California Is About to Fix Democracy – —By Inae Oh | Mon Sep. 14, 2015 12:59 PM EDT

Andrey Burmakin/Shutterstock

On Thursday, California’s Senate advanced a new reform bill that would automatically register all state residents to vote when they apply or renew their driver licenses.

Residents will also be able to opt out of automatic registration.

The 24-15 vote, which follows the Assembly’s approval in June, now awaits the signature of Gov. Jerry Brown, who is expected to adopt the measure. If signed, California will become the second state in the country to have automatic voter registration, after Oregon.

Supporters of the bill say it would dramatically increase voter turnout in the state. Secretary of State Alex Padilla reminded her fellow lawmakers on Thursday that nearly 6.7 million California residents remain unregistered, despite being eligible to do so.

“We ought to do anything and everything possible to ensure that people participate,” Padilla said ahead of the vote.

In March, Oregon became the first state to pass an automatic registration law. Soon after that, lawmakers in 17 states proposed similar measures. While speaking to an audience in Texas back in June, Hillary Clinton announced her support for universal automatic registration.

California Republicans voted against the bill, citing warnings of potential voter fraud. However, such claims have been overwhelmingly disproved. Restrictive voting laws, as demonstrated in the last midterm elections, have been found to create significant obstacles that prevent minorities and the poor from voting.

California Is About to Do Something Great That No State Has Ever Done Before – —By Tim McDonnell | Thu Sep. 3, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

“If California can do this, it could really be the beginning of the snowball.”

Gabriel Rodríguez/Flickr

Gabriel Rodríguez/Flickr

Back in January, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) made a promise. His state, he said, would pursue a new package of climate goals that are the most ambitious in the nation (and among the most ambitious in the world). California was already a leader in efforts to slash greenhouse gas emissions and promote clean energy. Brown pledged to go further. By 2030, he declared, California would double the energy efficiency of state buildings; get half its electricity from renewables; and halve consumption of gasoline by cars and trucks.

At the time, all those nice-sounding goals were just words in a speech. But they could very soon become the law of the land. The state legislature is currently considering several bills (SB 350 is the most important) that would codify Brown’s climate agenda. The legislation is widely expected to pass before the end of the legislative session next Friday, but not without a fight from the state’s powerful oil lobby.

Before we get into the bills themselves, let’s talk about California. Believe it or not, the state where America fell in love with cars and highways is now leading the nation, and the world, when it comes to climate action. And that matters, because California, the world’s seventh-largest economy, is a world-class emitter of greenhouse gases. It ranks second for state emissions, behind Texas, and if it were its own nation, it would rank 20th globally, right between Italy and Spain. Still, it’s remarkably clean for its size: On a per-capita basis, it ranks 45th among US states and 38th when compared with countries around the world. (Below, the bars represent total emissions and the dots represent per-capita emissions.)

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Gov. Brown signs law barring grand juries in police deadly force cases – August 11 2015


Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D-Hayward) discuss her measure that would end the use of grand jury proceedings to investigate police shootings after it failed to get enough votes for passage on the first vote in the Assembly, on July 16 in Sacramento The bill was finally approved on a second vote, 41-33 and was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday. (Rich Pedroncelli / AP)

Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Tuesday a measure that prohibits secret grand juries to weigh in on cases involving excessive or deadly force by law enforcement, and another affirming the public’s right to take audio or video recordings of police officers.

Both measures were part of a spate of proposals introduced by lawmakers earlier this year on police accountability; some of the more controversial bills dealing with body-worn cameras or reporting on use-of-force incidents have stalled in the Legislature.

Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) offered the grand juries measure in response to high-profile incidents in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City, where grand juries declined to indict police officers for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, respectively.

Mitchell said her bill, SB 227, would help make judicial proceedings more transparent and accountable. Los Angeles and Santa Clara counties already have opted not to use grand juries when an officer’s actions may have caused someone’s death.

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17 Everyday Items That Use a Whole Lot of Water – —By Gabrielle Canon| Tue Apr. 21, 2015 6:45 AM EDT

If you live in the West, particularly in California, where Gov. Jerry Brown has ordered a 25 percent mandatory reduction in household water use, you may have started taking shorter showers. Perhaps a spiky array of cacti now dwells where your lawn used to be. Maybe you’ve even stopped drinking almond milk.

But even those of us who don’t live in California are thinking more about how much water our lifestyles require—after all, much of the country is now in drought, and climate models project that dry spells will become more and more common all over the world in the years to come. A few years back, we crunched the numbers on the water footprints of a few common items:


Icon credits (via Noun Project): Microchip—Rabee Balakrishnan; Apple—Ava Rowell; Beer—Fabian Sanabria; Wine—Philippe Berthelon Bravo; Can—Blaise Sewell; Coffee—Okan Benn; OJ—Blaise Sewell; Diaper—Isabel Foo; Chicken—Ana Maria Lora Macias; Cheese—Elliott Snyder; Hamburger—Pei Wen (Winnie) Kwang; T-shirt—Sergi Delgado; Paper—Evan Udelsman; Beef—Jon Testa; Jeans—Pranav Mote;

Additional reporting done by Jen Quraishi

California lawmakers pass bill on campus sex assault – August 29, 2014 12:41AM ET

State lawmakers on Thursday passed a bill that would make California the first state to define when “yes means yes” while investigating sexual assaults on college campuses.

Screen Shot 2014-08-29 at Aug 29, 2014 1.33

The Senate unanimously passed SB967 as states and universities across the U.S. face pressure to change how they handle rape allegations. The bill now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown, who has not indicated his stance on the bill.

Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, said his bill would begin a shift in how California campuses prevent and investigate sexual assault.

Rather than using the refrain “no means no,” the definition of consent under the bill requires “an affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.” Earlier versions of the bill had similar language.

Silence or lack of resistance does not constitute consent. The legislation says it’s also not consent if the person is drunk, drugged, unconscious or asleep.

Lawmakers say consent can be nonverbal, and universities with similar policies have outlined examples as maybe a nod of the head or moving in closer to the person.

Advocates for victims of sexual assault supported the change as one that will provide consistency across campuses and challenge the notion that victims must have resisted assault in order to have valid complaints.

Some critics say the legislation is overreaching and sends universities into murky, unfamiliar legal waters.

Gordon Finley, an adviser to the National Coalition for Men, wrote an editorial asking Brown not to sign the bill. He argued that “this campus rape crusade bill” presumes the guilt of the accused.

The bill passed the state Assembly on Monday by a 52-16 vote. Some Republicans in that house questioned if statewide legislation is an appropriate venue to define consent.

There was no opposition from Senate Republicans.

The bill would apply to all California post-secondary schools, public and private, that receive state money for student financial aid. The California State University and University of California systems are backing the legislation after adopting similar consent standards this year.

The bill also requires colleges and universities to adopt “victim-centered” sexual-assault response policies and implement comprehensive programs to prevent assault.

In January, President Barack Obama vowed to make the issue a priority. He announced a task force chaired by Vice President Joe Biden that created a website providing tips for filing complaints,, and issued areport in May naming 55 colleges and universities across the country facing investigation for their responses to sexual abuse and violence. The University of California, Berkeley was included on the list.

The White House Council on Women and Girls reported (PDF) the staggering fact that nearly 1 in 5 college women is sexually assaulted by the time she graduates, with just 12 percent of them reporting the assaults — a much lower rate than the estimated 40 percent of assaults that are reported by the general population, according to the Department of Justice.

In addition, students from a number of colleges and universities — includingthe University of California at Berkeley and the University of Southern California, Dartmouth College, Columbia University, Harvard College, Occidental College, Swarthmore College — have filed complaints in the last year that their schools violated the Clery Act and Title IX of the Civil Rights Act by mishandling their sexual assault cases.

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

How Jerry Brown Got Californians to Raise Their Taxes and Save Their State – John Nichols May 20, 2014

Jerry Brown

(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

There’s a case to be made that Jerry Brown is the most successful high-profile Democrat in America today. And there is simply no debating that, after four decades in the national limelight, he stands out as an intellectually dynamic and politically untethered leader in a time of gridlock, frustration and dysfunction. If these were the only variables on the question of political viability, he would in all likelihood be a high-flying presidential prospect for 2016. Yet because he is 76, conventional wisdom says that Brown will finish an epic electoral career at the helm of the state where his father once served as governor, where he first claimed the position from 1975 to 1983, and where he now seeks re-election. But be careful with any calculus that diminishes or dismisses a governor who friends and foes say has a greater capacity to rewrite the rules than anyone in American politics. No prominent player in either party is less bound by convention than Jerry Brown, whose ability to defy expectations is virtually unrivaled in modern American politics.

Brown, who is all but certain to win California’s June 3 open primary and to claim an easy victory in the November general election, could well emerge from this election season as far more than just a Democratic victor in a tough year for Democrats. He could come to be seen as what his supporters suggest Democrats desperately need: a nationally known politician who recognizes the power and possibility of engaged, solutions-oriented government.

* * *

The point here is not to suggest that Brown is an iconic liberal, nor that he is necessarily as progressive as Democratic governors like Vermont’s Peter Shumlin or Maryland’s Martin O’Malley. Brown is more complicated than that. He’s both further to the right and further to the left than other Democrats, depending on the issue of the moment. He frustrates allies by rejecting what are rapidly becoming accepted premises among progressives: the logic of legalizing marijuana, the need to rethink mass incarceration and the foolishness of fracking. Tom Hayden says there are certainly issues on which Brown is “poorly advised,” and some on which the governor is simply wrong. Yet, notes the radical activist and thinker (and Nation editorial board member) who served in the California legislature from 1982 to 2000, “The difference between Jerry Brown and his critics is that he wins elections and they don’t.”

Winning big this year could position Brown as a Democrat with the authority to rework the party’s national narrative around a simple premise: government should be considered not part of the problem but part of the solution. In some senses, he’s already done that.

Headlines in recent years have been dominated by the austerity agendas of Republican governors that make Paul Ryan’s schemes sound moderate. Now, however, as Pennsylvania’s Tom Corbett, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, Florida’s Rick Scott and others seek re-election, they are having a hard time defending policies that have delivered neither prosperity nor fiscal stability. Polls suggest that many GOP “stars” will have to fight to keep their jobs in November.

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State Democrats’ meeting ends on fractious note – By Michael Finnegan and Seema Mehta March 9, 2014, 8:45 p.m.

State Democratic Convention

California Democrats broke with Gov. Jerry Brown by calling for the legalization of marijuana and a ban on “fracking” in the state party’s official platform Sunday.

The Democrats’ support for decriminalizing and taxing recreational cannabis and putting a stop to fracking sparked no debate — only cheers — at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Delegates unanimously approved the moves by voice vote on the final day of the party’s annual convention.

Although neither issue is likely to make or break the biggest contests in this election year, the breach highlighted the recurrent tensions between the liberal impulses of party loyalists and the more moderate inclinations of a Democratic governor.

Brown had warned last week of the perils of legalizing marijuana. “How many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation?” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

And although he has approved restrictions on fracking, an oil and gas drilling technique that environmentalists say is dangerous, the governor has also suggested it might offer California some economic opportunities. Fracking opponents heckled Brown’s otherwise well-received speech to several thousand Democrats at the convention Saturday.

The clash fit a tradition of California governors disappointing party activists. At a state Republican convention in 1991, conservatives tarred and feathered an effigy of GOP Gov. Pete Wilson in protest against a tax hike he had signed.

On Sunday, as the Democratic gathering drew to a close, it was clear the party that has achieved extraordinary dominance of America’s most populous state is nonetheless grappling with the limits of that power.

Many of the elected officials present, including Brown, hailed the results of what has effectively been one-party rule in Sacramento — new rights for immigrants in California illegally, such as wide access to driver’s licenses, and a rise in the minimum wage, for example. And while Democrats elsewhere fear a voter backlash over Obamacare, party leaders in California touted its benefits for the uninsured.

But one of the Democrats’ top goals in this election year is to regain the veto-proof supermajority they recently lost in the state Senate when two lawmakers — one indicted, one convicted — took paid leaves. Democrats are also battling to preserve their two-thirds supermajority in the Assembly.

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