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New Bill Seeks Tax on Cocktails To Raise Money for Developmental Disabilities

A bill introduced on Tuesday in the Second Extraordinary Legislative Session on Health wants to levy a 5-cent tax on cocktails served in restaurants and bars in California. The proposal would raise an estimated $200 million a year for community-based services for those with developmental disabilities.

ABX2-18, by Assembly member Susan Bonilla (D-Concord), is being called the Cocktails for Healthy Outcomes Act.

“We’re facing a crisis in the developmentally disabled community,” Bonilla said. “We want to restore funding so we don’t find ourselves back here year after year.”

The bill is designed to reverse some of the cuts that have hit services for the developmentally disabled in the past decade. Bonilla estimated those reductions exceeded $1 billion.

“This is not a shrinking population, it’s an expanding population,” Bonilla said. More than 10,000 additional individuals need services each year, Bonilla said.

The state needs to comply with the Lanterman Act, the 1969 law that requires services be provided for Californians with developmental disabilities. In order to meet caseworker ratios required under statute, Bonilla said California would need to hire about 650 additional regional center workers.

Bonilla said the money raised through her bill would help make that happen and ensure delivery of services.

“I’m really hoping everyone will be able to see that a nickel a cocktail is money well spent and what we need to do,” Bonilla said.

Bonilla pointed out that the cigarette tax was instrumental in launching the First Five program across the state, which has nothing to do with cigarettes. In the same way, she said, a tax on alcoholic beverages can go toward funding a health care program like this one.

“For a fee, we need to demonstrate a nexus,” Bonilla said, “but for a tax, we don’t.”

Gov. Brown convened the second special session on health, in part, to come up with new revenue streams for the developmentally disabled services system, and Bonilla said a similar tax was successfully launched in Texas.

Some money from other proposed legislation to raise the tax on cigarettes has been slated to fund programs for the developmentally disabled, but Bonilla said she didn’t want to count on that for all of the needs of the developmentally disabled community.

Bonilla’s is the 31st bill introduced in the special session on health.

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