Resistance State: California in the Age of Trump
Between Sacramento and Washington D.C. sits the rest of the country, and a chasm. On immigration and taxes, guns and healthcare, cannabis and climate change, California is the federal government’s equal and opposite reaction. One year into President Trump’s first term, the push and pull continues—playing out under the Capitol dome, in the courts and on Twitter.
Ready for another year? Follow along here.
Update: The Legislature passed, and Gov. Jerry Brown signed, SB 1108.
Since the Trump administration said in January that states could require Medicaid recipients to work if they want to continue receiving the benefit, three states have signed on: Kentucky, Indiana and Arkansas. Many others are considering it.
California, of course, is walking a different path. State Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina) is floating a bill, SB 1108, to ban work requirements for Medi-Cal recipients. Medi-Cal is California’s version of Medicaid, the national health care program for the poor.
Hernandez called the federal work-requirement idea “backwards” when introducing his bill. “Now is the time to focus all efforts on covering more people,” he said, “not less.”
Proponents of the work requirement say it can save money and make recipients accountable for receiving benefits. The whole point of requiring work for non-disabled adults, according to federal guidance, is to promote recipients’ well-being and increase their self-sufficiency.
Critics argue it won’t reach any of those goals and, in fact, might actually cost states money. Erecting a work wall, they say, also would discourage people from getting Medicaid and drop many people who need it.
“I’m not sure why adding a work requirement would promote well-being,” said Nadereh Pourat, director of research at the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. “The reality is, the great majority of Medicaid recipients are children or seniors—or they’re part of working families. We can’t assume people who get Medicaid are just sitting on their hands.”
In California, most of the working-age poor on Medi-Cal already do have jobs. According to a California HealthCare Foundation report based on 2016 data, children and seniors make up the vast majority of Medi-Cal recipients. Only about a third are working-age, non-disabled adults.
The majority of those adults, 62% of them, work. Among those not working, almost all (82%) were ill, caring for an ailing family member or going to school.
Who’s left? The report said 324,000 Californians who didn’t work and were eligible to work were receiving Medi-Cal benefits. That’s about 2.4% of the 13.5 million on Medi-Cal.
If a work requirement would lift those people out of poverty and off Medi-Cal, that would save the state money, right?
That’s a pipe dream, according to Anthony Wright, executive director of the Sacramento-based Health Access, a nonprofit health advocacy group. Wright said a work requirement won’t make jobs appear.
The real way the work-for-Medicaid plan saves money is by cutting back on the number of people who receive benefits, he said. Imposing a lot more paperwork and eligibility requirements would do the trick, he said.
“This will have an impact because of the paperwork and administrative barriers being put up to get coverage. People will fall off coverage as a result,” Wright said. “That’s the hidden agenda.
“Those [work-for-Medicaid] rules would marginalize Medi-Cal as a welfare program, rather than see it as a safety net for all of us,” he said.
The Hernandez bill doesn’t defy federal guidance the same way California’s cannabis and sanctuary laws do—adoption of a Medicaid work requirement is a choice. But it sends a message.
Hernandez has said he’s hoping other states might follow California’s lead. And resistance did crop up in Minnesota, where one legislator sent a message similar to California’s:
Democratic Sen. Tony Lourey recently proposed an amendment to a Republican-backed work-for-Medicaid measure in Minnesota, one that the GOP-controlled Legislature there quickly voted down. It would have required that lawmakers lose their state-funded health care benefits unless they work with some of the people affected by the legislation.
That is, the amendment said legislators must put in some time at, say, the county human services agency when the Legislature was not in session, or they’d lose their state health coverage.
The California bill already has passed the Senate Health committee, which Hernandez chairs, and has been given priority status by the influential Latino caucus. It has no organized opposition and is expected to sail through the Legislature.
An Orange County Superior Court judge has ruled that California’s “sanctuary state law” conflicts with Huntington Beach’s rights as a charter city, throwing some protections for undocumented immigrants into question in 120 cities throughout the state.
Senate Bill 54 or the California Values Act, authored by state Sen. Kevin de León, a Los Angeles Democrat who is challenging incumbent U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, doesn’t actually make California a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants. Rather, it puts limits on the amount of work state and local government officials can do to expedite ICE enforcement.
Though many California cities support the law, arguing it makes immigrant communities less afraid to report crimes and promotes trust in local institutions, dozens of other municipalities have adopted resolutions opposing it in principle. Huntington Beach, in coastal Orange County, was the first to take its challenge to court.
Judge James Crandall did not issue a legal opinion about the case, but granted a writ of mandate, ruling that the state cannot enforce its sanctuary law there, based on Huntington Beach’s status as a charter city.
Charter cities are organized under their own municipal codes, rather than under the state’s general law. One hundred twenty-one of California’s 482 cities share the designation, including Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Jose, San Diego and San Francisco.
Lawyers for Huntington Beach argued that the state sanctuary law intruded on the city’s local control.
“Huntington Beach is saying, ‘If we want to volunteer to go above and beyond to help immigration officials, we should be able to do that.’ Under SB 54 they can’t,” said immigration law expert Jean Reisz at University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law.
It’s unclear how the judge’s decision will affect other charter cities, or whether it will inspire more legal opposition.
“It certainly could apply to all of them, but this is an injunction to keep the state from enforcing this law against Huntington Beach, not all charter cities,” Reisz said.
The state Attorney General’s office is expected to appeal.
“Preserving the safety and constitutional rights of all our people is a statewide imperative which cannot be undermined by contrary local rules,” state Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in an email. “We will continue working to ensure that our values and laws like the California Values Act are upheld throughout our state.”
The ruling is separate from the federal lawsuit challenge filed last year by the Department of Justice to the sanctuary laws, which are actually made up of three pieces of legislation. A U.S. District Judge struck down one of the three, pertaining to business owners’ interactions with immigration authorities, but upheld the other two, including SB 54.
A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the U.S. Department of Education’s delay of rules meant to protect student loan borrowers from predatory practices was “arbitrary and capricious,” granting a legal victory to the state of California and borrowers who say their colleges defrauded them.
If upheld, the ruling could make it easier for students like the tens of thousands of Californians left in the lurch when for-profit chain Corinthian Colleges abruptly closed its doors to recoup their investments.
Corinthian’s 2015 collapse prompted the Obama Administration to issue new rules the following year allowing groups of students to apply for federal loan forgiveness en masse if their college closed, misled them or broke the law. The so-called “borrower defense rules” were hailed by consumer advocates and criticized by representatives of the for-profit college industry, who said they would put small vocational schools out of business.
The Trump administration has repeatedly pushed back implementation of the rules, and in August proposed a new plan that would make each individual borrower prove that their college knowingly lied to them in order to have loans discharged.
But Judge Randolph S. Moss agreed with the complaint filed by a pair of student borrowers, joined by the attorney generals of 19 states including California, that the department illegally “failed to offer a reasoned basis” for the shift in policy. The two sides are scheduled to meet in court Friday to discuss remedies in the case.
“This is a big win for students in California and the nation who were cheated of a quality education,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who has filed multiple lawsuits on behalf of student loan borrowers.
The Department of Education did not reply to requests for comment late today.
Track all of California’s lawsuits against the Trump administration here.
California’s push to pass the nation’s strongest net neutrality protections—and bring back Obama-era rules undone by the Trump administration—advanced today, one step in a high-stakes tech battle that’s being waged from here to Washington.
The bill by Democratic Sens. Scott Wiener and Kevin de Léon survived intense negotiations to pass the Democratic-controlled Assembly with overwhelming support by a vote of 61 to 18. It goes back to the Senate for a final vote before the legislative session ends Friday. If passed, it would prohibit internet service providers from slowing or speeding content based on preference or extra payment.
“The core premise of net neutrality is that we get to decide where we go on the internet, as opposed to telecom and cable companies telling us where to go,” Wiener said in a statement.
SB 822 aims to protect an open internet by replacing the Trump administration’s repeal of federal protections established during the Obama administration in 2015. It is considered the strongest set of net neutrality provisions since Obama’s were rolled back in June, and would be enforced by California’s attorney general.
Wiener and de Léon’s proposal would ban internet companies from charging businesses access fees in order to reach its online customers. It would also prohibit “zero rating,” a practice in which providers charge consumers for accessing their competitors’ content, but provide a free data incentive for accessing their own content.
Republican opponents of the bill slammed it as an overreach that meddles with a free market, creates a regulatory patchwork and invites litigation. Advocates, meanwhile, argued that such protections prevent internet service providers, such as AT&T and Comcast, from throttling internet speeds and creating so-called “fast lane” access.
Net neutrality proponents include not just technology companies such as Google parent Alphabet Inc. and Facebook, but also the Writers Guild of America and the American Civil Liberties Union.
The bill garnered national attention as it moved through the Legislature earlier this year. Facing strong opposition from internet companies and Republican legislators, Democrats anticipated a legal challenge as the state measure advanced.
In committee, the bill was heavily amended by Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, a Los Angeles Democrat. In response, Wiener almost withdrew his “hijacked” bill, which he said had been stripped of all its key protections.
But in July, the bill’s original provisions were restored and lawmakers reached an agreement to advance it together. Santiago eventually came around and joined as principal coauthor.
“This bill is about value,” Santiago said. “The question before us is, do you believe in a free and open internet?”
On the floor, Republican leaders charged regulation should be left to the feds. Assemblyman Jim Patterson, a Fresno Republican, said the issue will go straight to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the state will lose. Other opponents argued it will chill the tech industry and result in a less robust market for consumers.
“The worst possible thing we can do is to create 50 different state FCCs,” Patterson argued. “If you are really interested, the place to have this fleshed out is the federal level with federal elections and accountability. It takes several steps way too far.”
“You’re wading into an area where you have no business in,” echoed Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, a Lake Elsinore Republican. “This is embarrassing.”
Lobbying was intense as Thursday’s vote neared. A group affiliated to AT&T was reportedly using robocalls to send out automated messages claiming the law would raise consumer cell phone bills. Earlier this month, Verizon was widely criticized for allegedly throttling data speeds for the Santa Clara County Fire Department during the Mendocino Complex fire, a complaint the company denied.
Ryan Singel, media and strategy fellow at Stanford University’s Center for Internet and Society, says public pressure clearly helped secure Assembly approval.
“While it seems like getting net neutrality passed in California should be simple, the reality is that AT&T is incredibly powerful in California’s legislature—which was made clear when the bill was gutted in committee in June,” Singel said in an email.
In recent months, more than 20 states have introduced bills aiming to restore the federal net neutrality protections. Washington and Oregon have already passed legislation.
Meanwhile, the fight on the federal front is far from over. Tech groups including Amazon, Facebook and the Internet Association this month filed briefs with the federal appeals court supporting a lawsuit against the Federal Communications Commission to bring back net neutrality.