A judge has struck down a ballot measure that would force the city of Los Angeles to launch its own health department separate from the county's.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael P. Linfield ruled Friday that the measure slated for the June ballot would conflict with state law if passed and would "impermissibly interfere with essential government functions."
The measure was spearheaded by the nonprofit AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which is a major provider of AIDS- and HIV-related health services for the county's health department, but has also frequently butted heads with county leaders.
The foundation collected nearly 70,000 signatures last year -- enough to place the measure on the ballot. If passed, it would have forced the city to end its public health contracts with Los Angeles County and set up its own municipal health department within 120 days.
The nonprofit argued that the county's health department is a clunky bureaucracy that underserves the city of Los Angeles. But both city and county officials characterized the initiative as a potential fiscal and public health catastrophe, and both governments filed lawsuits to stop it from going to voters.
County spokesman David Sommers said the county "is pleased with today’s ruling that effectively kills this completely draconian ballot initiative. A dangerous gap in public health services would have been immediately created had this misguided initiative passed -- fortunately, the Court’s decision resolves that threat."
And City Atty. Mike Feuer said in a statement that the ruling "protects the public’s health and saves precious taxpayer dollars from being wasted on a vote on a patently unlawful initiative."
The AIDS foundation did not intervene to defend the initiative in court. Instead, in November the foundation began the process of petitioning for an alternate initiative, this one only requiring the city to form a citizens' commission to oversee health services that the city receives from the county. The city would also be required to study the feasibility of setting up its own agency.
Foundation President Michael Weinstein said the group made a decision to focus on the alternate ballot measure rather than fighting for the first one in court.
"Based upon the level of opposition the city had to having its own health department, we felt we would head in a different direction," he said. "...The bottom line, from our point of view is, the discussion of how healthcare is delivered in Los Angeles is vital."
The group is still gathering signatures on the second ballot measure, and Weinstein said he expects to have enough to qualify in time for the November ballot.
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