CMA Capitol Insight: New Year, New Laws

March 03, 2014
Area(s) of Interest: Access to Care Advocacy Licensing & Regulatory Issues 

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



New Year, New Laws


There appears to be no cure for the obsession of introducing new legislation. Despite the 80-member Assembly introducing 1,430 bills in 2013 – an average of 17.85 per member – another 1,298 were introduced from January 6 through February 21, the introduction deadline for 2014. (Another 14 bills have been introduced since the drop-dead deadline.) In the 40-member Senate, there were 1,404 new bills introduced during the same period. Thanks to an archaic rule from the days when it took the State Printer 30 days to set type, proofread and print bills, each one of those measures must wait 30 days before being acted on. And since legislators are human beings and tend to procrastinate, of those 2,716 bills, 1,443 – 425 in the Senate and 1,018 in the Assembly – can’t be acted on until March 21 because they were introduced either on February 21 or a day or two before it. March 21 is a Friday and no committees meet on Friday. In fact, the Legislature doesn’t meet on Friday unless Monday is a holiday because lawmakers can’t go more than 72 hours between sessions or they lose their $142 a day per diem, which is tax-free if they live more than 50 miles from the Capitol. Bipartisan efforts to end the 30-day rule – or at least shorten it – have failed even though the inevitable log jam in late March and April leads to perennial criticism lawmakers aren’t delving into the merits – and demerits – of legislation as thoroughly as they should.


Back to the Future


Within the next two weeks or so, California will experience something it hasn’t known since before the Gold Rush – a plurality of its residents will be Latino. That’s the prediction of the state Department of Finance, which thought Latinos would become the state’s single largest demographic group last summer, but now say lower-than-anticipated birth rates caused the change to take a bit longer. Some time in mid-March, the department says, 39 percent of Californians will be Latino and 38.8 percent non-Latino whites. A Latino majority isn’t projected by the department until after 2060.


Just Getting Around to This Now?


President Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty in 1964. Key parts of the offensive were the creation of Medicare, Medicaid – the Golden State’s Medi-Cal – and making permanent the Food Stamps Program, which began as a Great Depression stopgap. The federal government now calls Food Stamps the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and California calls its version CalFresh. But despite a new name, what CalFresh apparently doesn’t have is performance standards or goals. Sen. Mark DeSaulnier is the author of the bill aiming to create those standards, SB 1147. The Concord Democrat says California has the lowest participation rate in the nation for the program – 55 percent of those eligible, according to the 2010 Census – which means families either in poverty or hovering on its brink are spending more money than they need to on food. Or, worse, their kids aren’t getting the kind of nutrition they should. The hope is that creating statewide goals will improve service by California’s counties who are the front-line for CalFresh’s implementation. Maybe. Maybe not. But, at a minimum, it seems knowing where the state wants to go – and the progress being made getting there – is going to directly benefit the families who can be helped by the program and indirectly improve health levels in at-risk populations. Better late than never.


“Less Is More”


That quote from the current governor back in the 1970s when he was a brash 35-year-old comes to mind when reading about a new initiative called “Six Californias.” If the ballot measure gets more than 806,000 valid voter signatures and if voters approve it in some future election, the initiative would amend the constitution to cut the current California up into six teensier Californias, each a separate state. There’d be a North California, South California, Central California, Western California, Silicon Valley and Jefferson, which includes California’s northernmost counties (some of which have tried to break free of Sacramento’s grasp with varying degrees of sincerity since the 1940s). Of course, a Jefferson resident would live in a state with no University of California campuses, so their kids would pay the more expensive out-of-state rate should they wish to attend a UC school. As one critic of the plan noted, the Interstate Commerce Clause would regulate every transaction between each of the six new Californias. Congress must approve any new state and a Congressional OK won’t be happening for this plan, even if state voters approve the Six-Ways-From-Culver-City split. Are California’s two U.S. senators going to dilute their power and become just two of 12? The initiative says its premise is that California’s diversity and population – 38 million and climbing – make the Golden State “nearly ungovernable,” to quote the measure. Breaking up the state into sixths, creating six new state governments instead of one in the process, will make government more responsive and less remote, the initiative says. Oddly enough, that brings to mind Gov. Brown’s quote. (P.S. The Democratic governor announced last week he’s running for a second term. Given the field so far, perhaps “ambling” or maybe “strolling” for a second term might be more accurate.)


How About Making it Retroactive?


Starting in January 2015, any California taxpayer would be able to deduct up to $100 from their state taxes for adopting a pet from a animal control shelter, humane society shelter or rescue group. If AB 2326 passes the Legislature and wins a gubernatorial signature, that is. It’s unclear how much this tax break would cost the state, but the bill also adds a “Pet Adoption Deduction Fund” check off on state tax forms to which taxpayers can voluntarily contribute to help defray the cost of the deduction and, thereby, presumably encourage the adoption of more pets. Something on the order of 800,000 animals annually are abandoned in California. A deduction to adopt a pet is positive but the $100 boon is probably wiped out in one visit to the vet. Unfortunately, the cost of a pet medical care deduction might be more than the state can handle.


Dishonorable Mention


That’s actually what runners-up receive in the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, which recognizes tortured prose. (“Honors” seems like the wrong verb.) Wendi Tibbets of San Jose received a “dishonorable mention” in 2013 for this offering: ”The sharks circled the leaking life raft like a pack of rabid personal-injury attorneys at a five-car pileup, and Clarence could just taste the fear (which tasted like chicken) and wondered morbidly if he too, might taste like chicken.” The contest is named for Victorian novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton, whose opening sentence in the 1830 novel, Paul Clifford, is the yardstick by which bad writing is measured: ”It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."


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