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.
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Legislators in California appear ready to counter a new Trump administration move, this time on health insurance.
Last week, federal officials announced they would expand health insurers’ ability to sell so-called skinny insurance plans, short-term policies that offer only bare-bones benefits. Those plans also are called “junk” plans because of the dearth of conditions and ailments they cover—for instance, most don’t cover maternity care or cancer treatment, and some have high deductibles or exclude pre-existing conditions.
Less expensive because of the “skinny” coverage, the plans were launched under the Obama administration as a bridge to Affordable Care Act plans. They were limited to three months and could not be renewed.
The new federal rules allow low-benefit plans that don’t comply with ACA standards to last a year and be renewed for up to three years.
A proposal making its way through California’s Legislature, which returns from summer recess tomorrow, would ban such insurance in California.
SB 910, by Democratic Sen. Ed Hernandez of Azusa, would outlaw issuance or renewal of any health plan shorter than 12 months in duration. ACA standards require longer-term insurance, bar denial of coverage based on pre-existing conditions and mandate 10 essential health benefits.
The short-term, low-benefit plans are fine as long as you stay well, Hernandez said. But people with those plans who get sick often discover they have to pay for treatment and medication themselves. Basically, he said, that’s not health care coverage.
“California needs to ban junk health insurance policies in our state, not only because they are an affront to the basic principles of the Affordable Care Act, but also because they are dangerous and deceiving,” Hernandez said by email Friday.
Dozens of Republican legislators have either voted No on his bill or abstained, but did not articulate that opposition in hearings. Attempts to contact several of them were unsuccessful Friday.
One health care expert said he had hoped the idea of limited-benefit plans had been put to rest, after the years of policy discussion before and during setup of the Affordable Care Act.
“There are significant costs to having skinny plans,” said Micah Weinberg, president of the Bay Area Council’s Economic Institute, a San Francisco-based business think tank. “People still get medical care, even if it’s not covered, so the hospitals or the state end up holding the bag.”
That means taxpayers are basically subsidizing people on limited-benefit plans, he said.
“It isn’t actually insurance,” Weinberg said. “It provides a sense that you’re insured, but if you need it, you don’t really have it.”
- Short-term insurance expansion 'bad news for small businesses', by Mark Herbert, California Director for Small Business Majority on Aug. 8, 2018
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed a federal records request today for information about the impact of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy on immigrant children’s mental and physical wellbeing.
The Freedom of Information Act request seeks all records related to the creation of the policy and the federal government’s determination of its ability to care for the influx of children detained as a result of the policy.
The request follows a hearing last week in which federal health official Jonathan White said he warned the Trump administration of potential negative effects children could suffer if they were parted from their undocumented immigrant parents. “Separation of children from their parents entails significant harm to children,” said White. “There’s no question that separation of children from parents entails significant potential for traumatic psychological injury to the child.”
“Last week’s Congressional hearing shows that this President and his Administration received warnings about the impacts of the family separation policy and still acted,” said Becerra in a press release. “We must have answers and accountability. We all deserve to know what went into the federal government’s inconceivable decision to separate thousands of children from their families.”
Becerra’s request targeted the Justice, Homeland Security and Health and Human Services departments, and included disclosure of senior staff communications—including memorandums, emails, and notes of meetings or calls regarding the “zero tolerance” policy. He specifically is pursuing internal communications from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and the current and former secretaries of Health and Human Services.
President Trump has defended the policy as necessary to stem what he has characterized as a host of societal ills resulting from illegal immigration. “It’s about keeping families together, while at the same time, being sure that we have a very powerful, very strong border,” he said in a statement.
Note: This post has been revised to correct the number of lawsuits Becerra has filed against the Trump administration.
A federal appeals court ruled today that President Trump does not have the authority to withhold federal funding from so-called sanctuary cities and counties.
Upholding a lower court decision, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said the power to allocate federal funding belongs to Congress: “The Executive Branch may not refuse to disperse the federal grants in question without congressional authorization.”
Last year, U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick III in San Francisco issued a national injunction against an executive order that Trump issued five days into his presidency. The president’s order directed that federal monies be withheld from “sanctuary” jurisdictions such as San Francisco.
San Francisco and the County of Santa Clara, which have declared themselves sanctuary jurisdictions, limiting cooperation with federal immigration authorities, sued the Trump administration.
Orrick said Trump’s order was unconstitutional, violating the Separation of Powers doctrine and the Fifth and Tenth amendments.
Today, the 9th Circuit panel of judges agreed but removed his injunction, except in California, citing a lack of evidence to keep it in place elsewhere and returning it for reconsideration. The judges said California, specifically San Francisco and Santa Clara counties, are “likely targets” of Trump’s order and retained it for the state.
The federal Justice Department denounced the decision on funding as “a victory for criminal aliens in California.” The state “will protect them from federal immigration officers whose job it is to hold them accountable and remove them from the country,” spokesman Devin O’Malley said in a written statement.
California laws limiting cooperation with federal immigration agents went into effect this year. Dozens of local governments have dissented, suing the state, joining a federal lawsuit against the policy or taking other actions.
Although California can’t do much to block the Trump administration’s controversial immigration policies, opponents in the “Resistance State” keep finding ways to chip away at their foundations.
The latest: pushing the state and its Democratic leaders to cancel business deals with, investments in, and campaign donations from private companies with federal immigration contracts.
- A group of K-12 teachers is urging their retirement system to divest from GEO Group, CoreCivic and General Dynamics.
- Some University of California students and workers are pressing UC to sever ties with General Dynamics Information Technology. The company helps the UC system administer a placement test for incoming first-year students.
- Politicians and the state Democratic Party are shedding donations from CoreCivic, operator of private prisons and detention facilities.
“I don’t think we should profit off of the lives of other people,” said Adrianna Betti, one of hundreds of teachers who are urging CalSTRS, the organization responsible for the pensions of California K-12 teachers, to divest from the private prison companies. “The concept that I’m going to retire off of this type of money, it bothers me immensely.”
Betti told a recent CalSTRS investment meeting that the organization needs to provide more transparency about its portfolio and realize they are making moral choices with their dollars.
“Nobody with a moral lens would have made this decision ever,” she said.
Amid public outcry last month, President Donald Trump backed off of his initial policy of separating undocumented parents from their children at the border. “So we’re keeping families together, and this will solve that problem,” he said. “At the same time, we are keeping a very powerful border and it continues to be a zero-tolerance. We have zero tolerance for people that enter our country illegally.”
Over 1,800 children have been reunited with family after being separated at the border, but over 700 still remain separated—and some of those may be in California.
The state—which Trump branded “out of control” in its immigration defiance—passed a trio of laws last year designed to make California a “sanctuary state” for undocumented immigrants who don’t commit serious crimes. Although the Trump administration sued to have the laws overturned, it has not yet been successful.
But the emotional family separations posed a particular frustration in Democrat-dominated California. Attorney General Xavier Becerra joined 17 other states in contesting the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy last month, arguing in the complaint that family separation is causing severe trauma that state resources will be strained to address.
The federal government “does have the right to decide how to conduct immigration processes. They’ve done a very poor job obviously. Very harshly,” Becerra said on KQED earlier this month. “We are more limited there in what we can do as far as allowing these kids to be free.”
One move the state could make: divestment. It’s a tactic that various activists have proposed against gun manufacturers, tobacco companies and fossil fuel firms. Successes include the UC divestment effort in the 1980s against South Africa, which Nelson Mandela credited with helping bring an end to the racist apartheid regime.
CalSTRS said it is determining potential risk factors the private prison companies may pose to pensions. At its meeting, investment committee chairman Harry Keiley said he’s asked the chief investment officer to update the board on the issue by September.
CoreCivic said in a statement that none of its facilities provide housing for children who aren’t under the supervision of a parent, adding, “We also do not enforce immigration laws or policies or have any say whatsoever in an individual’s deportation or release.”
“We are proud that for over the past 30 years we have assisted both Democrat and Republican administrations across the country as they address a myriad of public policy challenges,” said company spokeswoman Amanda Gilchrist. “CoreCivic has a strong commitment to caring for each person respectfully and humanely.”
Other educators are urging the UC system to sever ties with General Dynamics Information Technology. The University Council-AFT, the labor union that represents librarians, lecturers and other university faculty members, sent such a letter to UC president Janet Napolitano in June, who received a similar letter from the Council of UC Faculty Associations, the umbrella organization that represents the different faculty associations at each campus.
The University of California Student Association, an organization that represents students across UC campuses is also pressing the UC system to end its contract. “To work with a company actively taking part in the state sanctioned violence of separating families seeking asylum, and profiting from it is to be complicit in the inhumanity of their actions,” the association said in a letter to the president.
“This is still happening and they’re not doing as much as they could,” said Stephanie Luna-Lopez, a third-year student at UC Berkeley and associate chief of community development for the Associated Students University of California, the student association for UC Berkeley. “We actually cannot do anything because it’s out of our control.”
Napolitano contends that UC has contracted with the company for years, that it assured her they were providing case work for unaccompanied minors to facilitate reuniting families, and that breaking ties would be “detrimental” and “disruptive.”
(Although she presided over significant deportations as head of Homeland Security in the Obama administration, Napolitano has denounced Trump’s separation policy.)
General Dynamics Information Technology has worked with the Office of Refugee Resettlement since 2000, providing casework support for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It says it has no role in the family separation policy, but facilitates reunifications.
Democratic legislators and the Democratic Party have, since Jan. 1 of 2017, collected some $250,000 from private prison companies that incarcerate undocumented immigrants. Now they’re distancing themselves.
Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon tweeted last month he would donate campaign money received from CoreCivic to the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, which works with formerly incarcerated people to reform the justice system.
And after CALmatters noted that Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom received private prison money in his campaign for governor, an aide said Newsom donated $5,000 to the National Domestic Workers Alliance’s Families Belong Together project, which protests Trump’s immigration policies.
The California Democratic Party has also announced it will no longer accept contributions from organizations that run private prisons or other incarceration services.
“The private prison system represents so much of what is wrong with our criminal justice system,” said CDP chair Eric C. Bauman in a statement. “Accepting donations from companies that profit from the systemic injustices and suffering that results from them is incompatible with the values and platform of our Party.”