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Senate Sends Ombudsman Bill to Assembly

The state Senate yesterday passed SB 345 by Lois Wolk (D-Davis), a bill designed to give more independence and power to the Long-Term Care Ombudsman program. It now heads to the Assembly for committee and floor approval.

“Most of the provisions in this law simply clarify state and federal law,” bill author Wolk said. “What has happened in this ombudsman program is the office is not effectively being an advocate for people in long-term care and local [ombudsman] offices.”

State ombudsman Joseph Rodrigues begs to differ, and has testified against the bill in committee hearings, saying that the proposed law is duplicative and establishes additional requirements without additional funding.

Not really, Wolk said. Since federal law requires a certain level of autonomy and advocacy, this bill would reinforce that requirement at the state level, she said. “This has been studied, and two reports have shown there are problems,” Wolk said before the floor vote. “This bill is designed so the ombudsman can advocate independently.”

Wolk said she plans to meet with Rodrigues and the governor’s staff this week.

Senate member Elaine Alquist (D-Santa Clara) voiced support for the measure, which accomplishes three important changes, she said: “It aligns federal and state law; it requires a report with measurable results for accountability; and to beef up the website,” Alquist said, “which right now is just one page.”

Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) obliquely referred to the concerns raised by Ombudsman Rodrigues during earlier committee hearings. “I am supportive of this [bill],” Yee said, “but let’s see what the amendments are, and what comes back to us from Assembly.”

The measure passed the floor on a 26-9 vote.

We’ll explore this issue further in a feature story early next month.

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