CMA Capitol Insight: August 5, 2014

August 05, 2014
Area(s) of Interest: Advocacy Licensing & Regulatory Issues 

CMA Capitol Insight is a biweekly column by veteran journalist Anthony York, reporting on the inner workings of the state Legislature.

They’re Baaaaack

After a month-long recess, the California state legislature is back in session, ready for the final month of the legislative year. Gov. Jerry Brown is also back after a four-day trip to Mexico with a massive delegation of business leaders and state officials, preaching the gospel of climate change at every turn.

Now that everyone has returned to Sacramento, we are all bracing for the sprint that marks the end of every legislative year. There will be a bit more urgency this time, because this is an even-numbered year. August 31 will bring the formal end to the entire two-year legislative session.

In odd-numbered years, if a bill doesn’t pass, it can be held over until the following year. In even-numbered years, everything is wiped clean come the end of August. If a bill hasn’t been sent to the governor by the end of the month, it dies for good.

Many members won’t be coming back at all. Dozens of lawmakers are being forced from office by term limits, and will be replaced in elections this fall. This will be the last chance for some long-time lawmakers – Senate leader Darrell Steinberg among them – who are spending their final month in session as a member of the Legislature. That also adds to the sense of urgency.

Among the items on the agenda for the session is a proposed delay in a key component of the state’s greenhouse gas law, AB 32. As of January 1, the state’s cap-and-trade program will extend to transportation fuels. Observers say it could lead to a winter spike in gas prices, which are already approaching $5 per gallon in the southern half of the state. Oil companies and other business groups have started to push back, and are seeing an end-of-the-year push to delay the rule for another three years.

The effort is being led by Fresno Democrat Henry Perea, who has become a go-to for the state’s business community. Once upon a time, big business turned to Republicans to carry key pieces of pro-business legislation. But in blue California, which is dominated by Democrats, and with the Republican Party weaker than ever in the state, business groups have turned to friendly Democrats like Perea.

Environmental groups are bracing for the effort and mounting a challenge of their own to kill the measure and make sure the rule goes ahead as scheduled. So this month will bring us yet another showdown between business and environmental groups. And, once again, this fight will happen among members of the Democratic Party.

Water will also be a major issue, as lawmakers continue to haggle over details of a bond proposal that may be before voters this fall. That’s if lawmakers can come to some kind of an agreement, and when you’re talking about water, agreement is never easy. The fight comes as the state is in the midst of the worst drought in its recorded history. State regulators have imposed tough new statewide restrictions on water use in a desperate effort to conserve, but farmers, ranchers and water users around the state continue to feel the pinch from the dry conditions.

Inevitably, the legislature and Gov. Brown will have a couple of surprises in store for the end of session. Previous years have brought last-minute exemptions to the California Environmental Quality Act for downtown sports arenas for Sacramento and Los Angeles. This is where many of Sacramento’s best-paid lobbyists make their bones, pulling the trigger on last-minute bills in a desperate attempt to jam key legislation through the halls of the Capitol in the final days, and sometimes even hours, of the legislative session.

Onto the Ballot

As of now, health care is still dominating the ballot measure discussion. Of course, there is Proposition 46, the trial-lawyer backed effort to alter MICRA, which would drive the cost of health care higher. Another major, if less publicized battle, is underway with Proposition 45, which would give the Insurance Commissioner broad new powers to regulate health plans.

Opponents of the measure say it could undermine the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which is still taking hold in California and contributing to some positive health care news.

Last week, two new bits of data provided a boost to ACA supporters. The number of Californians without insurance continues to drop. And, last week, Covered California announced that health care premiums for those who are ensured through the state exchange will increase a mere 4.2 percent. The news was celebrated by Peter Lee, Covered California’s executive director, who said the Affordable Care Act is part of the reason why health care costs are stabilizing.

Major problems persist, however. Among them are concerns about network adequacy, as an estimated 11 million Californians rely on Medi-Cal for their coverage. California continues to have the lowest Medicaid reimbursement rates in the nation, forcing many doctors to reduce the number of patients they’ll see with state coverage. Many are refusing Medi-Cal patients altogether. The California Medical Association continues to push for fairer state reimbursement rates, but Gov. Jerry Brown has been largely unwilling to entertain the idea – at least this year.

But a new legislative session is just around the corner.

New blood is on the way, as election battles heat up and Republicans hope to break the two-thirds majorities Democrats won in both houses during the last election. But because of a change in our term-limits law passed by voters in 2010, this year’s freshman class will be the smallest in nearly 20 years, when the old term-limits law began to take hold.

But now, the Capitol is buzzing again, ready for the final four-week sprint to the finish. On your marks…


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