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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 »

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 »

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 »

Steinberg, Corbett to lead trip to Central America

State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Majority Leader Ellen Corbett will lead a delegation of state lawmakers to Central America next week, in part to explore the political, economic and social situation driving a flood of unaccompanied children to the U.S. border.

centralamerica-political-mapThe lawmakers will meet with an array of officials in El Salvador and Guatemala to probe the situation and find out what states like California can do to meet the humanitarian challenge presented by the undocumented immigrant tsunami. Dangerous conditions in those nations and Honduras have driven parents to send more than 52,000 children north to the U.S. border in recent months.

Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Corbett, D-Hayward, will be joined on the trip by Legislative Latino Caucus members Assemblyman Jose Medina, D-Riverside; Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno; Assemblyman V. Manuel Peréz, D-Coachella; and caucus vice-chair Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville.

The trip, from July 14 through 23, will include a stop in Panama to learn about the Canal Zone’s expansion. Some transportation, security and interpreting service costs are being borne by the host countries, and the remaining expenses – including airfare and hotels – will be paid by the lawmakers.

In El Salvador, the lawmakers are scheduled to meet with Salvadoran President Salvador Sanchez Ceren, Vice President Oscar Ortiz, Foreign Affairs Minister Hugo Martinez, Economy Minsiter Tharsis Salomon Lopez Guzman; Legislative Assembly President Sigfrido Reyes; and U.S. Ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte. In Guatemala, they’re scheduled to meet with Vice-minister of Foreign Relations Oscar Padilla Lam; Paul Briere, President of the Congressional Committee for Migrants of Guatemala; and U.S. Charge d’Affaires Charisse Phillips. And in Panama, they’re scheduled to meet with the Panama Canal Authority and U.S. Ambassador Jonathan Farrar.

Posted on Friday, July 11th, 2014
Under: Assembly, California State Senate, Darrell Steinberg, Ellen Corbett, Immigration | 4 Comments »

Brown signs same-sex marriage bill into law

With a stroke of Gov. Jerry Brown’s pen Monday morning, California did away with its last statutory barriers to same-sex marriage.

Brown signed SB 1306 by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, which replaces references to “husband and wife” with gender-neutral language, bringing state statutes into line with the state and U.S. Supreme Court rulings recognizing marriage rights for same-sex couples. The bill officially takes effect Jan. 1.

“This legislation removes outdated and biased language from state codes and recognizes all married spouses equally, regardless of their gender,” Leno said in a news release.

The U.S. Supreme Court in June 2013 let stand California’s ruling that Proposition 8 of 2008 – which wrote a ban on same-sex marriage into the state constitution – was unconstitutional. By repealing Proposition 8, that ruling essentially restored the California Supreme Court’s 2008 ruling that had cleared the way for same-sex marriages; weddings resumed almost immediately.

Leno’s bill was cosponsored by Attorney General Kamala Harris, Equality California and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

“Although there is no question that same-sex couples can marry in California, the discriminatory language that remains on the statutory books creates confusion about the rights of same-sex couples,” NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell said in Leno’s news release. “This law makes it clear to everyone that same-sex couples can marry and that all spouses have the exact same rights and responsibilities under the law, regardless of gender.”

Posted on Monday, July 7th, 2014
Under: California State Senate, Gov. Jerry Brown, Mark Leno, same-sex marriage | 3 Comments »

California’s “Ban the Box” law takes effect

California’s “Ban the Box” law – removing questions about criminal convictions from state and local government job applications – took effect Tuesday, and supporters say it’ll make the hunt for gainful employment easier for about 7 million Californians.

Ban the BoxA study released Tuesday by the National Employment Law Project shows public employers have updated their job applications to comply with the new law, enacted as AB 218 by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento.

“When we first introduced the bill nearly two-and-a-half years ago, our goal was to advance a simple but powerful message — that everyone who works hard deserves a second chance to turn their lives around and give back to their communities,” Dickinson said in a news release Tuesday. “We are heartened to see that the state’s public sector employers have embraced fair-chance hiring and that they are now setting an example for the private sector to follow.”

The law requires that state and local agencies determine a job applicant’s minimum qualifications first, and only after that can get and consider information about past criminal convictions. Certain employers – such as law enforcement agencies and school districts – are exempt from the law, as are any job positions subject to a criminal background check by an occupational or licensing law.

The NELP survey found all of California’s 10 largest counties and 10 largest cities – representing about three quarters of the state’s population – have removed the conviction-history question from their job applications and delayed the criminal background check until later in the hiring process.

Of the 10 largest counties, each of which has a population greater than 952,000, only Alameda, Santa Clara, and Riverside counties had a similar policy in place before AB 218 was signed into law. And of the 10 largest cities, each of which has a population of more than 346,000, only Oakland, San Diego, and San Francisco had such policies in place.

About half of the largest counties and cities – including Santa Clara County, Oakland and San Jose – have gone beyond what the new law requires: They delay the criminal-history inquiry until the employer makes a conditional offer of employment, or later. San Francisco has passed a local ordinance extending the policy to private employers, too. And Richmond and Compton extend the policies to private vendors doing business with those cities.

“AB 218 provided us with the mandate to adopt ban-the-box, which we’re proud to embrace, but it’s just a first step of our evolving process to ensure that all our residents share in the promise of economic opportunity,” said Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia, who has championed this cause.

The Assembly approved AB 219 on a 48-29 vote in May 2013, and it just barely squeaked through the state Senate on a 21-16 vote in September.

These “fair-chance hiring policies” are now in effect in 12 states plus almost 70 cities and counties across the nation.

Posted on Tuesday, July 1st, 2014
Under: Assembly, California State Senate | 19 Comments »

CA15: More time for a recount… if Corbett asks

Contrary to what was reported here last week, state Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett has not yet run out of time to request a recount of her apparent defeat in this month’s primary election for the 15th Congressional District.

After Contra Costa County’s results update on Tuesday afternoon, Corbett, D-Hayward, trails Republican candidate Hugh Bussell of Livermore by 430 votes in their battle to finish second after Rep. Eric Swalwell. The second-place finisher, of course, will go on to face Swalwell, D-Dublin, in November’s general election.

A spokesman for Alameda County Registrar Tim Dupuis had said Friday that candidates have five calendar days after the election results are certified – which Dupuis did Friday – in which to request a recount. But Dupuis said Wednesday that because this district spans two counties, candidates actually have five days starting on the 29th day following the election; the 29th day will be July 2, so a recount can be requested up until July 7.

Dupuis said Corbett has not yet requested a recount. Corbett hasn’t returned several calls over the past two weeks seeking comment on her intentions.

Posted on Wednesday, June 25th, 2014
Under: 2014 primary, Ellen Corbett, Eric Swalwell, U.S. House | 5 Comments »

Buchanan & DeSaulnier battle over license plates

Their East Bay Districts overlap, but Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan and state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier certainly weren’t seeing eye to eye at Monday’s Assembly Transportation Committee hearing.

DeSaulnier, D-Concord, was there to speak on behalf of his SB544, which would require the California Department of Education to apply to the Department of Motor Vehicles for creation of a specialized license plate program to generate funds for school violence prevention programs.

DeSaulnierThe problem is, DeSaulnier – who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee – earlier this year helped push through a resolution, SR28, that puts a moratorium on new license plate types until a task force made up of California Highway Patrol, DMV and local police can issue a report by July 2015 “on license plate designs appropriate for traffic safety and effective law enforcement in today’s environment.”

And that resolution essentially put the kibosh on Buchanan’s AB49, which would require the Department of Health Care Services to apply to DMV for a special license plate promoting breast cancer awareness – what supporters call the “pink plate” bill. AB49 now languishes in the Senate Rules Committee.

“Could you please explain to me why you should not have to follow the same rules as everyone else, and why this plate and any other should not be subject to the pending results of the study?” Buchanan, D-Alamo, asked DeSaulnier on Monday. “Because it seems to me that when we write a bill that kills one, it should apply to everybody, especially the author of that resolution.”

The difference, DeSaulnier replied, is that “the full-plate pink plate had a problem, in my conversations with the CHP” – police were concerned that the fully colored plate might be hard to distinguish from other states’ plates, especially under twilight conditions. His school-violence prevention plate, he said, merely has a logo on one side, not a fully different color.

But Buchanan insists SR28 applies to all specialty license plates. And “if we’re going to pass a resolution that clearly states it applies to all specialty plate types… we should be applying that equally to all license plates and not making special carve-outs,” she said.

Replied DeSaulnier: “If someone comes together with a plate that complies with our rules then it will get out of our committee.”

“Right now, my opinion is, your plate does not,” he told Buchanan. “In my discussions with CHP, they had some questions, so that’s why we’re doing the study. … My whole difficulty with your plate was whether public safety could see or not.”

Buchanan held her ground. “I believe for us to approve a bill that’s in conflict with an existing senate resolution that came out of the senate transportation department is not responsible,” she said. “I think that if they want to change it, it should be changed first.”

The Assembly Transportation committee voted 10-3 to advance DeSaulnier’s bill, which is now pending before the Assembly Education Committee.

The California Channel has video of the exchange here (starting at the 50-minute mark).

Posted on Wednesday, June 25th, 2014
Under: Assembly, California State Senate, Joan Buchanan, Mark DeSaulnier, Transportation | 9 Comments »