SACRAMENTO — Approving the framework for an expansion of health care to California's working poor, Gov. Gray Davis on Saturday signed legislation that could eventually allow an underused government program to cover parents as well as children.
Facing a midnight deadline to sign measures passed at the end of this year's legislative session, Davis blessed two bills by Assemblyman Martin Gallegos (D-Baldwin Park) that outline an expansion of the beleaguered Healthy Families program.
Also on Saturday, Davis signed legislation by Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg (D-Sherman Oaks) that will relieve the Coastal Commission of the duty of reviewing Malibu residents' minor coastal building projects.
And the governor, who on Friday had disappointed his union allies by vetoing benefit increases for unemployed and injured workers, signed a pair of bills high on organized labor's priority list.
But Davis vetoed legislation making it easier for immigrants to obtain driver's licenses, and allowing immigrants to get in-state tuition breaks while applying for U.S. citizenship.
Healthy Families, envisioned as a way to provide health care to many of the 2 million poor California children without health insurance, has fallen far short of expectations. Only 340,000 children have enrolled in the program in a state with more than 7.5 million uninsured residents, the most in the nation.
As a result of the lack of participation, California is faced with returning $590 million in unspent federal money to Washington. Thirty-nine other states are in the same predicament, having also failed to put their federal health care dollars to use. But California has been the worst performer.
Hoping to keep the money, Davis has joined Hertzberg and Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco) in a last-minute campaign to obtain a federal waiver so that California can also apply the money to parents of uninsured children. By including their parents, lawmakers believe, they will enroll more children.
Davis recently wrote President Clinton asking for support, and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has been organizing her colleagues in Congress in hopes of obtaining an extension.
One Gallegos bill, AB 1015, authorizes California to extend the Healthy Families benefits to parents of children already eligible for the program. The other, AB 2900, makes technical changes to the state's Medi-Cal program for the poor to make that possible.
Davis also signed legislation, AB 2415 by Assemblywoman Carole Migden (D-San Francisco) that will allow children of legal immigrants to continue using the program. Previous legislation required that the benefits to children of immigrants end this year.
"California is committed to maximizing state and federal resources to ensure the health of our children and their families," Davis said in a written statement. "It is important to note that we are providing assistance to legal--not illegal--immigrants who are fully legitimate residents in California."
But citing the potential for fraud, the governor vetoed a pair of bills that would have made it easier for immigrants who apply for legal status to obtain California driver's licenses.
In recent years, Davis noted, California has been tightening rules to make driver's licenses more secure against possible use as identification documents for illegal activities.
One bill, AB 1463 by Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), would have allowed license seekers to demonstrate that they were properly in this country by showing proof that they had applied for legal immigrant status. Davis dismissed the bill as "an invitation for fraud."
The second measure, AB 1601 by Assemblyman Keith Olberg (R-Victorville), would have allowed use of certain visas to also prove that the license applicant was in the country lawfully. Davis said such visas are "easy to counterfeit and impossible to verify" for purposes of issuing a driver's license.
Davis also vetoed legislation by Assemblyman Marco Firebaugh (D-Los Angeles) that would have allowed immigrants engaged in the lengthy process of applying for U.S. citizenship to obtain in-state tuition breaks to attend the University of California and California State University systems.
The Legislature's Latino Caucus championed the bill as an important breakthrough, noting that the Immigration and Naturalization Service often takes years to process an application, leaving immigrant students in the lurch. In striking down the measure, AB 1197, Davis argued that it would be unfair because foreign applicants or U.S. citizens from other states do not receive such tuition breaks.
The union bills Davis signed Saturday had generated some controversy. One, AB 1889 by Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), makes it illegal for anyone doing business with the state to spend state funds on anti-union-organizing activities. Violators will be subject to stiff civil fines.