Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Congressional fight focused on citizenship for undocumented immigrants

Democratic U.S. Rep. Grace Napolitano of El Monte spoke Wednesday at a Congressional Hispanic Caucus event to call for comprehensive immigration reform.

Suddenly, immigration is the buzz word on Capitol Hill. A pair of Republican Senators floated their idea Tuesday for giving legal status to illegal young people, and the House of Representatives is expected to vote Friday on a visa bill. But the chances of a comprehensive immigration bill passing both the House and Senate anytime soon remain slim.

Shortly after the election, House Speaker John Boehner seemed to open the door to immigration reform. He called for a "common sense, step-by-step approach, it would secure our borders, allow us to enforce our laws and fix a broken immigration system."

L.A. Congressman Xavier Becerra, a top Democrat in the House, says Boehner isn’t the only Republican talking immigration, citing both talk show host Sean Hannity and Super PAC leader Karl Rove.

"The question is no longer if," said Becerra, "it’s when.  Will we get a solid, sensible bill done? That’s the question."


OC's Ed Royce confirmed as new Chairman of House Foreign Affairs Committee

Fullerton Congressman Ed Royce, about to start his 10th term, will take over a key House committee.

It’s official: Republicans have chosen an Orange County Congressman to lead the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Ed Royce was the odds-on favorite to chair Foreign Affairs, since he had the blessing of the outgoing chairman. Royce sees nuclear proliferation as a top threat. And he’d like to see foreign aid tied to results.

Royce, who's served in the House since 1993, says he knows the foreign aid budget will likely be smaller.  He says when you look at the budget deficit, it’s a safe bet that everything’s going to be affected.

"The military budget’s going to shrink, the foreign aid budget’s going to shrink some," he said in an interview Wednesday. "Our goal has to make certain that we do the best with what we have left in the budget." 

Royce wants the U.S. to work with the international community to bring African war lords like Joseph Kony to what he calls the “bar of justice.” Royce says that doesn’t mean he supports the International Criminal Court. The U.S. withdrew its support of the ICC over concern U.S. soldiers would be accused of war crimes.


Pushback: State pension giant CalPERS challenges San Bernardino's refusal to pay into retirement plan

Steven Cuevas/KPCC

San Bernardino City Hall meeting chambers

The city of San Bernardino has missed making payments of more than a million dollars a month to its employee pension plan since July, when the city first declared its fiscal emergency.

That non-payment is part the city's plan to show a bankruptcy court judge how it will close a deficit of nearly $46 million and restore the city to solvency.

The San Bernardino City Council decided Monday to not direct nearly $13 million it would normally have paid this fiscal year into California's public employee retirement system, known as CalPERS.
The city is already $6.9 million in arrears,  the most any California city has fallen behind in recent months, said CalPERS spokeswoman Amy Norris. She was not immediately able to say if  other municipalities have gone deeper into debt to CalPERS in past years, so it's difficult to put San Bernardino's non-payment into historical context.
CalPERS responded to the plan Wednesday by asking the judge who's monitoring the city's bankruptcy case to let it sue the city for payment. Normally, a city that files for bankruptcy would be shielded from lawsuits while it restructures its finances.
Mayor Pat Morris said insolvent San Bernardino had no choice but to temporarily halt paying into the pension plan.
"We have to first of all keep our essential services alive to protect our community and deliver those baseline services and doing that is taking all of our resources, it's that simple," Morris said.
The city had negotiated with CalPERS to try and arrange a different payment schedule and to pay interest on the mounting debt, Morris said. The agency manages pension funds for about 3,000 current and future retirees.
Morris says the city plans to pay up eventually, and does not want CalPERS -- which he described as a good partner to the city -- to drop or terminate the city's pension business.
"We're a member of the family in acute distress, and we're hoping that here in the ER room they will be one of the doctors who will help us through this and not an assassin," the mayor said.


LA City Council members skip conference despite recess

Mercer 3951

Frank Stoltze/KPCC

L.A. City Councilman Ed Reyes is one of two council members at the National League of Cities conference this week.

It’s quiet around City Hall this week, with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in South America and the Los Angeles City Council on recess.

The council isn't meeting so members can attend the National League of Cities conference in Boston. But … that doesn’t mean the council members are actually there. 

Councilman Jose Huizar, for example, is in Korea with the Korean American Federation to talk about economic development. He and State Sen. Kevin De Leon are meeting with the new owners of the Wilshire Grand Hotel, which is now a part of Huizar’s district. He will also visit the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea and school leaders in the Kyonggi Province. 

Councilman Tony Cardenas, meanwhile, has been in Washington, D.C., preparing for his next job as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.


Campaign treasurer Kinde Durkee gets 8 years in prison

kinde durkee

California Democratic Council, Henry Vandermeir/AP

Former campaign treasurer Kinde Durkee had more than 50 Democratic clients who will likely recoup only a fraction of their losses.

Former Democratic campaign treasurer Kinde Durkee was sentenced Wednesday to eight years in federal prison for defrauding high-profile clients, including U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, of at least $7 million.

Durkee, 59, was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Sacramento. She pleaded guilty in March to five counts of mail fraud. The judge also ordered Durkee to pay $10.5 million in restitution to her victims. 

Durkee appeared in court for the sentencing dressed all in black.  Reading from a prepared statement, her voice quavering at times, Durkee apologized to her former clients and employees. “I’m truly sorry for the hurt I have caused.” she said.

U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller called Durkee’s crimes “significant and egregious.”
She said “the violation of trust cannot be overstated and the potential that certain elections were affected.”

The judge added it was Durkee's “inability to acknowledge her limits that led to her downfall.”