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Dentists ante up for cigarette tax hike

The California Dental Association said Tuesday it will kick in $1 million to help pass a proposed ballot measure that would raise California’s cigarette tax by $2 per pack and impose similar taxes on e-cigarettes.

That would bring the Save Lives California committee’s war chest to $6 million so far; the committee already has received $3 million from the Service Employees International Union’s California State Council; $1 million from the California Medical Association; and $1 million from hedge fund billionaire turned environmentalist Tom Steyer of San Francisco.

“Our contribution reflects the importance of this initiative to save lives and prevent more people from suffering the devastating effects of smoking-related diseases such as oral cancer and gum disease that dentists see every day in their practices,” California Dental Association President Ken Wallis said in a news release. “This measure will combat tobacco use and help fund essential programs to improve the oral health as well as the overall health of our most vulnerable Californians.”

The measure’s proponents are circulating petitions now; they must collect signatures from 585,407 registered voters by June 13 in order to qualify the measure for November’s ballot.

It’s likely to be a costly battle. California voters rejected a $1-per-pack increase in 2012 after tobacco companies outspent proponents about 4-to-1; that measure was defeated by just four-tenths of a percentage point, the narrowest defeat of any statewide measure in California’s history.

(I considered including a photo of a long-time smoker’s teeth, but the images I found were far too gross. You’re welcome.)

Posted on Tuesday, January 5th, 2016
Under: ballot measures | 3 Comments »

Early Christmas for ballot measure committees

Christmas came early for a few California ballot measure committees.

The California Health Foundation and Trust gave $2 million Tuesday to Californians United for Medi-Cal Funding and Accountability. That committee backs a measure on next November’s ballot which would require the state to use fees paid by hospitals and federal Medicaid matching funds only for the intended purpose of supporting hospital care to Medi-Cal patients and to help pay for healthcare for low-income children, unless the Legislature casts two-thirds votes to do otherwise.

Also, the California Medical Association gave $1 million Monday to the committee backing a proposed ballot measure that would raise California’s cigarette tax by $2 per pack. The Secretary of State’s office cleared that measure’s proponents to start circulating petitions earlier this month. The Service Employees International Union has already kicked in $3 million, and billionaire hedge fund manager turned environmentalist Tom Steyer of San Francisco has given $1 million.

Posted on Tuesday, December 22nd, 2015
Under: ballot measures | 4 Comments »

Newsom’s gun-control measure short on cash so far

Two months after Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled his proposal for a gun-control ballot measure, money has come in only at a trickle.

Gavin NewsomThe “Safety for All” ballot measure committee has collected $55,000 in large donations so far, according to records maintained by the Secretary of State’s office. That’s $35,000 this week from gun-control activist Anita Donofrio, a retiree from Ridgefield, Conn.; $10,000 last week from Esprit and The North Face co-founder Susie Buell of San Francisco; and $10,000 in October from heiress and philanthropist Aileen Getty of San Francisco.

Newsom in October had said he already had some offers of financial support and “we’re hoping to get a broad coalition of supporters.” Dan Newman, Newsom’s campaign strategist, said Friday that’s still the aim.

They have “tons of interest including solid commitments from people of all stripes who are fed up with the NRA,” Newman said. “We may never match them (the NRA) dollar for dollar, but I have complete confidence we’ll have what it takes.”

Newsom’s measure should receive its official title and summer from the state Attorney General’s office by the end of this month, and then will be able to start circulating petitions. Paid petition circulation for a statewide measure typically costs a few million dollars.

California’s current assault weapons ban allows those who already owned magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds before 2000 to register and keep them. Newsom’s measure would require owners to turn the outlawed magazines into police for destruction, sell them to a licensed firearms dealer or move them out of the state — just as San Francisco supervisors and Sunnyvale voters chose to require in 2013. New York, New Jersey, Hawaii and the District of Columbia also have such laws.

Newsom’s measure also would require licensing of ammunition sellers and instantaneous point-of-sale background checks for all ammunition purchases to weed out those convicted of a felony or a violent misdemeanor, those with restraining orders against them or those declared dangerously mentally ill. No other state requires background checks for ammunition purchases.

And the measure would require firearm owners to notify law enforcement if their firearm has been lost or stolen. Eleven states and the city of Sacramento already require this, but Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed bills to do just that in 2012 and 2013.

Posted on Friday, December 18th, 2015
Under: ballot measures, Gavin Newsom, gun control, Lt. Governor | 1 Comment »

Cigarette tax hike initiative starts circulating

One of the state’s most powerful labor unions, a billionaire, and a flock of health organizations can start circulating petitions for their proposed ballot measure to boost California’s cigarette tax by $2 per pack, Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced Wednesday.

Here’s the Attorney General’s official title and summary for the measure:

CIGARETTE TAX TO FUND HEALTHCARE, TOBACCO USE PREVENTION, RESEARCH, AND LAW ENFORCEMENT. INITIATIVE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT AND STATUTE. Increases cigarette tax by $2.00 per pack, with equivalent increase on other tobacco products and electronic cigarettes containing nicotine. Allocates revenues primarily to increase funding for existing healthcare programs; also for tobacco use prevention/control programs, tobacco-related disease research and law enforcement, University of California physician training, dental disease prevention programs, and administration. Excludes these revenues from Proposition 98 funding requirements. If tax causes decreased tobacco consumption, transfers tax revenues to offset decreases to existing tobacco-funded programs and sales tax revenues. Requires biennial audit. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: Net increase in excise tax revenues in the range of $1.1 billion to $1.6 billion annually by 2017-18, with revenues decreasing slightly in subsequent years. The majority of funds would be used for payments to health care providers. The remaining funds would be used for a variety of specified purposes, including tobacco-related prevention and cessation programs, law enforcement programs, medical research on tobacco-related diseases, and early childhood development programs. (15-0081.)

Proponents including California Medical Association CEO Dustin Corcoran, SEIU California President Laphonza Butler, American Lung Association of California president and CEO Olivia Diaz-Lapham, and hedge-fund billionaire turned environmental activist Tom Steyer have until June 13 to collect valid signatures from at least 585,407 registered voters in order to place the measure on next November’s ballot.

Posted on Wednesday, December 16th, 2015
Under: ballot measures | 2 Comments »

Gun-rights groups rev up against Newsom measure

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom filed his proposed gun-control ballot measure with the state attorney general’s office Tuesday, and gun-rights activists are preparing for battle.

The Firearms Policy Coalition and the Firearms Policy Coalition Second Amendment Defense Committee PAC – the latter formed specifically to fight Newsom’s measure – have begun sending out more than 25,000 grassroots activism guides to volunteers and activism hubs throughout the state, with another 75,000 guides expected to ship within the next week.

Brandon Combs“We are committed to building the biggest, most-organized, and highly informed Second Amendment grassroots army ever seen in California to fight and oppose Gavin Newsom’s assault on our civil rights,” PAC president Brandon Combs said in a news release. “We want 100,000 volunteers working on this by the end of the year. This initial deployment is just the beginning of our much larger opposition plan.”

Combs said the organizations have infrastructure in place and have hired lawyers and other experts. “These measures will do nothing to advance public safety, but they will further undermine the Second Amendment rights of all Californians,” he said. “The time to draw a line in the sand is right now.”

Newsom and his allies must collect 366,000 valid signatures from registered voters to qualify the proposal for the 2016 general election ballot, but Combs and his allies seem to believe that won’t be a problem – they’re preparing for a showdown at the polls next November. “All California gun owners and civil rights organizations must stand together, dig in, and do whatever it takes to defeat this anti-rights initiative at the ballot box,” Combs said.

Posted on Tuesday, October 27th, 2015
Under: ballot measures, Gavin Newsom, gun control, Lt. Governor | 28 Comments »

Ballot measure fee to rise from $200 to $2000

It’s about to get a lot more expensive to submit a proposed ballot measure in California.

Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday signed a bill by Assemblymen Evan Low, D-Campbell, and Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, that raises the fee for submitting a ballot measure from $200 to $2,000, effective Jan. 1, 2016. AB 1100 is freshman Low’s first bill to be signed into law.

“It has been over 72 years since this aspect of the initiative process has been updated. This reform is overdue,” Low said in a news release. “We live in California, the cradle of direct democracy, but we also need a threshold for reasonableness. And this bill will do just that.”

The $200 fee was established in 1943 to deter frivolous proposals and to cover some of the costs of analyzing and processing initiatives, but that’s not a lot of money today. Low’s office said $200 today is the equivalent of $14.80 in 1943 dollars.

The bill was inspired in part by the submission in March of a “Sodomite Suppression Act” that if enacted would’ve required the state to execute lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. A Sacramento Superior Court judge ruled the proposal unconstitutional and it has been removed from consideration for next year’s ballot, but critics called for reform of the ballot initiative process nonetheless.

“If a proposal makes it to the ballot, the $2,000 fee would be refunded to the proponent,” Low noted. “If a proponent feels strongly about a measure, a true grassroots campaign will find the means to pay the filing fee and get their proposal on the ballot.”

Critics insist the bill raises a barrier for ordinary Californians to engage in the process.

“Direct democracy is a citizen’s right – a cornerstone of the checks and balances of democracy that have been protected passionately in California,” state Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, said in a news release. “Raising the fee by 900 percent is cost prohibitive.”

Only the state’s elite political class will be able to put their ideas on the ballot, he said: “Elected officials should increase voter participation, not discourage it.”

Posted on Tuesday, September 1st, 2015
Under: Assembly, ballot measures, Evan Low | No Comments »

Proposed measure would drop drinking age to 18

Terrance Lynn doesn’t see himself as the new patron saint of college keggers, but his proposed ballot measure to lower California’s drinking age from 21 to 18 might get him there nonetheless.

Lynn, 42, of Portola Valley, sees it as a civil-rights issue.

out of the shadows“There is no kind of ‘junior citizen’ status – you’re either an adult or you’re not” except when it comes to drinking, he said; 18-year-olds can be held criminally liable as adults and can volunteer or be drafted into the military, yet can’t legally buy a beer.

Alcohol enforcement, like the war on drugs, often has a disproportionate socio-economic impact, Lynn added: A Stanford student caught drinking a beer might get a pass or at least have an easy time clearing his or her record, while a poor kid from East Palo Alto could face more serious repercussions. And making it legal for college-age people to drink could help reduce binge-drinking by bringing campus consumption out of the shadows, he said.

Lynn acknowledged that while 18-to-20-year-olds would “obviously vote their self interest on this,” that age group usually doesn’t go to the polls in great numbers – though if this won’t bring them out, he can’t imagine what will.

This would run afoul of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984, which punishes states that allow those under 21 to drink by reducing annual federal highway funds by 10 percent. Lynn believes that with California’s clout in D.C. – its huge congressional delegation, and the fact that it pays a lot more in federal taxes than it gets back – “I can’t imagine that situation would last for long.”

Michael Scippa, public affairs director at San Rafael-based Alcohol Justice, said Lynn isn’t the first and won’t be the last to propose reducing the minimum legal drinking age, but “from a public health perspective, it’s extremely foolish and there’s no reason to do it.”

Scippa said there’s “an overwhelming body of scientific evidence… case after case, study after study” showing that barring drinking until age 21 reduces youth drinking and alcohol-related harm, especially on the roads. Reducing the age to 18 would mean “we’d start seeing a spike (in drinking) at 16,” he said. “We don’t want to go backwards here – it’s such a public health and safety success story. The only people who would benefit from this are alcohol producers.”

Lynn, a tech-company chief financial officer making his first foray into public policy, has submitted another proposed measure that would strip party affiliation from ballot designations so that it would be harder to see and vote a straight party line. “This labeling and partisan generalization is really hurting us in the national dialog,” he said. “It’s a tool of the powerful to control the ignorant.”

And he’s working on a third measure that would impose a 1000 percent sales tax on all political advertisements in California, with all revenue going to public schools; Lynn said it’s a way to counter the avalanche of money in politics since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. (A true “sin tax,” some might say.)

There’s little chance of any of these making it onto 2016’s ballot. Lynn said he can’t spend much money on them beyond fees for filing and website-hosting: “Nothing beyond the bare minimum… I don’t have the wherewithal to do it, and I wouldn’t be inclined to if I did.” He’s hoping they’ll catch fire on social media and, once he’s cleared to start circulating petitions, will become a true grassroots signature-gathering campaign.

The public-comment periods for Lynn’s drinking-age measure and the party-affiliation measure last through Sept. 24.

Posted on Monday, August 31st, 2015
Under: ballot measures | 4 Comments »

Spinning the public pension reform initiative

California’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office this week released its review of the public pension reform initiative proposed by former San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and former San Diego Councilman Carl DeMaio – and what that review says seems to depend on your point of view.

The 11-page document ends with a summary of fiscal effects predicting “significant effects—savings and costs—on state and local governments relating to compensation for governmental employees. The magnitude and timing of these effects would depend heavily on future decisions made by voters, governmental employers, and the courts.”

Opponents were hot out of the gate Tuesday morning with a statement noting the LAO found there’s “significant uncertainty as to the magnitude, timing, and direction of the fiscal effects of this measure and its effects on current and future governmental employees’ compensation.”

“This measure is a Trojan horse that will undermine the retirement security of millions of California families with unknown costs to taxpayers under the guise of giving them more power,” Dave Low, Chairman of Californians for Retirement Security, said in Tuesday’s statement. “Voters have consistently said they will reject proposals that threaten the death and disability benefits of public safety workers, undermine collective bargaining, and eliminate retirement security for teachers, bus drivers, and other public servants. This measure would be dead on arrival to voters, just like previously over-reaching measures.”

But DeMaio and Reed issued a statement Wednesday morning saying the LAO had confirmed “that the mandatory requirements of the measure would produce ‘significant savings.’ Even better, in addition to what is specifically mandated by the measure, the LAO confirmed that voters would have new powers to add to the savings.”

“Government union bosses are desperate to protect their gravy train at taxpayers’ expense. That’s why they are spinning a web of lies about the measure,” they said. “Astonishingly, the government union bosses even going so far as to claim voters will opt to spend MORE money than the politicians if given the new powers our initiative grants the people. At the core of their argument, the unions, along with the politicians, are arguing that voters might make bad decisions with the new powers our initiative grants them. Telling voters they cannot be trusted to make good decisions is not exactly a winning message.”

Posted on Wednesday, July 29th, 2015
Under: ballot measures, pension reform | 6 Comments »

State Senate OKs bill to curb ‘doctor shopping’

Voters soundly rejected Proposition 46 – which would’ve raised California’s 40-year-old cap on certain medical malpractice damage awards – in November, but a lesser-known part of that measure moved forward Thursday in the Legislature.

The state Senate voted 28-11 to approve SB 482 by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, which would require California doctors to consult an already-existing state prescription database before prescribing addictive medicine to their patients. This was another part of Prop. 46, albeit less controversial than the medical malpractice segment. The bill now goes to the Assembly.

It’s a win for Bob Pack, the Prop. 46 proponent and Danville resident whose two children were killed by a drunk and drugged driver on Oct. 26, 2003. The motorist who hit Troy and Alana Pack, 10 and 7, had consumed alcohol, Vicodin and muscle relaxants before getting behind the wheel; Jimena Barreto in the weeks before the crash had received six Vicodin prescriptions from six different Kaiser Permanente doctors, who had failed to check into the injuries for which she claimed she needed the pills.

To prevent this kind of “doctor shopping” by abusers and addicts, SB 482 will require prescribers to check the Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System (CURES) before prescribing Schedule II and III drugs like OxyContin and other opioids for the first time to a patient, and annually if the treatment continues.

“Prescription drug overdose kills thousands every year, but a simple check of a patient’s medical record can give doctors the information they need to intervene with those who are at risk or may be abusing medications,” Carmen Balber, executive director of Consumer Watchdog, said in a news release. “Requiring doctors to check California’s prescription database before prescribing the strongest, most addictive drugs will save lives and help stem the overdose epidemic.”

Results are promising in other states with similar laws, and Consumer Watchdog estimates that a 75 percent drop in doctor-shopping in California – as experienced in New York – would reduce state and local spending on prescription drugs for Medi-Cal patients by up to $300 million a year.

Posted on Thursday, May 28th, 2015
Under: ballot measures, California State Senate | 2 Comments »

Draper: From ‘Six Californias’ to ‘Fix California’

Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper has gone from “Six Californias” to “Fix California.”

The man who last year had proposed splitting the Golden State six ways – but failed to get the idea onto 2016’s ballot despite spending $5.2 million from his own pocket – issued a public engagement challenge Wednesday to crowdsource ideas for fixing California’s government.

“California-based businesses are on the cutting edge of technology – constantly pushing the envelope,” Draper said in a news release. “Most good ideas come through Californians innovating and collaborating with each other. We should be able to do the same with government, but unfortunately, our government is still stuck in the 1980’s. They can’t complete a project, like building a bridge or updating a computer system, without it being late, over budget, or even obsolete by the time of completion. That’s why we are launching the ‘Fix California Challenge.’”

Draper, 56, of Atherton, said he realizes “that not everyone was a fan of Six Californias.”

“But most people agreed that something needs to be done to fix the state. That’s why I’m asking Californians if they think they have a better idea,” he said. “If so, I want to hear it. If you have an idea that will transform government, bring it to me and maybe we can get it on the ballot.”

Draper said he’s looking for ideas that address:

    Transformation: Challenge the status quo by fundamentally transforming and modernizing California with a “fresh start” or an “entrepreneurial” mindset.
    Representation: Provide for better representation and engagement of citizens and accountability of leaders to the people they represent.
    Education: Improve incentives in education to achieve long-term economic prosperity and create a more educated workforce that is better prepared for the jobs of the future.
    Accountability: Incentivize governments to be accountable to their citizens and compete for customers.
    Opportunity: Create opportunities to improve the quality of life for hard-working Californians across key sectors such as housing, infrastructure, social safety net programs and the environment.
    Renewal: Clean up the failures and update methods of the last several decades that are preventing further success and progress.

Draper is running this “Fix California Challenge” through Innovate Your State, a nonprofit he founded that’s dedicated to educating and encouraging public participation to fundamentally improve government.

“As a venture capitalist I see innovation everywhere and invest in bold ideas everyday. We need to bridge the gap between innovation and government, and this requires a ‘Venture Governance’ approach where everyone’s ideas have a chance to be heard and backed if they’re good enough,” he said. “Similar to a business plan competition, we’re going to run a ‘government plan competition’ to find the best ideas and implementation strategies out there.”

No word on the status of Draper’s proposed television reality show about Silicon Valley startups.

Posted on Wednesday, April 29th, 2015
Under: ballot measures | No Comments »