Senate Bill 974 and The Art of the Possible

Recently, we posted a piece by Senator Alan Lowenthal, calling for passage of his container-fee measure, SB 974. This common-sense measure would have required a minimal fee on each container coming off the ships at the Ports of Long Beach, L.A. and Oakland where the air quality is so badly impacted by the vehicles transporting this important commerce. The fee generated would go to mitigate the filthy and unhealthy air quality. It would also be used to repair the infra-structure upon which the trucks and vehicles transporting these goods move.
Unfortunately, those who benefit from the commercial (read profit) aspects of this—the Wal-Marts and other big corporations, have been fighting tooth-and-nail to kill this bill. While Senator Lowenthal remains committed to its passage, the dark under-belly of politics has pushed back ferociously. Although they’ve been able to delay the measure, the pressure being put on the Governor and other legislators has increased because of the public concern and outcry that has moved this bill far beyond what the big moneyed lobbyists ever expected.
Although Senator Lowenthal has announced he will not move the bill this year, progress is clearly being made. The fact that he was able to sit face-to-face with the Governor means a great deal in terms of the importance this measure carries. Usually, meetings on bills occur with the Governor’s underlings. In this case, the Governor has personally committed to some kind of fee to off-set the filth and dangerous conditions that surround the ports of our state.
But since this is politics, the fact is that the Gov. doesn’t want to further alienate Big Business while he tries to shove some kind of healthcare “reform” down their throats. We don’t think his idea of reform is much of anything, so long as the health insurance industry is still in the game and calling the shots. But Schwarzenegger is committed to putting something out there to placate the public demand for a fix of this completely broken system. Thus the delay on cleaning up the air. But this is politics–the art of the possible. So Senator Lowenthal will wait until January to rev up this important bill.
For many of us, this is just more frustration at the delay, while the health and lives of many continue to be sacrificed at the altar of greed and profit. But this is also a political world we live in. Sometimes the right thing takes a while to happen. In the case of SB 974 we’ll expect to see that happen in the coming legislative year.
Here are Senator Lowenthal’s thoughts on the situation:

Continue reading

The End-of-session Drama begins

This is the truly crazy-making time of the legislative year, when hundreds of bills line up on the floor like airplanes on a crowded runway. And productivity isn’t measured by the quality of the bills being considered but rather by the number that are disposed of on the floor each day. With over 700 bills waiting for take-off or otherwise, it’s a madhouse. Several bills have already been or will be delayed, postponed or canceled while most of those lined up will take off for the Governor’s desk where their fate will be decided within thirty days of their final vote.
An action alert is up, here: Future
But read on for the details.
It is chaos, exhausting and usually a productive time. But this is also the time of year when egos and hard-feelings from past slights, disrespect or other machinations force otherwise important measures to languish and die, often even before hitting the runway.
Such is the fate of Senator Joe Simitian’s bill, SB 412 which would required the Liquified Natural Gas supporters to demonstrate an actual need for the product before any LNG terminals could be built in California. This seems like a no-brainer in that these plants are enormously expensive to build and often present serious environmental concerns. It would only make sense that before California allow any to be constructed under those conditions that we prove they are actually necessary. With that in mind, the measure should have made it to the floor—but was held up in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, along with several other important measures that had been developed and passed not only through their “house of origin” (the Senate) but had made it beyond all the Assembly committees. The process then calls for them to be heard or just temporarily held in the Appropriations committee before being released for floor vote in that house. In SImitian’s case, he had no such luck. Was it the nature of the bill and lots of opposition? Nope. Not in this case.

Continue reading

While California Dreams- Weekly Update Vol.1 No. 13

A weekly update on the goings-on in Sacramento
For the week ending September 1, 2007

Key bills and issues we’ve been following during the
past week and beyond
Now that the Budget has gratefully been put to bed for another year, the Legislature and Governor have been focused on trying to sprint through the last few weeks of this legislative year. With hundreds of bills still yet to be resolved, the big issue back on the front burner is health care reform and the unfortunate rush to completion that has now taken on an almost messianic fervor.
Another issue that has clearly been driving the Legislature, especially its leadership this year has been the Term Limits measure designated for the February 2008 ballot. Seems there may be some unexpected glitches to that one.
Another interesting measure that may or may not get on the February 2008 ballot revolves around a non-binding resolution promoted by President Pro Tem Don Perata. This ballot measure would ask California’s voters if they think we should immediately withdraw our troops from Iraq. Although a non-binding resolution, it certainly has lots of folks aflutter.
Lots more to mention, so here’s the scoop on this past week:
The Budge– a final analysis
Speak Out California supporter and friend, Senator Sheila Kuehl, has been writing on the budget process and its consequences for the state of California. This is her final piece on the 2007/08 budget that gives an excellent analysis of this year’s process and its impact.
SB840/Universal Health Care and AB8 .
We’ve been reporting on California’s answer to the health care debate since we started this weekly update three months ago (For a look at the back issues, click here) As we’ve been reporting, the issue boils down to whether we’re going to get real reform through a single-payor system, like the Medicare system already in place, or just some adjustment to the current system that retains the health insurance industry as the primary beneficiary of our health care dollars, rather than patients who need the care and those who provide it to them.
The Gov wants to keep the health insurance industry in the play, even though they add nothing to the delivery of healthcare. Speaker Nunez and Senate Pro Tem Perata have proposed a compromise in the form of AB 8 as a sort of a half-way proposal.
The key stumbling block, no matter how they slice and dice the negotiations, revolves around how we’re going to pay for this system. Although the Kuehl bill, SB 840 is the most vetted and comprehensive proposal, the Governor has said he will veto it if and when it comes back to his desk for signature. He vetoed a similar measure last year, obviously not having read it, because his veto message completely mischaracterized the measure. That, of course, is no moment for this Governor, who like the President, doesn’t let fact get in the way of his grandiose schemes. Regardless, the Dems want to get something out to the public this year, even if it isn’t that helpful in revamping a system that is clearly broken and in need of a complete overhaul.
Unfortunately, the debate really hasn’t started in earnest until just this week, with the Governor realizing his ideas include a tax increase that his Republican colleagues won’t approve, no matter how much he insists. The Perata/Nunez proposal calls for employers to plunk a nifty 7 1/2 % of payroll into the fund, while the California Restaurant Association and other small business interests are suggesting an alternative that includes increasing the sales tax to fund the program.
There is a little something here for everyone, including a minimum employer contribution, an expansion of medical coverage to nearly all of the 4.9 million Californians without it. But it still requires all Californians to have health insurance, thus keeping the bloated insurance industry in the game. As a concession to those who believe that taking the insurance industry out of the process is the real key to reforming this broken system, the plan would make some effort to control the uncapped premiums they are able to charge while requiring them to reveal the costs of their services. This would hopefully, generate competition and theoretically reduce their unconscionable profits and ability to deny health care for so many who do not “qualify” under their profit-driven models (such as those who have had the misfortune of having pre-existing conditions that the insurance companies refuse to cover).
There are several good articles on this issue, starting with the most updated analysis from the LA Times.
And analyzing the “dance” displayed this week in these negotiations (supporting the old adage that the two things you never want to watch being made are legislation and sausage) is John Myers, Sacramento Bureau Chief for KQED’s “The California Report”, in his 8/29/07 and 8/30/07 articles for Capital Notes.
Senator Sheila Kuehl, the architect of SB 840 and leading spokesperson for a universal, single-payor but private delivery healthcare system, has a thoughtful article questioning the race-to-finish proposal being hammered out by the Governor and Democratic leaders. Frank Russo has this article posted on his site.
Initiatives and More Initiatives filling up the 2008 ballot.
One initiative that won’t be cluttering up the ballot, at least not the June ballot, is the attempt by the big business interests in California to squelch the right of the little guy to sue for violations of law under the state’s important class action system. Led by the corporate big-wigs at Intel, they were hoping to sneak this little dandy passed a sleeping electorate in June, 2008. But as more and more significant and controversial measures get dumped into the June ballot, the public’s attention will be redrawn to that election. Thinking the better of trying to eliminate hard-fought rights for the public, CJAC, the moniker big business hides behind, announced this week that they were pulling the initiative from the ballot. They did leave open, however, another attempt which there is little doubt they will try when they think the time is right and the public isn’t paying attention. But we will be…
Another possible unclogging of the ballot comes in a most unexpected place. One of the key motivators of this entire legislative year, it is asserted, has been the legislative leadership’s attempt to expand the term-limits law to allow them to serve additional terms (and then reduce terms for each subsequent batch of legislators). The goal has been to get the measure on the February ballot so the current but otherwise termed-out members and leaders can extend the length of their service. But something may have happened on the way to the Ball. It seems that not enough signatures have met the qualifications test and thus the initiative may not make it onto the ballot in time to save the terms of the current members. If the measure fails to make the Feb 5th ballot, it would be a huge blow to those who were hoping for an opportunity to extend their lengths of service.
For more on this story, check out the a first and second article by the Sac Bee.
In order to seal the deal, (should the Secretary of State certify the number of signatures before the September 20th deadline to secure a place on the ballot for the February ballot), Nunez is frantically trying to put a redistricting bill together. For the term limits/extension measure to pass, many believe that the Governor needs to lend his support to it. He’s made it clear that he won’t unless a redistricting measure accompanies it. While there are many moving parts to this idea–(think Congress), the Speaker is trying frantically to push this idea through the final two weeks as well.
Last, but by no means insignificant-at least in terms of controversy, is the initiative being pushed by Senator Perata which would put the Iraqi War issue on the ballot. Although only “advisory”, this would allow the people of California to weigh in on whether we should withdraw our troops from Iraq immediately. Cynics believe this is just an attempt to bring out more disaffected Democrats to vote on the term-limits initiative (which the polls say they support). Perata says it gives the voters an opportunity to express their dissatisfaction with the War and give voice to their concerns.
The measure has passed both houses of the legislature on the predictable party-line. It’s certainly hard to believe there isn’t a single Republican who thinks this disastrous occupation shouldn’t come to an end, but there it is. Of course, the only Republican whose opinion matters at this point is the Governors. As the bill is now on his desk, the conventional wisdom is that he’ll veto it since he’s taken the Republican line all along on the war. No matter that it’s inconsistent with his mantra of “power to the people” and that the people should be allowed to decide on matters of importance. But hypocrisy seems to run deep on the “R” side of the aisle these days, not that they have a monopoly on it—just that they seem to have perfected it during the Bush years. With little upside to the Governor, (who is having enough trouble getting along with his party these days), a veto is the more likely probability here.
The Rest of the Story

Our blogging offerings for the week

*Big Business tanking on an anti-worker initiative
Beating back bad initiatives one-at-a-time
*A final piece in celebration of Women’s Equality Day
Speaker Pelosi on being the First Woman Speaker of the House
*Environmental Legislation to clean up the state’s air- by Sen. Alan Lowenthal
Job Killer or Opportunity to help clean up LA’s filthy air?

To read and comment on these entries, just go to:
With only a few weeks left in the first year of this legislative session, there will be a flurry of activity and key bills we’ll be watching over the next several editions of our weekly update. 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