Tag Archives: SB840

LA Mayor and Other Single-Payer Supporters for Strategic Steps

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa just recently sent a letter to Senator Sheila Kuehl, from the point of view as a fellow supporter of a single-payer solution to health reform, to urge her to support AB x1 1 (Nunez/Perata). Here’s a PDF version of that letter:


I was pleased to be a co-signer of a similar letter with over a dozen prominent single-payer supporters, people who I deeply respect and who have dedicated their lives and work toward winning single-payer reform. This includes respected activists, academics, and community leaders who led the Proposition 186 campaign, and gave years of their lives and even their bank accounts; and people who worked tirelessly on SB921 and SB840 in recent years, and fought to get it on the Governor’s desk in 2006.

There’s obviously some single-payer supporters that take an “all-or-nothing” approach. There are others who decide simply to focus their energies on legislation like SB840, or HR676, rather than to attack other efforts in the health care arena.

We continue to believe that this is not an “either/or” issue, but rather a “yes, and…” More than that, we believe AB x1 1 is the most effective and strategic step to get to single-payer, and that is a motivating factor behind our support.

Far from “settling” for AB x1 1, this is about locking in significant gains for the uninsured as a way to keep the movement and momentum active for broad reforms. Here’s the PDF:


The full letter is over the jump:

Thursday, January 17th, 2008

Dear Senator Kuehl, and all legislators who support SB840:

Re: Single-Payer Supporters for Strategic Steps, for AB x1 1

We, the undersigned, write to you as strong supporters of universal health care. We also have a long history of advocacy for single-payer policy proposals. Many of us have been involved in the fight for single-payer health care for as long as two decades. Many of us were active in working for Prop 186 back in 1994, and many of us worked hard over the last few years in support of SB921, and to get SB840 on the Governor’s desk in 2006.

As strong supporters of a truly universal health care system, we write to urge you to support AB x1 1 (Nunez), as a significant strategic step toward our shared goal. We strongly believe that health reform need not be an “either/or” situation, and that supporting this reform in front of us is consistent with being whole-hearted supporters of SB840 and single-payer.

We believe that AB x1 1 not only will do no harm – your appropriate minimum test for health legislation – but that AB x1 1 will also do a great deal of good and benefit millions of Californians.

Moreover, we believe that passage and enactment of AB x1 1 will be a strategic advance for the cause of single-payer because it will establish public programs that are the foundation of universal coverage, including a single-payer system.

AB x1 1 embodies policy elements of single-payer. Passage of this law would make it easier to enact truly universal coverage and to pass a single-payer system in the future, since it already includes:

• a major expansion of public program coverage to moderate-income Californians as well as low-income residents, setting the stage for truly universal coverage reforms, including single payer,

• the setting of a minimum employer contribution to health care, which is essential to funding universal coverage and an important part of the financing for SB840,

• the creation of a statewide purchasing pool that could be the beginnings of the huge

purchasing pool that could grow into a single universal system,

• an increase in Medi-Cal rates, helping providers realize that rates could be reasonable under a public program such as a single-payer system.

It also includes additional oversight over insurers. While some have criticized the notion of preserving the role of insurers, the proposal would significantly change the way insurers do business, including having to take all customers on a “guaranteed issue” basis, and having to negotiate with a large purchasing pool to access millions of California customers. The proposal creates a framework where insurers will either have to change their behavior, or face future reforms that impose further oversight on insurers or replace their function.

Like the proposals of the Democratic presidential candidates, AB x 1 1 does not undertake the massive transformation of the health care system that you propose and that we support. But it accomplishes important elements while providing security to those who have good coverage and want to keep it, while creating the framework to take extra steps. Just as passage of family leave legislation created a framework to come back and pass paid family leave, we believe this proposal creates political and policy tools to advance broader reforms.

Some fear that passage of any plan would stall the coming of SB840, as politicians declare their job done. We believe that the opposite is true. Failure begets failure, and if health reform is stalled now, political leaders may be discouraged from supporting any reforms of our health system (and certainly more far-reaching proposals like single-payer). They will likely move on to other issues.

On the other hand, success begets success: Passage and enactment of such a proposal would create a positive environment around health care reform, as politicians will continually seek to raise the bar above the last reform. The people of California are not satisfied with the health care system as it is, and they will want to see it change further to become a health care system worthy of our country and our state. After major reforms in areas like education and global warming, nobody thinks those issues are “done”; instead the interest in pursuing additional reform has stayed strong, and we believe that this will be the same for health care.

The comparison of AB x1 1 should not be with SB840, which we agree is a “gold standard,” but with the status quo in health care, where millions are uninsured, people are denied coverage because of “pre-existing conditions,” low- and moderate-income families face unlimited premiums and unlimited liability, and the situation is only getting worse. Does AB x1 1 provide all the protections we want to see in our health care system? No, but it provides protections that currently do not exist at all:

• it dramatically expands and assures coverage to increasingly desperate families and


• it offers protection against the unaffordability of health insurance premiums,

especially for low- and moderate-income families;

• it establishes strong oversight of insurers, and

• it strengthens health care access of insured and uninsured Californians alike by more adequately funding health care providers, especially hospitals and doctors, whose current underpayment threatens their ability to provide emergency services for anyone and their willingness to serve low-income patients.

Under AB x1 1, there are millions of people, especially at the lower end of the income scale but also those with moderate incomes, that would get substantial help in getting the care and coverage they need. We have an obligation to meet their pressing needs. Asking them to wait is asking them to go without the access to care that those of us with insurance have. In addition, the more we can reduce the number of uninsured, the shorter the gap we have to bridge to get to universal coverage and a single-payer system. ABx 1 1 provides a solid foundation on which we can and will continue to advance additional health care reforms.

We will continue to be very active in support of truly universal coverage, but we urge you to consider this as a strategic step needed to win ultimate victory.

Thank you for your consideration.


E. Richard Brown, PhD, Professor, UCLA School of Public Health

Michael R. Cousineau, PhD, Associate Professor of Research and Director, Center for Community Health Studies, University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine

Sherry Hirota, CEO, Asian Health Services

Henry L. “Hank” Lacayo, State President, Congress of California Seniors

Marty Lynch, CEO, LifeLong Medical Care

Jennifer Reifel Malin, MD, Current Member and Former Board Member, California Physicians’ Alliance

Maryann O’Sullivan, Founding Executive Director, Health Access California

John Roark, MD, Board Member and Past President, California Physicians’ Alliance

Steve Schear, Co-Chair, Universal Health Care Action Network

Joan Pirkle Smith, Chair, Health Committee, Southern California Americans for Democratic Action, & Chair, Health Care Legislation Subcommittee, AFTRA

Roy Ulrich, Radio Host and Producer, KPFK

Nora Vargas, Executive Director, Latino Issues Forum, a co-sponsor of SB840, and convenor of the Latino Universal Health Action Network

Anthony Wright, Executive Director, Health Access California

*All affiliations listed for identification purposes only

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

To read and comment on these entries, just go to: www.speakoutca.org/weblog/

We hope you are enjoying these weekly update. We need your help to keep reporting these stories and insights on a regular basis. To keep you informed and California moving toward a progressive future, will you become a supporter? Just click here and help us continue our weekly updates.

As always, we welcome your comments and suggestions and hope you will send this newsletter to your friends and other like-minded progressives. Urge them to sign up to Speak Out California and keep the progressive voice alive!

Remember, you can help support the work of Speak Out California by making a contribution here  

Until next week,

Hannah-Beth Jackson and the Speak Out California Team

Read the Bill—or how I got through 700 bills in 7 days

(I’ve been wanting to write something about this for a long time, but here’s an informed opinion from a former legislator. In my view, this bottleneck is designed to vest power in the leadership – if they wanted more time for the process, maybe the Assembly wouldn’t have taken a month off just a month ago! – and ought to be a part of any reform agenda to make California even moderately governable. – promoted by David Dayen)

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

There is little doubt that watching legislation work its way through the process is much like watching sausage being made. The bottom line is: You don’t want to watch. Although theoretically it is interesting, informative and exciting to see the democratic process of law-making take form, in reality there is so much push-and-pull, give-and-take and last minute backroom dealing that it’s impossible to follow. It’s often impossible to understand.

So when the Speaker of the Assembly asks his members to “read the bill” when debating the frenetically altered and re-altered health care reform measure, AB8, it’s asking for a logical response to an impossible situation. How can one read a bill that comes to your desk literally “hot off the press”, so hot that you can warm your hands on the paper? How can you understand what’s there when it deals with a convoluted system in a convoluted way—with no opportunity to vet the latest in a series of compromises, re-writes and reformulated policy?

Granted, the efforts are the result of hard-fought and truly late-night negotiations, but there has been little time to analyze the possible impacts and “unintended consequences” of legislating at the 11th hour, with dozens of special interest groups hovering over the negotiations and dozens of people trying to craft language that fits the proverbial square peg into a round hole. That’s exactly what the end of session looks like on a good day. But here we’ve got what is billed as a major overhaul of the healthcare system in California, a measure that will lead the nation in healthcare reform. Really? Has anyone read the entire bill in its final form? Highly unlikely.

Having been there at the end of each of six legislative years, my bet’s on the fact that even the authors of AB 8 haven’t read it in its final form. How many pages is it? How many hours have people been up without sufficient sleep so they can even think straight? How do the final amendments affect earlier amendments? Does this create a seamless system or one with glitches, omissions, administrative nightmares, unexpected costs? Is it like some of the old American cities that were built piecemeal, like my hometown of Boston where the old joke goes,”You want to go three blocks down the street?….Well, you can’t get there from here.”

Much credit must be given to those dozens of staffers, stakeholders and legislators who have worked hard to put together this compromise mishmash of who pays for what, who’s covered by whom and when and how. This is a compromise bill for a system that needs an overhaul that takes the real villain out of the process entirely–the health insurance industry. But the Governor won’t hear of it–after all, the insurance industry is among his biggest supporters-and they give lots of money to both sides as well. And we have a governor who has vetoed the best chance at real reform and real coverage of all Californians when he vetoed Senator Sheila Kuehl’s SB840 last year. Her bill is the true reform, providing universal health coverage-similar to the Medicare system that has worked so well in this country for decades. But no matter, AB8 deals with the reality that we have a Republican governor who will hear nothing of removing profit from our health care delivery system. So AB8 is the compromise effort.

But with the clock ticking down, nerves fraying and concentration fading with exhaustion, the legislature is whirling through hundreds of bills, many of which have been totally “gutted” and rewritten with entirely new issues and language. This is an ugly time of year to watch the legislative process in action. And we’ve been very lucky over the years that so few mistakes have been made as a result. Of course, when they have, the mistakes can be enormous–remember the energy deregulation plan that was approved at midnight on the last night of session many years ago? I suspect no one read the bill then. As a result of the rush-to-judgment mentality that year, billions of dollars were extorted from Californians by companies like Enron among many others, a governor was recalled and rate-payers today continue to pay for that debacle.

It is hard to watch the goings-on in these last, crazy days, let alone be part of it. The most important part of legislating, I was told when I first arrived in Sacramento as a new Assemblymember, was to “do no harm.” I hope that this message was passed along to all the membership and that at the end of this year, they will not have done any as well. In the meantime, we can only hold our collective breath and hope.

While California Dreams- Weekly Update Vol.1, No.14

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 8, 2007

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

The first of the final two weeks of the regular session is now done, with hundreds of bills having been heard and or otherwise disposed of.  Healthcare, predictably continues to be front and center. The environment has seen some good news and bad, while civil rights–for both the gay community and working women round out the headline grabbers for the week.

Ballot initiatives and threats of same continue to be bandied about, while the Republican play to steal yet another presidential election is taking on broader national attention as its implications for Republicans holding the White House become known. Term Limits has dodged a bullet and will now appear on the February ballot, creating greater pressure to get a redistricting measure passed before the coming recess.  And the Perata Iraq initiative sits on the Governor’s desk, most likely facing a veto. Of course, the Gov didn’t endear himself to his party this weekend at the Republican state convention, but that is of little concern as the Reps continue on a downward spiral in this state.

So let’s get to the details:

SB840/Universal Health Care and AB8 .

With all the hype about AB 8, 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, appears to be DOA on Schwarzenegger’s desk. With the legislature’s leaders heavily in negotiations with the Governor on a bill that keeps the insurance industry well in the game, there is just no way to fix this truly broken health care system. With a private, for-profit health INSURANCE industry in place, the only move that can be made essentially requires us to try to shove a square peg into a round hole. It can’t be done, but that isn’t deterring them from trying. For an excellent piece on why this process is not the answer, please go here: http://blog.bayneweb…

Schwarzenegger is insisting that everyone have health insurance. This is NOT universal healthcare, it is universal insurance- whether people can afford it or not. This deference to the insurance industry is maddening for those who realize the private companies are a major part of the problem and need to come out of the equation completely. Nonetheless, there have been concessions of transparency where the insurance companies would have to reveal what they pay and where the dollars that they rake in go.

The negotiations are complicated and keep changing almost by the minute. Rather than give you a play-by-play on all the moving parts, let’s break this down to the core issue in all this: Who will pay the bulk of the health care costs and who will be covered by the program? With so many major players in the mix –the hospitals, big and small employers, workers, the poor, doctors and healthcare providers, federal dollars, etc. there is real concern that we could be rushing into another end-of-session energy-deregulation type debacle.

With that in mind, there are those who are urging the leadership and legislature to go slow, and allow the governor to call a special session (he can do it anyway) and try to think through the process more carefully and deliberatively. Another option considered is to put an initiative on the ballot that addresses the funding mechanism, since there is no way the obstinate and out-of-touch right wing that has a hold on the Republican Senators will even consider such a mechanism—even if those having to belly-up are willing to pay! For more on this aspect of the story, check out this article at the California Progress Report, as well as Julia Rosen’s piece here.

Environmental efforts

While two important environmental bills apparently delayed until next year’s session, a major breakthrough has occurred on the water/flood control scene. A package of bills reflecting a compromise has been reached which will address the uncontrolled development on flood-prone lands in the Central Valley region without imposing moratoriums on construction or impeding local economic growth. The dam on overhauling the state’s antiquated and ineffective approach to flood protection and water planning appears to have been broken—-or so the claims go. For an analysis of what this compromise looks like, click here for the SacBee article and here for the California Progress Report’s coverage.

Sadly, two other key environmental bills that we’ve been touting haven’t made it through the process this year. One is Senator Alan Lowenthal’s  SB974, an important bill to clean up the air near the ports of California– Long Beach , L.A. and Oakland . For more on this story,please visit our blog: http://speakoutca.or…

The other is Senator Joe Simitian’s SB 412, which would require that California establish the need for LNG plants before allowing them to be built in the state. Seems like a no-brainer, but this bill got in the cross-hairs of end-of-session wrangling between the Senate and Assembly. While Speak Out California has been urging the leadership to move this bill back onto the floor for a vote, we’re still waiting. If you would like to help by sending emails to Speaker Nunez, go to our action alert to sign up here.  We’ve also blogged here on this issue: http://speakoutca.or…

For more information about the successes and failures of other measures, California Report’s chief Frank Russo has done a yeoman’s job of covering them here.

Civil Rights push for gay marriage and workforce equity

The Governor will see AB 43, Mark Leno’s gay marriage bill back on his desk again this year. For the second time, the Legislature, on a strictly party-line vote, has passed this measure and will likely see the governor veto it again. This is a hard sell, with the Governor having ducked the measure last year, saying the Court should decide. The Supreme Court turned around and said the legislature should decide. Well, they have. Governor?

Two measures that we’ve been following on our weblog over the past few weeks have now passed both houses and are on their way to the Governor’s desk. The first, AB 437, by Assemblymember Dave Jones, ensures that victims of pay discrimination continue to have a fair opportunity to seek redress in the courts. The measure clarifies that the time period for alleging pay discrimination claims runs from the date of each payment of a discriminatory wage.

The second, AB435 by Assemblymember Julia Brownley, addresses workplace discrimination against women. The measure extends the statue of limitations for an employee in order to file a civil action against an employer for wage discrimination and also extends the time period that an employer is required to maintain wage and job classification records.

Click here for more on both these measures.

Initiatives on the move

Without a doubt, the most talked-about initiative this week is the transparent attempt by the Republican party to co-opt California’s 55 electoral votes in order to swing the next presidential election back to them. The initiative is couched in pleasant and reasonable language; talking about fairness and every vote counting, etc. But there is nothing fair about this initiative, designed to replace California’s winner-take-all system of handing all its electoral votes to the state’s popular vote winner (as is done in 48 other states) with a system that gives electoral votes by congressional district popular vote. Bottom line: In a state where the Reps have about a snowball’s chance of winning, this measure, if passed, would send them home with about 20-22 of the state’s 55 electoral votes. It is a cynical and serious plot to keep the White House, even though they haven’t really WON the presidency since 1988.

The Dems are rightly, crying foul here. This past week, National Democratic Party Chair, Howard Dean called this, “just another Republican attempt to rig an election.” Check out the San Francisco Chronicle article here. Unless enough people know about this ploy, the measure will likely qualify for the ballot and cost the Dems between $10-20 million to kill it, moving money from places it would otherwise be spent for democratic candidates and issues. Likely exactly what the Reps had in mind when they pulled this stunt. Smells a lot like Karl Rove is still alive and well.

When we reported last week’s edition of While California Dreams, it appeared that the Term Limits/Extension initiative might not make it onto the ballot because it appeared to lack the required number of signatures. Seems this was a false alarm-as two counties reconsidered their counting techniques, recounted, and decided that the signatures qualified after all. A collective sigh of relief was purportedly heard emanating from the Capitol as current, otherwise termed-out legislators still stand to gain additional years if this measure passes.

This event may very well lead to additional ballot measures. The conventional wisdom goes that Schwarzenegger’s support is either necessary or very helpful to get the term-limits/extension measure passed, but he won’t play ball unless a redistricting measure is also included, which will take the ability to configure legislative districts out of the hands of the legislature. Without such a measure, there is concern that the Gov. might even oppose the desired term-limits/extension measure, thus likely condemning it to fail. Speaker Nunez is purported to be scurrying hard to put an initiative together that will meet the Gov’s requirements, while Senator Perata has made it clear it won’t get by the Senate if it also includes putting Congressional redistricting into the hands of an outside body. The key question is whether such a compromise is in the offing and whether it flies with the Gov. No answer on that one yet.

As we reported last week, Senator Perata’s advisory initiative is on the governor’s desk. Perata wants the people of California to be able to weigh in on the war in Iraq and let the President and Congress know whether we want an immediate withdrawal of our troops. The vote was predictably along party-lines and the odds are that the Gov. will veto it along the same party line. But the problem for the Governor “of the people”, as he likes to define himself, is that he can’t argue that the people shouldn’t have a chance to express their opinion on this measure, without being labeled a hypocrite. Don’t bet on seeing this reach the ballot, however. There’s very little upside for the Gov in signing the measure to send it to the ballot. He’s too good a politician not to realize this.

The Rest of the Story

Our blogging offerings for the week:

End of Session Drama Begins

Senate Bill 974- The Art of the Possible

To read and comment on these entries, just go to: www.speakoutca.org/weblog/

With only a few days left in the first year of this legislative session, there will be a mad-dash to end the year on an upbeat of legislative accomplishment. This is also the time when good intentions and bad bills can wreak havoc on our state so we’ll be watching bills carefully and sounding the alarm if we think there are concerns that you might want to express to the legislature or the Governor when these measures get to his desk.

We welcome your comments and suggestions and hope you will send this newsletter to your friends and other like-minded progressives. Urge them to sign up to Speak Out California and keep the progressive voice alive!

Until next week,

Hannah-Beth Jackson and the Speak Out California Team

The Bright Side of Death?

(Disclosure: I work for It’s OUR Healthcare.)

The state legislature is down to its final days of the session and Blue Cross alerted their list of insurance agent supporters that current reforms on the table are “unhealthy.” (And the status quo isn’t?)

The fact of the matter is that Blue Cross, and like-minded groups, are adamantly opposed to real healthcare reform in California: creating astroturf front groups (with a laundry list of insurance agent supporters) and running print and radio advertisements stressing “responsible” reform as part of a scare-tactic campaign.

But what’s really irresponsible is standing in the way of meaningful healthcare reform.

Below is a video parody of the Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, specifically, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”

With that, I give you Blue Cross’ “Always Look on the Bright Side of Death.”

As Single payer (SB840) Nears Passage/Veto, what’s next?

Single Payer cleared another hurdle by passing out of Assembly committee in Sacramento this week, but it seems to be on a sort of death march to Arnold’s veto pen. That is unfortunate, but that is reality. And while it probably requires no further explanation of how wrong our system really is, it’s really wrong:

Blue Cross of California refused to extend her policy after she used the plan once for a minor infection, Campbell said, and in a pinch she bought another short-term policy from Blue Shield of California. Last summer, she worked a Friday shift, got sick over the weekend, and a week later was diagnosed with two aggressive forms of cancer — rhabdomyosarcoma and adenosarcoma. On July 20, her health insurance policy runs out and no one will insure her, Campbell told the Assembly Health Committee on Tuesday while testifying in support of Senate Bill 840.
*  *  *
“I’m too young for Medicare, and I make too much money for Medi-Cal,” Campbell, 53, told the panel. “But one eligibility worker told me how I could get Medi-Cal: ‘Get pregnant, get the Medi-Cal card, abort the baby, and keep the card.’ This is my only option.” (SacBee 7/4/07)

So, we doom somebody else because saving them isn’t profitable for an insurance company.  Ugh, just go see SiCKO, I don’t need to repeat everything here. I’m not saying the insurance companies did anything wrong, it’s that they exist in the first place that is the wrong.

But where do we go from here? Well, here in San Francisco, we have Healthy San Francisco, which signed up its first 29 applicants on Monday.  Follow me over the flip…

There are some really great things about Healthy San Francisco.  Tom Ammiano worked very, very hard to craft good policy. He had to fight the Golden Gate Restaurant Association and the Mayor, but he got it done. It’s why he’ll be a bulldog in the Assembly.  It helps cover the people that can’t get Medi-CAL nor can they afford regular insurance.  But this isn’t true insurance.  The main drawback? Well, you can’t really leave the City/County of San Francisco and expect any care.  Your pseudo-insurance card only works in the City, and is worth about as much as a Jack Taschner (who?) baseball card outside of the city.

So while it is billed as universal care, it’s not really. So, what else? Well, we have the possibility of whatever reform Assembly Speaker Nunez and Senator Perata can come up with. Of course, it better be business friendly, or you know Arnold will veto it. So, do we end up with some sort of plan that still leaves Ms. Campbell out in the cold?  My crystal ball seems a bit foggy, but I’m not convinced that the reforms being touted will truly address the inequities at the heart of the InsCo health care system.

I’d love to be wrong, though.

The Politics of SiCKO

(cross-posted from Working Californians, also in Orange)

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending a sneak peek screening of Michael Moore’s new film SiCKO.  Several blogger reviews are already out, Brian Leubitz, nyceve, Randy Bayne and fnpople.  Instead of another review, what I would like to talk about is the political message of SiCKO, as it relates to the California health care debate.  Two years ago, Michael Moore set out to make a documentary on America’s health care system.  He could have focused on any number of topics, including big PhRMA, or the millions of uninsured, but settled on the failure of private health insurance.

In the end, the film is one big fantastic advertisement for single payer health care.  Naturally, Moore teamed up with CNA here in California for a series of events.  Moore is not shy about his goals.  He wants to start massive grassroots movement to institute a national single payer system and use this film to do it.  However, Moore went out of his way to support Fabian Nunez and his efforts to reform the current system, holding both a press conference and the screening for legislators and other guests like yours truly.  Moore recognizes the current political atmosphere here in California.  It is what he is trying to change by making this film, promoting it and framing the discussion of the film politically.  If millions of Americans watch this movie, their political outlook on health care policy will change.  SiCKO is that powerful.

Right now single payer is lacking a lot of necessary support to truly be viable in California.  Arnold Schwarzenegger has already vetoed SB 840 once and will again this year.  Even if he were to pass it, there is still another hurdle to get over.  SB 840 is simply a framework bill.  The billions of dollars to fund the program would have to be passed separately, something that would require the support of 2/3rds of the legislature, something that is not in the current realm of possibility.  Just check out the Republican rhetoric around SiCKO.  This is an excerpt from a CA Republican press release.  (Someone needs to teach the Republicans about run-on sentences.)

[Yesterday] Sacramento Democrats left no doubt where they really stand in the debate over strengthening California’s healthcare future. Literally rolling out the red carpet to welcome  Michael Moore, the discredited filmmaker, to the State Capitol, the Democrats warmly embraced the Soviet-style healthcare he showcases in his new propaganda reel, “Sicko.”

Oh no the REDS!!  Moore actually treats the great Communist scare tactics of the Republicans with some biting sarcastic humor in the film.  It is amazing that in the 21st century that the Republicans are still trying to use that as a fear card.  Moore retorted:

“They’re going to fight this, and they’re going to scare people,” he told legislators. “Ooh, socialized medicine: bad. Really? Isn’t that what our police departments are? Socialized? Run by the government? Free service? You think anybody would ever ask if the fire department should have to post a profit?”

Frankly, this is a logical argument, but not one Americans are used to hearing.  The private industry of health care is so ingrained in our way of thinking that such arguments sound very strange.  But Moore is right here.  He relayed the story last night of firefighters in England, back when you used to have to purchase fire fighting insurance.  Those houses that were insured had placards on the front of their homes.  Responding firefighters would only put out fires for those who had those in place.  Tough luck for the neighbors of the uninsured, who would face the consequences of the inaction by the firefighters.

More from the Republican press release:

Moore spoke of his desire to see health providers criminally prosecuted for following free market principles in trying to make healthcare more efficient and affordable… Californians have seen this bad movie of record tax increases and bloated government-run healthcare directed by Sacramento Democrats and they continue to give it two thumbs down. If Democrats strike box office gold in the Legislature and succeed in pushing through their massive, government-run healthcare scheme that will force all Californians to endure long waits and rationed care, hard-working taxpayers and small business owners will be at the top of the casting list to star in the sequel to Moore’s film, “Sicko II: The Death of California’s Economy.”

They are trying to scare you.  Michael Moore’s favorite line in the movie was from an American living in France who said: “The Americans fear the government, but in France, the government fears the people.”  She said it trying to explain why the government works so hard for betterment of the French citizens not other motives.  The Republicans are intentionally trying to increase Americans’ fear of the government with this language about single payer.  They are playing up the fear of the unknown and obscuring the reality in most developed countries with national health care plans.  Those countries generally pay less and get more out of their health systems than our inefficient system, where the primary motive is profit not care.

Until there is greater education on the issue, there will not be the necessary public support and thus political will to pass single payer in California or nationally.  SiCKO will be one important tool in that path towards better legislation.  It is important that we promote and encourage other to see this film in an attempt to change public perception.  However, SiCKO is not a panacea.  It is unreasonable to assume that a public shift will occur overnight, to make single payer viable politically.

Meanwhile, 800,000 children in California go without health care.  Over 5.8 million adults have no coverage.  Bottom line is that the private health care industry is a mess, but there are reforms we can enact to solve many of the problems Moore powerfully brought to light in SiCKO.  The California legislature can stop the hospital dumping of patients on skid row in LA.  We can get coverage to many if not all of the uninsured and we can improve the quality of the insurance for those already enrolled in plans.  It will not be perfect.  Heck it may not even be great, but it will be better than what we have got now.

Passing health care reform this year that is not single payer does not eliminate the possibility of passing single payer in the relatively near future.  Until we get there publicly and politically, legislative negotiations need to be supported.

So let’s support SiCKO.  Take our friends and family to see the film.  Praise people like Oprah for using the film as a springboard for talking about our health care industry.  Press the presidential contenders to detail their health care plans.  Push the California legislature to pass the best possible bill.  Keep the ball moving forward.

Watch Moore on Oprah, which has several clips from the film that are not in the previews.  This is part one.  Part two is here.

Michael Moore Day in Sacramento

(cross-posted from Working Californians)

The legislature really aught to have issued a proclamation making today Michael Moore day to celebrate the California release of his new film Sicko.  The Capitol is practically ringed by satellite news trucks, in town to cover an almost constant schedule of press conferences, rallies, photo-ops and screenings.  I stopped by to pick up my ticket for tonight’s screening hosted by Fabian Nunez and snuck into the press conference he was holding with Moore.

Moore supports single payer health care to cover all Americans and get the profit motive out of the equation with regards to health insurance companies.  To this end he is holding a rally with CNA and press conferences with Sen. Kuehl today.  However, during the press conference with Nunez, he was supportive of legislative efforts to revise the current private industry model.  They did joke about Arnold’s current opposition to SB 840, with Nunez saying “Who knows, maybe he watches and…” Moore quipped “Well, he likes movies.”  Moore is looking for California to lead the way on the issue, as we have done on issues like the minimum wage and the environment.  He sees his film working on concert with legislative efforts.

Moore addressed the current Blue Cross campaign to destroy reform efforts, expressing his concern about the advertising campaign that they had already begun.  It his goal, with the release of the film, to aide a grassroots campaign to reform health care.  That is why he is spending so much time in Sacramento, to tie in his movie promotional efforts with a legislative push in California.  He wants reform, not just movie ticket sales.  Documentary activism.

The press conference covered a great deal of ground, despite the limited question time.  One of the more interesting tidbits was about Moore’s insurance costs for the film itself.  He paid about $40,000 for what I believe is libel insurance for Fahrenheit 9/11, but had to shell-out $800,000 for Sicko.  The pharmaceutical firms were the biggest trouble.  They were on red alert, warning all of their employees to not talk to him and Pfizer even created a toll-free number for staff to inform management if they were contacted by Moore.  Of course, Moore was forwarded all kinds of emails and documents from the companies by their employees.

Evidently, Sicko has footage of some of the LA hospital dumpings that have made the news here.  I am looking forward to tonight’s screening, as the progressive Sacramento elite all gathers in one room.  Check back tomorrow for a write-up of the premiere.

(picture is from my cell)

Awesome.  The Speaker’s office got video up from the press conference.  Here is the Q & A, which I thought was the most interesting bit.  Also up are Nunez’s comments and Moore’s.