Why Lawmakers Have Their Heads in the Clouds

Government

Sacramento Report: Why Lawmakers Have Their Heads in the Clouds

Why drones soared back into the news, money for low-income students might now go to teacher raises and more in our weekly Sacramento roundup.

Drones soared above virtually every other hot issue this week, and legislators and others have lots of ideas about how they should be brought back to earth.

Bills aimed at policing drones have been in the works for months, but they flew back into the conversation this week when several drones disrupted emergency workers during last weekend’s fire in the Cajon Pass.

Sacramento Report logoTwo bills would address the issue by allowing law enforcement to shoot down drones if they’re interfering with rescue work.

InformationWeek points out a not-insignificant consideration there:

Here is the problem. The legislation basically sets up a situation where flaming wreckage is going to be falling form the sky. Routinely.  …

By granting immunity rather than by specifying policy on exactly how those included are able to bring down the drones, the legislation is basically saying that it is OK for law enforcement to fire bullets into the air without knowing where those bullets will all land.

The L.A. Times editorial board concurs:

Causing a drone to crash could create a fire problem of its own. There are technologies for jamming drone frequencies in a way that force a safe landing — but again, most drones aren’t required to include that technology.

In other words, the bigger questions about how and when to regulate dangerous drone use must be resolved by the federal government.

Lawmakers are right to address any hindrances to emergency response. But what about drones’ potential to actually help fight fires? Local fire officials don’t have any drones, but the California National Guard has at least one Predator drone from San Diego’s General Atomics, and it gets called in occasionally to battle fires, as Lisa Halverstadt explained last year:

Once Gov. Jerry Brown got the OK  from Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and the FAA, the drone outfitted with heat sensors and a swiveling camera descended over the massive wildfire that decimated tens of thousands of acres in Yosemite National Park.

The drone allowed pilots hundreds of miles away to “quickly alert fire bosses to a new flare-up they otherwise wouldn’t have immediately seen,” according to the Associated Press.

Fire officials told the AP the drone could remain in the air for up to 22 hours, a vast improvement over helicopters used for the same purpose that needed to refuel every two hours.

Other bills floating around the Legislature address different drone issues, including trespassing and their use by public agencies.

A bill by Escondidio Assemblywoman Marie Waldron “would create a state task force to assure California’s needs are addressed as the FAA complies with a 2012 federal law that requires it to come up with some commercial standards,” according to a U-T article earlier this year. The problem with that? “The 2018 deadline … is an eternity by tech standards.”

Taken together, the bills paint a scary picture of a drone-filled world – one where they peek into your curtains, or crash into you while you’re out for a stroll.

So I’ll let Slate do what it does best, #Slatepitch you on why you should get over all the fear and embrace drones:

If drones are going to change our society in the very near future, it won’t be because we got our Kleenex delivered from the air, instead of by truck. It will be because they democratized access to information.

State Supe: Money for Low-Income Students Can Go to Teacher Raises

When Gov. Jerry Brown unveiled his new plan for funding schools in 2013, called the Local Control Funding Formula, he said the point was “to put the decisions closer to the classroom.”

That meant giving “more to districts with a higher concentration of students from low-income families, foster children and English-language learners.”

State Superintendent Tom Torlakson believes there’s room within the formula to use this tightly controlled pot of money to give across-the-board raises to teachers, “if they can link the increases to better student services,” Cap Public Radio reports.

San Diego Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, who has taken aim at teachers unions all session long, said using the money for teacher raises is not what the Legislature intended when it OK’d the formula.

“Those dollars that are targeted for schools that have those areas that we’ve identified should never be used for across-the-board raises,” she told Cap Public Radio. “That dilutes the resources and does not get to the maximum support we want for students.”

 Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez explained on Twitter that she pulled her own bill to create uniform standards for English-learners.

Dems Cheer UC Minimum Wage Hike. GOP Not So Much.

How the University of California system spends its money has been a big sticking point for the Legislature this year.

In May, lawmakers took UC officials to task for giving scholarships to too many out-of-state students. Those students pay higher tuition and should be a source of income for the system, and scholarships should be reserved for needy Californians, lawmakers scolded.

So when the UC system announced this week that it would be raising the minimum wage for its employees to $15 an hour, that theoretically put some Democrats in a tough position – they’d spent the last few months telling the UC to tighten its belt, but they’re also in favor of higher wages. They landed on Team UC.

Republicans, though, quickly jumped on what they saw as a contradiction.

What San Diego Lawmakers Are Up to

• Assemblywoman Marie Waldron published a weird op-ed in the Vista Press this week. In it, she points out that “attempts to undermine Prop. 13 protections for California taxpayers or simply raise taxes and ‘fees’ seem to be gathering steam in Sacramento.” But she never comes out and directly expresses an opinion on such efforts, which, y’know, is usually the point of an op-ed.

• Grocery store lobbyist: Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez’s bill to protect grocery workers’ jobs when stores change owners will “lead to job losses.” (Sacramento Bee)

Gonzalez: No, it won’t.

• Assemblyman Brian Maienschein won’t run for the County Board of Supervisors. (Inewsource) Meanwhile, Sen. Joel Anderson presumably still is running for the Board of Supes, but the Union-Tribune’s Logan Jenkins has lots of questions about just what exactly Anderson is doing.

• Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins spoke to protestors gathered outside the ALEC conference in San Diego. The group “brings together legislators with corporate donors who meet behind closed doors to draft model legislation on everything from limiting collective bargaining and expanding gun rights to blunting federal efforts to tackle climate change,” writes KPBS.

Golden State News

• If you thought pot and plastic bags made the 2016 ballot interesting, I present to you: condoms in porn. (L.A. Times)

• The Sacramento Bee ed board says the rest of the state needs to follow the San Diego County Water Authority’s lead on water preservation. 

• California Healthline explains how moving several tobacco-related bills to a special session sidesteps an Assembly committee known for killing tobacco-related bills.

• Speaking of special sessions, the other one slated is on infrastructure. The state transportation secretary says in an op-ed that fixes can’t wait. (Sacramento Bee)

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