The clock ticking down on the last night in the California statehouse is always a lot like waiting for last call at a rowdy bar around 2 AM — you wonder how much damage will done before the last shot.
For years my colleagues and I have stood watch on the California legislature,into the wee hours of the morning, to make sure that politicians and companies didn't a pull a fast one at the last moment. There have been a lot of close calls over the years, and some lost ones too.
Here's the roundup from Friday night's/Saturday morning's last call in the statehouse before 2012:
• Last day legilslation to move all ballot initiative measures to the November 2012 ballot, and stop ballot measures on the June primaries, cleared both houses of the legislature. Senate Bill 202 passed every committee and both houses in a single day. It's not clear whether Governor Brown will sign SB 202, but if he did, the public would win big. Special interest groups often target the low turn-out June primary to pass measures the majority of Californians would never approve of. It's better to have the real sentiment of the most Californians voting on ballot measures, rather than allowing corporations, for example, to target a much more friendly electorate in June, when Republicans will turn out big for their presidential primary. Mercury Insurance CEO George Joseph is trying to qualify his insurance surcharge initiative in June, a repeat of the failed Prop 17 from June 2010, for this very reason. He would stand even less a chance of pulling the wool over the eyes of the majority of real California voters in November. Turns out SB 202 stands on strong principle. For decades, prior to 1978, initiatives only went on the November general election ballot, which is what the California constitution requires. Then the legislature officially changed the protocol. If the legislature can change the definition of "general election" to include primary election, it can change the definition back.
• Legislation requiring health insurance companies to cover behavioral therapy for autistic children went to the Governor's desk, SB 694. Consumer Watchog sued Governor Schwarzenegger's Department Of Managed Health Care to force such continued coverage for autistic children in 2009, when the state started allowing insurance companies to deny the treatment as "educational." A 9th Circuit decision recently strengthened our legal case, which is still pending, that the Mental Health Parity Law requires behavioral therapy to be covered. The insurance companies no doubt hope the new legislation will undermine our lawsuit and other pending cases against them, because they don't want to have to pay for the therapy they have denied since 2009. Senator Steinberg, however, testified that he believed such therapy was always required and the legislation was clarifying existing law. We expect to prevail.
* The bill to force health insurance companies to get prior approval from state insurance regulators before raising rates never came up for a vote on the Senate Floor. AB 52, authored by Assembly Member Mike Feuer, was shelved for the year because the legislation did not have enough votes in the insurance-friendly state Senate. Consumer Watchdog is exploring a November 2012 ballot measure to regulate health insurance premiums, rollback rates by 20% and gives patients new options. Stay tuned for developments as our opinion research and drafting continues this fall.
Governor Brown hosted a kegger in his office for the legislature after it closed down in the early morning hours. For the public, there wasn't much to celebrate this session, other than that more damage wasn't done.
Jamie Court is the president of Consumer Watchdog and author of The Progessive's Guide To Raising Hell.