Some good news for Democracy in Calif. (AND Johnny Depp clips!)

[Lobbying at the Capitol for AB 583: California Clean Money Campaign President Trent Lange, Newport Beach activist / true maverick Republican Allan Beek, State Senator Lou Correa, Vern looking dorky, and Dave Sonneborn of Progressive Democrats of America]

Governor Schwarzenegger has been vetoing worthy bills left and right – Senator Kuehl likened him last week to Sweeney Todd, the Mad Barber of Fleet Street (as played so well by Johnny Depp – YouTube clips over the flip if you missed it.)  On the health reform front, not only did he veto the single-payer bill SB 840, as we knew he would, he also vetoed bills that would have cost the state nothing but mandated insurers pay at least 85% of their premium income on medical costs, and that would have limited insurer’s rescission of benefits, all the while dressing up his protection of some of his biggest campaign contributors as concern for the state’s finances.

BUT the Governator always has this tendency to throw us progressives a bone, if it doesn’t cost much to his big backers. And I am happy to announce that last week he signed AB 583,  a baby step toward out ultimate goal of clean, fair (publicly funded) elections. From California Clean Money Campaign:

In what Center for Governmental Studies’ President Bob Stern termed “the biggest political upset of the year in California”, AB 583, the California Fair Elections Act (Hancock, D-Oakland), has now been signed into law by Governor Schwarzenegger after having passed through the legislature on August 30th. A measure providing for “Fair Elections” public financing of campaigns for the office of Secretary of State as a pilot project will now appear on the June 8, 2010 ballot. Even one of the Assembly opponents of the bill had called its passage a “historic moment” in California.

After nearly $400 million was spent by candidates in California alone in the 2006 election, most observers thought it was highly unlikely that a public financing bill that would start to end the dominance of special interest campaign contributors would ever get passed and signed in Sacramento. But thousands of California voters who contacted their legislators and the efforts of AB 583 author Assemblymember Loni Hancock and Senate and Assembly leaders got it to the Governor’s desk.

Governor Schwarzenegger made the problem of money in politics one of the focuses of his recall election campaign. As he said in a campaign commercial then, “Special interests have a stranglehold on Sacramento. Here’s how it works. The money comes in. The favors go out. The people lose.”

AB 583 would establish a pilot project for voluntary full public financing system for Secretary of State candidates in 2014 and 2018 if it is passed by a vote of the people on the June 2010 ballot. It is modeled after systems that have been working in Arizona and Maine for eight years and recently adopted by Connecticut and other localities.

“We applaud the Governor for signing this landmark Fair Elections bill,” said Richard Holober, Executive Director of the Consumer Federation of California. “Consumers are the losers when big money donors dominate our elections. The Secretary of State’s office is the ideal public financing pilot project because it is the office that guards the integrity of the electoral system. AB 583 makes sure that Secretary of State candidates have the option to use Fair Elections funding instead of raising campaign contributions from private sources who might try to influence them.”

“There is bipartisan concern about the corrupting influence of money in politics”, said former Assemblymember Keith Richman (R-Granada Hills). “The California Fair Elections Act is a historic opportunity for California to lead the nation in reform of the problem of special interest money in politics by showing that candidates who must compete for millions of votes can use Fair Elections funding to run for office on a level playing field without spending any private money.”

“It’s been a long and hard road”, said AB 583 author Assemblymember Hancock, “But I am thrilled that the California Fair Elections Act will now be appearing on the June 2010 ballot, giving the people the opportunity to vote for a reform that is a critical step in helping restore the voters’ confidence in government.”

Allan Beek, Dave Sonneborn, and I (pictured above) drove all the way up to Sacramento to help lobby for this bill, and legislators were amazed to see over a hundred backers from all over the state packing the hall. In an e-mail last week, 80+-year-old Allan, who has been fighting for both single-payer healthcare and election reform for decades rhapsodized: “This is the toe in the door. All other reforms depend on clean money and representatives not beholden to moneyed interests. Clean Money has been a success in other states. If we can pass this first step, we really may be able to REFORM THIS COUNTRY !
. . It is not “Democracy Now” as Amy Goodman says, but it is democracy within ten years. I might even live long enough to see it!
. . Maybe Washington is going to sell out, but the outlook is bright. Best news in a long time! . . . . . . Allan Beek”

Meanwhile, on the Healthcare Reform front, from Kuehl and Depp:

On September 30, the Governor finished wielding his veto pen and, in one sweeping move, eliminated virtually every health reform measure that would have regulated the health insurance company monopoly.  Health reform was not alone, bill after bill that would have benefited consumers, drivers,  people who breathe, people who drink water, and just people who rely on their state government to protect them, had its throat cut.  Like the crazed and vengeful barber in Sweeney Todd, Arnold slashed away at bills in a frenzy that he said over and over reflected his anger at getting a late budget.  Is this any way to run a state?  The obvious answer is no.

To add insult to injury, he put out a press release– breathtaking in its hyperbole and misdirection– titled (try not to laugh) “Gov. Schwarzenegger Signs Urgently Needed Legislation to Protect Consumers from Unfair Health Care Practices.”
This title takes even his chutzpah to a higher level. He protected no one, except the insurance industry. As indicated below, he chose a few bills that didn’t really bother the industry and pretended that he had protected consumers. Nothing could be further from the truth. This essay reviews the vetoes of health reform legislation and the few bills signed that he is wearing as a fig leaf.

OK Enough Sweeney. Here’s the rest of Sheila’s essay if you’re curious:

Health Reform Vetoes

It’s important to understand that vetoes of health reform legislation have very serious consequences…..because of these vetoes, there will continue to be very little regulation of the runaway health insurance market and no protections for consumers.

Universal Health Care

Of course, everyone expected Arnold to veto SB 840, the Universal Health Care Act. His own plan, which failed to make it through the State Senate Health Committee, which I chair, would have provided a major give-away to the health insurance companies by requiring every Californian to buy health insurance or face a penalty, with no caps on premiums, except for those who make less than $25,000 a year. He has been consistently hostile to the Medicare-like plan in SB 840 and vetoed it (for the second time) on September 30, citing a study that did not even relate to the bill.

Vetoes of bills his staff worked on with members

In addition, however, the Governor stunned most of the reform advocates by also vetoing bills his staff had been working on with authors, and which reflected portions of his own bill. There are several examples. Let me begin with one of my own bills, SB 1440. In 2006, I brought a bill requiring health insurers to spend at least 85% of their premiums on care for their enrollees, which garnered a firestorm of opposition from the insurance industry, and failed in the Assembly.

Late in 2007, the Governor included this provision in his own bill, and, when that failed, his staff and mine worked together on a stand-alone bill. We took several amendments at his behest, all favorable to the industry, but he vetoed it anyway, as a part of his bloodbath of health reform bills. Then he had the audacity to write a nasty veto message saying the bill was a “one-sided, piecemeal approach to healthcare reform” and add that His bill would have been a total solution. Well, it would have been a total disaster, but he’s still smarting from not getting it.

Veto of Rescission Bill

In another stunning defeat for consumers, Arnold vetoed an important bill by Assemblymember Hector de la Torre, AB 1945, that would have banned rescissions by insurance companies of policies when misrepresentations by applicants were not intentional and the companies had completed their (very thorough) investigations of the application. Instead of signing a bill that would have actually done something, Arnold had the temerity to tout his administration’s “agreements” in which companies promised that they wouldn’t do that any more…..but his standards are much weaker.

As a result of this veto, insurance companies can continue to rescind your policies whenever they take a backward look and “discover” a misstatement on your application. Poof….you never had a policy and must pay for all services rendered, yourself.

Veto of Balance Billing bill

He vetoed a bill by Senate President pro Tempore Don Perata that would have actually affected the practice of “balance billing” under which health care providers now routinely bill patients when they do not receive full amounts from insurance companies with whom they have not contracted. The bill would have required a partial payment to the provider while working it out between the doctor and the insurance company. The patient would not have been billed. As a consequence of the veto, balance billing is allowed to continue. See below for what Arnold claims he did about balance billing, a complete sham.

Other Vetoes

He vetoed an important bill by Assembly Health Chair Mervyn Dymally that would have improved access to the Major Risk Medical Insurance Program, the last chance option for those unable to get insurance because of serious medical disorders.

He vetoed a bill that would have required healthcare providers to tell patients how long they would retain their records before destroying them, which, we were surprised to discover, they do routinely.

He vetoed every bill that would have added mandated coverage in California policies (and which the insurance companies said were Just Too Expensive)…..maternity services, mental health services, hearing aids, inborn errors of metabolism, HPV vaccinations, you know, the sort of things you generally assume you might be covered for. He vetoed a bill that would have required parity in deductibles for durable medical equipment. Currently, if you need a wheelchair or crutches, you have to pay much more than for other services by your insurance company.

Few Bills Signed but no Reform

The Governor did sign a few incremental bills, ones that would not shake up the industry too much, and then, of course, ballyhooed them as if he had signed real health reform legislation.

He signed a bill, which, most amazingly, he claims ends the practice of “balance billing” under which healthcare providers, receiving only a pittance from an insurance company for their services when they don?t even have a contract with such a company, sends a bill to the patient for the “balance” of the cost. Although there were several stronger bills before him, all of which he vetoed, he signed one that disallows such a practice only for the Healthy Families and Access for Infants and Mothers programs, both of which are paid by the state! So you can be “balance billed” – he doesn’t care about that – so long as the state can’t be.

Oh, but trust him, his Administration just issued new regulations about balance billing, he just doesn’t want them in statute.

He also signed bills requiring a hospital giving you treatment to tell your insurance company, prohibiting an insurance company from revoking your coverage just because someone else in your family lied on their application (duh!), and had already signed a bill in July saying that insurance companies may not reward their employees based on how many policies they rescind. How brave of him!

Don’t Be Fooled

This guy is not on your side. Next essay: vetoes of environmental legislation by the Jolly not-so-Green Giant.

–Senator Sheila Kuehl.

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official political troubadour of Anaheim and most other OC towns. Regularly makes solo performances, sometimes with his savage-jazz band The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at, or 714-235-VERN.