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For years during the height of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, the California National Guard used its enlistment incentives like a slush fund, providing tens of millions of dollars in cash bonuses and student-loan repayments to thousands of soldiers who did not qualify for the benefits.
After The Sacramento Bee exposed the fraud in 2010, the Guard revisited the retention program to clean it up. But efforts to recoup the money led to suspended payments and garnished checks for soldiers, many of whom had no idea the incentives were illegal. Some were financially devastated as a result, as The Bee reported in 2013.
When the story surfaced again in the Los Angeles Times last fall, outraged members of Congress demanded that the Department of Defense halt its aggressive tactics to secure repayment, such as tax liens. Officials ultimately agreed earlier this year to waive the debts for more than 15,000 California National Guard soldiers and veterans, but it will continue to recoup money from about 1,000 who accepted their benefits fraudulently or did not fulfill the terms of their contracts.
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Reviews of those cases, and notifications to soldiers on whether their repayments have been waived, are slated to be completed by July 1. The Senate and Assembly veterans affairs committees will hold a joint hearing, 10:30 a.m. in Room 437 of the Capitol, to review the status of that ongoing initiative.
WORTH REPEATING: “I encourage … a ‘nyet’ vote.” – Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, opposing a resolution calling on Congress to independently investigate President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia
ORDER IN THE CHAMBER: California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye returns to the Assembly chambers at 4 p.m. for her annual State of the Judiciary address to a joint session of the Legislature. Last year she raised concerns that the state’s bail system unfairly penalizes the poor, keeping people stuck in custody because they cannot afford expensive bail rates that are, at their median, five times the national average. Major legislation now seeks to overhaul monetary bail in California, though details are still forthcoming.
HEAL THE WORLD: The University of California moved quickly to quell undocumented students’ concerns about being deported after Trump’s election in November. Two months later, students were left reeling again as UC announced a 2.5 percent tuition hike, the first in six years. The University of California Student Association, in town for its annual Capitol lobby day, will call on the Legislature to address those issues by making California a “sanctuary state” and providing more funding for the university during a “public healing circle,” 9:30 a.m. in Capitol Park near 12th and L streets.
VIDEO OF THE DAY: It’s California vs. Trump on health care. And immigration. And climate change. And …
AND THE WINNER IS ...: The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights group Equality California will honor two California lawmakers at its annual “Sacramento Equality Awards,” 5:30 p.m. at the Sacramento Public Library Galleria on I Street. Assemblyman Anthony Rendon will be recognized as a leading ally in the Legislature, including for his involvement in the response to the “Sodomite Suppression Act” initiative petition in 2015. The organization will also celebrate Assemblyman Evan Low, D-Campbell, who is chair of the Legislative LGBT Caucus and authored last year’s travel ban to states with transgender bathroom bills and other discriminatory laws. (That ban recently stirred some controversy over how it should be enforced in the realm of college sports.)
MUST READ: A soon-to-be released audit of the state Board of Equalization finds that the agency still can’t explain how it misallocated tens of millions of dollars worth of tax revenue and describes how one of its elected leaders effectively swelled his political staff by “redirecting” civil servants to his own projects.