March 18, 2013
Area(s) of Interest: Access to Care Advocacy
CMA Capitol Insight is a biweekly column by veteran journalist Greg Lucas, reporting on the inner workings of the state Legislature.
So Far, So Good
Cash received by the state in February was $322 million below the $3.9 billion expected in Gov. Jerry Brown's budget plan, released in January, according to the Department of Finance's March Bulletin. The better news is that since the fiscal year began July 1, the state has collected $4.8 billion more than the $54 billion predicted. No one knows why for sure although the Legislative Analyst half jokingly says it means one of three things: More money now, less during the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends June 30. More money now and less on April 15 or, simply, more money. The analyst’s assessment is that certainly a chunk of the higher-than-expected money comes from the federal tax boost that came with teetering-on-the-fiscal-cliff mess and the higher state tax rates from approval of Proposition 30 in November, but a goodly share comes from California plain ol’ doing better than in 2011, as the Department of Finance bulletin shows.
On the Affordable Care Act Front
Budget subcommittees are beginning to examine pieces of the landmark bill’s effect on California. At one hearing, the Legislative Analyst’s Office laid out the costs to the state of expanding Medi-Cal eligibility, which Gov. Brown and the Legislature favors. Ridiculously low reimbursement rates for providers aside, expanding health care to lower income Californians with the federal government picking up 90 percent of the tab is a good thing. That said, six years into it, the state’s share, assuming the federal government doesn’t reduce its 90 percent commitment, will be as much as $1.4 billion. To make sure the feds don’t leave California holding the bag, Gov. Brown wants a “tie back” provision to make California’s expansion contingent on the federal government maintaining its funding commitment. A previous Capitol Insight looked at who the expansion would affect. Briefly, while the Affordable Care Act calls for expansion to include persons and families at 133 percent of the federal poverty level, the method it uses to calculate that boosts the number to 138 percent of the poverty level. (What’s the old joke about a camel being a horse created by government?) A person at 138 percent of the poverty level would earn $15,415. A family of four would earn $31,809.
Dawdling or Deliberative
This is a touchy subject since a number of Californians insist that every day the Legislature does nothing is a brighter one. The problem with that view is eventually hundreds of bills do get passed, usually in a flurry of last-minute voting in which scant attention is paid to each measure’s contents – let alone its impact when added to California’s already voluminous body of law. Confronted with that criticism, legislators usually say all the bills hurriedly passed on the floor of each house received a full airing in policy committee. That’s not 100 percent accurate.
Of Deadlines and Procrastination
Under the rules of the Assembly and Senate, lawmakers are permitted to introduce bills starting December 3, 2012, when they are sworn in. The legislative session this year convened January 7, but lawmakers could put in bills during December. The final day to introduce a bill in either house is February 22. Not counting weekends and holidays, that’s more than 55 days. (Term paper writers everywhere can see where this is heading!) From December 3 through February 21, 868 bills and nine constitutional amendments were introduced in the Assembly. On Friday, February 22, 507 bills and one constitutional amendment were introduced. Another 28 bills won special dispensation to come in after the deadline. So of 1,405 bills introduced this year in the lower house, 38 percent were introduced on or after the deadline. In the 40-member Senate, during the same period, 535 bills were introduced through February 21, of which 22 percent were introduced on the 21st. On the final day for introductions, the Senate logged another 277 bills and two constitutional amendments, bringing its total to 813 bills plus three more added later. Doing the math: Of the 2,221 bills introduced, 37 percent started their legislative life on February 22 or later. But wait, there’s more…
The Old – Literally – 30-Day Rule
Since 1911, the state constitution has required that no bill “may be heard or acted on by committee or either house until the 31st day after the bill is introduced,” absent a vote of the full Assembly or the Senate to the contrary. In 1911, the Legislature was required to recess for 30 days to allow the state printer time to typeset and publish bills. Proposition 9 abolished the 30-day recess in 1958, but the 30-day waiting period on hearing bills remained. “The practical effect has been that many bills are introduced with only intent language and then sit for 30 days, thereby reducing public access to the final bill language,” reads a February 21, 2008, Assembly memo on the issue. So all the bills introduced on February 22 can’t be acted on until at least March 25, which happens to fall during the Legislature’s weeklong spring recess. That means they won’t be heard until at least April 1. In fact, all bills introduced from February 19 through the deadline won’t be heard until April 1 or beyond. That’s 1,486 of 2,221 introduced – more than two-thirds.
Remedial Time Management
Given that situation, lawmakers are dispensing with the remaining one-third as quickly as possible. Not so much. Last week, the Senate Governance and Finance Committee, one of the lower house’s more important committees, heard less than 10 bills, one of which made it easier for the Kern River Cemetery District to help combat its financial problems by burying people beneath its sod who didn’t live in the district. The committee doesn’t meet again until Wednesday, April 3, when 14 bills are considered. The last day policy committees can meet in either house is May 17, and all bills must leave their house of origin by May 31 or cool their jets until next year. So, do those bills hurriedly approved between May 28 and May 31 get an airing in policy committee? Yes, but when two-thirds of them are considered by those committees during a 24-working day window, not as complete an airing as lawmakers claim.
And to hear Capitol lobbyists tell it, well more than half of those bills hurriedly introduced at the last minute don’t even solve a problem – important or otherwise – as yet. They’re “spot” or “intent” bills that simply hold a place for some still-to-be-determined proposed change of law.
Same for Four-Legged Patient Prescriptions
A new bill would stop California pet and animal owners from having to pay sales tax on medicines purchased from an in-state veterinarian. The proposal recognizes the reality that many of California’s estimated 18 million pet owners search the Internet to avoid paying sales tax on medications prescribed by a veterinarian – a phenomenon that happens on a much larger scale in states unlike California that tax prescription meds for human beings. Initial estimates are that the state would lose $10 million in revenue by the change in law. Compare that to $3.4 billion in added receipts if human prescriptions were taxed. The California Veterinary Medical Association no doubt favors the bill since vets are considered consumers and must pay tax on any drugs or medicines they purchase for use or resale.
They Don’t Call Him Mahatma for Nothing
“Keep your thoughts positive because your thoughts become your words. Keep your words positive because your words become your behavior. Keep your behavior positive because your behavior becomes your habits. Keep your values positive because your values become your destiny.” So says Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. “Mahatma” combines the Hindu words “maha,” meaning “great,” and “atma,” which is “soul.” Says the dictionary: “A person regarded with reverence or loving respect; a holy person or sage.”