Legislature accused of neglecting issues because of power

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The Associated Press

Preoccupied by the power crisis, lawmakers are leaving much of the taxpayers’ pressing business undone, a coalition of consumer, labor and environmental groups charged Monday.

Working conditions in nursing homes and the privacy of personal financial data are among a dozen issues the group plans to publicly track to keep pressure on the Legislature.

The group will issue a “report card” for all legislators and Gov. Gray Davis showing how they acted on a list of bills dealing with those issues.

“It means crucial votes cast in the shadow of the electricity crisis won’t be forgotten,” said Jamie Court, a consumer advocate with the Foundation for Taxpayers and Consumer Rights. “When diverse groups representing 2.5 million people speak, smart politicians listen.”

The foundation is one of 12 mostly liberal groups, including the Sierra Club and the California Labor Federation, that issued the call to lawmakers.

Hundreds of energy bills have been introduced in the two special sessions called by Gov. Gray Davis this year to deal with the state’s power crisis.

Among other items that have been left by the wayside, according to the coalition, is a bill that would increase the ratio of nursing staff to patients in care homes.

The bill, by Assemblyman Kevin Shelley, D-San Francisco, would also convert the staffing standards into something that patients’ families can easily understand.

Allison LePage, with the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, said she holds little hope nursing home bills will grab the governor’s attention this year.

“The energy crisis didn’t happen overnight,” LePage said. “It won’t be fixed overnight.”

Also on the group’s list:

  • Two bills that would prohibit sealed settlements in product-liability lawsuits. The bills were prompted by Bridgestone/Firestone tire recall – the authors say it would have come sooner if court settlements in accident suits had been public.
  • A pair of bills that would require banks to get permission before releasing financial or personal information on their customers. Both are stuck in committee, said Court.

Members of the coalition said they’re worried a lack of attention to these issues could lead to another statewide crisis much like the energy crisis.

The coalition will fight any attempt to roll back labor or environmental standards to encourage more power plant construction to ease the state’s electricity crunch, said Bill Magavern of the Sierra Club.

The 12 groups in the coalition are the Sierra Club; Congress of California Seniors; California Labor Federation; California Nurses Association; Consumer Attorneys of California; Consumer Federation of California; Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety; California Public Interest Research Group; Gray Panthers; Consumer Action; California Applicants’ Attorneys Association and the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

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