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ALD newborn-testing advocates fear veto for cost

Supporters of a bill that would require newborns to be tested for a deadly disease fear it may be headed for a veto because of its cost.

Assemblyman Richard Pan’s AB 1559, requiring newborns to be screened for adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), is now headed for a Senate floor vote, having been approved last week by the Appropriations Committee on a 5-0 vote. In fact, no lawmaker has voted against the bill so far; the Assembly approved it 79-0 in May.

But the only entity on record as opposing the bill is a big one: The California Department of Finance. Its analysis found adding a new disease to the current screening panel would require raising the $111.70 fee by another $11 – and that means an added $2.75 million per year in cost to Medi-Cal, which covers testing for about half the state’s births.

The Finance Department noted the federal government is reviewing whether ALD should be added to the list of recommended screenings for all newborns, but that review will take about two years and the state typically waits for that final approval before adding new diseases to its screening panel.

Gov. Jerry Brown typically doesn’t comment on bills before they reach his desk.

ALD – spotlighted in the 1992 movie “Lorenzo’s Oil” – is a degenerative brain disease mostly affecting young boys. The disease affects the myelin sheaths that insulate brain cells, essentially preventing the brain from communicating with the body.

It’s a rare disease – estimated at one in 20,000 to one in 50,000 births – and those who have it often have normal early childhoods. Early symptoms often seem to be behavioral and are misdiagnosed, but once the degeneration begins, it’s very rapid and usually leads to a vegetative state and then death. Advocates say cord-blood and bone-marrow transplants in the disease’s earliest stages can treat and even heal patients – if anyone knows the patient has the disease.

“Every year that California delays testing, we can expect that 30 families won’t get the early diagnoses that could save their vibrant and seemingly healthy child from this cruel disease,” said Pan, D-Sacramento, who is a physician. “For the parents who have lost their child to ALD, it is particularly tragic and painful knowing that a simple and effective test at birth could have saved their child’s life.”

Shane Louisell, 53, of San Leandro, lost two brothers to the disease – Bobby, at age 5, and Richard, at age 44 – the latter having suffered the less-common, adult-onset version of the disease. Now his nephew, in his 30s, has it too.

“The bill is so important – getting newborns screened, at least they have a chance to do something about it before it’s too late,” said Louisell, an artist and retired teacher. “It would save a lot of families grief.”

And supporters say the bill actually would save California millions because the difference in treating an early diagnosed patient and a late-diagnosed patient is roughly $1 million per year.

New York just began testing newborn babies for ALD at the end of last year; so far, six boys and one girl were found to have the disease, and so have been given a chance at life; testing of those babies’ families found a four-year-old who also was diagnosed.

You could’ve heard a pin drop as ALD victims’ mothers told their stories at the Senate Health Committee hearing in June:

Posted on Thursday, August 21st, 2014
Under: Assembly, California State Senate, Gov. Jerry Brown, Jerry Brown | 2 Comments »

Lawmakers OK bill to boost grease-theft penalties

A bill to boost penalties for stealing used cooking oil is on its way to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

Yes, you read that correctly – used cooking oil. Apparently oil from restaurants’ deep fryers has become a hot commodity worth a lot of money, with thieves draining it in the dead of night and selling it for conversion into clean-burning biofuel. Ah, California.

There's gold in that there fryer“As the alternative fuels market keeps growing, the demand for inedible kitchen grease based biofuels will grow as well,” Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, the bill’s author, said in a news release.

“The price increases stemming from this new demand will make grease theft a more lucrative crime in the coming years,” he said. “AB 1566 provides law enforcement with the tools to combat grease theft and protect the burgeoning biofuels market by beefing up requirements for licensed haulers, increasing the penalties for stealing grease and allowing law enforcement to impound vehicles for up to 15 days.”

The penalties have been so minor that many law enforcement agencies don’t even respond when owners report the theft, Holden contends. But according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, a typical fast-food restaurant produces 150-250 pounds of grease a week and a fully loaded pumper truck could bring in as much as $900 at a recycling center.

The Assembly voted 70-0 Monday to send the bill to Brown’s desk. The state Senate had approved it 35-0 one week ago.

Posted on Monday, August 18th, 2014
Under: Assembly, California State Senate | No Comments »

Supporters rally for ‘gun restraining order’ bill

Advocates of a bill that would create a “gun violence restraining order” system are stepping up their efforts in advance of a state Senate floor vote later this month.

Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, along with several Bay Area police chiefs and gun control advocates, rallied Monday morning outside the Emeryville Police Department in support of AB 1014. Skinner and Santa Barbara Democrats Assemblyman Das Williams and state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson announced the bill soon after a May rampage at UC-Santa Barbara left six students dead.

“When someone is in crisis, the people closest to them are often the first to spot the warning signs, but almost nothing can now be done to get guns out of the hands of someone in crisis,” Skinner said in a news release Monday. “Parents, like the mother who tried to intervene, deserve an effective tool to help prevent these tragedies.”

Modeled on domestic violence laws, AB 1014 creates a process to intervene and potentially prohibit the purchase of firearms and/or remove firearms already in possession by a person who shows warning signs of a risk of violence. Law enforcement or family members would have the right to ask a judge to grant an order prohibiting firearms purchase or possession. Connecticut, Indiana and Texas have similar laws, Skinner’s office said.

Current law lets that process start only when therapists notify police that a client is at risk of committing a violent act. Family members can call police, but if no crime has been committed, or the individual doesn’t meet criteria for an involuntary civil commitment to mental health treatment, there isn’t anything police can do about that person’s firearms.

“AB 1014 fills an important gap in the law that prevents law enforcement from acting to prevent violence before it happens,” Emeryville Police Chief Ken James, a longtime gun-control advocate, said in Skinner’s news release. “This need has been obvious to law enforcement for years. But the time to act is now. The tragedy in Santa Barbara makes that obvious.”

The Senate Public Safety Committee approved the bill on a 5-2 vote June 24, and the Senate Appropriations Committee approved it Friday on a 5-0 vote with two Republicans not voting.

Posted on Monday, August 18th, 2014
Under: Assembly, California State Senate, gun control, Nancy Skinner | 9 Comments »

Neel Kashkari: At least I get to debate someone.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari on Monday implied that if you aren’t okay with his plan to essentially circumvent school boards’ oversight of funding and curriculum, you’re okay with California’s schools being among the nation’s worst.

Kashkari at BANG editorial board 8-11-2014 (photo by Josh Richman)Kashkari’s “my way or the same old highway” moment came during his meeting Monday with the Bay Area News Group’s editorial board. I sat in to ask a few questions and observe; as a reporter, I’ll not be involved in subsequent deliberations over an endorsement in this race.

The exchange led to one of the meeting’s best moments, just as we prepared to turn from this contentious point to another topic.

“At least I’m getting to debate someone,” Kashkari quipped with a wry smile.

Kashkari earlier Monday had issued a news release announcing he now has accepted five debate invitations – with the Sacramento Bee/Capitol Public Radio/KCRA; KGTV and KPBS in San Diego; Univision; KSEE and KGPE in Fresno; and KFBK in Sacramento – while Gov. Jerry Brown has not yet responded.

“Governor Jerry Brown is hiding under his desk,” Kashkari said in the news release. “Every voter in our state deserves to know exactly what Jerry Brown plans to do if he’s elected to an unprecedented fourth term.”

Dan Newman, a consultant to Brown’s campaign, replied later Monday that “we’ll respond with plenty of time – it’s early August and he’s got a demanding day job that is the top priority.”

Read a few highlights from today’s meeting with Kashkari, after the jump…
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Monday, August 11th, 2014
Under: Gov. Jerry Brown, Jerry Brown, Neel Kashkari | No Comments »

See Neel Kashkari’s video of living on the street

Republican gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari said he spent a week living as a homeless person in search of a job to test Gov. Jerry Brown‘s claim that the state is making a comeback after the economic downturn, the Associated Press reports.

Wanna guess what he concluded?

He wrote an opinion piece on his experience for the Wall Street Journal (behind a paywall, unfortunately), but here’s the video his campaign produced:

You’ve gotta give him credit for cojones. Whether California voters believe the state is worse off under Brown’s stewardship remains to be seen, but this is not something you would’ve seen Meg Whitman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bill Simon, Dan Lungren or Pete Wilson do in a million years. Kashkari may be running his campaign on a shoestring, but he’s clearly all in.

Posted on Thursday, July 31st, 2014
Under: Gov. Jerry Brown, Jerry Brown, Neel Kashkari | 4 Comments »

Steinberg staffers will represent immigrant kids

State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg’s staff counsel will help provide free legal services to undocumented, unaccompanied children arriving in California from Central America.

Steinberg, D-Sacramento, announced Wednesday that his policy director, Anthony Williams, and his senior policy consultant, Margie Estrada, will take part in the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s Legal Assistance Project, in conjunction with the American Immigration Lawyers Association Southern California Chapter.

“These children face a daunting immigration process in a foreign legal system without any legal representation. A kid is a kid, and should be shown compassion regardless of where they were born,” Steinberg said in a news release. “I’m exceptionally grateful to my team and all other volunteering attorneys for taking unpaid time away from their families to ensure that these children receive fair and due process.”

Steinberg noted that many if not most of these children don’t speak English or understand the U.S. legal system, yet some have been requested to appear in courts, sometimes in other states, with less than 48 hours of notice. Those who fail to appear risk deportation orders and a swift return to the violent regions from which they originally fled, he said.

Heather Poole, chair of AILA’s Southern California Chapter, wrote to an immigration court that the timeline reduces the children’s chance to find legal counsel and so compromises their due-process rights.

“These unaccompanied children are in desperate need of competent immigration representation to ensure that every child’s case is thoroughly vetted before an immigration judge before a swift removal takes place to a potentially dangerous place where their safety will be at risk,” she wrote. “Due to political pressure and directives, the immigration courts are now prioritizing these cases on the court’s docket, which has led to fast hearings and some with little notice for many children who remain unrepresented by counsel, having no funds or connections. It is important, more than ever, that we have volunteers from the legal community participate in this humanitarian crisis to ensure that justice is served.”

Steinberg earlier this month led other lawmakers on a fact-finding visit to El Salvador and Guatemala, where they met with national leaders to discuss the gang, drug and other conditions that have led to more than 57,000 minors arriving at the U.S. border since October 2013.

Posted on Wednesday, July 30th, 2014
Under: California State Senate, Darrell Steinberg, Immigration | 4 Comments »

(Jerry) ‘Brown is the new green?’

California’s anti-drought slogan is “Brown is the new green,” even as Gov. Jerry Brown’s environmental bona fides are at issue during his re-election campaign.

Coincidence? Absolutely… but let’s exploit it anyway!

Brown is the new green lawn signThe slogan aims to make property owners feel better about letting their lawns shrivel. A state water agency last week approved unprecedented penalties for those who waste water, and Brown signed a bill into law Monday prohibiting homeowners associations from fining residents who don’t water their lawns.

Already the signs are proliferating. An Antioch golf course adopted the slogan a few weeks ago, and the Santa Clara Valley Water District on Friday announced a $500,000 summer ad campaign using the slogan. District spokesman Marty Grimes said the district is merely following in the state’s footsteps and it’s strictly non-political: “I think the message is pretty clear that it has nothing to do with the governor.”

But could it hurt the governor for his name to be deemed “the new green” as he seeks re-election against Republican challenger Neel Kashkari? Actually, there are more than a few environmentalists – especially opponents of fracking – who would say Jerry Brown is certainly not “the new green.”

Dan Newman, a consultant to Brown’s re-election campaign, said Friday this slogan is a zero-sum equation with an earlier, unofficial drought slogan. “Isn’t that cancelled out by the classic ‘If it’s brown flush, it down – if it’s yellow, let it mellow’?”

Likewise, Kashkari spokeswoman Mary-Sarah Kinner’s response to the slogan Friday was “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.”

Great minds think alike, no matter what side of the aisle.

Posted on Friday, July 25th, 2014
Under: Gov. Jerry Brown, Jerry Brown, water | No Comments »

Complaint filed about ‘Six Californias’ petitions

The “OneCalifornia” committee formed to oppose venture capitalist Tim Draper’s “Six Californias” ballot measure filed a complaint with Secretary of State Debra Bowen on Thursday requesting a voter-fraud investigation.

The letter included a copy of the blog item I posted Tuesday, which detailed voters hundreds of miles apart recounting how paid petition circulators told strikingly similar falsehoods about the Six Californias petition’s purpose. Lying to voters in order to get them to sign a ballot-measure petition is a misdemeanor.

“To ensure the integrity of the state initiative process is not tarnished by criminal behavior, we request an immediate investigation into these disturbing reports of voter fraud during circulation of the Six Californias initiative,” wrote Richard Miadich, attorney for the One California committee.

A Six Californias spokesman didn’t immediately reply to an e-mail seeking comment Thursday afternoon.

Draper, 56, of Atherton, who in the past has given generously to Republican causes, filed about 1.3 million petition signatures Tuesday in order to qualify the measure for the November 2016 ballot. County registrars and Bowen’s office must verify that at least 807,615 of those signatures are valid and from registered California voters.

OneCalifornia spokesman Steve Maviglio, a veteran Democratic strategist, said Thursday that “it’s not surprising that high jinx were involved in trying to get voters to sign the petition for this unthoughtful measure, even when signature gatherers were getting paid $3 for each signature they received.

“We’ve been flooded with emails and Tweets who are echoing what was reported,” Maviglio said. “These allegations are serious and need to be thoroughly investigated by the Secretary of State.”

Posted on Thursday, July 17th, 2014
Under: ballot measures, Debra Bowen, Secretary of State | No Comments »

Kevin Mullin mulls election recount reform bill

The politically ugly recount now under way in the race for state controller has inspired a Bay Area Assemblyman to start working on a bill to reform the election recount process.

Kevin MullinAssemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, announced Wednesday he’s researching ways to ensure the recount process in future statewide elections is fair to all candidates, and he plans to introduce a bill when the Legislature returns from its summer recess.

Mullin said options might include setting a threshold that automatically triggers the recount process for very close races, the development of a recount standard across counties, and a state-funded recount process.

“California is in uncharted territory with the Controller’s race recount,” Mullin said in a news release. “It’s imperative to our system of governance that the election process is fair and transparent for all voters and candidates. We are actively researching a variety of options and engaging in discussions with the Secretary of State’s office so we can craft comprehensive legislation on this issue.”

Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, a Republican, clearly finished first in the primary election for controller, but Board of Equalization member Betty Yee edged out fellow Democrat and Assembly Speaker Emeritus John Perez by 481 votes in their race to finish second. Perez has demanded a recount, specifying 15 counties in which he did better than Yee.

Current law lets a candidate demanding a recount specify not only which counties but even specific precincts and the order in which they’re recounted; the candidate must pay for the recount on a daily basis but can stop the process whenever a desired result is achieved. (Clarification: All of the ballots in each county included in a recount request must be recounted in order to change the result, though Perez could halt the recount between any of the 15 counties he specified if he gets a number he wants.) The other candidate can then choose whether or not to demand a recount too. Critics note this gives an advantage to whoever can better afford a recount – in this case, Perez.

“When the recount process is necessary, it should be easily implemented and every vote valued and counted equally,” Mullin said.

Mullin said he also plans to pursue legislation to standardize county-by-county vote counting and reporting procedures for vote-by-mail ballots that are dropped off at polling places on Election Day. His goal is to avoid the kinds of delays experienced in this year’s controller’s race as county vote tallies were aggregated and reported on the Secretary of State’s website.

Posted on Wednesday, July 16th, 2014
Under: Assembly, Kevin Mullin | No Comments »

Rep. Mike Honda calls on Fox to fire Bob Beckel

Rep. Mike Honda has joined the chorus of Asian-American politicians calling for the resignation or ouster of Fox commentator Bob Beckel following Beckel’s racially charged tirade last week.

Here’s the Beckel clip:

Honda, D-San Jose, issued this statement Monday:

honda.jpg“I am outraged and disgusted by Fox News commentator Bob Beckel’s use of the word ‘Chinamen’ and his other racist and xenophobic comments. I agree with State Senator Ted Lieu, Campbell CA Councilmember Evan Low, and everyone else who has called on Fox News to fire Beckel. The ignorance and hatred in his comments are repugnant. The fact that he has yet to apologize for these comments is inexcusable. As the founder of the Congressional Anti-Bullying Caucus, I know that words hurt, and slurs are used to intimidate. Fox News needs to do the right thing and fire Bob Beckel.”

State Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, who is currently a 33rd Congressional District candidate, issued his statement Saturday:

Ted Lieu“I am one of those ‘Chinamen’ with ‘Oriental’ eyes that immigrated to America and majored in computer science. I also served on active duty in the United States Air Force and continue to serve my country in the Reserves. And today, as an American and as a California State Senator, I call on Mr. Beckel to resign.

“America is great because anyone can be an American. Our country is the strongest in the world because of our diversity. Unfortunately, Fox News host Bob Beckel does not understand what it means to be an American.

“But Mr. Beckel’s comments are more than just racist and stupid. His ignorant views are dangerous because it is precisely those types of extreme xenophobic and racist views that caused our government to massively violate constitutional rights during World War II and force more than 100,000 Americans into internment camps.

“It is Mr. Beckel’s extreme racist and xenophobic views that are a threat to the American people and he should resign now.”

But Peter Kuo, the Santa Clara Republican now seeking the 10th State Senate District seat, took a more conciliatory tone Saturday:

Peter Kuo“Beckel’s remarks have invoked strong emotion and sadness among immigrants who call America their home. Having endured racist remarks growing up and hearing these comments from a major media figure is shocking and hurtful. Many have moved to the United States in search of the American Dream and found it through hard work, education and job opportunities. The United States is the home to the greatest technological and medical innovation in the world, in great part because of the diverse group of people that have made these fields their careers.

“Today, I observed public calls for Bob Beckel to be fired from Fox News. I completely understand those emotions and feelings as his actions are very insulting. However, I think we have an opportunity to rise above his insensitive comments and use this sad moment in time to grow as a nation. Calling for termination because my feelings are hurt would be easy, and likely very much understood by the media, the voters and most certainly the Chinese-American community. And that may just be the solution. But in the ever increasingly sensitive, racially charged environment we all seem to live in these days, why not take a step back and reflect and recognize that while regrettable, it is quite possible that Mr. Beckel made a mistake albeit a terrible one. Instead of rallying everyone to call for his termination, I prefer a different approach. I would ask Mr. Beckel to offer a formal apology on the air. If Mr. Beckel were to apologize, and those of us offended were to accept said apology, wouldn’t we have already accomplished so much more than the alternative? If I’m to ask the voters of Senate District 10 and California to trust my ability to make sound judgements, to listen to both sides of the aisle, to think my way through problems and controversy instead of always acting on pure emotion, as many issues like this are often handled, then it is important for me to treat this issue no differently.

“Mr. Beckel, I’m offended by your comments as is the Chinese-American community. Do what is right, apologize and move forward better aware of the repercussions of your actions. If this is done, I call on the Chinese-American community to accept his apology, and hope that Mr. Beckel will reach out to members of the Chinese-American community and offer a meeting or a conversation to discuss these events. I will gladly welcome him to my district to meet with Chinese-American community members if he is willing. Instead of dart throwing and mud slinging, let’s figure out a way to move forward so that we may be a more resilient, unified and a compassionate nation.”

Posted on Monday, July 14th, 2014
Under: California State Senate, Mike Honda, Ted Lieu, U.S. House | 6 Comments »