The Barbed Wire - May 16, 2014

May 16, 2014
Rainy-Day Measure Headed to November Ballot
Ballot Measure to Change MICRA Qualifies for November Ballot
California State Assembly Speaker Inaugurated
LAO Provides Caltrans Staffing Recommendations to Legislature
WRDA Conference Report to be Released
Existing and Proposed Endangered Species Regulations Under Scrutiny
Senate Introduces Bipartisan MAP-21 Reauthorization Bill
Workshop to Discuss Curtailment of Post-1914 Water Rights

Rainy-Day Measure Headed to November Ballot

On Thursday, legislation to place a Rainy Day Fund constitutional amendment on the November ballot received bipartisan approval. Assembly Constitutional Amendment 1 would transfer 1.5 percent of General Fund revenue into a reserve, along with capital gains revenue that exceeds 8 percent of General Fund taxes. One-half of the money would go to pay down debt. ACA 1 replaces Assembly Constitutional Amendment 4 on the November ballot, the previous proposal to strengthen the Rainy Day Fund adopted by the Legislature in 2010.

Ballot Measure to Change MICRA Qualifies for November Ballot

Thursday afternoon, Consumer Watchdog, an offshoot of the Consumer Attorneys of California, announced that their anti-Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA) proposition has qualified for the November ballot. The measure has significant implications for local governments concerned about the cost of health care and access to doctors, community clinics and hospitals. The main provision of the lawyers’ ballot measure will quadruple MICRA’s non-economic damages cap from $250,000 to nearly $1.1 million. 

MICRA was signed into law by former and current Governor Jerry Brown in 1975 in an effort to curtail runaway non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases. Medical malpractice insurance was becoming prohibitively expensive and difficult to obtain in California, especially for certain specialties such as obstetrics. This in turn was driving physicians in numerous specialties out of California making access to those services difficult if not completely unavailable in many parts of the state—especially rural areas.

MICRA caps any non-economic damages award at $250,000. There remains no limit on awards for actual damages including costs of ongoing care, loss of income, or punitive damages under MICRA.

The most threatening outcome of altering MICRA in rural areas is a loss of access to health care. Increasing costs to local providers, community clinics, and local hospitals could force them to reduce services or cease providing services altogether. Access to healthcare—especially specialty services--is already a serious problem in rural areas and a change to MICRA would exacerbate this situation dramatically. 

RCRC will be evaluating the language of the qualified ballot measure and the Board of Directors will take an official position at a future meeting. A broad coalition of doctors, hospitals, community health clinics, local governments, nurses, business, labor, and others (including RCRC) have long supported the existing MICRA law as a protector of access to care, and have opposed previous attempts to alter the structure of it. 

For additional information, please contact RCRC Legislative Advocate Cyndi Hillery at (916) 447-4806

California State Assembly Speaker Inaugurated

On Monday, Assembly Member Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) was sworn in as the 69th Speaker of the California State Assembly. In her Inaugural Address, Speaker Atkins highlighted a need for strong State action on poverty and homelessness, with a focus on affordable housing in California. Speaker Atkins succeeds Assembly Member John Pérez (D-Los Angeles), who has held the post since 2010. Pérez is currently running for State Controller. 

Shortly after being sworn in, Speaker Atkins announced her Assembly Democratic Leadership appointments, including:

Speaker Pro Tempore:                    Assembly Member Nora Campos

Assistant Speaker Pro Tempore:   Assembly Member Kevin Mullin

Majority Floor Leader:                      Assembly Member V. Manuel Pérez

Assistant Majority Floor Leader:    Assembly Member Christopher Holden

Majority Whip:                                   Assembly Member Jimmy Gomez

Assistant Majority Whip:                 Assembly Member Matthew Dababneh

Assistant Majority Whip:                 Assembly Member Cristina Garcia

Democratic Caucus Chair:             Assembly Member Philip Ting

LAO Provides Caltrans Staffing Recommendations to Legislature

This week, the non-partisan Legislative Analyst Office (LAO) submitted their review of the California Department of Transportation’s (Caltrans) Capital Outlay Support (COS) program as required by the 2013-14 Budget package. This review was prompted by concerns regarding insufficient information to justify the program’s overall budget and staffing needs.  The COS program provides a variety of staffing support necessary to deliver state transportation projects.   The adopted Budget package required the LAO to work with the California Department of Finance and Caltrans to provide recommendations to improve the efficiency and accountability of the COS program. 

The LAO report uncovered that the COS program:

1.    Lacks performance data to adequately measure program effectiveness;

2.    Is experiencing decline in workload that will result in significant overstaffing starting in 2014-15; and,

3.    Allows for limited legislative and external oversight. 

More specifically, the LAO recommends that the Legislature reduce the budget and staffing levels of the program starting with the 2014-15 Budget, improve its staffing projects and data quality, and provide the California Transportation Commission (CTC) with specific oversight and project approval functions that have limited external oversight.  RCRC anticipates that these recommendations will result in administrative, budgetary, and legislative proposals to address the LAO’s findings.  The detailed LAO report can be accessed here

For additional information, please contact RCRC Legislative Analyst Randall Echevarria at (916) 447-4806

WRDA Conference Report to be Released

U.S. House and Senate leaders considering the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) announced that they have reached agreement on a final conference report. After six months of negotiations, the conference report language could be voted on as early as next week. WRDA authorizes projects and programs of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This year’s bill includes authorizations for several flood control projects in California, modifies Corps policy for providing credit to non-federal sponsors for advance construction of harbors and levees, and revises the policy for managing vegetation on federal levees. Congress intends to adopt a WRDA every two years, but the last two bills were adopted in 2000 and 2007.

Existing and Proposed Endangered Species Regulations Under Scrutiny

Last year’s regulation to require only incremental economic analysis of critical habitat designations was criticized by witnesses and lawmakers at a field hearing this week. The regulation allows the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to take into account the cost of critical habitat designation to federal agencies, and ignore other state and local economic impacts. Meanwhile, the USFWS and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) this week proposed new regulations that would expand the evaluation of proposed projects’ impact on critical habitats and clarify the standards and procedures that federal agencies use for determining critical habitat. A policy was also proposed to give priority for exempting private land from critical habitat designation, especially private land where voluntary measures are being taken to protect species such as regional habitat conservation plans.  The public has 60 days to submit comments on these proposals.

The proposed rule changing the critical habitat regulations, along with instructions for filing comments, can be accessed here.

The proposed policy implementing the private land exemptions, along with instructions for filing comments, can be accessed here.

Senate Introduces Bipartisan MAP-21 Reauthorization Bill

Earlier this week, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chair Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California) and Ranking Member Senator David Vitter (R-Louisiana) unveiled S. 2322, their Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) Reauthorization Act measure.  The Senate’s transportation bill would reauthorize the nation’s surface transportation program for six years at current funding levels plus inflation, which is estimated to cost $265 billion between fiscal year 2015 and 2020.  On Thursday, the full committee unanimously approved the measure.  The real challenge, however, rests with the Senate Finance Committee – how to pay the approximate $265 billion price tag.  Later this year, the full Senate will likely take up the bill, which will also include transit and safety titles that make up the entire transportation reauthorization bill.

In our cursory review, S. 2322 includes several provisions of interest to rural counties, including efforts to streamline various permitting processes and improving transparency, requirements for stronger cross-agency coordination, and increased flexibility for certain eligible rural roads and bridge projects, specifically those that reduce costs, expedite construction, or improve safety.  The bill also designates specific funding for rural areas for projects of national or regional significance, and includes a rural set aside within the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program to provide low-interest financing for eligible rural transportation projects.  The following amendments were taken during markup of the bill Thursday:

  • An amendment by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) to increase the proportion of National Highway Performance Program (NHPP) funds that can be used for non-National Highway System bridges from 10 percent to 15 percent.  Under this amendment, on-system bridges would be eligible for NHPP funding.
  • An amendment by Senators Boxer, Vitter, Tom Carper (D-Delaware), and John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) that requires states to invest in the greatest safety needs, however, would weaken safety performance measures and reduce consequences to states for not meeting safety performance. 
  • An amendment by Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) to reduce the TIFIA loan program by $250 million a year and using those funds for research and development, which would restore half of all research funding that was left out of the initial draft of the bill.

RCRC has adopted two key priorities as part of our MAP-21 reauthorization advocacy efforts – restore dedicated funding for high-risk rural roads and restore dedicated funding for local on-system bridges.  We are pleased to see Congress has taken action to address our two priority areas, but there is still much work to be done in both the Senate and the House.  RCRC is working with the National Association of Counties to provide recommendations on draft language they have developed to decrease the fatality rate on rural roads and to provide local agencies a seat at the table when states are making decisions that impact rural road safety.  We are hopeful that these legislative efforts would result in a more equitable distribution of Highway Safety Improvement Project funding between state and local government for safety improvement projects.

RCRC staff will provide more detailed analysis of draft legislative language that became available Monday, and amendments that were taken during markup this Thursday in subsequent articles. 

For additional information, please contact RCRC Legislative Analyst Randall Echevarria at 916.447.4806  

Workshop to Discuss Curtailment of Post-1914 Water Rights

The State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) will hold a workshop on May 20, 2014 to receive comments regarding options for drought-related curtailments of post-1914 water rights in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.  Curtailing water use during the current drought could occur when natural flows in the Delta Watershed are inadequate to support all diversions and in-stream beneficial uses. 

Curtailments are necessary so that previously stored water is not illegally diverted, and water is available for senior water right users, minimal public trust water uses such as fish and wildlife protection, and minimum health and safety and other critical water uses.

Under current conditions, the SWRCB anticipates needing to take action to curtail water use in the Delta Watershed.  There are several options for curtailing diversions, including:

1.    Curtailment to Protect Senior Water Rights and Stored Water Releases Based on Reported Water Use Under Existing Authorities;

2.    Curtailment to Protect Senior Rights and Stored Water Releases Based on Reported Water Use Through Emergency Regulations;

3.    Curtailment Based on a Term 91 Approach Requiring Diverters in Addition to Reclamation and the Department of Water Resources (DWR) to Bypass Flows to Provide Delta Outflows and Water Quality Requirements; and,

4.    Curtailment Based on an Approach Similar to Term 91 Requiring Reclamation and DWR to Meet Delta Outflow Requirements Without Contributions from Other Diverters.

No formal action will be taken at this workshop. Full details on the May 20th workshop can be accessed here.

For additional information, please contact RCRC Legislative Advocate Kathy Mannion at (916) 447-4806


RCRC members are encouraged to share letters addressed to state and federal representatives and regulatory bodies with RCRC’s Government Affairs staff.

AB 1035 (Perez): Workers’ Compensation Benefits for Public Safety Personnel:  AB 1035 extends the timeline for firefighters and peace officers to file certain death claims under the workers’ compensation system. Status: AB 1035 passed both houses of the Legislature and was signed into law by the Governor earlier this week.  RCRC Position: Oppose

AB 1451 (Holden): Concurrent Enrollment.  AB 1451 would help provide rural high school students with access to higher education opportunities.  Status: Held on the Assembly Appropriations Committee Suspense File.  RCRC Position: Support

AB 1661 (Bonta): Healthy Options for Everyone Act of 2014. AB 1661 would create a standard definition for “food desert” within statute and would allow local governments to create Healthy Options for Everyone (HOPE) incentives zones, whereby fresh food vendors could operate within specified food desert areas. Status: Held on the Assembly Appropriations Committee Suspense File. RCRC Position: Support

 AB 1739 (Dickinson): Groundwater Management.  AB 1739 would require a sustainable groundwater management plan to be adopted, except as provided, for each high or medium priority groundwater basin by any groundwater management agency as defined.  Status: Held on the Assembly Appropriations Committee Suspense File.  RCRC Position: Pending; Amendments Requested

AB 1894 (Ammiano): Medical Marijuana Regulatory Framework.  AB 1894 would establish a state-run statewide regulatory framework for licensing medical marijuana dispensing facilities and cultivation sites.  Status:AB 1894 was held in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.  RCRC Position: Concerns; Amendments Requested

SB 1292 (Hueso): Safe Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.  SB 1292 would increase the maximum amount of a construction grant award from $3 million to $5 million for a water system serving severely disadvantaged communities.  Status: Held on the Senate Appropriations Committee Suspense File.  RCRC Position: Support

AB 1799 (Gordon): Land Use: Mitigation Lands.  AB 1799 would exempt a governmental entity or special district from the requirement to provide an endowment for long-term stewardship of mitigation lands if the entity provides evidence that it possesses an investment-grade credit rating and provide a resolution or contractual agreement to enforce the mitigation   requirements.  Status: Held on the Assembly Appropriations Committee Suspense File.  RCRC Position: Support

AB 2413 (Perez): Office of Farm to Fork. AB 2413 would create the Office of Farm to Fork under the direction of the Department of Food and Agriculture and would require the office to identify communities in both rural and urban areas that lack access to healthy food.  Status: Passed out of the Assembly Appropriations Committee. RCRC Position: Support

AB 2514 (Pan): Physician Corps Program.  AB 2514 would allow a tax credit for health care professionals who reside and practice medicine in a designated rural health care professional shortage area.  Status: Passed out of the Assembly Revenue & Taxation Committee. RCRC Position: Support

AB 2703 (Quirk-Silva): County Veterans Service Officers.  AB 2703 would allocate $6,000,000 from the General Fund to counties for the purpose of funding various CVSO activities, and would create a formula through which those funds would be allocated.  Status: Held on the Assembly Appropriations Committee Suspense File.  RCRC Position: Support