Party line

Apr 20, 2012
Four of the five members of the state Public Utilities Commission oppose legislation that would block its authority to regulate VoIP, or voice-over-internet, services. A bill authored by the chair of the Senate utilities committee to do just that was approved by the committee, but the PUC doesn't like it and critics contend it would eliminate the last remnants of state regulation over land lines. 


From the LAT's Marc Lifsher: "Although the bill appears to be written to completely deregulate phones that use the Internet to carry voice and data communications, it has the potential to eliminate basic consumer protections for people who use traditional, telephone company land lines, said Commissioner Catherine J.K. Sandoval, a lawyer and telecommunications expert."


"This bill would essentially prohibit the CPUC from regulating both voice-over-Internet-Protocol and Internet Protocol services," she said. "That's extremely problematic because many of the telephone carriers have been for almost a decade using the Internet within their networks to move plain old telephone service calls."


"What's more, Commissioner Michael Florio stressed that the commission always has maintained "a light touch" regulating voice-over-Internet service and has never attempted to oversee the Internet."


Speaking of the PUC, the commission approved nearly $20 million in fines against PG&E, stemming from the utilities failure to check gas-line leaks in the East Bay and for failing to provide pipeline safety records by a deadline.


From the Chronicle's Jaxon Van Derbeken: "The larger of the two fines, $16.8 million, stems from the company's acknowledgement in December that it did not conduct federally mandated leak surveys for years on nearly 14 miles of gas distribution lines in Concord, Danville, Antioch, Pittsburg, Brentwood, Byron and Discovery Bay."


"Last month, a commission administrative law judge turned down the company's appeal of the fine. PG&E wanted the fine to be cut to $400,000, in part because it had disclosed the problem itself."


"PG&E's offenses were severe," Judge Burton Mattson said, and "potential public harm from these violations was great."


The cost of medical care for prison inmates in California is triple that of other states, and California must figure out some way of curtailing costs, the Legislative Analyst says. The AP's Don Thompson has the story.


"The federal receivership that has been in place since 2006 has greatly improved the medical care of state prison inmates but also has caused costs to soar, according to the report. California spends $16,000 per inmate for health care services, compared to an average of $5,000 in other states."


"The analysis was released less than two weeks before the state and attorneys representing inmates must report to a federal judge with recommendations on when the receivership should end and whether it should maintain some oversight role."


"The Legislature should create an independent board to monitor prison medical care to make sure conditions do not deteriorate once the state retakes control, the report said. It also recommends that the state experiment with contracting for medical services to cut costs."


Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg has proposed changes in statewide ballot procedures that include allowing the Legislature to vet ballot initiatIves and allow lawmakers to place statutory initiatives on the ballot with a majority vote.


From the OC Register's Brian Joseph: "Steinberg said that’s not fair and he named three changes he plans to pursue: 1. Allow the Legislature, on a majority vote, to place on statutory initiatives on the ballot. Statutory initiatives include measures to raise taxes. (Steinberg said he wouldn’t change the vote threshold for putting constitutional amendment initiatives on the ballot.).


"2. Implement an “indirect initiative” process. That’s where initiative proponents refer their proposal to the Legislature after they’ve gathered the requisite number of signatures rather than directly to the voters. Once the proposal is before the Legislature, lawmakers have the option of amending it. Steinberg said 10 other states have similar processes.


"3. Allow the Legislature, with the governor’s permission, to repeal a voter approved initiative after 10 years. Steinberg said 23 other states have similar rules."


The fallout over the Solyndra debacle continues to roil the Obama administration, including word that the contract-tracking arm of the government pursued contacts with the failed company even after the White House told it to back off.


From California Watch's Daniel J. Goldstein: "General Services Administration officials – now embroiled in an agency scandal over lavish spending – pursued contracts with Fremont-based Solyndra despite orders from White House officials to cease contact with the failing solar panel company, according to e-mails released as part of a congressional investigation."


"Jonathan Silver, who has since resigned as loan programs director for the Energy Department, put the GSA in contact with Solyndra, the documents show. Silver wrote Bob Peck, public buildings commissioner for the GSA, regarding Solyndra."


"You and your team are doing amazing things!" Silver wrote to Peck in an e-mail dated July 15, 2010, copied to Chris Gronet, then-CEO of Solyndra. "Your two teams will have a lot to discuss."  


And finally from our "Filthy Lucre" file comes word that the new coins being minted in Great Britain are actually harmful to the skin. The nickel-plated 5p and 10p coins can cause allergic reactions.


"The possible health risks of using the nickel-plated five and ten-pence coins should be investigated, a group of skin experts said. One in ten women and 2 per cent of men are allergic to nickel. A European directive was introduced in 2000 to ban the substance in items such as belts and earrings, where there was a danger it would corrode and irritate skin."


"The Treasury expects to save about £8 million a year by producing the cheaper coins, which are gradually being phased into circulation, and is satisfied they do not pose a health risk to the general public."


"However, experts from St John’s Institute of Dermatology, in London, and the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, in Sheffield, believe more research is needed."


Righto ... 



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