A weekly update on the goings-on in Sacramento
For the week ending July 14, 2007
Key bills and issues we've been following during the past week and beyond
Budget Countdown Day 14 and still no budget in sight. With time starting to pressure for action, the war of words is heating up, although it doesn't appear that beyond the temperature in Sacramento, much else is percolating. For a more detailed analysis, check out our weblog entry here.
In order to stir the pot, or maybe even get the Reps off-the-dime, the Speaker has indicated he'll be putting the budget up for a vote next week-an old ploy to flush out the opposition and make them account to the public for their unwillingness to negotiate a resolution. During this year, in particular, they've been unwilling to publicly identify the cuts they've apparently presented to the Dems. IN SECRET, sounding more and more like their Bush administration leaders in Washington who think they can do everything in secret as well. But this is California, where we love our sunshine!
For more on this story, check out the Sac Bee editorial here.
On other fronts, there have been a number of highlights (or low-lights, depending on your perspective). The Environment faired pretty well, with global warming and air pollution bills moving forward. Health care was a mixed bag with Universal Healthcare still on the table, the compromise approach of AB 8 continues to move as the leaders of both houses are keeping the pressure on. Unfortunately, though, the very important stop-gap measure by Assemblymember Dave Jones was defeated by an incredible push by the health-denial industry so efforts to force providers to justify further increases in premiums will have to wait another day (actually another year, at least---absent a miracle or two).
This was also the week that the spay-neuter bill met its demise and the talk of nuclear power reared its questionable head in the political arena, yet again.
So, here's the story:
Health care for all?- and other more modest proposals:
With Senator Kuehl's SB 840, the true reform measure of the year having advanced another step last week, this week highlighted the lesser but still reform-minded bill, AB 8 which is authored by Senate Leader Perata and Assembly Speaker Nunez. After 2 hours and 50 or so witnesses later, the measure passed on a party-line (no surprise there). The bill is being touted as a landmark bill that will overhaul our state's $186 Billion health care system. In doing so, it would extend medical insurance coverage to 3.4 million working Californians by requiring employers without health plans to pay a 7.5% payroll tax to buy insurance for all its workers. Employees would be required to put in 4.5% of their income as a match. Of course, when all is said and done, it still keeps the insurance industry alive and well and taking out lots of money that would otherwise go to provide health care, not health insurance. But until we're willing to buck up and create a Medicare-for-all type program, this has some legs and hopefully some benefit to the millions of Californians without any health insurance or access to adequate health care. This one will end up in a "Conference" where the Gov. will put forward his still orphaned plan. Not surprisingly, no Reps. will support any of these discussions. It's the same old song---just another "job-killer" with the current Republican leadership demonstrating, sadly, that it is only interested in protecting its big corporate owners/donors.
As mentioned above, Assemblymember Dave Jones' AB 1554, known as "The Insurance Company Accountability Bill" came up for a vote in the Senate Judiciary committee on Wednesday, July 11th. Although an important consumer protection bill, two key Dems refused to vote for this measure that would allow the for-profit insurance industry to continue charging its current rates, but require they justify any rate increases and get permission from an oversight agency before doing so. Again, no Reps. would consider challenging their big corporate donors, so that's a given they voted "no." This is all, sadly, just another example of the power of money when it comes to deciding whether to protect the big boys or the People. With no Reps anywhere in sight, unless the Dems stay together, good policy will continue to falter.
This one might have to go to an Initiative as it models another important insurance reform measure that did back in 1988---and which now sees rate regulation with the giant auto insurance industry. For more on this discussion and a couple interesting studies that just came out this week on the impacts of health care reform, click here.
The Environment has a good week, with Global Warming and implementation of AB 32 bills moving forward.
Sometimes good things come out of bad. With Schwarzenegger reeling from his manipulations of the State's Air Resources Board (CARB) work on global warming regulations, suddenly greater scrutiny is being placed on the finer points of putting together the tools necessary to make this all more than just a PR play by the Gov.
With attention now clearly drawn to the Senate's Democratic bill package of legislation focusing on climate change and its effects on California, Senators Kehoe, Lowenthal and Simitian were able to move forward their bills to improve air quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and coordinate state planning for climate change. Frank Russo has a good summary of the successes on his California Progress Report of July 10,2007 here.
SB 412- The LNG Market Assessment Act by Senator Joe Simitian
For those of us closely watching the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) debate closely, an important measure continues to wind its way gingerly through the legislative process.
SB 412 would require the California Energy Commission (CEC) to prepare an assessment of the LNG market in California to determine whether all the hoopla and corporate enthusiasm for building more LNG here is actually warranted. With a number of very enthusiastic energy companies ready to start building terminals and other infrastructure as soon as the state gives them the OK, the question yet to be answered is whether we need them at all. Seems like a reasonable preliminary question, but companies like PG&E and Mitsubishi, among others would rather make the claims, build the facilities and not bother with that fundamental question.
Given environmental and public safety concerns, it would seem most prudent---and logical to know whether we should even be investing in such projects in the first place. There are health and safety concerns that go along with building these massive plants, so before going all out, how about answering that question first? Seems like a good, solid and responsible notion. Let's see how it goes from here.
The Rest of the Story
The Governor signs the Indian Slot machine deals:
Should be interesting to see if the promise of billions ($13.4- 22.4 billion to be exact), coming into state coffers over the next 25 years actually materializes
I'm not a gambler, so I'll leave that bet to those who are, but I wouldn't put a whole lot of money on it, either. In addition, the Unions are threatening to run an Initiative blocking the tribes' casino expansion plans because the deals don't provide worker protections for hotel, casino and hospitality workers.
Spay/neuter bill dies in the Senate:
With an estimated 20,000 letters and emails from both sides, this bill generated more public engagement than any other bill so far this year. Added to the drama was the star power that each side used to support its position. Those in support of this mandatory program (complete with large fine for failure to spay/neuter ones pets) brought in Bob Barker from The Price Is Right to present their position. (I can't help but wonder if his name had anything to do with his selection?. After all, there are lots of Animal Rights folks in the entertainment industry?. Why select a guy with the name "Barker"?)
Not to be outdone, the anti-mandatory spay/neuter folks countered with none other than Lassie herself (or at least the 9th generation of same). My favorite photo of the year in Sacramento is here where Lassie is caught yawning while sitting at the Senate hearing where she was on display. Out the mouths of babes?and dogs!
Possible Initiatives for 2008
Last week we offered a "heads up" on a new initiative dealing with eminent domain---which allows the government to seize (and compensate) for taking property for legitimate public purposes.
This week the Assembly Republicans are talking about putting up an initiative that will lead to restarting the nuclear power industry. They're out trying to get signatures to remove the bans against most nuclear power construction that have been in place in this state for decades. Using a very fancy and somewhat misleading caption ( that shouldn't be much of a surprise) they're calling it the "California Zero CO2 Emissions Electrical Generation Act of 2008." Behind this fancy name is an effort to start building more nuclear power plants. Of course, not much has changed in terms of problems with these plants and generating nuclear energy. Sure they're non-carbon producing, but we still haven't figured out how to safely get rid of the nuclear waste they create and what a nice target they present for possible terrorists and other evil-doers!
Under the guise of stopping global warming, they're hoping to hoodwink us into repeating the folly. We'll keep a careful look at this one as well.
Our blogging offerings for the week
During the past week, we've offered some interesting blogposts dealing with:
What's Happened to the California Dream?
Are Charter Schools the Answer?
The Budget Stalemate-Week Two
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