Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Perea leads lawmakers’ grilling of state officials over jobless check delays

David Siders of The Sacramento Bee’s Capitol Bureau reports on Wednesday’s hearing about delayed jobless benefits:

Assembly Member Henry T. Perea, D-Fresno, chairman of the Assembly Insurance Committee, speaks with reporters after a committee hearing at the Capitol on Nov. 6, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

The state Assembly Insurance Committee, led by Fresno Democrat Henry T. Perea, blasted state officials for their oversight of a computer problem that delayed jobless benefits for nearly 150,000 Californians, while front-line employees testified Wednesday that problems persist.

The oversight hearing was the first on the troubled project. (Perea told The Los Angeles Times’ David Lazarus ahead of the meeting that the goal was to make sure issues that caused the delay don’t arise again.)

A miscalculation converting old unemployment claims into a new processing system over the Labor Day weekend resulted in a massive backlog of unemployment claims. The problem became so severe it skewed reporting of initial jobless claims by the U.S. Department of Labor, and it provided another example of the state’s information-technology shortcomings.

“I think the fundamental issue for the state is we are the home of Silicon Valley, we are seen as the most technologically adept state in the nation,” said Assembly Member Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova. “To have this sort of thing happening is a colossal problem.”

While EDD administrators said backlog claims have largely been resolved, Irene Livingston, an employment program representative for EDD In San Jose, testified that it remains “nearly impossible” for unemployed Californians to reach front-line employees. She said the system is overwhelmed with telephone calls and an email system that remains backlogged.

“There’s literally hundreds of thousands of messages that have yet to receive a response,” she said.

EDD administrators lamented staffing shortages at the department, but EDD Chief Deputy Director Sharon Hilliard told the committee that staffing levels were not responsible for the computer problem. The department greatly underestimated how many claimants would be affected by a glitch in data conversion done over the Labor Day weekend, as well as how long it would take employees to address the problem.

“For this, we are very sorry,” Hilliard said.

Hilliard and a representative of Deloitte Consulting, the contractor on the project, both said the department should have done a more thorough test on the amount of time required to address “stop pay” flags associated with a portion of claims being converted.

(Perea summarized the hearing on his webpage — including some audiofiles.)  

Read more from Capitol Alert

Friday update

Perea’s office released a letter that he sent to Hilliard, the EDD chief, outlining five specific things that the Assembly committee asked the EDD to do:

1. Update the criteria for determining eligibility on an untimely claim.

2. Update the criteria for determining whether an applicant’s ongoing training is a valid reason for not looking for a job.

3. Improve communication with claimants.

4. Look into having more multi-language documents and web pages.

5. Improve the EDD call center.

— The Fresno Bee

 

Money battle continues in Fresno trash outsourcing election war

The Measure G fundraising war continues, with both sides bringing in cash at a feverish pace ahead of the June 4 special election in which Fresno voters will decide on outsourcing the city’s residential trash pickup.

As of April 20, the Yes on G campaign, which is led by Mayor Ashley Swearengin and favors outsourcing, had raised more than $200,000. Since then, the campaign has picked up several additional contributions, including $49,000 from McDonald Aviation and $25,000 from Howe Electric.

Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin

The campaign has also found some success with the west-side farming crowd. Woolf Farming & Processing donated $25,000 and Don Peracchi, a west-side grower who is chairman of the Westlands Water District board, chipped in $5,000.

That pushes the Yes on G campaign past $300,000 — and it looks like it is spending just about every cent on various campaign efforts, including television commercials.

Outsourcing opponents look to be closing the gap somewhat.

The No on G campaign had only raised around $57,000 as of April 20.

Since then, it has picked up $100,000 from the International Union of Operating Engineers Stationary Engineers Local 39, $40,000 from the Service Employees International Union Local 1000 and more than $20,000 from the Fresno Police Officers Association.

That means No on G is well past $200,000 in its fundraising efforts. And, as with the Yes on G camp, it’s spending it as well.

A pair of donations to the No on G campaign that have raised eyebrows came from Perea Reviving Jobs and the Economy Ballot Measure Committee, a committee controlled by Assembly Member Henry T. Perea, D-Fresno.

On April 3, the committee gave $10,000, and on April 15 another $10,000 — a total of $20,000.

On April 5 — in between the two contributions — Sunset Waste contributed $20,000 to the Perea Reviving Jobs and the Economy Ballot Measure Committee.

Sunset Waste, City Hall’s longtime recycling partner, is suing Fresno. Sunset contends the city’s earlier decision to outsource its commercial trash pickup breaks a recycling contract between Sunset and the city.

Assembly Member Henry T. Perea

If privatizing residential trash pickup is approved, Sunset says is will sue a second time.

Bob Stern, a campaign ethics expert and former state Fair Political Practices Commission general counsel, said the Perea committee must disclose if the Sunset donation was directed to go to the No on G campaign.

Perea and Sunset officials didn’t return calls seeking comment. It is unknown if any such disclosure was made — or was even needed.

Dillon Savory, the No on G campaign manager, said in an email statement that “We truly appreciate the support that we are receiving from a broad range of supporters. Assemblymember Perea sent us a contribution and we said thank you.”

Workers comp battle involving professional athletes comes to Fresno

The pitched battle over proposed legislation that would limit the ability of professional athletes in other states to file workers compensation claims in California came to Fresno Friday afternoon.

Zack Follett, a Clovis High graduate who went on to play football at Cal, and then professionally for the Detroit Lions, was the featured speaker.

Zack Follett

“Because I played for Detroit, they’re saying that I do not have a right to file in California, even though I am a native here and I did play games here,” Follett said.

Follett played one season and part of a second for the Lions before suffering a career-ending neck injury in 2010 in a game against the Giants played at Giants Stadium in New Jersey. During his National Football League career, he played one game in California — Dec. 27, 2009 vs. the San Francisco 49ers.

A workers compensation insurance claim has been filed by Follett in California against the Detroit Lions for his future medical care and disability compensation.

Friday’s location was chosen because it was outside the downtown Fresno office of Assembly Member Henry T. Perea, a Fresno Democrat who is the sponsor of Assembly Bill 1309.

The bill would deny California benefits to professional athletes in baseball, basketball, football, hockey and soccer whose teams are not California-based and who only played occasionally in the state during their careers.

A hearing on the bill is scheduled Tuesday before the Assembly Insurance Committee, which Perea chairs, said Steve Hopcraft, who represents opponents of the legislation.

Henry T. Perea

Those opponents claim it is an effort by “billionaire NFL owners” to get out of paying its players for injuries suffered during their playing years. They say owners are now aware that the long-term costs could be significant because of brain trauma that leads to diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

“AB 1309 is a bill written by some of the richest individuals in this country — billionaires, multi-multi millionaires who own NFL teams and other major sports league franchises,” Hopcraft said.

In a statement released Friday afternoon, Perea said:

“The question isn’t whether Zack Follett or any former professional athlete should be able to file for workers’ compensation benefits — because they absolutely should. The question is where.”

Perea said he was “sympathetic to Zack’s story.”

But, he added, “we need to set some clear and minimal standards for professional athletes because California teams and California businesses can’t continue to foot the bill for thousands of claimants who didn’t work here and weren’t specifically injured here.”

Perea also said that Follett, in particular, wouldn’t be affected by AB 1309, whether it passes or not. The reason, Perea said, is that “the courts have already decided that players who sign contracts with enforceable ‘choice of forum’ provisions, as Zack did, are already required to file in the employer’s home state. He’s obligated to file in Michigan.”

Senate hopeful Perez stumps in Fresno, picks up more support

State Senate candidate Leticia Perez continues to pick up key support in the Fresno area, the most populous part of the 16th Senate District — and where she’s far less known than in her hometown of Bakersfield.

A number of small city mayors in Fresno County announced their endorsement of the Kern County Democrat at a press event in downtown Fresno today, including Parlier Mayor Armando Lopez, Fowler Mayor David Cardenas and Mendota Mayor Robert Silva.

State Assemblyman Henry T. Perea, D-Fresno, and Kings County Supervisor Richard Valle also officially jumped on her campaign train.

Perez is the top Democrat in what’s essentially a two-person race for the seat vacated by Bakersfield Democrat Michael Rubio. Hanford Republican Andy Vidak is also in the running. The special election is May 21.

Perez picked the bipartisan issue of water to discuss this afternoon, pledging to ensure adequate supplies for Valley farmers and posing for photos with her supporters in front of an irrigation canal.

Conway to Taiwan, Perea to Poland

Sacramento Bee Capitol Bureau reporter Melody Gutierrez filed this report:

At least two groups of state lawmakers are spending their spring recess from the Capitol on overseas trips underwritten by outside groups.

Six lawmakers and the president of the Public Utilities Commission are in Poland on an eight-day trip paid for by the California Foundation on the Environment and Economy, a nonprofit group bankrolled by dozens of donors, including labor, energy, environmental and telecommunications interests.

Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway talks to reporters after Gov. Jerry Brown’s State of the State speech in January. (Associated Press photo)

In a separate trip, a nine-member delegation of the Assembly, including GOP leader Connie Conway of Tulare, is in Taiwan to promote bilateral exchanges in trade and culture.

Lawmakers took $329,000 in free trips last year, according to financial disclosure statements filed in March.
The Taiwan trip was outlined in a release from Taiwan’s government-run Central News Agency. It precedes Gov. Jerry Brown’s trade mission to China, which has long-standing strained relations with its island neighbor Taiwan. Brown leaves for China on April 8.

The March 23-29 trip is funded by the government of Taiwan’s Taipei Economic and Cultural Office and will include a meeting with Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, according to the release.

“With Taiwan serving as California’s seventh largest global trading partner, it is important to strengthen cultural and economic ties,” said Sabrina Lockhart, spokeswoman for Conway.

Last year, California exported $6.3 billion to Taiwan, primarily in non-electrical machinery and computer and electronic products, according to the California Chamber of Commerce.

Henry T. Perea (Fresno Bee file)

The roster of legislators in Poland includes Fresno Democrat Henry T. Perea. The sponsor of the Poland trip, CFEE, arranges similar journeys every year for lawmakers and industry executives. Last year, the nonprofit sent six legislators to Brazil for two weeks. Among the lawmakers on that journey were Michael Rubio, who resigned from the Senate last month to take a job at Chevron.

“These are fact finding missions and working trips,” said CFEE spokesman P.J. Johnston. He said Poland is pursuing solar, smart grid and hydraulic fracturing.

Others on the trip to Poland include CFEE board members, who represent Pacific Gas & Electric, the Northern California Power Agency, Southern California Edison, Shell Energy North America, Sempra Energy Utilities, NRG Energy, IBEW Local Union 1245, the State Building & Construction Trades Council, AES Southland, NextEra Energy Resources, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Calpine Corporation, Southern California Pipe Trades, Colorpower, Independent Energy Producers Association and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Bob Stern, the former president of the Center for Governmental Studies, said he has concerns about trips such as the Poland excursion.

“I’m in favor of overseas trips, but paid for by the state,” Stern said.

The reporter can be reached at (916) 326-5521, mgutierrez@sacbee.com or @MelodyGutierrez on Twitter.

Lawmakers want to fix bureaucratic funding maze for clean water

Small, impoverished towns are sometimes left for years with tainted drinking water while they wade through a cryptic state process for public funding to fix the problem.

Two frustrated lawmakers this week will start a streamlining effort that probably will result in several new bills next year.  The lawmakers are Assemlymembers Henry T. Perea, D- Fresno, and Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville.

“We’re getting pretty fed up,” said Perea, who has worked for funding in such Tulare County towns as Seville, Monson, Cutler and Orosi. “We might want to consolidate this process under different agencies.”

At 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in Sacramento, Alejo and Perea will convene an oversight hearing of the Environmental Safety & Toxic Materials Committee to take testimony from more than a dozen people. If you want to follow it live, go here.

Thomas Harter, a University of California at Davis researcher, will briefly discuss his landmark research released this year on nitrates, the most widely found contaminant. It comes from fertilizer, animal waste, septic systems, sewage treatment plants and decaying vegetation.

The contaminant threatens the drinking water for more than a quarter of a million people in the Valley, according to Harter’s research.

Yet in places like Seville, which was featured last year in a Fresno Bee series of stories on drinking water problems in rural towns, it has taken years just to secure funding to study a fix.

This week, the Tulare County Board of Supervisors was expected to approve a $690,000 grant to study the best ways to fix Seville’s problem. The study money has been years in the making and there have been bureaucratic snags along the way, as The Bee reported last year.

Even with the study money in hand, it probably will take more than a year to get started on a fix for the town’s crumbling water system.