1

Schwarzenegger splits the baby on syringe sales

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has vetoed a bill that would’ve let pharmacies all over California sell sterile syringes to an adult without a prescription, a measure that health experts called a key protection against the transmission of HIV, hepatitis and other blood-borne diseases.

“When I signed legislation my first year in office allowing for a pilot program to allow the sale of syringes through participating counties and registered pharmacies, I was seeking to balance the competing public health, law enforcement and local control issues that this issue requires,” the governor wrote in his veto message. “I believe this balance was achieved and SB 1029 would remove the ability of local officials to best determine policies in their jurisdiction. Some counties have not sought to implement this pilot program, citing competing priorities, lack of pharmacy interest and law enforcement opposition.”

“I respect these local decisions and while I appreciate the author’s hard work and dedication to this issue, I cannot sign this bill,” Schwarzenegger wrote.

The governor instead signed AB 1701 by Assemblyman Wes Chesbro, D-Arcata, to extends the existing Disease Prevention Demonstration Project for eight more years, still leaving it to city councils or county supervisors to decide whether to opt in and let pharmacies choose to take part.

But state Senator Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, who had authored SB 1029, issued a scathing statement Friday saying the governor apparently “was not interested in an effective public health measure that would reduce health care costs to taxpayers. Not only did he ignore the recommendation of doctors and other health experts, but he ignored the fact that HIV-AIDS and hepatitis do not recognize county borders. Such epidemics are certain to continue without implementing these comprehensive strategies.”

Sharing of used syringes is the most common cause of new hepatitis C infections in California and the second most common cause of HIV infections. The state Department of Public Health estimates that approximately 3,000 California residents contract hepatitis C through syringe sharing every year and another 750 cases of HIV are caused by syringe sharing.

Among SB 1029’s supporters were the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, AIDS Project Los Angeles, American Civil Liberties Union, California Hepatitis Alliance, California Nurses Association, California Psychiatric Association, California Retailers Association, County Alcohol & Drug Program Administrators, Drug Policy Alliance Network, California Medical Association, California Pharmacists Association, City and County of San Francisco, Health Officers Association of California, and Equality California.

It was opposed by the California Narcotic Officers’ Association, California Peace Officers’ Association, California Police Chiefs’ Association and the League of California Cities. The California Narcotic Officers’ Association had opposed Wesbro’s bill, too.

Glenn Backes, a public policy consultant to both the Drug Policy Alliance and the California Hepatitis Alliance, had said in July that Yee’s bill was better than just extending the county-by-county pilot program.

“Basically, if it is good policy for the residents of Bay Area counties, then it is good policy for the residents of Central Valley counties,” Backes said. “Especially given that the indigent ill are a burden on all taxpayers, a burden on the state general fund, no matter where they reside in the state. Allowing adults to spend their own money to protect their health and the health of others is the only proven way to reduce the rate of HIV and hepatitis without spending a dime of city, county or state money.”

Yee said SB 1029’s approach “has been evaluated extensively throughout the world and has been found to significantly reduce rates of HIV and hepatitis without contributing to any increase in drug use, drug injection, crime or unsafe discard of syringes. In fact, there is not one credible study that refutes these findings. The Governor’s veto is a moral and fiscal dilemma.”

Laura Thomas, the Drug Policy Alliance’s deputy state director, said the governor’s veto is “tragic and infuriating”

“It is an irrational attachment to drug war hysteria, at the expense of human life and fiscal responsibility to the California taxpayer,” she said. “Nothing would have worked better and cost less in reducing the spread of HIV and hepatitis C than SB 1029.”

2

Video game law SCOTUS arguments set for Nov. 2

The U.S. Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments in the challenge to California’s law against sale of excessively violent video games to children for Nov. 2.

The 2005 law — authored by then-Assemblyman and now state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, and signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger — never took effect because it was immediately challenged by video game industry trade groups and struck down by a federal judge in 2005 and by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2009.

The nation’s highest court agreed in April to review the case; State Attorney General Jerry Brown last month submitted the state’s written argument, while Yee joined the California Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, California, in submitting a “friend of the court” brief. Eleven other states – Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia – also submitted an amicus brief in support of California’s law.

The video game industry trade groups challenging the statute have argued it violates First Amendment rights to free expression and 14th Amendment rights to equal protection under the law. They said it’s unnecessary because of the voluntary ratings education and enforcement programs already in place, and would provide no meaningful standards to know to which games it applies.

But the state’s brief argues the law promotes parental authority to restrict unsupervised minors’ access to a narrow category of material in order to protect their physical and psychological well-being — a vital state interest — and it’s well-recognized that minors don’t always have the same First Amendment freedoms as adults to see sexual or violent material.

Yee issued a news release today saying he intends to attend the arguments in Washington, D.C.

“I am hopeful that the Supreme Court will help us give parents a valuable tool to protect children from the harmful effects of excessively violent, interactive video games,” he said. “We need to help empower parents with the ultimate decision over whether or not their children play in a world of violence and murder. The video game industry should not be allowed to put their profit margins over the rights of parents and the well-being of children.”

3

Skinner: People are vulnerable, not ‘expendable’

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appears in the new action movie “The Expendables,” but he shouldn’t consider California’s most vulnerable residents among his co-stars, Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner said this morning.

Skinner, D-Berkeley, called a news conference to roll out a new 60-second Web video featuring interviews with local residents who stand to lose their jobs, their independence, their homes and more to budget cuts.

This is part of a talking-points campaign orchestrated through Assembly Speaker John Perez’ Office of Member Services, so you can expect to see similar videos, statements and news conferences from Democratic lawmakers around the state.

The Govs Expendables Poster“It seems like in the governor’s budget plan, some Californians have been deemed to be ‘expendables,’” Skinner said at her event in the Franklin Preschool on Eighth Street in Berkeley, arguing that the Legislature and governor are responsible for ensuring these vulnerable people are protected. “We’re going to do our best to communicate this.”

Michelle Rousey, 39, of Oakland, is wheelchair-bound and requires oxygen; she has been an In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) consumer since the early ‘90s. IHSS cuts are “a deadly proposal to eliminate vital services that we use,” she said at today’s news conference.

Daniel McGrath, 34, of Berkeley, has been an IHSS care provider for six and a half years, with three elderly or disabled clients in the Berkeley area. “Life or death should never be on the table,” he said today.

Michelle Alvarez, 34, of Berkeley, said if her two children can’t go to state-funded preschool and afterschool programs, her husband will have to quit the part-time job he got two months ago in order to stay home and care for them; that would leave the family of four living on her salary as an administrative assistant at UC-Berkeley. “Why is he (Schwarzenegger) treating our kids worse than prisoners?”

Michael Pope, 53, executive director of Berkeley-based Alzheimer’s Services of the East Bay, said “seniors who gave to this state” all their lives stand to lose crucial day care and family support services. “They need our support, this is not a time in their life when we should be throwing them under the bus.”

Franklin Preschool teacher Sandra Farmer, 67, of Pittsburg, said that in her 37 years in early child development, “I’ve never seen anything like I’m seeing right now” – a situation where loss of preschool will put low-income parents out of work, back on unemployment or welfare.

And Janien Harrison, 40, of San Leandro, an IHSS consumer who has used an electric wheelchair to get around since suffering a traumatic brain injury in a 1999 car accident, said “the cuts would make it so I would not have the opportunity to stay in my home” – she’d have to go to a hospital or institution instead, a far costlier proposition than IHSS. “These cuts disenfranchise my life.”

It’s not a “pity party,” Skinner said, but rather a demonstration that people’s ability to live productively and independently is at risk “if we’re not smart with the budget.” She said Democrats put forth a proposal that included billions in cuts – though not cuts that would have put people like this at risk – while also recognizing that “to do justice and to avoid putting people in harms’ way and to avoid job loss, there is a need for revenue.”

“The Republicans are not talking and the governor basically doesn’t seem to care,” she said.

Skinner before the news conference had said “it’s difficult to make a forecast” about how this year’s budget drama will play out. With state Senate Republican Leader Dennis Hollingsworth, R-Murrieta, set to turn over his leadership role to state Sen. Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, on Sept. 1, the “reset” button is about to be hit.

“There just doesn’t seem to be willingness on the Republican side to really negotiate,” said Skinner, who serves on the budget conference committee. “You just wonder, is there a political motive going on? Did someone decide it’s to their advantage to delay the budget?”

Replied Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear: “We understand Assemblywoman Skinner supports a massive tax increase to protect public employee pensions and the status quo for unions. We simply disagree.”

I’ve received no response from Hollingsworth’s office.

7

Read the briefs on a stay of the Prop. 8 ruling

Today was the deadline for written arguments on whether Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker should stay his Wednesday ruling overturning Proposition 8’s ban on same-sex marriage pending appeal.

The measure’s proponents had argued even before the ruling came down that staying such a decision is “essential to averting the harms that would flow from another purported window of same-sex marriage in California.” They argue they’ll eventually win this case, and to let more people marry in the interim would “inflict harm on the affected couples and place administrative burdens on the state.” Read their brief here.

Attorney General Jerry Brown argued that’s not so, and same-sex marriages should be allowed to begin again immediately. “(W)hile there is still the potential for limited administrative burdens should future marriages of same-sex couples be later declared invalid, these potential burdens are outweighed by this Court’s conclusion, based on the overwhelming evidence, that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional. Accordingly, the harm to the plaintiffs outweighs any harm to the state defendants.” Read his brief here.

And Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger made a similar argument in a separate brief. Now that a court has deemed the ban unconstitutional, to resume allowance of same-sex marriage immediately “is consistent with California’s long history of treating all people and their relationships with equal dignity and respect,” his attorney wrote. Read his brief here.

UPDATE @ 5:18 P.M.: The plaintiffs’ brief arguing against a stay says Prop. 8’s proponents can’t possibly make a “strong showing” that they’re likely to prevail on appeal, both because their appeal is without merit and because they may not even have standing to file it – remember, the proponents were defendant interveners in this case, while the governor and state were the original defendants. The plaintiffs further argue that the proponents have failed to show they’ll suffer an irreparable injury without a stay, while a stay would mean the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights would continue to be curtailed. And they say the public interest in ensuring recognition and protection of all citizens’ constitutional rights weighs against a stay. Read their brief here.

12

PPIC: Gov, Senate races tight, drilling a no-go

The latest Public Policy Institute of California poll shows likely voters are closely divided between Democrat Jerry Brown (37 percent) and Republican Meg Whitman (34 percent) for governor, with 23 percent undecided. Independents voters are split – 30 percent for Brown, 28 percent for Whitman and 30 percent undecided.

The same poll shows a similarly tight U.S. Senate race, with 39 percent of likely voters supporting Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer, 34 percent supporting Republican nominee Carly Fiorina and 22 percent undecided. Boxer’s lead is similar among independents, with 35 percent backing her, 29 percent backing Fiorina and 25 percent undecided.

The numbers came as part of PPIC’s survey of “Californians and the Environment.” Of those likely voters saying that a candidate’s environmental positions are very important in determining their vote, 50 percent would vote for Brown and 16 percent would vote for Whitman; among those who say a candidate’s environmental positions are somewhat important, Whitman is favored 42 percent to 33 percent. Similarly, those who view candidates’ positions on the environment as very important are three times as likely to support Boxer (54 percent) as Fiorina (18 percent), while those who say candidates’ views on the environment are somewhat important are evenly divided, 37 percent to each candidate.

Among the poll’s findings on other environmental issues:

  • The Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster’s effects are clearly visible, as a solid majority of the state’s residents now oppose more offshore drilling (59 percent of California adults oppose, 36 percent favor), which is a 16-point increase in opposition from last year. It’s a partisan split; 72 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of independents oppose more drilling, while 64 percent of Republicans favor it.
  • Just 21 percent have either a great deal (8 percent) or good amount (13 percent) of confidence in the government to make the right decisions in dealing with the Gulf of Mexico spill; residents also lack confidence in the federal government’s ability to prevent future spills, with about three in 10 very (7 percent) or fairly (21 percent) confident, 32 percent not very confident, and 37 percent not confident at all.
  • Californians are divided (49 percent oppose, 44 percent favor) about building more nuclear power plants to address the nation’s energy needs and reduce dependence on foreign oil; 57 percent of Democrats are opposed, while 67 percent of Republicans and 51 percent of independents favor building more plants now. Overwhelming majorities favor increasing federal funding to develop wind, solar, and hydrogen technology (83 percent), and requiring automakers to significantly improve the fuel efficiency of cars sold in this country (83 percent).
  • Support for AB 32 – the state’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction law, now under fire by Proposition 23 – remains strong at 67 percent of California adults; it was at 66 percent last year. Asked whether the government should act to reduce emissions right away or wait until the state economy and job situation improve, a slim majority (53 percent) said California should act right away, while 42 percent said the state should wait.
  • And among other political findings:

  • President Barack Obama’s approval rating is at 56 percent among all adults, 54 percent among registered voters and 50 percent among likely voters.
  • Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s approval rating is at 25 percent among all adults, 24 percent among registered voters and 25 percent among likely voters.
  • The California Legislature’s approval rating is at 15 percent among all adults, 12 percent among registered voters and 10 percent among likely voters.
  • Only 15 percent of all adults believe California is generally headed in the right direction; that number drops to 11 percent among registered voters and 8 percent among likely voters.
  • Only 25 percent of all adults see good economic times ahead for California; that number drops to 22 percent among registered voters and 19 percent among likely voters.
  • Findings are based on a telephone survey of 2,502 California adult residents reached by landline and cell phones throughout the state from July 6 through 20, with interviews conducted in English, Spanish, Chinese (Mandarin or Cantonese), Vietnamese, and Korean. The margins of error are two percentage points for all adults; 2.2 percentage points for the 1,971 registered voters; and 2.7 percentage points for the 1,321 likely voters.

    9

    Let the budget wars begin. Again.

    Advocates for the elderly, disabled, poor and others are howling about Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s May Budget Revision, which among other things would eliminate CalWORKS, the state’s welfare-to-work program, as well as most child care for the poor; slash mental-health spending by 60 percent; and freeze funding for schools, but not raise any taxes.

    But business groups are fine with it. From John Kabateck, executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB)/California, on behalf of Californians Against Higher Taxes:

    John Kabateck“We are thankful to Governor Schwarzenegger for making the tough decisions on this budget that will give California a fighting chance to pull out of this recession. By resisting calls for more tax increases, the Governor is leaving more money in the hands of those who create jobs and build businesses as well as the working families hit so hard by this downturn in the economy.

    “This is the only way to reduce the state’s alarming unemployment rate and it is a healthy, robust economy that will provide the tax revenues to fund critical programs. We urge the Legislature to follow the Governor’s lead and help put California on the road to recovery.”

    And from California Manufacturers & Technology Association President Jack Stewart:

    Jack Stewart“Californians are out of work and worried about their long-term security while many manufacturers, especially small ones, are concerned about their long-term competitiveness. The Governor’s ‘no new tax increases’ announcement in his revised state budget proposal is a responsible step toward the state’s recovery.

    “California’s budget focus must shift from extracting dollars from families and employers to putting people back to work in high wage jobs. Everyone wins when more Californians are working.”

    Not so, contends California Budget Project Executive Director Jean Ross, whose nonpartisan nonprofit group advocates for fiscal reforms to benefit low and moderate income Californians:

    Jean Ross“Largely because of the economic downturn, California once again faces a very difficult budget year. But the Governor’s May Revision is not the balanced, responsible approach called for at this critical time. It relies too heavily on proposed cuts, threatens the state’s economic recovery, and recklessly gambles with our future. It pulls the rug out from under families already struggling with double-digit unemployment rates and the worst economic crisis this country has seen since the Great Depression and would leave the state ill-prepared to compete in an ever more competitive global economy.

    “The Governor’s proposals cut far past the muscle and into the bones of our state’s safety net – the health care, job placement, child care assistance, and other services Californians have turned to in greater numbers for help during the recent downturn. The Governor’s proposed cuts to public schools would further reduce the state’s commitment to education below that of the nation as a whole, a gap that is wider than at any point in the last 40 years.

    “Instead, California needs a thoughtful and responsible budget, one that takes a balanced approach that includes more federal aid and prudent and carefully targeted cuts that preserve the core capacity of services. And in the same way that families unable to make ends meet work overtime or take an additional job to boost their incomes, California needs to bring in new revenues. Protecting our public services will ensure we can meet the needs of Californians now and pave the way for an economic recovery.”

    A sampling of further back-and-forth, after the jump…
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