A Note from Toni
Friday, March 24, was a good day for California. U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan informed the president that he didn't have the votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and replace it with something that would have been terrible for our state, and the bill was effectively dead.
That same day - as the Senate Health Committee (I'm privileged to be a member) held an informational hearing at San Diego State University on how the ACA has benefitted California and how Ryan's bill would impact our state - we called what happened in Washington, D.C., a "pause."
With Dr. Ed Hernandez, chairman of the Senate Health Committee at a March 24th informational hearing on healthcare in San Diego.
The Republicans will likely be back with another attempt to repeal the ACA, and we'll have to be ready. There are also things the president can do to reduce funding for healthcare in California that don't require legislation. We must continue to be vigilant.
The ACA isn't perfect, and it's had some problems in other states where insurance companies have pulled out of healthcare exchanges, but on balance, it's been a success story in California. Thanks to the ACA, roughly 5 million more of our residents have obtained health insurance - either through the Covered Calfornia healthcare exchange or through the ACA-provided expansion of Medi-Cal.
In San Diego County, more than 350,000 people have obtained health coverage through Covered California subsidies or expanded Medi-Cal. That's approximately 11 percent of our county's population added to the ranks of the insured in the last few years.
Statewide, our uninsured rate has fallen to a record-low 7.1 percent. The ACA has been good for our residents, and we need to protect and defend it.
But as we do, we're going to do the work to improve upon it. My goal is to ensure that everyone in California has access to quality healthcare. As I said March 25th at Assemblymember Todd Gloria's healthcare town-hall meeting at UCSD, the ACA is a floor, not a ceiling.
With my colleague Senator Ricardo Lara, I have introduced SB 562, the Healthy California Act. The bill would create a single-payer, universal healthcare system in California. What that means is that the state serves as everyone's insurer - the state pays the providers for medical services.
In addition to providing universal coverage, the goal is to reduce overall healthcare costs as we streamline the system. I think we can do it.
Make no mistake, this will take a lot of hard work, and it will take time. The idea behind single-payer is simple, but the healthcare system is complex. There are many stakeholders, and they'll all have valuable input to provide. We'll listen to everyone and create the system that works the best.
I believe healthcare is a right. Just as we have a right to a basic education, or to be protected by police officers and firefighters, we have the right to preventative medical care.
Healthy Californians will create a healthy and prosperous California. I'm going to work hard and do my part to help make it happen.
An Update on My Legislation
This session, I have introduced 17 bills, addressing issues such as housing, human trafficking, healthcare, LGBT rights, environmental protection, labor, and juvenile justice.
The majority of these bills have yet to be heard by policy committees in the Senate - April will be a busy time for the committees - but several of them are well on their way to the Senate floor:
SB 2: Called the Building Homes and Jobs Act, SB 2 is my top priority. It creates a permanent source of funding for affordable housing by imposing a small fee on the recording of certain types of real-estate documents - not including the sale of residential or commercial property. California's housing crisis is getting worse day by day, and too many people are spending too much of their income on housing. This bill will help thousands of low-income residents every year.
SB 2 has made it through both the Transportation and Housing Committee and the Governance and Finance Committee. It goes next to the Appropriations Committee.
SB 214: In 2015, the governor signed AB 392, my bill to make the San Diego River Conservancy permanent. SB 214 builds on that, strengthening the conservancy's capacity to protect and enhance historic, cultural, and natural resources within the watershed along the 52-mile San Diego River.
The bill adds representation from the city of Santee and the Kumeyaay Diegeno Land Conservancy to the conservancy's Board of Directors, and provides the conservancy with greater ability to enter into joint-powers agreements.
SB 2014 has passed the Natural Resources and Water Committee. It goes next to the Appropriations Committee.
SB 256: Currently, the statute of limitations for violating state and local contracting laws ends one year after the money is spent. Often, violations are not discovered during that short time frame, so it's difficult for prosecutors to file charges in time. Controller Betty Yee experienced this first-hand during an audit of the city of West Covina.
SB 256 extends the statute of limitations from one year to three years for violations of the state's competitive-bidding laws, providing greater protection of taxpayer dollars and holding elected officials to a greater degree of accountability.
This bill has cleared the Public Safety Committee. It goes next to the Appropriations Committee.
SB 310: Transgender people who are incarcerated should have the same right as anyone else to legally change their name or gender and to be recognized for who they are. This bill - the Name and Dignity Act - establishes the right of people incarcerated in state prisons and county jails to access the courts to obtain a name or gender change. It also requires corrections officials to use the new name of a prisoner who has successfully obtained a name change.
In addition to providing transgender prisoners with a sense of dignity while incarcerated, SB 310 will increase the chances for them to successfully reenter society. Life after incarceration is hard for most people; transgender people face added difficulties - especially in finding employment - when their gender presentation does not match their identification documents. SB 310 will enable prisoners to get a head start on these documents while incarcerated.
SB 310 has passed the Public Safety Committee. It goes next to the Judiciary Committee.
Presenting SB 548 at the Senate Public Safety Committee
SB 379: This bill makes minor changes to current law that I believe will have major impacts on child oral health in the future.
The bill allows schools to facilitate dental screenings by requiring parents to opt-out if they do not want their children to receive an assessment. However, any treatment of students would still require prior consent. It encourages schools to report data to the state. And it adds data on tooth decay to the reporting requirements.
Taken together, the provisions of SB 379 will allow us to screen more children, which will in turn lead to more treatment, better collection of statewide data, and improved overall oral-health strategies.
SB 379 has cleared the Education Committee and goes next to the Health Committee.
SB 548: By law, local firefighters may not go on strike amid labor disputes with their employers; they're limited to filing grievances with the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB). Unfortunately, PERB is often unable to rule on these complaints in a timely manner.
This bill would allow firefighters to take their claims to court if PERB is unable to rule on them within 150 days or opts not to issue a decision.
SB 548 has passed the Public Employment and Retirement Committee. It goes next to the Judiciary Committee.
Claim the California EITC
It's tax time, and for those who will file at or close to this year's April 18th deadline, remember that California now has its own Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to supplement the federal EITC.
The EITC is a proven way to help alleviate poverty. It puts money back in the hands of low-income workers to help pay for essential goods and services or feed their families.
You can find out if you are eligible for the credit - or find out if someone you know might be eligible - by visiting CalEITC4Me.org.
Last year, upwards of 385,000 Californians combined earned more than $200 million by filing for the state EITC. The average individual credit was $519. However, more than 50,000 working people failed to claim the credit when they filed their taxes.
Helping to create the California EITC as part of the 2015 state budget is among the accomplishments I am most proud of. We need to keep spreading the word about its availability, so that we help as many people as possible.
My Staff at Your Service
My district staff is always available to help constituents navigate a complex web of state agencies.
A woman called our office in need of help with a tax problem that she was having trouble sorting out. She had an outstanding state tax bill that was accruing penalties, but she didn't think it applied to her because she had been living out of state for 20 years.
The problem was that the California Franchise Tax Board (FTB) had her family's San Diego address on file and thought she wasn't paying her taxes. FTB asked her to submit her Texas tax returns in two weeks so they could remove the fines and taxes. She needed help because two weeks wasn't enough - she was traveling out of the country.
On her behalf, my staff worked with FTB and got that time frame extended to a month. That gave her enough time to submit the paperwork, and FTB cleared her record.
If you're having trouble working out an issue with any state agency, please call my office at 619-645-3133, and my staff will do everything in their power to help.
My District Staff
Myrna Zambrano: District Director
Deanna Spehn: Policy Director
Jason Weisz: Senior Field Representative
Toni Duran: Field Representative
Chevelle Tate: Field Representative
Ryan Trabuco: Scheduler / Field Representative
David Rolland: Communications Director
Where to Find Me Online
Around the District
It was nice to meet the Rancho Bernardo Community Council – a new community for me to represent!
Good coming home to spend time with the Burlingame Neighborhood Association. I've been with this group since I was a City Council staff member.
I enjoyed meeting with new City Attorney Mara Elliott.
Great turnout for the Broadway Heights Community Council pancake breakfast!
It was a pleasure meeting with residents of Alvarado Estates at their 69th annual meeting!
Fun times at the 21st annual Rolando Street Fair!