CMA Capitol Insight: Last Minute Holiday Shopping

December 23, 2013
Area(s) of Interest: Advocacy Health Care Reform 

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

Last Minute Holiday Shopping

For Health Coverage…For a new health insurance policy that takes effect January 1, the deadline to apply and pick a plan through Covered California is December 23. A payment isn’t needed until January 6 for a policy to be in effect January 1. If January 1 isn’t an issue, the open enrollment period runs through the end of March. Although Covered California says it expects a big spike in caller volume and website visits on December 23, it expresses confidence it can handle the increased traffic. Recently, the entity formerly known as the Health Benefit Exchange said it now has more than 200,000 enrollments – more than 25 percent of them occurring the week before that December 23 deadline. December 18 was the highest single day of enrollments – some 20,000 -- since Covered California opened its shopping center of coverage options back in October. Doesn’t take a specialist to recognize behavior symptomatic of the dreaded and apparently incurable “never-do-today-what-can-be put-off-until-tomorrow” syndrome.

Odd to Even

In the world of politics, even-numbered years are worse than odd-numbered ones because even years have state and federal elections. Members of the industry that profits from elections – ballot measures, direct mail, polling, signature gathering, organizing, media buying and the like -- take the opposite view and welcome the increased sloganeering, advertising and huckstering 2014 will bring. Like the old cliché says: All politics are local and what’s more local than a home mortgage to pay. All 80 seats of the Assembly will be on the ballot as well as 20 of the 40 seats in the Senate. Those lawmakers seeking re-election will remind voters of the caliber of their performance. Those trying to unseat an incumbent will remind voters of the caliber of the incumbent’s performance but focus on different aspects. When the dust settles in November, Democrats will still control both houses. Gov. Jerry Brown faces no worrisome GOP opposition—as yet. Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, a Hesperia Republican, said in a video announcing his gubernatorial candidacy that the only thing he finds sexy in California is his wife, Rowena. That generated bit of media buzz but media buzz and $3.95 buys a latte at Starbucks –and that’s about all.  The state’s constitutional officers also up for new four-year terms. Treasurer Bill Lockyer is leaving public service after 40 years, a loss to California, as is Secretary of State Debra Bowen, another hard-working public servant. Controller John Chiang seeks Lockyer’s job. Alex Padilla, a Southern California Democratic state senator, and Leland Yee, a Democratic San Francisco state senator, are among the candidates vying for Bowen’s job. Board of Equalization Member Betty Chin, a principled problem solver with years of state fiscal experience, wants to be controller. So does Assembly Speaker John Pérez, a Los Angeles Democrat with a far more flush campaign war chest. Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom stays where he is, as does Attorney General Kamala Harris. In four years, if something better hasn’t come along, they’ll run to succeed Brown.

Game of Thrones

The leaders of the Assembly and the Senate are stepping down sometime in 2014 and the jockeying among lawmakers to be their successor is already occurring. As already mentioned, Pérez is running for controller. Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg is exiting the state stage but might seek a local post in his hometown of Sacramento. In the past, battles for succession have been pitched with months and months of maneuvering and skullduggery leading to a final – often narrow -- vote. Leo McCarthy beat Willie Brown by one vote to become speaker in 1976 by luring away Brown’s Sacramento roommate. After term limits passed in 1990, transitions of power have been more genteel, often with the successor groomed by the predecessor. What shape 2014’s changing of the guard takes is unknown. Sen. Kevin De Leon, a Los Angeles Democrat, is often mentioned as Steinberg’s successor. De Leon certainly appears eager to hold the job. But the Republicans could seek concessions from a different Democrat and use their votes to give that senator the 21 votes needed to become Senate leader. It’s happened before. In the Assembly where 39 members are new, there is talk of an “interim” speaker while one of the new crop of 2010 is shown the ropes. Not sure whether this is the plan the new crop endorses. It’s early in the game but the efforts at gathering support for their candidacies by speaker and pro tem wannabes will be a major influencer on legislative “policy” actions during at least the first half of 2014.

Less is More or Is More Less?

Working to win the 1 million or more signatures needed to secure a place on the November ballot is the Neighborhood Legislature Reform Act. This initiative was first advanced in 2011 but withdrawn after being overshadowed by other higher profile ballot measures like an effort to prevent unions from automatically extracting money for political contributions from the paychecks of their members. (After combined spending of $151 million for and against the measure, Proposition 32 was rejected by voters in 2012.) John H. Cox, a Rancho Santa Fe venture capitalist and brief GOP presidential candidate in 2007, has said previously he’ll spend at least $500,000 of his own money to qualify the neighborhood Legislature for the ballot. Cox says his idea will end the Proposition 32 kind of massive spending  – at least on legislative races -- and also create “the greatest transfer of power since 1776.” The second part seems like a bit o’ the blarney but there’s no question California’s political landscape would be drastically altered if Cox has his way and Assembly districts shrink to 5,000 people and Senate seats to 10,000 constituents. Not a typo: Cox would have the state’s Citizens Redistricting Commission slice up existing 500,000-person Assembly districts and almost-1-million person Senate seats so that they contain 100 “mini” districts. That means the number of state lawmakers would increase to 8,000 Assembly members and 4,000 senators but only 120 of the 12,000 would come to Sacramento to transact the state’s business. The “neighborhood” lawmakers that come to Sacramento would be paid $50,000. Those that don’t, $1,000. The other “neighborhood” legislators within that Assembly or Senate district would choose their representative to be one of the 120. Cox says campaigns would be grassroots, doo-to-door affairs in which people know their representative personally. Cox’s proposal also contains a provision that cuts legislative spending in half. The Legislative Analyst, who is required to assess the fiscal impact of every measure seeking a place on the ballot, says that saves $130 million annually. Cox needs 807,615 valid signatures to reach the ballot.

Of Revocations and Licenses

The California Medical Board revoked 58 medical licenses during the state’s fiscal year that ended June 30. Another 80 physicians voluntarily surrendered their licenses instead of fighting accusations against them. Fraud, gross negligence and inappropriate prescribing accounted for about half of the license revocations and surrenders finalized by the board during the same period. Of the revocations, eight were for “inappropriate prescribing” and eight for drug or alcohol addiction. Ten doctors surrendered their license in the wake of accusations regarding inappropriate prescribing. Nine for addiction issues. That’s a total of 35 prescription or addiction suspensions or revocations representing .0335 percent of the 104,422 doctors and surgeons licensed and doing business in California. It will likely seem like a larger number when portrayed by supporters of the trial-lawyer backed ballot measure to eliminate the cap on medical malpractice “pain and suffering” awards. During the fiscal year ending June 30, the board also received nearly 6,700 new doctor and surgeon applications and issued 5,439 licenses. The board is paid for by those it regulates: About $52 million of its $55 million budget comes from application fees, initial licensing fees and renewals.

Must Have the Same Agent as Marilyn Monroe

Who would have thought 2013’s sultry spokeswoman for Chanel #5 would be an actress and sex symbol who died 51 years ago? And who would have thought that an Egyptian pharaoh who died around 1336 B.C. would offer a nice resolution for a new year beginning 3,350 years after his death. His name is Akhenaton and here’s what he says: “Those who gave thee a body, furnished it with weakness. But He who gave thee Soul, armed thee with resolution. Employ it, and thou art wise. Be wise and thou art happy.”


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