Gov. signs bill to head off care crisis

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Los Angeles County will retain up to $300 million for medical treatment of uninsured residents who must look elsewhere for care after the closure of Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital, under legislation signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Friday.

The law is intended to avert a healthcare crisis in Los Angeles by creating a fund to receive $100 million annually in federal money for the next three years to pay for health services for the uninsured. The money will go to hospitals and health clinics inundated with patients who otherwise would have gone to Harbor.

Also on Friday, the governor carried out his long-threatened veto of a bill to legalize gay marriage and of the healthcare overhaul proposed by Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland).

Schwarzenegger urged lawmakers to continue to work with him on a compromise healthcare proposal.

"This bill does not achieve coverage for all -- a critical step needed to reduce healthcare costs for everyone," Schwarzenegger said of the measure, AB 8, adding that it "places an unreasonable financial burden on businesses."

Assistance for those affected by the closure of King-Harbor Hospital recognizes the serious consequences for residents needing healthcare. The hospital in Willowbrook closed in August after failing to meet federal standards for patient care, and the $300 million, which would have gone to the hospital had it stayed open, was in danger of being redirected to other facilities outside the county.

"It is important that critical healthcare services continue to be available to residents in the South Los Angeles community," Schwarzenegger said. "This legislation provides funding to maintain access to vital medical care while easing the burden to this region's already overcrowded emergency rooms."

The law, SB 474 by Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D- Santa Monica), will create a South Los Angeles Medical Services Preservation Fund, from which the state will distribute funds to area facilities.

County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said the action is important to help meet the needs of a community that was making 40,000 emergency room visits to the hospital before it was shuttered.

"This is significant," Yaroslavsky said. "It was tough enough that Martin Luther King hospital will be closed for some amount of time. It would have been a double jeopardy had we lost the funding that went along with that hospital."

Mark Gamble of the Hospital Assn. of Southern California also welcomed the governor's action, but said the money would cover less than 15% of the cost of caring for the extra patients.

The governor signed 52 bills Friday. He vetoed 17.

On gay marriage, Schwarzenegger cited the reasoning he gave in vetoing a similar bill two years ago: that California voters spoke when they approved a ballot measure five years ago recognizing marriage as between a man and a woman.

He signed a batch of measures on environmental issues, including legislation to put a surcharge on natural gas bills to provide $250 million in subsidies as incentives to reach the goal of installing 200,000 solar water heating systems in the state by 2017. He also said he will sign a bill to expedite the cleanup of toxic pollution at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory site in Ventura County.

The bills, he said, will "protect our precious resources and continue to keep California at the forefront of energy and water efficiency," Schwarzenegger said.

The key bill for environmentalists was AB 1470 by Assemblyman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), which requires the state Public Utilities Commission to design and operate a $250-million subsidy program to promote the installation of 200,000 solar hot water systems in California by 2017.

The bill will raise the money over 10 years through an average surcharge of 13 cents a month on all gas bills. Homeowners can apply to their local gas company for a rebate to cover part of the cost of a solar water heater, according to Bernadette Del Chiaro of the group Environment California.

"It's one more giant, historic step to making California a world leader on solar power," she said.

She said solar water heating systems cost $4,000 to $6,000 and the combination of state and federal incentives may cut the cost in half.

The bill was opposed by Republican legislators including Chuck Devore of Irvine, who complained it is a tax hidden in utility bills that will result in middle- and lower-income people subsidizing the rich.

"It's the people with BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes in their driveways that will have the free cash flow to afford these expensive solar water heating systems," Devore said.

Kuehl was the author of SB 990, which seeks to expedite cleanup of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory, a rocket engine test site and former nuclear research facility near Simi Valley.

Schwarzenegger announced Friday that the Boeing Co., which owns most of the 2,850-acre site, has agreed to transfer the property to the state for preservation as open space after the company completes the cleanup, at no cost to the taxpayers. Kuehl's bill would set the cleanup standards.

Another cluster of bills the governor signed address education issues, including an extension of the authorization for the Los Angeles County Board of Education to charter a community school from June 2008 to June 2013.

He also signed a measure prohibiting employers from requiring workers to have radio-frequency identification devices implanted under their skin. State Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) wrote the legislation, SB 362, after some companies began implanting the devices, which are the size of a grain of rice and when scanned can provide instant details on the worker.

Addressing controversy about big pay raises in the state university system, the governor also approved legislation by Sen. Leland Yee (D- San Francisco) that requires meetings of the regents of the University of California and the California State University boards of trustees to be open to the public when acting on executive compensation. That measure is SB 190.

In other action, Schwarzenegger vetoed legislation that would have maintained local rent controls on lots not purchased by residents of a mobile home park that converts to resident ownership.

"While the bill's intent is to preserve low-income housing, it also extends rent control in certain circumstances to mobile home owners in much of the state no matter what their income level," the governor wrote in his veto message on AB 1542 by Assemblywoman Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa).

He signed a bill by Assemblyman Pedro Nava (D- Santa Barbara) that provides intensive instruction and services for an additional two years to 12th-grade students who have not passed the California high school exit exam.

The bill, AB 347, satisfies the requirements of the settlement agreement reached in Valenzuela v. O'Connell, et. al, which challenged the exit exam.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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