These California Democrats voted for the Republican Syrian Refugee Bill

At sunset, a group of mostly Syrian refugees arrive on Greek island of Lesvos after crossing from Turkey. Image from UNHCR.

The House passed the so-called “American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act”, which doesn’t actually protect Americans. Rather, it just makes the process of resettling refugees even more cumbersome than the already lengthy process. Some would say that we [should have learned our lesson 60 years ago], but apparently we have not.

However, just to add insult to injury, these Democrats joined a total of 47 Democrats and their Republican colleagues to create the possibility of a veto override. (H/t to this dKos diary)

Pete Aguilar (CA-31)
Ami Bera (CA-07)
Julia Brownley (CA-26)
Jim Costa (CA-16)
John Garamendi (CA-03)
Janice Hahn (CA-44)
Scott Peters (CA-52)
Raul Ruiz (CA-36)

By way of explanation, Rep. Garamendi released this statement:

“This bill strengthens the already stringent requirements for international refugees entering America,” said Congressman Garamendi. “But strengthening the refugee program is a minor part of the reassessment we must make in the wake of the Paris attacks. For those wishing to come to America to do harm, the refugee program is the least likely way to get in and the most likely way to get caught. Of the millions of displaced Syrians, only around 2,200 have been admitted to the United States as refugees, and for a good reason: applicants are vetted through biometric and biographic checks for at least 18 months by every major American national security and law enforcement agency before they even set foot on American soil. Anyone whose identity and story cannot be precisely confirmed is not admitted to our country. Once they gain admission to the United States, their status is periodically reviewed by state and federal law enforcement.

So, this doesn’t actually help keep us safe, but we should do it anyway in a time of great humanitarian need. The United States, given the destabilizing effect our involvement in Iraq has been to the entire Middle East, has a special humanitarian obligation. And now we are doing our best to walk away from our obligations.

A Few Chats on the Radio About Legislation

I’ll be talking on the airwaves about some of California’s progressive legislation

by Brian Leubitz

Governor Brown has been pretty busy recently signing a slew of legislation (as well as vetoing a few bills). At 10 on Friday Morning on KALW’s Your Call, I’ll be talking about some of that legislation with Rose Aguilar and a couple of other panelists to discuss the week in the media.

I also appeared on KPFK’s Uprising Radio with Sonali Kolhatkar this morning. You can listen to that segment here. I would also suggest that you review the long strange anti-union cost-cutting measures that will see a reduction in the long-term stability of KPFK, Pacifica Radio, and the Uprising show.

Let’s talk legislation!

Governor Vetoes AB 465 Banning Mandatory Employment Arbitration

Bill by Asm. Roger Hernandez would have blocked most mandatory arbitration provisions in employment contracts

by Brian Leubitz

When I was 15, I got my first real job. I was a bagging clerk in a grocery store hired just before the Thanksgiving rush. I thought the tips for carrying bags out to the car were amazing. In my first shift, I made just under $5/hour from my employer, and about the same in tips. I was over the moon.

What I wasn’t thinking about was that contract I just signed. I had gone to the nearest employer that would hire a 15-year-old, the grocery store down the street, and filled out their form. After a brief interview, I signed whatever paperwork they gave me and I was on my way to go put some stuffing in a plastic bag. There are few circumstances where one party has a greater power imbalance than an employment contract. I wanted the job, and I probably would have signed anything. (Sorry Kyle Broflovski).

I bring this up because on Sunday, the governor vetoed AB 465, which would have gone a long way towards addressing this imbalance of power:

Assembly Bill 465 would require that any employer enforcing an arbitration agreement would need to prove that the employee knowingly and voluntarily approved the document, and it was not required to get their job. (SacBizJournal)

Now, the Governor did have some good points about the Federal Arbitration Act and the jurisprudence surrounding it in his veto message. It is complicated and there are some attempts in California at leveling the playing field for arbitration. But the Supreme Court has given it a hallowed place. Why? Well, businesses love it, of course.

But the underlying problem remains, businesses have all the power, and choose to insert these clauses for a reason. They have familiarity with the process and can control outcomes more. Maybe AB 465 needs some seasoning and clarity surrounding the jurisprudence, but this protection would be a big benefit for workers.

Calitics Transitions

by Brian Leubitz

In August 2005, I worked with a number of amazing folks to push forward a community blog about California politics. It wasn’t particularly pretty, but it allowed as many people as cared to get together to talk about progressive politics, goals for organizing, and a few unrelated topics as well. And we had a great team to build the site over the years, just to name a few: Dante Atkins, Robert Cruickshank, David Dayen, Lucas O’Connor, Julia Rosen Chaplin, and Jeremy Woodburn.

Over 15,000 posts, and nearly 50,000 comments, later, it is time for a change. Soapblox, the software provider behind Calitics for the past ten years, is shutting down. The software, originally developed by Paul Preston and then very capably managed by the good folks at Warecorp, was critical to the development of this site and many other progressive community blogs. (Take a peek at the Hillbilly Report’s recap of the recent history of Soapblox)

So, over the weekend, this site will be transitioning to WordPress. (Or if you are reading this, it has already switched over.) All posts, comments, and user data will be preserved, but links may change. Fortunately, wordpress and google will be able to search if you are looking for something back in the archive. User information should remain, but you may need to reset your password if you would like to log in.

And as you have probably noticed, I’ve sort of taken a hiatus from the task of day to day blogging. I’ve been busy with a range of projects, which initially made it hard to keep up my writing. But the greater issue is that once you get out of the daily rhythm of writing and doing all the other tasks of maintaining a site like this, it becomes hard to return to it. I don’t plan on this being the end of Calitics, but it will be a different type of site. Going forward I’ll do a bit of writing on Calitics, but if anybody else wants to help guide Calitics going forward, send me an email (brian AT I’d love to chat with you.

At any rate, keep watching the Calitics Twitter feed and Calitics facebook page for more information. I plan on keeping those updated and posting some thoughts on the state of California politics every now and then.



AB 219 Closes Wage Loophole on Public Construction Projects

By Steve Smith

California has long been committed to ensuring that anyone employed on a public works construction project earns a living wage. That just means the wages paid to women and men who build the public structures we all use aren’t driven into poverty. The wages are set by region based on cost of living and other factors to ensure that both workers and taxpayers are protected. It’s this kind of stability and fairness that ensures these important projects are completed on time by skilled professionals who do the job right.

But, like with many laws, there are loopholes. Drivers of ready-mix cement trucks who are employed by manufacturers are not covered under the state’s prevailing wage law, meaning those drivers don’t receive the same fair wages that other drivers doing the exact same work receive.

We’ve all seen a line of cement trucks preparing to pour on a construction project. Imagine that the first and third drivers are receiving a fair wage as required by law, while the second and fourth are receiving a substandard wage that makes it extremely difficult to support a family. Because of a loophole in the labor code, this isn’t just a theoretical scenario. It plays out daily on construction projects throughout the state. As a result, public dollars are used to suppress the pay of hard-working men and women without rationale.

But today, the state legislature took an important step to rectifying this inequity by voting to close the loophole with AB 219 (Daly) so that all cement truck drivers working on public projects earn the same fair wage.  Earlier this week, dozens of workers from the State Building and Construction Trades unions and the Teamsters lined the halls of the Capitol to urge legislators to close this loophole and support good jobs. Their message was simple: all workers on a construction site deserve fair treatment on the job and a decent wage to support their families.

While passing this bill may seem like a no-brainer to most, it’s no shock that corporate lobbyists were coming out of the woodwork to oppose. Some big corporations like the loophole because it allows them to underbid responsible contractors who do the right thing by paying their employees a decent wage and offering healthcare and retirement benefits.

While there will always be corporations who try to get around the spirit of the law to cheat workers and pad their own bottom lines, taxpayers shouldn’t subsidize this inherently unfair practice. When workers are mistreated, it endangers the entire project. It’s in all of our best interest to ensure that workers doing the exact same work earn the same pay.

Governor Brown now has the opportunity to close the labor code loophole that treats workers differently solely based on who their employer is. By signing AB 219, the Governor would ensure that public works projects are completed by skilled professionals who earn a decent wage for a hard day’s work.

Progressives Didn’t Cause the San Francisco Housing Crisis

Unless you’ve been living under a rock lately, you know that San Francisco is facing an affordable housing crisis. This crisis is not new. It’s been around for at least 40 years, and the city has faced a housing shortage for at least 70 years.

The question that many are asking is not only “how do we fix this?” but, in order to jockey for position in how to answer it, they’re also asking “whose fault is this crisis?” Too often, the SF housing crisis is used to attack progressives from the right, in the service of free market solutions – even though, as the historical evidence makes clear, this crisis was not their fault.

Progressives have spent the last two decades fighting to make SF more progressive. Had they been listened to, perhaps SF might still be affordable today.

The most recent iteration of the “who made SF unaffordable?” discussion was kicked off today by the widely respected Gabriel Metcalf of SPUR. Writing at CityLab Metcalf argued that the roots of SF’s housing crisis lay in progressive anti-growth policies:

San Francisco progressives chose to stick with their familiar stance of opposing new development, positioning themselves as defenders of the city’s physical character. Instead of forming a pro-growth coalition with business and labor, most of the San Francisco Left made an enduring alliance with home-owning NIMBYs. It became one of the peculiar features of San Francisco that exclusionary housing politics got labeled “progressive.” (Organized labor remained a major political force throughout this time period, and has allied with both pro-growth and anti-growth forces, depending on the issue.) Over the years, these anti-development sentiments were translated into restrictive zoning, the most cumbersome planning and building approval process in the country, and all kinds of laws and rules that make it uniquely difficult, time-consuming, and expensive to add housing in San Francisco.

This is the common argument about SF – it’s expensive because progressives got mad at developers and stopped new growth from happening in order to preserve the city in amber, with no thought given to new residents.

But is that actually what happened?

Let’s take a look back at history. The first thing to keep in mind is that by 1960, San Francisco was mostly built out already. The Sunset should probably not have been packed full with two-story homes. But progressives didn’t make that decision.

The modern era of progressive San Francisco begins in the early 1960s, and one cannot understand the progressive approach to SF housing policy without looking at that era, as I did a decade ago for research on a never-completed PhD dissertation.

Like most US cities, SF had its share of residential segregation. In the City, this meant that African Americans lived in the Fillmore and in the Bayview. The Fillmore’s once-grand Victorians had become slum housing as a result of overcrowding and poverty, results of America’s ongoing racist distribution of wealth and power.

In order to try and add more housing supply to SF, as well as to clear the slums, the San Francisco Housing Authority, under the leadership of Justin Herman, proposed to redevelop most of the Fillmore. They planned to use federal funds to demolish the existing private housing stock and replace it with a mix of publicly owned housing and privately built housing.

No provision was made by the SFHA for the relocation of the tenants during this years-long process. At a time when California voters had just repealed the state’s fair housing law in 1964, this was a direct threat to the ability of people of color to remain in San Francisco.

African American residents protested vehemently. They formed groups such as the Western Addition Community Organization to fight against what they damned as “Negro removal.” They failed. Ironically, the public housing projects built as a result of the SFHA plan are responsible for keeping any black residents in the Fillmore at all – yet according to the SFHA’s own estimates from the late 1960s, most residents displaced from the Fillmore project areas left SF altogether.

The resistance in the Fillmore inspired similar resistance in the Mission, then populated by a mix of Latino and Irish residents. Unlike the Fillmore, the Mission succeeded in fighting off redevelopment.

In the 1970s, San Francisco leaders began clearing out the affordable single resident occupancy buildings in SoMa to make way for the Yerba Buena Center project. The loss of thousands of SRO units, never replaced, was a major factor that contributed to the city’s sizable homeless population. In 1977 the famous battle over the International Hotel took place, where progressives rallied to defend Filipino renters who were facing displacement so that the landlord could redevelop the site.

These battles convinced progressive San Franciscans that the vulnerable populations of the city faced a very real threat to their homes from redevelopment, whether initiated by the private or public sector. Progressives generally don’t care about a wealthy single family homeowner. But they care very much about people of color and retirees losing their homes.

That is a challenging situation in San Francisco. Because the city is completely built out, any new housing supply comes at the expense of an existing use – often displacing existing residents.

This problem was exacerbated beginning in the mid-1970s by rising housing costs. That increase began before San Francisco’s population began to grow – as Metcalf’s own article explains, SF didn’t start to add population until after 1980. The rising rents were fueled by the national inflation that plagued the country in the 1970s.

SF residents voted to adopt rent control in 1979 in part to respond to this crisis as well as to respond to the passage of Proposition 13 – specifically to stop one landlord in particular, Angelo Sangiacomo, who refused to pass on property tax savings to renters.

Metcalf argues that progressives allied with NIMBYs to make it difficult if not impossible to add new housing supply in SF. But this misses the fundamental purpose and point of progressive housing activism in SF. The goal is to stop displacement – and given SF’s attributes, a free market approach won’t solve that.

Because SF is built out, and because land values began to rise in the mid-1970s, and because of macroeconomic policies that began to push investors to demand bigger profits from the private sector, this all meant that new construction in San Francisco was going to be expensive to build and therefore expensive to rent. The private sector was never all that interested in building housing for the poor or the low-income. And after 1980, the private sector certainly was not interested in building that kind of housing.

So for many progressive San Franciscans, private housing development was seen as a way to get rid of the leftists, the people of color, LGBT residents, and the poor. Stopping the loss of affordable housing became a priority.

However, this did not mean that SF progressives became anti-supply – or that they are responsible for the city’s present crisis.

Since Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk were assassinated in 1978 by a right-wing former cop, SF has been governed by pro-business moderates. There has been only one exception to this, the four-year term of Art Agnos from 1987 to 1991, and it’s not clear whether he was more of a progressive or more of a NIMBY (in reality he appealed to both, but for different reasons).

Progressives haven’t held the SF mayor’s office in at least 24 years, by even the most charitable reading. Surely pro-business mayors like Frank Jordan, Willie Brown, and Gavin Newsom should be held accountable for the city’s housing crisis.

During the last two decades, SF progressives worked hard to advance their own solutions to the housing crisis. Those solutions always included new supply.

Take a look at Tom Ammiano’s housing policy in his 1999 campaign for mayor:

2) Make the Production and Preservation of Affordable Housing the Top Priority

Increasing housing opportunities that are affordable for San Franciscans of low and moderate incomes is a civic obligation to local residents who make up the foundation of our culture and economy. San Francisco currently has the worst of both worlds: market forces that give no consideration to the broader needs of the community and out-of-date regulation that interferes with development of housing of every type.

As mayor I will:

…Review and Reform Current Planning Guidelines that Stifle Increased Housing.

I will direct the Planning Department to report on Planning Code changes that will increase new housing in ways that are not detrimental to neighborhood character. I will promote a neighborhood-driven planning process to consider increasing density along established transit corridors in the eastern half of the City and implement the State statute that gives a “density bonus” to developments that set aside 25% of units for low income residents….

….Streamline the Permitting Process

The Ammiano administration will coordinate the permit processing and record-keeping of the Department of Building Inspection and the Planning Department, improving the approval and environmental review process for both the neighborhoods and developers, particularly non-profit developers. Neighborhood concerns will be accommodated before individual permit applications through Neighborhood Master Environmental Impact Reports. Public input will still be encouraged at scheduled hearings of relevant commissions.

While this isn’t the libertarian “abolish all zoning” fantasy that some in the tech industry demand today, it’s a far cry from the anti-growth platform that many imagine SF progressives to have held.

It wasn’t just Ammiano. Matt Gonzalez’s 2003 campaign for mayor had similar policies on housing that were pro-supply as well:

A balanced housing policy for San Francisco must include a commitment to increasing the supply of rental housing affordable to San Franciscans of all incomes. Increasing home ownership is a important goal, we will still need more affordable rental housing to meet current and future demand. Rent control is important for stabilizing housing and preventing displacement of existing tenants, but because of vacancy decontrols, assuring affordability requires that rental units are made permanently affordable through other means-inclusionary housing, which are permanently affordable units in market-rate developments, and construction or purchase of affordable rental units by nonprofit housing providers. As mayor, I will increase the supply of permanently affordable housing for San Franciscans of a range of incomes and household sizes.

I don’t know how much clearer it could be. Both Ammiano and Gonzalez, heroes and leaders of the SF left, were pro-supply. Had they been able to govern SF, we might have seen a different outcome. But even their options were limited, and their campaigns came 25 years after the housing affordability crisis first hit SF.

There are other problems with Metcalf’s argument, as Mark Hogan has explained. He shows how even Chris Daly, the arch-progressive of SF politics, helped deliver more housing supply:

Chris Daly (arguably one of the most “Progressive” politicians San Francisco has had in recent years) helped pave the way for the massive number of new units in SOMA by brokering a community impact deal in 2005, and these units are the majority of the housing that has been created in the last 10 years. The Eastern Neighborhoods Plan, which upzoned large areas on the east side of the City, was approved by a Progressive-majority Board of Supervisors. It should also be noted that most of the areas that have been upzoned are less wealthy and more dominated by renters than the areas that are primarily single family.

Hogan also challenges another part of Metcalf’s argument:

The line that keeps getting repeated that we should have been building 5,000 units a year is absurd taking into account the realities of development. The math makes sense in the simplest way possible, but we all know that no developer is going to build those units at the bottom of a recession (and the economy is always cyclical), and nobody 25 years ago would have predicted the level of in-migration and income inequality we have right now- even taking the population boom that started in 1980 into account. Far more units than that have been permitted in each boom and in most cases developers have declined to build them (or deferred them until the next cycle). The fact that they haven’t been built has more to do with economics than obstructionism.

Free market acolytes have seized on articles like Metcalf’s to try and discredit progressives and their values, and to advance their pet theory that if we just got rid of limits on height and density, or maybe even got rid of zoning altogether, SF’s housing woes would be solved. Longtime Calitics readers know that I have supported greater urban density and less restrictive housing policies for at least the last seven years. But not even Metcalf thinks that a free market approach will, on its own, solve the problem:

Let me say very clearly here that making it possible to add large amounts of housing supply in San Francisco would never have been enough by itself. A comprehensive agenda for affordability requires additional investments in subsidies for affordable housing. Given the realities of economic inequality, there are large numbers of people who would never be able to afford market rate housing, even in a better-functioning market.

And SPUR, which occupies a place in the SF political landscape that is hard to categorize, has a great set of ideas for how to make SF affordable again. There is much in those proposals for progressives to like.

Yet even SPUR’s proposals share many of the same elements of the plans Ammiano and Gonzalez advanced in their 1999 and 2003 campaigns. There is greater convergence between SPUR and progressives than might be assumed.

Ultimately SF is at the leading edge of a problem that is now facing all US cities. Urban America has become expensive. As we live in an era of increasing inequality, and in a time where macroeconomic policies favor investments that benefit the rich over those that benefit the poor or the middle, no market solution alone can solve the problem.

Government will be needed to help solve the crisis – through rent control, through subsidies, through an expansion of public housing stock, and through facilitation of private sector housing stock too. Progressives have been calling for that for years. They weren’t the ones in charge of SF when the crisis hit and they haven’t had full control over city government in over two decades.

Perhaps, just perhaps, the blame lies not with progressives, but with SF’s pro-business politicians, for whom solving the affordable housing crisis has never been a priority at all.

Gov. Brown quickly signs Vaccines Bill

Bill eliminates most non-medical exemptions

by Brian Leubitz

While SB277 may have drawn a lot of attention and vocal minorities to the Capitol (and anywhere else legislators congregated). But after the recent passage of the legislation, Governor Brown wasted no time in signing the bill yesterday.

SB 277 requires all children entering day care, kindergarten or 7th grade to be vaccinated, although the legislature included a specific exemption if a child’s physician concludes that immunization is not recommended for reasons including family medical history. …

Sen. Pan, speaking on KPCC’s AirTalk on Tuesday, said he was pleased that Brown had “listened to the science, listened to the facts about vaccination.” Brown, he said, has “taken a very important step in assuring we stop the erosion of community immunity in California and that we prevent diseases that should stay in the history books.”(KPCC)

You can listen to that AirTalk program here. The governor’s full letter is the right from the Chronicle’s Melody Gutierrez.

Justice Kennedy Pens 5-4 Decision for Marriage Equality

Decision makes marriage equality the law of the land across the nation.

by Brian Leubitz

You can find many words on the marriage decision plastered all over the interwebs. But I wanted to point out the closing of Justice Kennedy’s decision in the 5-4 Obergefell decision.

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.

It is so ordered. (Obergefell v Hodges)

As many have stated, marriage equality isn’t the end of the fight for LGBT rights or civil rights more broadly, there isn’t such thing as the end of that fight. We’ve seen too much over the past weeks and months to think that is the case. Even within the LGBT community, there are a litany of lines that are arbitrarily drawn, yet the results are all too real.

Yet, for one day, love wins. And that makes this a good day. And for my fellow San Franciscans, what a happy #SFPride this will be.

Budget Deal Reached?

Legislature passed bill yesterday with $750mil over Gov.’s budget

by Brian Leubitz

Yesterday, the Legislature passed a budget as was required by the Constitution (and 2010’s Prop 25) to keep their paychecks coming.

Senate Budget Chair Mark Leno acknowledged there’s no deal yet with Gov. Brown but says he’d challenge anyone who calls this spending plan a “sham.”

“This budget, fiscally responsible, pays down more debt – faster; puts more money in our rainy day fund; puts more money into public education; and begins – if minimally – to reinvest in the needs of the people of the state of California,” Leno said on the Senate floor Monday. (Capitol Public Radio)

That was all well and good, but both the Senate and Assembly leaders acknowledged that the budget they passed wouldn’t actually become law. The Governor wanted to slice a few million off of their budget, and wasn’t going to sign the measure they passed.  

But they may have now reached a deal:

The Democratic governor is expected to hold a news conference at the Capitol on Tuesday afternoon. …

The deal is expected to include additional money for child care and preschool programs, but likely not as much as legislative Democrats originally sought, a source said.(David Siders / SacBee)

Details are still emerging, but it appears that the Legislative Democrats got at least some portion of what they wanted in their own budget. How much still remains to be seen.

Legislative Recap on Health: #Health4All; Out-of-Pocket Costs; Medi-Cal, Etc.

The Senate and Assembly adjourned Thursday, one day ahead of the June 5th deadline to pass all bills out of the first legislative chamber. The good news is that most key bills of interest to health care consumers have passed out of the house of origin, while one bill, opposed by public health groups, was defeated. Bills moving forward deal with limits and protections against unfair out-of-pocket costs; efforts at improving Medi-Cal; and most notably a significant expansion of access to coverage for all regardless of immigration status.

These bills now head to the second half of the legislative process. For details on each bill, see our weekly bill matrix:…

Below the fold, full reports on:

* SB 4 To Take Historic Steps to #Health4All & Cover the Remaining Uninsured

* Patient Protection Bills To Limit Out-of-Pocket Costs

* Additional legislation on transparency, Medi-Cal, tobacco control, and more


The most-watched health bill was SB4, the first bill to pass a state legislative body that would explicitly expand coverage regardless of immigration status. The California Senate passed SB4 on a historic and bipartisan vote, 28-11, with all Democratic senators and 2 Republican senators voting in support. This bill, which continues California’s path to #Health4All, moves on to the Assembly Health Committee for consideration.

With last week’s amendments in the Senate Appropriations Committee, SB 4 would:

* Expand Medi-Cal eligibility to all children regardless of immigration status, as an entitlement;

* Expand coverage for undocumented adults as budget allocations will allow (to be decided each year in the budget, and that enrollment will be capped if funding runs out).

* By way of a Section 1332 waiver (a formal request to the federal government), SB 4 would allow all Californians to purchase coverage through Covered California using their own money.

Senator Ricardo Lara, author of SB 4, called the vote “historic” and one that Senators will remember long after their term is over. “We are talking about our friends, our families, our neighbors. Illness doesn’t care about our immigration status,” said Lara, describing the bill as still “realistic, balanced, and fiscally prudent.”

Several Senators rose to speak during the floor debate. From the opposing side, GOP Senators Jeff Stone, Janet Nguyen, and Bob Huff raised concerns about cost, arguing that expanding Medi-Cal was a “false promise” until the program addresses access issues. Several Democratic Senators responded to that argument, including Senator Richard Pan who stated, “We certainly need to make fixes to Medi-Cal, but certainly being on Medi-Cal is better than being uninsured.” Senator Isadore Hall derided “excuses,” Senator Ben Hueso wanted focus on the issue at hand: “We have a solution on the table, and we should move it forward.” Senator Hernandez rebutted concerns about cost: “The most inefficient way to provide health care is through the emergency room-we all pay for it.”

The most noteworthy speech was by GOP Senator Andy Vidak announcing his support for the bill while also raising the need to address Medi-Cal access issues and federal immigration reform. He and another Central Valley Republican, Senator Anthony Cannella, were the two GOP Senators to vote for the bill. Senator Nguyen abstained, with the rest of the caucus voting no.

This issue is currently pending in Budget Conference Committee as a $40 million item in the Senate’s budget proposal. The next week or two will make a big difference in whether enrollment under SB4 would start in the budget year 2015-16.


Four Health Access-sponsored consumer protection bills to prevent unfair out-of-pocket costs passed out of their “house of origin” this week and are heading to the second half and second legislative chamber in the weeks ahead. The remaining sponsored bill, AB 248 (Hernandez) on large employer junk insurance is further along in the process, having passed out of the Assembly several weeks ago.

* Requiring Accurate Provider Directories: SB 137 (Hernandez) would set standards for provider directories and establish more oversight on accuracy so people know whether their doctor and hospital are in network when they shop for coverage, change coverage, or try to use their coverage. SB 137 passed out of the Senate with bipartisan support. The final vote was 33-0.

* Preventing Surprise Bills: AB 533 (Bonta), which would protect patients from “surprise” bills from out-of-network doctors when they did the right thing by going to an in-network hospital, imaging center, or other facility, passed out of the Assembly with a vote of 74-1.

* Limiting Prescription Drug Cost Sharing: AB 339 (Gordon), which would prevent discrimination against consumers with health conditions by setting standards for cost sharing on prescription drugs passed out of the Assembly with a vote of 48-29.

* Capping Individual Out-of-Pocket Costs: AB 1305 (Bonta) on limitations on cost sharing in family coverage passed out of the Assembly with a vote of 78-0. This bill ensures that the ACA individual out-of-pocket maximum (now $6,600) will apply to individual patients-even if they are in a family plan (which has an overall family out-of-pocket max of $13,200).

* Prohibit Subminimum Coverage: AB 248 (Hernandez), which would prohibit sale of subminimum coverage by insurers to large employers passed out of the Assembly several weeks ago with a vote of 51-27 and will next be heard in Senate Health.


SB546 (Leno) would advance transparency in our health system by extending rate review to large group health coverage. This bill, which requires justification of above-average rate increases, passed out of the Senate with a vote of 23-16.

Other transparency bills faltered earlier this year, including SB 26 (Hernandez), which sought to create a health care cost and quality database, was held in Senate Appropriations Committee amid questions on how to finance it. Earlier in the process, AB 463 by Assemblyman Chiu to facilitate more disclosure on prescription drug costs was stalled in Assembly Health Committee. These efforts will likely be revisited in future years.


Several bills designed to improve the Medi-Cal program, which now covers almost 12 million Californians, advanced out of their house of origin.

* SB 33 (Hernandez), which would limit estate recovery in Medi-Cal to the federally required minimum of long-term care services and eliminate recovery from the estate of a surviving spouse of a deceased beneficiary, passed out of the Senate with a vote of 33-0.

* AB 1231 (Wood), which would facilitate practical access to Medi-Cal specialty care through coverage of nonmedical transportation, also passed out with a vote of 76-0.

* AB 635 (Atkins), which would require the Department of Health Care Services to seek federal funding to establish a program to provide and reimburse for certified medical interpretation services to Medi-Cal beneficiaries with limited English proficiency, passed out of the Senate with a vote of 72-2.

* AB 366 (Bonta), which would require the Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) to report to the Legislature on Medi-Cal access passed out of the Assembly with a vote of 77-0.  Originally introduced as a measure to restore Medi-Cal provider reimbursement rates and bring them up to Medicare levels in future years, this bill came out of the Appropriations Committee’s suspense hearing significantly scaled back in scope. A companion measure SB 243 (Hernandez) was held in Appropriations during the suspense hearing and is not moving forward.


A handful of bills aimed at the negative health impacts of tobacco use passed, including SB 151 (Hernandez) to raise the smoking age from 18 to 21. SB 140 (Leno), which would revise the definition of tobacco products to include e-cigarettes, thus subjecting such products to the same regulations as other tobacco products, passed out of the Senate with a vote of 25-12.  Public health groups, including the Heart Association, Lung Association, and Health Access supported that measure and opposed the related bill SB 24 (Hill), which did not classify e-cigarettes as tobacco. Research suggests that e-cigarettes have much the same negative effect as cigarettes. SB 24 (Hill) failed passage.  


A full matrix of the latest on all active bills supported by Health Access and other health and consumer advocates is available online (here). That list includes ACA implementation legislation like SB 43 (Hernandez), which would extend the sunset date on essential health benefits standards from 2016 to 2018 and incorporate recent changes in federal guidance regarding habilitative care (services that help you keep, learn, or improve skills and functioning for daily living); AB 1117 (Garcia) would help bring more resources to Medi-Cal to improve immunization rates for 2-year-olds and AB 1299 (Ridley-Thomas) seeks to improve the delivery of mental health services for foster youth.


Now that these bills have passed the critical house of origin deadline, they will next be heard in the “other house,” meaning if the bill was introduced in the Assembly, it will be heard in the Senate, and if the bill was introduced in the Senate, it will be heard in the Assembly. Committee hearings will resume on June 8th. Policy committees have until July 17th to meet and report bills out of committee.

This blog entry is cross-posted at It was written by Sawait Hezchias-Seyoum, Health Care Policy Advocate, Health Access. Stay tuned for tools and talking points to bring these bills to the finish line.