Se­nate OKs im­mi­grant health­care

Law­mak­ers also ap­prove mea­sures on tobacco, e-cig­a­rettes and aid to state uni­ver­sity stu­dents.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Pa­trick McGreevy and Me­lanie Ma­son

SACRA­MENTO — The state Se­nate ap­proved a hotly de­bated mea­sure Tues­day that would pro­vide health­care cov­er­age to many im­mi­grants who re­side in Cal­i­for­nia il­le­gally.

Law­mak­ers also gave the first full-house ap­proval to bills that would raise the state smok­ing age to 21, pro­hibit the use of elec­tronic cig­a­rettes in the same way smok­ing is banned, pro­vide more public grants for uni­ver­sity stu­dents and au­to­mat­i­cally reg­is­ter to vote all el­i­gi­ble res­i­dents who ob­tain a driver’s li­cense.

The health­care pro­posal would al­low up to 240,000 im­mi­grants younger than 19 to en­roll in Medi-Cal, Cal­i­for­nia’s health pro­gram for the poor, and an un­spec­i­fied num­ber of low-in­come adult im­mi­grants to re­ceive the same ser­vices from a sep­a­rate pro­gram.

Oth­ers could buy non­govern­ment cov­er­age through the Cov­ered Cal­i­for­nia in­sur­ance ex­change if the fed­eral gov­ern­ment re­verses its ban on the prac­tice.

State Sen. Ri­cardo Lara (D-Bell Gar­dens), au­thor of the pro­posal, said it pro­vides “what we can real­is­ti­cally achieve now” for many of the es­ti­mated 2 mil­lion peo­ple in the state il­le­gally.

“We are talk­ing about our friends. We are talk­ing about our neigh­bors and our fam­i­lies who are de­nied ba­sic health­care in the rich­est state of this union,” said Lara, the son of im­mi­grants who were for­merly in the coun­try il­le­gally.

The bill’s prospects are un­cer­tain. Leg­isla­tive an­a­lysts have not yet cal­cu­lated the cost, and Gov. Jerry Brown has said he prefers not to sig­nif­i­cantly ex­pand health cov­er­age for unau­tho­rized res­i­dents.

He in­cluded money in his lat­est pro­posed bud­get to in­sure those who would be af­fected by Pres­i­dent Obama’s de­por­ta­tion re­lief or­der, which is on hold. But

Brown de­clined to com­ment Tues­day on Lara’s bill, which passed 28 to 11.

Only two Repub­li­cans said yes. Sen. Andy Vi­dak (R-Han­ford) sup­ported the mea­sure, SB 4, say­ing, “The tax­pay­ers are al­ready pay­ing high health­care costs for un­doc­u­mented when they show up in our emer­gency rooms.”

Sen. Jeff Stone (R-Te­mec­ula) said the pro­posal would worsen a short­age of physi­cians to treat pa­tients on Medi-Cal: “This bill would only add hun­dreds of thou­sands of pa­tients to the rolls with no one to care for them.”

The mea­sure now goes to the As­sem­bly, with other pro­pos­als the Se­nate passed Tues­day.

One of those would raise the legal age for buy­ing tobacco prod­ucts from 18 to 21, part of an ef­fort to re­duce smok­ing by young peo­ple.

Sen. Ed Her­nan­dez (DWest Cov­ina) said he in­tro­duced the bill, SB 151, out of con­cern that an es­ti­mated 90% of tobacco users start be­fore reach­ing 21.

“It’s time to stop al­low­ing tobacco com­pa­nies to make the deadly prod­uct so read­ily avail­able to our youth,’’ he said.

Op­po­nents in­clude the Cigar Assn. of Amer­ica, which ar­gued that Cal­i­for­ni­ans can vote and serve in the mil­i­tary at 18 and should be able to make their own de­ci­sions con­cern­ing smok­ing at that age. The vote was 26 to 8. Sen­a­tors also ad­vanced a bid to ban elec­tronic cig­a­rettes from restau­rants, the­aters and other public places where smok­ing is pro­hib­ited.

The bill, by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Fran­cisco), would treat e-cig­a­rettes, also known as “vap­ing” de­vices, as tobacco prod­ucts be­cause they of­ten use nico­tine.

“The fastest growth seg­ment of new users is among mid­dle and high school stu­dents who are now smok­ing elec­tronic cig­a­rettes,” Leno told his col­leagues.

The mea­sure, SB 140 passed 24 to 12, with Stone the lone Repub­li­can vot­ing for it.

Se­nate Repub­li­can leader Robert Huff of Di­a­mond Bar said e-cig­a­rette va­por does not spread as much as tobacco smoke, so the de­vices should be treated dif­fer­ently.

In ad­di­tion, Huff said, “ecigs are used by peo­ple try­ing to kick the tobacco habit.”

He said the state should await fed­eral ac­tion on the cig­a­rettes.

Leg­is­la­tion also passed the Se­nate that would give more state aid to stu­dents in Cal­i­for­nia’s public uni­ver­sity sys­tems.

Sen. Marty Block (D-San Diego), the au­thor, said he wants to make higher ed­u­ca­tion more af­ford­able and en­cour­age stu­dents to grad­u­ate sooner.

His mea­sure would pro­vide Cal State stu­dents with grants of $1,000 if they fin­ish 30 units the first year; $1,500 more for fin­ish­ing 60 units by the end of the sec­ond year; and $2,000 more if they com­plete 90 units by the end of the third year.

Block also wants to in­crease the num­ber of Cal Grant schol­ar­ships for low­in­come stu­dents from 22,500 to 30,000.

In ad­di­tion, it would set the grant at $9,084 for re­cip­i­ents at pri­vate uni­ver­si­ties and delete a sched­uled re­duc­tion to $8,056 for new re­cip­i­ents at pri­vate col­leges.

The mea­sure, SB 15, passed 35 to 0.

Sen­a­tors voted unan­i­mously to make it a felony with pri­son time for a sex of­fender to re­move or dis­able a GPS track­ing de­vice.

The au­thor of SB 722, Sen. Pat Bates (R-La­guna Niguel), noted that many of­fend­ers are be­ing charged with com­mit­ting new crimes when they should have been sub­ject to state track­ing but had evaded it.

The Times has re­ported, for ex­am­ple, that two tran­sients ac­cused of killing four women in Or­ange County had a his­tory of cut­ting off their GPS track­ers and even leav­ing the state.

Mean­while on Tues­day, the As­sem­bly passed a pro­posal to reg­is­ter to vote all el­i­gi­ble Cal­i­for­ni­ans who get a driver’s li­cense un­less they opt out.

The bill, AB 1461 by Assem­bly­woman Lorena Gon­za­lez (D-San Diego), is a re­sponse to par­tic­u­larly low voter turnout in some re­cent elec­tions.

It passed 45 to 25 and moves to the Se­nate.

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