A weekly update on the goings-on in Sacramento
For the week ending October 6, 2007
Key bills and issues we’ve been following during the
Past week and beyond
Well, the traveling legislators are back at work in Sacramento, but the Governor went to China when they returned.
“Dam, dam, dam” insists the GOP in ultimatums to the Dems. on the Water Bond- tough stance threatens to derail a water bond for February.
“Nyet, no, nunca, never” are the GOP responses to both the Governor’s and the Dem. leadership Health Plan legislation- tough stance threatens to derail any progress in Special Session on Healthcare reform.
And with just seven days remaining to sign or veto more than 600 bills, the Governor takes action on only three bills this entire week! But first…
We here at Speak Out California hope to be able to keep you up-to-date on all of this and any signings or vetoes by the Governor in the weeks and months ahead, so
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And now, for the week’s goings-on:
While Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland) says he may put a water bond package to a vote on the Senate floor as early as next Tuesday, E. J. Schultz of the Sacramento Bee reports that hope may be “fading” for a water bond on the Feb. 5 ballot. According the his article, Assembly Member John Laird, (D-Santa Cruz) said, “We probably have one chance to put something on the ballot and have it pass. We shouldn’t feel pressure to do something by a deadline.” The pessimism seems to stem from the GOP state legislators who insist they will block a ballot measure if it does not have $ 5.1 billion for dams in central and northern California. For more on this, please click here.
H-m-m does this “cowboy”, get tough, GOP stance sound familiar? It does to those who followed the impasse on the state budget this summer in the Senate.
The Sierra Club is opposed to building any new dams in California, regardless who pays for them. They argue that the best and most cost effective dam sites have already been used. And they add that dams produce “much less water at a higher cost than more environmentally beneficial alternatives such as urban water use efficiency and recycling.” For more on why dams are not a good idea, please click here for Jim Metropulos’s excellent article. As for the Fresno Bee, they too have an analysis of the issue of dams, with a somewhat different point of view. To see this article please click here.
Others commenting on the water issues point out that neither the Governor’s bond or Perata’s bond would pay for the construction of a peripheral canal. No one wants to discuss the politically dangerous topic of moving water from north to south. Speaking for the southern part of the state, the L.A. Times editorial of October 1st gives the Governor high marks for tackling the water issues. But, they are quick to add that the Governor’s “solution isn’t complete.” The Times want the Governor and “his opponents …[to] begin talking about a peripheral canal’s benefits and pitfalls, in straightforward terms that Californians can comprehend.” To see more on this, please click here,
Finally on the “dam” issue, blogger rbayne says that all sides need to look at all the options, and it seems that two Democratic leaders, Lois Wolk (D-Davis) and John Laird (D-Santa Cruz), are willing to do just that. He says that the solution might include building more dams, “…but to issue an ultimatum that you won’t even talk if dams are not a foregone conclusion- well that’s just plain childish.” To read his entire blog, please click here.
And while all of this non-movement has been going on, Governor Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver were in China for the Special Olympics. Ordinarily this would be a positive view of the “compassionate” side of the conservative Governor, but not when the two Special Sessions he called are going on. The Governor’s staff said that perhaps he would miss this year’s event, but “decided Saturday that things were in place well enough that he could go” to China. Unfortunately, last week while he was in New York (also NOT providing leadership in the debates on either water or healthcare), Schwarzenegger told Britain’s Conservative Party in London that he would cancel his keynote speech for their event because he needed to be home in California to work on the Special Session legislation. He told them: “I’m very sorry that I could not join you in person, but as you probably know by now, I’m in the middle of a special session of the Legislature that I called…Because of that, I had to cancel all travel except a long-term promise to attend the Special Olympics…Now this is an organization that my mother-in-law started.” So, welcome home, Mr. Governor. We now completely understand your priorities.
For more on this, please click here.
“An orphan is born
The mountain has labored and brought forth a mouse”
The latest news seems to be about an “author-less” 200-page healthcare bill that is being circulated throughout the legislative halls in Sacramento, according to Anthony Wright, Executive Director of Health Access California. Many of the provisions of the bill being distributed to stakeholders are just “placeholders…[but] major sections, including the financing are not included.” Wright says that “We are disappointed that we seem to be back to square one with something very similar to the Governor’s January proposal, with only a few of our comments and concerns raised over the course of the year addressed.” Citing both “Movement Forward” and “Movement Backward”, Wright points out that the author-less proposal is actually worse in many ways than the Gov.’s January proposal. For example, the “working draft” calls for the “…elimination of quarterly complaint and grievance reporting for HMO’s, which seems to remove an important oversight over insurers.” And this “draft” says that people earning 150-200% of the Federal poverty level could be charged an annual premium of 5% of their income, and that number does NOT include out-of-pocket costs. There is also no standard for out-of-pocket costs in the subsidized pool, and there is an exemption from the minimum level of coverage for any and all employer plans. For a detailed look of this phantom-author’s plan, please click here.
And while no real progress seems to have been made this week, a statewide survey by the Public Policy Institute of California completed earlier in September found that for Californians, for the first time ever, Healthcare was named the most important issue facing the state. Healthcare was of greater concern than jobs, housing, the economy, or anything else. This, of course, raises the political stakes for the Special Session. Please see the Sac Bee article on this topic here.
And yet, the Governor has been out the state for most of the past two weeks, and the Republicans in both legislative houses say they will never vote for a bill that has any fee for anyone in it. So more deadlock appears likely, unless the Dem. leadership and the Governor can agree on something, put the funding mechanism on the ballot, and let the voters decide. Stay tuned.
Attorney General Brown is seeking to have the federal EPA look at the emissions by cargo ships in California ports. With nearly 11,000 ships arriving annually at California ports, the emissions generated are greater than the total by all cars and trucks on California roads each year. So the Attorney General is calling for the EPA to utilize its authority on the 1970 Clean Air Act to control ship emissions under the legislation’s general directive to “protect public health and welfare.” And, no, Attorney General Brown did NOT contact our “green” Governor before petitioning the EPA.
Not surprisingly either, the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association’s Vice President said, “We would prefer to see these issues resolved at the international level.” For more on this issue please click here.
In the meantime, there seems to be glitch with the Governor’s purchase of 1,300 “flex-fuel vehicles.” According to the folks at the San Bernardino Sun, the only thing “green” about this deal is the green of money. In July the Governor’s staff authorized $17 million to buy the vehicles. But, “although the fleet can run on ethanol”, it doesn’t. Until September, there has been only one ethanol fueling station in all of California, and it is down in San Diego, far away from where most of the cars reside in Sacramento. And “even that station has never once fueled a state car.” But the story is more about a no-bid decision to buy the “flex-fuel” vehicles with no other company allowed to make a bid. And later, when a bid for more vehicles was finally put out by the administration, only General Motors could come forward because no other company could meet the certification requirements of the bid. Why this “stinks” so much, of course, is that Schwarzenegger, it just so happens, was once the spokesperson for GM’s Hummer. And, of course, “GM has given millions to the Governor’s charities and political causes.” Please click here for more on this topic.
Meanwhile, the toll road forces in Orange County are now worried that the California Coastal Commission might reject their bid to build a six-lane highway through San Onofre State Beach near San Clemente. The 236-page report by the California Coastal Commission conflicts with an earlier study by the Transportation Corridor Agencies which said that the proposed route through the State Beach is the least harmful to the coastal park that was proposed by the Irvine-based agency. But the Commission said, “It”s difficult to imagine a more environmentally damaging alternative location.” There is more to come on this battle, we know. But just think of a toll road riding roughshod on endangered species in San Onofre State Beach, or the damage to natural resources and recreational opportunities, and you can follow the Coastal Commission’s views.
Mary Nichols, the Governor’s new head of the Air Resources Board has now adopted a strategy “to reduce ozone in the Central Valley by 90% by 2018.” This will be accomplished largely by dealing with diesel farm equipment, and reducing emissions from the Valley’s many diesel trucks. Senate Bill 719 by Machado (D-Linden) could help this effort by expanding the air district’s membership to give cities more clout in critical air issues of the Central Valley. The Governor should sign SB 719 so that the Air Resources Board and the San Joaquin Air District Board can work cooperatively on cleaning the Valley’s air. Currently, for example, the rate of children’s asthma victims rises every year, and is now a major health hazard.
And finally, the public got to comment this week on the proposed offshore liquefied national gas (LNG) terminal off the coast in Ventura County. The $600-million Clearwater Port terminal is being pushed by the Houston-based NorthernStar Natural Gas Inc. They want to be able to receive and process up to 1.4 billion cubic feet a day of LNG that would be brought to Ventura from Australia and Indonesia. But the Sierra Club’s Los Padres chapter says that putting an LNG terminal inside a marine sanctuary “would be a huge mistake and that its potential danger to sea life, including whales, was incalculable.” For more on this issue please click here.
Good Bills Await the Governor’s Attention
Since Thursday night, the Governor has been back in California. While in China, the clock ticked on and now there are many bills, about 643, on his desk, and all must be dealt with at least by October 14th. Here are a few quick takes on some of them:
Mike Feuer’s (D-Los Angeles) bill, AB 399, would require that the state complete an investigation of an allegation against a nursing home in California in 30 days or less. Currently it could take forever, as there is no deadline at all. A majority are completed within 60 days, but 30% of the complaints are not completed even after 60 days. With 115,000 seniors currently living in nursing homes, signing this legislation is urgent.
For the fourth time the Governor has a bill to help nurses by requiring hospitals to employ “lift-teams” to help with the task of lifting patients while caring for them. Three times the Governor has vetoed this common sense legislation. The bills, sponsored by the California Nurses Association (CNA), are probably not getting the Gov.’s signature because the CNA has been a harsh critic of the Governor’s failed ballot initiatives. This time the bill is carried by Senator Don Perata (D-Oakland) as SB 171. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 72,780 health care workers suffered work-related back or neck injuries in 2005, which was 36,880 more than suffered by construction workers. “Nurses manually lift an estimated 3,600 pounds each shift that they work.” Kaiser Permanente and the Association of Healthcare Districts are supporting the legislation, while the hospital association opposes it. SB 171 helps nurses help patients. Call the Governor at 916-445-2841 and tell him to sign the legislation so that all of us receive better care, and nurses are healthy enough to do what they do best. Please click here for more information.
AB 1471, The Crime Gun Identification Act by assembly Member Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles) is supported by police chiefs of virtually every large city in California, as well as police organizations such as the Orange County Chiefs’ and Sheriffs’ Association, PORAC, and the California Police Chiefs’ Association. The bill will help police solve gun crimes and identify gun traffickers. AB 1471 requires microstamping of firing pins of semiautomatic handguns. It should be signed. Call the Governor at 916-445-2841 and tell him you want him to sign AB 1471.
SB 727 (Kuehl, D-Santa Monica) and AB 537 (Swanson, D-Alameda) will support those who need time off because of family illness. Both should be signed by the Governor. SB 727 would extend the family leave act coverage for those who need to care for seriously ill grandparents, grandchildren and parents-in-law. AB 537 would extend the state’s 12 weeks of unpaid leave to that same group. For more information please click here.
The California Dream Act (SB 1) would allow students access to community college fee waivers, and other financial aid if they meet income requirements, even if the students are undocumented state residents. Under current California law, any student who is a graduate from a California high school and has applied for legal status is permitted to pay in-state tuition at California colleges. But, often, without financial assistance, they cannot attend. SB 1 will give those community college students in such a status access to funding to be able to stay in school. It should be signed by the Governor as well.
In its Monday editorial, the San Jose Mercury News calls for the Governor to sign AB 1108, the “toxic toys” bill by Assembly Member Fiona Ma (D-San Francisco). It would prohibit the production or sale of toys and child care items for kids under 3 that contain certain phthalates in concentrations of more than 0.1%. The European Union and 14 other nations including Japan, Mexico, Argentina and Fiji have banned or restricted phthalates. It is a long shot to get the Governor to sign this, even while he decries toxic toys from China. Go figure.
And it should come as no surprise that the California Chamber of Commerce has called AB 779 (Jones, D-Sacramento) a “job killer” bill. The measure received a 73-0 vote in the Assembly in September with 26 of 32 Republicans voting “aye” on the measure. In June, it passed the Senate on a 30-6 vote, with 8 of the 15 (usually nay-saying) Republicans voting “aye.” The measure would require retailers and financial institutions to adopt national standards to protect shoppers’ data they disclose. The Massachusetts Bankers Association’s press release on a lawsuit on this very issue, included this quote: “the nation’s major retailers will finally wake up to the fact that not protecting consumer data is an unfair trade practice and that investment in date management systems to protect consumers and shield consumers against fraud and identity theft is required.” Consumer protection such as AB 779 holds retailers accountable for their actions. This is why 103 of 120 legislators in California voted for this bill. The Governor should sign this bill to protect the privacy of one’s records. For more on this issue, please click here.
Finally, the Sacramento Bee’s editorial of October 4th actually calls on the Governor to veto AB 1053 because the bill would allow Philip Anshutz to use state housing bond money for “one of his Los Angeles mega-projects.” The Bee objects that “In the final hours of this year’s legislative session Speaker Nunez pushed through a gut-and-amended bill that helps Anshutz, a Denver billionaire who owns the Staples Center.” Until AB 1053, it was “..assumed that applicants for infill funds would be limited to housing developers, nonprofits and redevelopment agencies.” AB 1053 would allow Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), which are groups that represent business owners, to jointly seek funds with local agencies. The Bee’s editorial objection is that “If money were to flow to his BID, there’s a real fear it could flow to projects that only marginally help housing.” To see this editorial in full, please click here.
Other goings-on in and around Sacramento and the rest of the state…
It seems that there might be a recall election in the future of State Senator Jeffrey Denham, (R-Fresno). The Voter Education and Registration Fund has spent more than $41,000 to gather signatures to recall Denham, perhaps as “payback” for the budget stalemate this past summer. The Fund in question has close political ties to Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, who is a key fundraiser for the Fund, even though he does NOT control it. This should heat up to a boil very soon, as GOP Senators vow they will spend whatever it takes to protect their “incumbents.”
Please see the Sac Bee article on this topic here.
The State government will appeal a court ruling that requires paying $200 million in interest on funds the state borrowed from the State Teachers’ Retirement System. Why doesn’t the State just repay the STRS what they owe the teachers? Inquiring minds would like to know.
In a different court, within the Third District Court of Appeal in Sacramento, the judges upheld regulations approved by the State Board of Equalization, giving the identical property tax break to domestic partners that is enjoyed by spouses under Proposition 13.
Treasurer Bill Lockyer has issued a new debt affordability report which estimates that in just 20 years, the state’s annual debt service will rise to $15.8 billion. That means payments of more than $1.3 billion per month!
This happens because “borrow and spend” Republicans want to help their friends with government spending, but do not want their friends to pay for it with increased taxes. So they get triple joy – money for state projects that goes to private contractors who support Republicans; bonds that sell to make money for their investor friends who get interest on bonds that are so safe they are backed by the State of California; and major debt payments which take money off the top from the General Fund, so that a Democrat-controlled legislature cannot increase funding to education, health or human services for the rest of us.
Foster families and their advocates filed a suit against the State of California this week alleging that “California is paying foster parents far less than they need in order to care for children, with rates below the average cost of keeping a dog in a kennel.” With 78,000 children in foster care in this state, and rates so low, the number of Californians willing to become foster parents has declined 30% which means more and more kids are in group homes that often do not provide the bonding needed to raise emotionally healthy adults. There will be more on this as the suit progresses in court.
And in yet another court, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer has delayed the 140,000 “No Match” letters that are ready to go out to employers telling them that they have only 90 days to correct “mismatches” on social security numbers for workers they employ. Stay tuned here as well, as the GOP continues to try to make immigration the issue, taking the heat off of them for their bungling of Iraq, the economy, Katrina relief, the housing crisis, and the multi-trillion dollar national deficit, among other shortcomings.
And just when we thought the “dirty tricks” Electoral College item was dead, it looks like Lew Uhler, president of the Sacramento-based National Tax Limitation Committee is trying to find “prospective contributors” to keep this idea alive. It is so exciting to them in fact, that this measure will keep coming back, like the bad penny it is.
And finally for this week, Nancy Vogel of the L.A. Times did a bit of a “hit” piece on Assembly Speaker Nunez in Friday’s paper. In a front page article, she goes after the Speaker for his “rich travel style.” OK, public records are available. But why only look at the Speaker’s spending? A question that Ms. Vogel should answer with articles on the Republicans who perhaps spend just as much or more than the Speaker.
The Rest of the Story
Our blogging offerings for the week:
Blackwater’s “Drunken” Mercenaries Open Fire “Crazily,” But Still Get New $90 Million Pentagon Contract – by Erik Love
Do Taxes ‘Hurt’? Is Government Bad? – by Dave Johnson
To read and comment on these entries just go to: www.speakoutca.org/weblog/
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Jackie Goldberg and the Speak Out California Team