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Jerry Brown signs beer-bike bill, goes for a spin

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill into law Sunday creating inspection and safety standards for pedal-powered quadricycles – sometimes called “beer bikes” – on which up to 15 people can tool around town knocking back drinks.

Off the Chain beer bikeCompanies in cities including Sacramento, San Diego and Palm Springs already have been offering guided tours through tourism and entertainment areas, often including stops at bars and restaurants. But until now they’ve been licensed by host cities without any state involvement, creating some uncertainty about whether the car-sized rigs can lawfully use city streets because there was no existing vehicle definition that covered them, according to a legislative analysis. And while they could stop at bars, no alcohol could be consumed on board.

State Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, pedaled to the rescue with SB 530, which expands the definition of a pedicab to include a device which is primarily pedal-powered, has a seating capacity of not more than 15 passengers, and cannot travel faster than 15 miles per hour.

The new law requires this type of pedicab to have basic safety equipment including seat belts, seat backs, brakes, reflectors, headlights, and grab rails, and to be operated by a 21-year-old adult with a valid California driver’s license. Existing devices have until January 1, 2017, to retrofit with this equipment. The quadricycles still must be authorized by local ordinance and cannot operate on a road with a speed limit greater than 30 mph, and any accidents in which they’re involved must be reported to the California Highway Patrol.

But perhaps most important to keeping the party a’pedalin’, the law now provides for allowing consumption of alcohol on board so long as the locla municipality allows it and the operator provides an on-board adult safety monitor; both this monitor and the driver must have completed the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control’s licensee education program.

The Assembly and state Senate both passed the bill unanimously last month.

But Brown didn’t just sign the bill Sunday. Oh, no – he signed it in style.

Brown signs SB530

Brown signed his name to the new law aboard a quadricycle run by Sacramento’s Off The Chain Bike Bus Tours and then – accompanied by his wife, Anne Gust; his top aide, Nancy McFadden; and Senator Pan – immediately took off on a ride.

Cue the Chris Christie jokes here.

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Tim Donnelly launches referendum vs. vaccine law

Former assemblyman and 2014 gubernatorial candidate Tim Donnelly is launching a referendum campaign to overturn California’s new law requiring mandatory vaccinations for public and private school students.

Donnelly, the arch-conservative from Twin Peaks, submitted his proposed referendum Wednesday to the state Attorney General’s office for preparation of an official title and summary, with which he can circulate petitions to place it on the November 2016 ballot.

Tim Donnelly“This referendum is not about vaccinations; it is about defending the fundamental freedom of a parent to make an informed decisions for their children without being unduly penalized by a government that believes it knows best,” he said in a news release.

It certainly seems to be in keeping with Donnelly’s political philosophy; his talk radio show’s website describes him as “broadcasting from deep behind enemy lines in the occupied territory of the socialist republic of California.” Donnelly finished third, with about 15 percent of the vote, behind Gov. Jerry Brown and Republican rival Neel Kashkari in last year’s top-two gubernatorial primary.

Donnelly’s news release says California enjoys one of the nation’s highest vaccination rates, even though it has let people opt out for personal or religious reasons. But by signing SB 277 into law Tuesday, Brown “deprived every Californian of that choice should they wish to send their children to a private or public school,” the release said.

“For the vast majority, this is not an issue, but for those who are concerned about the inherent risks of an ever increasing schedule of vaccinations, or who themselves or their children have suffered severe reactions, up to and including death, having the freedom to opt out is everything,” the release said. “Now, that freedom is subject to the arbitrary control and subjective determination of a doctor and the government, instead of the parent.”

UPDATE @ 3:02 P.M.: State Sen. Richard Pan, the pediatrician who authored SB 277, issued a statement later Wednesday noting Californians “overwhelmingly support requiring vaccinations for school.

“Our bill was a reasonable, science-based approach to protecting children, and the most vulnerable among us, from dangerous diseases,” wrote Pan, D-Sacramento. “Vaccines are one of the most powerful tools we have to prevent deadly communicable diseases. I have spent my career campaigning to build healthier and safe communities and I will continue that work by fighting any referendum that hurts Californians.”

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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:

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Efforts to roll back abortion laws start circulating

Supporters can start circulating petitions for two ballot referenda to overturn a pair of abortion-access laws signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last month, Secretary of State Debra Bowen announced Thursday.

Brown on Oct. 9 signed into law AB 154 by Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, so nurse practitioners, certified nurse-midwives and physician assistants with special training can perform abortion by aspiration — in which the uterus’ contents are suctioned out — which is the most common kind of first-trimester abortion. The Assembly passed the bill on a 50-25 vote in May, and the state Senate passed it on a 50-25 vote in August, with most Democrats and no Republicans voting for it.

Brown also that day signed AB 980 by Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, which requires the repeal of any sections of the California Building Standards Code that treat primary-care clinics differently if they do abortions.

With dozens of new abortion restrictions enacted in other states this year, California stood alone in passing laws to increase access.

Bowen said Thursday that proponent Laurette Elsberry can start circulating petitions for her measures to roll back these new laws. The attorney general’s official titles and summaries for these measures are:

REFERENDUM TO OVERTURN LAW ALLOWING SPECIFIED LICENSED MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS TO PERFORM EARLY ABORTION PROCEDURES. If signed by the required number of registered voters and timely filed with the Secretary of State, this petition will place on the statewide ballot a challenge to a state law previously approved by the Legislature and the Governor. The law must then be approved by a majority of voters at the next statewide election to go into effect. The law would permit a nurse practitioner, certified nurse-midwife, or physician assistant with a valid license and training to perform specified early abortion procedures. (13-0029.)

REFERENDUM TO REIMPOSE DIFFERENT STANDARDS ON CLINICS PROVIDING ABORTION SERVICES THAN ON OTHER PRIMARY CARE CLINICS. If signed by the required number of registered voters and timely filed with the Secretary of State, this petition will place on the statewide ballot a challenge to a state law previously approved by the Legislature and the Governor. The law must then be approved by a majority of voters at the next statewide election to go into effect. The law would repeal regulations that impose different building and licensing standards on clinics providing abortion services than on other primary care clinics. (13-0030.)

Elsberry – who voter registration records indicate is a 75-year-old Republican from Sacramento – has until Jan. 7 to gather and submit valid signatures from at least 504,760 registered voters for each measure.

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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.