- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Oct. 14

San Jose Mercury News on a gun control measure:

Last May, when it appeared legislators were stepping up to deal with California’s deadly gun culture, we urged Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom to yank his planned initiative and negotiate with lawmakers on how to make the state safer from gun violence.

Those talks never materialized. And while the Legislature passed some good laws, it fell short on several critical safety issues that Newsom’s Proposition 63 addresses.

Because of this - and because the proposition provides flexibility for the Legislature to tweak the laws if problems arise - we recommend voting yes on Proposition 63. It is sensible gun control that a Legislature hounded by the National Rifle Association has shown it can’t provide.

The proposition would make theft of firearms a felony punishable by up to three years in jail rather than a misdemeanor, and it would require serious enforcement of the existing law that bars convicted felons from possessing firearms.

The state is supposed to track down these felons, but Attorney General Kamala Harris’s office has a backlog of more than 10,000 people on the list. More than 1,000 assault weapons are believed to be among the collective cache.

Proposition 63 requires the court to tell felons that they must give up their guns or face penalties. Probation officers would follow through with parolees and report to the court on how or whether they legally sold or otherwise disposed of their firearms.

A separate provision requires the attorney general to report people prohibited from possessing guns in California to the federal background check system, so it’s harder for them to buy weapons in other states.

Two other important elements of Proposition 63 deal with ammunition sales. Without bullets, as Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen points out, bad guys can’t do harm with guns.

Proposition 63’s ammo law is tougher than the Legislature’s. It makes purchasers go through the same background checks as gun buyers, and it requires gun dealers and their employees to undergo background checks and report stolen ammunition.

Finally, Proposition 63 improves on lawmakers’ ban on possessing magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. It eliminates an exception that had allowed people who owned large-capacity magazines in 2000 or earlier to keep them.

We normally are leery of legislating by ballot on complex matters like this because laws often have unintended consequences, and going back to the voters to fix them is cumbersome and costly. But Proposition 63 permits the Legislature to amend it with 55 percent approval, as long as changes stay within the spirit of the law. It’s a very good idea that we’d like to see become a staple for initiatives.

People using guns are responsible for the vast majority of homicides and suicides in California. Gun owners rail at Proposition 63, but it is a sensible step toward controlling the carnage. Vote yes.

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Oct. 17

The Porterville Recorder on whether to extend the “temporary” tax:

What good is the word of a politician if they don’t keep it. That is what voters must ask themselves when they consider their vote on Proposition 57, the tax extension to fund education and health care.

Proposition 55 is a reneging by politicians of their vow that the “temporary” tax increase on the state’s wealthiest tax payers passed by voters in 2012 would end at the conclusion of 2016. We warned in 2012 and now say “told you so” that there is no such thing as a temporary tax. Now, those same politicians are asking voters to extend that income tax hike on the wealthiest for another 12 years and similar to what was warned in 2012, we guarantee you there will be another extension of the tax hike come 2028.

What will end, and thankfully so, is the “temporary” quarter of a percent increase in the sales tax. The politicians today were clever enough to not extend that as well, but we are certain it was considered. The money-hungry politicians of this state will stop at no end to put more money into their coffers for their pet projects.

The “temporary” taxes approved by voters four years ago were said to be needed because of the recession and the state’s budget woes. That crisis no longer exists. There is a budget surplus and funding to schools has been restored. There is no need for the extra tax.

Also, like we warned four years ago, the tax on the wealthiest Californians has consequences. It is based on capital gains and if the market goes south, so will the increased revenue. So, that will put the increased spending costs on the rest of the state’s taxpayers.

At some point, taxpayers have got to say enough is enough, no matter who is the target of the tax increase. Vote no on Prop. 55

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Oct. 17

Fresno Bee on funding wildfire costs:

The massive Soberanes fire near Big Sur - perhaps the most expensive in U.S. history - was finally contained last week after burning for nearly three months. Wildfire season is year-round, and towering firenadoes are now commonplace.

So far this year, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has dealt with 5,340 wildfires covering nearly 150,000 acres, an increase of 27 percent compared to last year. Record high temperatures and bark beetles have fueled the fire risk.

Climate change has made wildfires worse, and climate scientists have quantified just how much worse. In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists at the University of Idaho and Columbia University found that more than half of the increased dryness in Western forests, and of the lengthened fire season, is due to man-made global warming.

Climate change has nearly doubled the area hit by forest fire since the mid-1980s, increasing fire-prone areas by 16,000 square miles. So picture a swath of dry brush and dead trees the size of Connecticut and Massachusetts, or, in California terms, four times the size of Los Angeles County. Now light a match.

Clearly this is an urgent concern, and one that California has sought urgently to deal with. This state has 20 million acres of forest, nearly half of which are vulnerable to catastrophic wildfire due to dense vegetation and tens of millions of dying trees. In the past four years, the state has spent $250 million on fire prevention, with $33 million more in cap-and-trade money for forest health projects. Lawmakers have directed utilities and state energy agencies to contract for electricity with biomass plants that pull clean energy from deadwood.

But while the state struggles to do its part, federal dollars have become scarcer. The U.S. Forest Service, for instance, has had to cut $200 million in recent years from programs to thin forests and conduct controlled burns because so much of its budget now goes to fighting the fires themselves.

California has borne the brunt of those cuts, despite the expanses of federal land here. And a one-time federal allotment of $662 million last fiscal year did little to meet the long-term need, which is overwhelming.

It is an election year, and Republicans who dominate the House and Senate may be preoccupied with a different catastrophe - the one at the top of their ticket. But it is a disgrace that Congress is gridlocked on this problem, especially because House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy comes, as he does, from Bakersfield.

While Donald Trump consumes the nation’s bandwidth, and Washington, D.C., fiddles, the West burns.

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Oct. 13

The San Diego Union-Tribune on teaching students in languages other than English:

1998, California voters approved a general ban on teaching students in languages other than English over the sharp criticism of the California education establishment. Why did Proposition 227, sponsored by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Ron Unz, win in a landslide? Because people understood that bilingual education was mass manufacturing high school dropouts. In 1998, the national dropout rate for Hispanics was 35 percent, with by far the highest number of such dropouts in California.

Now, that dropout rate has plunged, and English-language learners in California are more likely to graduate high school than ever. Some cite other factors, but it is difficult to accept that anything could be as important as the language of instruction. Against this broad backdrop, it is hard to fathom Proposition 58, which would allow schools to teach in languages other than English without having the parental permission that is required now.

In a meeting with The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board, the measure’s lead advocate - Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens - said it would be relatively easy to scrap Proposition 58 if it wasn’t working. He also said many studies show that well-constructed, closely evaluated bilingual education programs can be highly effective.

The former argument is a good one. The latter is not. Why assume these programs will be evaluated with any rigor at all? California’s education establishment is fighting accountability, not embracing it. The State Board of Education has adopted a school evaluation system that appears designed to confuse, not inform, and endorses the diversion of billions of dollars that were supposed to help English-language learners to general school uses.

We strongly support students learning multiple languages. But given California’s history, we can’t back a proposition that ends the requirement that instruction in another language can be done only after parental approval. No on Proposition 58.

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Oct. 17

The San Francisco Chronicle on imposing stricter water restrictions:

Despite last weekend’s rainstorms, California is still faced with a serious drought.

So it’s perhaps not surprising that state regulators are talking about ways to return to state-mandated conservation targets and preparing for even stricter measures.

Regulators are planning to roll out California’s first-ever water budgets - budgets for each district’s allowable supply. The long-range requirements will require permanent adjustments to new water efficiency measures - and a shift in the way each Californian lives.

“There will be some permanent prohibitions on water use,” said Max Gomberg, climate and conservation manager at the State Water Resources Control Board.

The expected prohibitions include things like washing vehicles without a shutoff nozzle and irrigating lawns in such a way as to let water run off into the street.

The long-range budgets, Gomberg added, “will be somewhere in between” Gov. Jerry Brown’s mandatory conservation restrictions and the more relaxed levels set by a pre-drought 2009 statute. The board’s plan will be released on Jan. 10, 2017.

What’s new is not the restrictions. It’s the fact that they’re going to be our new normal.

California is in the sixth year of a punishing drought. The State Water Resources Control Board said Californians’ monthly water conservation declined to 17.7 percent in August, down from 27 percent savings in August 2015.

There is widespread concern about declining water conservation - after Brown’s mandated emergency conservation restrictions were relaxed in June, conservation eased in too many water districts as well.

Even if California’s current weather patterns were to suddenly reverse course, climate change is on the rapidly advancing horizon.

So water restrictions will be a way of California life not only now, but in the future. It’s best for state regulators to begin doing the groundwork now.

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