Good morning, California.

“This gag rule is an attack on women everywhere.”—First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom announcing California litigation against a Trump administration rule that would bar family planning clinics from referring women for abortions. The  change to the Title X family planning program also would shift tens of millions of federal family planning dollars away from Planned Parenthood and toward faith-based clinics. 

National Trump challenge launched from CA

Jennifer Seibel Newsom announces CA's suit over federal family planning funds.

California opened a national battle over family planning Monday with a lawsuit against the Trump administration, seeking to block new federal restrictions against abortion and contraceptive services.

  • Filed in federal court, the suit is expected to be the first in an onslaught of litigation by states, family planning advocates, women’s rights groups and others, challenging Trump rules that prevent clinics from making abortion referrals if they receive o-called Title X federal family planning money.

The announcement, by Attorney General Xavier Becerra and First Partner Jennifer Seibel Newsom doubled as an official coming out for Gov. Gavin Newsom’s wife.

  • Wives of past California governors have taken public stands. But Seibel Newsom took an unusually out-front stand on an issue of the day, the so-called “gag rule.” Clearly, she intends to play a prominent role in her husband’s administration.

Seibel Newsom: “In California, we will continue to work toward a world where men and women are truly equal and where all our children can be allowed their full human potential, and we will make sure that the women of this nation know that California has their back.”

Becerra—filing his 47th suit against Trump, according to CALmatters lawsuit tracker—is challenging a rule that would take effect in May cutting so-called Title X aid to such organizations as Planned Parenthood and Essential Access Health. They’re also suing.

  • Title X recipients in California provide family planning, education, and preventive health services to 1 million patients annually. The suit says the funding helped women avoid 822,000 unplanned pregnancies in 2015, reduced teen pregnancy, and combatted sexually transmitted disease.
  • The state stands to lose $22.3 million a year if the cut takes effect. If women cannot get contraceptives or abortions, the suit says, “California will absorb much of the financial and administrative burden that results in both the short and long term.”

Laura's Law works—where it's been tried

More than a million Californians suffering from severe mental illness go untreated.

Twenty California counties have adopted a 2002 law permitting more assertive care of several mentally ill people. Most report enrollees spend fewer days in jail, psychiatric hospitals, and on the streets, the Virginia-based Treatment Advocacy Center has found.

  • California is “off to a promising start,” but is “leaving some powerful tools on the table,” The Orange County Register writes, reporting on the analysis.  

Under “Laura’s Law,” counties can petition judges to direct severely mentally ill people to obtain intensive treatment. But counties are not obligated to implement the law, and most have not done so.

  • The law was named for Laura Wilcox, a 19-year college sophomore from who was shot and killed in 2001 during Christmas break while she worked for the Nevada County behavioral health department. The shooter, Scott Thorpe, was receiving counseling there, and now is housed at Napa State Hospital.

The Treatment Advocacy Center, a proponent of more intensive care for severely mentally ill people, notes that half of the more than 1 million Californians suffering from severe mental illness go untreated on any given day.

The report found:

  • Psychiatric hospitalizations decreased significantly among individuals enrolled in eight Laura’s Law programs out of the 10 counties with outcome data.
  • Police contracts were reduced with Laura’s Law enrollees in nine of the 10 programs.
  • Homelessness decreased significantly in six out of seven programs.

The report calls on the state to make several improvements, including requiring uniform data reporting. Gov. Gavin Newsom has said improved mental health care is among his highest priorities.

Waiting for mental health care

For those seeking outpatient mental healthcare, long waits are common.

Psychiatric patients in California’s 10 largest counties waited 38.4 days between the time they were released from hospitals to receive some outpatient care, according to data compiled by the consulting group, California Health Policy Strategies.

  • In Los Angeles County, the mean number of days between discharge and outpatient care was 53.3. In San Diego, the number was 37.1. In Orange County, patients received outpatient care within 24.3 days.

David Panush, the consulting group’s president, who focused on health-related issues during a 35-year career in the state Senate: “This is the group with the most severe problems imaginable. … If our systems are not structured in a way for them to get care when they leave hospitals, that’s a recipe for trouble.”

The consulting group, which advises the California Health Care Foundation, Blue Shield local governments and others, compiled most of the information from public sources, and placed the data in this dashboard reflecting key indicators of mental health care.

Other findings:

  • More than 50 percent of adult psychiatric patients in the large counties received care within seven days of discharge, and 64 percent of youths did.
  • Twenty percent of jail inmates in the large counties receive psychiatric medication in 2016-17, up from 16 percent in 2012-13.

Pension victory for the status quo

The Supreme Court's pension ruling was a win for both unions and Jerry Brown.

All sides declared victory in a much-anticipated ruling on pensions as the California Supreme Court upheld the end of a practice that lets state workers inflate years of service, but also upheld a legal precedent that has shielded most benefits from future cuts, CALmatters’ Judy Lin reports.

  • At issue were two flashpoints in Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2012 pension rollback: the right of public employees to buy years of unworked “airtime” that result in a bigger pension, and the so-called “California Rule,” which guarantees public employees the pensions that were in place when they were hired.

The court found that airtime wasn’t a contractual benefit under the California Rule, and therefore fair game. But in an example of judicial restraint, the justices didn’t reach a decision on the California Rule, which has made it difficult for state and local governments to reduce pensions.

  • Unions cheered, but pension reformers said the ruling opens the door to the notion that pensions can be whittled.

Former San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed: “The most important issue in pension reform is whether or not we can make modifications to the rate of benefits in future years, future work or future contracts.

Lin has reported extensively on California’s pension issues. For her comprehensive pension explainer, click here.

High-speed damage control

California high speed rail officials have asked the feds not to strip aid.

Scrambling to avert the loss of $3.5 billion, the chief executive of California’s high-speed rail project Monday implored the feds not to strip aid promised by the Obama Administration to help build the behind-schedule and over-budget project.

  • Federal officials have said they’d to act today to end the agreement to help the state fund the only high-speed rail project under construction in the United States.

Uncle Sam moved to withhold $929 million and claw back another $2.5 billion already given the state after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced last month that he was scrapping links to Los Angeles and San Jose for now and instead focusing on a Bakersfield-Merced route.

  • Now, the state is in damage control. Brian Kelly, the CEO of the project, sent letters to his counterpart at the Federal Railroad Administration and the project manager, saying the project would be stopped dead if the feds follow through on the threat.

Any clawback of federal funds already expended on this project would be disastrous policy. It is hard to imagine how your agency—or the taxpayers—might benefit from partially constructed assets sitting stranded in the Central Valley of California.”

The Sacramento Bee: “Kelly said Newsom is offering a ‘pragmatic’ approach to using the existing federal and state funding to ‘get high-speed rail trains on the ground as soon as possible by completing an early high-speed rail link operating in the Central Valley.’”

The L.A. Times: “It is unclear whether the Kelly letters can change the plans of the Trump administration.”

Commentary at CALmattters

California should make better use of ‘renewable’ natural gas.

Sam Wade, Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas: Renewable natural gas is produced from the largest waste streams in society today—landfills, diverted food waste, wastewater plants and livestock operations. These waste sources emit methane—a highly potent greenhouse gas—into the atmosphere. RNG projects prevent this from happening, by capturing the methane and converting it into an ultra-low-carbon renewable fuel or electricity.

Dan Walters, CALmatters: Gov. Gavin Newsom is taking a carrot-and-stick approach to California’s housing shortage, but it may have a fatal flaw.

Please email or call with tips, suggestions and insights, [email protected]org, 916.201.6281. Shawn Hubler, [email protected]edits WhatMatters. Thanks for reading, please tell a friend and sign up here.

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