While California Dreams- Weekly Update Vol.1 No. 5

A weekly update on the goings-on in Sacramento
For the week ending July 7, 2007
Key bills and issues we’ve been following during the
past week and beyond
Budget Countdown Day 7 and still no budget in sight. In fact, there haven’t been any meetings of the Big Five, at least that have been made public and you know they’d be doing major photo ops. showing the Big Boys strutting down the hallway smiling if they were. So, with lots of anxious vendors and state workers hoping for some success before their next pay checks are due,
Here are some of the highlights:
Health care for all?- and other more modest proposals:
SB 840 Senator Kuehl’s Health Care for All
Having passed the Senate, this measure had its first opportunity in the Assembly where it was heard and passed by the Assembly Health Committee, predictably on party lines. Seems the Reps (and the Gov.) are too tied at the hip with the Insurance Industry to break ranks and support what the majority of Californians want by way of health care.
Nonetheless, Michael Moore’s Sicko which had its US premier in Sacramento just a few weeks ago, to much fan-fare and buzz, is creating quite a stir in the political world as the public is demanding reforms to America’s healthcare system. Moore has successfully raised the issue and the question “Why is a country that spends more on healthcare than any other nation in the world unable to take care of its sick?”
The word is that Senator Kuehl’s SB 840 will be approved by both houses and head to the Governor’s desk again where he has said he will veto the measure again. He will continue with the same right-wing mantra (and industry developed rhetoric) that is designed to inflame and mislead the public. The real question, of course, is why should the private, for-profit insurance industry be taking 30% of every insurance premium dollar when the government can make sure everyone has health care for about 10%-like it does with the highly successful Medicare and Veterans healthcare programs? Of course, we know why…because the Insurance industry is among the Gov’s and the Republicans chief campaign contributors. But the public is ready to pounce so we’ll keep an eye on this.
In addition, Assemblymember Dave Jones’ AB 1554, the insurance company accountability bill comes up for a vote in the Senate Health Committee on Wednesday, July 11th. AB 1554 still allows the for-profit insurance industry to continue to charge at its current rates, but will require they justify any rate increases and get permission from an oversight agency before doing so. Obviously, this idea has engendered the wrath of the health insurance industry. They do not want to be regulated and certainly don’t want the kind of oversight the public created with auto insurance back in 1988 with Proposition 103. So expect lots of backroom arm-twisting on this as it works its way through the process.
AB 8—the recently merged measure of Senator Perata and Speaker Nunez is also set for hearing this coming week. Although this measure doesn’t make the structural changes necessary to achieve real reform, it does attempt to compromise with the Gov. who insists that the insurance industry remain a big profit-player in this game. It is also in this bill that the Governor is most likely to have a say at the end of the day, since it is likely to head to a “Conference Committee” where Schwarzenegger can put his highly paid staff to work. With the power of the leaders of both houses behind it, this bill will continue moving forward.
Global Warming and implementation of AB 32.
And speaking of his highly paid staff, it seems that they’ve been quite meddlesome recently. As we reported last week (See While California Dreams- Volume 1 Issue 4), the firing of the head of the California Air Resources Board (“CARB”) created a real P.R. nightmare for our putative “Green” governor. While circling the globe hyping himself as the One who has tamed the Global Warming crisis, it turns out that he’s been trying to backdoor the highly suspect “cap-and-trade” concept rather than seriously reduce greenhouse gas emissions through strict regulation.
This past week, in a rare Friday gathering, the Committee on Natural Resources held a hearing to determine whether the allegations of potentially illegal and improper meddling by the Governor’s staff were accurate. Of note, only Dems. were in attendance (the Reps had all gone home, probably for their regular Friday morning golf games). While requesting that his top aides (the ones accused of the meddling) appear, the Gov. sent a couple underlings who have no first-hand knowledge of anything, including where Arnold’s smoking tent is located. In fact, they weren’t even from the Governor’s office. This nose-thumbing by Arnold prompted both the Speaker and Natural Resource Chair Loni Hancock to threaten issuing subpoenas to get Susan Kennedy and Dan Donmeyer, the alleged culprits to testify under oath to find out if they were attempting to pressure the Board and like the members of the Bush cabal, trying to substitute politics for science. No decision yet, but the whole thing has created a black-eye for the Governor.
Trying to invoke damage control, he quickly announced the appointment of long-time environmentalist Mary Nichols as the new head of the CARB.
With impressive credentials ranging from service to the Clinton, Brown and Davis adminstrations, there is little doubt that she is qualified to direct this important work. The major question is whether the Governor will let her and the other board members do their job instead of continuing to interfere and micro-manage the agencies work in setting serious and effective regulations to reduce global warming as mandated by AB 32.
For more on this, see the Sac Bee story at: http://www.sacbee.com/111/story/261050.html and Frank Russo’s post at
Eminent Domain issues coming back
In the November, 2006 election, a sneaky and regressive measure was placed on the ballot by a notorious right-wing Billionaire named Howard Rich. He’s a developer who lives in New York but has been trying to affect what happens in our state (and many others) for several years. Last year it was Proposition 90, an initiative he funded which would have destroyed many of our environmental protections and zoning laws by requiring the government to compensate just about anyone for not being able to build just about anything anywhere they wanted. For example, if someone bought a corner lot or a piece of open-space land in a residential area and wanted to put in a smelting plant, but zoning laws prohibited such, the government would have to pay them for the lost benefits of that endeavor. Crazy you say. Yup. And he’ll be back with this effort, although with a somewhat watered-down next year. Watch for it being sponsored by the Jarvis Taxpayers Association and coming to you in the June, 2008 election, when no one will be watching.
With the key primary election having been moved to February 2008 for the Presidential race, the less compelling (but still important) legislative races will be relegated to what will be perceived by the public as a minor election but one where potentially policy-altering measures will be passed as Initiatives while the public is asleep at the wheel. This one is an unabashed right-wing power grab so expect a lot of out-of-state money to come into California from Howard Roth and his ilk. What they can’t do through the front door to eviscerate land use and environmental protections, they’ll try to accomplish with their multi-millions of developer dollars while we aren’t paying attention. This is the down-side of moving our Presidential primary to February.
To try to limit its impact, however, Assemblymember Hector De La Torres introduced ABA 8, a constitutional amendment that would avoid the few instances of abuse that can occur under existing law. His measure would prohibit government exercise of its power of eminent domain to seize owner-occupied residential units by cities and redevelopment agencies. But eminent domain, when applied as intended, is a valuable tool for local jurisdictions to clean up blighted areas and generate commerce and economic development.
This measure requires a two-thirds vote. Unfortunately, a few extremists on the Republican side are bullying their colleagues into holding a party line in opposition to this compromise,thereby reducing the likelihood of it passing. But this is an important, although somewhat unexciting topic so we’ll be following it closely as it moves through the legislature and onto the ballot-one way or another.
The Rest of the Story
Our blogging offerings for the week
During the past week, we’ve had several diverse blogposts dealing with:
Speaking plainly- a look at the recurring language debate over English only
Happy Birthday to our once and future America- quotes that embody the promise
of a just and grand vision for our country
Has the US officially reinstated racism in our schools? Jackie Goldberg deconstructs the Supreme Court decision weakening/overturning Brown v. Board of Education
An Inspired Week for Conservatives- a look at the extreme right turn of the Supreme Court
To read and comment on these entries, just go to: www.speakoutca.org/weblog/
We’ll continue looking at these and other issues as the legislature continues taking up bills and slogging its way through the budget morass with an intractable opposition party that has a mantra but few ideas to help overcome the impasse. We welcome your comments and suggestions and hope you will send this newsletter to your friends and other like-minded progressives. Urge them to sign up to Speak Out California and keep the progressive voice alive!
Until next week,
Hannah-Beth Jackson and the Speak Out California Team