'Aid in dying' and undocumented immigrant health care bills advance

Published on May 28th, 2015

Jessica Calefati
May 28, 2015
As seen in:
San Jose Mercury News

SACRAMENTO — Bills to let doctors prescribe life-ending medication to terminally ill patients, better protect traumatized foster youth and expand health care for illegal immigrants were among the dozens approved Thursday by the Legislature's appropriations committees.

Lawmakers talked as fast as auctioneers to meet Thursday's deadline for fiscal committees to send bills to the Senate and Assembly floors, shoveling roughly half the number of bills expected to land on Gov. Jerry Brown's desk later this summer.

The "aid in dying" legislation by Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, and Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, was inspired by Brittany Maynard, a young, cancer-stricken East Bay woman who moved out of state so she could end her life with help from a doctor.

The measure, SB128, already had survived several tough policy committee votes. The Senate Appropriations Committee passed it Thursday on a 5-2 vote. The panel's two Republicans — Pat Bates, R-Laguna Niguel, and Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber — voted against it.

"Dying people in agony desperately need more end-of-life options," Toni Broaddus, director of the Compassion and Choices California Campaign, said in a statement praising the vote. "That's why we are confident the full Senate will respond to this demand by passing this bill before its June 5 deadline for legislative action."

Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, said at the hearing that she was supporting the bill Thursday because of its negligible fiscal impact, "but I still have a little bit of research to do."

The committee also approved a pared-down version of SB4 by chairman Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, a first-in-the-nation bill to expand health care access for immigrants living here illegally. The bill lets undocumented Californians buy health insurance with their own money through the state's Covered California exchange if the state is given a waiver by the federal government; allows anyone age 18 and under to enroll in Medi-Cal regardless of immigration status; and lets undocumented immigrants age 19 and up enroll in a capped program if there's money provided in the state budget. Again, the two Republicans voted against it.

SB4 was scaled down from a "health care for all" bill that would have let all undocumented immigrants enroll in Medi-Cal and would have cost far more — a move Gov. Jerry Brown said was too expensive. Lara said the amended bill signifies "what we can realistically achieve now and what we hope to achieve in the future."

The measure will now cost "far less" than the $740 million it would have cost annually before it was modified, but Lara spokesman Jesse Melgar declined to share a more precise estimate on the new cost.

"While this bill now costs a fraction of last year's effort, it still would be transformational in both helping individual families and improving our health system overall," said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, a health care advocacy coalition.

The amendments had little impact on anti-immigrant groups' views of the legislation. Californians for Population Stabilization spokesman Joe Guzzardi said the bill still encourages illegal immigration.

"Why would California want to increase its population at a time when the state is struggling to find enough water for everyone?" Guzzardi said. "I'm just not sure why this is such a priority."

The committee also passed some of Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon's top priorities — three bills that would set new statewide targets for greenhouse gas reduction and aim to reduce petroleum use by 50 percent.

The panel also unanimously passed a package of four bills inspired by this newspaper's "Drugging Our Kids" investigation that would dramatically improve state oversight of psychiatric drug use in the foster care system. The measures, authored by Sens. Jim Beall, D-San Jose; Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles; and Monning would ensure better juvenile court oversight of prescribing drugs; train caregivers, social workers and court professionals; and better monitor group homes where psych meds are most heavily used as a chemical restraint for traumatized children.

"This package of bills moves California to the head of the pack around reforms in prescribing meds for kids in foster care," said Bill Grimm, a senior attorney at the National Center for Youth Law. "I don't know of any other pending legislation anywhere in the country that would go this far."

Other bills approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday would raise the state's minimum wage to $11 an hour on Jan. 1 and to $13 an hour in July 2017 before indexing it to inflation starting in 2019; prevent bidders on University of California contracts from undercutting UC staff workers by paying their employees low wages and no benefits; make the California Public Utilities Commission's decision-making process more transparent; and require police to get search warrants before seizing electronic communications.

State Sen. Jerry Hill's proposal to spend a little more than $6 million studying the possible health risks of synthetic playing fields that include ground-up car tires died in the Senate Appropriations Committee. The San Mateo lawmaker's bill to tighten restrictions on the use of antibiotics on farm animals, however, passed out of the committee.

The Assembly Appropriations Committee voted down measures that would force Uber and Lyft drivers to take drug tests, extend paid sick leave protections to home care workers and regulate medical marijuana, which has been legal and largely unregulated here for many years.

Staff writers Karen de Sá and Aaron Kinney contributed to this report. Contact Jessica Calefati at 916-441-2101. Follow her at Twitter.com/Calefati.


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