Job Killer or Opportunity to Help Clean Up L.A.’s Filthy Air ?

Senator Alan Lowenthal has served in the California Legislature since 1998. He served six years in the State Assembly and was elected in 2004 as the senator from the 27th Senatorial District, representing the communities surrounding the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
He is a committed and strong voice for reasonable yet firm environmental protections, especially when dealing with issues of public health and air quality specifically. His
SB 974 has engendered a full-scale push-back from big businesses both state-wide and nationally. In typical hyperbolic and hysterical fashion, these companies (which read like a Fortune 500 company who’s who) claim that the measure will destroy business in California. As Senator Lowenthal explains below, this is typical business balony…..
What they don’t, and can’t do is deny the health problems they create or encourage when they deny any responsibility for the mess their current transportation practices engender. This measure will split a mere $30 per container use fee equally between air quality mitigation measures, such as the replacement of dirty diesel trucks and infrastructure improvements such as rail grade separations.
It all boils down to these big Fortune 500 companies, and their cronies, wanting to maintain the status quo which allows emitting filthy and noxious diesel fumes into the air and sustaining gridlock. Rather than addressing and trying to solve the very real issues of LA’s deadly air quality, they prefer forcing California’s residents to continue suffering so the rest of the country can have cheap goods. Who ultimately pays the price? In SB 974,Senator Lowenthal says it shouldn’t be the health and well-being of Californians. This measure is moving its way toward the Governor’s desk. He vetoed a similar measure last year. This time, we’re hoping a groundswell of public support will force Schwarzenegger to do the right thing for the people of our state. Here are Senator Lowenthal’s thoughts on the issue:

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Speaker Pelosi on Being the First Woman Speaker

In celebration of the 87th anniversary of Women’s Equality Day, Speak Out California did a series of blogs commemorating the occasion. We conclude that series with a contribution from the first female speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, who took the reins of power in an historic celebration in January, 2007. (See our blog entry of January, 2007.)
Speaker Pelosi represents the first of what we hope is a long and celebrated ascension of women to the key leadership roles in our halls of power, justice and boardrooms. It has been, and continues to be an enormous struggle to break the barriers of sexism that have kept so many competent and qualified people from realizing the promises of our nation and our world.
In celebration of breaking down one of the most significant institutional barriers, we asked the Speaker to share with our readers her thoughts on her momentous achievment in light of the accomplishments past and yet to come, as we reflect once more on Women’s Equality Day.
Here are her comments:

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Beating back bad initiatives–one at a time

With three elections scheduled for 2008 in California, we’ve seen a tidal wave of initiative offerings announced and plunked into the expensive signature gathering process. Most of these measures come from cash-abundant corporations and their front groups trying to impose their will on the public. They include ideas designed to balloon corporate profits to the detriment of the environment, public health or individual rights (over-reaching eminent domain actions), advance the interests of the wealthy corporate accountability dodgers, repackage measures that have been tried and rejected in the past (such as anti-reproductive choice initiatives that incessantly appear), and programs that benefit special interest groups, but not the public. Many of them are funded by out-of-state groups or mega-millionaires who want to impose their personal philosophies on California, often as “test cases” for future efforts in the rest of the country. Or, in the case of the most recent initiative proposal by the Republican Party, to steal the next Presidential election by trying to divide up California’s electoral votes.
One such unwanted effort comes from the big-business front group called the Civil Justice Association of California or “CJAC“. Earlier this summer it announced it was proposing a ballot measure that would virtually eliminate class action lawsuits in California. The goal is to deny individuals harmed by the unlawful behavior of big corporations the right to come together to sue in order to end the behavior and be made whole from the wrongful conduct.
Obviously, big corporations, like Wal-Mart, want to be able to stiff their workers if they can get away with it, but under current law they can be brought into court and made to pay for the wages and benefits they promise their employees. (Wal-Mart is currently defending just such a case).Certainly not a radical notion, but in this pro-business, consumer and worker-be-damned atmosphere, it isn’t surprising that the corporate-controlled CJAC would try to thwart the little guy’s right to access the court system for protection and justice. What CJAC and its big bosses didn’t realize was that the surprise was going to be on them.

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While California Dreams- Weekly Update Vol.1 No. 12

A weekly update on the goings-on in Sacramento
For the week ending August 25, 2007

Key bills and issues we’ve been following during
the past week and beyond:

On Friday the Governor signed the budget and used his “blue pencil” to cut important social programs for the neediest Californians, while protecting yacht, airplane and recreational vehicle owners from having to step forward and contribute to the common good.
With the budget now over, the legislature and Governor get to push for their pet projects during the last three weeks of the legislative session, including the important but going-south debate on health care reform.
And it seems the ostensible winner from the budget mess may just be Attorney General Jerry Brown who is making substantial noises again about running for Governor of the State when Schwarzenegger is termed out in 2010.
Lots more to mention, so here’s the scoop on this past week:
After an incomprehensible 52 day holdout, the Republicans let their leader cast the deciding, and only 2nd Senate Republican vote on the budget. Obtaining very few concessions of any kind, the budget battle is now at rest until next year’s budget battle begins.
The Budget– On the 52nd day, the legislature rested and the impasse that no one could quite explain ended with the Senate passing the 2007/08 budget. Alas, two days after ending their month-long recess, the Reps. finally let their ostensible “leader” Dick Ackerman, cast the final vote necessary to break the logjam that seems inevitable with the state’s requirement of a 2/3 vote of each house to get a budget.
It’s pretty much the same budget that conjured a bipartisan vote in the Assembly, but the one glaring concession that should offend just about everyone who isn’t rich enough to own a yacht is the one Ackerman himself was able to achieve for yacht owners like himself.
Remembering that the budget is the state’s moral document and is supposed to reflect the moral values of its people, this budget provides for a $45 million tax break for yacht owners who now can buy a yacht in California, take it out of state for 90 days, bring it back and NOT have to pay sales tax on the purchase. If that alone is not offensive enough, the trade off was made yesterday when the Governor blue-penciled, and thus completely eliminated, an extremely important and successful program to house the mentally ill.
This program had been lauded by mental health experts as helping break the cycle of homelessness that included hospitalization, jails and life on the streets. Among the many ironies in abolishing a program that actually saves the state millions of dollars beyond its cost, this was the same measure the Gov. went out of his way to praise only three years ago.
Clearly, the ultra-conservatives who dominate the Republican Party today think it’s great to serve their wealthy masters at our expense, so let’s put a face on who will now suffer. One Paul Culp, the LA Times reports, is a college graduate who suffers from untreated bipolar disorder and was living on the streets. Two years into this program, he was reunited with his children and is now supporting himself. Now the program is gone. Where will Paul Culp end up? And does anybody care—after all we’ve saved more than enough to allow yacht owners to buy their million dollar toys without having to pay the sales tax that you and I must on our less indulgent purchases. Moral document indeed.
Check out this excellent LA Times piece on this shameful Schwarzenegger veto, and this
Mercury News article.
The holdout Reps were complaining that Jerry Brown was causing problems for developers by wanting protections against growth that didn’t take into account the mandate of AB 32, the Global Warming measure. At the end of the day, the Reps got just about nothing for their whining but certainly enhanced the image and reputation of Attorney General Brown. If there was a winner in all this, the SacBee reports, it may very well be the AG himself. Ever the wily politician, Brown positioned himself as the champion of the global warming issue by forcing the County of San Bernardino to consider the mandates of AB 32 in its revised General Plan. Although Brown has not been a champion of the environment for years, he has raised his environmental credentials geometrically with this aggressive interpretation, one of the most popular and highly visible environmental legislation to come out of California in many years. Watch for another Jerry Brown gubernatorial candidacy in 2010 when Schwarzenegger is termed-out. For more, check out this SacBee story online.
As we’ve mentioned numerous times in our weekly updates and other blogs, it’s time for the state to end this 2/3 vote requirement. The priorities of the majority of Californians aren’t reflected in this budget. Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata clearly agrees. Fed up with the games and bad faith of the “gang of 14” Republican Senators who unnecessarily held up the budget, Perata this week called on the Governor to convene a summit to fix the system he referred to as “fatally broken.” He wants a bipartisan panel to develop a plan that will ensure on-time budgets in the future and that rethinks how we collect our taxes, from where and how we spend them. See the SacBee story for more on this issue, as well as Frank Russo’s California Progress Report article.
Others are calling for an initiative that will end the undemocratic 2/3 budget requirement, a proposal being advanced by state Senator Tom Torlekson and dicussed further in this Mercury News article.
With the Republicans holding the power position because of the super majority requirement, they’re able to wreak havoc with the state’s priorities. This latest budget is just such an example. It’s time we ditch this undemocratic system and come back in step with all the states except for Rhode Island and Arkansas. It’s time the majority party was accountable for the budget so that if the public is dissatisfied with the way they’re running things, they can (and should) be voted out. That’s the principle of democracy and that’s what we need back in California.
SB840/Universal Health Care and AB8
Now that the budget is history, the Governor and legislative leadership is looking to address the health care mess that exists in California and nationwide. It doesn’t take a rocket-scientist to know that the current system is broken, however it does take someone outside the health insurance business to know that we need to remove them from the debate. Although the Gov. continues to insist that we talk about insuring everyone, he is actually trying to protect his big contributors in the health insurance industry. He claims that everyone will get care, yet doesn’t mention it will be provided by private companies whose only interest is making money. Ironically, they make money by denying care, not providing it.
The Gov.’s approach is to make everyone pay into the insurance companies—employers, hospitals, docs and employees. The Dems say, “no way”. Senator Kuehl’s universal plan, which is the only truly comprehensive health care reform on the table, says once we take the insurance companies out of the equation, we can provide health care for everyone, without having 35 cents of every dollar in premiums going to the health insurance gluttons. And we all get to choose our own doctors to boot!
AB 8 is sort of a half-way proposal. It includes a minimum employer contribution but expands public programs for children and their families, and tries to curb insurance company abuses and other tweaks around the outside of a cancerous middle called the for-profit health insurance business. Check out Julia Rosen’s Working Californian’s article for more information.
The debate has been heating up all week, with the Gov. saying he won’t sign AB 8 or SB840 (which he vetoed last year as well). Following the SacBee’s coverage, we see as the week ended, Speaker Nunez has called the Gov.’s bluff, saying he would put Schwarzenegger’s proposal in a bill and have a vote on the floor. A 2/3 vote would be required because there is a tax increase included, and if the Reps stay true to their blind allegiance to their mantra, “no new taxes”, the Gov.’s proposal will go down in flying defeat. Remember, too, that this Governor doesn’t have many admirers on his own side of the aisle, so this could be an interesting, albeit dangerous, game of chicken Nunez may be setting up.

Latest report shows wage gap widening

Not surprisingly, if you checked your bank account balance recently, the wage gap is widening in California with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.
The highly respected California Budget Project released a new report this week, “A Generation of Widening Inequality: The State of Working California, 1979 to 2006.” Its findings are not surprising. The wealthiest continue to gain capital and the poorest continue to lose purchasing power with wages that barely keep pace with inflation. Interestingly, the gap between low-wage and high-wage workers has widened more in California than in the country as a whole. California’s high wage workers are doing better than most, but our low-wage workers are doing worse than their US counterparts. And what is happening to the middle class? It’s simply disappearing. Of course, now is the time to go out and buy that yacht and airplane, but then again, only the wealthy can afford them—and don’t have to pay into the public treasury to boot! The good news for them is that they’re getting rich enough to be able to afford one of each, while working Californians continue to struggle, with the bottom pay range having dropped 7.2% and 43% of new jobs paying less than $11 an hour.
Sadly, but not surprisingly, the economic recovery of the past decade has not provided the historic broad increase in the standard of living for workers but instead has created “skyrocketing corporate profits”. So much for the right-wing’s much ballyhooed “trickle down” economics.
The good news in this report, such as it is? The value of a college degree has gone up and the disparity between men and women has gone down. But Latinos have lost ground.
Initiatives and More Initiatives filling up the 2008 ballot
We’ve been following the trail of initiative announcements and the march from signature gathering to qualifying for the ballot. With virtually dozens of such measures in some stage of the process, we’ll be looking carefully at them all as they qualify for the ballot in either February, June, or November 2008.
At this point in time, it seems that the topic which will be most closely followed revolves around the sneaky effort by the Republicans to rig our Presidential vote in a way that ensures their party’s occupation of the White House in 2008. As we’ve reported previously on our website and on our blogpost, the Reps want to divvy-up the state’s massive 55 votes by congressional district, thus insuring them of additional electoral votes similar in number to those within states the size of Ohio or Florida. No need for chads or hacking into insecure Diebold voting machines, as the thinking goes, all we have to do is split California’s votes and regain the White House we’ve lost through our miserable, corrupt and incompetent stewardship over the past 6 ½ years.
The Dems are coming back swinging this time. This past week they introduced two proposed initiatives of their own that will reform the antiquated Electoral College system of electing a President. It calls for a national approach which will commit California to a plan that declares the winner of the national popular vote, President. Under the Democrats plan, this process would go into effect once the majority of states holding 270 cumulative electoral votes support such a measure.
Although a recent Field Poll released Tuesday, August 21, 2007 shows initial support for the Rep proposal (the Democratic response was not included in the poll because it had not yet been introduced), it did not have over 50 % support. Without a big lead to start, these kinds of initiatives rarely pass after a long and expensive battle which will undoubtedly ensue. You can be sure this measure will attract lots of national attention for its potential consequences for whoever takes the White House in November 2008. We’ll be covering this one very closely.
The Rest of the Story
Our blogging offerings for the week
During the past week, we’ve featured Women’s Equality Day, as we celebrate the 78th anniversary of women finally getting the vote:
Women’s Equality- How far have we come?
Celebrating Women’s Equality through Workforce Justice
What do working women and their families want?
To read and comment on these entries, just go to:
With only a few weeks left in the first year of this legislative session, there will be a flurry of activity and key bills we’ll be watching over the next several editions of our weekly update. We welcome your comments and suggestions and hope you will send this newsletter to your friends and other like-minded progressives. Urge them to sign up to Speak Out California and keep the progressive voice alive!
Until next week,
Hannah-Beth Jackson and the Speak Out California Team

Women’s Equality Day- How far have we come?

In celebration of Women’s Equality Day this Sunday, Speak Out California has asked the state Chair of one of Calilfornia’s most influential Women’s groups to share the goals and work of her organization. The National Women’s Political Committee (NWPC) is a non-partisan organization dedicated to electing women nationwide who share its vision. Celeste Weingard, its current state president, has provided this entry in honor of the 87th anniversary of the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment giving women the right to vote after a 75 year battle.
Although we’ve seen women make great strides, there is still much to be accomplished to achieve parity in all fields of endeavor. Until we see an equal number of women in public office (and one finally as Commander in Chief), women reaching pay equity, equal opportunity and respect in the workforce, full control over their reproductive decisions and equal partnerships at home, there is still much work left to do.
While this is no time to be complacent, with the US Supreme Court systematically working to undermine women’s hard-fought gains, it is still a time to acknowledge that women are making strides in the battle for equal rights. We here at Speak Out California and all progressives in California, share in that celebration.

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Celebrating Women’s Equality through Workforce Justice

Now that the budget impasse is over (we’ll have more to say on that subject in this coming week’s update,”While California Dreams” ),we are focusing on Women’s Equality Day. This Sunday, August 26th marks the 87th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution which gave women the right to vote after a 75 year struggle. There are many ways to mark the occasion. In California, there are at least two such ways we can ensure that victims of employment discrimination continue to have the opportunity to seek redress in the courts. For that to happen, our legislature should pass Assemblymember Julia Brownley’s AB 435 and Assemblymember Dave Jones’ AB 437 Both of these measures are pending in the California State Senate.
Brownley’s bill, AB 435, specifically extends the statute of limitiations within which women can file suits for gender-based wage discrimination. It requires that all employers maintain their records of wages, wage rates, job classifications and other terms and conditions of employment for five years, and extends the statute of limitations for a civil action to collect back wages to four years, or, in the case of willful misconduct, to five years. The current statute of limitations is two years, unless the violation is willful in which case it is three years.
The Jones bill, AB 437 is necessary because the current US Supreme Court has demonstrated a commitment to overturn, and thus destroy, many hard-fought gains for women, minorities and other “protected classes” of people in this country. One such effort occurred in May of 2007 when the Court voted, by a 5-4 majority, to overturn decades of precedent in the Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. In doing so, the Supreme Court severely limited workers’ ability to bring pay discrimination claims against employers who break the hard-fought laws prohibiting discriminatory compensation practices on the basis of gender, race or other prohibited criteria.

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What do working women and their families want?

This coming Sunday marks the 87th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote.To mark that auspicious occasion, Speak Out California has asked the Legislative Women’s Caucus chair, 1st District Assemblymember Patty Berg (D-Eureka), to fill us in on what the 34 women of the legislature have established as their top priority for the year. This is her report.

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While California Dreams-Weekly update Vol.1 No. 11

While California Dreams-Weekly Update Vol. 1 No. 11
A weekly update on the goings-on in Sacramento
For the week ending August 18, 2007
Key bills and issues we’ve been following during the past week and beyond:

The budget continues to be the key issue for the state, although it appears not too many Californians are paying close attention to the deadlock and the governor has been unable to move his team one bit in the process. Presidential politics are heating up in the Golden State with the latest polls showing significant movement for the Hillary Clinton campaign. More and more initiatives are heading toward the ballot, with the announcement of numerous measures being introduced or out for signature gathering. But with the promise that the Legislature will be coming back this week, talks and issues will begin again in earnest…..maybe. If the legislative process does begin, healthcare will likely move front-and -center with other hot-button issues not far behind.
Here’s the scoop on this past week:

The Budget–Week Seven and Counting. Lots of pain, but no Gain:

Although the state’s ability to function has been seriously compromised by the lack of a budget, there is little compromise left in the legislature at the moment. The budget impasse is sadly, drawing less than overwhelming public concern, except to those directly impacted by the state’s inability to pay its bills for services and programs. Without the necessary outcry, there is little likelihood that we’ll see enough pressure exerted by the public to get much movement on this crisis. Although the numbers are subject to interpretation, the outcry, such as it is, comes primarily from those who are not being paid for their services or those who are unable to access those state-funded programs. The majority of Californians haven’t yet felt the impacts and aren’t willing to raise the heat to a high enough temperature to get this budget resolved. As the delay creates greater hardship, more voices will be raised and hopefully more effective pressure will force one of the “gang of 14” holdout Republican senators to break ranks and get the state back on track.
The belief is Sacramento is that the Rep leader, Dick Ackerman, was supposed to have stepped forward earlier in the month with that vote Unfortunately, somewhere short of the Senate floor he chickened-out. Although the ostensible “leader” of his pack, Ackerman has a history of being weak-kneed at critical times and rather than lead has been intimidated by his own caucus. It’s unfortunate because he’s “termed out” and is teetering on top of the heap as it is. The conventional wisdom is that no matter what happens, his position as Minority Leader will be over in very short order.
This week, the Governor made a half-hearted and clearly ineffective try at reigning in his flock. He returned from vacation by blasting Senate Republicans for the impasse. When that didn’t do anything other than harden their will, he decided to blame the Legislature as a whole. When that didn’t work, he just stopped appearing at all, and has done little, if anything to try to jump-start the discussions over the past several days. Hey Gov, one of your Senators is all it will take. What happened to those cigar nights in your tent? You might want to open the flaps and let some of the boys enjoy a $50 smoke on your dime and see if you can’t charm them with your Terminator tales. After all, it worked with the public.
One suggestion that just might work is removing the undemocratic 2/3rds requirement to get a budget. SInce the Reps abuse their once-a-year political power, maybe its time to cut them loose from the debate entirely. If they showed any sense of responsibility or good faith in negotiating, that would be one thing, However, this band of 14 right-wing neocons considers this budget debate just good sport. They are revelling in holding the state hostage.
It’s time to put an end to their antics. Heavens, even right-wing extremist Tom McClintock agrees on that plan!
Although a Field poll conducted this week shows that just 12% of Californians are very concerned about the budget mess, thousands of unpaid bills are clogging the inboxes of the state. It is estimated that millions of dollars in late fees are already piling up and billions of dollars in unsold bonds are jeopardizing the state’s plans to move forward with various programs. In addition to the $1 billion the state has now failed to make in Medi-cal payments to hospitals and other providers, Cal Trans estimates it has almost 35,000 invoices that are unpaid and more than $8 million owing to its vendors. For the California Highway Patrol, it’s about $17 Million. It goes downhill from there to those seeking payment.
And for those needing services, —the disabled, our kids and families who rely on state services, they’re really starting tofeel the pinch. Unfortunately, the Reps who are holding out are being heralded as heroes by their right-wing constituents. Sadly too many of them care little that the state is unable to provide much needed services to the neediest among us. As more vendors are unpaid and more small businesses are threatened, the cries will grow, even in the reddest of areas.
Much is being written on the stalemate-who it helps, who it hurts, but the only real question is who’s going to blink first? No one is quite sure, as the 14 hold-out Republicans want more cuts (they’ve already gotten the Governor’s commitment to do that) and the Dems are threatening to put the whole deal back on the table. But with them coming back from summer recess this week, perhaps there will be something that causes the deadlock to break. What it will be, if anything, is anybody’s guess…..
In the meantime, the Legislature is taking a big hit in its public support. While this should be of concern to the members who are hoping to extend their current terms with the so-called “Term Limits” initiative, the irony is that the more dissatisfaction with this group the greater the likelihood the term limits measure will pass, thus giving these same unpopular people more time to stay in office. In other words, the longer the budget delay, the greater the chances these legislators will have to extend the length of their terms, according to the latest polls. For more on this check out the Sac Bee.

Presidential Politics–Hillary breaking away from the pack:

With a new poll coming out this week, it looks like the Hillary machine has made significant progress in California, widening her lead to a 30 point advantage over her closest primary opponent, Barak Obama. Thanks to an effective early organization, led by California campaign manager, Ace Smith, the Hillary folks have put together an impressive early start. But don’t expect the Obama campaign to let this lead continue. It has just announced the hiring of s new California campaign director, Mitchell Schwarz who is, himself, a seasoned strategist. His past credentials include campaigns for Bill Clinton, Barbara Boxer and Antonio Villaraigosa. Look for this race to heat up soon. With California’s huge delegation at stake, all top-tier candidates will be fighting hard to win the February primary.

SB 840-Universal Health Care still in the news:

A very interesting development occurred this week that highlights the public support for Senator Sheila Kuehl’s bill to bring universal health care to California. A group of “non-profit” healthcare foundations led by Blue Shield of California Foundation, organized a townhall type event in 8 locations around the state. Titled, “CaliforniaSpeaks”, these groups spent about $4 million ostensibly to bring together randomly selected Californians to talk about healthcare reform. The event included Governor Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders, among others and was designed to control the discussion by leaving out the single-payor option. But the public was not fooled and in fact INSISTED that SB 840 be discussed. Not only was it brought up as a viable option, when all was said and done, the majority of those in attendance supported SB 840 as the public’s choice for healthcare. For a great article on this, check out Senator Kuehl’s piece reprinted in the California Progress Report.
Other legislation to watch:
We’ve had several Speak Out California readers ask about gun-control legislation this year. If the legislative leaders withdraw their threats to hold up all legislation until a budget passes, we’ll likely see movement on AB 1471, a bill authored by Assemblymember Mike Feuer. This bill received a boost this past week when LA Mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa and law enforcement leaders held a news conference in support of this measure. The bill ould make California the first state in the nation to require gun manufacturers to install a mechanism in new firearms that would stamp information on each bullet casing. The belief is that this “microscopic identification tag” would reduce violence and destroy the illegal gun market. For more on the bill, check out the LA Times article.

The Rest of the Story
Our blogging offerings for the week

During the past week, we’ve posted the following stories:
Winning one for Consumers:
Victory over Alcopops
Civil Rights and Civil Unions:
It’s Time for Civil Unions- By Jackie Goldberg
Cleaning out the White House
Bye-Bye Rovie

We’ve fixed our spam problem, so we hope you’ll join in the discussion by feeling free to read and comment on these entries by going to:
We’ll continue looking at these and other issues as the legislative year winds down, with more on the flurry of initiatives cropping up. Many of them are quite dangerous, including one of the latest additions designed to hand the Presidential election to the Republicans in 2008. We’ll be doing alot more on them and other important political discussion to come. It is our goal to keep you on top of the key issues facing the state. We welcome your comments and suggestions and hope you will send this newsletter to your friends and other like-minded progressives. Urge them to sign up to Speak Out California and keep the progressive voice alive!
Until next week,
Hannah-Beth Jackson and the Speak Out California Team

Victory over alcopops, liquor industry targeting of teens

Never doubt that you, as a Speak Outer, are having a positive impact. Further proof: the recent victory over the purveyors of booze, who have been foisting colorful sugary, fruity drinks, laced with distilled spirits, on our youth.
The drinks, known as “alcopops,” include popular brands like Smirnoff Ice, Seagram’s Coolers, Bacardi Silver and Mike’s Hard Lemonade. The liquor industry wants kids to develop a drinking habit linked to their corporate brand, then graduate to increasingly harder–and more expensive–booze. So they diabolically concocted a way to make liquor–which normally tastes yucky to kids—appeal to young palates.
Teenagers themselves scored a huge win Tuesday when the state Board of Equalization voted 3-2 to treat the flavored malt beverages as distilled spirits, rather than beer, for tax purposes. Democratic BOE Board Members John Chiang, Judy Chu, and Betty Yee voted for the tax increase. Republican BOE members, who have received hefty contributions from the alcohol and brewery industries as well as convenience stores that profit from selling alcopops, voted no.
A large coalition of teenagers, parents, the PTA, religious and faith-based groups, the Girl Scouts, and health and safety advocates supported the tax change. The increased taxes, from 20 cents per gallon to $3.30 per gallon, will increase the tax on a single 12-oz. bottle of alcopops from 2 cents to 31 cents. Experts predict that the increased taxes will restrict availability by limiting where the alcopops are sold and also shrink the market, since teens tend to be very price-sensitive shoppers. In turn, reduced access to the sugary drinks will prevent teen pregnancies, alcoholism, injuries, violence, and deaths linked to drinking.
The decision makes California the second state, after Maine, to reclassify alcopops as distilled spirits.
At critical moments, when BOE Board Members Chu, Chiang, and Yee were running for office, and faced scurrilous attacks funded by the tobacco and liquor industries, Speak Out exposed their hidden agenda and kept you up to date on the money trail. By clicking onto Speak Out’s website, you got up-to-date info that helped make the candidates’ records and priorities clear, and helped make this sweet victory possible.
Kudos to BOE Board Members John Chiang, Judy Chu, and Betty Yee for standing up for REAL family values!
More info about alcopops can be found at the website for the Marin Institute, at

It’s time for Civil Unions, at the least

At this point in the budget stalemate, to talk about the budget standoff during recess is almost like watching maple syrup run in winter. Fortunately, at least one branch of government is alive and functioning. Tomorrow, August 17, 2007, is the deadline for filing written briefs to the California Supreme Court, which will then schedule oral arguments on same sex marriage rights in California sometime next year.
We asked Speak Out California Board Member and former Assemblymember, Jackie Goldberg, to update us on what this means for the gay and lesbian community. As a leader in the fight to advance the rights of same-sex couples, Jackie talks a little about the background of her landmark legislation, AB 205, and where the question of equality for gay and lesbian couples has taken us. Here’s what she has to say:

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