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While California Dreams- Weekly Update Vol.1 No. 22

This article written by: Former Assemblymember Hannah Beth Jackson of Speak Out California

A weekly update on the goings-on in Sacramento

For the week ending November 3, 2007

Key bills and issues we’ve been following during the

Past week and beyond

This is usually a pretty quiet time in Sacramento. While this situation remains pretty much the case,  the slowly dying Special Session still remains. With the big battle over water ending in a stalemate, the debate over  health care reform showed a glimmer of activity this week as the Assembly Health Committee held a full-blown hearing on the Governor’s health care proposal. There wasn’t any progress to speak of, although the Speaker, Fabian Nunez pledged to keep working to reach a compromise. Unfortunately, few in Sacramento believe either side will make necessary concessions to make that happen.

When times are slow, polls become more interesting-at least to those political wonks who are otherwise suffering withdrawal from relative inactivity. This week was no different as the well-respected Public Policy Institute of California came out this week with the latest on several fronts. Among these are whether the people feel California is moving in the right direction or not (which is just another way of asking whether people are optimistic and hopeful about their future) and how the Governor would fare should he decide to take on Senator Barbara Boxer in 2010 for the U.S. Senate. As you can see, a lot of inside baseball here, especially since even the baseball season is finally over.

The ballot measures for 2008 are again coming to life, especially since right-wing Congressman Darrell Issa, who brought us the Davis Recall in 2003, has announced he will bankroll the return of the Electoral College measure. For those who thought this blatant right-wing power grab was dead, this measure will split California’s electoral votes from a winner-takes-all to a split of electoral votes by Congressional District. Translated, this would likely give the Republican candidate 20 electoral votes—or the size of Ohio or Florida. Since the Republicans haven’t won California in years, this is as good as giving them a 40 vote turnaround in the Electoral College, enough so the conventional wisdom holds, to steal the election for the Republicans. And since it is felt that Rudy Guliani is the one most likely to benefit from this ploy, and there are many dirty footprints leading to his door on this measure, the Dems are howling. All this makes for good copy, of course, and keeps the political junkies busy during an otherwise slow period before the election cycle kicks in. Of course, this year, the election cycle seems to have started months ago and seems to be in overdrive already.

With so much bad press recently for Speaker Fabian Nunez’s spending habits, the Term-Limits/Extension measure Prop. 93 appears to be sliding out of favor dramatically with California’s likely voters. Added to the woes of current members hoping to extend their terms in office is the announcement by billionaire State Insurance Commissioner, Steve Poizner, that he will help bankroll the opposition to the measure. Even though the supporters of the measure have a substantial war chest, this measure looks like it may go down with a big thud.

And now for the week’s goings-on:

Health Care in the  Governor’s Special Session

The Governor finally got his opportunity to publicly roll-out his insurance-based health care plan. With his normal theatrical flair, the measure had a full hearing before the assembly Health Committee this week. Ever gracious Health Secretary Kim Belshe, presented the Governor’s now more specifically formulated proposal to a skeptical committee. Because the measure assumes that the insurance industry remains in the play—and in fact, insists upon it, there was no discussion of one of the fundamental questions in the entire debate: what benefit (if any) does the insurance industry bring to the delivery of health care to Californians? The Governor’s proposal simply presumes a benefit, although it is seriously challenged.

In fact, the basic premise of real universal health care is that there is one entity that is responsible for paying out to the healthcare providers (like the very successful and cost-effective  U.S.  Medicare/Medical system). No insurance companies, no profits, just one agency that oversees payments. That allows everyone to choose their own docs and healthcare providers who will be able to practice without insurance company interference, get paid a fair fee and discard all the bureaucratic tape of having to deal with the thousands of different plans in California alone.

But, unfortunately, the Governor’s proposal would require that all Californians buy health insurance and on that basis all Californians would be covered. Even assuming for the moment that this is a good approach, the Governor’s proposal makes the purchase of insurance mandatory, but doesn’t say what that cost would entitled us to receive and doesn’t cap the cost that the insurance industry can charge for the various services, medications, etc. that we would be getting for our premium payments.

Without any controls, the measure was predictably poorly received. In addition, there is no agreement on how to fund the program. The Republicans won’t support any system to pay for the coverage and the Dems don’t like the mandatory requirement aspects of the proposal. The Governor wants to cap employer contributions at 4%, but this is even less than what companies who are already contributing for health premiums are paying now.

During the hearing, it was exposed that the Governor’s proposal is not clear as to who is covered under the mandatory provisions requirement. Nor is there a mechanism to contain costs of premiums that the insurance industry can charge.

Another cause for concern is that minimum insurance would mean minimum coverage, so that those unable to afford much would likely end up paying for something that doesn’t provide them with the care they would need anyway- meaning they would be paying for nothing…not a very good system.

About the only point of agreement in all this is that insurance companies would not be able to reject providing insurance (such as it would be) for pre-existing conditions. Although this might seem to be a good place to start negotiations, neither side appears to be willing to concede on any of the above mentioned points. This is often referred to as a stalemate.

Hopefully, at some point, we’ll be able to get back to a meaningful discussion of whether healthcare should be available to everyone and if so, how we can construct a profit-based, yet more cost effective and equitable system to delivering meaningful healthcare to all?

For an excellent piece on the problems with the Governor’s proposal, check out Consumer Federation of California’s Richard Holober’s piece here.

Polls: a snapshot of what the people are thinking today

When times are slow, polls take on a particular interest. This week’s offerings from the highly regarded Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) are no exception. One of the most consistent areas the PPIC investigates is how the public perceives the present and future- taking the pulse of the public’s optimism or pessimism regarding the days to come. While it tends to fluctuate significantly, trends are often discernable and serve to highlight the kinds of policies and leadership the public wants or believes it is getting.

Right track or wrong track?

The current pulse shows that Californians are evenly divided on whether they believe the state is on the “right track” with 42% believing we are and 42% believing we’re on the “wrong-track”. For those who think we’re headed in the wrong direction, 21% cite immigration and uncontrolled borders as the reason we’re going the wrong way. This represents a 6% increase from the 15% who felt immigration was the number one problem in California in 2005. Thirteen percent of those who think we’re headed down the wrong path cited education and school cuts as the second most serious problem in the state.

Those who believe the picture is rosy and headed down the right path attributed their optimism to the Governor (21%) while 19% attributed it to the state’s economy. For a further discussion of this data, check out the Sac Bee article here.

The importance of college and higher education

And while on the subject of higher education, a strong majority of Californians believe that one of the keys to success is obtaining a college education. Sadly, 56% of Californians believe is harder to get that education today than it was a decade ago. The PPIC poll shows that an impressive 76% see our state’s higher education system as a key- to our quality of life and economic well-being. There is little doubt that we need to do more in California to improve access to this vitally important path to economic opportunity and well-being. For more on this subject, check out Frank Russo’s excellent piece here.

Boxer vs. Arnold for U.S. Senate in 2010:

For real political wonks, polls showed that if there were a match-up today between Senator Barbara Boxer and Governor Schwarzenegger, it would be a statistical dead heat. While this has many progressives concerned, the governor insists he has no interest in the seat and doesn’t intend to challenge the Senator who, by virtue of her seniority, now chairs the very important Senate Subcommittee on the Environment. While one would like to take the Governor at his word, he has been known to change his mind at the very last minute—as he did when he announced his decision to run for Governor on the Jay Leno show. Not only did that announcement shock his staff, but his wife as well. So, we’ll have to stay-tuned on that one.

New or re-heated  initiatives on the horizon

Just when we thought the right-wing power-grabbers were sufficiently embarrassed and humiliated to put the Electoral College scam measure on the ballot, they’ve found a new champion to come to their rescue in the form of Darrell Issa redux. This is the measure that was originally fronted by a group with the ignominious distinction of being led by a Republican operative best known for biting the backsides of women. While this measure would certainly bite the back-side of democracy by breaking up California’s electoral votes, and possibly handing the Republican presidential candidate an undeserved victory in the 2008 Presidential election (not exactly something new), it needs a quick insurgence of cash to ensure it can qualify for the November 2008 ballot. With only a few weeks left to qualify, we’ll be seeing a lot of paid signature gatherers misleading unsuspecting voters to sign their petitions. It will be ugly and is already the subject of litigation as the Dems are not going to let this piece of undemocratic mischief see the light of day, if at all possible.

Proposition 93- The term limits/expansion initiative

The measure, sponsored by the leadership of both houses of the legislature, got some bad news this week as the polling shows that support for Prop 93 plummets dramatically when the public discovers that it will give sitting members additional time in the legislature. While the current term-limits rule has wreaked havoc on our legislative system, this proposal has far too many skeptics seeing it as an obvious attempt to keep the current leadership in power longer than it should be. Given the negative couple weeks Speaker Fabian Nunez has had over his disclosed uses of campaign funds, it is little wonder that the public is souring on this measure. For more on this story, click here.

From the Speak Out California In-box

While we often receive emails from our readers (who for some reason would rather email than post on our blog!), this week was particularly heavy on concerns and outrage over Senator Dianne Feinstein’s support of Judge Mukasey’s confirmation. Several of you were indignant that the Senator would support a candidate who will not condemn water-boarding as torture. While we generally try to focus on California issues and activity within the state, we, too, are very concerned about approving someone who hasn’t the courage or perhaps the moral compass to condemn torture sanctioned by the government of the United States. We urge those who share this concern, to let Senator Feinstein’s office know of your displeasure. Certainly, at the least, we as Californians are entitled to know why she has given her critical vote to confirm under these circumstances. To contact her office, click here.

The Rest of the Story

Our blogging offerings for the week:

Keeping big business happy at our children’s expense— A look at the conduct of the federal agency tasked with protecting our health and safety as consumers and as parents, while our children are exposed to dangerous and unsafe toys.

The Power of the Words, We the People— a look at how “we”, the people, are really “we”, the government.

To read and comment on these entries just go to:

Until next week,

Hannah-Beth Jackson and the Speak Out California Team

Keeping Big Business happy at our children’s expense

This article written by: Former Assemblymember Hannah-Beth Jackson of Speak Out california

I remember as a youngster believing that the President and the government would protect us from harmful things—like gas fumes at the pump and toys that broke off and could hurt babies and little children. Of course, I was quite young at the time, not yet at double digits, the country was much more naive and Dwight Eisenhower was president. This was obviously a long time ago!

But I took the notion seriously that government had a moral and constitutional responsibility to protect the public and keep us from harms way—whether it be from enemies to our shores, criminals threatening our personal peace and safety or just known bad things being cast upon us by those who didn’t care about our well-being.

It turns out I was very naive, and had a misplaced sense of what government, at least in times of Ike,considered to be its responsibilities. But as time has moved on, the role of government to protect us as consumers and as individuals has evolved. Particularly in the 1970’s, and somewhat ironically, under both Republican and Democratic presidents, the role of the EPA, the Consumer Protection Agency and other publicly concerned entities took a front-and-center position in helping protect our nation and our natural resources. After all, it was Richard Nixon who signed the Clean Water Act (although it was pushed heavily by the democratically controlled congress). To his credit, he also oversaw the first Environmental Protection Agency, committed to protecting our environmental health.

Fast-forward to today and we see a stark contrast between a national commitment to protect the public and an adminstration which has blatantly and shamelessly pronounced that the public health is of no concern to it. That seems to be the message of this week’s extraordinary conduct of one Nancy A. Nord, the acting chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The CPSC is the agency tasked with the responsibility to oversee the safety of more than 15,000 types of consumer products. It is this agency which has been under scrutiny as more and more of the thousands of products we import from China, as toys with which our children play, turn out to be laced with poison. Primarily in the form of lead materials, our youngest children are being exposed to toxic materials known to cause brain damage and other serious health and safety consequences for children in particular.

The public outcry has been predictably severe, after all, these are our children who are being knowingly exposed to dangerous substances. The question has been raised, “Where is the government in all this? Where is the agency that is supposed to protect against unsafe consumer products? Who is minding the store?”

The answer with this administration, in particular, has been that no one is minding the store. After all, the market can regulate itself and we don’t want to impose any regulation or restrictions that will interfere with a free and unregulated market. And therein lies the rub: The market has not and does not regulate itself. It only responds when it is finally CAUGHT. So millions of our children have been exposed to these dangerous materials. How many of them will suffer as a result? How many parents and loved ones will feel responsible for the consequences because the government has failed to protect them? And finally, how can this administration, that professes to want to protect America justify such neglect of its responsibilities?

The answer, sadly, is best summarized by the extraordinary response by the person who is in charge of protecting us from unsafe products. Appointed by George W. Bush  to head an agency whose work and mandate she opposes, Ms. Nord publicly opposed legislation that will strengthen her agency’s ability to do its job.

On October 30th, the Senate Commerce Committee unanimously approved a bill which would raise the CPSC budget, increase its staff and grant it “broad new powers to police the marketplace” on behalf of consumer safety.
The New York Times reported that Nord opposed the measure because it would “increase the maximum penalties for safety violations , make it easier for the government to make public reports of faulty products and protect industry whistleblowers and prosecute executives of companies that willfully violate the law.” In other words, she opposed a bill that would help her agency do its job in holding these companies accountable and deterring these dangerous abuses in the future– this from the person responsible for making sure we are protected from these very practices. Just imagine a District Attorney opposing legislation making his/her job easier to catch and prosecute the bad guy!

This legislation was precipitated by yet another recall in October of over half a million toys imported from China. Earlier we saw millions of other toys recalled for containing dangerous levels of lead and other safety problems. As if that weren’t enough to jump on the bandwagon and call for greater oversight and accountability, Ms. Nord completely missed the point, arguing instead that the latest recall came not for safety reasons, but simply because the contents violate the law. Huh?

Have the Bush free-marketeers gone so over the top that they don’t see that the public wants protection and deserves to be protected from dangerous products, especially those that harm their CHILDREN? Apparently not. Apparently the free-marketeers are so inflexible, so intractible, so unconcerned with the well-being of the people they are poisoning that they are even willing to so publicly condemn efforts to assure greater safety and protection of our people, and our children in particular.

If there are any Americans left who think this administration cares about them more than about big business and corporate profit, this should be the final nail in that coffin. This move toward even greater deregulation, greater unaccountability and responsibility to the public is straight out of the failed conservative ideology that the people are reacting to today. Bush’s dangerous and irresponsible commitment to ignore the public’s safety, heavens, our children’s safety, for the sake of corporate free- market is yet another example of his failed priorities and the failure of this administration to act in the best interests of the public he and his appointees are supposed to serve.

For the sake of our children and our planet we must change the dialogue and bring safety and responsibility back to the process. Our children deserve it and we must demand it. When an administration is reduced to such arrogance and misguided values so as to blatantly and publicly reject the safety of its people and its children, in particular, it is time to send them packing.

It isn’t the 1950’s anymore. We aren’t naive about what is going on in the world and in the world of mulit-national commerce. And even our youngsters today know the government isn’t necessarily there to protect them. It is now our job to insist that it do so.

While California Dreams- Weekly Update Vol.1 No. 17

A weekly update on the goings-on in Sacramento

For the week ending September 29, 2007

Key bills and issues we’ve been following during the

Past week and beyond

With traveling solons returning home from various parts of the world next week, both Healthcare and Water Policy are two special session topics that are heating up.  There are various views on both matters and some new Special Session legislation has been introduced this week.

And, in breaking news, the so-called “Dirty Tricks” initiative to change how California allocates its Electoral College votes appears to be dead, at least for now.

Governor “green” speaks at the United Nations, upstaging the absent President Bush (who held his “own” global warming conference to upstage the U.N.) and gets a chance to sign three major environmental bills.  Let’s see if he puts his pen where his mouth is.

Public Safety bills on the Governor’s desk get support from the former Attorney General.

And now, for the week’s goings-on:

Special Session – Water Policy – three competing sets of proposals, and an Oct. 16th deadline.

Water, water, water- the issue that makes energy problems in California look small by comparison- moves to the front and center in Sacramento.  Assembly Democrats introduced three bills by Assembly Member John Laird (D-Santa Cruz), while the Governor’s proposal is carried by Sen. Dave Cogdill (R-Modesto).

Laird’s bills include a different approach to dams which are a major part of the Governor’s staggering $9 billion plan.  Under the Governor’s plan, the state would pay up to half of the cost for three dams to the tune of $5.1 billion.  Democrats have always been suspicious of this part of the proposal, however under one of Laird’s bills, local entities would be required to pay for the bulk of the dams because they are local water projects.  This would save the state almost $5 billion.  Democrats support conservation, recycling, and groundwater storage to boost water supplies and either oppose dams for environmental reasons or believe local projects should be paid for by local water agencies.  For more on this click here to read E. J. Schultz’s Sacramento Bee article.

Then there is the entire Delta part of the Governor’s offerings.  Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, campaign director for Restore the Delta criticizes the SB 3xx which is the Governor’s water bond (carried by Republican Senators Cogdill and Ackerman, and Republican Assembly Member Villines).  SB 3xx would spend $1.9 billion to provide an “alternative conveyance system” by sending the money to water agencies for construction.  She says, “The Delta cannot be restored if the Sacramento River is diverted from the Delta.”  Her organization does support Senator Perata’s bill, SB 1002, which would provide $611 million for levee repair, habitat and infrastructure. 

For more on the Delta issues, and on SB 2xx  (Senator Perata’s water bond) please see Barrigan-Parrilla’s article.

But here’s the rub with all of this.  The legislature and the Governor only have until October 16 to make a deal on water policy in order to get a bond measure to fund any of this on the February 5th ballot.  With the Governor at the U. N. and about twenty state legislators away from the capital on “state business” trips, at their own expense, to China, and other places, how will all of this get down?  Some people are worried that everything will be done by the Governor and the Legislative Leadership of both parties in secret, behind closed doors, and then suddenly there will be bills quickly passed with little or no public scrutiny.  Everyone wants to hurry because of the recent court decision requiring action.  So, there are three sets of proposals, and a deadline.  The last time there was such a deadline (self imposed or externally imposed) we got a massive bill to de-regulate electricity that was passed unanimously in both Houses.  We need an open, careful process with plenty of sunshine on the specific details.  We don’t need a back door, hurry up “compromise” so that the Governor can “look effective.”

Message to Governor “green”:  Sign the environmental bills on your desk!

According to the Bee’s Judy Lin, the Governor has three bills on his desk that will “see how far he’s willing to go to keep his reputation green.” AB 888 and AB 1058 (Ted Lieu, D-Torrance) would require more energy efficient use of water in new homes as well as energy efficient lighting in large office buildings.  We will just have to wait and see if the Governor is indeed a jolly “green” giant.

Healthcare measures on the Governor’s desk, and none of them are from the Special Session.

What do AB 8, SB 275, AB 423, SB 474, SB 472, AB 343, AB 910, AB 1113, AB 1324, AB 1, and SB 350 all have in common?  They are all bills on healthcare reform on the Governor’s desk right now, awaiting his signature or veto.  AB 8, the Assembly alternative to the Governor’s proposal, will be vetoed by Schwarzenegger according to the Governor’s staff.  This bill by both Speaker Nunez and Sen. Pro temp Perata was vetted throughout the legislative session that just ended.  In contrast to that, the Governor’s proposal which could find no author throughout the entire session, is now in the Special Session.

But there are other issues too.  SB 275 (Cedillo) would prevent patient dumping by hospitals, while AB 343 (Solorio) would require the state to disclose the names of employers who use Medi-Cal for their workers instead of providing health care benefits on the job.  AB 1324 (De La Torre) would force health plans to justify to state agencies why they are rescinding health coverage to enrollees unless they can prove fraud by the consumer. 

For an excellent description of the healthcare bills on the Governor’s desk check out Anthony Wright’s excellent and comprehensive article here.

Finally, on the healthcare matter, there is growing concern that either the Democrats’ plan or the Governor’s plan, or some compromise, will not affect all Californians in an equal or similar manner.  Certainly those with the lowest incomes will get some state subsidy for healthcare insurance.  And those in jobs where the skill level of the employee is high, will probably see little change, as healthcare benefits are often part of the draw to hire and retain such highly skilled employees.  But for most of the rest of Californians with a variety of current coverage, there may be hidden danger in either plan currently under consideration.  If an employer is paying around 10% of payroll now to cover employees, the new plans allow an employer to drop coverage and pay into a state fund to have their employees pay for their own coverage.  Under the Governor’s proposal the pay-or-play amount is 4% of payroll, while the Democrats require a 7.5% amount.  Both those amounts are under 10%, and many companies might actually see either plan as a way to reduce costs for healthcare benefits.  This could lead to fewer employers providing health insurance to their employees. 

For more on this see Make Zapler’s take on this matter here.

And speaking of healthcare and family values…

While all the hubbub about healthcare is going on in Sacramento, only California Republican Congressional delegation member Mary Bono voted for the SCHIP Reauthorization Bill, H.R. 976.  Nationally 45 Republicans voted for the bill that funds health care for children.  But here in California, 18 of 19 in the California delegation- those who care so much about family values- could not see their way clear to support the measure that would bring more federal dollars to help California children get health coverage.  What do they mean by “family values”?

And speaking of the California Congressional delegation…

While the War on Iraq continues unabated, and while housing foreclosures continue to rise, and while Blackwater mercenaries continue to kill Iraqi civilians with impunity, and while more Americans than ever have lost their health insurance or cannot afford to pay the premiums, and while global warming remains unaddressed by Congress, our nation’s elected officials had time to debate and pass a condemnation of’s advertisement regarding the veracity of General Petraeus’ testimony to Congress.  It is appalling that the Democratic leadership in both houses permitted this measure to even come to a vote.  Not only did they fail to speak up for the 1st amendment right all of us have to “free speech”, but they also allowed the President and Republicans in general to completely divert the nation’s attention from all of the above mentioned critical issues facing our national government.  But the most appalling thing about this entire debacle is that the Democrats in the California delegation split 50/50 on this issue. 

Here is the roll call of those who voted to condemn MoveOn’s ad:
Senator Diane Feinstein, and Congressmembers:  Joe Baca (CA-43), Dennis Cardoza (CA-18), Jim Costa (CA-20), Susan Davis (CA-53), Anna Eshoo (CA-14), Sam Farr (CA-17),  Jane Harmon (CA-36), Tom Lantos (CA-12), Jerry McNerney (CA-11), Grace Napolitano (CA-38), Laura Richardson (CA-37), Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-34), Loretta Sanchez (CA-47), Adam Schiff (CA-29), Ellen Tauscher (CA-10, and Mike Thompson (CA-1).

You might want to call or write these fine Democrats and ask them, “What could you possibly have been thinking?”

Good Bills Awaiting Action by the Governor

There are many important bills on the Governor’s desk.  This week three of them got a boost by former Attorney General John Van de Kamp.  He is urging the Governor to sign Senate Bill 511 (Alquist), Senate Bill 756 (Ridley-Thomas) and Senate Bill 609 (Romero) which taken together “will help law enforcement solve and prosecute crimes, while also protecting the innocent from wrongful conviction.”

In 2006 the California Senate established The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, with Van de Kamp as the Chair.  These three bills were recommended from a series of reports that have come from the Commission which included members from law enforcement, prosecutors, defense attorneys, a victim advocate, and public members.  SB 511 requires the electronic recording of police interrogation in cases involving homicides and other violent felonies.  SB 756 calls for a task forced to set up voluntary guidelines for the conduct of police line-ups and photo arrays to increase the accuracy of eyewitness identifications.  And SB 609 will require the corroboration of testimony by jailhouse informants.  All three should be signed by the Governor.  Please write or call and tell the Governor to sign these important bills.  The Governor vetoed similar measures last year, but these have been revised to meet his objections.

To tell the Governor you support these three public safety measures, look forward to an action alert coming soon!

Speaking of public safety, Assembly Member Paul Krekorian (D-Glendale) puts AB 1539 on the Governor’s desk as well.  His bill would save state money by allowing for “compassionate release” from prison those who are “permanently medically incapacitated” which the bill defines as those inmates “who are permanently unable to perform activities of daily living and require 24-hour total care due to irreversible medical conditions such as being in a coma, a persistent vegetative state, brain death, ventilator-dependency, and loss of control of muscular/neurological function.”  These conditions prevent any risk to the public, but currently can cost $120,000 per inmate to keep in prison.  There is a better way, and it is AB 1539.  Please see Krekorian’s article here on our website.

On Worker’s Compensation:

Expect the Governor to veto another bill, this one by Senator Perata – SB 936 – which the California Chamber has called a “job killer.”  That usually means that it would help working people and their families.  In this case the bill would increase payments to the permanently disabled workers in the state.  But Schwarzenegger, the ever popular business guy will most likely say “no” to helping those permanently disabled while at work.

Nonetheless we do hope that the Governor will at least sign AB 338 (Coto-D-San Jose) whose bill drew support from both sides of the aisle.  This bill would extend the eligibility window for temporary disability benefits from two years to fours years, while keeping the cap at 104 weeks of payments.  But Schwarzenegger may veto this bi-partisan bill because he thinks his original ideas were “absolutely fantastic.”

P.S. on Worker’s Comp – the Rating Bureau for Worker’s Compensation has recommended an increase in insurance premiums to reflect the “increased cost of processing claims even though the payouts themselves continue to fall.”

Quick Notes:

AB 1413 (Portantino, D-Pasadena) and SB 190 (Yee, D-San Francisco) are two bills that attempt to curb “runaway salary increases and sweetheart deals for state university administrators.”  After raising tuition by almost 100% over the past four years, state university executives received hefty salary increases this year, while faculty and students screamed in horror.  These bills would ensure that there would be public discussion of administrative compensation.  Let’s shine some light here.

A struggle over gambling in California has created a strange alliance between Hollywood Park racetrack owner Terry Fancher and the Pala Band of Mission Indians and the United Auburn Indian Community.  They have been fighting in court for more than three years in a suit brought by the racetrack over the validity of the gaming deals those two tribes signed with the Governor.  But all three groups have entered into a “marriage of convenience” to oppose the 2006 compacts signed by Schwarzenegger for some of the state’s largest tribes.  Stay tuned for what will probably be a very, very, very expensive pro- and anti-initiative campaign on the most recent tribal pacts.

Sadly we report that Stockton may be the nation’s home-foreclosure capital with about 25% of those who bought homes with so-called sub-prime mortgages now in default by at least 60 days.

Hypocrisy continues as Congressmember Jeffrey Craig (R-Idaho) most famous for “I am not gay”, this week voted “no” on the hate crimes bill because it would add gay people to the list protected by the legislation.  Chutzpah award of the week goes to Congressman Craig!

The Governor’s Scorecard

So far this year, the Governor has signed 254 bills into law.  And he has vetoed only 10 bills.  This is quite a contrast to his first year as Governor where he vetoed the vast majority of bills placed on his desk.  But looking at the Bills he has signed, it appears that very little passed this year that was controversial.  It is not particularly clear whether the legislative leadership has moved toward the Governor, or the Governor has moved toward the legislative leadership.  Or maybe they moved toward each other.  But stay tuned.  Unfortunately we think that more vetoes are yet to come. 

To see a complete list of Governor vetoes and signatures so far, please click here.

Last and certainly by no means least: 

Governor, sign SB 94 (Kuehl, D-Santa Monica) which will add a few million dollars for family planning so that clinics can serve the more than 10,000 women and men who are now turned away and who need access to pre-natal care, contraception, and prevention education for STDs as well as other family planning needs!

To send a letter to the Governor, please participate in our action alert here on our website

The Rest of the Story

Our blogging offerings for the week:

Working to repair a dangerously broken prison system- Paul Krekorian’s AB 1539

Hooray for the First Amendment!

To read and comment on these entries just go to:

We hope you find these weekly updates useful.  We need your help to keep reporting these stories and insights on a regular basis.  To keep you informed and California moving toward a more progressive future, will you be a supporter?

Please click here to help us with a contribution of $25/$50/$100

As always, we welcome your comments and suggestions and hope you 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 and growing.

Remember you can help support the work of Speak Out California by making a contribution here on our website.

Until next week,

Jackie Goldberg and the Speak Out California Team

Working to repair a dangerously broken prison system

This article written by: Former Assemblymember Hannah-Beth Jackson of Speak Out California

There is no one in California with any knowledge  of our state’s prison system who doesn’t agree that it is in crisis. While we expand the number of offenses for which incarceration is the penalty and then expand the length of sentences for those offenses, we have expanded the prison walls beyond capacity. As as result, the courts have intervened in our correctional system’s process and threatened to close the doors to new prisoners unless the conditions within the prisons improve significantly.

With state government squeezed for funding, we have seen the cost of the corrections portion of the state budget increase geometrically over the past two decades. With more and more “three strikers” clogging up the prisons, and more elderly lifers needing expensive medical care as they age and die in prison, the problem has only gotten worse. What can and should the state do about this?

What will it take to avoid the state’s prison system being taken over by the courts, with consequences that are unacceptable to the people of the state?

Assemblymember Paul Krekorian (D- Burbank) has a proposal that attempts to address at least one aspect of this situation. Here is Assemblymember Krekorian’s explanation of the bill that now sits on the Govenor’s desk awaiting either signature or veto.

The Absurdity of Incarcerating the Incapacitated:
California Prisons are Wasting Taxpayers’ Money and Endangering the Public

California’s prisons are in crisis.  The system is so grossly overcrowded that a federal judge is on the verge of taking control of it away from the state’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.  If the overcrowding is not immediately remedied, the prisons may be forced to release felons early — possibly including murderers, gang leaders and others with a history of violence.

So why are we wasting bed space and guards on inmates who are in a coma?

The cost of imprisoning terminally ill and medically incapacitated prisoners is an unnecessary, exorbitant expense for California taxpayers, often exceeding $120,000 a year for a single inmate.  Not only must the state pay for expensive end-of-life medical care, but also the cost of round-the-clock guards for a person who is incapable of posing any threat to society.  Using correctional officers to guard such inmates also takes them away from more important security responsibilities, creating unnecessary risks to prison personnel, inmates and the public. 

Especially at a time when the state must cut basic services to people in need because of budget limitations, it is absurd that we are wasting taxpayers’ money to care for and incarcerate inmates who are comatose, or surviving only because of a ventilator, or too weak and frail in their final days of life to feed themselves.  That’s why I introduced AB 1539, which has passed the Legislature and is now on the Governor’s desk awaiting signature.  This bill streamlines the existing medical release process for terminally ill inmates, relieving the state of exorbitant medical and security costs, and extends the scope of the existing medical release program to include inmates who are permanently medically incapacitated and pose no risk to public safety.

The current “compassionate release” law, which was enacted ten years ago, allows dying inmates or their family to apply for re-sentencing consideration.  If both the warden and the sentencing judge agree that there is no risk to public safety, the sentencing judge may release the inmate so that he or she may die in a hospice or other setting rather than in prison.  This program is not available to those who are serving life sentences.

This sensible, cost-saving, humanitarian program, however, is rife with bureaucratic problems, including a lack of information and notification to eligible inmates, delays, and the absence of directives to prison medical staff.  As a result, the number of medical releases in recent years has reduced by half – an unwelcome change over a period in which the inmate population has increased by about twenty percent.  Many of those who have applied have been granted release too close to death for the state to see any fiscal benefit, and too late for their families to spend any meaningful time with them.  In some cases, the request has been approved after the inmate has died.  AB 1539 will put procedures in place to ensure that the program operates as it was intended and provides benefit both to taxpayers and to the inmates’ families. 

In addition to making the existing medical release process more effective, AB 1539 will extend it to the most expensive of all inmates — those who are “permanently medically incapacitated,” but are not likely to die within six months.  AB 1539 narrowly defines “permanently medically incapacitated” to include those inmates who are permanently unable to perform activities of daily living and require 24-hour total care due to an irreversible medical condition.  Such conditions include coma, persistent vegetative state, brain death, ventilator-dependency, and loss of control of muscular/neurological function – conditions that prevent any possible risk to the public, and also prevent any further punitive value from continued incarceration.

AB 1539 is a common sense measure that will save a tremendous amount of money that is now wasted on overtime costs and medical expenses for a relatively few inmates.  The effective and carefully-considered release of even a few terminally ill and permanently medically incapacitated inmates, who cannot pose any threat to the public, could potentially save millions of tax dollars that can more appropriately be spent on other policies and programs that will make a real difference in keeping Californians safe.  At the same time, this measure allows families the chance to heal, and allows inmates to receive appropriate end-of-life medical and hospice care. 

In response to the prison overcrowding crisis, Governor Schwarzenegger recently observed that “release of the old, feeble, and sick who pose no threat to the public” could be an approach to overcrowding that he would support.  AB 1539 is just such an approach.  It is a bill that simultaneously promotes fiscal responsibility and public safety, and the Governor should sign it into law. 

Hooray for the First Amendment!

This article written by: Former Assemblymember Hannah-Beth Jackson of Speak out California

It’s quite amazing how the Constitution of our country seems to come through—even to skeptics who think it’s an antiquated or unrealistic set of principles. While those who don’t support its freedoms try  numerous tricks and subterfuge to undermine it (unfortunately, with some success), it nonetheless remains an extraordinary living and breathing document.  The most precarious of these principles, particularly “in time of war” is the First Amendment, dealing with the right of free speech. That’s the one that reads,

  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

It seems that we have recently seen so many challenges to our rights and freedom in this country by the very people who are in charge of its government and are supposed to be preserving and protecting those very rights as defined by our constitution. They are often the very people who do not want the voices of the people to be raised in free and open exchange of ideas or criticism. Consider: All Saints Church in Pasadena, where its Pastor spoke openly against the war in Iraq and the IRS tried to challenge its tax-exempt status. Just this week, the IRS announced it was withdrawing its coercive effort. Then there is Erwin Chemerinsky,  the highly regarded constitutional scholar who was chosen to be the Dean of the newly created U.C. Irvine Law School, only to see his apppointment withdrawn by the Chancellor of the University in response to right-wingers who disagree with Chemerinsky’s  interpretation of the Constitution. But freedom of speech prevailed and after great public outcry, that appointment was properly restored.

And then we have the contrived assault on an organization that dared to challenge the accuracy of a report to Congress about the Iraqi War from its general in charge. By playing off of General Patreus’ name, questioned whether or not he should be called General “Betray us”, given his less than straight-forward or candid assessment of what is truly going on in Iraq.  Did MoveOn have the right to say what it did? Absolutely. Was it controversial and perhaps in “bad taste”.  Was the young man who challenged Senator Kerry in Florida slightly obnoxious? While many of us might find the comments and behavior to be distasteful and wouldn’t have approached the discussion in similar fashion, where in the Constitution does it say you have to be polite in the exercise of one’s right to speak?  But this is all obfuscation and distraction from the real issue here: The Truth.

Was the information in Move-On’s article accurate? Was the challenge to Patreus’ claims legitimate? Did MoveOn have the constitutional right to do what it did? The answer is an unequivocal yes. Remember, this ad was simple speech, well-documented allegations and challenges to a stone-deaf administration that refuses to listen to the American people or acknowledge what the rest of the world has long known: This war has been a complete failure

Did their ad rise to the level of a Congressional rebuke? Absolutely not. But it would be hard to challenge the facts that they so studiously included . So, in keeping with the way the Bush administration and its apologists respond whenever they are caught with their hands in the cookie jar, they attacked the messenger, since they can’t attack the message because it is true. Think of Richard Holbrook, Joe Wilson (and Valerie Plame), just to name a few who have been vilified for speaking the truth about this administration’s lies and deceptions.

Shouldn’t we be focused instead on the CONTENT of the objection, rather than either the messenger, in MoveOn’s case (a liberal group)or the delivery of that message? The answer for MoveOn’s supporters is clearly “yes” and we are likely to see more, rather than fewer attacks on the administration’s orchestrated misinformation in the days and weeks ahead.

But for proof of the real success and genius of this country’s set of principles, as embodied by Article One of the Bill of Rights we need only to  look to the response to Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s remarks at Columbia University yesterday. Clearly, the man is a loose cannon. His claims and statements are not credible and he did not serve his cause well. But isn’t it better to let him speak, to allow the people to see for themselves just who and what this divisive and out-of-touch demagogue really is? Shouldn’t we be trusting that the people can decide for themselves after hearing all points-of-view? Ahmadinejad may be a madman, but he’s also the leader of a very significant player in the Middle East. Isn’t it better to know the enemy, see how he thinks and thus be better equipped to deal with him? Or is it just for the “decider” to know—since we can surely trust his judgment and understanding of what motivates this hostile regime to do what it does and threatens to do?

And isn’t this exactly what America has stood for in the world–a place where people can come and express their differences in a peaceful yet passionate way, without fear of reprisal or sanction?  We can differ, and we must often agree to disagree, but one thing we should not disagree about is the power and sanctity of the First Amendment to our Constitution. We are a nation with a proud tradition of openness. We understand that speech is basically the articulation of ideas and opinions. It is why we let people speak when their hearts are full of hate and anger; why we allow people to stand on soap boxes and express opinions that are neither logical or coherent; It is, after all, what we are fighting for when we call out to protect liberty and freedom.

We must remember, however, that the fight for those freedoms begins first at home. Let us not forget that this right is what sets us apart from countries like Iran where there is no such freedom to dissent. It is our glorious tradition of openness and candor  that is among our greatest contributions to the world. With that freedom we have been able to discuss, debate and disagree our way into greatness of purpose and action. This is the gift our Founding Fathers gave us. This is the great tradition that nations have tried either to squelch through dictatorship or emulate through democracy. We are its bastion and its protector. We must rejoice in the debate and not allow those in power to destroy it. Otherwise, we become like the nations we so reject–where there is no freedom and no opportunity for  dissent, nations like Iran. We are better and must be better. Let us honor the tradition of openness in America. It has always served us well.

While California Dreams- Weekly Update Vol.1 No. 16

This article written by: Former Assemblymember Hannah-Beth Jackson of Speak Out California

A weekly update on the goings-on in Sacramento
For the week ending September 22, 2007

Key bills and issues we’ve been following during the past week and beyond

Now that the regular session of the legislature has ended and a variety of bills are waiting the Governor’s approval or veto, the special session is in full gear. The big battles over water and health care reform have taken over the stage front- and -center. And with Hillary Clinton’s unveiling of her version of healthcare reform, the issue has become even more prevalent in political debate not only in California, but nationwide.

With a new report from the Public Policy Institute of California coming out this week as well, we’ve seen how the failure to produce meaningful healthcare reform and a swift resolution of the annual budget stand-off has impacted the popularity of our Governor and the legislature. Not good news for either side.

Talk of ballot initiatives already moving along, plus threats of new ones emerging for 2008 continue to gain public attention and comment. With the veto last week by the Governor of the Iraq War initiative, which would have allowed Californians to register their opinion on that military and political fiasco, some of the interest has been muted in the early measures, but there is still enough out there (not the least of which are the Presidential primaries) to keep the public interested for the next several months.

And now for the week’s goings-on please visit our website HERE

What ever happened to the right to dissent?

This article written by: Former Assemblymember Hannah-Beth Jackson of Speak Out California

The American people are getting to be more and more like the frog in the pot of water. You know the analogy—if you put a frog in water and slowly up the heat, the frog doesn’t know when he’s getting cooked until the water is just about boiling and his fate is sealed because he can’t jump out.  Ive been feeling that this is what is happening to the American people recently and we’re not yet aware that the first amendment, like the frog, is being destroyed by a slow, but sure attack on dissent.

Today I awoke to a plea from the folks at asking that I call my U.S. Senators and urge them to reject an attempt by Senate Republicans to condemn Move On for its ad last week regarding the testimony of General Patreus. If you recall, they referred to him as “General Betrayus” for what they claimed was a dishonest and slanted analysis on the progress of the so-called “surge” strategy that Bush and his cronies imposed upon Congress, the American people, and most importantly our soldiers and the Iraqi people.

This shameless ploy reminds me of one of the most fundamental strategies recommended when you’re being attacked and can’t respond effectively because the facts are simply against you. Don’t try to respond, just attack the messenger. By deflecting attention from the substance of what is being said, the focus moves from the issue to the character of who is sending the message. It is a strategy that the Bush administration has employed since its beginning. Every time the Emperor is observed walking without clothes, and that pesky child yells that the Emperor is naked, the Bush media machine (Fox News and others) steps in and attacks the child as being blind, or crazy, or both, or in the case of the Bush years, of being disloyal and unpatriotic.

It is not new that dissent is characterized as disloyalty. During times of war (that is REAL war, like World War 2) there was an effort to keep Americans focused on the battle, and dissent, as limited as it may be, was kept in check while our soldiers fought off the Nazi’s and Imperial Japan.  Think more dramatically about after that war, when Joseph McCarthy established his drunken and reckless reign of terror on the American people, using Communism as the “War” we were fighting and using anyone who ever read a book by Karl Marx as a scapegoat.

Fast forward to today, where the “War on Terror” has replaced the War on Communism as the war de jour. While the threat of terrorism is real, the threat of losing our democratic way of life appears to be even more real and immediate in our country today. It was one of our great sages who observed that democracy will never be defeated from without, it will only be defeated from within.

Are we at that stage where the cancer of extremism within our country, the lack of an open, free and independent press has extinguished an honest and open debate on the issues, where our President believes he is king and not subject to the checks and balances of the co-equal branch of government we call Congress? Is democracy being threatened from within?
The Founding Fathers of our country made it abundantly clear that the key to our democracy is a free and open press by which we can educate, debate and communicate our beliefs, opinions and knowledge.  Thomas Jefferson observed that we must make sure people have the necessary information to make intelligent and clear decisions and that we must do so through educating them. And in keeping with the spirit, I’m providing the actual quote from Jefferson to avoid being attacked as unpatriotic for suggesting we educate people as to the facts:

  “I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves;
  and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome
  discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.
  This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.”

So where are we today? We have a US Senate that this week couldn’t find the will to give our troops a respite from war by providing them the opportunity to rest and refresh back home before redeployments (the Senator Webb amendment) but can find the time to castigate a grass-roots organization for calling out the general on the ground in Iraq for his  less than candid appraisal of the success/failure of his mission. Is this really happening?

Where are we when a slightly obnoxious and insolent young man asks pointed questions to former presidential candidate and U.S. Senator John Kerry about his early capitulation of the 2004 Presidential race and gets hauled away by police for asking these pointed questions? How well is our democracy functioning when a public institution of higher education pulls the appointment of a leading and highly respected constitutional scholar, to lead California’s newest law school after the announcement is made because he is too liberal and too outspoken in his opinions about the constitution for a cabal of influential right-wing extremists? Although reason and good judgment ultimately prevailed and Professor Chemerinsky will lead this new academic endeavor, how is it that we have become so unwilling to let the voices of disagreement and dissent speak?

While many of us have strong differences of opinion on any number of issues, and clearly the level of intensity has risen as the right-wing of this country has gotten more extreme and more entrenched, it is nonetheless a nation of ideas and differences of opinion that we honor and cherish.  The freedom to speak, to debate, to disagree, to object, to challenge and to dissent are among this nation’s finest traditions. 

Is it necessary to agree with MoveOn’s strategy—with the hostile young man in Florida, with the right-wing ideologues who are still running this country and sadly the majority of our news media? Certainly not. But to attempt to silence their voices because we may disagree is to let the enemies of democracy and freedom win. Let’s face it: The Emperor has been naked for some time. It’s way beyond the time that we stop pretending he’s dressed in his finery. It’s time we exercise the courage of a young child and call out the facts as we see them and insist that we be able to do so. To be silent or allow ourselves to be intimidated into silence is not an option.

If I had a hammer—nostalgia with the great PP&M

This article written by: Former Assemblymember Hannah- Beth Jackson of Speak Out California

For those of us who remember the 60’s (and yes, there are some of us who lived through them and still remember), it was a night to wax nostalgic and hopeful. Last evening, I had the pleasure of listening to Peter and Paul (two-thirds of the great Peter, Paul & Mary trio) talk and sing about what it has meant for them and still means for them, to sing about justice, freedom and a love between their brothers and sisters all over the land. They were in Santa Barbara, my home town, to receive the prestigious Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s Distinguished Peace Leadership Award.

The award is presented annually to individuals who have “demonstrated courageous leadership in the cause of peace.” To put this award in context, some of its prior recipients include: Dr. Helen Caldicott, Dr. Carl Sagan, His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Walter Cronkite, Anne and Paul Ehrilich and Daniel Elsberg (among others). Obviously, a pretty impressive group.

While Mary was, unfortunately, back home in Connecticut recovering from back surgery (having won her battle  against a virulent form of leukemia as well ), Peter and Paul sang gallantly (clearly missing that magnificent Mary Travers sound). They talked of their life-long commitment to peace, social justice and community well-being.

In addition to those of us who remember them with full heads of hair, there were 120 young people in the audience—primarily college students, but some high school students who were selected as the next best hope to restore a sense of commitment to the principles that moved so many of us during our college years back when the Vietnam War and Civil Rights battles were raging in this country.

In that earlier era,we sang and danced to the Movement for political and social justice, peace in our time, brotherly and sisterly love and respect. We hoped for a better world that was comprised of these things, not material things. We dreamed about justice and goodness and love and kindness. The notion of dreaming for Versace, BMW’s, 10,000 square foot mansions and diamonds were nowhere on our radar-screens or desires. We wanted peace, and a more just world for ourselves and all humankind.

It brought tears to the eyes of many of us as Peter Yarrow implored the youngsters in the audience to pursue these goals as our next generation of leaders. He and Paul (actually Noel Paul Stookey) spoke eloquently about these causes and their hopes that we can, yet again, regain our footing by pursuing a kinder, more peaceful planet.

Although partially immersed in  the music and nostalgia, I couldn’t help asking: “What has happened in our nation that we see our youngsters dancing to gangsta rap and other ‘music’ that glorifies killing and objectification of women? Why are our youngster’s heroes packing heat along with their ostentatious gold and diamond jewelry? How is it that the nation’s heroes today do not call for social justice or self-sacrifice or human kindness? Rather, they are admired and even worshiped for the number of cars, or girl-friends or houses they own.

Where are the young people crying out for social justice or marching against this illegal and hopelessly failed war? Why are we and they not calling for accountability by a White House that believes it is above the law? Why are we not challenging Bush and Chaney for their corrupt and destructive management of our environment, their criminal indifference to the poor who are living on the streets or in gang-infested communities where neither they nor their children are safe from violence? Where is the public outcry against corporate greed and irresponsibility in the pursuit of greater and greater wealth, to the detriment to our own workers?

Where are we on all this, Peter and Paul ask?  We of the so-called “peace generation’ demanding  social justice, peace and the freedom to think and be who we are and want to become. We HAVE the hammer, we ARE the hammer….of justice, of freedom of love between our brothers and our sisters……….  We are at a cross-roads in our nation’s history and in our own sense of purpose. There should be little doubt: It’s time to bring that hammer back.

While California Dreams- Weekly Update Vol.1 No. 15

This article written by: Former Assemblymember Hannah- Beth Jackson of Speak Out California

A weekly update on the goings-on in Sacramento

For the week ending September 15, 2007

Key bills and issues we’ve been following during the

past week and beyond

The final days of this year’s regular session ended in the wee-hours of the morning, September 13 around 3:30am. At that moment, the Speaker banged the gavel, announced that the session had ended and likely declared victory of some kind for the work that had been done. The drama was somewhat undercut, however, by the fact that the Governor had already called a “Special Session” to consider the healthcare and water issues that were not resolved during the regular legislative year, thus extending the legislative year for some additional period of time.

A variety of bills were sent to the Governor’s desk for signature and veto, a few of which have already been acted upon. With the Term Limits/Extension initiative taking front-and-center in the decisions being made on the floor and behind the scenes, the session produced lots of buzz and intrigue during its final days. Purely political decisions always do play in the equation (various interest groups try to jam bills through at the final hour when few are watching or awake enough to notice). This year the dance was made even more delicate by this all-consuming focus on pleasing the public, enough to justify their vote to extend the terms of current term-out members (particularly the leadership of both houses and both parties) in the February primary.

Ballot initiatives continue to grab headlines as the California Democratic Party has announced an aggressive and pro-active effort to keep the electoral vote-splitting initiative off the June, 2008 ballot. But a redistricting initiative will not be showing up in time for the February ballot, putting the Term Limits/Extension measure at risk. Nor will the Iraq War initiative, since the Governor made short shrift of it by veto earlier in the week. While perhaps restoring some of his lost credibility with his own party, the Gov. dropped the hammer on one of his appointees at the behest of 34 NRA-beholden legislators, further dampening the ability of those given certain responsibilities from carrying them out appropriately—in the Alberto Gonzales/ George Bush mold. But there is so much more, so we’ll get to the details, but first:

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And now for the week’s goings-on :

SB840/Universal Health Care and AB8 and the Governor’s Special Session

The watered down compromise healthcare bill, AB 8, continued front-and-center until the very end of the session and beyond. With too many loose ends, last minute amendments and objections thereto, the Governor promised a veto and AB 8 won’t become law. Nor will Senator Kuehl’s true reform healthcare measure, calling for a Medicare type system to cover all Californians and still have us choose our own doctors. Kuehl has held the bill for the year and didn’t choose to move it to the Governor where he indicated he would veto it for a second time. The best explanation of the real crux of the debate between a universal health care system and the “compromise” in AB 8, is Senator Kuehl’s speech on the Senate floor explaining her “no” vote on that measure. For her remarks click here .

Now the Governor has moved the healthcare reform issue into a special session, which theoretically allows the debate to continue. This way the time period in which the legislature and Governor can try to reach a satisfactory agreement and get a bill signed into law this year continues, even though the final bell has been rung for the 2007 legislative year. In practice, though, it is considered unlikely that anything substantive will come from this extension of time, at least in this special session. While Speaker Nunez is anxious to get something out, so the public will think much has been accomplished by this group of legislators, the Senate doesn’t seem quite so interested in ramming through a bill that isn’t fully cooked, or frankly, viable.

Although we’ve discussed this issue with numerous articles and links to them over the past several months, click here for an excellent update by Adam Thompson. 

Of course there are many commentaries on this hot and very important subject, so if you’re so inclined, click here for another by Steve Wiegand at the Sac Bee that might be of interest as well. 

The Governor also wants the special session to include a discussion on the state’s perennial water problems. Of particular concern is what we can and must do to protect against a Katrina-like disaster with the precarious condition of the state’s levees-particularly in the important Sacramento Delta region. The Governor’s plans for spending $5.9 billion on water projects have stalled almost completely, in part because he is proposing antiquated approaches (damming rivers and building reservoirs) as solutions and because these issues have little connection to dealing with the immediate concerns the state is facing. For more information on this complex and often mind-numbing discussion, click here for the SacBee’s editorial.

Other Bills and Legislative offerings

With more than 2,800 bills offered and about 960 reaching the governor’s desk, the conclusion of whether the session was a success or failure is the question of the day. The answer, though, really depends on who you ask. Did the year end with a bang? Yes, if you’re a legislator hoping to extend your political life by getting the public behind the term-limits/extension initiative in February, 2008. No if you’re a political “expert” or “analyst”.  It’s really the old half-full/half-empty debate. Those who see the glass half-empty have referred to the year as one of “missed opportunities.”

Of course, if you are among those who benefited from a piece of legislation, it was a fine year. And among them would be those wanting to see young people drive without the distraction of cell phones, text messaging and other electronic devices. While this may sound comforting, unfortunately, this behavior alone will not engender a ticket. Rather, a ticket can be written for violating this new law only if there is some other violation that occurs which attracts an officer’s attention.

The Gov signed Senator Joe Simitian’s SB 33, no driving with cell-phone if you’re under 18 law, this past week. While many of us would like to see this no cell phone edict on ALL drivers, the cell phone industry is one tough special interest, and getting this sanity into law has proven a long-term and arduous task for Simitian. I’m sure the Senator’s response would be that this is a good start.

The Governor also took out his veto pencil and cut Senate Leader Don Perata’s bill that would send the question of the Iraqi War to the voters in February. We predicted this veto (not really rocket science, I confess), but the Governor doesn’t disappoint when it comes to hypocrisy. Here’s the Governor “of the people”, who believes the people should decide important issues, which is the reason he spent $40million of public money on a series of misguided ballot measures designed to stifle his opponents back in November, 2005. In this case, though, he vetoed this measure explaining (with a straight face, I’m sure) that to allow this measure on the ballot would be “divisive and shift attention away from other critical issues that must be addressed”. So much for consistency.  Check out the article here.

There are several hundred bills that he’ll be looking to sign or veto over the next 30 days or so. Among the more contentious are bills to require manufacturers of semi-automatic pistols to etch the make, model and serial number on each cartridge fired of each new gun produced after 2010 (AB 1471, by Mike Feuer); Gay-marriage  (Mark Leno’s second go round on this—Schwarzenegger having vetoed it last year); and just about any environmental bill that made its way off the floors of both houses—and very few did. The big exception here is that several key flood control measures did pass, although not the entire package that is required (hence the Gov’s call for a special session to address some of those unresolved issues). But on the whole, opportunities to advance important consumer and environmental protections were defeated by the influx of money and corporate influences. These bills either outright lost or were deferred until next year’s session, even though they should have been passed this year. To see what did get through the legislative process, check out one article from the LA Times and another from the Mercury News .

Shenanigans and other goings-on

Two particularly unsettling events occurred this week that are worthy of note here. The first was the hiring and firing of Erwin Chemerinsky who was to head the newly created UC Irvine Law School, the second was the firing of Fish and Game commissioner, R. Judd Hanna. What marks these two events is the lack of respect or appreciation for differences of opinion and the intimidation effect when experts express opinions that are considered too controversial or don’t follow a party line.

With Erwin Chemerinsky, it seems that this highly respected expert and constitutional scholar was hired by the Chancellor of UC Irvine to be the first dean of its newly created law school. Although well-acknowledged as a liberal, Chemerinsky is nonetheless highly respected by all points of view within the legal community and beyond. This was quite a coup for UC Irvine at the time. However, within a week of the announcement of his hiring, Irvine Chancellor Michael V. Drake withdrew the offer. Although refusing to provide any explanation for the sudden turn-around, it is believed that right-wing pressure was exerted so heavily on the University that it reneged. So much for academic freedom and excellence, it seems. For more on this story, check out our weblog.

This highly publicized and criticized fiasco has created an enormous backlash and there are now sounds that the rescission will be rescinded and if Chemerinsky is so inclined, the offer will be extended again. Who’s on first here?

The other mischief involves the Governor’s own February, 2007 appointment of R. Judd Hanna to the California Fish and Game Commission. What was Hanna’s offense warranting his firing? He performed the duties he was obligated to perform as a member of this commission in sharing information with other commissioners that showed conclusively, in his opinion, that lead ammunition did, indeed put condors and other wildlife at risk of death and illness. This, of course, infuriated the NRA, which was actively opposing a measure that would outlaw lead shots. Doing their bidding, 34 Republican legislators sent a letter to the governor early this week demanding Hanna’s removal from the Commission.

Interestingly, Hanna is a Republican, a retired Navy pilot and Vietnam War veteran. He is also a hunter, fisherman, farmer, former real estate developer and campaign contributor to the Gov. Not exactly your wild-eyed, tree-hugging type. But the truth is apparently short-lived when the NRA and 34 Republican legislators go after you.

In this era when dissent is rewarded by firings and humiliation, we can only hope that our Founding Fathers are far too busy in the after-life to pay any attention to what has happened to the brilliant system of government they envisioned and created back in the days when we valued, indeed encouraged respectful debate and disagreement. What has happened to us that we can no longer tolerate healthy and respectful opposition?

Initiatives on the move and not moving at all

As mentioned earlier, the Legislature adjourned without giving the Gov. the initiative he most badly wanted—redistricting. This outcome is just political reality in today’s world. To expect those in power to give it up willingly just defies history and probably human nature as well. Few, if any groups in history, have willingly or voluntarily given up power once they acquire it. The last time redistricting was taken out of the hands of the legislature in California, it was put in that of a court that ordered redistricting to be done by a body of retired jurists back in the late 80’s. Short of litigation and another court order, it will take an extraordinary act, if not miracle, to accomplish this goal. Of course, if it were to be done uniformly across the country, then we might be talking. But the chances of that happening in the foreseeable future is extremely slim.

Although the current legislature is desperate to get the term limits/extension initiative passed, it is clear that the price for the Governor’s support would be an accompanying measure to take redistricting out of the hands of the legislature and into the hands of some kind of impartial commission. Other than human nature, the problem with crafting this measure really focuses on the details: Who appoints them? Who are they? How many of them will there be? Will Congressional districts be included (an absolute no-no for Speaker Pelosi and the Congressional Dems ) and lastly but by no means least, “Why California and not other states like Texas and  Ohio—where the Republican controlled legislatures have padded the lines to protect themselves in as much an embarrassing, gerrymandering way (if not worse) as here in California?” Too many questions and too little shared political will tanked this one again, even with the enticement of support from the Gov. for the term-limits/extension initiative.

The real explosive measure that we’ve been talking about continues to gain reverse momentum. The California Democratic Party has come out swinging to beat back a Republican party ploy to recast how California electoral votes will be counted in the upcoming presidential election. The CDP is going all-out to confront the paid signature gatherers at the shopping centers and grocery stores where they go to often deceive or mislead registered voters into signing the petitions to qualify initiatives for the ballot. The CD Party’s announced goal is to defeat the measure at the signature gathering stage and ward off what will otherwise be an enormously expensive battle. For the Reps, it would be a win-win. If they qualify the Electoral College vote splitting initiative, and lose, they will still have forced the Dems to siphon off millions of dollars they would otherwise spend on candidates and issues. If the Reps win, they take the whole enchilada—and we’ll have another Republican disaster to contend with in the White House. Of course, the way the Reps are going these days, who knows? But the national Dems don’t want to risk that, no matter how well things may be looking at the moment for a Democratic sweep in ’08.  Here is the Mercury News article covering this.

The Rest of the Story

Our blogging offerings for the week:

How I got through 700 Bills in 7 days —a look into the hectic end-of-session process

Cowardice and fear of honest debate at UC Irvine–the Chemerinsky debacle

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Hannah-Beth Jackson and the Speak Out California Team

Cowardice and Fear of Honest Debate at UC Irvine

(An excellent comment by Former Asm. Hannah Beth Jackson of SpeakOut. The LA Times editorial is spot-on. Perhaps now would be a time for post-partisan Arnold to lead by voicing support for a legal scholar of the highest order. UPDATE: In the interim, Speaker Nunez has written Mr. Drake a letter (PDF) protesting the unhiring. Text of the letter in comments. – promoted by Brian Leubitz)

When I learned that UC Irvine had just hired Erwin Chemerinsky to become the first dean of their newly created law school, I was very impressed. It’s quite rare for any law school to get one of the greatest legal scholars of our day as its chief. To get someone of Chemerinsky’s stature to be the first dean of a new law school is an even greater coup. This is the real deal-  a person who is going to put a beleaguered UC Irvine on the map and very quickly.

I didn’t think for a moment, “Wow, and now we’ll start putting out progressive lawyers to match the thousands being rubber-stamped out of conservative institutions, like those overrunning the federal government and the executive branch, in particular.” What I thought, and apparently like so many others who have worked with  Chemerinsky or heard him speak, is that this University will become an institution of excellence and pride, with thoughtful and quality lawyers. With a dean of Chemerinsky’s reputation, this school will quickly put itself on the map. Go UC Irvine! … Not.

Just a week after announcing that the position had been offered to Chemerinsky, who then accepted the offer and planned to return to California after a 4 year hiatus at Duke University Law School,  the Chancellor  of UC Irvine, Michael V. Drake, rescinded the offer. This questionable act sets academic freedom and integrity back into the Bush era. Professor Chemerinsky is a great legal scholar, an academic expert who the L.A. Times says stands out not for his liberalism, but for “the intellectual rigor of his analysis and the effectiveness of his argument”.  For more on this excellent editorial, click here

Apparently he is too controversial and too independent for the Chancellor’s liking.  What?  You’ve landed one of the best constitutional scholars of our day, an expert in an area of the law which is fast disappearing into hysterical oblivion, and you decide he’s “not the right fit for the University”?  That, of course, begs the question: What is the right fit for this University?  Is it the embarassing controversies that have befallen the institution and in particular, its ethically challenged medical research facilities, that have plagued the school for over a decade? Is it the inadequate way UC Irvine handled the Muslim/Jewish furor this past spring? Or is it the school’s mediocre standing in the ranks of the University of California? Whatever the case, here comes an enormously well-respected legal scholar–by conservative and liberal scholars alike–to bring excellence to the school and he’s unceremoneoulsy dumped because the Chancellor suddenly decides he’s too liberal?  What has happened to academic freedom? When did it become wrong to express one’s beliefs and opinions—especially in defense of the constitution of this country? What happened to the pursuit of excellence in America-whether academia, politics or any other field of endeavor?

I am sure the irony of this is lost on very few. Here, in this day and age when the Bush adminstration has successfully stifled free speech, whether through FCC sanctions or uncontrolled wiretapping of people and organizations with whom it disagrees, we have seen our first amendment rights diminish almost daily. Whether through fear or intimidation, we are becoming a nation of lemmings. With the announcement that Ken Burns 14 hour documentary on war now has two versions, just in case the FCC disapproves of the language used by our soldiers in battle (as honestly portrayed in this documentary), we can only wonder what has happened to the most precious of our fundamental rights in this nation?

The irony here is that censorship is now being imposed by a public law school on a constitutional scholar because that esteemed scholar insists on exercising his constitutional rights. Is the fear of Professor Chemerinsky that he  will bring in legal scholars who will assure that the students at this school understand what those rights are and seek excellence in their pursuit of it? Isn’t that exactly what a law school is supposed to do? After all, what is freedom if it isn’t the right to speak out without fear of retribution or sanction? Isn’t public discourse and debate exactly what this nation is founded on and what has made this nation great?

Michael Drake should be ashamed. This is a travesty. As a long-time supporter of the University of California, I am both embarassed and outraged at this turn of events. As California taxpayers, I think we all should be so.

The Regents of the University of California must take action. Their duties require nothing less than a full investigation of this matter, and the reinstatement of Professor Chemerinsky to the position he had been offered and had accepted. As conservative legal scholars are quickly coming to his defense, it is clear that this injustice and embarassment must be rectified. 

If the University of California is to continue serving the people of California as the place where ideas and values are to be nurtured and promoted, where excellence in academia is pursued, where intellectual discourse is encouraged without fear or retribution, it must respond. If there is, indeed, any legitimate justification for its recission of Chemerinsky’s contract, then the University must divulge it and explain its actions fully. Anything short of that only reinforces the taint on the Chancellor’s actions. Otherwise, this act will be viewed as a dangerous precedent that will only weaken the University, both as an academic institution and as a bulwark of academic freedom.

With all the scandals it has endured recently, the Board of Regents must stand up quickly and loudly in the defense of its fundamental mission of seeking excellence and intellectual honesty. And, by the way, in this instance, it’s all about our Constitution as well. Maybe somebody with public responsibilities today will take a stand to protect that document. We can’t expect that from our Congress, apparently, but we can expect and demand it from our UC Regents. Time to act, folks, our academic integrity and future are at stake here.