CMA Capitol Insight With Anthony York: June 10, 2015
CMA Capitol Insight is a biweekly column by veteran journalist Anthony York, reporting on the inner workings of the state Legislature.
Long Legislative Days, Dry Summer Nights
It was a frantic week in Sacramento, with hundreds of bills passed by the Senate and Assembly as the Capitol wrestled with deadline week.
Last week, it was the house-of-origin deadline. All bills that started in the Assembly or Senate had to clear that house by Friday. The results were long legislative days, swarms of lobbyists huddled outside the Assembly and Senate chambers, and hundreds of bills now heading to the other house.
In the process, the state Senate passed sweeping legislation on climate change and assisted suicide, while the Assembly passed rules to regulate medical marijuana.
Meanwhile, the budget talks continue, with stakeholders and activists descending on Sacramento to plead their case as the June 15 deadline approaches for lawmakers to pass a spending plan.
There were groups demanding more money for child care, disability services, and, of course, Medi-Cal. The We Care for California Coalition brought its “Medi-Cal is me" message to the Capitol, attracting thousands to the Capitol steps to call for more money for the program that now treats an estimated one-third of all Californians.
Among the major issues to be resolved in the next couple of weeks is what to do about Medi-Cal reimbursement rates. California’s lowest-in-the-nation reimbursement rates have created pressures on the Medi-Cal network, which now serves more than 12.2 million Californians.
While coverage has been extended, many of those who are now covered by Medi-Cal are finding it hard to find a doctor who will see them. There is strong bipartisan consensus that the rates should be increased to incentivize more doctors to see poor patients, but Gov. Brown remains steadfastly opposed. Proponents of a new tobacco tax initiative would use the money from levies on cigarettes to raise money for provider rates.
Speaking of ballot measures, pensions could be coming to the statewide ballot in 2016. Former San Diego Councilman Carl DeMaio, a Republican, and Chuck Reed, the Democratic former mayor of San Jose, have joined forces on a new ballot proposal that was filed with the attorney general’s office this week.
If passed by voters, new state and local government employees hired on or after January 1, 2019, would be eligible to receive 401(k)-style retirement plans, but giving them a pension would require the approval of voters.
There have been past efforts to push pension changes on the ballot, but money has never materialized to pass the proposal. A 2014 effort by Reed was abandoned after receiving an unfavorable title and summary from Attorney General Kamala Harris’s office.
It’s unclear whether there is money to actually pass a pension measure. The campaign would attract tens of millions of dollars in opposition from organized labor, and would need a well-funded effort to win voter approval — especially in a presidential election year, where the electorate tends to skew more Democratic.
But getting the measure to the ballot would be easier in 2016 than in any year in recent memory. The number of signatures needed to qualify a measure is a percentage of the vote in the last general election. Due to low voter turnout in the 2014 election, this year’s initiative signature threshold is lower than it has been in decades.
To place the constitutional amendment on the ballot, it would take just 585,407 valid signatures. That lower threshold could bring down the cost of qualifying the measure by hundreds of thousands of dollars.