Sen. Marty Block took the lead in a hearing this week to delve into the possibility of doing away with tuition at California’s community colleges.

“As a marketing tool, free can’t be beat,” said Block, pointing out that while the California system is one of the most affordable in the nation, many high school graduates have a “mental roadblock” when it comes to thinking about college affordability.

About two-thirds of California’s more than 1 million full-time community college students currently have their fees waived through existing aid programs, leaving only about 400,000 who pay for their education. Still, that accounts for more than $400 million annually in fees. The system also has more than 1 million part-time students. Overall, it currently costs about $46 per unit for those paying their way, or about $1,200 in tuition and fees for the year.

But additional costs – including housing – can bump that all the way up to $18,000 per year for students not living with family, according to testimony at the hearing.

Block said that increasing community college enrollment is critical for California’s economy (a position he’s long argued on this issue and others involving education), which is projected to have a shortage of skilled workers in coming years.

But before he introduces any legislation in California, he says he wants to take the time to meet with community college chancellors, including San Diego Community College District Chancellor Constance Carroll, and other education leaders to get their input. Tuition affordability legislation has already been introduced in the Assembly.

The hearing follows up on President Obama’s America’s College Promise push from 2015, which would give two years of free community college education to all high school students nationally who meet basic requirements, a proposal currently before Congress. Currently, Oregon and Tennessee already have programs that offer the gratis two years.

While Block said he likes the idea of free tuition, he’s not ruling out other approaches to lowering costs. Success would be a community college system that not only increases overall enrollment, he said, but also increases its ability to provide low-cost four-year degrees, like those he championed for pilot programs in San Diego beginning last year.

You’ve Been Warned, Sacramento

Voice of San Diego is losing one of its top reporters to the statehouse. Liam Dillon, senior reporter, assistant editor and all-around extraordinary human, is leaving the Southland to become the newest edition to the Los Angeles Times Capitol bureau, where he’ll cover politics and policy issues.

Dillon says his exact areas of coverage are still being worked out, but will “be heavier on the policy side of that equation along with expanding the Times’ coverage of the executive branch … To start, I am planning to write about housing affordability, police accountability and transparency and CEQA, among other topics.”

He’ll leave us next Thursday and starts the new gig on Feb. 22. Read his long goodbye here, or catch him in the Capitol before he catches you.

Anderson Not a Fan of ‘Flim-Flam’

Sen. Joel Anderson went to bat once again for increasing funding for the state’s services for the developmentally disabled, which advocates say have been slashed by more than $1 billion since the start of the recession.

That money goes to programs that help people with autism, Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy and other issues to be more independent though aid, including transportation and in-home care.

“We have an obligation to create a social fabric for those who cannot provide for themselves,” said Anderson, sounding like he may have caught the Bern. “This is an issue that they’re shouldn’t be any divides between parties.”

But of course, playing politics is the business of the Capitol.

Anderson and some of his colleagues are “outraged” that Gov. Jerry Brown has tied Department of Developmental Services funding to his managed care organization tax – a complex, controversial and pressing issue that will result in the loss of $1 billion in federal funding for Medi-Cal if a solution isn’t reached in the next few months.

Brown needs Republican support to get MCO reform through the Legislature, and Anderson and others say he’s using DDS funding as a way to strong-arm that support – some Republicans have been long-time champions of the DDS programs.

But they’re also opponents of the MCO proposal.

“When you look at the MCO tax, even if you get to a deal, it’s so flimsy I don’t know how anyone can talk about it with a straight face,” said Anderson.

Anderson introduced legislation that would put DDS funding back as a budget item, and increase it along the way. It matches legislation already introduced in the Assembly.

“We don’t care how this tax scheme goes,” said Anderson. “We don’t care if you are trying to flim-flam the federal government. … These people deserve to be in the budget. What outrages me is that nobody has called the governor out for this despicable act. This is not a partisan issue. This is about whether you have a concerned heart for your fellow man.”

San Diegan Named to Air-Quality Board

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins appointed a San Diegan to the state Air Resources Board this week, Diane Takvorian, currently executive director and co-founder of the Environmental Health Coalition, a nonprofit dedicated to environmental and social justice for disadvantaged communities.

“With 35 years of experience working in the environmental justice community, Diane has developed a proven track record of protecting public health in disadvantaged communities. I trust that Diane will provide strong leadership in ensuring that environmental justice communities are represented on the Air Resources Board,” Atkins said in a statement.

Takvorian was previously the associated director of the Community Congress of San Diego.

AB 1288, authored by Atkins last year, requires two additional members representing disadvantaged communities to be appointed to the state Air Resources Board, as a means to better ensure that communities disproportionately impacted by environmental pollution are represented, and expanding the board to 14 members.

Golden State News

• President Obama last week moved to end the solitary confinement of juveniles in federal prison. But in California, “bills to restrict the use of solitary confinement on youth have stalled for the last four years.” (CalMatters)

• Not a good week for San Diego-based Sempra Energy: The state is suing over a gas leak from a company owned by Southern California Gas, a Sempra subsidiary, and state lawmakers want to massively overhaul the state entity that regulates utilities. (AP, Los Angeles Times)

• California now has its very own medical pot czar. (Cap Public Radio)

• The Union-Tribune’s Steve Greenhut has details on a bill that would make a small change to public records law, but could be a big deal for journalists.

• Dan Walters has the latest on San Diego water officials’ pushback against state conservation mandates. (Sac Bee)

Anita Chabria

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

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