Tag Archives: Legislation

AB 219 Closes Wage Loophole on Public Construction Projects

By Steve Smith

California has long been committed to ensuring that anyone employed on a public works construction project earns a living wage. That just means the wages paid to women and men who build the public structures we all use aren’t driven into poverty. The wages are set by region based on cost of living and other factors to ensure that both workers and taxpayers are protected. It’s this kind of stability and fairness that ensures these important projects are completed on time by skilled professionals who do the job right.

But, like with many laws, there are loopholes. Drivers of ready-mix cement trucks who are employed by manufacturers are not covered under the state’s prevailing wage law, meaning those drivers don’t receive the same fair wages that other drivers doing the exact same work receive.

We’ve all seen a line of cement trucks preparing to pour on a construction project. Imagine that the first and third drivers are receiving a fair wage as required by law, while the second and fourth are receiving a substandard wage that makes it extremely difficult to support a family. Because of a loophole in the labor code, this isn’t just a theoretical scenario. It plays out daily on construction projects throughout the state. As a result, public dollars are used to suppress the pay of hard-working men and women without rationale.

But today, the state legislature took an important step to rectifying this inequity by voting to close the loophole with AB 219 (Daly) so that all cement truck drivers working on public projects earn the same fair wage.  Earlier this week, dozens of workers from the State Building and Construction Trades unions and the Teamsters lined the halls of the Capitol to urge legislators to close this loophole and support good jobs. Their message was simple: all workers on a construction site deserve fair treatment on the job and a decent wage to support their families.

While passing this bill may seem like a no-brainer to most, it’s no shock that corporate lobbyists were coming out of the woodwork to oppose. Some big corporations like the loophole because it allows them to underbid responsible contractors who do the right thing by paying their employees a decent wage and offering healthcare and retirement benefits.

While there will always be corporations who try to get around the spirit of the law to cheat workers and pad their own bottom lines, taxpayers shouldn’t subsidize this inherently unfair practice. When workers are mistreated, it endangers the entire project. It’s in all of our best interest to ensure that workers doing the exact same work earn the same pay.

Governor Brown now has the opportunity to close the labor code loophole that treats workers differently solely based on who their employer is. By signing AB 219, the Governor would ensure that public works projects are completed by skilled professionals who earn a decent wage for a hard day’s work.

Gov. Brown’s Pen is Busy

California State Capitol 2Governor is tearing through the stack of legislation on his desk

by Brian Leubitz

The Horseshoe is busy. Very busy. And it isn’t just the governor and his legislative staff. Those folks who post his press releases on the website must be pulling all-nighters.

If you check the Governor’s official press release page, you will see a slew of signed and vetoed legislation. And that is just a fraction of what the bills that they are actually going through. The press releases from legislators, interest groups, and the governor are generally flying fast and furious.

Perhaps to emphasize his middle of the road politics these days, the Governor has taken exactly that approach to new labor legislation. He signed legislation that will hold businesses liable for subcontractor’s labor violations, but he also vetoed a bill that would have made it harder for BigAg to stall new contracts with farm laborers. Despite the latter bill being dubbed one of the CalChamber’s top “JobKillers”, the bill made it through the Legislature. That’s usually quite the feat, but with Sen. Steinberg pushing it, shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. In his veto message, Gov. Brown says he wants to view the whole process rather than nibbling at one side or the other.

In another major piece of legislation, the governor vetoed a drone surveillance measure by Republican Asm. Jeff Gorell

Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown on Sunday vetoed a bill that would have required law enforcement agencies to obtain warrants to use drones for surveillance.

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The bill, AB 1327, would have required the government to secure a warrant from a judge before using surveillance drones except in cases of environmental emergencies such as oil or chemical spills. Three other states have placed a moratorium on drone use by state and local agencies. (LA Times)

Given that the bill carried substantial support from both parties in the Legislature, one would expect to see a similar bill in the next session. Although, from the Governor’s veto message, it may need to be defined on the basis of the federal and state constitutions without adding too much in the way of new privacy rights. It might be something of a threading the needle task for whomever takes up the task.

Of course, that is just the start, to get a full record keeping, you can check out the Governor’s Legislative Updates on his official press release page.


Gov. Brown Signs Nearly 90% of Bills, Vetoes Gun Safety Measures

Jerry Brown - Take TwoGovernor vetoes a few notable pieces of legislation on last weekend

by Brian Leubitz

When you have both the legislative and executive branches controlled by the same party, you would expect a pretty high percentage of legislation signed. However, while the odds have been better for Democratic legislation under Gov. Brown than the previous administration, some Democratic legislators have been a little frustrated with Gov. Brown’s vetoes of major legislation.  With that being said, the two year session that ended last year ended up with the Governor vetoing about 13% of the 1,866 bills that reached his desk.

That’s about half as many as Schwarzenegger, but his rate went down this year to 10.7%, something of a record. And some of those he signed are pretty important:

Gov. Jerry Brown on Sunday wrapped up action on bills for the year by approving a measure aimed a protecting against false confessions by minors in homicide cases and giving some non-violent felons the ability to have their records expunged.

In all, Brown acted by Sunday’s deadline on 896 regular-session bills sent him by the Legislature this year, down from the nearly 1,000 bills that landed on his desk last year. He vetoed 10.7% of the bills, the lowest rejection rate for any of his three years this term. (LA Times)

He also acted on a few other bills of note. He signed Sen. Hancock’s SB 54, which had caused a dustup in the labor community (including a “Save Our Jobs” campaign), however he vetoed some of the so-called “LIFE Act” gun safety legislative package. Needless to say, many progressives are disappointed.

Their key issue: the veto of SB 374 by Senator Darrell Steinberg,” which conservatives called called “draconian” – but which progressives supported for its ban on future sales of most semi-automatic rifles.

We just talked to Paul Song, head of the progressive Courage Campaign, who told us that his group was “devastated” by Brown’s actions.

“We expected that in a solidly blue state, where he doesn’t have to worry about recall, he would have shown a little bit of courage or backbone – and set an example for the test of the country. He let us down,” Song said. “And just like the prison expansion (issue), he’s been to the right of a lot of Republican governors.” (SF Gate)

He did sign some of the package, including banning kits that enable magazines to hold more than 10 bullets, but the vetoes gathered more attention. While this does move the ball forward, ultimately we need federal gun legislation in order to really be effective.

You can find more information on the status of specific bills at the Legislature’s bill information site.

CA Student Bill of Rights

( – promoted by Brian Leubitz)

“Our students should be able to pursue their dream of a college degree without having to jeopardize their financial future by going deep into debt,” Assembly Member Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont)said.  “This is a crisis that is getting worse.  A college education is supposed to improve your financial security not destroy it.  That is why I have introduced a Student Bill of Rights.”

Wieckowski’s Student Bill of Rights package, being introduced to the State Assembly this spring, takes a two-pronged approach to the issue by educating students and helping them become financially-literate consumers on the front end, and easing the burden for those graduates who are struggling and not able to pay their debt after leaving college.

His bills, AB 233, AB 391, AB 534 and Assembly Joint Resolution 11 are currently moving through the Legislature and have broad support from student, consumer, labor, and legal advocates.

We’re inviting all California post-secondary (college, community college, trade programs, university) students and their advocates to meet on the south steps of the State Capitol on Monday, April 8 at 11:30 a.m. to make the statement that California’s students have a right to higher education with a debt free future! Join us as we call for higher education debt reform that will protect Californians from crippling student loan debt.

As America’s college students face over $1 trillion in higher education debt, NOW is the time to make sure Californians have a safe future with financial opportunities. Private student loans carry risks that all Californians should be aware of and have increased protection from, through financial literacy programs and improved counseling tied to private student loans.

Monday, April 8 at 11:30 a.m. join Assemblymember Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont), State Controller John Chiang, California State Student Association, and others as we raise awareness about the Student Bill of Rights currently in consideration in the State Assembly. Bring your stories and your support; bring your voice and be heard! Help the state take action so that California’s students have the right to higher education with a debt-free future! We welcome all student groups, all post-secondary educators, parents, and all education advocates. We have the opportunity right now to make a difference for ourselves and the generations of students to come!

For more information, contact Assemblymember Wieckowski’s office at (916) 319-2025 or [email protected]

Plastic Bag Ban Returns for Consideration

Bill was defeated last session

by Brian Leubitz

Asm. Mark Levine, the upstart challenger from Marin County who was elected to the Assembly, is now carrying the plastic bag bill that former Asm. (Now Congresswoman) Julia Brownley carried in the previous session.  The bill would start in 2015 with a gradual process:

Under the proposal, most grocery retailers could no longer provide thin plastic bags for customers starting in 2015. For 18 months, retailers could offer paper bags made of recycled materials or reusable plastic bags for customers to bag their milk, eggs and other groceries.

Starting in July 2016, grocery retailers could only provide reusable plastic bags, which many stores already offer at a fee. The new proposal, Assembly Bill 158, also leaves room for stores to provide recycled paper bags at a charge.(SacBee)

Plastic bags are really bad for the oceans, there really isn’t any disputing that.  In fact, in some areas of the ocean, plastic trash is far more present that plankton and other small animals that the ocean depends on as the basic building block of marine life.

Yet paper bags really aren’t much better. They also live for a long time in our landfills, as biodegrading takes a really, really long time in landfills that do not provide air and water flow. Recycling paper bags is a better option, but even that ignores the high cost of energy and transportation of the paper bags. It turns out that paper bags require a lot of energy to produce.

In the end, we really need to adjust to using less resources. Bags are a small part of this. Reusable bags are by far the best option, and Californians especially, with our long coastline, need to adapt to that reality. However, it should be pointed out that bags are a smaller percentage of waste than the packaging that our food gets dressed up in at the grocery store. But hey, you know what doesn’t come in a lot of packaging: fresh food! Good for you and the environment, double winner!

Asm. Levine’s bill is a good start. The plastic and chemical lobbies are sure to bring their forces to bear against it, as they did in the last session. Hopefully this time will be more successful than the last time this bill died in the Senate.

THREE DAYS LEFT For California’s Gov. Jerry Brown to Sign TRUST Act

California’s Governor, Jerry Brown, only has until THIS weekend to sign the bill, and we’re asking everyone to call (916) 445-2841 to ask Gov. Brown to sign the bill TODAY.

Lawrence Downes in the New York Times today explains the significance of the TRUST Act:

The bill requires state and local authorities to be more prudent when the federal government wants to use their jails as immigration holding cells.

Presently, when Immigration and Customs Enforcement runs inmates’ fingerprints through its databases and finds someone it believes is deportable, it often asks local authorities to hold that person to be picked up for deportation. Most police departments try to comply, though doing so is voluntary.

Under California’s bill, local police would agree to hold inmates for ICE only if they have been convicted or charged with a serious or violent felony. If the inmates are noncriminals or minor offenders who would otherwise be let go, they would not be turned over to ICE.

As the bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, said: “We want police to distinguish between the woman selling tamales and the gang member who has a record.”

While current US immigration policies are supposed to focus on deporting criminal immigrants while de-prioritizing the removal of hardworking immigrant mothers and fathers, the reality is that 400,000 people are deported every year, many of whom have no criminal records whatsoever.

Extremist, anti-immigrant states like Arizona and Alabama want to exacerbate this problem, and have passed laws pushing for the mass deportation of immigrants.  California wants to take a different tack, and head in the opposite direction: it wants to direct limited resources toward removing criminals, while staying away from the persecution of neighbors, friends, and community members.

As Lawrence Downes finishes, “Mr. Brown should listen to the voices of the immigrants, civil-rights advocates, police chiefs and sheriffs, local elected officials, members of Congress, Catholic bishops and other religious leaders who have implored him to lead California out of that wilderness. He should sign the Trust Act.”

You can help turn this bill into law.  Call Gov. Brown at (916) 445-2841 and ask him to sign the TRUST Act today.

Gov. Jerry Brown Should Sign the TRUST Act and Be “Anti-Arizona” on Immigration

Cross-Posted at California Progress Report and America’s Voice Education Fund.

By Frank Sharry, Executive Director, America’s Voice Education Fund:

Years ago, California tried to take the punitive and xenophobic approach to immigration with Prop 187 — a 1994 ballot initiative whose stated goal was to keep undocumented immigrants from receiving public benefits, but would have essentially turned California into a police state for immigrants. Fortunately, Proposition 187 was invalidated by the courts.  But instead of learning from California, states like Arizona, Alabama, and a handful of others are repeating the same mistakes and passing similar laws designed to turn anyone who looks or sounds “like an immigrant” into a suspect and make them feel unwelcome in their own homes.

But last week, the California State Senate showed just how far the state has come-by passing Assemblyman Tom Ammiano’s (D-San Francisco) TRUST Act, the antithesis of Arizona’s anti-immigrant SB 1070 law.

Arizona’s law attacks immigrants by making local cops turn them over to the federal government for deportation-destroying the trust between immigrants and local police. Unfortunately, the Obama Administration is also pushing for local-federal cooperation on immigration through its so-called “Secure Communities” program, which turns routine police work into an immigration status check, and has led to record deportations of immigrants who have never committed a crime.  Under “Secure Communities,” undocumented persons are often detained for very minor violations, such as driving without a license, and end up on the path to deportation.  In California alone, more than 75,000 immigrants have been deported since Secure Communities began there in 2009, and more than half of those immigrants were either convicted of no crime or convicted only of minor offenses.

The TRUST Act, which has the support of over 100 immigrant rights groups, police chiefs, and mayors, seeks to restore the public trust police need for community safety. The TRUST Act would address some of the problems with Secure Communities by telling police to only send immigrants who have serious convictions to ICE for deportation.  It would allow hardworking immigrant mothers and fathers to go to work and live their lives with less fear of harassment and deportation, and would mend the rift between immigrant communities and the police that is vital to the success of community policing.  This makes the TRUST Act essentially the opposite of Arizona’s SB 1070: while SB 1070 treats every immigrant as a priority for deportation, the TRUST Act lifts up legitimate threats and zeroes in on true public-safety priorities.

The bill has moved on from the California Senate to the Assembly, which is highly likely to pass it.  Next, it will move to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk, and Latino and community leaders are expecting the Governor to sign it and show the rest of the country what smart and fair immigration policy looks like.

The TRUST Act is simply a common-sense policy-in a world of limited resources and police power, law enforcement should target dangerous criminals for deportation, not hardworking mothers and college students.  And when criminals at large threaten all of us, those with information must be encouraged to come forward-not scared away from doing so. Opponents of the bill are simply relying on their tired talking point that anything short of deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants is “amnesty.” They’ve got nothing else to offer.

We hope that Governor Brown is ready to lead California full-circle, rejecting its Proposition 187 past and sending a message to states like Arizona and Alabama that mass deportation is not the answer.  Immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants is.

From Prop 187 to the TRUST Act — California Comes a Long Way, Models Smart Immigration Enforcement

Yesterday, California took a key step in positioning itself as the “anti-Arizona” on immigration enforcement, with the state Senate passing a bill that would restore common sense to states’ approach on immigration. Ironically, California was the first state to embrace an extremist approach to immigration with the passage of Proposition 187 in 1994. Fortunately, the state has now come full circle and is breaking new ground by passing what we see as the “anti”- Prop 187 and “anti”-SB 1070: the TRUST Act.

The TRUST Act passed the California Senate with a 21-13 vote, moving the bill to the State Assembly, where it is also expected to pass. As the Los Angeles Times explains, the TRUST Act would:

prohibit police and sheriff’s officials from detaining arrestees for possible deportation unless the suspects have previous convictions for a serious or violent felony. The measure is aimed at blunting federal immigration enforcement, in particular the Secure Communities program, under which fingerprints of arrestees are shared with immigration officials who issue hold orders.

The federal “Secure Communities” program was created to target serious criminal offenders, but has been widely criticized by elected officials, law enforcement and others for sweeping up tens of thousands of immigrants without criminal records and destroying immigrants’ relationship with the police. That is why the California legislature-and, hopefully, soon the Governor-is taking concrete steps to address this with the TRUST Act.

The California approach stands in stark contrast to the SB 1070 law passed by neighboring Arizona, a law that continues to be mired in controversy and legal challenges. While the TRUST Act’s goal is to bring balance to immigration enforcement, SB 1070’s goal is to make every immigrant a law enforcement “priority.” Basically, it’s the difference between support for community policing and the creation of a police state.

Arizona is already ground zero for profiling and harassment of people “perceived to be immigrants,” and the federal government is certainly doing its part. The Border Patrol’s recent treatment of former Arizona Governor Raul Castro-who was stopped and held in 100 degree heat while traveling to celebrate his 96th birthday-is just the most recent example of how “checkpoint” culture has invaded the southwest and turned even the most patriotic of Americans into suspects. As Alessandra Soler, Executive Director of ACLU of Arizona stated:

This happens all the time in terms of these types of indiscriminate stops of individuals not suspected of any wrongdoing…I think most people would agree that subjecting a 96-year-old man to secondary screening does little to secure our borders and a man who had just informed them that he had undergone this medical procedure.

In fact, this wasn’t even the first time Governor Castro was subjected to harassment by the Border Patrol, and it’s a clear indication that Arizona remains the Wild West, while California is striking out on a decidedly different path.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director, America’s Voice Education Fund:

The rapid expansion of federal immigration enforcement capacity and authority has helped foster a climate of impunity and excess, as the detention of former Gov. Castro demonstrates. That’s why California’s TRUST Act is such a welcome and sensible step forward. By taking smart steps to restore immigration enforcement priorities, California’s TRUST Act is the antidote to Arizona immigration policy excesses. We hope and expect Governor Brown to sign the TRUST Act into law, sending a strong signal that California has learned from, and moved beyond, its Proposition 187 past.

Health Insurance Brokers Got 2800% Pay Increase In Last Decade–And Want More

Health insurance companies aren't the only ones that raked in the dough as insurance premiums rose 138% over the last decade. Health insurance brokers, who get their pay as sales commissions from insurance companies, made out like bandits, too. A recent California Department of Insurance survey of four of the five top insurers in the state found that aggregate broker income rose from from $5.8 million in 2000 to $168 million in 2010–a 2800% increase. Some of that is growth of the broker industry as insurance became a for-profit product, but a lot of it is also broker pay rising along with premiums.

Health insurance companies aren't the only ones that raked in the dough as insurance premiums rose 138% over the last decade. Health insurance brokers, who get their pay as sales commissions from insurance companies, made out like bandits, too. A recent California Department of Insurance survey of four of the five top insurers in the state found that aggregate broker income rose from from $5.8 million in 2000 to $168 million in 2010–a 2800% increase. Some of that is growth of the broker industry as insurance became a for-profit product, but a lot of it is also broker pay rising along with premiums.

Yet now the brokers' lobby is crying poverty, demanding legislation to exempt their commissions from new health reform rules intended to trim health insurance administrative costs–including broker pay. Go tell the brokers' sob story to the bus driver who's been out of work for 18 months and whose family can't even afford health insurance.

The brokers are also pressuring that the National Association of Insurance Commissioners to endorse this pay-protection legislation, even though the cost to consumers and taxpayers would be in the billions of dollars. Insurance commissioners with cooler heads, including California commissioner Dave Jones, got the NAIC to hold off and study the consequences first. It was also Jones who ordered up the survey showing the explosion in broker pay in California.

An NAIC committee did do a study–and found that consumers would lose more than a billion dollars in rebates if the brokers got their way. Plus insurance companies would likely raise premiums–with an ultimate cost to consumers and taxpayers in the billions. (See Consumer Watchdog's letter to  NAIC here) All for an industry that has gotten a free ride for years, with percentage commissions rising along with insurance premiums. Yet it refused to incorporate the information on California broker pay.

The committee, with only Jones dissenting, dutifully passed along its study to the whole NAIC this week.

Now it's up to the 50-plus insurance commissioners to decide whether they'll endorse some tortured compromise to give the brokers paycheck protection (sometimes 2800% just isn't enough) and stick consumers with the cost. The simpler and fairer alternative would be to not endorse anything, and let the brokers sell the bill on on their own.


Posted by Judy Dugan, research director for Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing an effective voice for taxpayers and consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Visit us on Facebook and Twitter.

Our Revolution

The largely peaceful revolution in Cairo and Americans’ celebration of it raises the question:

What would it take to mount a peaceful revolution in America against the Wall Street and corporate powerhouses that have turned the government against the best interests of our people?”

The largely peaceful revolution in Cairo and Americans’ celebration of it raises the question:

What would it take to mount a peaceful revolution in America against the Wall Street and corporate powerhouses that have turned the government against the best interests of our people?”

In America, the corporation is king and the abuses of corporate power are the subject of our people’s greatest grievances.

The 2008 election was supposed to settle the score with Wall Street and the corporate elite that have ransomed, ransacked and run over the average American. The change never came, and it’s even less likely in 2012.

At Consumer Watchdog we build populist revolutions one spark at a time where the public has spoken but the rich and powerful won’t listen. While our work cannot compare to the heroism of the Egyptian people, we are inspired by their example.

The revolution in Cairo showed the power of online platforms like Twitter and Facebook to authentically air outrage and connect change makers. In Washington, DC, Consumer Watchdog is fighting to protect individuals’ freedom online, which is being threatened in the name of greater profit, by some of the very corporate innovators that created these platforms.

On Friday, the “Do Not Track Me Online” revolution began with the introduction of legislation by Congressional Rep. Jackie Speier (HR 654) to force corporations to respect our right to keep personal information and online habits private. You can weigh in with your Congressional Representative to pass the legislation here.

Our freedom to be revolutionaries in America depends on how well we can maintain the online commons as free, open, and in the service of the individual, and our privacy needs, rather than the corporation and its commercial needs.  This is an American battlefield that begins with online privacy, the right not to tracked online, extends to net neutrality and evolves to the greater notion that online technology should be in the service of individuals not corporate robots (in spirit of the teaching of Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not A Gadget.

If there is a nonpartisan street revolt brewing in America today it is against the staggering health insurance premium increases that insurance companies are foisting on Americans.  I was in the streets against Blue Shield’s 59% rate hike two weeks ago with angry patients and the California Nurses Association. Blue Shield actually agreed to delay the hike when we showed up.

Consistent premium hikes and the pending mandatory health insurance law to take effect in 2014 are bound to continue a growing rebellion.

Health insurance companies like Blue Shield and Anthem Blue Cross thumb their noses at our democracy daily.  They hijacked health reform to give themselves a guaranteed market, even as they fight daily to erode the consumer protections in the new federal law. Consumer Watchdog is working with regulators to force the health insurance companies to live by the new rules and with California legislators for “Do Not Gouge Me” legislation — giving government the right to stop unnecessary premium hikes. (You can weigh in for AB 52, if you have not already, here. )

Ultimately, the 24 states with ballot initiative processes will be a vehicle to get the people what Congress will not deliver – a public insurance alternative to the private market. Consumer Watchdog is already drafting such a ballot measure for California.

What happens after a revolt is as important as the uprising itself. Insurance companies like Mercury Insurance, Allstate and Farmers have been fighting for two decades against the ballot box revolution of insurance reform Proposition 103. Consumer Watchdog’s lawyers fight back daily to protect and further that voter revolt, which has saved motorists $62 billion on their auto insurance, and to show that even the biggest and most powerful companies have to respect the people’s will.

Revolutions in America today take place in the corporate suites, not the streets.  CEOs are generally the ones deposed, not presidents, which is the first clue to who really holds the power in our nation… But if a governmental revolution were to come, how would it unfold?

Bob Herbert in his New York Times column Saturday artfully makes the case  of the price we have paid for the sins of Wall Street and self-serving interest of those at the very top of the economy.  America will never be the same, nor will our schools, parks, colleges, social programs and deficit, without a major re-rewrite of how our government works to divorce it from the state of corporate capture that is its numbing existence.

Elections are not tools of revolutions in America anymore. What will it take to get Americans in the streets?  

Higher prices for everything coming with growing inflation, higher unemployment,  no jobs for our youth, the closing down of public services and public assistance?

The powerful in America have too much to lose and usually buckle when they smell the whiff of a revolution. That’s why it’s worth putting that smell in the air and in the streets again when the moment calls for it.

Dramatic changes in ideas and practices are the results of long, hard marches toward freedom and accountability. We need to start marching together in America again.


Posted by Jamie Court, author of The Progressive’s Guide to Raising Hell and President of Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing an effective voice for taxpayers and consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Visit us on Facebook and Twitter.