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Archive for May, 2011

Stark co-hosts mental health meeting for Congress

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, and so Rep. Pete Stark – ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee and member of the Congressional Mental Health Caucus – joined today with caucus co-chair Grace Napolitano, D-Norwalk, to host a “Mental Health First-Aid” workshop for members of Congress and their staffs.

The comprehensive, four-hour session taught participants the warning signs of mental illness and gave them an overview of what those suffering from mental illness experience and how they can be helped.

“Education is the best weapon against stigma. One of the reasons mental health disorders can be so challenging to handle is because the illness often prevents the person from understanding they need help,” Stark, D-Fremont, said in a news release. “I know from dealing with situations in my own office how upsetting it can be, for my staff and my constituents both, when we don’t understand what someone needs or how we can help. Knowing how to recognize the signs of mental illness and how best to respond are critical to helping us provide the kind of service our constituents deserve.”

The workshop’s information was presented by the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare. President and CEO Linda Rosenberg and public education director Bryan Gibb explained how to recognize the most common mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, and psychosis, and how to direct those that need help to care if those issues are detected.

“People may know CPR or the Heimlich Maneuver, but the truth is they are more likely to come across someone in an emotional crisis than someone having a heart attack. Mental Health First Aid emphasizes that mental illnesses are real, common, and treatable, and that help is available,” Rosenberg said.

Despite the flurry of cheap shots about Stark, Democrats and mental illness that’s sure to ensue in this post’s comments, it’s no laughing matter. Stark’s office notes that one out of four Americans suffers from a mental health issue, according to a 2005 Harvard study; suicide is the third-leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 24, according to the National Institute of Health; and more than 90 percent of people who die by suicide have diagnosable mental disorders, often depression or a substance-abuse problem, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Yet while mental health disorders cost the U.S. economy $193 billion in lost earnings per year, according to the American Journal of Psychiatry, state mental health programs were cut nationally by 4 percent in 2009, by 5 percent in 2010, and are estimated to be cut by more than 8 percent this year, according to

Posted on Thursday, May 26th, 2011
Under: Pete Stark, U.S. House | 2 Comments »

First Lady to visit Bay Area in June

First Lady Michelle Obama will be visiting the Bay Area on Tuesday, June 14, according to a White House official; no details yet, but it’ll be a fundraising event amid a trip that will include some official events in California as well.

Posted on Thursday, May 26th, 2011
Under: Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Pete Stark, others offer medical marijuana bills

House members including Rep. Pete Stark introduced a trio of bills today that would afford new protections for medical marijuana providers and users.

marijuana moneyStark, D-Fremont, introduced H.R. 1985, the Small Business Tax Equity Act of 2011, which would let medical marijuana dispensaries deduct business expenses from their federal taxes like any other organization or business. Among the bill’s original cosponsors are Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, and Ron Paul, R-Texas.

“Our tax code undercuts legal medical marijuana dispensaries by preventing them from taking all the deductions allowed for other small businesses,” Stark said. “While unfair to these small business owners, the tax code also punishes the patients who rely on them for safe and reliable access to medical marijuana prescribed by a doctor. The Small Business Tax Equity Act would correct these shortcomings.”

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., introduced H.R. 1983, the States’ Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act of 2011, which would explicitly exempt people in compliance with their state medical marijuana law from federal arrest and prosecution. The bill also would direct the administration to start the process of “rescheduling” marijuana, moving it off the Controlled Substances Act’s list of most-restricted drugs.

“For the federal government to come in and supersede state law is a real mistake for those in pain for whom nothing else seems to work,” Frank said. “This bill would block the federal prosecution of those patients who reside in those states that allow medical marijuana.”

And Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., introduced H.R. 1984, the Small Business Banking Improvement Act of 2011, which would protect banks that accept deposits from medical marijuana dispensaries from federal fines or seizures. Stark and Paul cosponsored this bill.

“When a small business, such as a medical marijuana dispensary, can’t access basic banking services they either have to become cash-only—and become targets of crime—or they’ll end up out-of-business,” Polis said. “In states that have legalized medical marijuana, and for businesses that have been state-approved, it is simply wrong for the federal government to intrude and threaten banks that are involved in legal transactions.”

Bill Piper, the Drug Policy Alliance’s director of national affairs, said the Justice Department “thinks it can bully not just state elected officials but also patients and those who provide for them. Members of Congress need to stand up for patients and the will of the American people and push back against this federal overreach.”

The alliance and other medical marijuana advocates note President Obama during his 2008 campaign said he would end the Bush Administration’s policy of attacking state medical marijuana programs, and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said shortly after taking office that he agreed with Obama’s position. The U.S. Justice Department in 2009 sent U.S. Attorneys across the nation a letter directing that they “should not focus federal resources in [their] States on individuals in clear and unambiguous compliance with state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.”

Yet the Drug Enforcement Administration, still headed by Bush-appointee Michele Leonhart, has continued to raid medical marijuana providers, they argue, and federal prosecutors in recent months have begun sending intimidating letters to state elected officials in a number of states that either have or are considering state-licensed medical marijuana distribution systems.

“The Department of Justice’s new policy is forcing the public and patients to deal with a chaotic, unregulated medical marijuana market,” Drug Police Alliance staff attorney Tamar Todd said. “It is beyond question that states want to and have the right to legalize medical marijuana under state law. The question now is whether states should be able to implement medical marijuana programs consistent with the needs of patients and of public safety and health. The legislation introduced today would allow states to implement reasonable, responsible regulations.”

Posted on Wednesday, May 25th, 2011
Under: marijuana, Pete Stark, U.S. House | No Comments »

Money for veteran event may be restored



A successful amendment passed today to a House defense authorization bill would restore federal dollars for East Bay Stand Down, an annual event in Pleasanton that provides aide to homeless military veterans.

Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, authored the amendment.

Under the original version of the National Defense Authorization Act, according to McNerney’s office, funding was cut for innovative readiness training, the program that allowed military reservists to participate in East Bay Stand Down.

McNerney also authored a second successful amendment that requires coordinated credit counseling for active members of the military and their families.

Read on for McNerney’s full press release.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Wednesday, May 25th, 2011
Under: veterans | 1 Comment »

Boxer: Military suicides merit presidential letters

A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators including Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., wrote to President Obama today urging him to reverse a long-standing policy of not sending Presidential letters of condolence to families of American service members who commit suicide.

“We should honor the service of all the brave military men and women who sacrifice for our nation,” Boxer, who chairs the Senate Military Family Caucus, said in a news release. “Ending this long-standing policy will provide comfort to the families struggling with the loss of a loved one, while also reducing the stigma that prevents too many men and women in uniform from seeking the mental health care they need.”

The senators’ letter highlights a growing number of suicides among troops serving in Afghanistan and Iraq and points to a Department of Defense study which found that between 2005 and 2009, there was an average of one suicide every 36 hours in the military. Many administrations have had this policy of withholding condolence letters from families of military suicides, but opponents of the policy say it’s hurtful to such families and reinforces the stigma within the military surrounding mental health issues.

Besides Boxer, the letter was signed by Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.; Richard Burr, R-N.C.; Ben Cardin, D-Md.; Richard Durbin, D-Ill.; Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.; Mark Pryor, D-Ark.; Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.; Jon Tester, D-Mont.; Mark Udall, D-Colo.; and Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

Read the full letter, after the jump…
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Wednesday, May 25th, 2011
Under: Barbara Boxer, U.S. Senate | 2 Comments »

Swanson: Inmate release bumps food-stamp need

Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding an order that California must release tens of thousands of inmates from its unconstitutionally overcrowded prisons is one more, big, new reason why some ex-cons should be eligible for food stamps, says Assemblyman Sandre Swanson.

Swanson, D-Alameda, is the author of AB 828, the Nutritional Assistance for Families Act, which would let people convicted of certain non-violent, drug-related felonies receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. Federal law bars certain former offenders from receiving such benefits, but lets states opt out of the ban; 14 states have eliminated the ban entirely, and 21 have modified it.

The Assembly on Monday voted 46-30 to pass the bill; it now goes to the state Senate.

“Nearly 46,000 prisoners will soon be released into our communities,” Swanson said in a news release. “Whether you are happy with this or not, the fact is that the state is about to absorb a huge population of ex-felons and we must be realistic about how to support them and their families as they attempt to transition back into society. If a person’s most critical needs are not met when they re-enter society after serving time in prison, they won’t have the tools necessary for a successful and safe return. Without basic support, such as food, many of them will return to criminal activity and drug use instead of gainful employment and sobriety.”

“I understand being hard on crime. I stand behind stricter penalties and fines for criminals. However, once a person has successfully served his sentence, he should have tools available to successfully reintegrate.”

Swanson noted California’s recidivism rate is at 70 percent, the nation’s highest, and most Californians would prefer their tax dollars to support education and job creation rather than housing and re-housing the same inmates over and over again.

“California’s restrictive policies are inhibiting its access to federal monies,” he said. “AB 828 will tap into these federal funds, which will ultimately support agriculture, increase sales tax revenue, reduce the state’s recidivism rate, and provide fundamental services to families at a time of dire need. Economists estimate that for every dollar of SNAP funds spent, the local economy receives $1.75 in return. During these times of unprecedented program cuts and joblessness, we cannot leave federal dollars on the table that would ultimately help stimulate our economy and increase public safety by helping communities safely absorb the 46,000 prisoners who may end up living as our neighbors.”

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed two similar bills by Swanson in 2007 and 2008. In the latter veto message, Schwarzenegger wrote that “extending food stamp eligibility to drug dealers or traffickers, upon the condition that they engage in drug treatment, will not ensure these individuals will stop selling or trafficking illegal drugs. Therefore, this bill does not provide a targeted approach to the right population and does not ensure adequate public safety protections.”

Swanson tried again last year, but the bill got held up in the Senate Appropriations suspense file and never made it to a floor vote. As the Assembly OKed it last May, Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine – then a GOP primary candidate for U.S. Senate – blasted the idea, saying “(g)iving felony-level drug dealers government funds with no strings attached undermines the very concept of holding them accountable for their actions. With just 12 percent of the nation’s population residing here, California is home to 32 percent of the welfare recipients in the United States. We should be encouraging Californians to become self-reliant, not enlarging the welfare rolls with convicted felons. Each dollar given to drug felons is a dollar that could go to an out of work family with children to care for.”

Posted on Wednesday, May 25th, 2011
Under: Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Pension initiative enters circulation

UPDATE ON WEDNESDAY MORNING: Former Assemblyman Roger Niello now says he won’t pursue the signatures for his public employee pension rollback initiative, which prompted this response from a state union coalition:

“It is appropriate that the flawed Niello initiative to gut retirement security for millions of Californians will end up in the scrapheap of politically-motivated failures instead of on the ballot. It was a poorly drafted attempt to punish middle-class workers and it ignored the fact that workers have agreed to substantial reductions in retirement benefits and have increased their contributions towards pensions from 5 to 10 percent. We continue to believe the way to improve the state’s pension system is at the bargaining table, not the ballot box.”

Former Republican Assemblyman Roger Niello of Sacramento is clear for signature take-off on his controversial public employee pension reform initiative.

The Secretary of State officially announced today that he may begin collecting the required 807,615 signatures of California voters in order to qualify the measure for the statewide ballot.

The constitutional amendment strips public employee unions of their right to negotiate their pensions in collective bargaining, sets the retirement age at 62 and caps benefits at 60 percent of an employee’s highest average base wage over three years. It also requires that workers match the public contribution to their premiums.

Polls indicate that public sentiment is with Niello but can he raise the tens of thousands of dollars it will cost to obtain the signatures? And more important, can he financially withstand the labor barrage that will come his way if he does it?

Read on for the news release from the Secretary of State’s Office.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Tuesday, May 24th, 2011
Under: ballot measures, pension reform | 11 Comments »

‘The Barbaras’ weigh in on GOP Medicare plan

Democrats ramped up the rhetoric today as the U.S. Senate draws nearer its vote on the House Republicans’ budget plan, which includes recasting Medicare into a system in which seniors would receive vouchers to pay for private health insurance.

From U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.:

From Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland:

UPDATE @ 6:05 P.M.: I’ve been checking to see if the House GOP leadership would post videos of any floor speeches on this topic today; seeing none, I’ll add House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan‘s “Meet the Press” interview from the day before yesterday:

Posted on Tuesday, May 24th, 2011
Under: Barbara Boxer, Barbara Lee, healthcare reform, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 1 Comment »

Hercules recall targets fight back

Hercules City Council recall targets Don Kuehne and Joanne Ward are fighting back with flyers that just hit mailboxes around town.

In one mailer (see link below) former Hercules Mayor Charleen Raines defends Kuehne’s actions during the meltdown of its former City Manager Nelson Oliva. And Kuehne writes in his that many of the budget decisions that led to the city’s financial troubles were made before he even took office.

Ward’s mailer focuses on her work on the new library and favorable testimonies from people such as former Councilman Frank Batara and retired Hercules Police Chief Mike Tye about her other city initiatives, a clear attempt to persuade voters that her candidacy has been about more than the city’s budget and management problems. It makes no mention of any of the contentious issues for which recall proponents say they seek her removal.

Updated information: The joint mailer (see second link below) points the nasty finger of blame for all the city’s woes on Hercules’ three former city managers — Nelson Oliva, Mike Sakamoto and Ken Hobbs. What? Are city managers like tornadoes that descend without notice on a helpless community or are they hired by city councils?

Ward was on the council that hired the last two city managers.  Kuehne can legitimately claim that he didn’t hire any of them, although he did vote to bring Oliva back after the council canned interim city manager Charlie Long for so-called insubordination. (Long had put out a series of grim memos about the city’s sad state of affairs.)

The other page of the Ward-Kuehne flyer promotes four reforms: Shift to an elected city clerk and treasurer as a means to promote more open government; adopt a city ordinance that bans its city manager from consulting with other cities and prohibits the hiring of anyone as city manager who has worked in real estate development; create an employee whistle-blowing program; and put an end to “semi-secret” meetings scheduled at inconvenient times and designed to subvert public participation.

Wow. The recall targets are running as the reform candidates. Who would have predicted it?

I suspect it will all be too little and too late to save the incumbents, but we’ll see what happens in the June 7 election.

Former Councilman Ed Balico would have been recalled if he had not resigned. Three people seek his vacant seat — Dan Romero, Sherry McCoy and Mark Anthony Jones.

If Ward is recalled, voters will select among two candidates to replace her — William Wilkins and Virgil De La Vega.

One man seeks to replace Kuehne if the incumbent loses his post — Gerard Boulanger.

Hercules recall flyers Hercules recall mailer #2

Posted on Tuesday, May 24th, 2011
Under: Contra Costa County, Contra Costa politics | 1 Comment »

Today’s Congressional odds and ends

Jerry McNerneyMcNerney seeks jobs for vets: Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, today announced he’s among the co-authors of the bipartisan Hiring Heroes Act of 2011, aimed at helping reduce unemployment among veterans. Among other provisions, H.R. 1941 aims to ensure every veteran takes part in the Transition Assistance Program – which provides information about transitioning from military service to civilian life to armed forces members within 180 days of their separation or retirement – and that the program delivers individualized assistance to each returning veteran. The bill also encourages federal agencies to hire veterans; provides additional Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment benefits to qualifying veterans with service-connected disabilities; creates a competitive grant program for nonprofits that help veterans find employment through job training and mentorship initiatives; and requires the Department of Labor, the Department of Defense, and the VA to work to reduce and eliminate barriers between military training and civilian licensing requirements for specialized work. “Taking aggressive steps to help returning veterans find good jobs is the right thing to do and will benefit the economy,” McNerney said in a news release. “Employers and veterans alike will benefit from the Hiring Heroes Act, and I look forward to working with a bipartisan group of my colleagues to move this bill forward.” The bill was introduced yesterday by Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., and the other co-sponsors are Bob Filner, D-San Diego; C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla.; and Norm Dicks, D-Wash. Companion legislation was introduced in the Senate earlier this year.

John GaramendiGaramendi again urges Afghanistan withdrawal: Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, brought his amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, calling for a substantial drawdown in U.S. forces in Afghanistan by 2013, to the House Rules Committee today. He’d brought a similar amendment last week to the Armed Services Committee, of which he’s a member; the bill without his amendment was approved in a 60-1 vote with Garamendi the sole dissenter, saying he couldn’t in good conscience vote for a bill that extends the counterinsurgency strategy and needlessly puts servicemembers’ lives at risk. He instead advocates pulling most troops out and shifting the remaining ones away from nation building and toward tightly focused counterterrorism efforts.

Pete StarkStark pushes missing-kids bill: Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee’s ranking Democrat, will host a news conference tomorrow – which is National Missing Children’s Day – to introduce the Recovering Missing Children Act. His office says the bill would ensure that state and local law enforcement have access to the resources they need to bring missing children home safely. The U.S. Treasury Department studied 1,700 parental abductions and found that in over one third of the cases, tax returns were filed using the missing child’s Social Security number; hundreds of those tax returns had a new address for the child and the abductor, but law enforcement officers weren’t allowed access to this information. The Recovering Missing Children Act would allow such access. Expected to join Stark for the bill’s introduction are U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn.; Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn.; Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio; National Center for Missing and Exploited Children President Ernie Allen; and Association of Missing and Exploited Children’s Organizations National Coordinator Wendy Jolley-Kabi.

Posted on Tuesday, May 24th, 2011
Under: Afghanistan, economy, Jerry McNerney, John Garamendi, Pete Stark, U.S. House, veterans | 2 Comments »