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Veronica Loveall, a Sacramento sex worker, isn’t a fan of Kamala Harris.

Loveall has been involved in sex work for about 10 years. She participated in what she calls “erotic companionship” when www.Backpage.com – formerly a popular website for sex workers to advertise – was active. She watched as Congress passed legislation that crippled sites like Backpage.com, dismantling what Loveall considered a safety net for people who engage in sex work.

And she lays plenty of blame for that on former state attorney general and current U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris who, with a number of other law enforcement officials across the country, fought Backpage.

“When they took it from us, it hurt us,” said Loveall, a name she uses in her work. “We are human. We do deserve to be safe.”

“We should not be criminalizing women who are engaged in consensual opportunities for employment.” — Kamala Harris

Harris, a Democratic candidate for president,  told The Root in February that she had an open mind about decriminalizing sex work.

In her interview, she said people should understand it’s not a simple issue.

“But when you’re talking about consenting adults, I think that, yes, we should really consider that we can’t criminalize consensual behavior, as long as no one is being harmed,” Harris said.

She made similar comments at a number of events, including an April 23 town hall meeting sponsored by CNN. “We should not be criminalizing women who are engaged in consensual opportunities for employment.”

But that appears to be at odds with positions Harris took as a law enforcement official, a point Kristin DiAngelo – cofounder and executive director of the Sex Workers Outreach Project, Sacramento – is quick to point out.

According to DiAngelo, Harris fought hard to gut Backpage.com – an action that Harris alluded to at the town hall. Harris said she attacked Backpage.com both in the courts and through legislation.

But DiAngelo contends that did nothing to decriminalize prostitution, and she notes that Harris throughout her career has fought against sex work.

In Sacramento, a state senator is pushing a bill that would prohibit the arrest of someone for certain sex work crimes.

Harris couldn’t be reached for comment for this story, despite multiple attempts.

Legalization
The legalization of prostitution would bring a sea-change to a state the size of California.

Currently, it is allowed in only sparsely populated Nevada counties.

An attempt to legalize sex work failed before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, though its supporters say they’re not through.

In Sacramento, a state senator is pushing a bill that would prohibit the arrest of someone for certain sex work crimes, if the person is making an accusation of sexual assault, human trafficking or a handful of other crimes. It also would prohibit introducing the possession of condoms as evidence when prosecuting someone for prostitution.

“If sex workers fear they will be arrested when they report a violent crime, they’ll simply not come forward.” — Scott Wiener

That legislation, Senate Bill 233, was introduced by state Sen. Scott Wiener, a Bay Area Democrat. It passed the state Senate on May 2 and currently is in the state Assembly.

“Our laws should actually keep people safe, and these practices undermine public safety,” Wiener said in an email. “If sex workers fear they will be arrested when they report a violent crime, they’ll simply not come forward.”

Wiener called sex work a fact of life, adding it should be safe and healthy instead of criminalized.

Sex workers who fear condoms will provide evidence in a criminal case might not carry them, endangering themselves, their customers and the community.

“If we’re carrying condoms, it’s not going to get us in trouble,” Loveall said. “You get caught with more than three condoms in an area with high traffic, you’re going to jail.”

Safety
Websites like Backpage.com gave sex workers not only a method to advertise their services, but also a level of safety that Loveall said is now missing.

Sex workers could screen people before meeting them. Walking the streets removes that buffer and increases danger, Loveall said.

“Trafficking’s going to occur whether that website’s there or that website’s not there.” — Kristin DiAngelo

The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act and the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (SESTA and FOSTA, respectively) did just that. Making online publishers responsible for others who post ads for prostitution on websites, SESTA and FOSTA crippled websites like Backpage.com after its 2018 passage.

The legislation intended to make it easier for law enforcement to stop sex trafficking.

Decriminalization advocates like DiAngelo strongly disagree.

“Trafficking’s going to occur whether that website’s there or that website’s not there,” she said.

DiAngelo said she knows a woman who was trafficked. Websites like Backpage.com enabled her to use hotel rooms, an option that could have saved her life. When the websites went down, the woman was forced to work the streets. Police arrested her seven times over nine months. The woman couldn’t tell her story to officers because she’d admit to committing a crime.

Harris in 2008 fought against Prop K – which would have stopped police from providing resources toward investigating and prosecuting prostitution.

Attacking resources like Backpage.com, which keep people being sex trafficked alive until they can escape, only makes their lives worse, DiAngelo said.

A group called the Erotic Service Providers Legal Education and Research Project (ESPLERP) slams Harris for what it said is her role in making SESTA and FOSTA law.

Then San Francisco’s district attorney, Harris in 2008 fought against Prop K – a measure that would have stopped the city’s police department from providing resources toward investigating and prosecuting prostitution. The measure failed.

Harris as the state’s attorney general attacked Backpage.com twice through the courts, and made the legal move part of her campaign for the U.S. Senate, the ESPLERP states.

Harris “used her elected positions as (San Francisco) D.A., (attorney general) and now U.S. senator to pass laws that re-criminalize all of what would be normal business activities to further her political career…,” wrote  the ESPLERP’s Maxine Doogan in an email.

Her group opted against pursuing an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, saying it would instead look to the California Supreme Court.

The ESPLERP sought to have prostitution decriminalized and declared unconstitutional in California courts – the legal move that ultimately failed in the Ninth Circuit.

It was a case Harris opposed as the state’s attorney general — a stance the ESPLERP hasn’t forgotten.

The law that Harris defended  “violates our constitutional rights to negotiate for our own labor and our own safe work conditions, our right to substantive due process and our right to be in association with our clients,” Doogan wrote.

Her group opted against pursuing an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, saying it would instead look to the California Supreme Court. It cited the 2018 retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, and the expectation a conservative would take his place on the high court, as one reason for changing tactics.

“We really believe in the principle that people have the right to do this (sex work).” — Louis Sirkin

Cincinnati-based attorney Louis Sirkin, who represented the ESPLERP at the Ninth Circuit, said a “liberty interest” exists in sex for hire.

Sirkin has argued the government must have an interest in banning something that isn’t based on morality. Previous court decisions opened the door to allowing explicit material in your own home. Courts also have struck down sodomy laws.

If someone wants to engage in sex for hire, and another person is willing to pay them, that right should exist in a free society, Sirkin said.

“We really believe in the principle that people have the right to do this,” Sirkin said.

Sirkin compared that interest to someone who wants to smoke a cigarette. That person has a right to smoke, despite knowing it could cause cancer. If that right exists, someone should be able to exchange money for sex with a willing participant.

“That’s the fundamental interest that’s involved in it,” he said.

Sirkin emphasized he’s arguing for the rights of people who chose to engage in sex work, not trafficking victims. Sex trafficking would remain a crime if prostitution were legalized, he said.

Legalization, DiAngelo said, “is a fight for equal rights.

“You have to decide what side of history you want to be on.”

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Let’s play a game: what would you do with 25 million tons of organic waste annually?

Here are a few tidbits to spark your imagination: Organic waste includes food and green waste, landscaping and pruning waste, lumber, fiber, sewage and sludges.

The Puente Hills Landfill in Los Angeles is the largest landfill in the United States (rising 500 feet high and covering 700 acres) and it has a capacity of 700 million tons. However, there is one caveat for this exercise that I forgot to mention — none of the organic waste can go to a landfill.

Renewable gas is a clean, renewable alternative to fossil natural gas. 

As it turns out, this is not a game. This is the reality that will be faced by local governments and the Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery beginning in 2025.

In 2016 California once again established itself as a global environmental leader with the passage of SB 1383 by former state Sen. Ricardo Lara. This groundbreaking legislation included a target of achieving a 75 percent reduction in the level of the statewide disposal of organic waste by 2025.

In acknowledgement of the fact that methane is a greenhouse gas up to 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide, this legislation also established a methane emission reduction target of 40 percent by 2030.

California has identified the reduction of short-lived climate pollutant emissions, including methane emissions, as one of the five key climate change strategy pillars necessary to meet California’s target to reduce GHG emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 as established in California’s landmark Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006.

That means that without a workable organic waste strategy California will not meet its climate goals.

Also, a subset of the methane target is a 40 percent reduction in methane emissions by 2030 from livestock manure. So please add a few million tons of livestock manure to that list from earlier….

So, what can be done with 25 million plus tons of organic waste?

We can generate renewable gas. Renewable gas is a clean, renewable alternative to fossil natural gas. As organic waste breaks down it emits methane that can be collected and processed to meet natural gas pipeline quality standards. This renewable gas can be used to displace fossil natural gas that otherwise fuels end-use applications including space and water heating, cooking appliances, heavy-duty vehicles and stationary fuel cells.

The benefits of renewable gas are well-documented.

According to the California Air Resources Board, in addition to the ultra-low and even carbon-negative footprint of the fuel, renewable gas projects can produce significant reductions in a multitude of local pollutants including nitrogen oxide, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, and ammonia. It can also reduce odors and improve water quality. All of these benefits are achieved in some of California’s most disadvantaged communities while simultaneously reducing demand for fossil fuels.

Which brings us back to the impetus for this commentary: a recent opinion piece that was published in Capitol Weekly entitled, “Renewable gas really is too good to be true.”

The authors of that piece advocate for the electrification of all natural gas end-uses instead of any deployment of renewable gas. It’s a narrowly focused strategy that may reduce demand for fossil fuels; however the suggested policy does not result in the local benefits of renewable gas production identified by the California Air Resources Board, it does not reduce organic methane, and it does nothing to address the organic waste challenge.

Environmental policy should not be developed in silos. Policymakers do not have the luxury of ignoring reasonable solutions when they are the bodies ultimately held responsible for achieving the state’s ambitious goals.

I would challenge the authors of the aforementioned opinion piece to answer the question: What would they do with 25 million tons of organic waste? Remember, this is not a game.

Editor’s Note: Nina Kapoor is the state government affairs director for the Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas.

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Pepper spray – classified and regulated as a form of tear gas – was used routinely on thousands of California children housed in state and county juvenile detention facilities, according to a recent report by the ACLU of Southern California.

A review of 10,465 documents obtained by the ACLU covering Jan. 1, 2015, through March 31, 2018, showed that county and state correctional officers used pepper spray on children at least 5,079 times – an average of 4.25 times per day.

Pepper spray can be aimed at a specific target, but because it is an aerosol its spread can be difficult to control.

The children included those “young as 12 and those in psychiatric crises,” the study reported, based on documents obtained through the California Public Records Act.

Existing California law allows the use of pepper spray on children.

Pepper spray – otherwise known as aerosolized oleoresin capsicum – contains capsaicin, the principal ingredient that makes chili peppers so hot.

But unlike a chili pepper, the capsaicin in pepper spray is concentrated. The concentrated capsaicin is made into an aerosol, enabling the user to use capsaicin as a weapon.

Pepper spray can be aimed at a specific target, but because it is an aerosol its spread can be difficult to control. Even a slight breeze or twitch of the wrist can result in those not targeted getting a face full of what California law categorizes as “tear gas.”

Hit by pepper spray, a person immediately feels pain and discomfort wherever the spray lands. When it hits the eyes – the so-called “hydraulic needle” effect – the result is an intense burning feeling, copious watering of the eyes and, sometimes, temporary blindness.

The state has not carried out “a single research study that evaluates the use of tear gas weapons against youth.”

Skin can blister and it is difficult to breathe. Lack of breath can cause panic attacks, which in turn can lead to stroke or heart attack.

In a 2016 study, the ACLU found that police use of pepper spray on adults led to death in one out of every 600 cases. There is no detailed data on how pepper spray affects children.

Though California authorizes the use of pepper spray on children in custody, the ACLU reports that the state has not carried out “a single research study that evaluates the use of tear gas weapons against youth, whose brains and bodies are still developing (thus more vulnerable to the short and long term impact of both trauma and chemical exposure).”

Correctional officers justify its use on individuals who are deemed a danger.

But the ACLU reports that “the Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC), which is empowered to establish minimum standards for juvenile detention facilities, avoids using the state-law-defined term ‘tear gas weapon’” to describe pepper spray, thus allowing it “to be carried and employed as part of approved uses of force against youth in California.”

Some law enforcement officers justify its use on individuals who are deemed a danger.

This disparity in language allows the use of pepper spray against incarcerated minors, the ACLU notes.

Regardless of how the BSCC or other agencies classify pepper spray, it’s use on children in state and county detention clearly runs counter to the California Legislature’s requirement that children in the system “receive care, treatment, and guidance that is consistent with their best interest” and that “juvenile hall[s] … shall not be deemed to be, nor treated as, a penal institution … [but] shall be a safe and supportive homelike environment.”

Some law enforcement officers justify its use on individuals who are deemed a danger.

L.A. County probation officer Thomas Bell discussed the issue last year at a probation reform meeting, according to a Dec. 13, 2018 television report by NBC4 in Los Angeles.

“When we got 20 kids who are about my size fighting in the yard or somewhere, how do we break that up if we don’t have pepper spray?” he testified. “How do we break that up, keep them from killing each other?”

But because pepper spray cannot not be contained, the weapon may impact anyone in the vicinity of the spray, including innocent onlookers.

Only seven counties — Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and Solano – have banned the use of pepper spray on juveniles in custody.

The ACLU report tells the story of 14-year-old J.C.  During her second day in juvenile hall, a fight broke out in the bathroom. J.C. was not involved, but she and others were present. Eight correctional officers burst into the room, yelling and emptying pepper spray cannisters. The target were the two girls fighting, however the pepper spray spared no one.

J.C. recalls, “My reaction was that I couldn’t breathe. I was trying everything I could to get out of there … because I couldn’t breathe. Because I thought I was going to die. I tried to breathe in and breathed [the pepper spray] into my nose. It got in my eyes and mouth and my whole face. “I fell to my knees right away. I felt it when I fell to my knees. I felt it and inhaled – as if I were dying. I couldn’t see because my eyes were watery … and it was burning.”

Despite clear guidance that discourages the use of weapons such as pepper spray on incarcerated children, only seven counties — Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and Solano – have banned the use of pepper spray on juveniles in custody.

Los Angeles County – which operates the state’s largest juvenile justice system – has a ban in place that will not take effect until at least January 2020.

Yolo, San Benito, Sacramento, Riverside, Monterey, Lassen, Lake, Inyo, Imperial, Humboldt, Glenn, Fresno, and Alameda counties did not provide information on  their pepper spray use.

The ACLU’s report covers California’s Division of Juvenile Justice, as well as the 26 counties that authorize use of chemical weapons on children in custody.

The ACLU believes the number of uses to be low, as 13 counties that authorize the use of pepper spray on juveniles “refused to or did not provide data regarding the frequency of use during the same period.” Those counties often cited the confidentiality of the “juvenile case file,” although the ACLU issued requests for general data, not information on specific juvenile detainees.

The counties that authorize use of pepper spray on children but did not provide information are Yolo, San Benito, Sacramento, Riverside, Monterey, Lassen, Lake, Inyo, Imperial, Humboldt, Glenn, Fresno, and Alameda.

Two additional counties, Placer and Ventura, failed to provide information in a timely manner when requested.

Ten addition counties – Alpine, Amador, Calaveras, Colusa, Mariposa, Modoc, Mono, Plumas, Sutter, and Sierra – do not operate their own juvenile facilities, but ship their offenders to other counties, many of whom use pepper spray on children.

Although 35 states have enacted bans, attempts in the California Legislature to ban the use of pepper spray on juveniles in detention have been few.

The ACLU reports that “close to 90 percent” of the state’s juvenile offenders reside in the 48 counties that run juvenile facilities. The rest are locked up in state-run Division of Juvenile Justice facilities.

So far, all work to ban the use of pepper spray on incarcerated youth in California has occurred county by county.

Although 35 states have enacted bans, attempts in the California Legislature to ban the use of pepper spray on juveniles in detention have been few.

In February 2018, Assembly member Ed Chau (D-Arcadia) introduced AB 2010 which would have criminalized the possession of “any chemical agent” by “an officer or employee of a juvenile facility” at a juvenile facility. The bill would have allowed the use of pepper spray in juvenile facilities only to “suppress a riot,” with the decision made by an “administrator or designee,” not by a rank-and-file officer. All use would have to be documented.

The bill – opposed by California Correctional Peace Officers Association, California College and University Police Chiefs Association, Probation and Corrections Peace Officer Association, and a host of police unions and law enforcement groups – died in committee.

Chau has not resurrected the bill. However, Assemblymember Mike Gipson (D-Carson) introduced related legislation, AB 1321,  in March 2019.

Unlike Chau’s bill, AB 1321 does not deal directly with the use of pepper spray on children in the justice system. Following amendments, AB 1321 mandates self-reporting by juvenile facilities in the form of quarterly reports on the use of “chemical agents” against children. It also requires the Legislative Analyst’s Office to study the issue.

In 2008, under threat of litigation, L.A. County and the DoJ issued a Memorandum of Agreement that obligated the LACPD to restrict its use of pepper spray.

Having very little law enforcement opposition, the bill passed the Assembly and is now awaiting action in the state Senate to take action. Critics complain that other than the LAO report, AB 1321 asks nothing more than what California’s Title 15 regulations already require.

Up until now, the most significant step in banning the use of pepper spray against children housed in juvenile facilities has happened in Los Angeles County, home of the nation’s largest juvenile justice system.

In February 2019, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to ban the routine use of pepper spray in L.A. County juvenile detention facilities by January 2020. Any exceptions to the ban will be subject to strict reporting.

L.A. County’s ban came sixteen years after a 2003 U.S. Department of Justice determination that the L.A. Country Probation Department’s (LACPD) use of “chemical agents” on children “likely violated the Constitution.” In 2008, under threat of litigation, L.A. County and the DoJ issued a Memorandum of Agreement that obligated the LACPD to restrict its use of pepper spray.

Between 2015 and 2017, the use of force involving pepper spray in juvenile halls increased between 192% and 338% overall.

In 2016, L.A. County’s auditor-controller found that LACPD was out of compliance with the memorandum. L.A. County demanded that LACPD provide information on pepper spray usage on juveniles.

Though LACPD balked, one key statistic was disclosed: “Between 2015 and 2017, the use of force involving pepper spray in juvenile halls increased between 192% and 338% overall.”

The L.A. Board of Supervisors ordered more investigations and held public hearings in which youth who had been pepper sprayed in LACPD custody testified. Public pressure led to the February 2019 approval of the pepper spray ban that takes effect next year.

The ACLU credits breaking the secrecy around use of pepper spray against children as key to this reform.

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I believe in the American Dream because I am lucky enough to be the American Dream. And I’m not alone; there are millions of business owners in California and I imagine some of them share my success story.

As we built our businesses, we relied on our nation’s democracy to make our dreams come true and now I’m using that very democracy to keep my dreams alive.  I’m writing today to specifically advocate for a legislative fix to the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) by asking my representatives to continue to allow the use of tailored online advertising.

We need clarifying language to assure that online entrepreneurs like myself can continue to make a living like this and also protect consumers’ privacy.

The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) ensures that consumers have the right to know the information any business has collected on them.

These rights are important, but some aspects of the law are incredibly challenging for small businesses like mine to implement.  Other aspects of the law are vague and unintentionally wipe out major sources of revenue, most notably the language related to online advertising.

Before any of these issues were a part of my lexicon, though, I was just a girl born to immigrant parents who came to this country from the Philippines to escape poverty and to give my three sisters and me a chance at success.

We were on a strict budget growing up. I worked as many as three jobs simultaneously, moved many times, and my poverty mentality caught up with me as I amassed credit card debt. Eventually, I began to heal my complicated relationship with money and decided to blog about it in hopes of helping others.

It’s common for white men to write about finance, wealth, and money management, but I felt strongly that a young, female Filipina would provide a different perspective to many online users – especially millennials who are struggling due to rising living costs and exorbitant student loans. Thus, my blog Baller on a Budget was born.

Through this blog, I chronicled my path to financial freedom. I accomplished feats I never thought possible: At 23, I paid off my credit card debt; I bought my own car with cash; made almost $40,000 during my second year of blogging, and purchased my own home at the age of 26 with my boyfriend.

The blog discusses both the good and the bad experiences I encountered along the way. To support and monetize this content, I turned to advertisements. This allows anyone to access my blog without having to pay a subscription fee. Now, the advertisements make up a significant amount of my income and my blog remains free for anyone who wants to read it.

We need clarifying language to assure that online entrepreneurs like myself can continue to make a living like this and also protect consumers’ privacy.

As my practice currently stands, I don’t handle any personal information of any readers or process any payments. The online advertising I use relies on privacy practices in which identifiers that are not directly tied to a person are transferred. Advertisers do not need to know a reader’s name, address, or any other personally identifiable information.

I rely on “ad networks” to make this all happen as I cannot run my own advertisement program, nor would I even begin to know what ads would even be relevant to my readers.  This is a separate business in its own right.

As the CCPA currently stands, all of this would be jeopardized. And in some way, so too would the free flow of information, which is at the very heart of our democracy.

While online news and information sources are increasingly moving towards a subscription-based model, I hold tight to the hope Baller on a Budget can stay free because somewhere, some other little girl born to immigrant parents and working three jobs might be inspired to dream big too.

Editor’s Note: Aileen Luib is the founder of the online The Baller on a Budget, a blog that deals with affordable fashion, lifestyle, health and other issues.
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The man expected to lead the drive for $5.5 billion more for California’s stem cell agency says the Trump restrictions on fetal tissue research represent a dangerous precedent that threatens the health of all Americans. 

Robert Klein, who was the first chairman of the state stem cell agency, said Thursday that “California has unique opportunity and obligation to maintain the scientific and medical options” that have led to development of the polio vaccine along with many others.

Robert Klein

During an interview with the California Stem Cell Report, Klein said the people of California have a “moral” obligation to add more billions to the work of the 14-year-old, $3 billion stem cell agency.

Klein led the 2004 ballot initiative campaign that created the agency, formally known as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM).  The agency expects to run out of cash for new awards by the end of this year. It is staking its existence on a proposed ballot initiative that Klein would carry forward.

Klein’s comments came as more reaction surfaced to the Trump action. San Francisco HIV advocate Jeff Sheehy, responding to a question, said in an email:

“Fetal tissue is used to make mice with human immune systems.  Testing new drugs for HIV is just one use–this animal model is used in research across a wide range of diseases to develop and test therapies, including vaccines for infectious diseases.  Stopping this research–which has been taking place for decades–is foolish, anti-science, and a threat to the health and safety of all Americans.”

Kaiser Health News reported:

“The Trump administration’s announcement Wednesday about federal cutbacks in fetal tissue research is short of a total ban, but scientists in the field say it is concerning because it could affect work on treatments or preventions for key diseases, such as HIV and Parkinson’s.”

Sara Reardon, reporting online for Nature, wrote:

“‘It’s a decision that’s going to set back research,’ says Andrew McMahon, a stem cell biologist at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

“McMahon is studying ways to grow kidneys from human stem cells. He says that the only way to determine whether he and his colleagues have successfully mimicked natural development is to compare their proto-organs to kidneys in fetal tissue. Although biomedical research is often done using mice as proxies for people, mouse kidneys are too different from human kidneys to use in McMahon’s work.”

McMahon was the recipient of a $5.7 million CIRM award dealing with kidney problems. A CIRM document filed in connection with his now concluded research said,

“Our analysis of the developing human kidney has provided the first comprehensive insight into developmental processes highlighting molecular and cellular events shared with the well-studied mouse model, but unique human features.”

McMahon was recruited from Harvard to USC with the help of the CIRM grant. In response to an email query, he said that it was unclear whether his CIRM research would have become ineligible for federal support, given the new Trump review processes.

Bradley Fikes and Gary Robbins of the San Diego Union-Tribune wrote:

“The sensitivity of the (fetal tissue research) matter surfaced recently when UCSD drew unwanted attention after one of its employees mistakenly solicited fetal pancreas samples from the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), an anti-abortion group whose surreptitious videos in 2015 galvanized efforts to end federal funding of Planned Parenthood.”

Editor’s Note: David Jensen is a retired newsman who has followed the affairs of the $3 billion California stem cell agency since 2005 via his blog, the California Stem Cell Report, where this story first appeared.  He has published thousands of items on California stem cell matters.

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Linda Escalante, an environmental advocate and a legislative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, has been named to the California Coastal Commission, the powerful regulatory body with jurisdiction over 1,100 miles of coastline.

Her appointment as one of 12 voting members on the commission was announced by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon.

Rendon said the commission’s role is not just protecting the coast but also “making it accessible to communities that have historically been shut out. Linda’s entire career has been about this exact cause, and I’m excited to be able to appoint someone who can contribute that critically important perspective.”

Escalante is the Southern California legislative director for the NRDC.

The commission aims to “protect and enhance California’s coast and ocean for present and future generations” by managing all development that occurs along the California coast, excluding the San Francisco Bay.

The 15-member board – it has three non-voting commissioners — consists of members of the public and local officials, and includes attorneys, environmental activists, experts and others.

Voting members are appointed four each by the Assembly speaker, the Senate Rules Committee and the governor. The appointees serve staggered terms.

Escalante is the Southern California legislative director for the NRDC, a nonprofit, environmental activist group targeting water and oceans, coastal protections, urban areas and health.

Linda Escalante

Her NRDC role includes working with elected officials, building coalitions and advocating on behalf of environmental safeguards.

Escalante has written extensively (in both English and Spanish) on environmental and health issues for the NRDC’s online platform.

Prior to joining the NRDC in 2005, Escalante worked in the RAND Health and UCLA partnership program on Latino Children with Asthma as well as with Allies Against Asthma in Puerto Rico.

Escalante, who has a Bachelor’s degree in biology from UCLA, has received the Latina Magazine New Generation Award and was named one of PODER Magazine’s 100 U.S. Green Latino Leaders.

She also seeks to make environmental education more accessible to the Latino community by writing many of her pieces in Spanish.

Rendon named Escalante to the commission for a four-year term ending in 2023.

The commission meets once a month at different locations across the state. Their next meeting is June 12 in San Diego.

Escalante earlier served as an alternate member of the commission.

Editor’s Note: Sarah Abdeshahian is a Capitol Weekly intern from UC Berkeley.

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President Trump has sharply cut back on federal funding for fetal tissue research in a move denounced as both politically motivated and destructive of the hopes of millions of Americans suffering from life-threatening diseases.

The action on Wednesday has long been sought by anti-abortion activists who say tax dollars should not go to create a “marketplace for aborted baby parts.”

Trump’s move mmediately cost UC San Francisco a $2 million grant aimed at new therapies for HIV. It also drew reaction from California’s $3 billion stem cell agency.

Asked for a comment, Kevin McCormack, senior director of communications, said the Trump action will not have any impact on the agency. He said in an email,  “Because our money comes from California this does not affect any project we fund or our ability to fund any projects.”

Trump’s action echoes a situation that played a major role in the ballot initiative campaign of 2004 that created the stem cell agency, known formally as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM).

In one of their key arguments, backers of the stem cell measure said it was needed because of then President Bush’s restrictions on federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research.

Today’s action by Trump is virtually certain to be cited as justification for an additional $5 billion for the agency, which will run out of money for new awards around the end of this year. CIRM supporters expect to mount another ballot initiative in November 2020.

The scope of Trump’s move was described by the New York Times,

“As of last year, the N.I.H. spent about $100 million of its $37 billion annual budget on research projects iknvolving fetal tissue, the Times reported. “The tissue is used to test drugs, develop vaccines and study cancer, AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, birth defects, blindness and other disorders. For much of that work, scientists say there is no substitute for fetal tissue.”

Sam Hawgood, chancellor of UC San Francisco and a former member of CIRM’s governing board, said in a statement that the decision was “politically motivated, shortsighted and not based on sound science.”
Lawrence O. Gostin, a professor specializing in public health law at Georgetown University, told the New York Times that the federal action “is akin to a ban on hope for millions of Americans suffering from life-threatening and debilitating diseases.”
Scientist Jeanne Loring, who is with Scripps Research and Aspen Neuroscience in the San Diego area, said in response to a query:

“Fetal brain tissue transplants containing immature dopamine neurons laid the groundwork for the Parkinson’s disease neuron replacement therapy we are developing now  The outcomes were inconsistent, but some patients recovered from the disease.  Without that pioneering work in the 1990s, I wouldn’t be so confident about the potential of our planned therapy using dopamine neurons derived from Parkinson’s patients’ own induced pluripotent stem cells.

“This is one specific instance of how fetal tissue profoundly changed our view of degenerative disease.  I think that going forward, most of the regenerative therapies will be based on pluripotent stem cells, which weren’t available 30 years ago. But I don’t like to rule out the possibility that there is still pioneering work like this to be done, and so I hope that some researchers will not lose access to fetal tissue for groundbreaking medical research.”

Editor’s Note:David Jensen is a retired newsman who has followed the affairs of the $3 billion California stem cell agency since 2005 via his blog, the California Stem Cell Report,where this story first appeared. He has published more than 4,000 items on California stem cell matters.

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The U.S. health care system is in a moment of reckoning. No one pretends to have the perfect solution. But there is something consumers can agree on: More transparency is needed.

Consumers and their employers, which insure 49 percent of American health coverage, are demanding to know exactly what goes in to their health care costs. The White House is proposing requirements that pharmaceutical companies list drug prices during television commercials. Hospitals now post their costs online. In January, Gov.Gavin Newsom announced proposals to increase health care competition and accountability in California.

State workers and CSU employees represent 59 percent of our 1.5 million-member pool.

I want to tell you how a transparent benefits model helps the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) – the second largest purchaser of health care in the United States – keep costs down and health care quality high.

How low are costs? This year, the average overall premium for our health care plans increased by just 1.16 percent. The year before that: 2.33 percent.

That’s money the public agencies that contract with us can literally take straight to the bank.

First, some background.

CalPERS administers health benefits for the state of California. State workers and CSU employees represent 59 percent of our 1.5 million-member pool. Public agencies and schools may also choose to contract with CalPERS for health benefits. These employers range from cities to water districts to community colleges to library systems. In total, 1,167 employers contract with us to offer health care for their employees.

Employers choose the CalPERS Health Program as a trusted third-party administrator because we offer a stable and transparent partnership. With more than 50 years as California’s largest health care purchaser, we have the size, strength and expertise to advocate and negotiate with insurers on behalf of our employers and their employees.

Not all administrators can say that.

Delivering quality health care is paramount to improving the livelihoods of Californians.

In February, ProPublica published an investigation into the predatory and clandestine commissions many insurance brokers receive for signing employers to certain health plans. These incentives can range from 3 percent to 6 percent of premiums. Though the insurer foots the bill for these “fees,” they build the cost back into the premiums employers and employees pay out of pocket.

“If you want to draw a straight conclusion: It has been in the best interest of a broker, from a financial point of view, to keep that premium moving up,” Jeffrey Hogan, a Connecticut regional manager for a national insurance brokerage, told ProPublica.

Not surprisingly, when premiums jump dramatically year over year, employers feel cornered to switch health plans. That’s a costly move for employers, and a jarring one for many employees.

CalPERS doesn’t use brokers. As a government system, we’re required to comply with the Public Employees’ Medical & Hospital Care Act (PEMHCA), which means, among other things, that we can’t operate at a profit or hide administrative costs. Our current administrative fee is 0.23 percent; it has never risen above 0.5 percent. That’s one way we keep health premiums low for members and employers.

Hidden pricing schemes have no place in health care. But it’s not enough to just focus on lowering costs. Delivering quality health care is paramount to improving the livelihoods of Californians and to ensuring a sustainable health care system for the long term.

We made a commitment to the employers that contract with us and to the public employees who receive health care from us. Each of our health plans must offer strong wellness programs and free preventive care office visits for non-Medicare members. And they must provide access to free or low-cost health events throughout the state. These are benefits employers can offer directly to their dedicated employees.

Innovation also can help contain costs and drive change for the better. In 2019, we introduced what’s called value-based insurance design for one our PPO plans. Members in the plan can reduce their annual deductible by completing healthy activities, such as a getting a flu shot or completing a non-smoking certification. Following introduction of the changes, plan membership jumped from 55,675 to 72,351.

In 2019, the monthly premium for this plan decreased by 26 percent, lowering it to the 2013 rate level. We turned back the clock for employers and employees. When people and their employers actively engage in preventive, value-based health care, everyone wins.

The same goes for retirees. CalPERS is deeply invested in ensuring healthy, secure retirements for those who have served California. We offer a wide variety of Basic and Medicare plans for retirees, and absent an employer, we offer those plans directly to retirees.

It helps to have 1.5 million members and 12 health plans to choose from. But size and sustainability of the system aren’t enough. It’s CalPERS’ mission to improve health outcomes through high-quality, affordable care. That means acting as a trusted partner to employers and members.

Good health is in everyone’s best interest.

Editor’s Note: Liana Bailey-Crimmins is the Chief Health Director of the California Public Employees Retirement System.

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Claire Haas and her husband are at a health insurance crossroads.

If they were single, each would qualify for a federal tax credit to help reduce the cost of their health insurance premiums. As a married couple, they get zip.

“We talk about getting divorced every time we get our health care bills,” said Haas, 34, of Oakland. She has been married to her husband, Andrew Snyder, 33, for two years.

“We kind of feel like we messed up. We shouldn’t have gotten married.”

“This is a gap in the Affordable Care Act, but there’s been no action at the federal level.” — Matthew Fiedler

The couple pays about $900 in monthly premiums — which adds up to about 14% of their annual income, said Haas, a self-employed leadership coach and consultant. Snyder is an adjunct professor of ethnomusicology.

Under a proposal by Gov. Gavin Newsom, an estimated 850,000 Californians could get help paying their premiums, including people like Haas and Snyder, who together make too much to qualify for federal financial aid but still have trouble affording coverage.

To pay for the health insurance tax credits, the Democratic governor is proposing a tax penalty on Californians who don’t have health insurance — similar to the unpopular federal penalty the Republican-controlled Congress eliminated, effective this year.

If Newsom’s $295 million plan is enacted, California would be the first state to offer financial aid to middle-class families who have shouldered the full cost of premiums themselves, often well over $1,000 a month.

“This is a gap in the Affordable Care Act, but there’s been no action at the federal level,” said Matthew Fiedler, a fellow with the USC-Brookings Schaeffer Initiative for Health Policy.

If lawmakers approve a state tax penalty, some Californians could owe thousands of dollars if they fail to buy insurance.

Democrats in Congress introduced legislation this year to expand the federal subsidy to more people, but those efforts have stalled in the past in the face of Republican opposition.

In California, legislators are debating Newsom’s penalty and tax credit proposals as part of budget negotiations, which must be wrapped up by June 15. Democrats control the legislature, but Republicans and taxpayer groups are opposed to the proposed penalty, saying people should have a choice about whether to buy insurance.

“It’s a very costly and regressive tax on young people who can’t afford it,” said David Wolfe, legislative director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. “They likely aren’t going to get sick, and they want to take that chance.”

Three other states — Massachusetts, New Jersey and Vermont — and the District of Columbia already have adopted state health insurance requirements. Health experts say these mandates encourage young, healthy people to buy coverage alongside older, sicker — and more expensive — enrollees.

If lawmakers approve a state tax penalty, modeled after the now-defunct ACA mandate, some Californians could owe thousands of dollars if they fail to buy insurance.

The average household tax credit in this category would be $144 per month, according to Covered California.

“Without the mandate, everybody’s premiums go up,” Newsom said at an event in Sacramento in early May. “Every single person in this state will experience an increase in their costs if we don’t have a diversified risk pool.”

Massachusetts and Vermont provide state financial aid to low-income people who qualify for federal aid under the ACA, according to the USC-Brookings Schaeffer Initiative for Health Policy. Newsom wants to go a step further and give financial help to middle-income earners — which could include families of four earning up to about $154,500.

Under his proposal, 75% of the financial aid would go to about 190,000 of these middle-income people who make between 400% and 600% of the federal poverty level. That’s between about $50,000 and $75,000 a year for an individual and between about $103,000 and $154,500 for a family of four.

The average household tax credit in this category would be $144 per month, according to Covered California.

The remaining money would go toward tax credits for about 660,000 people who earn between 200% and 400% of the federal poverty level, or roughly between $25,000 and $50,000 for an individual and $51,500 and $103,000 for a family of four. The average household tax credit in this category would be $13 a month, Covered California estimated.

California’s high premium costs are among the biggest concerns for middle-income customers.

Exactly how much Californians could receive would vary depending on where they live, their ages, incomes and family size, said Peter Lee, Covered California’s executive director.

For example, a couple, both 62, living in the San Francisco Bay Area making $72,000 a year doesn’t qualify for federal tax credits. They now pay a $2,414 monthly premium — or about 40% of their income.

That couple could qualify for a $1,613 state tax credit under Newsom’s proposal, lowering the cost of health insurance to about 13% of their income, according to a Covered California analysis.

By comparison, the ACA defines an affordable employer-sponsored health plan as one that costs about 9.5% or less of an employee’s household income.

California’s high premium costs are among the biggest concerns middle-income customers raise with Kevin Knauss, an insurance agent in the Sacramento region.

“This is the first year ever that I haven’t had health insurance.” —  Alma Beltran

“I have clients, especially those who are self-employed, who have literally discussed the possibility of not working for two or three months or stepping back from projects” so they can earn less and qualify for federal tax credits, Knauss said.

Other insurance agents said they’ve met middle-income families who are willing to forgo insurance for one family member — often the breadwinner — to bring down costs.

Alma Beltran, a small-business owner in Chula Vista, Calif., doesn’t have health insurance, and neither do her husband and 17-year-old daughter.

Beltran knows it’s a risk but said the premiums this year were simply unaffordable: $1,260 a month for a plan with a whopping $13,000 deductible.

“I appreciate the governor’s leadership, but I think that we do need to more.” — Richard Pan

“I decided to let my business grow at the expense of my health insurance,” said Beltran, 53, who manufactures labels for the beer and wine industry. “This is the first year ever that I haven’t had health insurance.”

Such stories are why some lawmakers think Newsom’s proposal doesn’t go far enough. For instance, some households wouldn’t qualify for a state tax credit until they spent a quarter of their income on premiums.

“We’re still talking about a substantial portion of someone’s income,” said state Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento). “I appreciate the governor’s leadership, but I think that we do need to more.”

The state Senate wants the governor to double the funding to about $600 million, not only by relying on the penalty revenue but by dipping into the state general fund. California is projected to have a $21.5 billion budget surplus for budget year 2019-20.

While Newsom said he supports giving consumers larger subsidies, he said his plan is fiscally responsible because it has a dedicated revenue source from the proposed health insurance penalty.

“Perfect’s not on the menu, but better than any other state in America is,” Newsom said.

Editor’s Note:  This story first appeared on Kaiser Health News and California Healthline, a service of the California Health Care Foundation

 
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When California voters passed Proposition 64 in 2016, they envisioned a robust legal cannabis market with substantial tax revenue for our state, improved access, and relief for communities of color who have been disproportionately impacted by the failed “War on Drugs.”

Almost three years later, we see a cannabis market constrained by local bans on retail sales and frustratingly slow licensing processes. An alarming 77 percent of California cities have banned cannabis retailers altogether. Additionally, burdensome licensing requirements have forced many nonprofit medical collectives in the state to close their doors.

Nationwide, less than 6% of cannabis business owners identify as Hispanic/Latino, and even fewer, just over four percent, identify as African American.

Many Californians who would like to use cannabis for relief are essentially blocked from access to it, causing unnecessary suffering.

Hundreds of thousands of Californians rely on cannabis for relief. Many of them are seniors and people with disabilities like the homecare clients UDW members care for. But local bans have created vast areas of the state that are “cannabis deserts” where patients or their caregivers must drive long distances to obtain their medication. Others are forced to purchase cannabis on the unregulated market because driving is not a viable option.

Seniors and people with disabilities, and those who care for them, deserve better than a dysfunctional market that disregards their needs. This dysfunctional market also prevents people of color from entering and succeeding in the cannabis marketplace.

Nationwide, less than 6% of cannabis business owners identify as Hispanic/Latino, and even fewer, just over four percent, identify as African American. This is especially troubling because the spirit of most legalization efforts is to reduce the burden of drug enforcement and reinvest in these communities.

California leads the nation in minority-owned businesses in general, but not when it comes to cannabis. It’s time to change this.

Even in the small percentage of cities that allow retail sale or delivery, many small business owners of color cannot afford to navigate the bureaucratic challenges associated with obtaining legal cannabis licenses. Many of these business owners invested in the promise of a legal and functional cannabis market, now face no other choice but to operate without licenses.

On Proposition 64, the voters made clear their desire for a vibrant cannabis market to which all Californians can have access.

A growing illicit cannabis market post-legalization is unacceptable. The only way to stop this is to ensure that there are sufficient legal retailers to meet demand.

Unions and chambers of commerce rarely see eye-to-eye, so it is worth noting that UDW and the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce are co-sponsoring AB 1356 (Ting-D) which will address these issues of access and economic opportunities and allow the Golden State’s cannabis market to flourish.

AB 1356 would require local jurisdictions where more than 50 percent of residents who voted in favor of Proposition 64 to grant retail and medical dispensary licenses equal to 25 percent of the number of on-site liquor licenses granted. This would result in more business growth, job creation, and economic opportunities as well as increased access for seniors and people with disabilities who rely on cannabis. Labor and business leaders are often at odds with matters of public policy, so we are proud to find common ground on an issue of importance for all Californians.

On Proposition 64, the voters made clear their desire for a vibrant cannabis market to which all Californians can have access. AB 1356 is a critical step towards realizing that vision. Without action, people like those we represent will be left out of both the benefits of using cannabis for relief and enjoying its economic rewards. We urge all Californians to reach out to their lawmakers to support this bill.

Editor’s Note: Doug Moore is the executive director of UDW (AFSCME Local 3930), a union representing over 110,000 In-Home Supportive Services providers. Julian Canete is the president & CEO of California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce

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