CMA Capitol Insight: Where the Action Is

December 09, 2013
Area(s) of Interest: Advocacy Drug Prescribing/Dispensing Public Health 

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

Where the Action Is

The second year of the current two-year legislation session starts on January 6. Lawmakers don’t need to take another oath saying they’ll uphold the constitution like they did at the beginning of the session in December 2012. Everything starts up in January where it ended at midnight September 13 (when the 2013 session came to a close). The December swearing-in day – the first day lawmakers can introduce legislation – is a good opportunity to observe what some of the priorities are in the upcoming session. And because the bills are newly introduced, they must run through policy committees to reach the floors of their respective houses, cross to the other house and go through the same process there. Not in 2014. In the early months – other than some perfunctory hearings on the spending plan Gov. Jerry Brown must propose before January 10, most of the action will occur in the Senate and Assembly Appropriations committees. Both have what are called “suspense files,” where, traditionally, bills that cost more than $150,000 are parked for later consideration once the state’s fiscal condition is better known in May. Suspense can snare bills that offer tax credits or increase spending, or just be a convenient dumping ground for measures legislative leaders don’t want to see pass. During the fall recess, some of the authors of these bills worked with the chairs of the Appropriations committees and their staff to find compromises that remove their bill from suspense and allow it to keep moving. The bills that have been the subject of successful negotiations will begin emerging in January. For example:

Drone On

Legislation that stalled last year on how drones can be used by public agencies appears likely to move out of the Assembly Appropriations Committee. The bill now would make it a bit harder for law enforcement to use an “unmanned aircraft system” without first getting a search warrant, but adds inspection of wilderness areas and monitoring forest fires to the uses that don’t require a warrant. The University of California has already petitioned the federal government to be allowed to use drones at UC Davis and UC Merced. For agricultural purposes, presumably.

Not Rocket Science

A recent study says using telemedicine helps health care providers in rural areas better combat obesity in kids. Wouldn’t it be news if telemedicine didn’t help doctors and clinicians in rural areas? The study examines the success of HEALTH-COP, the Healthy Eating Active Living Telehealth Community of Practice, and was conducted by HEALTH-COP’s creators, who probably wouldn’t be touting the study’s results if their program were anything less than efficacious. HEALTH-COP helps rural clinicians in places like Imperial County to the far south and Humboldt County to the far north. The program offers counseling on nutrition and physical activity to both kids and families. The rural clinics were sent charts, posters, Body Mass Index wheels and the most recent care guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics. “As an urban pediatrician, if I can’t figure out a problem, all I have to do is find a colleague in the building and get their impressions,” says Dr. Ulfat Shaikh, a University of California at Davis pediatrician and one of the founders of HEALTH-COP. “By setting up this network, we made it easier for rural clinicians to do the same. Regardless of where they are in California, they all face similar problems. Now they can share solutions.” An idea that might be worth a sliver or two of any future budget surpluses.

Cannabis Electiva

There’s a concerted push to place an initiative on the November 2016 ballot to legalize marijuana, which to the untrained eye appears unnecessary given the status quo. At any rate, supporters of legalization are buoyed by passage in 2012 of measures in Washington State and Colorado and recent statewide and national polls showing a fairly comfortable plurality of people are OK with the idea of legalization if marijuana is still off-limits for minors and some type of tax is levied on production or consumption with the proceeds earmarked for a “good” cause. If so many people are up for it, why wait until 2016? Not everyone is waiting. Two measures are trying to get a spot on the November 2014 ballot. One is gathering signatures; the other awaits an OK to get signatures from the Attorney General’s Office. The fans of 2016, which appear to be the folks with the biggest potential warchest, argue that turnout will be bigger in a presidential election year, improving the odds of success. And, between now and then, an initiative can be drafted and tested to ensure it tags the bases of enough voters to make success even more likely. The American Civil Liberties Union has convened a “blue ribbon panel” to examine what needs to be done to legalize marijuana properly, which no doubt is defined differently depending on the definer. The ACLU favors legalization, as does the panel’s chair, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who said back in October at the press conference announcing the panel that California has been “fighting this failed war on marijuana and the results are pretty overwhelming” that it’s not working. As a sign of public acceptance of legalization, the ACLU cites a poll by San Francisco based Tulchin Research conducted over the phone with 1,200 voters during the last week of September and first week of October that found nearly two-thirds of those who say they plan to vote in 2016 favor “a proposal to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana in California for adults,” as Tulchin says in its memo describing the survey results. Three-fourths of Democratic voters support such an idea, as do over 70 percent of independent voters. Republicans are about evenly split. “Support transcends ethnic lines as 74 percent of African Americans, 69 percent of Caucasians, 68 percent of Asians and a majority of Latinos support such a change in marijuana laws,” Tulchin says.

What’s Not to Like?

In polling, the result is heavily influenced by the question asked. “Would you support a measure being considered for the 2014 ballot that would raise taxes by 25 percent and allow those know-nothing politicians in Sacramento to thrown it away on any old cockamamie boondoggle the special interests tell them to – without any accountability whatsoever?” Not so much. Here’s the question Tulchin put to registered voters: “There may be a measure on the ballot in the future to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana in California for adults. It would still be illegal for minors, there would be penalties for driving under the influence of marijuana, and it could only be sold in state regulated stores. The measure would tax marijuana and generate an estimated $1 billion a year to fund schools, public safety and other essential services and there would be annual audits to ensure the money is spent as intended. Based on this, would you support or oppose this proposal?” The way the question is crafted, it’s really hard to find something in there NOT to like.

Famous Birthdays

Eight of California’s 39 governors were born in December, the most of any month. They are: Newton Booth, Gray Davis, Henry Gage, Goody Knight, Frank Merriam, Friend Richardson, William Stephens and Robert Waterman. This month – December 9 to be exact – is also the birthday of Emmett Kelly, the woeful circus clown. One of Kelly’s more famous observations is that “by laughing at me, the audience really laughs at themselves – and realizing they’ve done this gives them sort of a spiritual second wind for going back into the battles of life.” Sharing the birthday of ”Weary Willie” is English poet John Milton. Born in 1608, Milton may not be considered the founder of psychiatry but he certainly sums up the need for it nicely in Paradise Lost: “The mind is its own place and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”


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