The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

June 28, 2012
Live chat replay with Pia Lopez: Obama health care reforms

June 28, 2012
Editorial: John Roberts leads court in saving health care act

California can proceed, without skipping a beat, in implementing the national Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the landmark legislation signed into law by President Barack Obama in March 2010.

This state and nation can and should proceed with enrolling the millions of uninsured and bringing health care costs under control. Congressional Republicans should drop their effort to repeal the act, although they won't. The fight now moves to the ballot box.

The U.S. Supreme Court today rightly upheld the law. The individual mandate, requiring Americans to buy health insurance or pay a penalty so they don't shift costs to others, stands. The court's limits on the expansion of Medicaid only apply to states that don't want to participate, so California can proceed.

The 5-4 division in the court on this decision, with Chief Justice John Roberts as the tiebreaker, reveals that the high court is as divided as the American people on the boundaries of powers between the federal government and the states -- and the role of the court itself in policing those boundaries.

That conversation clearly will continue.

But in upholding the law passed by Congress and signed by the president, the chief justice wrote an elegant opinion for the ages on judicial restraint, properly understood.

He made it clear that the court should allow the people of the United States through their elected branches to make decisions, writing:

"Members of this Court are vested with the authority to interpret the law; we possess neither the expertise nor the prerogative to make policy judgments. Those decisions are entrusted to our Nation's elected leaders, who can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them."

Roberts concluded: "It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices."

People who don't like the Affordable Care Act can go to the polls in November and elect people who promise to change it, as can those who support it. For now, however, the court has upheld a landmark law, and that is a good thing for the nation, and for California, the largest health care market in the nation.

June 27, 2012
G.I. Bill abuses show why California vets want service to count
As the California Legislature dawdles on bills to help veterans get credit for training they received while in the military, lawmakers should take note of an interesting settlement today.

As I wrote in May, one of the arguments for the measures to require colleges and licensing boards to count relevant training and experience is to protect veterans from for-profit schools preying on them for their G.I. Bill benefits.

In the settlement announced today, QuinStreet Inc., an Internet marketing company based in Foster City, agreed to turn over its website,, to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The company also will pay $2.5 million to 20 states whose attorneys general alleged that the website misled veterans by only listing schools that were QuinStreet clients as places where they could use their educational benefits.

California isn't one of the 20 states sharing in the settlement, but veterans here are also heavily recruited by for-profit schools seeking G.I. Bill money. Those benefits have been increased for those who served in the military since 9/11.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who is co-chairwoman of the Senate's Military family Caucus, praised the settlement and also plugged a bill she introduced earlier this month that would prohibit the deceptive use of the phrase "G.I. Bill" and would give it the same protection that Congress has given to "Medicare" and Social Security."

"For too long, our nation's veterans have been the targets of these misleading ads and marketing schemes," Boxer said in a statement. "The settlement announced today by Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway is the first step toward cracking down on these predatory practices. I will continue my push for legislation to permanently protect the phrase 'GI Bill' in law so that we can end these abuses once and for all."
June 13, 2012
New hope for new veterans homes in Fresno and Redding?
It's possible that new veterans homes in Fresno and Redding will open sooner than planned.

After an intense campaign by veterans and local legislators, the Senate Budget Committee this week joined its Assembly counterpart in allocating $10.6 million to start ramping up operations in January and get veterans into the homes by July 2013.

That's six months earlier than scheduled in Gov. Jerry Brown's budget, which calls for keeping them shuttered until at least January 2014. Until then, the state would spend some $280,000 a month for basic maintenance.

As I wrote last November, that doesn't seem to make a lot of sense.

There are veterans waiting to get into these homes. And the state and federal governments have already spent tons of money to build them. The 300-bed home in Fresno cost $159 million, while the 150-bed home in Redding cost $88 million

But the continuing budget crunch makes the fate of the money uncertain at best as negotiations go until the last minutes before Friday's deadline.

Even if the Legislature signs off, there's no sign yet that the governor would go along.

Assemblyman Henry Perea, a Fresno Democrat, is urging veterans and their supporters to call Brown's office. "The Legislature is sending a clear message to the governor that our veterans are a priority," Assemblymember Perea said in a statement today. "This fight is not over yet."
June 11, 2012
One federal judge on way to confirmation, two more nominated
Ever so slowly, the logjam continues to break on California's federal judges.

The U.S. Senate today barely reached the 60 votes needed to cut off debate on the nomination of Andrew Hurwitz for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco. The final confirmation vote on Hurwitz, now a justice on the Arizona Supreme Court, is expected Tuesday morning. UPDATE: Hurwitz was confirmed on a voice vote.

Also today, President Barack Obama announced he has put forward two more nominations for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. They are Jon Tigar, a judge on the Alameda Superior Court since 2002, and William H. Orrick III, now a deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights in Washington, D.C.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, recommended both. She issued a statement today praising their legal backgrounds and said that both will be strong additions to the federal bench.

California has some of the busiest federal courts in the country. That includes the Northern District, which starts at the Oregon border and goes down the coast through the Bay Area to Monterey.

But some open judicial positions have been sitting vacant for many months, if not years.

Some of the delay has been in Obama making nominations, but more of it has been Republican recalcitrance. Hurwitz, for instance, was held up even though both Republican senators in Arizona supported him.
June 11, 2012
Regional Parks will get a forum in county budget hearings
Another department will get its own platform at Sacramento County's budget hearings after all.

After requests from advocates and others to him and to county supervisors, County Executive Brad Hudson announced at the start of the budget meeting this morning that the Regional Parks will have its own presentation at 3 p.m. Tuesday.

Hudson is recommending that the parks system get about $7.8 million in 2012-13 -- nearly $300,000 less than in 2011-12. The Regional Parks budget has been slashed in recent years, its longtime director Janet Baker retired last year and it has turned over some operations to nonprofits and the private sector, like Gibson Ranch

Though Hudson denied it, several supervisors were told that he initially planned for only the elected department heads -- District Attorney Jan Scully and Sheriff Scott Jones -- to present their budget proposals directly to supervisors. They are both planning to lobby this morning for more money. The sheriff wants $10.7 million more, while the district attorney is seeking another $2.2 million.

UPDATED: The heads of Human Assistance and Health and Human Services, among other major agencies, addressed the board as well. In wrapping up today's session, Supervisor Phil Serna thanked Hudson for responding to early criticism and noted that those agencies had less bad news to report on their financial pictures. 

Hudson has defended how he has put together his proposed budget. He told supervisors this morning that there has been plenty of community outreach. After his plan was posted on the county's website last Tuesday, an email blast went out to 40,000 people, he said.
June 8, 2012
Mayor Johnson, Rewers make nice after Tuesday election
There are apparently few, if any, hard feelings between Mayor Kevin Johnson and Jonathan Rewers, his most aggressive challenger in Tuesday's election.

At Thursday night's City Council meeting, Rewers congratulated the mayor. Johnson won a second term with 58 percent of the vote, while Rewers finished a respectable second with 24 percent in a grassroots campaign I profiled in which he said some not very kind things about the mayor.

"We both get to keep our old jobs," Rewers said.

"You made me work for it," Johnson replied.

The main reason Rewers showed up at Thursday night's meeting was to urge the City Council to consider a November sales tax measure. As chairman of the city Parks and Recreation Commission, he said that panel is working on a recommendation on how much money from a sales tax hike the parks system should get and what programs might benefit.

One obvious possibility, Rewers said, is to keep the city's pools open. A $1 million fund-raising drive led by Save Mart Supermarkets came to the rescue for this summer, but that money would have to be found for next year.

The Bee's editorial board today identified another possible way to spend money from a tax measure -- an anti-gang program that is running out of cash.

A quarter-cent sales tax increase would raise nearly $16 million a year for the city. But several council members said before asking voters to pay higher taxes, the city has to get its house in order -- including decreasing employee pension costs.

There are negotiations underway with city unions, but it doesn't appear they will be complete before Tuesday night, when the council is scheduled to approve a 2012-13 budget that includes another $16 million in spending cuts and another 252 in job reductions.

Under the proposal going before council members, any unions that agree to concessions by June 30 would have the layoffs in their area deferred. The council would have until July 31 to formally approve new labor pacts.
June 6, 2012
Editorial: Mayor Johnson must build agenda for second term
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson handily won a second term Tuesday, but he can hardly claim a mandate.

Against challengers he repeatedly reminded us were not credible and whom he vastly outspent, he appears to have failed to reach 60 percent of the vote. The City Council candidate whom he and his business allies put the most energy and money into supporting lost. And in his victory speech, the mayor basically conceded that he hadn't given voters an agenda.

Johnson told supporters Tuesday night that before he takes the oath of office in November, he plans to come up with a "clear vision" so he can "hit the ground running."

He also vowed to unite the fractious council and to build new coalitions that "transcend old divisions."

The results in the four council races on Tuesday's ballot, however, suggest that will not be an easy task.

In south Sacramento's District 8, incumbent Bonnie Pannell staved off former local NAACP leader Betty Williams, who had Johnson's active support as well as boatloads of campaign cash from Better Sacramento, the political action committee created by business leaders who support Johnson.

In District 6, Kevin McCarty easily won a third term. He has been one of the most vocal opponents of Johnson's proposals to give the mayor's office more power, and was also a skeptic on the mayor's push for a downtown arena.

In the District 4 seat being vacated by Rob Fong, Phyllis Newton - the choice of the Better Sacramento PAC - did not make the November runoff. It will instead feature Steve Hansen, a midtown activist and Genentech manager, and Joe Yee, a longtime city planning commissioner who lives in Land Park. Both oppose Johnson's "strong mayor" proposals.

The mayor still has a chance to add an ally in north Sacramento's District 2, where Sandy Sheedy - a thorn in Johnson's side - is stepping aside. Developer Allen Warren, whom Johnson backed, made the runoff against former councilman Rob Kerth.

All in all, Johnson can celebrate four more years in office, but he would be fooling himself to see the election results as a ringing endorsement.

To be truly effective in a second term, he has to follow through on his pledges to unite the city behind a shared vision. He says he believes that Sacramento's best days still lie ahead. He has a lot of work to do to lead the city toward that future.
June 6, 2012
Editorial: Twin Rivers school board must deliver

Voters in the troubled Twin Rivers Unified School District want change. Their votes on Tuesday clearly signal that.

Three of four incumbents up for re-election appear headed toward defeat, although late votes are still being counted. In a fifth contest, the incumbent did not seek re-election, and a challenger unaligned with either of two competing factions in the district won the seat. In addition, voters handily approved a measure to change the method of voting in Twin Rivers from at-large to district elections.

When the newly elected board takes office, four of the seven members -- a majority -- could be new to the board. Three of the four new members and incumbent Cortez Quinn, who appeared headed toward re-election, were members of a slate that challenged the former board majority.

Assuming the numbers hold up, this new majority now faces the daunting task of healing bitter divisions that have beset Twin Rivers since it was formed four years ago. Their first order of business will be to hire a new superintendent who can rebuild trust, while keeping the district solvent and moving forward in a challenging economic environment. The district also must deal with an ongoing investigation of its police department.

Meanwhile, two board members face their own trust issues. Late in the campaign, it was disclosed that Michael Baker, the new District 1 Trustee, apparently lied about holding degrees from the University of Nevada. Even more serious, District 5 Trustee Quinn is embroiled in an embarrassing paternity suit involving a district employee, and is accused of borrowing money from the employee.

Those are unfortunate distractions that must not be allowed to disrupt the district's urgent business of educating kids. During their campaigns, the candidates made elaborate promises about ending the feuding, building enrollment, improving student achievement and increasing graduation rates.

Now is the time to deliver.

About The Swarm

The Swarm is written by members of The Sacramento Bee's editorial board. They meet daily and are separate from the newsroom. Views included here are those of individual writers, and do not necessarily reflect those of a majority of the board or the positions expressed in The Bee's editorials.

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