Leaders Cite Health Care as Priority as Legislative Session Begins
California lawmakers on Monday began the new legislative session, with Democratic leaders promoting bipartisanship while members introduced "a bevy of progressive bills sure to cause political divisiveness," including several health care measures, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
The Senate also voted unanimously to approve as President Pro Tempore Don Perata (D-Oakland), to replace John Burton, who left the Senate because of term limits (Gledhill/Hubbell, San Francisco Chronicle, 12/7). Perata said in an interview that his priorities would include health care, adding that Democrats "are going to get back to being responsive to the everyday needs of Californians" (LaMar, Contra Costa Times, 12/7).
Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) also said health care reform would be a priority. "Our health care system is teetering on collapse as employers, hospitals and taxpayers are paying billions more to cover the cost of health care for those without insurance," Nunez said (San Francisco Chronicle, 12/7).
In a joint press conference with Perata, Nunez said Democrats in both houses will share a combined agenda. Although Nunez criticized Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's (R) opposition to the Legislature's previous attempts to expand health coverage and address the reimportation of lower-cost Canadian drugs, he said he hoped the governor would now "join us in finding a solution," adding, "We don't care whose idea it is, as long as it works" (Sanders/Yamamura, Sacramento Bee, 12/7).
Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento) on Monday introduced two health care-related bills, including a modified version (SB 19) of a bill addressing prescription drug costs that Schwarzenegger vetoed last session. Ortiz also introduced a bill (SB 18) that would modify the recently passed Proposition 71 stem cell measure to help ensure the state recoups its $3 billion investment.
In addition, Assembly member Patty Berg (D-Santa Rosa) said she plans to introduce in the next few weeks a measure that would legalize physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients (San Francisco Chronicle, 12/7).
Both parties agreed that the Legislature needs to address the estimated $7 billion state budget deficit next year, although Republicans announced their opposition to new taxes.
However, Nunez said new taxes should not be dismissed, stating, "I'll just be very brief on that -- everything ought to be on the table" (Sacramento Bee, 12/7).
Assembly Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (Bakersfield) said legislators should focus on the budget and noted that Democrats' efforts to pass bills that Schwarzenegger previously has vetoed are "a waste of time." He added, "The first things we should tackle are the financial problems that we have" (San Francisco Chronicle, 12/7).
Vince Sollitto, a spokesperson for Schwarzenegger, said that although the governor is hopeful Democrats will follow through on their assurances of bipartisanship, "The proof will be in the pudding." Sollitto added, "The governor's hopeful we have a fresh start here. It remains to be seen" (Sacramento Bee, 12/7).
Both Schwarzenegger and Democratic leaders have contemplated holding a late 2005 special election that could include measures the governor has vetoed, including legislation addressing prescription drug costs. According to the Chronicle, Schwarzenegger can call a special election five months in advance of the voting date, so "either side would have to hurry to get something in place for next year."
Rob Stutzman, a spokesperson for Schwarzenegger, declined to comment on the governor's plans (Martin, San Francisco Chronicle, 12/4).