The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

May 30, 2013
Many interesting reasons why plastic bag ban failed

A bill to ban single-use plastic bags in California fell three votes short in the state Senate today, and it's interesting to note how it got hit from all sides.

As The Bee's Capitol bureau reports, some Democrats voted against Senate Bill 405 because they said it would cost jobs in bag factories. Others said the Legislature shouldn't be trying to legislate behavior by trying to force shoppers to go for reusable bags.

Sen. Leland Yee, a San Francisco Democrat, also voted no. That's kind of curious because San Francisco was a pioneer among local governments banning plastic bags. He didn't speak on the floor to explain his vote.

I'm sure it had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that he is running for secretary of state -- and so is the author of SB 405, Sen. Alex Padilla of Los Angeles.

The conspiracy-minded might also take note that Yee's former chief of staff, Adam Keigwin, went to work recently, though not as a registered lobbyist, for Mercury Public Affairs, which represents the plastic bag industry.

Four Democrats did not vote, which in this instance (an 18-17 tally when 21 votes were needed) was like voting no and thus almost certainly killing the bill for the year. They included Sen. Lois Wolk of Davis, who, as today's Bee editorial in support of SB 405 noted, supports a tax on both plastic and paper shopping bags instead.

May 22, 2013
Video highlights vets working in salmon restoration program

Now, there's a video that shows one of the more interesting pilot projects to find new careers for returning veterans.

As I wrote about in December, vets are helping restore salmon populations along California's North Coast.

The video was released Wednesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is partnering with the California Conservation Corps and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife on the project.

The video features Carolyn Jacobson, who says she had a hard time translating her experiences as a .50-caliber gunner. It also includes Nate Stalioraitis, whom I met and who moved to California from Pennsylvania for the program.

Unemployment for younger vets is at crisis levels in California and elsewhere.

May 21, 2013
Sacramento City Council wades into anti-gang money debate

City Councilman Allen Warren got to the crux of the matter Tuesday afternoon: How can Sacramento get the most bang for the buck in fighting gangs?

As The Bee's editorial board pointed out, the council has before it a staff proposal, another from the Mayor's Gang Prevention Task Force and a third from the Sacramento Safe Community Partnership, which brought Ceasefire to town. At the same time, Police Chief Sam Somers Jr. is starting his own "cops and clergy" initiative to persuade gang leaders to give up the street life.

So Warren asked more good questions: Are these efforts complementary? Or are they competing for resources?

The answer seems to be a little of both.

Ceasefire could potentially receive a grant if the council funds the mayor's task force request for $1 million in Measure U money in 2013-14. But those supporting Ceasefire say there's no guarantee and want their own $490,000 budget item. Meanwhile, the city Parks and Recreation Department is planning to restore programs for at-risk youth at community centers.

Warren has a particular interest because his district includes Del Paso Heights, the likely candidate to be the next Ceasefire neighborhood if the money is approved.

Warren said he believes Ceasefire can make a difference, but said there should be a multi-pronged approach with all these groups working together.

The big questions now are whether that kind of cooperation is possible -- and whether an agreement can be worked out before the council adopts the budget.

May 21, 2013
More hope to cut backlog of VA disability claims?

There's a flurry of activity on VA disability claims -- and, just maybe, some hope that the disgracefully long waits endured by veterans will be reduced.

Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced a partnership with the American Legion and Disabled American Veterans to help vets submit complete files, including private and federal treatment records, when they first file a claim. The VA says that can cut processing time in half.

The VA's goal is that by 2015, claims will be processed within 125 days with 98 percent accuracy. It's nowhere close to meeting that goal. About 570,000 current claims, nearly two-thirds of all claims, have been pending longer than that.

Last week, it announced that more than 10,000 workers at claims offices will be required to work at least 20 hours of overtime a month through September to cut the backlog.

Also Tuesday, Congressman Jerry McNerney, a Stockton Democrat, said that the House Appropriations Committee has agreed to his recommendation that any VA office with an average wait time of 200 days or more be required to report quarterly to Congress on its progress. The office in Oakland, which serves veterans in Northern California and has a branch in Sacramento, has one of the worst records.

Wednesday, a group of House Democrats, led by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a San Francisco Democrat, plans to unveil a package of bills to cut the backlog.

The Bee's editorial board has repeatedly called on VA officials to follow through on their promises to fix the backlog of claims, many from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. These new actions could be part of that solution.

May 2, 2013
2013 State Fair concert lineup is an encouraging sign

The new boss at the California State Fair promised free concerts every night and a modern mix of acts.

Looking at the lineup announced today for the 2013 fair, he seems to be following through. There are acts booked for all but the last night, on July 28. And while they include some tribute bands and groups way past their prime, there are some that people would recognize: En Vogue, Hoostabank, Lonestar and LeeAnn Rimes.

The Bee's editorial board is guardedly optimistic about new Cal Expo Rick Pickering's capacity to turn around a fair that had become rather tired and predictable.

On the concert score, at least, so far, so good.

May 1, 2013
Ami Bera dings Obama administration for rollout of Affordable Care Act

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius might want to carve out a few minutes to chat with Rep. Ami Bera, one of two Democratic members of Congress who happens to be a physician.

They probably could find more to discuss than the weather, like maybe President Barack Obama's signature domestic achievement, the Affordable Care Act which is supposed to take full effect at the start of 2014.

"We have one chance to get this right," Bera told The Bee's editorial board. "If this fails and blows up, it is probably another decade if not longer before health care and we don't have another decade."

As a former chief medical officer for Sacramento County and an assistant dean at UC Davis medical school, Bera, an Elk Grove Democrat, might have a few suggestions about Obamacare's impending roll-out.

"I'm moderately to very concerned," Bera said. "I have been consistently concerned about the cost of care going up."

He added: "I worry that when the Affordable Care Act was originally passed, they did a very poor job of explaining it. ... I don't know that they're doing a much better job telling people about what the roll-out is going to look like."

Bera said he and his fellow freshman-physician, Rep. Raul Ruiz, a Democrat from the Palm Springs area, have not yet gotten on Sebelius' calendar, although they've "asked a couple of times for a meeting."

Why not, we asked?

"I don't know. I'd like to have that meeting."

Perhaps a formal letter is in order.

Bera addressed the related matter of granting non-physicians more authority to treat patients, suggesting physicians might need to agree cede turf to others such as nurse practitioners or optometrists.

"Reimbursement is going to change dramatically or your scope of practice is going to change," Bera said he tells physicians. "Which do you want to fight for?"

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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