Capitol Alert

AM Alert: Checking on troubled California Public Utilities Commission

Members of the California Public Utilities Commission listen to Lyn Harris Hicks speak at Irvine City Hall on Oct. 25, 2012.
Members of the California Public Utilities Commission listen to Lyn Harris Hicks speak at Irvine City Hall on Oct. 25, 2012. The Associated Press

Last year was a tumultuous one for the California Public Utilities Commission.

It began with Michael Picker taking over as president from Michael Peevey amid allegations that the latter had engaged in improper private communications with the utilities he was supposed to be regulating and ended with a lawsuit intending to uncover the level of Gov. Jerry Brown’s involvement in some of those controversial dealings. Along the way, a sweeping legislative package to increase transparency and public access to the commission was vetoed by Brown, and now lawmakers have proposed an even more ambitious bill to entirely dismantle and rebuild the troubled agency.

So there’s plenty to touch on today when the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee holds its annual oversight hearing on the commission, 9:30 a.m. in Room 3191 of the Capitol. Picker, who has promised to bring the “public” back to the PUC, is slated to testify, as are members of the Office of Ratepayer Advocates.

VIDEO OF THE DAY: It’s another Super Tuesday with a good shot for Donald Trump to extend his lead in the Republican presidential nomination race. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy thinks that could be good for the California GOP.

SUIT UP: The long-running battle pitting business interests and insurance companies against trial lawyers over who can be sued for personal injury – and for how much – is one of the Capitol’s oldest feuds. The Civil Justice Association of California and California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (guess which side they represent?) will launch the latest salvo with their annual legislative lobby day, starting at 10:15 a.m. on the south steps of the Capitol. The groups are pushing this year for AB 1948 by Assemblyman Don Wagner, R-Irvine, which would limit the penalty employees can collect if they are denied their mandatory meal or rest periods. They are also working to qualify a ballot initiative to deal with what they say is an abuse of the federal American with Disabilities Act by giving businesses 120 days to address a complaint before a lawsuit can be filed.

WINE NOT?: Lawmakers love to argue on the Senate and Assembly floor about who represents the state’s best wine region. Now they have a chance to put up or shut up. A dozen legislators have nominated red, white and dessert wines from their districts for a little friendly competition hosted by the California Association of Winegrape Growers, 5:30 p.m. at the Senator Hotel on L Street. The event is a fundraiser for the California Wine Grape Growers Foundation, which provides college scholarships for the children of grower employees. Judges for this year’s blind taste test include Sens. Cathleen Galgiani, D-Manteca, and Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte; Assembly members Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, Kristin Olsen, R-Riverbank, and Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg; Secretary of Food and Agriculture Karen Ross and Board of Equalization Member Fiona Ma.

HOLDING PATTERN: Six years ago the Campaign for College Opportunity pursued a bill to create the Associate Degree for Transfer in hopes of smoothing a broken process that sees fewer than half of California community college students who want to ultimately continue on to a four-year institution. The degree, which guarantees admission to the California State University system as a junior and sets students up to complete their studies there in just two more years, has worked very well for some – but not nearly enough. A new report by the Campaign finds that only about 6,500 students so far have transferred to CSU with the degree, out of tens of thousands of CSU transfers each year, and has not yet contributed to any notable rise in the number of transfers. What should the state do to get the program working as intended? You can read more from the Campaign here.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff