Capitol Alert AM Newsletter

Insurance department emails + Napolitano resignation + Affordable housing bills

California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara speaks to an overflow crowd at a town hall meeting in Grass Valley, Thursday, August 22, 2019, to address the concerns of local residents after a rise in homeowners insurance premiums and non-renewal letters due to recent California wildfires.
California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara speaks to an overflow crowd at a town hall meeting in Grass Valley, Thursday, August 22, 2019, to address the concerns of local residents after a rise in homeowners insurance premiums and non-renewal letters due to recent California wildfires. jpierce@sacbee.com

It’s Thursday, California! Counting down the hours until my third Brandi Carlile concert on Saturday. I can’t help it - her rendition of “Hallelujah” gets me every time.

BLURRED LINES

When an industry executive reached out on May 1 to California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara’s department staff, he emailed with two meeting requests: a “formal policy discussion” and a “political meeting.”

“We would like to schedule two meetings with the commissioner,” United Insurance Company CEO Jamie Sahara wrote to Lara’s special assistant in the department, David Green, in an email that included fundraiser Dan Weitzman.

“1. Formal policy discussion with the commissioner to discuss The California Insurance Company. 2. Political meeting with the commissioner, Lena Gonzale(z) and Dan Weitzman.”

It wasn’t the first time an insurance representative blurred policy and politics in requests to agency personnel to sit down with Lara.

Weitzman arranged a March 12 meeting “to benefit” Lara’s 2022 re-election, according to a memo he sent to the commissioner. To secure a slot on Lara’s calendar, Weitzman and his staff bounced the details back and forth via email with department personnel.

“Dan chatted with Ricardo and he said he’s in for the Berkshire Hathaway lunch on 3/12,” Weitzman’s client relations director emailed to Lara’s scheduler. “Just wanted to check in with you.”

Both exchanges ended with Lara scheduled to be at lunches with insurance executives who are awaiting his approval of a workers compensation agency sale.

The Sacramento Bee reviewed a series of recently obtained emails, calendar appointments and expense records to find that department members were, on more than one occasion, tasked with booking campaign and policy-related appointments.

Nobody ever stepped in, according to the records.

Jessica Levinson, professor at Loyola Law School and government ethics expert, said elected officials should make sure that government staff aren’t handling campaign business.

“We care about taxpayer dollars taking care of taxpayer business,” she said. “It’s a wall, not a net between those two things.”

Department spokesman Michael Soller noted that Lara has asked agency attorneys to strengthen scheduling protocol with “external stakeholders, especially department-regulated entities.” He added that Lara’s interactions and meetings with the executives has never influenced his regulatory power over the industry.

Read the full story here.

PRETTY, PRETTY PLEASE

California lawmakers who wrote Senate Bill 5 are urging Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign off on their legislation to provide ongoing funding for affordable housing solutions.

“This year’s budget includes historic one-time investments to shelter those on our city streets and provides significant funds to get local government into compliance with their housing elements,” wrote Democratic state Senators Jim Beall, Mike McGuire and Anthony Portantino. “But as you know, the crisis is significant and dwarfs what can be done in one year. Furthermore, all recent reports indicate housing production is slowing and we are falling even further behind.”

The legislation would authorize local agencies to “reduce contributions of local property tax revenue to schools” in efforts to increase affordable housing projects, according to the bill analysis. City leaders would have to apply for state funding, which would slowly increase over 30 years to reach an annual $2 billion investment.

The state would then have to backfill the dollars that would normally go to schools, the bill analysis includes, which would result in less financial availability “other programs and services.”

The money, the authors argue, would help speed up California’s 1.5 million unit shortage that’s contributed to a wave of homelessness and provide much-needed relief to families who are on the street or at risk of losing their shelter.

The proposal is supported by the League of California Cities, the California Apartment Association and a coalition of housing organizations and mayors. They all joined on to another letter urging Newsom’s signature.

The California Teachers Association and the California School Boards Association, however, are opposed.

“Should California face another recession, this measure would harm schools by leaving them fiscally vulnerable to jeopardizing the most stable source of revenue they would receive should Proposition 98 be suspended,” the association wrote.

‘NEW ENERGY, FRESH IDEAS’

University of California President Janet Napolitano said she would retire next August 2020 from her post.

The announcement came during a UC Board of Regents meeting in Los Angeles on Wednesday, The Bee’s Capitol bureau reporter Sophia Bollag writes.

“The decision was tough — and this moment, bittersweet — but the time is right,” Napolitano, 61, said in a statement. “With many of my top priorities accomplished and the university on a strong path forward, I feel it’s the ideal time for a leadership transition — an infusion of new energy and fresh ideas at the university.”

Napolitano is the former governor of Arizona and served as U.S. Homeland Security secretary under former President Barack Obama.

Her resignation prompted replies from Capitol lawmakers who had worked with her on budget and policy-related issues.

“On behalf of all Californians, especially those in the UC family, I want to thank President Napolitano for her service to our country and our state,” said Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco. “She took over the University of California system during one of its most fiscally challenging times. She worked with the Legislature to increase funding and enrollment and deserves recognition for her contributions. UC continues to be one of the best public university systems in the world.”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

September 20 ⁠— Sen. Brian Dahle, R-Bieber

September 20 ⁠— Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego

September 21 ⁠— Assemblyman Devon Mathis, R-Visalia

September 21 ⁠— Assemblyman Randy Voepel, R-Santee

September 22 ⁠— Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda

By the way, have I missed your birthday? Feel free to send me a note that I should update my calendar so your fellow alerters can properly shower you with gifts and cake on your day.

TWEET OF THE DAY

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Hannah Wiley joined The Bee as a legislative reporter in 2019. She produces the morning newsletter for Capitol Alert and previously reported on immigration, education and criminal justice. She’s a Chicago-area native and a graduate of Saint Louis University and Northwestern.
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