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CA: Legislature Votes for Single-Payer Health System to Cover Uninsured

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Strengthening Communities

CA: Legislature Votes for Single-Payer Health System to Cover Uninsured

Yesterday, the California Assembly voted for a bill, SB 840, that would provide health care to all state residents under a government-run universal health insurance system, joining the state Senate which enacted a similar bill last year. 

The bill, which needs an additional vote in the Senate, faces a possible veto by the governor and will need additional votes in coming years as a new California Health Insurance Agency develops the details of the system, but it represents a trend this year of state legislatures taking significant action towards universal health care.  And unlike the Massachusetts law enacted earlier this year, which accomplished "universal coverage" by the nasty parlor trick of punishing individuals who don't get insurance, the California plan actually requires the state to create an affordable plan for all state residents.

As the Progressive States Network detailed in our July 24th Stateside Dispatch to its thousands of state legislators and state policy advocates who subscribe, new legislation and proposals are not waiting for DC to move towards universal health coverage. These efforts include:

  • San Francisco enacted a plan to combine an employer "fair share" mandate with public funds to provide health care for all city residents.
  • Vermont created a new "Catamount Health" plan to provide subsidized health care for individuals and families making up to 300% of the poverty line.  Massachusetts created a plan promising the same, although with fewer details than Vermont and the pernicious individual mandate condemned by many health care experts and activists.
  • Illinois started implementing its AllKids law, which has created a plan that provides subsidized universal health care for all children in the state.
  • A bi-partisan group of Wisconsin legislators introduced a proposal to provide health coverage for all working families in the state.

While the rightwing and health insurance lobbies will be out in force condemning the California plan and other moves towards eliminating the profiteering by insurance, pharmaceutical and other players in the health industry, Progressive States also recently highlighted the success of the Veterans Administration in containing costs and providing efficient health care for our veterans under a completely government-run system.  Similarly, by eliminating the administrative overhead of multiple state, federal and private programs, an analysis by the independent Lewin Group estimated that the California plan could save $8 billion per year overall in the state that could be used to finance universal coverage.

What is clear is that the corporate-dominated health care system has failed the American people.  Since Washington leaders have refused to fix the system, states are stepping in to take up the leadership for health care reform.

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Strengthening Communities

Anti-Tobacco Efforts Gain Steam

At the same time that a new study out of Massachusetts reveals that tobacco companies are steadily increasing nicotine levels in cigarettes, the fight to limit the health impacts of tobacco is gaining new steam. Ballot measures will be considered in eight states this fall regarding tobacco. And in Virginia, where tobacco is king, Governor Tim Kaine is considering a ban on smoking in state buildings.

Big Tobacco is on one hand among the easiest targets of progressive campaigns -- the industry profits from death and public smoking creates an enormous nuisance for the majority, non-smoking portion of the population. On the other hand, the industry can rally massive spending. According to the Christian Science Monitor, a single tobacco company is spending forty million dollars fighting the initiatives this fall.

Given that Tim Kaine is picking a fight on tobacco's native soil, one might predict a tough fight for him. But his public musings of whether state buildings should prohibit smoking was foreshadowed by passage in the Virginia Senate of a ban of smoking in virtually all public areas -- including private businesses. While that bill went into defeat in the House of Delegates, it drew bipartisan support.

Meanwhile, the eight ballot measures advancing this fall are a record for the anti-tobacco movement. Among the measures:

  • Arizona -- Supporters have qualified an initiative to prohibit smoking in virtually all public places with enforcement provided by a $.02 per pack tax on cigarettes. Limited exceptions to the ban exist.
  • California -- A coalition of public health organizations is backing Proposition 86, which would increase tobacco taxes by $2.60 a pack, under a recommendation from the CDC.
  • Florida -- Issue 4 in Florida devotes 15% of the state's tobacco settlement to fighting tobacco and preventing kids from ever adopting the habit.
  • Idaho -- A referendum from the legislature seeks public approval to use money from the tobacco settlement to create a permanent endowment for the state and protect an on-going anti-tobacco fund in Idaho.
  • Missouri -- Supporters of a tobacco tax are fighting in court over whether they filed enough signatures. The Secretary of State says the measure fell 274 signatures short of the 23,527 needed to qualify. Supporters say valid signatures were not counted.
  • Nevada -- Voters may have the opportunity to consider two measures: a stricter, public health-backed measure to would ban smoking in many places and a business-backed alternative keeping smoking legal in more locations.
  • South Dakota -- Measure 2 increases South Dakota's cigarette tax by a dollar per pack and increases wholesale tobacco taxes simultaneously.
  • Washington -- Initiative 901 prohibits smoking in restaurants, bars, and other public spaces.

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Strengthening Communities

CA: Integrating Immigrants into Education and Licensing Laws

In the state with the largest number of undocumented immigrants in the countries, state legislators in California are bucking the trend of enacting punitive measures against immigrants and instead voted for two proposals that actually seek positive solutions in integrating new immigrants into the economy.

The state Assembly voted to allow any student, regardless of legal status, who has attended three years of high school in California to qualify for financial aid when they attend California colleges and universities. This builds on existing law which allows the same group of students to qualify for in-state tuition at community colleges in the state.

The state legislature also voted for a bill, SB1162, allowing the state to issue driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants, a move that sponsors note would make the roads safer by requiring immigrants -- who often have to drive in order to get to work -- to pass the state's driving test and get insurance. The bill requires security measures and a special mark signaling that the license is held by an undocumented immigrant. The governor has stated that he will veto the bill nonetheless.

Both these bills recognize that our country is better off if the millions of undocumented immigrants are integrated into society, rather than being marginalized by being denied education and legal rights such as a drivers license.

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Research Roundup

Labor Day Edition

With the Labor Day holiday about to start, the news from the research front for workers is not good:

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities finds that poverty is higher and median income for the non-elderly is lower than when the recession was at its worst.   For the first time in recorded history, poverty is higher in the fourth year of an economic recovery than when it began. 

The Economic Policy Institute emphasizes the same trend and that this drop in median family income comes at the same time that economic growth is up significantly, as is productivity, meaning that workers are producing more but only the wealthy are seeing an increase in income due to that increased work -- part of the widening of inequality in the economy.

An in-depth report by the New York Times analyzed the relation between dropping wages and rising corporate profits-- and found that wages and salaries have been dropping as a share of the economy, while corporate profits have climbed to their highest share since the 1960’s.  Even benefits, which had been rising in past years, did not keep up with inflation this past year.

New surveys by the AFL-CIO and Change to Win labor federations have both found Americans pessimistic about the economy and believing that their children will be worse off economically than their parents.

Adding to the problem of workers is a National Labor Relations Board that has consistently undermined workers rights in recent years-- and American Rights At Work notes the NLRB is poised to decide a number of cases that could further weaken labor rights.  It doesn't have to be that way, as ARAW highlights in is Labor Day List of "Partnerships that Work" between unions and businesses where employers and employees work together for a better life for everyone.

And as part of your Labor Day celebration, check out the AFL-CIO's Labor Day 2006 with links to a range of resources on labor in America.

CA: Legislature Votes for Single-Payer Health System to Cover Uninsured

California Senate, SB 840
Health Care for All-California: Coalition supporting SB 840.
Physicians for a National Health Program- resources on single payer health proposals around the country.

Anti-Tobacco Efforts Gain Steam

Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Nicotine in Cigarettes Increases Significantly Since 1998 - Press Release and Report
Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, State Initiatives
Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, Tobacco Taxes
Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, Smoke-Free Workplace Laws

CA: Integrating Immigrants into Education and Licensing Laws

SB160- California bill allowing undocumented students to qualify for financial aid.
SB1162- California bill allowing state to grant drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants.
National Immigration Law Center, Immigrants & Driver's Licenses: Resources for Advocates

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Eye on the Right

A measure to prohibit Affirmative Action in Michigan looks likely to remain on the ballot despite findings by both a federal judge that signature gatherers engaged in "widespread and systematic fraud" while gathering signatures for the measure. Proponents of the measure told signers that it was a pro-Affirmative Action measure, rather than a measure in opposition. The judge held that the fraud did not violate the Voting Rights Act, which only would prohibit such actions is pursued in a racially discriminatory manner. Meanwhile, backers of the petition, outraged at being called out by a federal judge for being the miscreants they are, have now denounced a ruling that ultimately came in their favor and is calling for a Congressional inquiry into the judge. Regardless of what happens on appeal, these anti-affirmative-action wingnuts are revealing themselves to be the worst kinds of political animals.

Upcoming Events

Upcoming Partner Events Around the Country

Thursday, August 31 -- If It's Broke, Fix It: Health Care Providers and Health Reform -- This event hosted by the Center for American Progress Action Fund will explore the challenges the current health care system poses for health professionals, patients and policymakers, and how doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals can use their unique insight and real-life experiences to steer the nation towards a solution. Featured Speaker: Senator Tom Daschle, Distinguished Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress. 5:00 PM-6:00 PM | HealthSpace Cleveland | 8911 Euclid Avenue | Cleveland, OH 44106

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Matt Singer
Editor, Stateside Dispatch

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