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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

6

Marijuana legalization measure filed in Sacramento

A group that couldn’t get enough signatures to put a marijuana legalization measure on 2014’s ballot has launched its effort to try again for 2016.

MCLR logoProponents of the Marijuana Control, Legalization and Revenue Act went to the Secretary of State’s office Monday to make their initial filing; they then headed for San Francisco to join the 4/20 celebration at Golden Gate Park’s Hippie Hill.

The proposed measure – which was immediately forwarded to the state attorney general’s office to receive an official title and summary before proponents can start gathering petition signatures – is the product of Americans For Policy Reform’s “wiki-like” open-source process, which took input from thousands of California residents.

“We hope this broad-based coalition of support will encourage further cooperation,” AFPR director and measure proponent John Lee said in a news release “We urgently encourage other advocacy groups to join us at the table.”

The measure’s backers say it keep marijuana out of minors’ hands; prevent growing on public lands; deprive cartels, gangs and other criminal enterprises of the proceeds from sales; prevent drugged driving and other adverse health effects; clarify the state’s existing medical marijuana laws; and save the state millions in law enforcement costs while generating millions in tax revenues.

AFPR tried to put a measure on 2014’s ballot but couldn’t raise enough funds for its petition drive. They’ve made some modifications to the measure since, and held a fundraiser in Los Angeles earlier this month.

“We have worked hard to bring people together and create the best law possible for legalization in California,” proponent Dave Hodges, founder of San Jose’s All American Cannabis Club, said in the release. “MCLR creates a comprehensive set of regulations to allow all types of cannabis businesses to flourish, and will net California billions in tax revenues.”

But one of the reasons the measure went nowhere in 2014 might be just as big an obstacle now. A larger Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform – chaired by Oaksterdam University executive chancellor Dale Sky Jones and including national groups like the Drug Policy Alliance, Americans for Safe Access and the Marijuana Policy Project – had started collecting signatures for 2014 but then decided to hold off. The coalition now is moving forward with its own plans for 2016, with a far more extensive fundraising network as well as buy-in from many more established marijuana-related organizations.

Hodges in 2014 had said the coalition’s effort had sucked all of the fundraising air out of the room for his measure, making it impossible to bankroll a petition drive. He might find this year’s air to be just as thin.

UPDATE @ 4:38 p.m.: A marijuana legalization task force convened by the American Civil Liberties Union and chaired by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom will hold a digital town square on the issue at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at www.SafeAndSmartPolicy.org. The forum will focus on public safety, especially drugged driving, criminal justice, and environmental concerns; two more forums are planned for later this spring.

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AG seeks court’s OK to nix gay execution measure

Attorney General Kamala Harris announced Wednesday that she’s seeking the California Supreme Court’s permission to refuse to prepare an official title and summary for a proposed ballot measure called the “Sodomite Suppression Act,” which would require the state to execute lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Harris, who is running for the U.S. Senate next year, said it’s her “sworn duty to uphold the California and United States Constitutions and to protect the rights of all Californians.

Kamala Harris“This proposal not only threatens public safety, it is patently unconstitutional, utterly reprehensible, and has no place in a civil society,” she said. “Today, I am filing an action for declaratory relief with the court seeking judicial authorization for relief from the duty to prepare and issue the title and summary for the ‘Sodomite Suppression Act.’ If the Court does not grant this relief, my office will be forced to issue a title and summary for a proposal that seeks to legalize discrimination and vigilantism.”

Alas, unlike those in many other states, California’s ballot initiative process doesn’t provide for pre-enactment constitutional review. But Harris is getting praise for trying to avoid enabling this odious idea – pitched by Huntington Beach attorney Matthew Gregory McLaughlin – from even being circulated as a petition for placement on next year’s ballot.

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins – who one assumes would be on McLaughlin’s “hit list” – said Harris is right to ask the court to let the state turn away “an obviously unconstitutional and dangerous initiative proposal that actually promotes murder.

“The proposal represents either the depth of bigotry and hatred or the height of sick publicity stunts — either way it should not be dignified by becoming an official part of the process Californians have to amend the state Constitution,” said Atkins, D-San Diego. “Having discussed options with Attorney General Harris, I know how seriously she takes her responsibility to the law and how seriously she takes her responsibility to protect the public’s safety. I urge the court to grant the Attorney General’s request and prevent the state’s initiative process from being abused in this egregious manner.”

The Human Rights Campaign hailed the legal action, too.

“This disgusting, barbaric measure should be stopped in its tracks, and once again Attorney General Harris has demonstrated leadership in standing up for the rights and dignity of LGBT Californians,” HRC President Chad Griffin said. “It is our sincere hope that the Supreme Court of California gives her the authority to prevent it from advancing.”

Assemblyman Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, earlier Wednesday said McLaughlin’s proposed measure has inspired him to develop legislation to make signatures on ballot-measure petitions into public records.

“Voters must be informed when a petition they sign violates the United States Constitution,” said Rendon. “My proposal is simple: initiative signatures – particularly those that give permission to violate constitutional rights – shall be subject to the California Public Records Act.”

Even one of California’s most virulent anti-gay activists has shunned the proposed measure.

“This terrible ballot initiative doesn’t deserve any reporting, because advocating the killing of people who are not guilty of a contemporary capital crime, not guilty of threatening you with death yourself, and not pointing a rifle at you in war, is wrong in both the eyes of conservatives and liberals,” Randy Thomasson, president of SaveCalifornia.com, said Saturday.