Health bill’s halt en­rages ac­tivists

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Me­lanie Ma­son

SACRA­MENTO — As­sem­bly Speaker An­thony Ren­don’s abrupt de­ci­sion Fri­day to side­line a bill that would have es­tab­lished sin­gle-payer health­care in Cal­i­for­nia roused a swift and fiery back­lash from the mea­sure’s sup­port­ers, who ac­cused the Demo­crat from Paramount of uni­lat­er­ally blunt­ing the ef­fort for sweep­ing over­haul of the state’s health­care sys­tem.

Their anger was cap­tured in a tweet by Cal­i­for­nia Nurses Assn. leader RoseAnn DeMoro with an il­lus­tra­tion of Cal­i­for­nia’s iconic bear flag bear­ing the slo­gan “Healthy Cal­i­for­nia” — and a knife with the name “Ren­don” on the blade in the griz­zly’s back. The tweet, and a sim­i­lar Face­book post, was

shared hun­dreds of times.

Back­ers of the sin­gle­payer mea­sure also made their dis­plea­sure known by stuff­ing Ren­don’s of­fice voice­mail boxes, fum­ing in so­cial me­dia posts and can­vass­ing Ren­don’s south­east­ern Los An­ge­les dis­trict to tell his con­stituents about his ac­tion.

But the move to shelve the bill led other pow­er­ful Democrats, in­clud­ing Gov. Jerry Brown and lead­ers of Planned Par­ent­hood of Cal­i­for­nia and ma­jor la­bor unions, to ap­plaud Ren­don for slow­ing down a mea­sure that was long on en­thu­si­as­tic sup­port­ers but short on key pol­icy specifics such as how to pay for it.

“Of­ten we fine-tune a bill when it goes from one house to an­other through the com­mit­tee process. This was so grotesquely be­yond that,” Ren­don said in an in­ter­view Mon­day. “This was essen­tially a $400-bil­lion pro­posal with­out a fund­ing source. That’s ab­so­lutely un­prece­dented .... This was not a bill, this was a state­ment of prin­ci­ples.”

The mea­sure, Se­nate Bill 562 by state Sens. Ri­cardo Lara (D-Bell Gar­dens) and Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), en­vi­sioned a dra­matic re­shap­ing of how Cal­i­for­ni­ans would re­ceive health cov­er­age.

The state would cover most health costs for all Cal­i­for­nia res­i­dents, re­gard­less of im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus. The sys­tem would elim­i­nate pre­mi­ums, co­pay­ments and de­ductibles. Os­ten­si­bly, the pro­gram would have been fi­nanced by tax in­creases, al­though a spe­cific source of tax rev­enue was not iden­ti­fied in the bill.

Pro­gres­sive ac­tivists, led by the mea­sure’s spon­sor, the nurses’ union, have ral­lied around sin­gle payer as a way to en­sure uni­ver­sal, com­pre­hen­sive health­care cov­er­age. The is­sue has res­onated par­tic­u­larly with sup­port­ers of Ver­mont Sen. Bernie San­ders’ pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, which was cen­tered on a prom­ise of “Medi­care for all.” San­ders weighed in Satur­day, say­ing he was “ex­tremely dis­ap­pointed” with Ren­don’s ac­tion.

But even as the bill ad­vanced through the state Se­nate, it was ap­par­ent that it would have to over­come sev­eral ob­sta­cles to suc­ceed. Leg­is­la­tors, who voted this year to raise taxes on gaso­line, were wary of back­ing ad­di­tional taxes. The pro­posal hinged on ap­proval by vot­ers and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. Just hours be­fore the Se­nate ap­proved the bill in early June, it was un­clear whether the mea­sure would come up for a vote at all. Sev­eral Se­nate Democrats, who asked to re­main anony­mous to speak about in­ter­nal cau­cus dis­cus­sions with The Times, said leg­is­la­tors balked at be­ing asked to take up a bill with un­cer­tain fi­nanc­ing. But they ul­ti­mately de­cided to ad­vance the mea­sure to keep the dis­cus­sion alive — and to avoid alien­at­ing the party’s base.

The bill’s progress alarmed some in­ter­est groups that saw cru­cial ques­tions go unan­swered. Laphonza But­ler, pres­i­dent of the statewide coun­cil of the Ser­vice Em­ploy­ees In­ter­na­tional Union, said her union was ea­ger to dis­cuss the sin­gle-payer pro­posal but wor­ried that specifics about im­ple­men­ta­tion, namely how it would be in­te­grated with care pro­grams of­fered by county gov­ern­ments, were go­ing unad­dressed.

“We ex­pected the Se­nate would take amend­ments, have thoughts about the fi­nanc­ing and the struc­ture,” said But­ler, who re­leased a state­ment Fri­day af­ter­noon back­ing Ren­don’s de­ci­sion to hold the bill.

Ren­don said he had mul­ti­ple con­ver­sa­tions with As­sem­bly Democrats about how to han­dle the pro­posal. “A lot of the mem­bers of our cau­cus saw this bill as some­thing that the Se­nate dumped at our doorstep with­out much thought or con­sid­er­a­tion about what was in it,” he said.

The move to shelve the bill is the type of ma­neu­ver lead­ers have his­tor­i­cally used in Sacra­mento to shield their mem­bers from po­lit­i­cally thorny votes.

“By him hold­ing it, he is ba­si­cally putting him­self in the po­si­tion to take the hit on be­half of every­body in­stead of putting his mem­bers in a pre­car­i­ous po­si­tion,” said former As­sem­bly Speaker John A. Pérez, a Ren­don ally. “I think that’s ac­tu­ally the job of a leader.”

But proponents were livid at Ren­don’s sud­den an­nounce­ment.

“This is such bad form,” said Bon­nie Castillo, as­so­ci­ate ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Cal­i­for­nia Nurses Assn. “He did not even no­tify us, the spon­sor of the bill, of what he was in­tend­ing to do.”

Castillo scoffed at the no­tion that Ren­don’s ac­tions shielded his mem­bers from a fraught de­ci­sion.

“I don’t think he has pro­tected any­one, and mostly he hasn’t pro­tected any­one in the state of Cal­i­for­nia by deny­ing them the op­por­tu­nity to have com­pre­hen­sive health­care,” Castillo said.

The nurses’ union noted that there was noth­ing stop­ping As­sem­bly mem­bers from mod­i­fy­ing the bill.

“We were fully ex­pect­ing to com­plete this leg­isla­tive process in the As­sem­bly,” Castillo said.

But Ren­don coun­tered it was the bill au­thors’ job to make such dras­tic changes to the leg­is­la­tion. “I didn’t kill the bill,” Ren­don said. “I’m telling the Se­nate to do their job, which is to come up with money.”

Sin­gle-payer back­ers jammed phone lines to Ren­don’s Capi­tol and dis­trict of­fices over the week­end. Vol­un­teers with the nurses’ union knocked on doors in his dis­trict, and ral­lies are planned at his Los An­ge­les and Sacra­mento of­fices this week. Al­though one pop­u­lar hash­tag among sup­port­ers urged #Re­cal­lRen­don, sin­gle-payer proponents are not ac­tively seek­ing to oust him at the mo­ment. In­stead, they’re fo­cused on press­ing the speaker to change his mind.

Ren­don’s back­ers say the out­rage is mis­placed.

“If they think An­thony Ren­don is their prob­lem in Cal­i­for­nia, they need to open their eyes,” Pérez said. “They’re more con­cerned with creat­ing or­tho­doxy around a con­cept than ac­tu­ally im­prov­ing the lives of peo­ple.”

Francine Orr Los An­ge­les Times

“THIS WAS NOT a bill, this was a state­ment of prin­ci­ples,” As­sem­bly Speaker An­thony Ren­don said.

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