Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

June 19, 2014
California health exchange wants to analyze rate initiative

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California's health insurance exchange pressed for answers Thursday to how an initiative slated for the November ballot would affect its operations.

Covered California board members said they want an expedited analysis of the measure, including its influence on the exchange and its consumers. The as-yet-unnumbered initiative, advanced by Consumer Watchdog and Democratic Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, would allow the insurance commissioner to reject excessive health insurance rate hikes.

The measure and a separate initiative to raise the $250,000 cap on pain and suffering damages in malpractice cases are expected to produce two of the most contentious and expensive ballot-box fights this fall.

Susan Kennedy, a former aide to Govs. Gray Davis, a Democrat, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, said she was "painfully aware" of the agency's hesitation in weighing into the fierce political clash. But she urged officials to act aggressively so voters have time to sort out the findings.

"I am a little afraid that we are tiptoeing around this when the impact from my perspective could be really huge and very negative on our ability to function," Kennedy said. "And that inability to function will trickle down to the risk being padded into the rates on consumers."

June 19, 2014
California lawmakers seek ways to address oil train risks

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With elected officials sounding alarms about crude-laden trains rumbling through California, state lawmakers on Thursday pressed for more information about safety risks to cities and water reservoirs sitting near rail lines.

"We need to make sure neighborhood schools and businesses located near crude by rail routes are as protected as possible," said Assemblyman Wes Chesbro, D-Arcata. "It's of utmost importance that we keep up to speed with the emergence of crude by rail. It's not acceptable for us to wait until something bad happens."

Energy companies have increasingly looked to rail as a way to transport oil, including through Sacramento, spurring concerns that California will witness the fiery derailments that have engulfed oil trains elsewhere. The budget lawmakers sent to Gov. Jerry Brown on Sunday imposes a 6.5 cent per barrel fee to fund inland spill response, while legislation seeks to crack open the secrecy often surrounding details about crude shipments. A separate Senate bill would charge oil transporter an additional fee to fund accident response.

A much-anticipated report released on Tuesday tamped down on those worries by depicting slim odds of an accident; in a sign of the dispute over the safety of transporting crude by rail, a prominent environmental group on Wednesday unveiled a report reaching the opposite conclusion.

June 19, 2014
Jerry Brown to sign budget Friday in San Diego

Brown_signing_bills.JPGGov. Jerry Brown will sign the state budget Friday in San Diego, his office announced Thursday, less than a week after both houses of the Legislature approved the spending plan.

Governors have the right to reduce or strike appropriations in budget bills before signing them, but it is unclear what line-item vetoes Brown will make to the $156.4 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Last year, the Democratic governor made only a small number of line-item vetoes, totaling about $40 million.

This year's budget plan is a compromise between Brown and Democratic lawmakers. It includes an expansion of child care and preschool for poor children and more money for high-speed rail, Medi-Cal and welfare-to-work. It also puts about $1.6 billion into a special rainy-day account.

Brown will be joined for the budget signing by Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. Brown is scheduled to travel to Los Angeles after signing the budget to attend a celebration with Latino lawmakers.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown signs bills in Sacramento on March 24, 2011 as Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco look on. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

June 19, 2014
Measure to limit football practice heading to Jerry Brown

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Full-contact football practice would be banned in the off-season and limited during the playing seasons for California teenagers under a bill that is headed to Gov. Jerry Brown.

The state Senate on Thursday passed Assembly Bill 2127 by Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova, which seeks to reduce brain injuries by putting new limits on full-contact football practice.

"There have recently been many scientific studies that contend that concussions and brain injuries due to football likely contribute to long term brain damage and early onset of dementia," Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, said in presenting the bill on the Senate floor.

Several states have already taken similar steps, Hernandez said, including 19 states that have banned full-contact practice in the off-season.

Though the measure drew no formal opposition, it squeaked out of the Assembly last month with just one more vote than necessary to pass. The measure passed the Senate Thursday on a vote of 23-5 but generated no debate.

PHOTO: Del Oro High School's Trey Udoffia is taken down by a Bakersfield High School defender during their Div. I state football championship game on Dec. 20, 2013 in Carson, Cailf. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

June 19, 2014
Corinthian Colleges struggling financially as feds apply pressure

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A for-profit college chain that has been sued by California Attorney General Kamala Harris faces financial issues as it grapples with simultaneous federal scrutiny, filings show.

Harris has targeted Corinthian Colleges for allegedly misleading students about the value of its degrees, a complaint echoed by struggling former students. Corinthian officials deny those allegations and defend schools that include Heald College and Wyotech branches, saying they offer a leg up to students unable to enroll in traditional universities.

Now it appears Corinthian has financial woes of its own. In a Thursday filing with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission, the company references the U.S. Department of Education requesting data covering areas like placement and attendance rates. Government regulators want that information in part to trace student eligibility for federal financial aid, the document states.

That heightened federal oversight has included an order delaying financial aid money payouts to Corinthian. The action stems from allegations of "falsifying job placement data used in marketing claims to prospective students and allegations of altered grades and attendance," according to a press release the Department of Education issued Thursday.

"We made the decision to increase oversight of Corinthian Colleges after careful consideration and as part of our obligations to protect hardworking taxpayers and students' futures," U.S. Education Undersecretary Ted Mitchell said in a statement.

Because of that lag, Corinthian's "existing cash balances will be insufficient to sustain it," the SEC filing warns.

"If the Company is unable to timely obtain alternate financing, the Company's cash flows will not be sufficient to meet its obligations as they become due, which would cause the Company to be unable to continue as a going concern," the document states.

Corinthian officials had no further comment.

PHOTO: In this June 30, 2009 file photo, Larry Wostenberg teaches an engine management systems class at the WyoTech technical school campus in Laramie, Wyo. Associated Press/Mead Gruver.

June 19, 2014
Audit faults lack of consent for California inmate sterilizations

kjeffrey.jpgMore than one-quarter of inmate sterilizations performed in California from mid-2005 to mid-2013 followed deficient consent procedures, including 18 cases in which the waiting period between consent and surgery was potentially violated, the state auditor said Thursday.

State Auditor Elaine Howle said in a report that of 144 inmates sterilized using bilateral tubal ligations, 39 inmates were sterilized "following deficiencies in the informed consent process." In addition to cases in which the auditor said waiting periods may have been violated, the auditor found no evidence in 27 of 39 cases that the inmate's doctor had signed a required consent form.

"Our legal counsel has advised us that, based on these facts, a court would likely conclude that these 39 inmates' consent was not lawfully obtained," Howle said in her report.

The federal health receiver's office, which oversees medical care in state prisons, said in a written response that the audit's findings "date back to policy that was in effect in 1999, or possibly even before," noting the audit's finding that the use of sterilization has decreased significantly in recent years.

It said many of the auditor's concerns will be addressed by adopting an auditor's recommendation that the receiver defer the procedure for obtaining consent to hospitals where sterilizations are performed.

The state Senate passed legislation in May that would forbid jails and prisons from sterilizing inmates for the purpose of birth control, after the Center for Investigative Reporting found doctors under contract with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation sterilized nearly 150 inmates without required approvals.

PHOTO: Former Valley State Prison for Women inmate Kimberly Jeffrey with her son Noel, 3, shown in June 2013. During her imprisonment in 2010, Jeffrey says a doctor pressured her to agree to be sterilized, but she refused. Noah Berger/ For The Center for Investigative Reporting

June 19, 2014
AM Alert: Crude oil rail transport comes under scrutiny

crude_oil_rail.JPGThe volume of crude oil being shipped to California by rail surged last year, growing more than tenfold and raising concerns about public safety and transparency as these flammable cargoes roll through urban areas like downtown Sacramento.

Legislators have responded with bills that would require more communication by rail carriers to state emergency officials about crude oil shipments and impose a fee to train first responders to deal with major spills and fires on railway lines. Several safety provisions were also added to the budget, creating a fee for every barrel of crude that arrives in California by rail, to be used for oil spill prevention and emergency cleanup.

Lawmakers will explore the matter further during a hearing at 10 a.m. in Room 4203 of the Capitol. The session, jointly held by the Senate and Assembly natural resources committees and the Joint Legislative Committee on Emergency Management, will explore whether the state is prepared for a "boom" in crude oil rail transport, as well as the risks to local communities.

VIDEO: Lawmakers are hurriedly pushing through hundreds of bills before summer recess, Dan Walters says.

PIT STOP: Ahead of this weekend's Toyota/Save Mart 350 race at the Sonoma Raceway, NASCAR haulers will parade over the Tower Bridge and around the Capitol at noon. The massive race car-carrying trucks are 56 feet long, and a law was passed two years ago to allow them to drive on state roads. The Legislature is considering another bill this year that would extend that exemption. State Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, will launch the festivities at 8 a.m. at the 49er Travel Plaza on El Centro Road, presenting a resolution to NASCAR and Sonoma Raceway officials declaring today NASCAR Day in Sacramento.

HOSPITAL SAFETY: Nurses and other healthcare workers represented by SEIU gather at the State Resources Building on 9th Street at 9:30 a.m., urging California to adopt regulations protecting all healthcare workers from workplace violence. At 10 a.m., the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board will consider their petitions to create comprehensive regulations for preventing workplace violence in healthcare settings. Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, is scheduled to attend the demonstration, which has been prompted by two recent stabbings at Los Angeles hospitals, among other incidents.

INMATE HEALTH: With the expansion of Medi-Cal coverage under the Affordable Care Act, California's county jails could begin enrolling their "high-need, hard-to-reach populations" in health insurance, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. Researcher Mia Bird will discuss the "role of jail systems as health care providers" and the potential benefits of enrolling inmates in insurance plans, noon at the CSAC Conference Center on 11th street.

EQUAL TREATMENT: Mental health advocate Rose King and former Assemblywoman Helen Thomson lead a rally calling for an end to what they consider discrimination against mental illness treatment in Medi-Cal coverage and misuse of Proposition 63 funds for mental health services, 10:45 a.m. on the west steps of the Capitol.

MATERNITY CARE: Researchers and practitioners in the maternity health care field meet for a two-day symposium on "improving outcomes for mothers and babies in Medi-Cal," beginning at 1:30 p.m. at the Sacramento Convention Center. The event is sponsored by the California Department of Health Care Services, the UC Davis Health System and the California HealthCare Foundation.

ON THE ROAD: The Assembly Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color hosts a hearing on the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, with a focus on health, workforce training and higher education, 4 p.m. at the Milton Marks Auditorium in San Francisco.

PHOTO: A crude oil train operated by BNSF snakes its way through James, California, just outside the Feather River Canyon in the foothills of Sacramento Valley, on June 5, 2014. Special to The Bee/Jake Miille

June 19, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: Legislative activity booms before summer recess

20130530_HA_LOBBYIST0097.JPGThe Legislature is hurriedly pushing through hundreds of bills before a month-long break, Dan says.

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

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

PHOTO: Sacramento lobbyists Terry McHale and Carl London walk away from the Senate member entrance on May 30, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua



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Capitol Alert Staff


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

Dan Smith Dan Smith is Capitol bureau chief for The Sacramento Bee. smith@sacbee.com. Twitter: @DanielSnowSmith

Jim Miller Jim Miller covers California policy and politics and edits Capitol Alert. jmiller@sacbee.com. Twitter: @jimmiller2

David Siders David Siders covers the Brown administration. dsiders@sacbee.com. Twitter: @davidsiders

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

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

Jeremy White Jeremy B. White covers the Legislature. jwhite@sacbee.com. Twitter: @capitolalert

Koseff Alexei Koseff edits Capitol Alert's mobile Insider Edition. akoseff@sacbee.com. Twitter: @akoseff

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

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