Political Watch: September 21, 2023

• U.S. Sens. Alex Padilla (D-California) and Mike Braun (R-Indiana) introduced bipartisan legislation to streamline veterans’ access to their benefit claim files, according to a Sept. 14 statement from Padilla’s office. The Wounded Warrior Access Act would require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to establish and maintain a secure online tool or website to enable veterans or their representatives to make requests to receive their claim files electronically. When a veteran submits a claim for benefits to the VA, a claims file (C-File) is created. C-Files contain a veteran’s service records, results of VA exams, additional information submitted by the veteran, and any material the VA deems necessary to decide the claim. Currently, veterans must travel to a regional VA location or mail in a form to request a paper copy of their C-Files, slowing down the process for individuals to gain access to their information. “Those who have served our country with honor, courage, and distinction deserve our nation’s enduring support and gratitude,” Padilla said in the statement. “Veterans should not have to travel to a regional VA location to access their claim file or wait for a physical copy to come in the mail; they should be able to quickly access the information they need electronically.”

• The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors approved the appointment of Kristine Schmidt as the new director of Human Resources, according to a Sept. 12 statement from Santa Barbara County. Schmidt’s selection comes after an extensive nationwide search to find the ideal candidate to succeed Maria Elena De Guevara, who will retire from the position in January 2024. Schmidt will assume her new role on Jan. 2, 2024. She currently serves as the assistant city manager for the city of Goleta, a role she has been in since 2019. Before her tenure in Goleta, she dedicated 22 years of her career to the city of Santa Barbara from 1997 to 2019, where she held various positions in human resources, employee relations, and administrative services. “I am honored to join the county of Santa Barbara as the director of Human Resources. It is a privilege to serve this community, and I am committed to fostering a work environment that values employees and promotes their growth and well-being,” Schmidt said in the statement. “I look forward to collaborating with the county’s dedicated team to continue to attract, develop, and retain top talent to serve our community effectively.”

• Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that the Board of State and Community Corrections unanimously awarded $267 million to 55 local law enforcement agencies across the state to combat organized retail crime—the largest investment in the state’s history—according to a Sept. 14 statement from the governor’s office. The funding, part of Newsom’s Real Public Safety Plan, will be dispersed on Oct. 1 to 34 police departments, seven sheriff’s departments, one probation department, and 13 district attorney’s offices to prevent and investigate cases of organized retail theft and arrest and prosecute more suspects. The Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office will receive $800,000. Across the state, the funding will be used to create fully staffed retail theft investigative units, increase arrests, install advanced surveillance technology, train loss prevention officers, create new task forces, increase cooperation with businesses and the community, target criminals in blitz operations, as well as crack down on vehicle and catalytic converter theft. “California is investing hundreds of millions of dollars to crack down on organized crime and support local law enforcement,” Newsom said in the statement. “Enough with these brazen smash-and-grabs—we’re ensuring law enforcement agencies have the resources they need to take down these criminals.”

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