2017 - 2018 Legislation

We have completed the first year of the 2017-18 legislative session. This is a summary of the legislation I authored this year and some other major accomplishments. The Governor has 30 days to sign or veto a bill once it is received in his office. The last day he can sign or veto a bill is October 15.

AB 62: The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently released a final rule requiring Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) to establish a policy disallowing the use of prohibited tobacco products in all indoor areas of public housing.

AB 62 requires PHAs to implement a policy, by July 30, 2018, prohibiting smoking a tobacco product, including e-cigarettes, in all public housing living units and interior areas, as well as outdoor areas within 25 feet of public housing and administrative office buildings in which public housing is located.

Status: This bill has been designated a two-year bill and could be considered, or amended, in the 2017-18 session.

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. Also for health plans effective January 1, 2018, California was granted permission to maintain the 2017 three-month open enrollment period, from November 1, 2017 to January 31, 2018.

Status: This bill was signed by the Governor on October 4 and will be 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 would add 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.

Status: This bill was signed by the Governor on September 1 and will be 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 have the longer-term effect of increasing health care costs which will ultimately raise the cost of health insurance.

This bill would prohibit 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.

Status: This bill was signed by the Governor on October 4 and becomes effective January 1, 2018.

AB 275: Last year in Humboldt County several long-term care facilities threatened to close down on short notice and move its residents hundreds of miles away. To protect residents of long-term care facilities, this bill would increase the notice that facilities must provide before any changes, such as a closure, could occur. The bill would require 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. The bill would also strengthen 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 would be reported to the state Department of Public Health which would render a decision on whether the facility could implement the planned changes.

Status: This bill was signed by the Governor on September 1 and will be effective on January 1, 2018.

AB 315: Pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) were initially formed approximately 40 years ago and used by insurance plans and other payers to manage their prescription drug plans and negotiate prices with drug companies. PBMs are currently not licensed or regulated, unlike pharmaceutical manufacturers, health plans, pharmacies and pharmacists.

Following a series of mergers and acquisitions, there are three PBMs that have nearly 80 percent of the market share with revenues exceeding $270 billion. Some are also merging with drug companies and large pharmacy chains and establishing their own specialty pharmacies.

Currently there is no way to assess how PBMs are negotiating with drug companies or health plans, nor is there a way to understand how rebates and discounts are applied, and whether the process is in the best interest of the consumer. This bill would require PBMs to be licensed and regulated to better understand how their business model works and the impact their services have on increasing drug prices.

Status: This bill has been designated a two-year bill and we will continue to work with the administration to determine how best this can be accomplished.

AB 362: Many small nonindustrial forest land owners in California do not have the financial resources to consistently and effectively manage their land. Forests that are not consistently well managed can quickly become environmental hazards, pose catastrophic fire risks, produce blockages in fish bearing streams and exacerbate pest infestations.

An existing program, the California Forest Improvement Program (CFIP), gives the Director of Cal Fire the authority to pay for up to 90 percent of certain forestry work on small nonindustrial forest owner’s land. Unfortunately, because the program requires the land owner to pay for all of the work up front before submitting for reimbursement to Cal Fire, the program is still out of reach for many of our smaller landowners. AB 362 would require Cal Fire to provide landowners access to the funds for the work up front, ensuring that more of our forest lands will be effectively managed.

Status: This bill has been designated a two-year bill and could be considered, or amended, in the 2017-18 session.

AB 420: Legal cannabis businesses operating under California’s new standards and regulations will be subject to significant taxes, fees and compliance standards.  Meanwhile, there will inevitably be a significant number of cannabis entities that continue to operate in the black market. For California’s new cannabis laws to be successful, legal businesses must be able to successfully compete with black market operators. AB 420 would allow legal cannabis businesses to deduct their normal business expenses from their state income taxes, just as other businesses do in California.

Status: Originally, this bill provided the option for cannabis growers to remit their taxes to a distributor or pay them directly to the appropriate agency. That language was adopted through a budget bill which allowed this bill to be amended to allow growers to the deduct qualified business expenses on their state tax returns, but more time will be required to resolve issues and we will continue to pursue this bill next year.

AB 595: California regulators should have clear authority to scrutinize proposed changes to the health insurance market and consider the impact of mergers on consumers and purchasers, and the health system as a whole. AB 595 would require health plans and insurers seeking to merge to file a new application for licensure. In reviewing the proposed merger, state regulators would be authorized to hold a public hearing; consider the short-term and long-term benefits, if any, to consumers and purchasers; assess whether the merger adversely affects competition; consider the impact on cost, quality and health disparities; and prepare an independent health care impact statement before they make a recommendation on the proposed merger.

Status: This bill has been designated a two-year bill and could be considered, or amended, in the 2017-18 session.

AB 710: Current law requires boards within the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) to meet at least three times each calendar year – at least once in northern California and once in southern California. Unfortunately, far too many times, board meetings do not take place in the rural parts of northern California.  

AB 710 requires boards within DCA to meet at least once every other year in rural northern California. This will ensure that our rural communities have a fair opportunity to have their voices heard at board meetings.

Status: This bill has been designated a two-year bill and could be considered, or amended, in the 2017-18 session. 

AB 715: From 1999 to 2014, the amount of painkillers prescribed and sold has quadrupled, yet there has not been a measurable reduction in the amount of pain Americans report. Abuse of opioid medications has steadily increased in the past decade and we are now facing a crisis. AB 715 calls on the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) to review the various existing guidelines and develop statewide recommended prescribing guidelines for opioids. The bill encourages CDPH to include stakeholders from a variety of disciplines who may have participated in the development of various existing guidelines related to opioid prescribing.

Status: This bill was vetoed by the Governor.

AB 845: Epilepsy is a medical condition that produces seizures affecting a variety of mental and physical functions. Approximately 1 in 26 Americans will develop epilepsy at some point in their lifetime. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently reviewing at least one cannabidiol (CBD) derived therapy that shows promise for the treatment of epilepsy. Once the FDA approves this therapy, the new treatment option could be available as soon as early 2018. Even with FDA approval, individual states would need to implement changes to state scheduling laws for these therapies to become available in the state. In California, the California Uniform Controlled Substances Act would have to be amended to conform to any changes from the FDA.

AB 845 will exempt any newly approved prescription medication that contains CBD and is controlled or decontrolled under a federal rule or interim rule.

Status: This bill has been designated a two-year bill and could be considered, or amended, in the 2017-18 session. This bill is critical to children who suffer from epilepsy and we will pursue this legislation next year.

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.

Status: This bill was signed by the Governor on July 24 and will become 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.

Status: 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 1254: Currently, a cannabis cultivator who violates environmental protection laws may be penalized on a per-day violation basis when the violations occur on the land they own or lease; however, current law is silent as to whether violations are per-day when the cannabis cultivation is done without permission, i.e., in a “trespass grow” situation. Because of this anomaly in current law, otherwise-lawful cultivators are penalized more than those cultivating illegally.

AB 1254 establishes equitable penalties for individuals who commit environmental violations while cultivating controlled substances, regardless of whether that cultivation was lawful or unlawful.

Status: This bill has been designated a two-year bill and will be pursued in  2018. This bill will provide law enforcement with the tools they need to protect the environment.

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.

Status: This bill was signed by the Governor and will become effective January 1, 2017.

AB 1433: California’s cap-and-trade program has proven to be a powerful tool in our fight against climate change. Unfortunately, we are missing a huge part of the climate change equation. Our natural and working lands have the potential to be enormous carbon sinks, effectively reducing and reversing the damage done by greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately California’s approach to investing in these natural resources is woefully in adequate. We have dozens of programs scattered across a litany of governmental agencies and departments and only about 2 percent of the revenue from cap-and-trade is invested in natural and working lands. This lack of investment and lack of a cohesive plan is beginning to take a toll – the 100 million dead trees in our forests is a prime example. AB 1433 would centralize these climate investments ensuring a more cohesive and strategic investment strategy in an effort to ensure we maintain and restore our most important resources in our fight against climate change.

Status: This bill was not pursued in the 2016-17 session because language was placed into a budget bill which provides $25 million to natural and working lands through a grant process within the Wildlife Conservation Board and Coastal Conservancy.

AB 1470: Since 1888, the City of Willits has served as the gateway that connected travelers driving north or south on US 101 Highway from San Francisco to Eureka, California. For well over a century, Willits served as the only service area within a 20-mile radius for travelers to refill their gas tanks, grab a burger or stretch their legs. In an attempt to alleviate traffic congestion, Caltrans started the construction of a freeway bypass east of Willits. The bypass has served its intended purpose of reducing traffic congestion, but has also adversely affected the local economy – local businesses have reported a 20- to 50-percent loss in revenue. 

AB 1470 is seeking to identify funds to help the local economy of Willits mitigate the immediate effects of the bypass, while also providing the city with an option to revitalize its business district.

Status: This has been made a two-year bill as we continue discussions with the city and Caltrans on what can be done to support the business community in Willits.

Other Accomplishments

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. If the Governor signs this bill, 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. If the Governor signs SB 3, the bond will go before voters next year.

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. 

Health Care for All: The proposal to provide for a single payer health care system, SB 562, had many goals, but lacked the specifics to move forward. Aside from not identifying a funding mechanism, it did not address quality control and utilization, key parts of a successful health care system. I support health care for all, so in February, prior to SB 562’s introduction, together with Assemblymember Joaquin Arambula, MD, we requested that the Speaker of the Assembly appoint a select committee with the specific goal of gathering expert testimony to bring forward a path to health care for all. Dr. Arambula and I will co-chair that committee and it will begin its work this fall.