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Capitol Conversations: Google+ Hangouts with Legislators and Viewers

Every week, FOX40 viewers can ask legislators questions about bills they are proposing through video chat.

Part of the interview is broadcasted the next morning on FOX40. Full interviews for some of hangouts can be viewed on FOX40′s  YouTube page.

The interviews take place with FOX40′s Zohreen Adamjee on Google+. Join by circling FOX40′s page.

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Zohreen Adamjee talks with Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg during a Google+ hangout about his work with mental service programs in California.

Darrell Steinberg Google+ hangout SACRAMENTO -

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has dedicated much of his political career to fulfilling a broken promise in California.

During a Google+ hangout with FOX40, Steinberg explained that the state shut its mental hospitals in the 1960′s. He said the decision was well-intended, and to encourage those with serious mental illness to live in communities with “dignity and independence.” He said the state said they would pay for 90% of the costs of community care and treatment – but that promise was never fulfilled.

Steinberg’s interest in mental health programs was sparked during his time in college, where he tutored students with severe physical disabilities. “I was really moved by the flip side of disability, which is ability,” he said. “Because I saw people who didn’t even have the physical ability to turn the page of a heavy casebook, getting through the difficult law school curriculum while all of us able-bodied students were complaining and struggling.”

One of his biggest achievements has been the passage of Proposition 63, a 1% tax on Californians who make a million dollars or more each year, which has generated roughly a billion dollars annually  for mental health services.

The program hasn’t gone without criticism. Some feel counties have squandered the money in preventative care. An AP report mentions Fresno county spending $315,000 on community gardens, San Francisco county spending $100 per yoga class for city workers with family members with mental illness, and Sutter County putting $93,000 into helping 40 at-risk kids through extracurricular activities.

Steinberg explained the benefit of the programs during the hangout and especially highlighted how people of Fresno recognized that the only way they’d be able to help the Hmong community in their area would be to create a place they’d feel comfortable spending time in. He said, “We have this assumption that if you just spend the money on opening up more clinics  that people are going to walk in the front door.”

Viewer Michael Tucker asked Steinberg to address Calfornia’s overcrowded prisons. Steinberg pointed out that the state has reduced the prison population by almost 40,000 inmates since 2011. The prisons are still over 100% capacity and experts argue that for mental health services to be affective, capacity needs to be well below 95%. Steinberg stressed he doesn’t want to spend more money on improving jail capacity. He said, “I want to spend more money on mental health, substance abuse and keep more people out once they leave.”

Viewer Kempton Lam asked if it would be better if the cycle didn’t begin in the first place and asked if California could be more discriminatory of who they put in prison to begin with. Steinberg said he hopes he can have an impact on the cycle that lands people in prison and believes it can be done through the money Prop 63 allocates toward prevention and early intervention for those with mental illness.

Steinberg ended by saying that mental illness is an issue that affects everyone. “We readily talk about a broken arm or our physical health problem But here’s the fact, everybody knows somebody… affected by this.”

Watch the entire Google+ interview with Steinberg here.

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Thirty-seven million dollars? That’s roughly how much the latest California Powerball jackpot started at.

But to put it in perspective, it’s how much Governor Jerry Brown has set aside for state colleges to offer online courses.

Both Senate President Pro-Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), and State Senator Marty Block (D-San Diego), hope California adopts a statewide system of faculty-approved online courses for credit.

Block wants CSU, UC or California community college students who aren’t able to get into classes at their school to be able to find an open virtual seat in another college, as long as that particular class was approved by a faculty panel. (His bill was held in the Senate Appropriations Committee last week, but he hopes to take action on the proposal through the state budget.)

During a Google+ hangout with FOX40 and viewers recently, Block said his bill will, “… speed up student time to graduation, which means less tuition in long run, which means they’re getting out to the workforce earlier.”

Viewers in FOX40′s Google+ hangout with Block supported his proposal. Viewer Michael Tucker sees colleges rapidly embracing the web in future years. He says, “I don’t see universities and colleges being in the same structure they are.”

Block’s proposal goes hand-in-hand with Steinberg’s online bill, which proposes 50 online college courses for credit. Both senators want to increase access to education while keeping quality high. This means cost and class sizes stay the same.

The President of the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges, Michelle Pilati, has taught online class since 2000 and sees issues in both proposals. She says, “There’s a lack of understanding of our curriculum processes. both bills have language in there as if you’re going to have a course and everyone should accept it.”

She says no senate-appointed faculty has the expertise to determine whether one course fills all the necessary requirements for other schools. But she says she’s pleased the legislature is interested in online courses.

Watch the entire Google+ interview with Block here.

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State Senator Carol Liu wants to speed-up how quickly schools admit homeless youth.

She says, “These kids don’t have parents. The bill addresses the need to let these kids come in, register, participate in sports, get benefits that would be denied to other people.”

She says about 200,000 young people are on the streets.

“We just know what these statistics are. If these kids fail the system in getting into schools or an education, they’re not job ready. We just know this is a bad menu for success and they’ll become part of the government roles, either in our jail system or welfare.”

Google+ participant Stormy Henderson asked how people will be able to distinguish if people are gaming the system.

Senator Liu says to simply listen to their stories. She adds the kids “self-identify themselves to some kind of agency” asking for food and a place to sleep.

Google+ participant DeAno Jackson asked how to eliminate the problem at the source.

Senator Liu said, “That’s a huge question. The government doesn’t want to get involved in people’s lives in terms of couples intervention and that kind of thing. But they do. But we’re always at the other end of patching things up. We only see the outcomes of unsuccessful problem solving. I don’t know if you can legislate something like that.”

She says, “It’s about all of finding a palatable solution to this problem that can quite eat away at the soul of our society.”

To view the full hangout with State Senator Carol Liu, watch the video on YouTube.

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Can our medical system keep up with the five million additional Californians eligible and required to buy health insurance next year?  California State Senator Ed Hernandez says it won’t and is proposing nurse practitioners, optometrists and pharmacists should be able to diagnose, treat and manage some illnesses for the growing number of people eligible for health insurance through Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

In a Google+ hangout with FOX40, Hernandez said that with, “the current workforce we have now, we are barely meeting the demand for primary care physicians.” To add to the problem, he says one third of physicians in this state are over 65.

He said his critics believe his proposals will create a two-tier system, but Hernandez said  we already have one. He said, “We have a distribution problem where few of them [doctors] go to rural or more importantly intercity or communitites of color.”

A majority (5 vs. 1 with one undecided vote) of Google+ hangout viewers supported his proposals. Anthony White was one who opposed it, and  questioned who would oversee those with expanded medical roles. Hernandez said, “There will and always needs to be accountability,” and said each group would be held liable by their respective boards.

Opposing groups argue the groups simply aren’t trained enough. Viewer Kempton Lam was supportive of the senator’s proposal but also questioned if there was a risk of the medical personal not being qualified. Hernandez says this is not the case and says non-medical doctors like optometrists, pediatrist dentists, pharmacists, nurse practitioners all have four years of an undergrad degree in some type of science, four years of postgraduate work and independent boards that oversee them to ensure that public safety is a priority.

He added, “what we’re going to allow them to do is within their training.”

To view the full hangout with State Senator Ed Hernandez, watch the video on FOX40′s YouTube page.

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The California lawmaker who has enflamed the state’s right wing and suffered death threats in recent weeks over his controversial assault weapons bill explained the flaws in the legislative process when it comes to creating gun laws.

State Senator Leland Yee (D), San Francisco, has proposed to close a loophole he says exists in California’s assault weapons ban in which the bullet button makes it possible to switch magazines on rifles in seconds.

In a FOX40 Google+ hangout, participant DeAno Jackson expressed confusion over Yee’s bill and said several guns function nearly identically but are significantly different in appearance – and yet some are banned and some are legal. Google+ viewer Kevin Gasser similarly asked, “Why do visual characteristics even play a role in safety? You are banning something that looks scary.”

Yee clarified the question about aesthetics over function and said it was difficult to create bills banning assault weapons. He says, “What has evolved over the years is ‘Let’s look at certain kinds of characteristics.’ Now are we able to get all the characteristics? Absolutely not. Are there better laws out there? Sure. The way to pass any law is to figure out how to bring all the sides together and come up with a compromise.”

Though a majority (7 vs. 1) of people inside the Google+ hangout supported Yee’s proposal, some viewing the YouTube conversation from outside the hangout questioned Yee’s desire for compromise. Oleg Budanov said, “Wow… Unbelievable… Ban Constitution all together… why even bother…” Gary Beltrami asked if Lee’s proposal was the first step in a complete weapons ban.

This is the second time Yee is introducing his proposal to the legislature. The fist time the bill was introduced last year, it died in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. He reintroduced the bill soon after the Sandy Hook massacre in Connecticut. He says, “As a father, as a grandfather, I can’t imagine how in this country, we could allow that to happen.”

If the bill passes, Yee says people will not lose the weapons they already own, but they would have to register the ones with bullet buttons and he says sales of those devices would be banned in California.

Google+ participant Kim Beasley asked the senator what strategy he had in place if the bill didn’t pass. Yee says he will continue to raise awareness of the harm he says the weapons cause. He says he doesn’t focus too much on the politics and whether the bill passes though.

“I didn’t come to Sacramento to put my finger in the political wind and see where it was blowing,” he says.

To view the full hangout with State Senator Leland Yee, watch the video on FOX40′s YouTube page. 

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Teachers are known to instruct and nurture. Now one lawmaker wants them to know how to aim and shoot.

Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, (R) San Bernardino, is proposing using education funds to train school staff to use guns to protect schools in case of a dangerous threat.

Several bills from Californian lawmakers have followed last year’s Sandy Hook school shooting including one that proposes a permit to buy ammunition, one that attempts to close a loophole in California’s assault weapons ban, and one that proposes to put a five cent tax on bullets.

In a Google+ hangout with FOX40, Donnelly said he feels frustrated with many of the proposed bills and says, “Instead of talking about protecting the children, most of the politicians in Sacramento are talking about taking away the right of self-defense for every Californian.”

Most of the participants on the Google+ hangout (5 vs. 1) expressed disapproval of the proposal. Viewer Michael Tucker said presenting guns in schools would virtually create a war zone. Donnelly said teachers being trained on using guns would be completely voluntary and said, “We’re not trying to turn it into the wild west…it would be concealed carry. The whole purpose would be that the gun is only drawn in the event that someone is standing in front of the teacher armed.”

Viewer Shannon Johnson expressed concern that if her son found a gun at school, he may unintentionally hurt someone. Donnelly said the guns would be on the teachers at all times and feels it’s important to teach children firearm safety. He said, that way when a kid sees a gun, they would know what to do.

A majority of the dozens of comments left on FOX40 Facebook’s page sided with Donnelly. But follower Alexander Reza Ghezavat took an opposing stance and said, “It’s not like every teacher and school staff is a good person. We need to come up with a more reasonable solution.”

Asked if teachers were the right people to carry guns, Donnelly said, “I think that brings up a question that’s a lot deeper, which is do we trust each other? Does the government trust the people? I’m saying I trust the teachers.”

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“The Wild West” is how State Senator Kevin De Leon, (D) Los Angeles, describes California with its current gun and ammunition laws. California has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, but several legislative democrats feel it’s not enough and have proposed tightening them.

De Leon says ammunition fuels violence and has proposed Senate Bill 53, which would require buyers to first pass a background check and buy a permit.  In a Google+ hangout with FOX40 Thursday, he said, “Anyone can buy large quantities of ammunition and what usually takes place is people are buying it overtly, not covertly.”

Sparky Donald wrote on FOX40′s Facebook page, “Why do California legislators keep up with this insanity of punishing law abiding citizens? Do they really think that criminals obey laws? [sic]”  But De Leon says the problem is people who legally buy ammunition and then sell it illegally. He says the current system makes this easy. “You can literally rent a U-Haul truck, pull up into the parking lot and fill that whole U-Haul truck, no questions asked,” he said. He thinks creating a system where ammunition buyers are tracked will curb illegal sales.

A majority of FOX40 Facebook followers expressed disapproval of the bill. Branden Mund felt the proposal is “unconstitutional.” Terry L. Bowman called it, “a war on all our freedoms,” and Steve Victor said it was, “communism at its finest.” De Leon argued there’s not a significant downside to his bill and said, “The beauty of this measure is that it’s not anti-gun, it’s not second amendment, it’s not anti-law abiding citizen who adheres to the laws of this state.”

Despite the negative viewer responses to the proposal, there were some who approved of De Leon’s bill. Google+ hangout attendee DeAno Jackson supported it and asked him how we could solve the gun debate in the current polemic environment. De Leon said, “We have to have regular folk involve themselves in this equation. They have to be a part of this larger debate.” He said the Newtown school and Aurora theater shootings were “watershed moments that impacted negatively the psyche of everyday Americans to renew this debate,” and hopes we can continue having rational discussions to find a solution that works.

De Leon said “In California if you want to hunt, you have to secure a license, if you want to fish, you have to secure a license, and if you want to cut down a tree for Christmas, you have to actually secure a permit.”

If the bill passes, the background checks would be conducted by the Department of Justice.

Watch the entire Google+ interview with De Leon here.

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Thousands of miles of California roads are lined with meters — an enormous source of revenue for cities. And until recently, all Californians could park at the broken ones and not worry about being fined.

In December, the Los Angeles City Council voted to change that policy and fine Angelinos for parking at broken meters. Assemblymember Mike Gatto, (D) Silverlake, has proposed AB 61, which would override the council’s recent decision.

He told FOX40 during a Google+ hangout that he thinks the council’s decision is wrong since taxpayers pay for maintaining streets, parking spots and meters. He said, “if a local government is slow to fix a meter, they shouldn’t be punished again with an exorbitant fine or by having to drive around the block to find a spot.”

Gatto also doesn’t agree with the Los Angeles City Council’s rational to charge for parking at broken meters, which they said would prevent meter vandalism. Gatto said parking meters have been around since 1935 and until recently, people could park there for free.

“The idea that we’re all of a sudden going to have a spate of broken meters just doesn’t make sense to me. For last 80 odd years that’s been the practice,” he said. Gatto doesn’t think there is an issue with people carrying “sledge hammers in their car just in case they encounter a meter they wanted to break,” and says the issue comes down to the city wanting to charge people more money.

Gatto feels the issue is greater than dollars and cents. “If you’re a business owner in one of these streets in Los Angeles, you want to get people parted for their money as soon as possible and the way you do that is you want to get people out of their vehicles and into their stores.”

Even though Gatto is pushing for his bill to pass, he told Sacramento viewer Shannon Johnson there may not be a need to talk about meters one day. Gatto noted that kiosks have been slowly replacing meters, “obviat[ing] any kind of discussion on whether a meter will be broken.” But he says if a kiosk were to go down because of the internet, he still believes parking should be free rather than prohibiting parking entirely on that street.

Kiosks seem far ,pre advanced than meters, but viewer Kempton Lam pointed out how antiquated they are. He said in his city, Calgary, Canada, their phones are linked to their license plates. They pay for parking through their phone and can be tagged electronically for tickets. He said “talking about broken meters is from the last century.” Gatto said that in California, we often believe we’re always cutting edge but “the reality is other nations have rather advanced things.”

Gatto also touched on how important meters were to California’s car oriented culture after Viewer Michael Tucker from Australia asked about the value of meters and the revenue they brings in. Gatto said meters can charge as much as $10 an hour, and the revenue a city makes from fining cars is even greater.

Gatto says it’s a “revenue source that doesn’t require much maintenance, it’s huge for cities.”

Watch the entire Google+ interview with Gatto here.

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