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Excessive water use tax of up to 300%?

Water agencies could impose a tax of up to 300 percent on excessive use, under an East Bay lawmaker’s bill.

Bob WieckowskiSB 789 by state Sen. Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, will be heard Wednesday by the Assembly Local Government Committee. He held a news conference Tuesday at the Matsui Water Park, along the Sacramento River.

“California is in an historical drought emergency that threatens basic water supplies in some areas, yet there are still some residents and businesses who seem oblivious to the need to conserve, or they just don’t care,” Wieckowski, who chairs the Senate Environmental Quality Committee, said in a release issued afterward.

“SB 789 allows local water districts to go to the voters for permission to levy an excise tax on the worst water abusers,” he said. “It is one more tool local agencies can utilize to change bad behavior. This is a drought that affects all of us and we should all conserve and do our part to get us through this crisis.”

The State Water Resources Control Board has moved to curtail water use during the state’s historic drought, calling for a 25 percent cut, yet many water agencies are far from reaching their reduction goals despite managers’ best efforts. Wieckowski’s bill would let agencies impose up to a 300 percent tax on excessive use – a level to be determined by the local agencies – with revenue going to water conservation projects for those communities.

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Law profs blast Birgeneau’s Occupy Cal response

More than 85 faculty members at the University of California, Berkeley Law School have signed a letter to Chancellor Robert Birgeneau and other administrators condemning the police response to Occupy Cal protesters last week.

The Boalt Hall faculty’s letter says police not only instigated violence at Sproul Plaza, but also were “unwarranted and excessive” in detaining two law students elsewhere that day. The letter urges Birgeneau to publicly support and defend the right to engage in non-violent political expression.

Among the signers is former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, now serving as a Distinguished Practitioner of Law and Public Policy at the school.

Read the full text of the letter, after the jump…
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Assembly panel OKs new insurance regulation

Health-care reform advocates are pleased that the Assembly Health Committee voted 12-7 yesterday to approve AB 52, which would give the state Insurance Commissioner the power to reject excessive health insurance rate increases.

Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones – who sponsored the bill carried by Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles – said health insurers regularly announce premium increases that far surpass the rate of medical inflation, sometimes several per year. Regulators in 20 states have authority not only to review rate hikes but to reject the excessive ones, and Jones and Feuer believe it’s time California joins them.

“Since I took office, Californians have made it exceedingly clear that they want me to reject excessive rate increases, but I do not have this authority as Insurance Commissioner – AB 52 can change this,” Jones said in a news release today, noting he had introduced this legislation three times while serving in the Legislature.

Feuer said the Assembly Health Committee “recognized that Californians should not have to depend on the whim of an insurance company to halt a major rate increase. This was a crucial first step toward getting AB 52 signed into law, but until that happens, California families will continue to live in fear that they are just one rate hike away from no longer being able to afford health insurance.”

Health Access California Executive Director Anthony Wright called the committee’s approval of the bill “a good first step toward the rate relief that Californians so desperately need, as we continue to stuggle with the one-two punch of an economic recession and rising health care costs.” California needs this authority especially to keep insurers from gaming the system before other consumer protections are put in place in 2014, he added.

Carla Saporta, health program manager at The Greenlining Institute, said the claim that patients will lose access to care if state regulators stop insurers from price gouging “is a classic robber-baron mentality.”

“Groups that truly represent healthcare consumers and small businesses – including minority small businesses which have been badly hurt in the current economy – can see through the spin,” she said. “That’s why community clinics such as La Maestra in San Diego and the Korean Health Education Information & Research Center in Los Angeles have joined with many ethnic chambers of commerce and business organizations to support this bill. Small business owners and organizations have told us that they want us to fight for AB 52, and we will.”

Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Natomas – a pediatrician by trade – joined with the committee’s Republicans to oppose the bill.

“Dr. Pan has dedicated his life to building a healthier California by making real, on-the-ground improvements to our health care system,” Brian O’Hara, Pan’s press secretary, said today. “He knows that if we’re going to actually improve health outcomes and reduce costs, we need more innovations, not regulations, so at this point AB 52 does not make for a balanced approach.”

The bill now goes to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.