Marty Block sent out a shocker on the Senate floor Thursday morning when he announced he is dropping out of the Senate race against Toni Atkins – a Dem on Dem contest that has drawn statewide attention. Just days earlier, Block was touting his many endorsements. But, “(T)he more I thought about it, the more it just didn’t make sense for us to be fighting,” he said, according to the Sacramento Bee.

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Later in the day, he released a statement with more explanation:

“Since I first announced I was running for reelection last year, the debates between Speaker Atkins and me have repeatedly demonstrated that we have very similar progressive positions on issues. It logically follows that we can best advance a progressive Democratic agenda both in San Diego and in the Capitol by working together. In the last few days since our most recent debates, this has become clear to me. Therefore, this morning I announced on the Senate floor that I will not file for re-election next month.”

Atkins quickly issued a statement of her own:

“I was as surprised as his colleagues with Senator Block’s announcement. What is no surprise to me, having appeared at so many campaign events with him recently, is how much Marty Block believes in the State Senate and its ability to do good for the people of the 39th District. Our community has been beyond fortunate to have had some great State Senators, including Lucy Killea, Dede Alpert, and my mentor, Chris Kehoe. Marty Block was a fitting member of that line-up. I will work very hard to measure up to the standards they all set. “

Already in the works before the campaign shake-up: Atkins will also unveil two pieces of human trafficking legislation Friday.

The first measure would create a pilot project that provides housing with wraparound services for minors who have been victims of sex trafficking. Right now, these kids either find themselves in foster care or juvenile detention – places advocates say don’t give them the support they need for recovery.

Atkins’ second measure would work to get state and social services agencies on the same page when it comes to a coordinated effort to fight human trafficking by creating a multi-agency task force to gather data, allocate resources and recommend protocols.

Weber’s Modest Solar Bill Could Have Big Impact

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber moved one of her bills out of its house of origin this week as the deadline for that vote loomed: AB 1381, which deals with rules for new real estate appraisers coming into the business.

While it doesn’t sound too urgent, the bill came out of a problem in the Broadway Heights neighborhood in her district, an area she describes as a “modest working-class community” and will likely help out green homeowners across the state if it becomes law.

Homeowners in Broadway Heights have invested heavily in solar panels on their rooftops. But turns out, when they went to refinance or sell, the appraisers had mixed feelings about the worth of that green technology. Some thought it added value, some thought it hurt, some were indifferent – it just depended on who showed up for that all-important inspection and what their personal knowledge was of the systems.

But in a state that’s leading the way on climate change and energy use, Weber thought the investment in the costly panels should “enhance the marketability” of their property.

“We are encouraging people to engage in a certain kind of energy,” she said. “We are encouraging that at the state level, so if we are going to value that, people should see that it has some value for them as well.”

So her modest bill deals with the foundation of the issue – it requires all new appraisers to have training on how to financially evaluate solar systems.

It’s headed to the Senate next.

• State utility regulators voted to keep the billing system known as net metering, which allows customers with rooftop solar panels to greatly reduce or eliminate their energy bills entirely. The California Public Utilities Commission’s vote will raise rates for rooftop solar owners, but not as much as utilities wanted, reports the L.A. Times. If you want to wrap your head around how the system works and why solar customers were so upset about the possibility of it going away, check out Lisa Halverstadt’s explainer.

Maienschein Wants to Make it Easier for Cities to House the Homeless

A dearth of housing projects statewide has complicated efforts to reduce homelessness, leading state lawmakers to recently propose throwing $2 billion at the cause.

Republican Assemblyman Brian Maienschein is pushing a solution, too.

Maienschein, once a major player in San Diego efforts to fight homelessness, passed a bill through the Assembly this week that aims to make it easier for cities and counties to build housing for the homeless.

The legislation, now headed to the state Senate, allows cities to update their general plans to include zones for transitional and supportive housing projects, a tweak intended to make it easier to get future projects approved.

Maienschein’s office made its preference for permanent housing projects clear.

“Most homeless advocates and social service experts in California recommend a ‘housing first’ strategy,” Maienschein’s office wrote in a statement.

So do the feds. So-called housing first projects provide the homeless with housing first, and then services to help address issues that led to their homelessness; while transitional programs provide months or even years of services first.

Maienschein’s statement may be a nudge for friends back home.

San Diego’s been slower to shift away from transitional programs than other major metros nationwide.

— Lisa Halverstadt

Dumanis Backs Brown’s New Sentencing Reforms

Republican San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis lent some unexpected bi-partisan help to Gov. Jerry Brown this week when he announced he’ll be backing a new initiative on the fall ballot to undo tough criminal sentencing guidelines he put in place four decades ago, allowing earlier release for inmates who have worked to rehabilitate themselves while behind bars.

“Here in San Diego, we have a long history of supporting rehabilitation,” said Dumanis during a press event Wednesday to announce the proposal. She added that the measure emphasizes “public safety” while “giving those who are coming out of prison the tools in prison to come out and turn their lives around.”

If the new rules pass in November, thousands of inmates (many “two-strikers” convicted of drug or property felonies) would become eligible for parole after completing their main sentence and passing a public safety screening. Currently, some are serving long sentences based on “enhancements” or added terms for circumstances surrounding the crime, such as gang affiliation.

Inmates would have to prove to the parole board that they’d actively been working to improve themselves – though educational and other opportunities offered during incarceration and had earned “credits” though those documented efforts.

Dumanis said that making prisoners verify they’ve been up to something good is an improvement in the system.

“Before, they got credit for breathing,” she said.

Dumanis, who has also worked as a juvenile court judge, was especially supportive of the parts of the initiative that deal with minors. The measure would put juvenile court judges in charge of deciding if a minor as young as 14 should be charged as an adult or not. Currently, that authority belongs to prosecutors.

“With respect, I have long felt that it should be left to the judges,” she said. “When you have only an advocate making the determination, you don’t have all the information.”

It’s an interesting perspective coming from Dumanis, who recently fought a court decision that determined sentencing reforms tied to Prop. 47 should apply to juveniles. Dumanis was also opposed to Prop. 47 itself.

Gonzalez Pushes Forward New Holiday Pay, Diaper Bills

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez had a blockbuster week, for bills with four proposals in play.

On Wednesday, her measure to offer double pay on holidays passed out of the Assembly on a 44-31 vote, a success she said was a “pleasant surprise.”

The Double Pay on the Holiday Act would require retail and grocery stores with more than 500 employees to give workers at least twice their regular pay for working on Thanksgiving – a day that big box stores are increasingly using to start their Black Friday madness. It was a close call with some moderate Democrats trying to duck the vote. But Gonzalez was having none of it.

“I pulled some of them back,” she said. “That’s my job.”

And on Friday, two more Gonzalez bills passed the Assembly. AB 492 would give $50 diaper vouchers to parents with kids under the age of 2 as part of CalWorks welfare-to-work program, while AB 717 would exempt them from state sales tax, saving families about $100 a year. Sen. Joel Anderson is a co-author on that measure.

Gonzalez said she was surprised but happy with the bi-partisan support the measures got – the tax exemption passed unanimously and AB 492 went through on a 60-5 vote.

“That’s what we were looking for,” she said. “To head over to the senate with a real unified voice.”

Earlier in the week, Gonzalez also introduced a sex-trafficking measure, AB 1708. That proposal would for the first time in California treat selling sex in a different light than buying it as a means to better protect underage girls and boys forced into prostitution.

“Right now the penal code treats prostitutes and johns with the same degree of harshness,” she said. Under this plan, that would end. Those trying to purchase sex would face a mandatory 72-hour jail hold and fine. Minors, however, could no longer be charged with prostitution for selling sex.

“I don’t know how you can even be an underage prostitute,” said Gonzalez. “You are by nature of your age a victim. So we wanted to get rid of that title.”

San Diego has more than 11,000 minors in the sex trade, with an average age of 15, according to a study cited in Gonzalez’s release on the bill. That study also found that 42 percent of first-time prostitution arrests were cases of sex trafficking, involving more than 100 area gangs.

Because it creates a new criminal penalty, the bill may risk a veto by the governor, who last session vetoed a Gonzalez/Anderson measure increasing the penalty for possession so-called “date rape drugs.” The governor cited the already-complex penal code and his reticence to add to it as the reason for that veto.

But Gonzalez is undeterred.

“I’m a mama and the harsh reality is this is somebody’s daughter,” she said. “Sometimes I think those of us who are parents and have kids might have a different view on this than the governor, but we have to constantly remind him that he is surrounded by people who might understand this a little bit better. Some of these crimes are not victimless.”

Golden State News

• Paige St. John at the L.A. Times reports that the Aliso Canyon gas leak near Los Angeles has prompted the Public Utilities Commission to order that all gas fields in the state beg examined for potential trouble.

• State regulators also filed suit against SoCalGas over the leak, KQED reports.

• The Mercury-News writes in an editorial that Gov. Jerry Brown should step in and put an end to the Coastal Commission coup. Steve Lopez notes that Brown has been mum so far on the effort to oust the group’s director in favor of someone more developer-friendly.

• Fantasy sports websites moved one step closer to regulation in California, according to the Sacramento Bee. The Assembly voted 62-1 to approve a bill that would provide them with licenses, though some states, like Texas, have deemed the operations illegal gambling.

• And here’s the Bee’s Dan Morain’s take on the “ham-handed” efforts of the fantasy sports industry to sway legislators by attacking one of them.

• Out-of-state UC enrollment would be limited under a new proposal that hit the Assembly this week, reports the Bee.

Deep Thoughts

Had to share this tweet about Oceanside Assemblyman Rocky Chavez.

“Why are there no people in the San Francisco Panera Bread?” wonders @AsmRocky, gets dinged for being off subject

— Jeremy B. White (@CapitolAlert) January 27, 2016

Anita Chabria

Anita Chabria is a freelance writer in Sacramento covering politics and culture. Follow her at @chabriaa or reach...

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