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Barbara Lee leads effort to widen abortion access

Rep. Barbara Lee and two other House members led 70 Democrats in introducing a bill Wednesday that would require Medicaid and other taxpayer-funded health insurance to provide coverage for abortions.

The Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance Act, or the EACH Woman Act, essentially would end the Hyde Amendment policy – a legislation “rider” attached to annual spending bills since 1976 that bans use of certain federal funds to pay for abortion except in cases of incest or rape.

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)“Each and every day, the rights of women are under attack in America – today, we push back because every person has a right to healthcare,” Lee, D-Oakland, said in a news release. “The EACH Woman Act is a bold and groundbreaking step forward. This legislation would ensure that every woman can access all of her healthcare options, regardless of how much money she earns or where she lives.”

“Regardless of how someone personally feels about abortion, none of us, especially elected officials, should be interfering with a woman’s right to make her own healthcare decisions just because she is poor.”

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., joined Lee in introducing the bill – which probably is dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled House.

Lee’s office quoted a recent poll by Hart Research which found 86 percent of voters agreed that “however we feel about abortion, politicians should not be allowed to deny a woman’s health coverage because she is poor.” Support for that statement was strong across all age ranges, and stood at 79 percent of Republican surveyed.

The bill is supported by 33 national and state organizations. Policies like the Hyde Amendment and state insurance bans have withheld coverage for safe, legal abortion care for too long, said Vicki Saporta, president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation.

“It’s unconscionable that we have allowed politicians to take away some women’s decisions just because of where they live or their income level,” Saporta said. “The EACH Woman Act would ensure health coverage for abortion for every woman no matter what type of insurance she has, where she lives, or how much money she has.”

Jessica González-Rojas, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, said most Americans agree a woman enrolled in Medicaid should have all of her pregnancy-related healthcare covered by insurance, including abortion.

“And among young people and people of color, that opinion is a tidal wave,” she said. “We are ready to change the game in Washington. We are organized, making phone calls, knocking on doors, and paying visits to our members of Congress. We are ready to do what it takes to make Hyde history.”

National Right to Life, the nation’s oldest and largest anti-abortion-rights organization, didn’t answer an email Wednesday seeking comment on the legislation.

UPDATE @ 10:19 A.M. THURSDAY: Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, got back to me Thursday morning.

“There is empirical evidence that well over one million Americans are alive today because of the Hyde Amendment, probably much closer to two million,” he said. “The one to two million Americans alive today because of the Hyde Amendment include, no doubt, many constituents of Congresswoman Lee. We think that each of these human lives has great worth. Contrary to the premises of the bill, we believe that pregnancy is not a disease, and we believe that elective abortion is not health care.”

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Pot advocates form 2016 initiative committee

A national marijuana advocacy group is filing papers with the Secretary of State’s office Wednesday to form a committee in support of a 2016 ballot measure for recreational legalization.

That measure is still coalescing, but the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project says it’ll be part of a coalition of activists, organizations and businesses supporting a plan they expect will resemble the MPP-financed initiative approved by Colorado in 2012. And they intend to start raising money immediately.

“Marijuana prohibition has had an enormously detrimental impact on California communities. It’s been ineffective, wasteful, and counterproductive. It’s time for a more responsible approach,” MPP Executive Director Rob Kampia said in a news release. “A diverse coalition of activists, organizations, businesses, and community leaders will be joining together in coming months to draft the most effective and viable proposal possible. Public opinion has been evolving nationwide when it comes to marijuana policy, and Californians have always been ahead of the curve.

“Marijuana is an objectively less harmful substance than alcohol, and that’s how it needs to be treated,” Kampia added. “Regulating and taxing marijuana similarly to alcohol just makes sense.”

California activists have been watching Colorado’s and Washington state’s experiences with legalization, and have said they’ll tweak the Golden State’s ballot measure accordingly.

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Tom Steyer targets senate, gov races in 7 states

San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer will focus his anti-climate-change political activism this year on races in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Maine, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, he announced Thursday.

Tom SteyerSteyer said his NextGen Climate organization will support candidates who have the courage to tackle climate change as a key issue.

“The debate on climate change is settled: it is here, it is human-caused, and it is already having a devastating impact on our communities, but we need to accelerate the level of political support to address this critical issue before it’s too late,” he said in a news reelase. “This means making politicians feel the heat—in their campaign coffers and at the polls.”

The release said NextGen Climate will “use climate as a wedge issue, both to motivate voter turnout with the rising electorate and to demonstrate that being anti-science will hurt our opponents among persuadable voters.” That will include criticizing policy positions that benefit fossil fuels and candidates who take money from the oil and coal industries.

So NextGen Climate intends to be active in:

  • Colorado, where U.S. Senate candidate Cory Gardner – “a science denier – has taken hundreds of thousands in donations from fossil fuel companies while voting for their interests;”
  • Florida, where incumbent Gov, Rick Scott “is a climate denier and has decimated efforts to ‘preserve environmentally sensitive land;’”
  • Iowa, where U.S. Senate candidate Joni Ernst “has ‘not seen proven proof ‘ that climate change ‘is entirely man-made’ and former energy CEO Mark Jacobs is ‘not convinced that man-made causes are causing’ climate change;”
  • Maine, where incumbent Gov. Paul LePage “denies that climate change is a threat, rather saying it offers Maine ‘a lot of opportunities;’”
  • Michigan, where U.S. Senate candidate Terry Lynn Land “has the support of the Koch Brothers who are spending millions on her race and have threatened the state’s water and air quality with their dirty energy stockpiles;”
  • New Hampshire, where U.S. Senate candidate Scott Brown “looks out for the Koch Brothers and his Big Oil buddies, taking their campaign dollars and voting to protect $24 billion in oil subsidies;” and
  • Pennsylvania, where Governor Tom Corbett “favors powerful corporate energy executives over Pennsylvania families.”
  • “Climate change will not be solved by easy answers or quick fixes, but the path forward is simple,” said Steyer. “Our country must have the courage to solve our climate crisis for the sake of the next generation.”

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    Gun control groups say California is still tops

    Eight states including California enacted major gun-control laws in the year since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., two big gun-control groups reported Monday.

    Robyn Thomas“We really see this as a turning point on this issue,” Robyn Thomas, executive director of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, told reporters on a conference call Monday morning. “This year after Newtown, we got calls from 30 different states interested in introducing legislation. … That was an absolute watershed change from years past.”

    The scorecard report put out by the Law Center and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence ranks all states based on 30 policy approaches to regulating guns and ammunition. States received points for having effective laws in each policy area, with stronger laws receiving more points. A letter grade (A to F) indicates the overall strength or weakness of a state’s gun laws.

    California received an A- and continues to top the list of states with the nation’s strongest gun laws. But Connecticut jumped from ranking 4th to 2nd and is joined by New Jersey, New York, Delaware, and Maryland at the top of the list of states with strong gun laws, all of which also passed new legislation in 2013. States ranking at the bottom with the weakest gun laws include Arizona, Alaska, Wyoming, and South Dakota – many of which also have some of the highest gun death rates in the country.

    Dan Gross“We think the Sandy Hook tragedy was a watershed moment,” Brady Campaign president Dan Gross said on the conference call. But watershed moments like this are only catalysts, he said: Ultimately laws don’t change unless people rise up and demand it. “Many states have listened to the will of the American people, state lawmakers have represented their constituents, while Congress has not.”

    Laura Cutilletta, senior staff attorney at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said some of the new state laws were substantial. Five states – Connecticut, New York, Delaware, Colorado and Illinois – tightened their background check laws to include private sales. Four states – Illinois, New York, Maryland and Delaware – required owners to quickly report the loss or theft of their firearms. Three states – Connecticut, Maryland and New York – passed laws regulating ammunition sales with record keeping and/or background checks. Four states – California, Connecticut, New York and Maryland – beefed up their assault weapons laws in some way. And five states – California, New York, Connecticut, Colorado and Maryland – strengthened existing laws or added new ones dealing with ammunition magazines.

    “To see this many states do this many substantive changes… is really quite amazing,” Cutilletta said.
    While the states’ progress is encouraging, “we can’t have a patchwork system,” Gross said. “Now it’s time for Congress to follow the lead of these states.

    But even though polls show the bipartisan legislation to expand background checks is supported by nine out of 10 Americans including four out of five gun owners, Gross said, getting such a bill through Congress requires reassuring lawmakers that passing it is in their political best interest. “If we can’t do that, we will not succeed in 2014.”

    Gun_Rights_vs_Gun_Control_yearlylobying-01The Sunlight Foundation reported Monday that gun-control groups as of June 30 reported spending five times as much on federal lobbying in 2013 as they did in 2012 – about $1.6 million. Yet gun-rights groups still outspent by more than 7 to 1, sinking $12.2 million into the fight.

    “The months following Sandy Hook saw not only an increase in the quantity of lobbying over gun control but in the nature of the lobbying,” writes Nancy Watzman of the Sunlight Reporting Group. “Much of the increased lobbying spending by gun control groups at the federal level went to hire lions of the Washington lobbyist establishment, big names who have gone through the revolving door from Congress and the executive branch.”

    “Their typical clients are Fortune 500 companies and major trade associations, as opposed to clients with an ideological bent,” Watzman wrote. “For most, this was the first time they reported signing on to the gun issue. In this, the gun control groups were mirroring their opposition: The NRA has long hired outside lobbyists to supplement its staff. Overall, gun control groups reported hiring some three dozen lobbyists at eight lobbying firms. For the vast majority, it was the first time they reported lobbying on behalf of a gun control group.”

    Gross said his group, the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and many other groups and individuals are in this for the long haul; he noted that it took six votes over seven years to pass the Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act of 1993. “It doesn’t happen overnight.”

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    Donnelly hires seasoned campaign spokeswoman

    Assemblyman Tim Donnelly today announced the addition of a familiar face to his gubernatorial campaign – veteran GOP press secretary Jennifer Kerns.

    Kerns & DonnellyKerns, 40, comes to the Donnelly campaign fresh from her role in unseating two Colorado state senators in a recall election prompted by those lawmakers support of stricter gun laws enacted this year.

    And Kerns and Donnelly were together at the California Republican Party’s convention this past weekend in Anaheim to roll out Kerns’ new 501(c)(4) group Free California, which “won’t rule out ‘Colorado-style recall elections’ should Gov. Jerry Brown sign the gun-control bills now in his desk.

    “Jennifer brings to the campaign an aggressive style of communication that will help me communicate to millions of voters about jobs, the economy, and my plan for how we can do better in California,” Donnelly said in a news release. “Her relationships with the grassroots and with statewide media contacts will help me get my message out to every corner of the state.”

    Kerns said she believes in Donnelly “and his vision for standing on principle to show Californians that we have a better way forward. I look forward to a robust debate about California’s economy and how Californians have suffered over the last four years under the failed policies of the Democrat Party. I also look forward to educating voters about Abel Maldonado’s failed record on tax increases and other key issues that are important to the Republican base.”

    Donnelly, R-Hesperia, has made a name for himself as an outspoken conservative opponent of almost everything the Democrat-dominated Legislature does, but his campaign hasn’t gotten off to a hot financial start -it had only $27,418 in the bank as of June 30, and has reported only $10,000 in big-ticket donations (two $5,000 contributions) since then. Then again, Republican gubernatorial competitor Abel Maldonado recently had several staffers quit his campaign and in recent days has essentially rebooted his effort. Former Rep. George Radanovich of Mariposa recently said he’s considering a run, too.

    Kerns served in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration and was communications director for the last campaign to ever elect a GOP official to statewide office – Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, in 2006. She went on to serve as Poizner’s department’s communications director during the workers’ compensation crisis and the historic California wildfires.

    Kerns also has been a consultant to the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association for almost five years, and was a spokeswoman for Proposition 8, the gay-marriage ban of 2008.

    Named as the California Republican Party’s communications director in January 2012, Kerns took some heat two months later for suggesting that a female pundit who’d criticized Rush Limbaugh for calling a law school student a “slut” was herself one. Kerns and the state GOP parted ways shortly after that, although that might’ve had more to do with the party’s dire financial situation than with Kerns.