- Associated Press - Friday, August 21, 2015

Aug. 16

The San Diego Union Tribune on education reform:

For observers of California’s public schools who look past the normal narratives and distractions, something bordering on despair is in order.

Consider the legislation now advancing in Sacramento to gut the Stull Act, the 1971 law mandating that student performance be a factor in teacher evaluations. Sen. Carol Liu, D-La Canada Flintridge, and Senate President Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, have won Senate passage of a measure to have each individual school district devise teacher evaluation systems in collective bargaining. Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, and Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, have won approval of a very similar measure in the Assembly.

This is billed as a reform. It is the opposite of reform. It is nonsensical to not have a statewide standard for evaluation of teachers. By pushing standard-setting to the local level, where teachers unions are nearly always the most powerful political force, the Legislature seeks to end meaningful, consequential evaluations. This has long been a goal of the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers, the powerful, wealthy unions that appear to dominate Sacramento more than ever.

As for the presumption that Gov. Jerry Brown will act to protect California’s 6.2 million K-12 students by vetoing these bills, that faith is based on Brown’s noble rhetoric about the importance of helping struggling students become productive members of society - not his record. In June, the governor underscored the emptiness of his rhetoric when his administration announced that funds disbursed via the Local Control Funding Formula - the 2013 reform under which billions of dollars was supposed to be funneled to troubled schools to directly help English learners and foster children - could instead be used for broad raises for teachers. That’s exactly what’s being done in many of the urban school districts that got the most extra state funding, starting with Los Angeles Unified, with the governor’s blessing.

Brown’s high-profile 2012 comments, in which he denounced the “siren song” of trendy education reforms and endorsed “subsidiarity” - a fancy word meaning more local control - look downright sinister in retrospect. They appear to be the starting point of a long con job in which the governor and the Legislature first got a fake funding reform in place to help teachers get raises and now are seeking another fake reform to give teachers who already have vast job protections even more guarantees of permanent employment.

And that’s not all Brown has done. There’s also his support for two 2014 bills that are now law. The first forces school districts to spend down their fiscal reserves - a mandate that school administrators looking at California’s boom-and-bust budget cycles properly consider insane. The second - nominally a teacher discipline bill making it easier to fire deviants - instead gives most categories of troubled teachers even more insulation.

As for Atkins’ role in the attempted gutting of the Stull Act, she never would have become Assembly speaker without the CTA’s and the CFT’s support. But California isn’t just opposing or ignoring the education reform policies touted by President Barack Obama; state leaders are going full-bore in the opposite direction, making accountability even less likely.

This is not an inspiring legacy. It is an awful one.


Aug. 17

The Fresno Bee on the state’s legislative agenda:

California lawmakers will vote to cut gasoline use by 50 percent - or not.

They’ll impose new taxes on cigarettes and health care plans, and increase payments to doctors and others who care for poor people and developmentally disabled people - or they won’t.

Lawmakers and lobbyists have returned to the Capitol for a final month of horse-trading and buttonholing. Whether the big deals come together is unclear. But some should, including one to pay for better roads and highways.

Highway funding is, however, a knotty problem. Because it would involve some form of tax increase on gasoline consumption and driving, lawmakers must approve any deal by a two-thirds margin. That means Republicans will matter.

Although Republicans always are hesitant to raise taxes, there are bargaining chips. One could involve a proposal by freshman Sen. John Moorlach, an anti-tax hawk from Orange County, to reduce the size of Caltrans. Democrats generally are unwilling to pare back the public employee workforce in any significant way.

A related issue involves Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León’s Senate Bill 350 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by forcing huge reductions in gasoline use - and thus gas tax collections. The oil industry is spending millions on an ad campaign warning that SB 350 would lead to gasoline rationing.

We support de León’s efforts to curb greenhouse gas and reduce reliance on petroleum, but questions remain about how the state would attain the goals without imposing undue costs on lower-income Californians.

Legislators also will spend time negotiating how to best spend the $2 billion-plus generated by California’s cap-and-trade program, which imposes fees on polluters, including motorists, to offset their emissions.

All of the above would be plenty to keep legislators busy. But they will need to multitask. Doctors and hospitals are angling for increases in payments to care for Medi-Cal patients, as are workers who care for developmentally disabled people. Where that money would come from is not clear.

There’s renewed talk of raising taxes on tobacco. If history is a guide, legislators also will fail to approve a tobacco tax hike. But tobacco companies’ success at blocking tax hikes won’t last forever. They ought to compromise and avoid a likely initiative battle in 2016.

A pressing but arcane issue involves how to impose a managed care organization tax to help fund health care for poor people. The federal government has told the state that its method of taxing plans failed to comply with federal law.

If the tax issue is not resolved, there would be a $1 billion-plus hole in next year’s budget. Better to resolve the tax question this year.

There’s still more: school funding, affordable housing, marijuana regulation, and maybe an Indian gambling compact or two. And there will be campaign money to raise.

The Senate has imposed a fundraising moratorium on its members for the final month. Assembly members, however, will cast pivotal votes on bills, and scurry to restaurants and bars to raise money from people affected by those votes. The unseemly practice ought to end.


Aug. 17

The Oakland Tribune on controlling the use of antibiotics in animals:

The widespread use of antibiotics in animals raised for food is reducing their effectiveness in people and costing human lives.

Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, is frustrated by the federal government’s unwillingness to stop this basic threat to human lives. He is trying for a second year to push a bill through the Legislature, SB 27, to crack down on antibiotic use in California, but opposition from the agriculture industry has weakened his bill.

The Assembly Appropriations Committee considers the bill Wednesday. Members should thank Hill for trying again and tell him to come back next year with something that will work.

If the Legislature can’t pass a bill that controls the use of antibiotics in animals as preventives or for weight gain, then an aggressive statewide proposition may be the only alternative. But it is always better for the Legislature to deal with things like this. Ranchers should know that and should work with Hill on a serious bill they can live with.

Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed Hill’s effort last year, saying it didn’t go far enough beyond the inadequate federal regulations. Hill tried to broker a compromise that would satisfy environmentalists, the livestock industry and the governor, but the legislation as written isn’t strong enough.

The bill would bar the use of antibiotics for the sole purpose of achieving quicker weight gains, and it requires ranchers to get a prescription from a veterinarian before using any antibiotics on livestock. So far so good.

But it leaves a window for abuse by allowing vets and ranchers to use antibiotics for any disease they anticipate might likely hit livestock. Proponents argue vets need leeway to attack diseases before they strike an animal, but given the history of the industry, it’s easy to see the potential for abuse.

Scientists have been warning about the dangers of pumping antibiotics into farm animals for more than 40 years. Today, 80 percent of all antibiotics used in the United States are given to livestock. But the federal Food and Drug Administration has yet to solve the problem.

The FDA’s strategy has focused on trying to get the industry to voluntarily reduce the practice. The results have been less than satisfactory. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control estimates that 2 million people suffer from antibiotic-resistant infections each year, and more than 20,000 die from them.

The CDC has for years called antibiotic resistance “one of the most pressing health threats facing the world today.”

It’s great that Hill is trying to help protect Californians and create a model that other states could follow. It could even make California beef more marketable if ranchers took the broad view. But SB 27 isn’t the answer.


Aug. 17

The Long Beach Press-Telegram on funding for developmental services:

Philosophically, Republicans in the California Legislature are correct in their view of the state’s failure to properly fund developmental services in the 2015-16 budget.

It was a cynical move by Gov. Jerry Brown and the majority Democrats in the Legislature to leave that funding flat, even though there was ample revenue to give developmental services the immediate 10 percent funding boost that is desperately needed after years of budgetary neglect. Instead, Democrats allocated money to their major supporters and causes, and stiffed those with developmental disabilities - kicking the problem into a special session of the Legislature.

But this issue is not philosophical it’s practical. The quality of life for more than 280,000 Californians with developmental disabilities and their families hangs in the balance. We want to see the Lanterman Coalition’s plea - for a quick 10 percent funding boost and a sustainable future - fulfilled in any way possible, without regard to political philosophy.

These are our most vulnerable citizens. They should be our highest priority, not an afterthought. Unfortunately, they don’t have high-powered lobbyists or politically powerful allies in Sacramento.

So it’s up to the individual consciences of the legislators in the Second Extraordinary Session on public health and developmental funding to step up and get this done. This is a nonpartisan problem that needs a bipartisan solution.

Legislators returned to Sacramento today to consider legislation introduced before they recessed. Here are four bills they should pass:

-State Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, introduced SBX2-1, which calls for the state Department of Developmental Services to hike regional centers’ operating budgets by 10 percent, to cover the effects of any minimum wage hikes on regional centers and their service vendors, and to develop a 10-year financial sustainability plan that ensures effective service to all individuals with developmental services. But it doesn’t include any money. It’s “… subject to an appropriation of funds by the Legislature for these purposes … .”

There are, of course, different appropriations bills from Democrats and Republicans.

-Sens. Jim Nielsen, R-Roseville, and Jeff Stone, R-Murrieta, introduced SBX2-4, which would give developmental funding an immediate boost, retroactive to July 1. It would put any revenues that exceed the state budget’s revenue estimates into developmental and Medi-Cal funding (minus the portion that must go to schools under Prop. 98). This bill needs to pass - in a hurry.

-Assemblyman Mark Levine, D-San Rafael, introduced ABX2-4, which would generate revenue for Medi-Cal reimbursements and developmental services through a $7.88-per-person-per-month tax on managed health care organizations (MCOs). It would boost developmental funding by roughly 10 percent starting July 1, 2016, when the tax would kick in to replace an MCO tax that the federal government will no longer allow after that date. This bill, or a better version, should be passed long before then.

-Sen. Stone also introduced SBX2-11, a no-brainer that says any savings that result from the coming closures of state developmental centers must go to developmental services. If this doesn’t pass unanimously, there’s something wrong,

We call on our legislators to do everything they can to get these bills through the special session and passed by the Assembly and Senate. Don’t worry about party or who gets the credit; just do the right thing.


Aug. 17

The Sacramento Bee on water conservation:

If the latest predictions are correct, there’s a good chance that one of the wettest, most powerful El Ninos on record is headed straight for California. When - or, we should say, if - that rain does arrive, it will be a welcome reprieve from four years of drought.

But don’t let up on water conservation yet.

One rainy winter will not recharge our reservoirs, replenish all of our underground basins or refill all of our riverbeds. That will take years of normal rainfall, especially here in Northern California, and our future is far from certain.

Therefore, we applaud state and local leaders for continuing to carefully consider new ways to save water.

Last week, the California Energy Commission adopted tougher requirements for low-flow shower heads, building on similar orders issued in April to expedite the proliferation of water-efficient faucets and toilets.

This is a big deal because showers and faucets make up about 40 percent of residential indoor water use. For showering alone, Californians use about 186 billion gallons a year.

After July 2016, all shower heads sold in California must spit out 20 percent less water. Shower heads sold after July 2018 must cut water flows an additional 10 percent. Regulators expect that to translate into saving about 2.4 billion gallons in the first year. Sales of water-efficient faucets and toilets will save another 730 billion gallons over the next decade.

Those are no-brainer ways to conserve water, just like asking residents to water their lawns only a few days each week, or, better yet, requesting that they replace their lawns with drought-resistant landscaping, as the city of Davis has done at a series of workshops this summer.

Far more complicated are measures to let people rip up their grass and put down artificial turf.

Several California cities, including Roseville, already allow this. But the Sacramento Planning and Design Commission last week delayed a vote on whether to allow fake grass to be 1.25 inches high in front and side yards.

On the surface, lifting the decades-old ban on artificial grass seems like a simple way to help residents save even more water than they’re already saving. Sacramento-area households cut their usage by 37 percent in July, according to the Regional Water Authority.

But there are environmental concerns, including whether the turf will eventually clog landfills or kill microbes in the soil that trees need to survive. There’s also the mind-boggling notion that artificial turf gets so hot in the Central Valley sun that people have been known to water it just so they can walk on it.

The commission was wise to take a step back.

The drought is an emergency, and we must continue to treat it as such, implementing as many water conservation measures as possible. But we must be smart about it.

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