Bringing Worker Power to the State Capitol

Angie WeiBy Angie Wei

Legislative deadline weeks in the Capitol usually bring out all of the well-heeled suits representing a cacophony of corporate interests. Every industry's got a lobbyist (or several) moving a bill or killing a bill at this time of year. The "gate" - where lobbyists can request to see a Senator or Assemblymember on a particular measure - is usually bursting with pinstriped suits.

As in politics, Labor is generally outnumbered at the gate. I'd say that at deadline time, it's at least a 25-to-1 ratio of corporate-side vs. union-side representatives. But that was not so on Tuesday, May 28th.

Debating Obamacare: How About Them Apples?

By Anthony Wright

The white hot spotlight on health reform in California continues. For the New York Times Room For Debate, we at Health Access were pleased to contribute an essay, "Obamacare is Working in California" as part of a package answering the question, "Is Obamacare Too Complicated to Succeed?" Here's part of our answer:

In fact, the law is a huge step toward a simpler and more straightforward system. One of the new insurance exchanges under the ACA, Covered California, will offer standardized plans to finally allow consumers and small businesses to make apples-to-apples comparisons among health plans.

The law will also provide subsidies so low- and moderate-income families can pay only a percentage of their income, on a sliding scale. It's a revolutionary change; premiums now can be based on what you can afford, rather than how sick you are.

Using its purchasing power, Covered California has just announced negotiated rates with a broad selection of plans - and there's good news: the rates are lower than expected. This is partially because California explicitly gave its insurance marketplace the power to bargain for the best price and value.

Members of Congress Slam Brown's Peripheral Tunnel Plan

Dan BacherBy Dan Bacher

On the banks of the Sacramento River less than a mile from the State Capitol on May 30, five Members of Congress from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta region held a press conference to blast the current Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the peripheral tunnels and the lack of input afforded their constituents.

As the Representatives spoke, adult spring run Chinook salmon and American shad, fish whose very existence is threatened by the peripheral tunnels, migrated up the system to their spawning grounds. Meanwhile, juvenile fall run Chinook salmon, including 3 million released into the river by the Nimbus Fish Hatchery in May, made their way downriver to the ocean.

California Fracking Oversight Agencies Lack Inspectors, Knowledge, Says EPA

Dan AielloBy Dan Aiello

As more than 100 environmental groups launched a massive anti-fracking campaign yesterday in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento, California Progress Report's review of the agencies charged with oil industry oversight and protecting the state's groundwater supplies has found troubling signs that California is woefully unprepared to manage a proliferation of fracking wells anticipated to tap into the newly discovered Monterey Shale Deposit.

The deposit, stretching along the Golden State's ecologically fragile coastline from Los Angeles to San Francisco and through some of the most densely-populated regions, is said to contain up to 15.4 billion barrels of oil some 11,000 feet deep, and oil companies are keen to exploit the huge deposit in the only state that lacks any kind of oil severance tax.

Time for California Lawmakers to Ban the Bag

Jenesse MillerBy Jenesse Miller

"But they're so convenient." Really?

The main, lame argument I hear in favor of the ubiquitous single-use plastic bag is that it's convenient. And that it's difficult to remember to bring your own reusable bags when you're out shopping. Even the most responsible environmentalists among us have occasionally arrived at the grocery store and realized we've forgotten our trusty reusable bag (you know, the ones with the logo of our favorite public radio station proudly displayed) and had to juggle a few items on the way home on our bikes or in our electric or biodiesel cars.

California Enterprise Zones: Just a "Big-Business Tax Grab"?

By Gary Cohn

John Thomas and Hans Burkhardt have a lot in common. For more than 17 years each man had a good paying union job, with health and pension benefits, near San Francisco Bay. Thomas worked as a warehouseman for VWR International, a medical supply company with a warehouse in Brisbane, south of Candlestick Park. Burkhardt also worked as a warehouseman, for BlueLinx, a building products company with a facility across the bay in Newark.

The similarities don't end there. Both Thomas and Burkhardt are now collecting unemployment, having lost their $22-an-hour jobs after their employers moved to take advantage of California's enterprise zone plan, a controversial state program that is supposed to create jobs.

The IRS's Real Scandal

By Robert Reich

"This systematic abuse cannot be fixed with just one resignation, or two," said David Camp, the Republican chairman of the House tax-writing committee, at an oversight hearing dealing with the IRS. "This is not a personnel problem. This is a problem of the IRS being too large, too intrusive, too abusive."

No "Sticker Shock" for Covered California Health Care Consumers

By Anthony Wright

Covered California held a press conference last week announcing plans and rates that will be available to consumers starting January 1. This is one of the most significant steps yet toward being ready to serve consumers by the federally mandated 2014 deadline for health exchange availability under the 2010 Affordable Care Act. You can watch the press conference on the Covered California website, where you can also download a booklet with a description of all the plans that will be offered and sample rates.

California Anti-Fracking Bills Move Forward, Now Face Appropriations Vote

By Dan Bacher

Despite intense political pressure by the oil industry, the Assembly Natural Resources Committee on April 29 approved three bills proposing to halt fracking (hydraulic fracturing), a controversial method of oil and natural gas extraction, in California.

Fracking opponents fear that increased water diversions destined for the peripheral tunnels proposed under the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) will be used for expanding fracking in Monterey Shale deposits in the San Joaquin Valley and coastal areas. The construction of the tunnels is expected to hasten the extinction of Central Valley Chinook salmon, Delta smelt and other fish species.

Governor Brown, Counties Need Money to Keep California Healthy

Viji SundaramBy Viji Sundaram

Under California Gov. Jerry Brown's revised budget, counties stand to lose crucial health care funding that would leave millions of people without access to care.

An estimated 3 to 4 million, or 10 percent of the state's population, the majority from ethnic communities, will remain uninsured in 2014, according to a study by UCLA and UC Berkeley. Some of them - an estimated 1 million - will be excluded from public health programs by federal law because they are undocumented. Some will not be eligible for Medi-Cal, the federal-state funded health care program for low-income people. Others who may qualify to buy coverage on the health insurance marketplace could miss the open enrollment period or simply not be able to afford it.