Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

January 30, 2012
Los Angeles judge blocks state budget cut to Medi-Cal providers

A Los Angeles federal judge has tentatively blocked Medi-Cal reimbursement cuts to doctors and other providers who treat low-income patients.

U.S. District Court Judge Christina A. Snyder ruled today that the state cannot reduce payments by 10 percent to Medi-Cal doctors, dentists, ambulance services and other providers. The tentative decision comes after Snyder previously blocked cuts to hospital-based nursing units and some pharmacists.

Gov. Jerry Brown and state lawmakers included the 10 percent cut in last year's budget as a way to save $623 million. They won approval from the Obama administration in late October.

Plaintiffs such as the California Medical Association and the California Dental Association argued that the Medi-Cal cut would reduce access to patients as more providers opt out of the system. The state already pays among the lowest rates in the nation to those who treat low-income patients.

"Medi-Cal patients are already having a tough time getting access to care," said CMA President James T. Hay in a statement. "The approved cuts are irresponsible and will only put the health of California's most vulnerable population further at risk."

Courts have blocked various state budget cuts before, and Brown has blamed rulings for some of the current deficit problems. In a separate case that will have a major impact on whether courts can block such cuts, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide this year if provider groups can sue over cuts to Medi-Cal or Medicaid programs in other states.

Norman Williams, spokesman for the state Department of Health Care Services, said he could not comment on the litigation. But he stressed that the state satisfied federal officials last year.

"What we can say is that the various rate reductions approved by the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services are supported by extensive analyses conducted by DHCS," Williams said in an e-mail. "The findings showed that the approved reductions will allow California to continue to meet federal standards requiring an adequate level of access to care for beneficiaries."

Updated to include comment from state Department of Health Care Services spokesman Norman Williams.

January 30, 2012
January 30, 2012
Assembly kills bill proposing four-tier sex registration system

Legislation to create a tiered sex-offender registration system designed to focus attention on violent criminals was killed today by the Assembly.

Assembly Bill 625 died by a vote of 19-41. Its author, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, said he will propose a similar measure later this year.

California law currently requires people convicted of various sex offenses to register with the state for life.

AB 625 would have created three tiers of sex registration, with offenders in the first two tiers allowed to drop off into an inactive status after 10 or 20 years, respectively.

The most lenient tier would have applied to sex offenders who did not use violence, did not molest a minor, and maintained a clean record during the 10 years they were on the active registry.

Opponents of the bill claimed that allowing some sex registrants to be placed on an inactive status would weaken current law and make communities less safe.

January 30, 2012
Assembly OKs bill to give local courts more power over spending

Hotly contested legislation that split the state's judiciary system over issues of money and power was approved today by the Assembly.

The measure, Assembly Bill 1208, passed by a vote of 41-23.

The bill was pushed by a group of judges called the Alliance of California Judges and was backed by Service Employees International Union, representing courthouse employees.

AB 1208 would shift authority from the state's Judicial Council -- led by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye -- to create a more formula-driven funding approach that would give more power to trial courts in setting spending priorities.

The bill by Assemblyman Charles Calderon, D-Whittier, stems from years of budget crisis that have taken a toll on courts, sparking cuts of $350 million during the current budget cycle and nearly $300 in additional cuts over the past five years.

January 30, 2012
Assembly passes bill creating roadblock to new charter schools

The Assembly passed union-backed legislation today that would allow charter school petitions to be rejected if they negatively affect a school district's finances.

The measure, Assembly Bill 1172, was approved by the bare minimum number of votes required, 41-27. No Republicans supported the bill by Assemblyman Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia.

Supporters, including the California Teachers Association, contend that the bill is needed to help schools avoid fiscal insolvency, according to an Assembly analysis of AB 1172.

Opponents argue that the bill is too broadly written and that most school districts could claim a negative financial impact under it, the analysis said.

AB 1172 now goes to the Senate.

January 30, 2012
Kamala Harris announces settlement in Brazilian Blowout case

The maker of a popular hair-smoothing treatment has agreed to warn stylists and salon-goers that its products cause exposure to a cancer-causing chemical as part of a legal settlement announced by California Attorney General Kamala Harris today.

The state had sued the company that manufactures the Brazilian Blowout treatment in 2010, alleging that "formaldehyde free" labels on two of its products deceived customers and violated state disclosure laws governing cancer-causing chemicals and cosmetics.

In addition to discontinuing its formaldehyde free claims and adding caution labels to its products, Brazilian Blowout manufacturer GIB, LCC, must produce a safety information sheet that includes the carcinogen warning to be distributed with product shipments and posted on its website, limit sale of the products to professionally licensed stylists and pay $600,000 in penalties and attorney fees to the state.

January 30, 2012
Teachers' union head says no dues surcharge for ballot battles

The head of the California Teachers Association said he anticipates his union will put "considerable" money into Gov. Jerry Brown's tax measure, but funds may be tighter than usual as the group faces different ballot battles.

CTA President Dean E. Vogel said Sunday the union is focused on fighting a November measure that would restrict member dues collection and spending on candidate campaigns. He said CTA is also waiting to see whether a new proposal to cap future state spending will qualify for the ballot, a proposal the group would also fight.

The union officially agreed Sunday to back Brown's plan to raise sales taxes and income taxes on wealthy earners.

CTA previously imposed a $60 annual surcharge on members for three years to raise $50 million to defeat Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger at a 2005 special election, which included measures to restrict union dues and cap state spending. But Vogel said this time is different.

"The last time in this position we did a special assessment to get more money," Vogel said. "but we're not in a position to get more money right now."

Vogel said CTA will probably decide in March how to divide its funds this year.

"We're going to wait and see what things are looking like," he said. "We believe because of the broad-based appeal (Brown's) initiative has, it's going to qualify. We're very concerned about a potential spending cap initiative and how that's going to play out."

"Eventually I would anticipate we would put considerable money in," he said of the tax measure campaign.

January 30, 2012
Bob Hertzberg won't challenge Fran Pavley for state Senate

Former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg has decided not to challenge incumbent Democrat Fran Pavley for a Southern California Senate seat.

Hertzberg had expressed interest in running for the newly drawn 27th Senate District, a Ventura County swing seat that includes area he previously represented in the state Assembly. But he said in a statement issued today that he has decided to instead focus on the campaign for a proposed budget and governance ballot measure backed by California Forward Issue Action Fund and the Think Long Committee for California.

"After thoughtful consideration, I have decided not to pursue a campaign for the State Senate," Hertzberg, who has worked closely with both California Forward and Think Long, said. "I believe the extraordinary challenges we face in California can best be met with big ideas and independent voices. Pursuing a partisan campaign at this time would inevitably distract from my top priority -- reforming our government to better serve its citizens."

The announcement comes weeks after Sen. Tony Strickland, R-Moorpark, announced that he will run for an incumbent-free congressional seat instead of seeking re-election to the Senate in the district. Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, R-Santa Clarita, has been mentioned as a possible GOP candidate for the Senate seat, but has yet to make a decision on the race.

Hertzberg's decision allows Senate Democrats to avoid a potentially costly and divisive same-party battle in an election that could deliver the caucus a two-thirds majority in the upper house. Two other potential high-profile challengers to incumbent Democrats bowed out of their respective races in recent weeks. Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Alameda, dropped out of the race for Sen. Loni Hancock's Bay Area Senate seat and Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada-Flintridge, announced that he will not challenge Sen. Carol Liu, D-La Cañada-Flintridge, this year.

January 30, 2012
AM Alert: Bills come due this week in California Legislature

Tuesday is the deadline for the California Legislature to pass bills introduced last year out of their house of origin. The Assembly meets at noon, the Senate at 2 p.m.

In the lower house, measures to watch include Democratic Assemblyman Charles Calderon's Assembly Bill 1208 on the Judicial Council, which The Bee's Dan Walters called a "rebel-sponsored bill" sparked by California judges' civil war over money and power. A majority vote wins approval.

Should the three largest funders be clearly identified on political ads? Assembly Bill 1148, by Democratic Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, which would require just that, is expected to come up for a vote in the Assembly on Tuesday. It requires a two-thirds vote to pass.

On the Senate side, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg's Senate Bill 654 -- which also requires a two-thirds vote -- would let local governments keep redevelopment money budgeted for low- and moderate-income housing. It would also affect repayment of loans from local governments.

Other measures to follow include Senate Constitutional Amendment 4, introduced by Democratic Sen. Mark DeSaulnier. The proposal, another needing a two-thirds vote, would require ballot initiatives to identify a funding source to pay for any additional costs. The California State Association of Counties supports the proposal, while the California Taxpayers Association and Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association oppose it, according to a Senate Committee analysis. Votes in the Senate Elections and Appropriations committees split along party lines. Opponents have argued that the measure could require tax cuts to be considered costs to the treasury that would require a funding source.

FOSTER YOUTH: The California Youth Connection, a group of current and former foster youth, rally on the Capitol's west steps at noon to urge support for more services for foster youth on California's public university and college campuses.


Capitol Alert Staff

Jeremy White Jeremy B. White covers California politics and edits Capitol Alert's mobile Insider Edition. Twitter: @capitolalert

Amy Chance Amy Chance is political editor for The Sacramento Bee. Twitter: @Amy_Chance

Dan Smith Dan Smith is Capitol bureau chief for The Sacramento Bee.

Christopher Cadelago Christopher Cadelago covers California politics and health care. Twitter: @ccadelago

Micaela Massimino Micaela Massimino edits Capitol Alert.

Laurel Rosenhall Laurel Rosenhall covers the Legislature, the lobbying community and higher education. Twitter: @LaurelRosenhall

David Siders David Siders covers the Brown administration. Twitter: @davidsiders

Dan Walters Dan Walters is a columnist for The Sacramento Bee. Twitter: @WaltersBee

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