- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 13, 2016

July 11

East Bay Times on gun laws:

The Dallas shootings give Californians reason to take a closer look at the six new gun control bills signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on July 1.

They won’t make us instantly safer. But they are a good step in what should be a decades-long campaign to change the state’s gun culture. This has to be an evolution, and it has to be based on independent research of what works and what doesn’t. That’s why a University of California firearms violence research center approved by lawmakers in June will be important: $5 million is allocated for research on the impact of gun violence and of state laws intended to curb it.

Gun research should be a bipartisan cause. In fact, the National Rifle Association should welcome it, if it believes regulation makes people less safe. But Congress has refused to authorize federal agencies to study the effects of gun violence, which the American Medical Association calls a public health epidemic. California can lead the way.

The most significant action in the six-bill package Brown just signed makes California the first state to require background checks to buy bullets. The legislation also bans high-capacity magazines (and requires people to turn in ones they already own) as well as banning “bullet buttons,” which make it easy for shooters to detach magazines and quickly reload.

The NRA, prone to hyperbole, calls the new laws “draconian” and “Stalin-esque.” None threatens the right of law-abiding citizens to own weapons, but the organization does have a legitimate point about one element. It outlaws lending guns to anyone but immediate family members without having the borrower go through a background check. Previously, guns could be loaned between people who are personally known to each other for as long as 30 days without a background check.

The change is a direct response to crimes like the San Bernardino mass shooting in which the guns were purchased legally by one person and then lent to a killer. It clarifies responsibility for how your gun is used. But hunters commonly loan guns to friends to try them out. It’s part of the sport.

The Legislature should look at whether this law can be tweaked to make it clear that lending guns will be prosecuted only when a crime is committed with one. That way friends will know they’re taking personal responsibility for legal use of their firearms but aren’t subject to arrest for letting a pal try out a new hunting rifle.

Brown vetoed bills that would have limited purchases of long guns to one a month, made gun theft a felony, required speedier reporting of lost or stolen guns, made gun violence restraining orders available to more groups and attempted to curb the proliferation of “ghost guns” without serial numbers. His rationale was reasonable.

The legislative package did not convince Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom to drop his Proposition 63 from the November ballot, since it goes further to regulate guns. It will require scrutiny this fall because if it passes, and unforeseen problems arise with its enforcement, voter-approved laws are almost impossible to fix. By contrast, laws passed by the Legislature can be tweaked more easily, as we’ve suggested with the gun-lending law.

Mass shootings and gun violence are escalating. California has an obligation to try to stem that tide while protecting the rights of its law-abiding gun owners. The Legislature has approached this responsibly — especially since it has had the foresight to sponsor independent study of the results.

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July 6

San Jose Mercury News on legislation regarding sexual assault:

Outrage at the slap-on-the-wrist sentence of Brock Turner in the Stanford attempted rape case quickly spread to the California Legislature, where several members stepped up with proposals to sharpen the laws that allowed it to happen.

Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen also wants to change what may be the most outrageous legal failure of all: California now treats sexual assault of an unconscious person as a less serious crime than assault of a conscious victim.

Really? Is nonsexual assault of an unconscious person a less serious crime? Of course not. For the victim, the result is the same. Conscious or not when it happens, a rape victim is scarred for life.

Rosen’s office aggressively prosecuted Turner, never offered a plea bargain and vigorously opposed the light sentence decreed by Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky.

Now the DA has written legislation that would require sexual assault of an unconscious victim to be treated as seriously as assault of a conscious person.

Assault with intent to rape a conscious person would have required prison time, but because Turner’s victim was out cold, Persky had the leeway to sentence the former Stanford athlete to probation and three months in county jail with good behavior.

Assemblymen Evan Low, D-Campbell, and Bill Dodd, D-Napa, and Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, are carrying Rosen’s proposal, which unanimously passed the often-skeptical Assembly Public Safety Committee in AB 2888. Also on track is a bill to adopt the definition of rape used in federal law, under which Turner’s actions, such as digital penetration, are considered to be rape. Both bills should be signed into law this year.

The legal distinction between conscious and unconscious victims is insidious. It reinforces the predatory, alcohol-drenched culture that exists on many college campuses today. The Stanford attack took place behind a Dumpster outside a frat party.

Criminal justice reformers are pushing back on the proposed changes because they want judges to have more sentencing discretion, not less. Mandatory sentences are what got us to 140,000 prisoners stuffed in California prisons built for 80,000. The conditions were so bad that the Supreme Court in 2011 ruled them cruel and unusual punishment, ordering a reduction in prison population and prompting a move back toward rehabilitation as a goal.

The extreme legislating of mandatory sentences was indeed unsustainable and counterproductive. But this isn’t about changing sentencing guidelines. It’s about properly defining crimes.

If society believes attacking an unconscious victim is as bad as attacking a conscious victim, then the same sentencing guidelines should apply. If those guidelines are too narrow, that’s a separate discussion.

Rape is rape, regardless of whether the victim is cogent or comatose. Let’s get that straight in California law.

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July 9

San Francisco Chronicle on the November ballot:

This year’s November ballot will be interminable.

Ballots are often interminable in election years - higher turnout and higher visibility means that initiative sponsors are eager to put measures in front of the voters. But the November ballot is in a detrimental class all of its own.

The California secretary of state has certified 17 state ballot measures, the most for any election since March 2000. In San Francisco, voters are facing the possibility of a whopping 39 city ballot measures, 28 of which may be from the mayor and the Board of Supervisors.

This is not direct democracy. This is a broken system.

There’s a distinction between the brokenness symbolized by the state ballot measures and the brokenness of the San Francisco ballot.

Many of the state measures are cash grabs from special interest groups, or the personal passions of the wealthy. They’re taking advantage of California’s low bar for initiative certification to appeal directly to the voters.

California’s direct-democracy process is working well for them. Whether it’s a good thing for state governance is an altogether different matter.

San Francisco’s potential ballot, on the other hand, reflects a shocking abdication of responsibility on behalf of its city leadership.

Instead of doing the hard work of negotiating the city’s priorities, they’re threatening to dump that task on the voters.

Here are a few of the issues that voters are being asked to weigh in on, from the state ballot.

Voters will be asked to decide whether proceeds from the sale of paper grocery bags should go toward an environmental fund (Proposition 65). They’ll be asked whether the state should put price caps on prescription drugs (Proposition 61). They’ll have to decide whether or not adult film actors should wear condoms (Proposition 60).

There is no reason for these matters to be solved at the ballot box.

State legislators should decide these kinds of regulations. For what else are they being paid?

Some of the state measures are being pushed by state officials with their own political agendas, but that tiresome phenomenon is in overdrive in San Francisco.

Six supervisorial seats and one state Senate seat are up for election - and the supervisors would rather raise their profiles than negotiate with their colleagues.

Supervisor Scott Wiener, who’s in a close race for the state Senate, has introduced a ballot measure setting a specific number of police staff for a neighborhood crime unit. That number is usually decided by the police chief.

Supervisors Mark Farrell and Aaron Peskin have introduced competing ballot measures about homeless encampments. They couldn’t compromise at the board.

We urge the board to think very carefully about which ballot measures it chooses for the final ballot. Dumping all of the city’s most important business on the voters is a statement that they aren’t willing to do their jobs. If that’s the case, why should the voters approve any of these measures - or their elections?

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July 12

Ventura County Star on math requirements for students:

So you’re a high school student with solid academics, especially in math. You’re thinking you can rush through high school, get the three years of math needed to get into a CSU or UC campus out of the way, then skip math your senior year and take some fun elective instead.

But then you take your college placement test, suddenly learn you’ve lost your math chops and must take a remedial math class. Or maybe you pass the placement test, get into a regular college math course and find you’re in way over your head - your rusty math can’t keep up with the accelerated college pace.

Many math professors and researchers say the above scenarios are far too common. Fortunately, some folks in the California State University system are trying to do something about it, and we support their efforts.

The CSU Academic Senate has approved a resolution calling for upping the system’s admissions requirement to four years of high school math, instead of the current three, the education information group EdSource recently reported.

The Academic Senate, which represents faculty at all 23 CSU campuses, noted that “mathematics skills decline with a lack of practice” and recommended high school seniors be required to take a course in math or something similar, such as computer science or coding.

The proposal still needs approvals from CSU’s chancellor and Board of Trustees, and it could be a year or two before it becomes reality. We think the sooner, the better, and urge CSU officials to move forward posthaste.

The University of California system is reviewing its math requirements, too, but officials told EdSource it’s not a pressing issue there because more than 90 percent of UC freshman applicants already are taking four years of high school math.

Not so in the CSU system. In fall 2015, 27 percent of CSU’s entering freshmen needed remedial courses in mathematics. It’s probably no coincidence that about the same number had not taken four years of math in high school.

CSU officials point out that all the incoming freshmen took the required prerequisites, earned at least a B grade-point average and did all the other right things in high school, only to find out after college admission that they needed more preparation and remediation. It’s confusing, costly and time-consuming.

They have some valid concerns about upping the math requirement. They worry that poorer high schools would struggle with providing fourth-year math courses. And some question - rightfully, we believe - whether another year of traditional math would be that beneficial.

“If the class is only pre-calculus, I’m not sure we could support it,” Vicki Vierra, president of the California Mathematics Council, told EdSource. “We’d support other options, especially statistics, since it seems to be useful throughout one’s life.”

Greg Cauchon, director of the Ventura BioCenter in Newbury Park and a former Amgen research scientist, made a similar point in a Star guest column this year about the need for algebra. It’s not that we don’t need to learn algebra, Cauchon wrote, but rather that we need to be teaching it a better way, focusing on key concepts and integrating them into the rest of the curriculum. “We need to make sure our kids will be able to compete in the global economy of the 21st century,” he wrote.

Indeed, we think that may be the best argument for a fourth year of high school math: We need to raise math education standards in this nation so students are ready for college - and the world.

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July 12

Sacramento Bee on tax breaks to benefit struggling homeowners:

California tax collectors should stop rubbing salt in the wounds of homeowners still trying to recover from the mortgage meltdown.

By tax collector we mean Gov. Jerry Brown.

The issue involves the remnants of the mortgage crisis, which struck hardest in the Central Valley. People bought homes they could not afford at inflated prices. When the market tumbled, their mortgages were underwater.

Following state and federal dictates, banks modify home loans, forgive some of the debt, and allow for short sales. The difference between the loan amount and the amount discounted by the lender could be considered income and subject to taxes.

The amounts forgiven are in the tens of thousands of dollars or more, although homeowners never actually see any cash. It’s a paper transaction. Still, people struggling to get back on their feet could face nasty five-figure tax bills.

Congress has relieved taxpayers in such circumstances of federal income taxes. Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton, introduced Senate Bill 907 to give people a break from state income taxes. The bill passed the Senate 39-0, and cleared its first Assembly committee without a no-vote.

A similar bill by Assemblyman Henry Perea, a Fresno Democrat, passed both houses unanimously in 2015. But frugal Brown vetoed it along with several other tax breaks, warning of coming “financial uncertainties.”

“Tax credits, like new spending on programs, need to be considered comprehensively as part of the budget deliberations,” he wrote in his veto message.

We adhere to that view. But unlike many tax breaks, the one created by Galgiani’s bill would be of limited duration, and the cost to the state would decline from $95 million in the first year to $12 million in the final year, 2017-18.

Backers include Realtors, bankers, and mortgage companies, and Attorney General Kamala Harris, not bankers’ natural ally. But Harris has a stake in the outcome, having helped negotiate settlements requiring that mortgage lenders modify loans for homeowners ensnared by the mortgage crisis.

For many Californians, particularly ones who live in coastal areas, the mortgage crisis is a distant memory. Their home prices have more than recovered. But that’s not the case in much of the Central Valley.

The Assembly should approve SB 907, as it did Perea’s bill. And Brown should reconsider his position. The governor has looked for ways to help the Central Valley out of its economic doldrums. By making this narrow exception, he could give some relief to folks who could use a break.


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