AB 186 – Safe Injection Site Authorization

Apologies for the major hiatus: I am in transition, from my full-time job back to freelance writing and grad school! I’m getting my MPH/MJ at UC Berkeley. But anyways, no one reads this blog for updates on my life. In fact, I haven’t written in so long, I’m afraid no one reads this blog at all.

I’m currently working on a story about increases in Hepatitis C in California, particularly among young adults. Hep C is primarily transmitted through contaminated needles, meaning injection drug users are highly at risk and that an increase in injection drug use is probably to blame for the spike in transmission. This is a health issue that interests me a great deal, so I’m surprised I hadn’t written about this one before, but I caught it in the nick of time. The Legislature is on summer recess and will be back on August 21. After that, bills only have until September 15 to get passed before they are dead.

AB 186 has made it through both the assembly and senate committees–all that’s left is a senate vote.

The Basics

  • Would authorize eight counties to pilot safe injection site programs. These facilities would be hygenic and supervised by medical professionals. They would also provide opportunities for referrals to treatment and harm reduction education.

In Depth

A couple weeks ago when I was down in San Diego talking to Robert Lewis, who is Director of Special Populations at the Family Health Centers of San Diego. When I asked about the efficacy of syringe service programs, his response was basically, “Well, that was a softball question.” He cited research saying that syringe exchanges and other programs that help people get clean needles have been proven again and again to reduce Hepatitis C transmission rates. In the research I did for my article, I found this study that indicated that the vast majority of people with Hep C live more than 10 miles away from a safe syringe service.

What I’m particularly interested in is the cost. Who is funding this? Is it sustainable if we find it to be successful in the eight counties where it is piloted? Would we save money on other healthcare costs? Where would those savings come in (this Sacramento Bee article addresses this a bit)? Less Hep C or other injection related infections? Here are some of the answers I’ve found in my cursory research: The bill doesn’t mention funding for the facilities–it is just an authorization for them to exist, since using the illicit substances people will inject there is technically illegal. This begs the question–how will implementation happen? Are there already facilities that exist?

Check out the bill’s text for more information. The main opposition comes from law enforcement organizations concerned about increases in drug-related crime and conflict with federal law. Check out the analysis for specifics of arguments in favor and opposition.

Who to Call

Media Coverage

SB 100 – Renewable Energy and Greenhouse Gases

With all the hoopla about the Paris Agreement, I thought I’d post about a little more state-focused climate/energy policy. Though I suppose we are all breathing the same air. A point that California and many other liberal state government leaders have pointedly made to President Trump since his withdrawal from the Paris agreement.

The Basics

  • Would revise California’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard Program to require the state to reach 50% energy from renewable sources by 2026 instead of 2030. The end goal is 100% renewable energy in California by 2045.

In-Depth

  • An obvious question you might have: what is California’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard Program? Basically the Public Utilities Commission (PUC or CPUC here in California) administers this renewable energy standards program, that determines what percentage of the state’s utilities should come from renewable sources. So basically, it’s exactly what it sounds like.
  • Here is the full bill text.

Who to Call

  • Your state assemblymember. We’re at that point in the year that all the bills that are gonna make it to the governor’s desk are out of their house of origin, so anything that starts with SB is in the Assembly and anything that starts with AB is in the Senate.

News Coverage

AB 807 – End Daylight Savings Time

I’ll start this one with a little anecdote. When I lived in Morocco, only about half the country did daylight savings time. That meant, for about half of the year, you had to ask anyone who gave you the time of day: “Old time or new time?”

Anyways, this proposal could throw California for a similar loop, but given the state’s geographic magnitude, I’m not sure it would make a huge difference–basically California would be it’s own time zone for half of the year.

The Basics, Who to Call, News Coverage, and Full Bill Text

 

SB 310 – Name and gender changes for transgender prisoners

The Basics

  • Would allow transgender inmates in California state prisons to legally change their names and genders (on forms, etc.)

Who to call/Bill Status

In-depth

  • As of now, California inmates can only change their name if the Secretary of the Department of Corrections approves it. This is obviously, in part, for safety reasons–if an inmate changed their name to avoid detection, that could be a risk to the public.
  • Still, transgender people struggle to negotiate their identities every day. If an inmate medically transitions while in prison, could it help them better reintegrate to society one they are out?
  • What do studies say about the employment and other prospects for a trans person when he or she has a name and official gender that matches their physical appearance?
  • If it costs money to allow trans inmates to do this, how much? To what extent do the benefits (increased employment prospects, etc.) to society, outweigh the cost to taxpayers? I imagine these folks comprise so small a portion of the prison population (and by that I don’t mean trans people in general, I mean transitioning trans people who are seeking to make a legal change of identity) that the fiscal issues are less important than the philosophical and ideological issues at hand.
  • Here is the full text of the bill. Since it’s been through committee hearing, the minutes of the committee bill analyses go into detail the arguments for and against. For example, read the Public Safety Committee Hearing bill analysis for the Sheriffs’ Association’s opposition arguments and the Judiciary Hearing bill analysis features some additional arguments in favor.

News Coverage

 

AB 216 – postage on absentee ballots (and a little healthcare)

Sorry I’ve been M.I.A. lately,.I could go into the reasons why (they’re actually pretty valid considering that typically when I’m ‘busy’ I’m really just watching Dateline reruns with my dog, doing a jigsaw puzzle, or brewing beer), but my life isn’t that interesting.

Politics on the other hand…I guess I should start by saying something about healthcare. It’s odd, I never knew how many of my acquaintances were experts on pre-existing conditions until this week. That’s me being a little snarky, but in all seriousness, it makes sense that everyone is paying attention to this one–unless you’re of the income bracket that you can pay all necessary or desirable healthcare costs out of pocket (you’re not reading my blog)–you have a horse in this race. So now what? While it may be satisfying to leave Darrell Issa a nasty message about how much you hate him for playing politics with our well-being and you’ll see him at the ballot box in 2018, I’m not sure that will improve anyone’s healthcare. If you have the inclination or wherewithal to read and understand the ACA and AHCA, definitely do that and try to present your reps with constructive ideas on what your needs are and what kind of health care policies would help you and your family. Sure, it’s not a rep’s job to cater to the hyper-individual needs of each constituent needs, but based on what I’ve read, a personal touch may stick out among vitriolic voicemails. Also, at this point, the bill is headed to the senate where it will likely undergo significant changes–make your voice heard! Also, if a measured educated opinion on healthcare is not something you feel you have the capacity for, simply informing your Senator of your position is better than nothing.

That’s enough about the rest of country, let’s return to the Golden State, where we need to consider the all important issue of….postage!

The Basics

  • Right now, if you get a mail ballot, you may have to put postage on it–this bill would require all state election vote-by-mail ballots to have an envelope with prepaid postage.

In-Depth

  • I realize that next to the healthcare fight happening out east this bill seems sort of ‘mehh’, but think about it for a second.
  • No, really, think about it. Voting is a basic civil liberty, should it be contingent on your ability to pay for stamps? Why should we pay money for something that is by definition a freedom? Also, to be honest, as someone who cares a great deal about voting, even I find mailing my ballot in to be an often cumbersome errand–it would be nice if I was guaranteed a prepaid envelope statewide.
  • On the flip side, this would cost local voter registrars money. How much? Would be burden be too great? Is it worth it? Could it lead to more people voting in districts where they no longer reside? (Research says no, voter fraud is not a major problem. Again, voting can be a pain in the ass, and when one vote means so little, there’s little incentive to game the system).

Who to call

  • Your state assemblymember. The bill passed out of its initial committee and is in the assembly appropriations suspense file, so a hearing date is TBD–not urgent, but when it comes up, it would be worth registering your support or opposition.

News Coverage

 

SB 190 – Getting rid of fines for juvenile offenders

This bill has already passed through the Senate Public Safety committee and had its hearing in Appropriations committee today. I’m writing this on the go, but I would be willing to guess it will make it to a floor vote and you’ll be wanting to call your Senator soon and Assemblymember down the line.

The Basics

  • This bill would get rid of some administrative fees for certain criminal justice programs forminors under the age of 21.
  • These fees include adminstrative fees for house arrest, drug testing as a condition of probation, damages to house arrest monitors, and other administrative costs that are typically passed onto the offender or their guardians.

Who to call

In-depth and News Coverage

AB 1578 – Protect state cannabis from federal enforcement

Excuse the cheesiness of writing about a pot bill today. But I’m in the Bay, so it’s sort of inescapable.

The Basics

    • AB 1578 would prohibit state and local agencies from assisting with the enforcement of federal marijuana laws unless coerced by a court order.

    In-Depth

    Since California legalized recreational cannabis last year with the passage of Prop 64, it’s had the same struggle with implementation that other states that have legalized face: weed is considered illegal federally, in the United States, of which California is one…weed is legal and illegal at the same time…hope those of you partaking in today’s festivities take a moment to soak that paradox in. In fact, marijuana is considered a Schedule I drug federally (basically meaning the federal government has categorized it as one of the most harmful and addictive substances) alongside heroin, LSD, peyote, and ecstasy.

    This is problematic as the state considers how to commercialize and gain tax revenue from its newest cash crop. 

    The bill text is here.

    Who to call

    News coverage

    SB 394 – No life without parole for minors

    Trying to speed up my posts–the next couple weeks I’m traveling quite a bit, and I’ve already gotten behind on my two-posts-per-week goal, so posts might be shorter in favor of quantity.

    The Basics

    • After 25 years of incarceration, convicts given life sentence when they were under the age of 18 would be eligible for parole.

    In-Depth

    Who to call

    News coverage

    SB 135 – Media literacy as a public education requirement

    I’m not even going to pretend to be neutral on this issue, as a journalist, I believe media literacy is important. That said, I’ll try to separate my feelings on this issue more broadly from my explanation of this bill. Since we’re on the subject of media and civics though, I’ll take this moment to link to the last of Capitol Weekly’s series of helpful legislative process explainers.

    The Basics

    • This bill came to me as a reader suggestion (I can’t say enough how happy I was to get a reader suggestion–if you have a bill you’d like me to cover, please email me!): SB 135 by Senator Bill Dodd. This bill would require California public schools to teach their students media literacy.
    • The bill defines media literacy as “the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, develop, produce, and interpret media and encompasses the foundational skills that lead to digital citizenship.”
    • I define media literacy as the ability to read and understand news, discerning objective facts from subjective points of view and to think critically about the facts that you learn.

    Who to call

     

    In Depth

    While the term ‘fake news’ seems to have lost all meaning at this point, the phenomenon it evokes is still relevant. The public has lost both its trust in the media and its ability to consume it critically. The issue is something I’ve researched pretty extensively as a member of the press. It’s complex, but it seems that even in cases where someone has the insight to see if an article is factual, they seek online environments and forums that only circulate the facts that confirm their opinions.

    It’s probably obvious that I think improved media literacy is a good idea, but I’m not in the business of endorsing bills, so I have still have questions.

    • Is this the best way to improve public media literacy? Using public schools as an avenue seems logical, but it could be costly, and it neglects the lack of media literacy among educated adults. Having attended California public schools, I know my teachers struggled to educate us while keeping to the curriculum that would be tested by a fairly pointless state test under dwindling budgets. Is it fair to add this expectation to their already heavy burden? How do teachers’ unions feel about it? How do parents feel about it?  Is there another, better approach?
    • Who controls the curriculum? One of the biggest obstacles standing between us and a more media-literate society is bias. How can we guarantee that those who design the curriculum won’t create a bias towards the sources they prefer and a mistrust among those they disagree with? The truth is that the truth is complicated. Knowledge is fraught with power and history, and we should consider that as we legislate how it’s consumed.

    The text of the bill is here, read it and form your own opinions, and you’ll already be on your way to a heightened level of media literacy.

    News coverage