- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Nov. 29

Santa Rosa Press Democrat on Californians embracing Obamacare despite Trump attacks

Despite President Donald Trump’s many efforts to sabotage the Affordable Care Act, the pace of enrollment is up in California and the rest of the nation, an indication that Obamacare is more popular - and useful - than its loudest critic cares to acknowledge.

In California, more than 48,000 new consumers signed up for coverage in the first two weeks after open enrollment started Nov. 1. That’s slightly ahead of the pace during the same two weeks last year, when 39,000 enrolled, according to Covered California, the state’s insurance marketplace.

In California, the sign-up continues until Jan. 31; residents who want coverage to begin on Jan. 1 must enroll by Dec. 15.

Nationally, the story is similar: Almost 1.5 million people signed up in the first weeks of open enrollment in the 39 states tracked by healthcare.gov. That’s a 47 percent increase in enrollees over the same period a year ago, although the share of new consumers signing up is down slightly. The remaining states, like California, run their own exchanges, and they also report an increase in total enrollees.

The surge is remarkable, given the president’s many attempts to undermine Obamacare. On Twitter and elsewhere, Trump has repeatedly claimed that President Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement is “imploding,” despite independent assessments that it’s still viable and that some facets - including coverage of pre-existing conditions - are overwhelmingly popular.

This year, the Trump administration cut the enrollment period in half for most states and slashed the advertising budget for open enrollment by 90 percent. Obamacare advocates took to Facebook and other social media to spread the word about the start of open enrollment. Covered California, to its credit, continued with its marketing and outreach efforts. Last year the exchange spent $110 million - 11 times the amount budgeted for advertising Obamacare nationwide.

Administration officials argued that a lengthy open-enrollment period and widespread advertising weren’t necessary because so many Americans are already familiar with Obamacare. Some of those critics undoubtedly will argue the early surge in enrollment this month proves they were right.

But the increases should tell critics something else, too. As maligned - and flawed - as Obamacare is, it’s still something that Americans feel they need because they can’t find affordable coverage anywhere else.

Trump officials shouldn’t discount that support or need. Earlier this month, voters in Maine sent a rebuke to the White House when they approved by referendum a plan to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. Other states are now considering similar initiatives.

Obamacare still has room for improvement. It would be stronger if consumers had more insurers and more affordable plans to choose from. As public policy, though, the program is sound, having helped cut the number of uninsured in California by half since its inception and given millions of Americans a means to access health care.

Despite those successes, Trump and his Republican allies in Congress are still more intent on repealing rather repairing Obamacare. While they fight with Democrats to yet another stalemate, it appears Americans are letting it be known they aren’t ready to let go of Obamacare - no matter what the president tweets.


Nov. 29

Chico Enterprise-Record on not needing another vote on marijuana

If you live in Butte County, you’re probably tired of all the local ballot-box battles over marijuana this decade. We certainly are. But if you live in the Chico city limits, you may be burdened with another one next year.

If you thought the vote over marijuana legalization last year would calm the stormy seas once and for all, then you haven’t been paying attention. This is marijuana, after all. That’s no such thing as a simple no or a simple yes.

California voters decided last year to legalize marijuana use by adults, with no need to seek out a sham doctor’s recommendation. Statewide, 57.1 percent of the voters approved legalization. In Butte County, 53.3 percent of the voters were in favor.

One reason it was acceptable to people on the fence was the idea of local control. Cities and counties could make their own rules on whether marijuana sales would be allowed, or how much individuals could grow, if at all.

It would be up to local city councils and boards of supervisors to decide. That made it palatable to some uncertain voters. Just because you grudgingly approve of legalization doesn’t mean you want your city or neighborhood to look like Amsterdam or the Emerald Triangle.

Local rules have to be in place by Jan. 1, or state rules will apply. Like many municipalities, the Chico City Council passed its own rules last month. In a 4-3 vote, the council decided there would be no marijuana shops and no outdoors growing.

That upset some people who see the potential to make a lot of money with sales, deliveries and other aspects of an open (albeit taxed) market. They’ve launched a signature-gathering drive in an attempt to overturn the council’s vote. If they can gather 5,001 valid signatures of registered Chico voters by next week, the council would need to decide what to do about the referendum.

The council would then either vote to rescind the ordinance (not likely) or have an election in which the voters decide.

As we’ve seen with the Butte County elections about marijuana - six measures in five years - a lot of money will be spent on the election. If the referendum wins, that would very likely lead to another ordinance, then another election challenging the revised ordinance, then a vote on an ordinance written by the marijuana industry advocates, and so on.

The organizers pushing for easy sales and easy growing, however, should look around before beating their heads against the wall for years.

It’s one thing to say you believe adults should have the right to light up. It’s quite another to say you want a cannabis retail store in your neighborhood, or your next-door neighbor growing a large garden.

A story in last week’s San Francisco Chronicle offered proof. Even in ultra-liberal Marin County, where 70 percent of voters favored legalization, cities and the county are rejecting pot shops. Two neighborhoods even started petition drives to convince government officials to put the dispensaries somewhere else, and right now “somewhere” means nowhere.

Reporter Peter Fimrite summed it up: “It turns out that many residents are fine with the idea of cannabis capitalism, as long as it isn’t happening in their backyard.”

It will be awhile before people are comfortable with the idea of cannabiz. We agree with the four members of the City Council who are happy to let some other city go first.


Nov. 28

The San Diego Union-Tribune on California making it easier for seniors to buy and sell homes

Proposition 13 - the 1978 initiative putting a limit on property tax rates and how much they can increase each year - has long been ripped by critics who say it has starved the state of needed funding. But one Proposition 13 upside is rarely acknowledged: The initiative keeps retirees from having to pay crushing taxes as the value of their homes soars during one of California’s periodic housing bubbles.

This protection also has a downside: It makes aging homeowners feel as if they are financially trapped in their homes. Instead of moving to smaller properties after their children move out, couples stay put, suppressing the availability of single-family homes. To address this problem, two ballot measures were adopted in the decade after Proposition 13 - Propositions 60 and 90 - which allowed homeowners who are disabled or are 55 and older to move once without a tax penalty. They can buy a new home and pay their previous tax assessment if it is in the same county or is in one of 11 counties, including San Diego, which chose to accept “intercounty” transfers. To be eligible, a new home cannot have a higher value than the previous one.

Now the California Association of Realtors is sponsoring a ballot initiative that would allow those homeowners who are disabled or 55 and older to transfer their assessments as often as they wanted and require all 58 counties to participate. The new home could be more valuable than the previous one, with tax assessments adjusted upward under a formula blending old and new valuations.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office warns that the measure could eventually lead to $2 billion or more in lost annual tax revenue. Realtors challenge this assertion and point to the new revenue that would come in as older homes worth $500,000 and more are finally taxed at their current value.

This question needs more thorough study because the basic concept of the Realtors’ proposal makes considerable sense - at least if it can’t be readily gamed by wealthy people to limit their property taxes. Retirement security is a huge issue for millions of aging Californians on fixed incomes. Protecting this growing group is a good idea.


Nov. 28

Los Angeles Times on time for L.A. County to figure out how to end rape in its jails

You do the crime, you do the time - yet for too many inmates in U.S. prisons, jails and probation camps, it’s not simply time spent apart from society seeking repentance and rehabilitation. It’s days, months, years of violent, degrading, repeated sexual abuse, perpetrated by other inmates or by the guards who are ostensibly there to keep order.

Two facts of inmate life are generally accepted on the outside with blasé indifference: When you’re behind bars there is a good chance that you will be raped; and if you tell anyone about it there is a good chance you will be beaten or killed (if the assailant was another inmate) or laughed at (if the perpetrator was a guard). In recent years there have been belated efforts to deal with sexual assault and misconduct on college campuses, in workplaces and in government offices, but rape culture in prison persists with too little public outrage or official response. Approximately 200,000 incarcerated men, women and children are sexually assaulted each year, according to federal authorities.

More than half of those rapes are perpetrated by guards and other prison staff.

It took decades, but Congress finally acknowledged the problem and moved to address it in 2003 with the Prison Rape Elimination Act, widely known as PREA. It took another decade for officials to approve federal rules to implement the act, directing state and local institutions to have on-site monitors, to conduct audits every three years, and to provide inmates safe avenues for reporting abuse.

Los Angeles County runs one of the nation’s largest adult jails and has more juveniles on probation, in and out of lockup, than any other jurisdiction. But even now, five years after PREA rules were finalized, the county lacks compliance officers and has yet to conduct an audit.

The Sheriff’s Department has conducted training and last month administered a “test” audit, but in explaining the department’s slow progress, an official recently explained to the Board of Supervisors that PREA is “an unfunded mandate.”

But compliance with the letter of the federal law is largely beside the point, or at least it ought to be. The less-than-robust PREA is too modest for a jurisdiction like Los Angeles County, with its very troubling and very recent history of jail violence perpetrated by deputies against inmates. Ultimately, several Sheriff’s Department officials were convicted in the beatings or related cover-up attempts, including Sheriff Lee Baca.

That experience ought to make the county especially sensitive to the consequences of violence against inmates. And if that’s true of jail beatings, which might conceivably be explained away as a response to inmate misbehavior, it ought to be even more true of sexual assaults, which can have no possible justification.

Yet one jail deputy stands accused of a series of sexual assaults on inmates at the Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood. A county probation officer pleaded guilty earlier this year to “inappropriately touching” two girls at a juvenile camp. Probation officers have been found in recent years to have had sex with juveniles they were supposed to be mentoring. Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission Executive Director Brian Williams told the Board of Supervisors that 10% to 15% of the public comments before the commission has been PREA-related.

By law, juveniles cannot consent to sex with adults. Likewise, neither juvenile nor adult inmates can legally consent to sex with their guards. In such cases, with the power all on the side of the guard, with no possible retreat for the inmate and enormous fear of retaliation for reporting the crime, sex is rape.

Supervisor Janice Hahn brought some much-needed urgency to the issue earlier this month, and as a result the Sheriff’s Department is due to report on its compliance with PREA by the end of the week. County officials also are to offer a funding plan - in February. But compliance with federal law and guidelines, which is long overdue, should be just the starting point. The ultimate goal must be an incarceration system that temporarily suspends liberty, but not physical safety or human decency, in the service of justice and rehabilitation.


Nov. 28

The Orange County Register on cash bail crowding jails, not making California safer

How much money someone has shouldn’t be the final determinant of whether or not he or she remains behind bars or gets released from jail after being arrested.

Yet that’s all too often how California’s pretrial justice system works, with potentially tens of thousands of people on any given day deemed eligible for release but stuck in jail simply because they haven’t posted monetary bail and might not be able to.

According to Human Rights Watch, between 2011-2015, one-third of the nearly 1.5 million felony arrests made in California ended in either charges never being filed, charges being dismissed or acquittal, with such resolutions coming days, weeks or months after arrest.

In a nation where people are presumed innocent until proven guilty, people who have not been found guilty of a crime and found eligible for release from jail pending a trial or further proceedings should not have their lives turned upside down simply because they can’t afford monetary bail. We think it’s normal, but it’s not. Only two countries, the U.S. and the Philippines, allow for-profit bail bondsmen.

This is a costly problem. As a recent report from the Criminal Justice Policy Program at Harvard University Law School noted, in addition to the high direct costs of incarceration, pretrial detention can have severe collateral consequences for defendants and their families.

People detained in jails for prolonged periods of time can be at risk of losing their jobs, their vehicles, their homes, their health care and even the custody of their children, regardless of whether or not they are ever found guilty of the crime for which they were arrested.

Key to a fix is moving to a risk-based system focusing more on a person’s flight risk and risk to the public, as a group convened by California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye recently suggested.

Jurisdictions across the country - including Washington, D.C. and Kentucky - have proven that pretrial justice systems that prioritize risk assessments and community-based supervision can safely reduce the detention of defendants without compromising rates of court appearances or public safety.

California should follow their lead. As Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, proposes through SB10, and as recommended by the chief justice’s group, California can establish a risk-based pretrial assessment system, investing in pretrial services in every county and ending the practice of detaining someone solely because of a small bank account.

As a 2015 report from Californians for Safety and Justice noted, most counties here already have pretrial services, providing information to judges for pretrial release or detention decisions and/or monitoring those released.

But the extent of those services and uses of risk assessments vary significantly by jurisdiction, often constrained by financial limitations.

Fixing this by ensuring the establishment and appropriate funding of effective pretrial services in every county is critical. As jurisdictions across the country have shown, investing in pretrial services can yield significant cost savings from reduced incarceration.

Reforming to focus on risk rather than finances has received bipartisan support both in the California Senate and the U.S. Senate. It’s time for California to pass bail reform.

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