They're back

Aug 6, 2012

Lawamakers head back to Sacramento today to face two familiar issues they'd rather avoid -- blistering heat and public pension reform. 


From the Chronicle's Wyatt Buchanan: "Just what those changes will entail is unclear. Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed increasing the retirement age and creating a hybrid system that includes a 401(k)-style benefit, among other things, but lawmakers have yet to approve those or anything else."


"Legislative leaders said they will discuss a type of cap on pension benefits, along with changes that could impact cities and local government agreements."


"A conference committee, made up of members from both chambers, has held numerous hearings on pensions and is expected to produce a proposal in the next few weeks that would be voted on in both the Senate and Assembly."


Speaking of pensions, as a string of cities grapple with bankruptcy, a common theme in their misery is the cost of retirees' health care.


From Ed Mendel in Calpensions: "Unlike pensions, there is no widely held view that promised retiree health care is a “vested right,” protected by contract law, under a long series of court decisions. Some think promised retiree health care can be cut, depending on circumstances."


"Pensions in the three bankruptcies also are protected by the deep pocket of the California Public Employees Retirement System, whose threat of a long and costly legal battle reportedly is the reason Vallejo did not try to cut pensions in bankruptcy."


"Cutting retiree health care in bankruptcy was upheld last month. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Klein in Sacramento denied a temporary restraining order sought by a group of Stockton retirees. Klein began a hearing on July 23 by saying he understood from filings that Stockton retirees were in a “dire situation” and that a cut in retiree health care could be “catastrophic to some of them.”


Public pensions aren't the only types of pensions under discussion. How about those of private workers?


From the Bee's Dan Walters: "This is not the first time that state Sen. Kevin de León has proposed a state-sponsored pension system for the more than 6 million California workers whose employers don't offer retirement benefits."


But the Los Angeles Democrat's latest effort, Senate Bill 1234, is only a couple of votes away from reaching Gov. Jerry Brown's desk, and it's touched off a titanic lobbying war."


"De León has until Aug. 31 to get his bill into Brown's hands – where its fate would be uncertain."


The large revenues at stake in casino gambling have pitted tribe against tribe.


From the NY Times' Norimitsu Onishi: "A pitted gravel road snakes through the forest to the Enterprise Rancheria of the Maidu Indians’ sole piece of tribal land about 15 miles east of here in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Broken trailers and a hot tub rejiggered to irrigate a garden sit in a clearing, the few acres of flat land where a handful of people live in houses in disrepair."


"With little accessible space on its 40-acre territory, the 800-member tribe used government grants last year to buy a nearby trailer park that is now home to a dozen families. About half live in old trailers that were used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to house those displaced by Hurricane Katrina."


"To pull itself out of poverty, the tribe applied in 2002 to build an off-reservation casino at a spot with more economic potential, near towns and highways about 35 miles south of here. After the federal government gave its approval last year, the final decision now rests with Gov. Jerry Brown, who is expected to decide on the fate of the Enterprise casino and another tribe’s off-reservation proposal by an Aug. 31 deadline."


In the wake of reports that state parks officials sat on millions of dollars in cash even as parks faced closure for lack of funds, a new proposal is in the offing to better track funding.


From Katherine Mieszkowski in the Bay Citizen: "This week, state Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, plans to introduce legislation giving the State Park and Recreation Commission new authority."


"The commission is the citizens' oversight committee for the parks," said Evans in a phone interview. “I want to make it a commission that actually has some teeth to it."


"While some members of the commission support Evans' plan, another member, Maurice Johannessen, thinks that it has all the authority it needs. "The commission is an oversight body that can go in and find anything that they want," said Johannessen, who is also a former state senator. "If I wanted to review a budget, then I would ask for it."


Finally, from our "Couch Potato" file comes word of the ranking the world's 20 laziest countries. Believe it or not, the U.S. didn't make the list.


"Scientific journal The Lancet has carried out a global study, including results from 122 countries, to establish which nations are the laziest."


"The UK, it found was one of the most inactive countries, with a staggering 63.3% of the population being inactive. It was ranked eighth laziest country in the world."


"The UK was put to shame when compared with its US friends. The study found just over 40 per cent of those in North America were inactive, putting it in the 46th spot."


"Meanwhile, Greece was labelled the least lazy nation in the study. Only 15% of the population of the balmy Mediterranean country, which also boasts one of the world's healthiest diets, was classed as inactive."


It's the olives and the baklava ...




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