especially on issues of concern to business.

In addition to banning lightweight plastic bags from grocery stores, the bill would have customers pay at least a dime for a paper or reusable plastic bag.

Hector Amezcua/ hamezcua@sacbee.com
A water pump in a farm in Dos Palos is elevated above the ground level on Thurs., Feb. 13, 2014.

California could soon become the last state in the West to regulate water pulled from beneath the earth, with the Legislature on Friday advancing an unprecedented groundwater-management strategy.

The Legislature passed the three-bill package after lengthy debate about whether state government should oversee pumping from the water table. Lawmakers argued over the long-term fate of California’s water supply as a severe drought puts water scarcity at the forefront of public consciousness.

“Every single member on this floor recognizes that we’ve been overdrafting our groundwater not just in the last year, not just since the drought started, but for decades,” said Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento. “Proponents know it, and opponents concede it. The question is not what will happen if we act, the question is what are the consequences if we fail to act?”

But critics from both parties said the legislation would upend more than a century of water law and create another layer of bureaucracy. They said the measures threatened to make a bad drought situation worse by restricting farmers and other property owners’ ability to pump water to help make up for sharp reductions in surface water.

David Siders/dsiders@sacbee.com
A sign outside a Capitol restaurant says it’s closed “due to a personal emergency.” Federal marshals were checking the deli’s cash register as part of a legal matter.

A popular eatery inside the state Capitol building was closed Friday after the U.S. Marshals Service effected what is known as a “till tap,” taking money from the cash register to satisfy a court order.

Deputy U.S. Marshall Frank Newsom said two agents seized money at O! Deli, on the 6th floor of the Capitol building, without incident late Thursday afternoon or evening.

Newsom said he did not know the nature of the court order or how much money was seized.

A union, Unite Here Local 49, applied for a written statement of judgment for $22,907 against the restaurant’s Dam Khan a day before the till tap, according to court filings.

Jose Luis Villegas/ jvillegas@sacbee.com
State schools chief Tom Torlakson meets with parents in Sacramento to talk about Common Core Standards on January 8, 2014.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson will appeal the June court ruling that California’s teacher tenure laws are unconstitutional, he decided Friday.

“The people who dedicate their lives to the teaching profession deserve our admiration and support. Instead, this ruling lays the failings of our education system at their feet,” Torlakson said in a statement.

“Its vagueness provides no guidance about how the Legislature could successfully alter the challenged statutes to satisfy the Court,” the statement continued. “Accordingly, I will ask the Attorney General to seek appellate review.”

The judge in the controversial Vergara v. State of California case issued a final ruling late Thursday affirming that California rules establishing a two-year probationary period for teacher tenure, the process for firing teachers and seniority-based layoffs unfairly deprived students of their constitutional right to equality of education.

Rhys Williams/ California Senate
Danny Alvarez, elected Secretary of the Senate on Aug. 29, 2014.

With Greg Schmidt planning to retire in October, the California Senate on Friday unanimously elected longtime Capitol staff member Danny Alvarez to the top administrative position in the upper house.

Alvarez, 53, has worked for the Senate since 2003, as the staff director to the Senate budget and fiscal review committee and more recently as the staff director to the Senate education committee. Alvarez came to the Assembly from the Legislative Analyst’s Office in 1987. In the lower house, he worked for the Assembly Ways and Means committee and as the education consultant on the appropriations committee.

As the Senate’s secretary he will oversee the administrative functions of the upper house, including facilities and human resources. Alvarez’s salary was unavailable, but Schmidt was being paid $205,584 a year

“It’s an honor and a privilege to be elected to this position,” Alvarez said during a brief speech Friday on the Senate floor.

GOH2TJ0UR.3Staff Photographer
Brian Nguyen/ bnguyen@sacbee.com
Bob Weiss is comforted by Richard Martinez during a press conference at the Capitol about AB 1014 on August 27, 2014. Weiss and Martinez both lost children in the Isla Vista shooting in May.

Days after the families of those killed in the Isla Vista shooting pleaded for action, California lawmakers sent to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk a measure that allows parents to obtain a restraining order barring gun use for someone displaying mental instability.

Assembly Bill 1014 was the state’s central response to the gun violence near UC Santa Barbara in May in which Elliot Rodger, 22, killed six students after posting violent tirades online and worrying his parents to the point they called police to check on him. The Assembly approved the measure 47-25.

The bill by Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, would create a gun-violence restraining order to allow the immediate families of a person showing signs of violence to request a court order so police could temporarily remove their weapon. Passage of the measure comes two days after the families of Isla Vista victims visited the Capitol and urged legislators to act.

Skinner said the families and law enforcement officials need the tools to intervene when a person is in a crisis. She said the measure is needed because it has become exceedingly difficult for friends and family to obtain an involuntary psychiatric hold for those in trouble.

GKH2TILCK.3Senior Photographer
Paul Kitagaki Jr./ pkitagaki@sacbee.com
Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins D-San Diego, Sen. Mark Leno, D- San Francisco, and Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff confer during the California Legislature approve the budget bill at the State Capitol in 2014.

An effort to require political advertisements to display their top donors stalled in the final hours of the legislative session Friday after its supporters said it didn’t have the backing needed to earn passage.

In a joint statement, Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, and Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, said they would not have been able to muster the two-thirds support needed to amend the Political Reform Act.

“Our work to help ensure that voters are able to make fully-informed decisions at the ballot box clearly is not yet done,” Leno said in a statement. “I am disappointed we weren’t able to send this legislation to the Governor this year, but in this process, an even stronger coalition has emerged to keep the issue and movement alive. I look forward to working with Speaker Atkins, Sen. Hill and the California Clean Money Campaign as we redouble our commitment to finding common ground that will ultimately prove successful for this cause, which is so fundamental to our democracy.”

Senate Bill 52 would have required the three largest funders of TV and print advertisements, and the two largest donors of radio ads and automated calls, to be clearly labeled. Currently, groups are able to use often-ambiguous committee names.

Felix Adamo/ AP
A Kern County elections worker marks off another vote during the recount in the race for California controller in Bakersfield, Calif. on July 11, 2014. It is the first recount in a statewide candidate election in modern California history. (AP Photo/The Bakersfield Californian, Felix Adamo)

Weeks after the tight finish in the June controller’s race highlighted major weaknesess in California’s recount law, legislation to create taxpayer-funded recounts in close contests has bogged down in partisan fighting and is dead for the year.

Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-San Mateo, blamed the failure of Assembly Bill 2194 on Republican members of the state Senate who, he said, have blocked efforts to waive Senate rules that prohibit committee hearings after Aug. 18.

“The recount initiated in the recent State Controller’s primary race exposed serious flaws in our existing recount system, whereby candidates can cherry-pick which counties they want to recount, assuming they have the funds to pay for it,” Mullin said in a statement Friday. “It’s disappointing to see an opportunity to address a fundamental democratic principle like the election process denied this year for partisan reasons.”

Senate GOP spokesman Peter DeMarco said Mullin “has only himself to blame” for missing the Aug. 18 deadline.

Scott Sonner/ AP
Wild mustangs play near the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center on Aug. 1, 2014, in Sparks, Nev., about 15 miles east of Renois where Tesla Motors has broken ground as a possible place to build a $5 billion gigafactory to make lithium batteries for its electric cars. (AP Photo/Scott Sonner)

Proposed legislation to help woo electric car manufacturer Tesla’s $5 billion battery gigafactory to California will not emerge before lawmakers finish their work for the year, state Sen. Ted Gaines, R-Roseville, said Friday.

Gaines, the co-author of a possible Tesla incentive bill, said months of negotiations between the Brown administration and the car company have failed to produce agreement and, “It doesn’t appear that Tesla’s coming to the table.

“We are making good-faith efforts. We are trying to make sure that any deal we put together is supportable and makes sense,” Gaines said. “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.”

The Brown administration’s Office of Business and Economic Development, has led the talks with Tesla. In a statement Friday, senior Brown advisor Mike Rossi said, “The Administration continues to engage in productive conversations with Tesla and remains optimistic that we can reach an agreement that meets our common goal of adding jobs in California.”

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