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Gov. Brown Signs Controversial Assisted-Suicide Bill In California

By Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Caught between conflicting moral arguments, California Gov. Jerry Brown, a former Jesuit seminary student, on Monday signed a measure allowing physicians in the nation’s most populous state to prescribe lethal doses of drugs to terminally ill patients who want to hasten their deaths.

Approving the bill, whose opponents included the Catholic Church, appeared to be a gut-wrenching decision for the 77-year-old governor, who as a young man studied to enter the priesthood.

“In the end, I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death,” Brown added. “I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain. I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill. And I wouldn’t deny that right to others.”

California becomes the fifth state to allow so-called assisted suicide, following Oregon, Washington, Montana and Vermont.

The new law is modeled after Oregon’s. It permits physicians to provide lethal prescriptions to mentally competent adults who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness and face the expectation that they will die within six months.

The law will take effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns its special session on health care, which may not be until next year. The earliest likely adjournment would be in January.

The governor’s action caps months of emotional and contentious debate over the End of Life Option Act, which divided physicians, ethicists, religious leaders and the Democratic majority in the Legislature.

“Abx2 15 is not an ordinary bill because it deals with life and death,” Brown wrote in his signing message. “The crux of the matter is whether the state of California should continue to make it a crime for a dying person to end his life, no matter how great his pain suffering.”

Brown said he carefully read input from two of his own doctors, a Catholic bishop and advocates for the disabled, as well as pleas from the family of Brittany Maynard, a cancer victim who took her own life. He said he even has received input from retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

“I have considered the theological and religious perspectives that any deliberate shortening of one’s life is sinful,” he wrote.
Most Republican lawmakers opposed the bill on moral grounds. Democrats who voted against it cited religious views or experiences in which family members given months to live by doctors had lived for years.

Californians have been debating such end-of-life legislation for more than two decades.

State voters in 1992 rejected a broader proposal that would have allowed physicians to administer lethal injections to the terminally sick. Bills offering patients the right to obtain deadly drug doses failed in the Legislature in 2005, 2006 and 2007.

Photo: The assisted suicide law California is implementing is based on Oregon’s. Melissa Johnson/Flickr

California’s Gov. Brown Mandates High School Lessons To Prevent Sexual Assaults

By Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Amid concerns about sexual assaults on college campuses, California Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday signed a bill requiring high schools that mandate health courses to provide lessons aimed at preventing sexual violence.

One of 35 bills signed by the governor, the measure also requires lessons promoting affirmative consent by both parties before couples engage in sexual relations.

“I firmly believe that by instilling in young minds the importance of affirmative consent and relationships built on love and respect, that we can reduce the sexual violence inflicted on young women,” said Democratic state Sen. Kevin De Leon, who authored the bill with Democratic state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson.

The bill is the first of its kind in the nation, according to the lawmakers. It follows last year’s measure, signed into law, requiring college campuses to improve policies to prevent sexual assault and to require affirmative consent before couples engage in sex.

“Without taking action, more than 100,000 students will be sexually assaulted on college campuses nationwide,” said Sofie Karasek, co-founder of the group End Rape on Campus. “By passing this bill to educate high school students about consent, California is taking a critical step towards lowering that number.”

The governor also signed a related measure that requires instruction in sexual health education, expands lessons in HIV prevention and requires the teaching to be inclusive of different sexual orientations. Democratic Assemblywoman Shirley N. Weber authored that bill, AB 329.

Photo: The teal ribbon represents those who stand by those who have suffered from sexual assault. California teens will soon be schooled in the signs of sexual violence. Wikimedia

Former California Gubernatorial Candidate Arrested In Shooting

By Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A Republican candidate who finished fifth in the June primary race for governor of California was arrested Friday as a suspect in a Fresno County shooting that left one man wounded and a horse dead, officials said.

Fresno County Sheriff’s Department Lt. John Golden said that Tye “Glenn” Champ was arrested without incident in neighboring Tulare County a day after the shooting occurred Thursday afternoon near Prather.

A Sheriff’s Department statement said it appears the shooting resulted from a dispute between neighbors over improvements being made to a private road. The victim was taken to Community Regional Medical Center with a gunshot wound to the stomach.

“According to witness statements, Mr. Champ confronted the 40-year-old adult victim and his juvenile son and then shot the adult with a small black pistol,” the Sheriff’s Department statement says. “As the victim and son fled, Mr. Champ allegedly fired multiple additional shots, striking and killing a horse.”

Champ, 48, fled the area in an older blue four-door Volkswagen sedan and was believed to still be armed. Golden said a citizen called with a tip that Champ owned a truck that was parked at an address in Tulare County, where deputies from that county made the arrest. He faces possible charges of attempted murder, felony child endangerment, and felony animal cruelty.

Champ finished fifth out of 15 candidates for governor in the June 3 primary, receiving 58,747 votes.

He had a strong showing at the polls despite media reports before the election that he is a registered sex offender who spent more than a decade in state prison. He was convicted of crimes including voluntary manslaughter and assault with intent to commit rape.

Champ, who said he lived in Tollhouse in Fresno County, even spoke to hundreds of Republicans at the GOP’s semiannual convention in March. He said during his speech: “In my life, I’ve been held accountable because of my stupidity. I do not want anyone else to be enslaved because of their lack of knowledge.”

The Los Angeles Times reported that Champ pleaded guilty in 1992 to carrying a concealed firearm. A year later, he was convicted of two counts of assault with intent to commit rape and was placed on the state’s sex-offender registry.

In 1998, he accepted a plea deal on a charge of loitering to solicit a prostitute. Months later, he entered a no contest plea to voluntary manslaughter after hitting a man with his vehicle. That charge resulted in him being sentenced to 12 years in state prison, according to court records.

Champ told the Times in March that the assault case “was just for picking up some underage prostitutes” and resulted in a 90-day jail sentence. He said at the time that he had turned his life around after the incident.

“I found the Lord when I got arrested for picking up the prostitutes,” Champ said. “I was like most people, ignorant in the darkness, in the very dark. I had no peace, had no love, had no joy. And now I do. Praise God for that. … I’ve grown considerably since I met Christ.”

He called the voluntary manslaughter case a “tragic accident.”

Photo: Rob Bixby via Flickr

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California Attorney General Seeks Legal Help For Flood Of Minor Immigrants

By Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris on Wednesday convened a group of public and private officials to look at how legal representatives can be provided to the thousands of minors who are crossing the border illegally into the United States.

With a surge of more than 57,000 unaccompanied minors who have arrived in the United States in recent months from Central America, nonprofit legal services groups that serve immigrants have been overwhelmed by demand, meaning many of the minors are not getting legal representation.

Representatives of corporations and private law firms offered Wednesday to provide significant resources, including pro bono attorneys, to help make sure underage immigrants have legal representation, according to some of the 40 people who attended the roundtable discussion at the Department of Justice office in Los Angeles.

Those in attendance agreed to Harris’ request to form a working group to monitor the situation and make sure resources are available.

“This is a humanitarian crisis of children fleeing extreme violence,” said David Beltran, a spokesman for the attorney general. “This working group will work to ensure that these children receive due process under existing immigration law.”

Katie Marquart, pro bono director for the law firm Gibson Dunn, said her company has been providing free legal representation to indigent immigrants for years. “We certainly are committed to stepping up our involvement,” Marquart said.

Harris convened the meeting just days before she and other state attorneys general are scheduled to meet in Park City, Utah, with the attorneys general for Mexico and El Salvador. That meeting Sunday is on transnational crime, but the issue of the surge in immigration is expected to be addressed as well.

Photo: Los Angeles Times/MCT/Michael Robinson Chavez

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Supreme Court Rejects Challenge To Law Banning Gay-Conversion Therapy

By Patrick McGreevy, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday turned down a request to hear a challenge to a California law prohibiting mental health counseling aimed at converting minors from being gay to straight.

The justices let stand a ruling by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that found the state had demonstrated that such conversion counseling does not have scientific merit. The appeals court ruled the law does not violate the free-speech rights of counselors and patients.

A stay on enforcement of the law had been issued by the appeals court but automatically expired when the Supreme Court decided the case, state officials said. State Sen. Ted Lieu praised the high court decision for preserving the law he introduced. He noted that eight other states have adopted similar measures, giving the decision broader impact.

“The Supreme Court has cement shut any possible opening to allow further psychological child abuse in California,” Lieu, an attorney, said in a statement. “The court’s refusal to accept the appeal of extreme ideological therapists who practice the quackery of gay conversion therapy is a victory for child welfare, science, and basic humane principles.”

The legal challenge to the law was brought by the nonprofit, Christian group Liberty Counsel, whose founder and chairman, Mat Staver, expressed disappointment.

“I am deeply saddened for the families we represent and for the thousands of children that our professional clients counsel, many of whom developed these unwanted attractions because of abuse of a pedophile,” Staver said in a statement. “These children have been victimized twice — first by the likes of Jerry Sandusky, and second by legislators and judges who have essentially barged into their private therapy rooms and told them that they must pursue their unwanted and dangerous same-sex sexual attractions and behavior.”

Staver said the issue may eventually reach the Supreme Court again because a court battle is underway on a similar law adopted in New Jersey.

AFP Photo/Saul Loeb

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From Setback To Comeback For New California Senate Leader

By Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Kevin de Leon thought his political career might be over.

After losing a bitter contest for the California Assembly speakership to John Perez in 2009, de Leon was stripped of his coveted Appropriations Committee chairmanship and moved to one of the dreariest offices in the Capitol.

“When they put you in one of the smallest offices, next to the cafeteria, where you can hear people ordering sandwiches, you have sunk low,” the Los Angeles Democrat said recently.

De Leon, 47, salted away the humiliation, saying that the experience made him wiser. With help of some powerful allies, including former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and billionaire Tom Steyer, de Leon not only revived his career, but on Monday reached a pinnacle in state politics.

De Leon was elected leader of the state Senate, becoming the first Latino to hold that post since 1883. It was quite an achievement for a kid from a San Diego barrio, the son of a single mother from Mexico who at one point was in the United States illegally and took a cross-town bus each day to wealthy, beach-side neighborhoods to clean homes.

“It’s an improbable journey not just within the context of the political roller coaster but also where I came from,” de Leon said.

His ascent reflected the deft political instincts, and good fortune, that have been apparent from his first foray into politics. De Leon won a Los Angeles Assembly seat in 2006 by beating a rival with a golden family name, Christine Chavez, the granddaughter of labor leader Cesar E. Chavez.

De Leon’s early connection to the district, the heart of the heavily Latino neighborhoods downtown and in nearby areas, was somewhat tenuous. He grew up in San Diego and had been hopscotching around the state. But the former union organizer for the California Teachers Association had support from the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and one of his closest friends since childhood — Fabian Nunez, who was then the powerful Assembly speaker.

“He had all the heavy hitters,” recalled Chavez, who now works at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C.

De Leon and Nunez — both sons of Mexican immigrants — were born 17 days apart and grew up in the same San Diego neighborhood of Logan Heights. They graduated from high school together and attended Pitzer College together.

De Leon and Nunez also were side by side when they came of age politically two decades ago.

Both worked at the One Stop Immigration Center in Los Angeles and organized against Proposition 187, the controversial 1994 ballot measure to deny many public services to immigrants who were in the country illegally. They led a march that drew 80,000 supporters of immigrant rights to downtown Los Angeles to protest the proposition. (California voters approved the measure, although the federal courts later declared it unconstitutional.)

Nunez went on to work for the labor federation while de Leon took jobs as an advocate for the National Education Association and California Teachers Association. When Nunez decided to run for the state Assembly in 2002, de Leon served as his campaign manager. In 2006, when Nunez was Assembly speaker, he encouraged de Leon to run for the Assembly.

By 2009, de Leon thought he had the votes sewn up to become speaker. But too many Assembly members found de Leon’s ambitious nature grating, eroding his support.

“I think that is the best thing that could have happened to him because he got some taste of humble pie and had an opportunity to rebuild himself and to re-engage with his own sense of purpose,” Nunez said. “I think that was a turning point in his political career.”

At the encouragement of Senate President Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), de Leon revived his political career with a successful run for the state Senate in 2010, and quickly rose to become chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee.

De Leon, who lives in Los Angeles’ Mount Washington neighborhood, also struck a political alliance with San Francisco billionaire environmental activist Thomas Steyer, founder of Farallon Capital Management. With Steyer contributing more than $21 million, the two co-chaired the 2012 campaign for Proposition 39, which closed a corporate tax loophole and provided hundreds of millions of dollars for environmental programs.

“Our friendship has continued to this day because we are both passionate about justice for all Californians, including environmental justice,” Steyer said.

Throughout his legislative career, de Leon has focused much of his efforts on bills affecting the environment, the working poor, immigration and public safety. He was instrumental in last year’s passage of a bill providing driver’s licenses to immigrants in the country illegally, and made national headlines in 2012 by proposing a first-of-its-kind, state-run retirement savings plan for low-income workers.

On Monday, the Senate elected de Leon as leader in a unanimous voice vote. Colleagues described de Leon as smart and fair. Several praised his devotion as a single father of a 20-year-old daughter, Lluvia, who is a student at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif. De Leon has never been married.

But, some activists in de Leon’s district say that he is part of a Sacramento power structure that is too cozy with special interests.

Democrat Peter Choi, president of the Temple City Chamber of Commerce, is challenging de Leon in the November election. He called the incumbent a “professional politician.”

As an example, Choi cited de Leon’s opposition to a statewide ban on plastic grocery bags last year. A South Carolina bag maker, Hilex Poly, had employed the lobbying firm Mercury Public Affairs to oppose the ban. Nunez is a partner at Mercury.

De Leon said his concern about the bill, which was defeated, was that it would have cost jobs at a manufacturing plant in his district. This year, de Leon has negotiated support for a similar bill that would have the state provide $2 million to retool manufacturing plants and retrain workers.

Nunez and de Leon said there is a “firewall” that separates their relationship from their professional duties. Nunez said he has not lobbied de Leon on the plastic bag bill or any other legislation.

Photo via WikiCommons

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California Design Of Driver’s License For Immigrants Is Rejected

By Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Federal authorities have rejected California’s proposed design for a driver’s license for immigrants in the U.S. illegally, saying it is not distinguishable enough for security purposes from permits given to citizens.

The Washington officials want the license to state clearly on its face “that it is not acceptable for official federal purposes” and to have a design or color that differentiates it at a glance from other licenses.

The current design does not differ from other California licenses except for a subtle mark on the front and a disclaimer on the back in small print: “This card is not acceptable for official federal purposes.”

Officials said Tuesday that the decision by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security could delay distribution of the first licenses because immigrant-rights activists have vowed to fight proposals that would make them look significantly different from other licenses.

The activists consider conspicuous markings to be a kind of scarlet letter. They and others say such marks could lead to mistreatment.

“Covering the fronts of licenses with this information that Homeland Security is demanding would subject the holders to unnecessary discrimination and possible harassment,” said state Sen. Kevin De Leon, D-Los Angeles.

Leaders of the Latino Legislative Caucus called on California’s congressional delegation Tuesday to demand that Homeland Security officials reconsider.

The decision “is disappointing and troubling,” said a statement by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, and Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, the chairman and vice chairman, respectively, of the caucus.

“We strongly believe that the design submitted by California satisfies the intent of the law, by including a distinctive mark on the front, and the required statement on the surface of the license,” they said.

They wrote to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, asking him to allow the California design.

“As you know, immigrants are statistically more likely to be the victims of crime and are often primary targets for scams, discrimination, retaliation and extortion in encounters with a diverse set of unscrupulous actors,” the lawmakers wrote.

For that reason, the California design is meant to provide “adequate protections for vulnerable community members from discrimination,” they said. Approval of the California design, they argued, would be “confirming that DHS will not exploit the program for immigration enforcement purposes.”

State Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, also sent an appeal to Johnson.

Meanwhile, the California Department of Motor Vehicles will go back to the drawing board, said Armando Botello, a spokesman for the agency.

“The DMV will continue to work vigorously with lawmakers, affected communities and federal officials to design a license that complies with federal law and allows over a million undocumented California residents to drive legally and safely on state roads,” Botello said in a statement.

He refused to release a copy of the new license design.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a measure last year allowing the DMV to provide driver’s licenses by Jan. 1, 2015, to those in the country illegally. The governor said it would help people get to their jobs and schools and guarantee that they take a test to show that they are safe drivers.

In addition to the disclaimer on the back, the proposed license has the letters DP (“driving privilege”) on the front instead of DL (“driver’s license”).

The Real ID Act approved by Congress in 2005 requires markings “to allow Federal officials to quickly determine whether a license or identification card may be acceptable for official purposes” including “accessing Federal facilities, boarding federally regulated commercial aircraft or entering nuclear power plants,” according to the rejection letter.

The letter is dated May 1 and was released by the DMV on Tuesday.

State Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, said the state should take Washington’s warning seriously.

“Clearly national security demands our state not assist in hiding people who reside here illegally,” Anderson said.

(Photo from Flickr Commons/cool revolution)

California Lawmaker Proposes Adding Health Warning Labels To Sodas

By Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times

SACRAMENTO, California — Citing studies linking soda to obesity, a state lawmaker and medical experts proposed a first-in-the-nation bill Thursday that sugary drinks sold in California carry health warning labels similar to those on cigarette packs.

They want warning labels on the fronts of all cans and bottles of soda and juice drinks that have sugar added and 75 or more calories per 12 ounces.

The label would read: “STATE OF CALIFORNIA SAFETY WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.”

“When the science is this conclusive, the state of California has a responsibility to take steps to protect consumers,” state Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, said at a Capitol news conference.

At fast food restaurants with self-serve soda dispensers, the label would be on the dispenser. In a movie theater or business where the dispenser is behind the counter and used by employees, the label would be on the counter. In sit-down restaurants, the label might be on the menus.

“As with tobacco and alcohol warnings, this legislation will give Californians vital information they need to make healthier choices,” Monning said.

The legislation is supported by the California Medical Association. It is opposed by CalBev, the state arm of the American Beverage Association, which said the proposal unfairly singles out one type of product for regulation.

“CalBev opposes the bill because obesity is a complex condition that can’t be boiled down to one specific product or ingredient,” said Jessica Borek, a spokeswoman for the industry group, whose members include Coca-Cola Co., Pepsi-Cola Co. and the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group.

Major soda producers have for years voluntarily put calorie counts on the front of each bottle to help consumers make decisions on what to buy, Borek said.

“We agree that obesity is a serious and complex issue,” CalBev said in a statement. “However, it is misleading to suggest that soft drink consumption is uniquely responsible for weight gain. In fact, only four percent of calories in the average American diet are derived directly from soda.”

But health experts say the use of liquid sugar gives soda unique qualities for contributing to diabetes.

Americans, on average, drink more than 45 gallons of sugary beverages a year, according to Dr. Ashby Wolfe of the California Medical Association.

Drinking just one soda a day increases an adult’s likelihood of being overweight by 27 percent and a child’s by 55 percent, according to a World Health Organization-commissioned study published last year in the British Medical Journal.

“As physicians, we’re desperate to break the cycle of diabetes and obesity we see in our offices every day,” Wolfe said. “Consumers have a right to know about the unique health problems associated with soda and other sugary drinks.”

The bill also drew support from minority health activists who said soda consumption is high in their communities because they are targeted by marketers.

Nearly half of African-American and Latino children born after 2000 will develop Type 2 diabetes, said Darcel Lee, a physician who is executive director of the California Black Health Network. “This is a public health outrage,” she said.

The measure, SB 1000, would take effect July 1, 2015. Monning said he hoped that it would become a model for the rest of the country.

California’s Legislature has generally favored measures giving consumers more information about products. Over the years, the state has pioneered legislation aimed at getting residents to eat better, requiring that chain restaurants post calorie information on menus and restricting the use of trans fats in restaurants.

Photo via Wikimedia