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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.

Resistance State: California in the Age of Trump

Following the Senate GOP’s dramatic late-night failure to repeal and/or replace the Affordable Care Act last week, President Trump has floated a familiar Plan B to simply “let Obamacare fail.”

Today California officials responded: “We’ll see you in court.”

This afternoon, state Attorney General Xavier Becerra joined a lawsuit against the federal government, demanding that the Trump administration commit to reimbursing insurance companies that offer plans with reduced copays and deductibles to low-income Americans under the Affordable Care Act. California joins 14 other states and the District of Columbia in the lawsuit.A health worker takes a patient's blood pressure.

Not to be outdone, California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones also threatened to take the Trump administration to court over the subsidies. “If President Trump continues to insist on not making the cost sharing reduction payments, then I will sue the administration on behalf of consumers in the state of California,” he said at a press conference today. Jones, whose office regulates the state’s insurance markets, also announced that he had allowed health insurance companies to submit two proposed premium hikes for 2018—one with and one without the federal subsidy.

Average rates without the payment were 12.4 percent higher.

“California is not immune to the actions the president has taken destabilizing health insurance markets and we’ve seen that in the filings that have been made public today,” Jones said.

Under the Affordable Care Act, low-income Californians who are not covered by their employer or through Medicaid and who purchase mid-level “silver” plans are eligible for reduced copays and deductibles. The federal government compensates insurance companies for providing these discounts—a reimbursement estimated to cost federal taxpayers $7 billion this year.

In 2014, the House of Representatives sued the Obama Administration for making these payments without specific Congressional authorization. But as California joins this case, currently before the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals, the President is also threatening to simply cut off the payments unilaterally.

Donald J. Trump on Twitter

If a new HealthCare Bill is not approved quickly, BAILOUTS for Insurance Companies and BAILOUTS for Members of Congress will end very soon!

Without the federal reimbursement, health market analysts predict that insurance companies would pull out of certain individual insurance marketplaces and raise premiums to make up the cost. The Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-partisan health policy organization based in the Bay Area, estimates that ending reimbursements would increase premiums for affected plans by 19 percent. And because Obamacare premium subsidies are tied to market rates, the foundation estimates that the policy shift would also lead to higher overall federal spending.

President Trump has argued that allowing the Affordable Care Act insurance markets to fail—and in this case, providing a helpful nudge—will force both Democrats and Republicans to negotiate a comprehensive repeal of the controversial health care program. “The subsidies must be eliminated to incentivize members of Congress to keep their promise and repeal Obamacare,” Arizona Congressman Andy Biggs said today.

On Sunday, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told Fox News that Trump would decide on whether to carry out the payments “this week.”

Want to submit a reader reaction? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Dan Morain with any questions, dmorain@calmatters.org, (916) 201.6281.

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Sept. 12, 2018 6:58 pm

Judge sides with California, faults DeVos for delaying student borrower protection

Higher Education Reporter
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, photo via Wikimedia Commons

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.

Want to submit a reader reaction? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Dan Morain with any questions, dmorain@calmatters.org, (916) 201.6281.

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Aug. 30, 2018 3:28 pm

California poised to offer strongest net neutrality protection in the country

Contributing Writer
Sen. Scott Wiener visits the Assembly floor during the last week of 2018 legislative session. Photo by Antoinette Siu for CALmatters

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.

Want to submit a reader reaction? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Dan Morain with any questions, dmorain@calmatters.org, (916) 201.6281.

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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.

Becerra co-leads a coalition of 18 attorneys general that sued President Trump in June over the “zero tolerance” policy. He has sued the Trump administration 39 times times since March 2017.

Note: This post has been revised to correct the number of lawsuits Becerra has filed against the Trump administration.

Want to submit a reader reaction? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Dan Morain with any questions, dmorain@calmatters.org, (916) 201.6281.

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