Capitol Alert

Lawmakers to weigh in on embattled state toxics agency

In this file photo, then-Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski asks a question during an oversight hearing on Nov. 6, 2013.
In this file photo, then-Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski asks a question during an oversight hearing on Nov. 6, 2013. AP

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A Bay Area lawmaker will convene an oversight hearing in Sacramento Wednesday to discuss changes at an embattled state department that oversees regulation of toxic substances.

Front-and-center will be a discussion on recommendations to improve the Department of Toxics Substance Control, the subject of five bill introductions on Tuesday. The department has “failed to meet its public health and environmental protection mandates,” said State Sen. Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, who will chair the hearing.

“From its mishandling of battery recycling facilities, almost $194 million in uncollected cleanup costs dating back over a quarter century, to a growing backlog of applications and delayed site remediation, (the department is in) disrray,” Wieckowski said in a prepared statement.

An independent review panel will present the annual report on the department at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday in Room 3191 of the Capitol.

ACTION AT THE CAPITOL: More than 1,500 African American students are expected to gather for a rally on the first day of Black History Month to advocate for California charter schools. Organizers are seeking to raise awareness about the need for more high-quality education choices for African Americans and to discuss what works in education.

The broader issue of charter schools has become a flashpoint in confirmation hearings for President Donald Trump’s pick for Education Secretary. Betsy DeVos, a Michigan philanthropist, has advocated for greater choice and charter schools. Organizers for Wednesday’s action say they’ll point out what’s working, and why students need more funding and education choices. The rally is from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. on the west steps of the Capitol.

BY THE NUMBERS: Expanding tuition breaks for Californians could cost the state billions annually. A new report from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office says debt-free higher education would cost $3.3 billion per year, in addition to existing financial aid costs.

PENSION COSTS: The CalSTRS board will hold the first of two day-long meetings in San Diego to assess the political and economic outlook for the pension fund. Don’t miss: CalSTRS is considering lowering its official investment forecast in a move expected to require higher contributions from state taxpayers once again for the teachers’ pension fund. The cost to the state could be an additional $153 million starting with the next fiscal year.

MUST READ: U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, will play a key role in the confirmation process for Trump’s pick for U.S. Supreme Court. Trump announced his choice Tuesday night, nominating 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Neil Gorsuch.

WORTH REPEATING: “As hard as we work, the CPUC is still kind of a challenging entity.” – Michael Picker, president of the California Public Utilities Commission, who told senators about the difficulties of trying to regulate in a fast-innovating world.

VIDEO OF THE DAY: Despite calls by Congressional Republicans to dismantle Obamacare, consumers are still being urged to sign up for health insurance. The deadline to sign up for Covered California is extended four days.

Angela Hart: 916-326-5528, @ahartreports