Assemblyman Keith Richman reports on the State Budget, Healthcare, the upcoming Special Election, and legislation regarding a bill to install solar panels on the state water project and the Advance Directives bill.
Budget: This year’s state budget, although passed soon after the deadline, wasn’t without contention or compromise. Unfortunately, a structural imbalance continues as this budget spends $90 billion while receiving $84 billion in revenue. I will be working with my bipartisan group and others to eliminate the structural deficit to achieve fiscal responsibility. Projections for next year’s state budget show a continued structural deficit of $6 to $8 billion.
Legislative Update: The UCLA Center for Health Policy Research recently issued a report State of Health Insurance in California: Findings from the 2003 California Health Interview Survey. The results confirm that California has yet to make serious progress in resolving its health care crisis. Health care costs are simply unaffordable for many Californians, increasing at double digit, unsustainable rates. The average premium for a family of four last year was around $10,000. If rates grow at the current pace, these costs could reach $20,000 in the next five to six years, making healthcare coverage cost prohibitive for many Californians. These high costs will likely result in many more Californians going uninsured. Latest estimates indicate that nearly 7 million Californian’s are without health insurance.
One of my legislative priorities during my entire Assembly service is finding a solution to California’s growing healthcare crisis—especially the skyrocketing costs. Simply stated, people who lack proper health care often wind up with serious medical challenges that are both expensive to treat and devastating for the individual. Regular health care could prevent many catastrophic diseases and reduce the cost for all. After talking with dozens of health care experts and conducting town hall forums around the state, Assemblyman Joe Nation (D-Marin County) and I coauthored the comprehensive Universal Healthcare Act of 2005. The goal of our bipartisan effort was to provide improved access, enhanced quality and controlled costs for all Californians.
A major component of our legislation, The Center for Quality Health Care Act (AB1674), was passed by the Legislature and is currently under consideration by the Governor. The bill would establish a Center for Quality Health Care research that would collect research data, develop evidence based guidelines and establish best practices that would help improve the quality of healthcare in California. Understanding healthcare outcome patterns and costs are paramount in being able to contain those costs while improving the quality of care. The Center will help California’s health care system and improve health outcomes, strengthen health quality measurements and identify strategies that foster appropriate use of services and reduce unnecessary expenditures.
Other legislation I’ve written, currently under consideration by the Governor, includes AB 1676, the Advance Directives bill. Regardless of age, it is important for all Californians to be informed about end of life issues. This legislation broadens awareness of issues related to terminal illness and our bill proposes that information pertaining to advance directives from state government sources be easily accessed through the web.
AB 515, a bill that would permit the installation of solar panels on the state water project, passed in the Legislature and is also under consideration by the Governor. If signed, this legislation would conserve use of fossil fuels and potentially could provide the equivalent of 3,000 to 4,000 megawatts of electricity – the equivalent of 6 to 7 power plants. Also, the solar panels would attract investment to California and minimize the environmental drawbacks associated with “solar farms”.
The Special Election: A wide range of issues will be on the ballot for the November special election. One of the most important issues is Proposition 77, a measure that would take the power to draw legislative districts out of the hands of politicians. The measure would have a panel of retired judges redraw legislative districts every 10 years. With judges rather than legislators designing legislative districts, it would lessen the impact of extremists in both parties and would give voters a real choice. Currently, with gerrymandered districts, political leaders pick candidates rather than voters picking their representatives. The system needs to be changed and an independent redistricting process is critical.
Another issue that deserves close voter attention is the collection of political contributions from public employee union members. Proposition 75 would require public employee unions to get written approval every year before collecting political contributions from their members. This important change would protect public employees from supporting politicians and political views they might disagree with or decide they cannot afford.