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News and analysis on California politics
Lawmakers announce renewed push for Medi-Cal funding

California lawmakers and advocates are gearing up for a new chapter in the battle over the state's healthcare program for the poor.

They announced new legislation on Wednesday that would pump more money into Medi-Cal, which has expanded to cover more residents even while suffering from recession-era funding cuts.

The bills (SB 243 and AB 366) would reverse cuts to doctors who treat Medi-Cal patients. It also would go further, requiring higher payments from managed care plans that contract with the state and boosting funding for hospitals.

Lawmakers said the money is necessary to ensure there's enough healthcare providers in California willing to treat poor patients through the Medi-Cal program.

"Millions of Californians are walking around with insurance cards that hold no or little weight," said Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Alameda), who authored one of the bills. "That insurance card should ensure access."

It's unclear how much the legislation would cost taxpayers. Sen. Ed Hernandez...

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California bill would protect civilians recording police activity

From the LAPD beating of Rodney King 24 years ago to last year’s death of Eric Garner after a scuffle with New York police officers, bystanders who recorded the incidents on video have allowed the public to see at least some of what happened.

One California state senator wants to protect citizens who properly record the actions of officers in public from arrest or interference by the police. Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) has introduced legislation that would clarify that a civilian who makes an audio or video recording of a police officer, while the officer is in a public place, is not violating the law.

The measure also would make clear that recording does not constitute reasonable suspicion to detain a person or probable cause to arrest.

“Recent events throughout the country and here in California have raised questions about when an individual can -- and can’t -- record,” Lara said in a statement. “SB 411 will help erase ambiguity, enhance transparency and ensure that freedom of...

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Kamala Harris speaks about U.S. Senate bid -- in Washington, D.C.

Democratic Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, the sole major candidate thus far in the 2016 U.S. Senate race to replace the retiring Barbara Boxer, made her first public remarks about her bid at a campaign-style event Tuesday night – 2,300 miles away, in Washington, D.C.

Speaking at  fundraising gala marking the 30-year anniversary of Emily’s List, Harris pledged to defend “the voiceless and vulnerable.” She noted that in the courts, when a defendant is charged with a crime, the plaintiff is “the people” rather than the victim.

“Our beautiful democracy and system of justice has said that when any one of us has been harmed, it is a harm against all of us. A crime against any one of us is a crime against all of us,” said Harris, a former San Francisco district attorney. “And so I think about that and bring that to bear in the work that I have done as district attorney of San Francisco, now as attorney general of California, and with my intention to become the next United States senator from the...

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Health officials would add $2 tax to packs of cigarettes in California

After seven failed attempts since 2002, a coalition of health groups and lawmakers is once again proposing to increase the tobacco tax in California, arguing that an additional $2 per pack of cigarettes will save lives, in part, by discouraging people from smoking.

Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), a physician, introduced the latest proposal, which would  generate $1.4 billion a year to fund smoking prevention, research into smoking-related diseases and expanded treatment services for Medi-Cal patients.

The measure would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature and the governor's signature to be placed on the ballot. The tobacco industry has blocked past attempts, but representatives were not immediately available for comment Tuesday.

Supporters say they are prepared to take it to the November 2016 ballot with a signature drive if it fails in the Legislature. The state tax on a pack of 20 cigarettes is currently 87 cents, on top of a federal tax of $1.01 a pack.


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California steps up prison drug screening for visitors and staff

California prison officials say they expect to have drug-sniffing dogs and ion scanners at 11 prisons by this spring, an effort to put a damper on a behind-bars drug trade that had one out of four inmates testing positive for illegal substances last year.

"Everybody will tell you drugs are readily available in all of the prisons in California," Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard told lawmakers at state Senate budget hearing Tuesday. He recounted the need to summon a medical emergency helicopter to a prison in San Joaquin County last year to rescue the 11-month-old infant of a prison visitor. Beard said the child was poisoned by opiates hidden within its diapers.

With a $5.2-million grant for new equipment akin to those used at airport security checkpoints, on top of a $3-million search dog program already in place, California intends to conduct random tests of visitors and prison workers who come and go from a third of the state's 34 lockups. Visitors who test positive for traces of...

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Four California legislative leaders report $48,000 in gifts

California lawmakers reported Tuesday that they accepted tens of thousands of dollars in gifts last year, including concert and sports tickets, golf games, expensive dinners and overseas trips.

State officials reported trips paid for by others to Spain, Portugal, Israel, China, El Salvador, Chile, Peru, Mexico and Canada.

Legislators could legally accept gifts of up to $440 last year from special interest groups seeking their favors, and more for travel as long as they gave a speech as part of the trip. A bill to cut the gift limit to $200 and prohibit certain gifts, including sports and concert tickets, was approved by the Legislature last year but vetoed by the governor.

The four current legislative leaders accepted a combined $48,000 in gifts last year. Senate President pro tem Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles), who authored last year’s bill limiting gifts, accepted the most: $15,597 in 2014.

The biggest gift received by De Leon was $9,758 in airfare and other travel expenses paid for...

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