Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

August 12, 2013
California bill expanding optometrists' authority on hold

State Sen. Ed Hernandez is giving up for this year his effort to expand the kinds of medical services optometrists can offer in California.

The Democrat from West Covina said Monday that he is pulling his Senate Bill 492 from any further action in the Legislature this year, and will instead push for its passage in 2014. The bill would allow optometrists to diagnose and treat all kinds of ailments related to the eye, including conditions such as diabetes.

"We turned that into a two-year bill just to make sure we can continue working on it in committee, continue to work with the opposition," Hernandez told The Bee.

"What we wanted to achieve we felt needed a little more conversation, and we felt it would just be better to work over the break on it."

The bill is one of three Hernandez carried this year that would expand the so-called "scope of practice" for various medical professionals. He argued the bills were necessary to allow more people access to health care as federal law soon begins requiring everyone have health insurance. But the bill package set off a war with the California Medical Association, a powerful force in the Capitol that lobbies on behalf of doctors and worked hard to kill Hernandez's bills.

His SB 491, which would allow nurse practitioners more authority, was rejected by the Assembly business and professions committee last week and is up for reconsideration tomorrow. His SB 493, that expands the duties pharmacists may perform, is making its way through the Assembly. The optometry bill was scheduled for a committee vote tomorrow before Hernandez pulled it.

Molly Weedn, a spokeswoman for the California Medical Association, said doctors hoped to reach compromise with Hernandez on the optometry bill the way they had on the bill regarding pharmacists.

"We're glad there is extra time to work out what some of those difference are," she said. "Our biggest concern has been and remains that patients are being treated by qualified health care professionals."

Hernandez said it's too soon to say what kind of compromise is in order:

"We're not willing to give up on anything because we haven't had that conversation yet with the opposition."

PHOTO: Optometrist Aaron Lech does an eye exam on Melanie Kearns on April 11, 2013. Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

August 12, 2013
Workers compensation hike on California employers proposed

Last year, the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown enacted a major overhaul of the state's multi-billion-dollar system of compensating workers for job-related injuries and illnesses, aimed at stabilizing its costs.

The Workers Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau, however, believes that premiums for insurance that most employers carry to cover claims for treatment and cash benefits still should rise next year.

The independent bureau announced that taking into account the legislation's changes, premiums should rise by 3.4 percent next year to an average of $2.62 per $100 of payroll.

The recommendation is not binding, and insurers in the highly competitive workers comp market can charge whatever they wish. State Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones also will weigh in with his recommendation.

The bureau also put another caveat on its recommendation - that it could be changed, depending on whether the state Division of Workers Compensation adopts a proposed new schedule of payments for physicians who treat job-related disabilities.

Last year's overhaul of the system, contained in Senate Bill 863, was a deal among most of the major stakeholders in the system, employers and labor unions most prominently. It followed a pattern of making major changes in the system roughly once a decade, usually after years of maneuvering by the major stakeholders.

August 12, 2013
Jerry Brown signs bill empowering transgender students


California students will soon be able to use the bathrooms and join the teams that best match their gender identity, with Gov. Jerry Brown signing a bill enshrining new rights for transgender youth.

The legislation, authored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, advanced from both houses of the Legislature on largely party-line votes. Advocates called the bill a needed protection for young people who often endure discrimination.

Brown's decision to sign the bill on Monday, ahead of a deadline to act by midnight on Tuesday, dissolved the suspense surrounding the bill's fate.

With his signature, Brown overrode the objections of Republican lawmakers who said the bill would undermine parental choice and put school children into uncomfortable situations. Critics also questioned how the bill would affect the integrity of school athletic records.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown signs the state budget during a ceremony at the Capitol, Thursday, June 27, 2013, in Sacramento as Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, left, and Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, right, celebrate in the background. The Sacramento Bee/Lezlie Sterling.

August 12, 2013
Don't turn off cell phone Amber Alerts, California officials say

Speaker John A Perez.JPG

California emergency officials and the leader of the state Assembly are urging Californians not to disable emergency alerts from their cell phones, saying the rescue over the weekend of 16-year-old Hannah Anderson proves how useful the text messages can be.

An FBI agent rescued the teen from a remote wooded area of Idaho on Saturday and killed her abductor after officials had issued Amber Alerts with information about the car they believed the suspect was driving. The text alert went out on cell phones across California last Monday night, accompanied by a blaring buzz on many phone models.

The message prompted complaints from some consumers - that it was noisy, invasive, repeated too many times or hard to make sense of because the text disappeared quickly. Media reports described some people saying they would disable the alerts from their phones.

"Californians need to know that by opting out of the system they could be trading a moment's annoyance for the possibility of real harm to themselves and their families," Assembly Speaker John A. Perez, D-Los Angeles, said in a phone call with reporters today.

August 12, 2013
California Sen. Noreen Evans to step down at end of term


Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, will not seek re-election at the end of her current term.

While term limits allow Evans to remain in office until 2018, she announced in a Facebook posting that she intends to step down at the end of next year to return to her private law practice. That will put her seat in play in 2014.

"Sacramento is not my home and politics not how I planned to spend my life," Evans wrote in the post. "Though I enjoyed my job as a lawmaker, my first love is the administration of justice."

Evans won her Senate seat in 2010 after serving three terms in the Assembly. As chair of the Senate Judiciary committee, Evans has been vocal in pushing back on cuts to the court system budget that she saw as endangering the swift administration of justice.

PHOTO: Senator Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa during session in the Senate chambers in Sacramento, Calif. on Monday, March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.

August 12, 2013
AM Alert: California Senate returns to appropriations mountain

20130606_HA_SENATE0006.JPGThe final third arrives: A week after Assembly members returned to Sacramento from summer recess, the state Senate reconvenes today, ending a curiously staggered summer sojourn.

And its members have plenty to keep them busy. The Senate Appropriations Committee stands poised to churn through a stack of legislation that includes, at last count, more than 150 bills -- some of them momentous or robustly disputed pieces of public policy -- before its Aug. 30 deadline.

Among the bills now before the judgment of Senate Appropriations are one to raise the state's minimum wage; a bill allowing more medical professionals to perform certain abortions; legislation aimed at quenching the thirst of communities that lack drinking water; and a few more gun control bills.

The first trickle in a coming deluge of bills headed for Gov. Jerry Brown's desk is a transgender rights bill that has provoked some strong reactions, Dan Walters notes.

August 12, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: Jerry Brown faces transgender decision

A controversial bill on transgender students sits on Gov. Jerry Brown's desk, but Dan says the bill is "just practice" for an impending surge of decisions on which bills become law.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.


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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