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CMA Capitol Insight: Something New



February 04, 2014
Area(s) of Interest: Licensing & Regulatory Issues 

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




Something New


There’s a new Speaker in the Assembly. She won’t be in charge for a few months, but any scrabbling to succeed Assembly Speaker John Pérez is over. When the new Speaker is sworn in, it won’t will substantially change the workings of the Legislature, whose Democratic majority and liberal leaning should continue through at least the end of this decade. Assemblywoman Toni Atkins of San Diego will be the first speaker from San Diego and the first openly gay woman to hold the job. She won’t be speaker long, however. The same term limits that are forcing Pérez and Steinberg from office this year will end her Assembly tenure in 2016. Daughter of a Virginia miner, Atkins, 51, served on the San Diego City Council from 2000 to 2008. She has more moves and savvy than she’s publicly given credit for, in part because her Assembly leadership posts – most recently the cat-herding of majority floor leader – don’t showcase it. Pérez is a candidate for state Controller and so will likely turn over the reins sometime before the fall campaign season.


Something Old


Not in the age sense, more in the “previous” sense. Former First Lady Maria Shriver was in Sacramento recently after an absence that stretches back to when her estranged husband, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, left office back in January 2011. Shriver said in an opinion piece in The Sacramento Bee that she had left part of her heart in the Capitol city and spent a goodly chunk of her day catching up with friends from her First Lady days. But she also briefed Gov. Jerry Brown on her latest project, The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink. It’s the third of these reports. The first discusses the societal changes wrought by women becoming almost half the workforce. The second, particularly eye-opening, deals with Alzheimer’s disease, a majority of whose sufferers are women, and the role women play as caregivers. Shriver’s latest study – timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, led by her father, Sargent Shriver – delves into the condition of the more than 100 million Americans who live either in poverty or at its edge, which the report defines as a family of four earning $47,000 annually. Of those 100 million Americans, 42 million are woman and 28 million are children who depend on them. “Be smart and get smart,” Shriver told a Sacramento audience is the best advice for teenagers, who should create more opportunities for themselves by staying in school and having children later. The report also examines the changed structure of the family. Nationwide, two-thirds of families rely on the mother’s income, while just one-fifth have a male breadwinner and a female homemaker. More than 40 percent of children in the United States are born to single or unmarried parents. Three-fourths of those unmarried births are to women living in poverty or at its edge. Working women are more likely to be poor than working men and are two-thirds of the nation’s minimum wage employees. California is one of the more progressive states. It was the first state to require employers to offer paid leave, which comes out of the disability payments made by employees, and will boost the minimum wage to $9 an hour in July. There’s still a ways to go. While not in the Shriver Report, just over one-third of California’s children live in single parent households and nearly 2.2 million children in California lived in poverty in 2012 – the most in the nation.


Something Blue


A little too blue, at least, when it comes to California skies. Gov. Brown made it official the other day: California is experiencing a drought emergency. “Perhaps the worst drought California has ever seen since records began being kept about 100 years ago,” is how Brown described it at a recent news conference. The Sierra snow pack's water content is 12 percent of normal. The state has said it won’t provide water for agricultural customers. Not enough water has an ugly economic ripple effect. Lack of water means Central Valley fields go unplanted, which then means fewer trucking and food processing jobs and reduced sales of fertilizer, irrigation equipment and tractors. It may also lead to friction in the Legislature. Although the evidence is pretty conclusive that Mark Twain didn’t coin this phrase, it’s no less true: ”Whiskey is for drinking. Water is for fighting.” And the traditional fight has always been between North and South. New Speaker Atkins hails from Southern California, which relies on Northern California water to meet its demands. Northern Californians resist any efforts to increase deliveries to what it perceives as the “Wasteful South.” Drought politics could also influence the governor’s $25 billion proposal to divert water around the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta through two 35-mile-long, 40-feet-in-diameter tunnels. The idea is to create a more reliable water source for the 25 million Californians who depend on water wheeled through the Delta (the “Wasteful South”). The plan also calls for strengthening key parts of the state’s crumbling levee system and restoring 147,000 acres of wetlands and other habitat for endangered fish and other species. Critics are already portraying the mammoth undertaking as another monstrously priced boondoggle – just like how the state’s high-speed rail effort is described by its detractors. Brown, who routinely talks about the importance of lowering the state’s “Wall of Debt,” would pay 85 percent of the construction costs of the tunnels using long-term bonds. In other words, a lot of something borrowed.


Something Troubling


Several recent articles drew attention to the Council on Foreign Relations Interactive Map on “vaccine-preventable” outbreaks around the world. The map deserves the attention. Africa and Europe – particularly the United Kingdom – are dominated by outbreaks of measles. If the map’s big circles showing measles outbreaks are removed, mumps is found underneath. The MMR vaccine, of course, addresses both measles and mumps. The vaccine’s unavailability contributes to the incidence of measles in Africa, but that’s not the issue in Europe and the United Kingdom. Almost all of the whooping cough outbreaks on the map are in the United States and, several authors say, that’s at least partly due to “non-medical” or “personal belief” exemptions from legally required vaccines. California’s 2010 whooping cough outbreak owes part of its virulence to parents “opting out” of their children receiving a vaccine.


Unclear on the Concept


The California Medical Association co-sponsored legislation in 2012 aimed at discouraging this practice by requiring parents seeking an exemption to first talk with a health care provider about the risks and benefits of vaccines. A form signed by the health care provider and parents would then be submitted to the child’s school district showing the conversation took place. The governor signed the bill, which took effect January 1, but directed the Department of Public Health to “allow for a separate religious exemption on the form. In this way, people whose religious beliefs preclude vaccinations will not be required to seek a health care practitioner's signature." Released late last year, the department’s form allegedly implementing the governor edict has a box that reads: "I am a member of a religion which prohibits me from seeking medical advice or treatment from authorized health care practitioners." Parents who check that box don't need to talk to a health care provider, which seems both contrary to the law and Brown’s signing message. Groups monitoring the new law say they’ll wait and see if the number of non-medical exemptions rise before deciding what, if any, steps to take.


A Time for Every Purpose Under Heaven


Pete Seeger, the folk singer whose banjo is emblazoned with the words “This Machine Surrounds Hate and Forces It to Surrender, “ died recently at age 94. Among the truths he told: “Parents are the hardest working segment of the workin’ population. But they do it for the high wages – kisses.”

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