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Signatures sent in for Medi-Cal funding measure

Health care providers and community groups have gathered and are submitting 1.3 million signatures to put a measure on November’s ballot that they say will provide stable funding for health care for children and, through Medi-Cal, for seniors and low-income residents.

“California voters will get the chance this fall to strengthen this critically important law, and improve access to quality affordable medical care for those who need it most,” California Hospital Association President and CEO C. Duane Dauner said in a news release.

The Medi-Cal Funding and Accountability Act of 2014 “will ensure California receives ongoing access to approximately $3 billion annually in federal matching funds,” Dauner said. “This is California’s fair share, money that would otherwise be left on the table in Washington, D.C.”

California’s hospitals for the past several years have taxed themselves to get access to the federal funds, but the budget-crunched state at times has diverted some of that money to its general fund. Last year’s SB 239, passed by the Legislature without any opposing votes and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, extended this fee through 2017 and specified how the money could be spent.

This measure would make that law permanent, and would require that “any changes in the program or to how the money is spent would have to be approved by voters first,” Christopher Dawes, president and CEO of Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford and Stanford Children’s Health, noted in the release.

Patients aren’t assessed any fees, and there are no new or increased taxes.

“We don’t have a single voice of opposition – this is a win-win for everybody… and it doesn’t cost a dime to California taxpayers,” said Anne McLeod, the California Hospital Association’s senior vice president of health policy.

The money must be spent to provide health care services to children and, through Medi-Cal, to elderly and low-income Californians. Without the federal funds, money would have to come from privately insured patients; the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office finds the measure would save state taxpayers $500 million for children’s health coverage starting in 2016-17, growing to more than $1 billion per year by 2019-20.

Dauner said people with private insurance shouldn’t face higher rates to subsidize unpaid Medi-Cal bills if federal money is available to cover the cost. “The Act is a common-sense answer to helping people provide health care to those who need it most, at great benefit to California taxpayers.”

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Mike Thompson helps introduce FISA oversight act

Rep. Mike Thompson helped introduce a bipartisan bill today that he and his co-authors say would strengthen congressional oversight and improve accountability from the nation’s intelligence community, which has been accused of overstepping its bounds in surveillance of U.S. citizens.

The Intelligence Oversight and Accountability Act of 2013, H.R. 3103, requires that any Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court decision, order or opinion that includes a denial or modification of an intelligence community request, or that results in a change to any legal interpretation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, be shared with Congress.

Mike Thompson“Our government has a responsibility to both protect American lives and our citizens’ civil liberties,” Thompson, D-Napa, said in a news release. “This bill helps us meet that responsibility by strengthening Congress’ aggressive oversight of our Intelligence Community. Through the oversight and accountability provided by this bill, we can help make sure our Intelligence Community operates within legal and constitutional boundaries while they continue their brave work to keep Americans safe.”

The bill’s other co-authors are Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J.; Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill.; and J. Randy Forbes, R-Va.

Under current law, when the FISC or the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review issues a decision, order, or opinion, the attorney general must determine if the issue considered by the FISC includes a “significant construction or interpretation of the law.” If the attorney general determines that the decision is significant, that information must be shared with Congress. But if the attorney general determines that the decision is not “significant,” the information doesn’t have to be shared with Congress.

The bill also requires the Justice Department to include enhanced summaries of the FISC’s decisions, orders, and opinions to make the facts, issues, and legal reasoning involved in these matters more accessible to Congress.

H.R. 3103 has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, on which Gutierrez and Forbes are senior members, and the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, on which Thompson, LoBiondo and Gutierrez are senior members.

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Mark Leno responds to Public Records Act hubbub

The story that Tom Peele and I wrote late Friday afternoon about a budget trailer bill essentially letting local governments opt out of their obligations under the Public Records Act – which many say guts the law – drew a lot of righteous outrage over the weekend.

The general policy initially had been suggested by Gov. Jerry Brown, in his budget proposals. State Sen. Mark Leno, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee that authored the bill in question, didn’t get back to me Friday in time for the story’s deadline, but did return my call and leave me a message on Saturday afternoon. (I was off Monday, so I only just heard it this morning.) Here’s what Leno, D-San Francisco, said:

Mark Leno“The policy question before the Legislature was not in support or opposition to the Public Records Act – that is intact. Voters have supported the public records act, that has not changed. The policy question was is it a responsibility of the general fund – and the LAO has pegged the cost at tens of millions of dollars annually – to pay for local government to do what they should and the voters want them to do.

“We do not believe that there will be much change at all. Local government is not going to stop doing this, and if they do, they put themselves, local electeds will put themselves on record as a result of this bill to say ‘We won’t do this anymore.’ So if reporters or the public or anybody else has a problem with that, it’s with their local elected officials.

“Everyone supports the Public Records Act, it’s a question of is it a responsibility of the general fund. And then of course there’s the whole conversation of how the state has been abused by these mandates, locals billing us outrageous amounts for minimal time and expense – that’s a whole other question.”

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How transparent is California’s government?

Lest my story yesterday about California’s disgraced politicians cast our state government as one big den of iniquity, a new study by government watchdog groups ranks California fourth in the nation for transparency, accountability and anti-corruption mechanisms.

The report by the Center for Public Integrity, Public Radio International and Global Integrity didn’t award any “A” grades, but five states got a B grade, 19 got Cs, 18 got Ds and eight received an F for epic Fail.

The groups concluded the top five most transparent and accountable states are New Jersey B+(87); Connecticut B(86); Washington B-(83); California B-(81); and Nebraska B-(80). North Dakota, Michigan, South Carolina, Maine, Virginia, Wyoming, South Dakota and Georgia got Fs.

Reporters in each state researched 330 “corruption risk indicators” across 14 categories of government: access to information, campaign finance, executive accountability, legislative accountability, judicial accountability, budgeting, civil service management, procurement, internal auditing, lobbying disclosure, pension fund management, ethics enforcement, insurance commissions, and redistricting. The methodology was designed by Global Integrity, a nonprofit that measures and promotes transparency and accountability in more than 100 countries around the world.

But don’t get cocky – another watchdog issued a report last week giving California only a D- in transparency, at least as it pertains to online access to government spending data.

The California Public Interest Research Group (CalPIRG) third annual report is based on feedback from officials in 47 states regarding their initial evaluation of state transparency websites. This year’s report found that 46 states now provide an online database of government expenditures with “checkbook-level” detail, up from 32 states two years ago; 29 state transparency websites now provide information on government expenditures through tax code deductions, exemptions and credits, up from eight states two years ago. Texas, Kentucky, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, West Virginia and Arizona got the highest marks.

“At a time when anyone with a smart phone can summon a satellite image of the capitol building in seconds, we should be able to see what’s happening inside the building just as easily,” said Pedro Morillas, CALPIRG legislative director. “As home to the tech industry, it’s disappointing and embarrassing that California is not only lagging behind, but actively moving in the wrong direction when it comes to keeping pace with current online transparency standards.”

CalPIRG contends states that created or improved their online transparency have typically done so with little upfront cost; a site recently taken down in California had cost just $21,000 a year.

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Miller introduces bill to expose 401(k) fees

House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Martinez, today introduced HR 1984, the 401(k) Fair Disclosure for Retirement Security Act of 2009, which would require fee disclosure on the investment options contained in employers’ 401(k) plans.

Believe it or not, current law doesn’t require all fees that workers pay to be disclosed, and the information that is available can be hard for workers to find and evaluate. Having all those fees clearly detailed will help workers shop around for the best retirement options, Miller contends.

“Especially during these troubling economic times, workers need to be able to account for every penny taken from their hard-earned savings,” Miller said in a news release. “Workers should be entitled to clear and complete information about their retirement security.”

More on why you should care about those fees, after the jump…
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Oh, so NOW they want an exit strategy?

House Republican leaders sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke yesterday outlining their concerns about the lack of transparency in the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) — the $700 billion financial-markets bailout — even as Treasury officials decide whether to ask Congress to release more of the money.

Such opaqueness is unacceptable, particularly if it is your intention to ask Congress to release the remaining $350 billion in taxpayer funds that were conditionally authorized by Congress this fall. It is our strongly held view that before any such request is made, the American people need satisfactory answers to a number of important questions. While the Treasury and Federal Reserve play different roles within the government, many of your recent activities have been coordinated efforts. As a result, we request answers to the following questions:

    1. What is your exit strategy for the government’s sweeping involvement in private business?

Whoa. I’m all for more transparency and accountability, but I spend much of my day writing so I’m a little sensitive to use of the language, and I think House Republicans should be banned from using the phrase “exit strategy” for the time being, don’t you? I mean, by some estimates we’ve spent well over $600 billion — some say it’s way into the trillions — on the war in Iraq (not to mention the steep human costs), but I didn’t see these same Republicans pushing the Bush Administration for an exit strategy there. I guess big government is in the eye of the beholder.