2017 - 2018 Legislation

This is the second year of the 2017-18 legislative session. Provided here is a summary of the 2018 legislation I am authoring. To see the legislative text or status of the bills, click on the bill number.

Health Care

As chair of the Assembly Health Committee and a health care provider myself, improving health care is important to me.

AB 315: Pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) are “middle men” that negotiate drug prices between drug companies and health plans. PBMs are currently not regulated, unlike the companies they negotiate with – pharmaceutical manufacturers, health plans, pharmacies and pharmacists – and there is no way to determine whether they are negotiating in the best interest in consumers. This bill would require state oversight of PBMs to better understand how their business model works and determine the impact their services have on increasing drug prices and consumers.

AB 595: Health plans and insurers are proposing mergers more and more and, as a result, this has reduced competition in many areas across the state. This bill would authorize state regulators to review merger applications to determine how they would affect consumers.

AB 710: Epilepsy affects approximately 1 in 26 Americans in their lifetime. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently reviewing at least one cannabidiol (CBD)-derived therapy, Epidiolex, that shows promise for the treatment of some rare forms of epilepsy. Current California law prevents physicians from prescribing it and this bill would allow this drug and other future FDA-approved epilepsy treatments derived from CBD to be prescribed to patients.

AB 2262: Certain areas within Sonoma and Mendocino counties are challenged to provide urgent care and emergency services. A voter-approved tax generates funds that the hospital district can use for this purpose. This bill clarifies the scope of services this hospital district can provide.

AB 2416: This bill is intended to increase access to care by increasing health plan competition. It would require plans that have Medi-Cal contracts, and offer qualified plans, to negotiate with Covered California, the state’s official health care marketplace, to offer plans in areas where two or fewer plans are available through Covered California.

AB 2427: This bill would require the Department of Health Services to decline to renew or award a contract, in whole or in part, of a for-profit Medi-Cal managed care plan if the Attorney General determines that the Medi-Cal managed care plan engaged or engages in anti-competitive conduct or practices, or if the department determines that they are not spending enough on patient care rather than overhead and administrative costs, for example, executive pay.

AB 2472: This bill would require the state to apply to the federal government for waivers allowing people whose income precludes them from qualifying for Medi-Cal benefits to purchase coverage under the Medi-Cal program through a separate public purchase option.

AB 2502: This bill would allow the state to begin collecting information regarding what is paid for health care services and require the state to prepare an annual report to the Legislature and the Governor that would include, among others, recommendations for containing the cost of health care services and coverage.

AB 2517 (co-author with Assemblymember Arambula): This bill would establish the Advisory Panel that would be required to develop a plan to achieve universal coverage and a unified publicly financed health care system in California.  The plan would need to outline a timeline and steps necessary, including financial models and any federal laws or state constitutional issues that would need to be addressed.

This country, and our state, is in the midst of an opioid epidemic. Between 2015 and 2017, nearly 10,000 Californians died of a drug overdose, primarily by opioids including heroin and fentanyl. California ranks in the top five states when it comes to the number of drug-overdose deaths.

AB 2760: This bill requires that prescribers of opioids offer their patients an additional prescription for naloxone, a medication that acts immediately to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, for those people determined to be at high-risk. It is a tool that can immediately save lives and provide an opportunity to discuss treatment with individuals suffering from substance use disorder.

AB 2789: A significant number of opioid prescriptions are being obtained through fraudulent means. This bill would require that all prescriptions be submitted electronically by 2021, with few exceptions. This process can significantly reduce paper-based fraud and forgery, reduce medication errors due to poor prescriber handwriting and allow more timely entry into a statewide data base, which prescribers use before they write a prescription to ensure, for example, to see if the patient is "doctor shopping" or that other people are not fraudulently obtaining prescriptions under the prescriber’s name.

Cannabis

AB 2641: In November 2016, California voters approved Prop 64, which allowed a person 21 years or older to purchase and use cannabis for recreational purposes. Although current law allows the sale and consumption of recreational cannabis at certain local events, only those licensed as dispensaries are permitted to sell directly to consumers. This bill would allow the state to issue a temporary license so that cultivators and manufacturers could sell directly to consumers during those events. This allows small farmers and manufacturers to introduce customers to their brand and identify new markets.

Communications

AB 1959: California has a long history of guaranteeing high-quality, affordable and widely available basic phone service and access to 911. In rural and high-cost areas of the state, building telecommunications networks can be expensive due to rough terrain, greater distances between customers and low population density. This bill will continue an existing fund to preserve affordable telecommunications services to rural areas.

Education

AB 1962: Under California law, tribal foster youth are counted differently from other foster youth. This can cause a school district to lose crucial funding. This bill will align the definition of “foster youth” to make sure schools receive appropriate funding.

Environment

AB 2525: Unlawful cannabis cultivation on public land has damaged property and the environment and kept families out of some of our best State and National Parks for fear of encountering armed growers. This bill would require the state to survey all state and California national parks annually for unlawful cannabis cultivation activity. It would also require the state to establish a program to receive funding to restore the damaged public lands and ensure that this activity is eradicated.

AB 2640: The Klamath hydroelectric dams built before 1964 do not have fish passages, and as a result, the upper Klamath River watershed has been completely inaccessible to certain types of fish. For decades, tribes, environmentalists and the fishing community have worked with stakeholders to open the more than 400 miles of fish spawning habitat upstream of the Klamath dams. In 2016, there was agreement to remove all four dams. Endangered fish, such as the Lost River and short nose sucker, may be impacted during the removal of these dams, and because of that, this bill allows the state to authorize, by permit, the loss of any listed species during the lawful removal of the dams.

Food and Agriculture

AB 2909: The popularity of California’s farm-to-fork movement is growing and we continue to look for ways to shorten the supply line between the farmer and the consumer in an effort to increase the availability of fresh, locally grown food. Current state regulations prevent some local poultry farmers from successfully operating at a small scale. This bill creates a farmer-friendly certification program that establishes sanitary standards, practices and procedures to ensure poultry safety.   

AB 2524: In the past few years, breweries and wineries have seen an increased demand for food service. To meet these demands, restaurants or small catering businesses will set up a temporary food station in the brewery or winery to sell food directly to customers. Although some counties require permits for this type of food retail, many do not. This bill would create statewide standards for catering operations when working in conjunction with a hosting facility.

Seniors

AB 1953: Last year, Assemblymember Wood worked with the Humboldt County community to successfully prevent two of three skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), all owned by Brius Healthcare, California’s largest nursing home chain, from closing and displacing more than 100 residents. Through that process much was learned about large SNF owners, and how they use other companies they own to obtain a wide variety of goods and services. This bill will require more transparency to ensure that those goods and services are fairly priced, free of conflict of interest and that SNF owners are not gaining profits at the expense of quality care.

Wildfire Rebuilding

The wildfires that raged through Northern California in late 2017 caused historic levels of damage and devastation. This quick and sudden firestorm led the Governor to declare a state of emergency in several counties. In total, wildfires burned over 1.2 million acres of land, damaging or destroying over 32,000 homes, 4,300 businesses, and killing 46 people. The following bills intend to address some of the unique and unforeseen challenges.

AB 1875: After the wildfires of 2017, many homeowners found themselves underinsured. If insurance companies do not provide policies that cover 50 percent over and above a homeowner’s 100 percent replacement cost limits, they must provide their customers with contact information for a broker who can. It also requires the Department of Insurance to develop a Home Insurance Finder tool on its website.

AB 1919: Price gouging became an issue following the fires, especially in the home rental market. This bill would make it a misdemeanor for a landlord to increase the monthly rental price for residential housing to an existing or prospective tenant by more than 10 percent of the “pre-disaster fair market price.” The bill would also, under certain circumstances, make it a misdemeanor to evict a housing tenant during the same time period.

AB 2228: While 652 schools serving nearly 300,000 students were closed for some period during the fires, most were reopened within a couple of days. But because so many houses were destroyed, many families and students were displaced, resulting in schools losing students for a prolonged period of time. Because funding is tied to daily attendance numbers, this has had a significant impact on local school budgets. This bill allows affected schools in the areas subject to the Governor’s 2017 Wildfire Disaster Declaration to apply for supplemental funding.

AB 2229: This bill would require insurance companies to consider and disclose certain fire prevention incentives for homeowners. The insurers would need to consider features of the property that contribute to increased or decreased fire risk and would also require the insurer to inform the policyholder how the factors are affecting the cost of their insurance policy.

AB 2267: In Sonoma County alone, the wildfires worsened an existing severe housing shortage, destroying more than 5,000 homes. The county will need tens of thousands of new housing units to accommodate forecasted needs. Between 2011 and 2017, the county built less than 5,000 new homes and it is estimated that about 6,300 construction workers will be needed annually over the next three years to rebuild in Sonoma County alone.

This bill would allow developers that purchase multiple lots to rebuild on those lots without being subject to certain environmental reviews as long as they are rebuilding consistent with other individual homeowners. This will be an added incentive to homeowners and developers to rebuild in a way that could help increase housing supply.

AB 2333: The Office of Emergency Services (OES) has many responsibilities during a natural disaster or state-declared emergency and they have done impressive work this past year. The intent of this bill is to make it easier for OES to provide mental health services following a disaster by establishing a new position of mental health deputy director within the department. This will allow OES to more easily respond to the mental health needs of those affected by a disaster or declared emergency.

AB 2551: California has invested billions of dollars in an extremely effective wildland fire suppression program; however, science tells us that suppressing fire has inadvertently created unhealthy and unstable conditions across millions of acres of forest, wildland and urban-interface areas by increasing fuel load. Forests and wildlands help us control carbon emissions and maintain a healthy environment, so a balanced approach is needed. This bill would help improve and restore our forests and wildlands by easing prescribed fire regulations, directing the Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention to actively coordinate with landowners who prioritize vegetation management and investing roughly $200 million each year to make California’s wildlands more fire resilient.

AB 2910: The California wildfires in late 2017 destroyed or damaged many communications networks. This bill asks the state public utilities commission to ensure that the networks being replaced by the various communications companies will provide the same or improved communications services to consumers.

AB 2913: Following the 2017 wildfires in Northern California, thousands of people are faced with rebuilding their lives and businesses. Local governments are experiencing a high demand of permitting and planning applications and there are only so many licensed architects, contractors and support services – not nearly enough to meet the demands of such a widespread disaster. As a result, this bill allows additional time for the rebuilding process. It would allow a permit to remain valid for three years after its issuance instead of the current 180 days. The bill would also authorize the building official to grant additional extensions under certain circumstances.

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2017 Accomplishments

AB 156: This bill extends the 2018 open enrollment period for Covered California plans effective January 1, 2019, to October 15, 2018 to January 15, 2019. This is in response to the federal government’s recent reduction of open enrollment from three months to six weeks. Federal rules allow states to increase the enrollment period through state legislation. 

This bill was signed by the Governor and became effective January 1, 2018.

AB 191: This bill reflects my ongoing commitment to improve access to mental health services, especially in our rural communities. Currently mental health facilities can hold patients who are determined to be a danger to themselves or others at the facility for observation. To legally execute this “mental health hold,” a physician and either a social worker or registered nurse must evaluate the patient and sign the appropriate documents. Unfortunately, in rural communities there may be a shortage of nurses and social workers. AB 191 adds Marriage and Family Therapists and Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors to the list of professionals legally able to evaluate and sign mental health holds in addition to the physician.

This bill was signed by the Governor and became effective January 1, 2018.

AB 265: The cost of pharmaceuticals drugs has escalated year after year. Manufacturers use coupons and other discounts to promote the use of new and often expensive drugs by eliminating or reducing a patient’s out-of-pocket cost. Although reducing a patient’s out-of-pocket expenses is significant, it can inadvertently cause patients to use more expensive drugs when a less expensive one would treat their condition just as effectively. Unnecessarily using a higher priced drug will increase health care costs and ultimately raise the cost of health insurance.

This bill prohibits a drug manufacturer from offering any discount, rebate, repayment, product voucher or other reduction in an individual’s out-of-pocket expenses for any drug if a lower cost brand name or non-brand name drug is available that is therapeutically equivalent to, or interchangeable with, the drug or if the active ingredients of the drug are available without prescription at a lower cost. If there is only one drug that will work for a patient, a coupon or discount could still be utilized.

This bill was signed by the Governor and became effective January 1, 2018.

AB 275: Last year in Humboldt County several long-term care facilities threatened to close on short notice and move its residents hundreds of miles away. To protect residents of long-term care facilities, this bill increases the notice that facilities must provide before any changes, such as a closure, could occur. Itrequires a facility to provide 60 days’ notice to the affected residents and families and 60 days’ written notice to the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman. It also strengthens requirements to medically and socially assess residents in order to prevent or reduce transfer trauma and require facilities to provide information on the availability of alternative long-term care beds in the community, and the reason for the proposed closure. This information will be reported to the state Department of Public Health which would render a decision on whether the facility could implement the planned changes.

This bill was signed by the Governor and became effective on January 1, 2018.

AB 911: As a dentist who practiced for almost 30 years, my practice had certain pieces of equipment, such as radiographic X-ray equipment, that caused my practice to be regulated and monitored by numerous state and federal agencies. I was recently made aware that bomb squads use tiny handheld X-ray devices to see inside suspicious packages. These devices are regulated by the FBI and California’s Department of Public Health (DPH). DPH treats them like the X-ray devices in commercial settings even though they are used in areas that are carefully  cordoned off from public exposure and where law enforcement personnel wear heavily protected garments. The DPH requirements are redundant and impractical and this bill would exempt this equipment from the DPH licensing requirements.

This bill was signed by the Governor and became effective January 1, 2018.

AB 980: Too many people in California, especially in rural areas, do not have access to a broadband connection. In addition to individual residents, entire towns, including schools, hospitals, libraries and city governments, have no access. This bill would require the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) install conduit in designated priority areas during planned road work, which can mitigate costs when cable is installed at a future date. Once the conduit is in the ground, installation costs of cable can be reduced to pennies on the dollar.

This bill was not pursued in the 2016-17 session because Caltrans agreed to develop a policy directive to  install conduit for broadband in appropriate projects on priority corridors when the project scope includes trenching.

AB 1410: Air ambulance services provide lifesaving emergency transportation to the most critical patients directly to trauma centers. In addition, emergency helicopter air ambulance providers provide a critical link between rural health facilities and urban hospitals. Some emergency patients transported by air ambulances have no insurance, are not eligible for Medi-Cal and have no ability to pay for the service, yet because of the existing revenue source, these patients are given the same high level care as those with medical insurance. AB 1410 guarantees the state will continue to fund air ambulance services, ensuring anyone in need can access these crucial services, not just those who can afford it.

This bill was signed by the Governor and became effective January 1, 2018.

Funding for Environmental Cleanup: In advance of Prop 64’s implementation, we secured $1.5 million to kick-start environmental cleanup in Humboldt, Trinity and Mendocino counties resulting from damage created by rogue cannabis grows. Those grants are available through the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Cannabis Restoration Grant Program which funds projects that restore salmon habitat in watersheds most heavily impacted by these rogue grows. Once Prop 64 is fully implemented, more funds will be available for this purpose.

Access to Broadband: As a co-author of AB 1665, Internet for All, this bill will provide $300 million in grant funds to build broadband infrastructure with priority given to unserved areas in California or where dial-up is the only access. This continues the California Advanced Services Fund administered by the California Public Utilities Commission which has a goal of reaching 98% coverage, by region, in 5 years.

Prescription Drug Prices: As a co-author of SB 17, this bill will promote transparency in the health care system by requiring drug makers to give prior notice to purchasers before raising prices and requiring health plans to report the proportion of the health insurance that is spent on prescription drugs. The drug industry plays a vital and, at times, life-saving role in patient treatment. Without stifling innovation, this bill puts reasonable parameters around pricing practices that, in the past, have focused too often on what the market will bear. This bill complements my legislation, AB 265 and AB 315, in our fight to stop escalating drug costs.

Parks and Water Bond: I supported SB 5, which provides $4 billion for parks and water projects, and expressed to the Department of Parks and Recreation that funding must be prioritized for the 42 state parks in the North Coast, recognizing that these parks are the primary driver of tourism in our area. The Governor signed this bill, so the bond measure will go before voters in June 2018.

Housing Bond: I supported this legislation, aimed at easing the state's affordable housing crisis. This includes a $4 billion housing bond, a new $75 fee on real estate transaction documents, and a bill to streamline building regulations that often prevents developers from constructing low-cost apartments and homes. The housing bond would provide $3 billion to affordable housing and $1 billion to veterans’ housing. We know that California lacks 1.5 million affordable housing units compared to demand and certainly contributes to the growth of the homeless population. The Governor signed SB 3, and the bond will go before voters in 2018.

Transportation: In April 2017 Governor Brown signed SB 1, known as the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017 (RRAA). This bill was created to address a $130 billion in deferred street, road, and highway maintenance at all levels of government in California. RRAA will provide $54 billion over the next 10 years. I supported SB 1 to address the serious deficiencies in roadways in the North Coast area. We saw the devastation created by land and mudslides this year and we need the funds to address the immediate cleanup needs as well as long-term infrastructure improvements.

Cap & Trade Agreement: I supported a package of bills that extends the state’s signature plan to address climate change through 2030. California must continue to lead the nation to fight climate change and is essential to protecting the scenic North Coast while allowing market forces to cut greenhouse gas emissions.This legislation also suspends the State Responsibility Area (SRA) fire prevention fee, which is a huge win for rural California. That fee has placed an unfair burden on rural property owners for years. I have been a coauthor on bipartisan bills to repeal this fee every year since I joined the legislature. Last year this fee cost property owners in our district -- Del Norte, Humboldt, Trinity, Mendocino and Sonoma counties -- roughly $8 million and it has decimated local fire districts. (AB 398 and AB 617)