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California Assembly widely approves plan to keep children insured

The measure to save nearly 700,000 from being yanked off a government program for low-income families sails through the lower house after barely passing the state Senate.

September 04, 2009|Patrick McGreevy and Eric Bailey

SACRAMENTO — In a rare showing of bipartisan unity, the state Assembly approved a proposal to keep nearly 700,000 children from being pushed off a government health insurance program for the working poor.

The measure brokered by Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) barely passed in the state Senate a day earlier but sailed to an easy victory in the lower house on a 62-5 vote.

Bass called the resounding victory for the state's Healthy Families program -- achieved with the support of 13 Republicans who joined the majority Democrats -- one of the most heartening votes in a year beset by partisan squabbling.

"It's a memorable day when we come together across party lines to stand up for the children in California," she said.

The vote sends the measure to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who called it "a great victory for California's kids" and promised to sign it.

Under the rescue effort, Healthy Families will reap $196 million to keep 660,000 children of low-income families from losing health insurance provided by the government program. Much of the money will come from a new 2.35% tax on health insurance companies that will be used to leverage nearly $100 million in federal matching funds.

With just more than a week left in this year's legislative session, state lawmakers approved dozens of other bills Thursday, including a measure supported by the Los Angeles school district that allows districts to use state instructional materials money to buy devices that let students read textbooks electronically.

AB 1398 by Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield (D-Woodland Hills) was introduced to help low-income students who may not be able to afford the electronic readers.

Another bill, SB 680 by Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), allows students to transfer to other school districts. It passed the Assembly on Thursday even though some Democrats, including Assemblyman Edward Hernandez of West Covina, said it would benefit wealthy students whose parents know how to work the system at the expense of poorer children left behind.

The transfers were previously allowed by a law that expired in July.

The Senate also approved a bill inspired by a federal investigation into whether private equity firms illegally paid middlemen to win business managing money for New York's pension funds. AB 1584 requires disclosure of fees paid to investment placement agents as well as campaign contributions and gifts they make to retirement board members.

The Senate also approved a measure Thursday restoring two restitution centers for non-violent inmates that were closed last year in Los Angeles County.

Not all of the action was on the Assembly and Senate floors. Backers of a bid to build a professional football stadium in the city of Industry aggressively lobbied legislative leaders Thursday on a plan to waive environmental and planning rules for the proposed 75,000-seat structure.

Billionaire real estate developer Ed Roski pitched his idea -- as a job-creating machine -- to Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Assembly Speaker Bass in a meeting Thursday that also included Maria Elena Durazo, head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. The lawmakers pledged to consider the plan, although no one has introduced legislation yet.

"The project may be an important opportunity to create thousands of high-wage jobs," said Alicia Trost, a spokeswoman for Steinberg, after the meeting in his office. "He is considering it."

Shannon Murphy, a spokeswoman for Bass, said, "If there's a way to maximize jobs with minimal impact on the environment, this speaker's going to look at it."

The proposal would also protect the stadium project from lawsuits, such as one filed by the adjacent city of Walnut in an attempt to thwart it.

"If the California Legislature gets involved, it certainly takes away local control," said Rob Wishner, Walnut's city manager.

Later in the day, Steinberg and Bass launched an effort to remodel the bedrock workings of state government.

They announced a new 20-member Select Committee on Reform that will meet this fall and winter to craft potential changes -- including tweaks in the Legislature's working rules and constitutional revisions that would require a vote of the people.



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