Mental illness, PG&E’s settlement, gun ownership, and fallout from carmakers’ deal with Trump

Good morning, California.

“[H]aving been cut, tailored and stretched by advisers, Harris needs to get back into her own skin. … She has repair work to do back home, and that starts with doing the job Californians elected her to do.”—former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown’s prescription for U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris.

An unmet promise

State Sen. Jim Beall

In 1999, then-Gov. Gray Davis signed legislation requiring that health insurers provide parity in their coverage of mental and physical health issues. That mental health parity bill took effect the following July. Two decades later, that requirement goes unmet.

CalMatters contributor Jocelyn Wiener helps explain why in this piece

People with mental health conditions who have insurance can’t get the services they need, to the frustration of Sen. Jim Beall, a San Jose Democrat, who once again failed to win passage of legislation that seeks to make the parity promise a reality.

  • Beall, referring to health insurance lobbyists: “They’re the best lobbyists in Sacramento that money can buy.”

Dr. Tom Insel, Gov.Gavin Newsom’s top mental health adviser, said the administration intends to take “a fresh look at parity enforcement” in 2020.

  • Insel: “Instead of doing this topic by topic, let’s step back and find an overall plan, a blueprint, that tells us what’s the system we want. I don’t think the state’s done that for a long, long time.”

A milestone in the PG&E case

A new sign welcoming motorists to Paradise on Oct. 1

PG&E Corp. has reached a $13.5 billion settlement with wildfire victims, a milestone for the company and survivors of the blazes that leveled communities and killed more than 100 people.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Dennis Montali, overseeing PG&E’s bankruptcy, has scheduled a hearing on Dec. 20 to consider approving the deal. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration and the California Public Utilities Commission also are reviewing it.

The deal affects an estimated 70,000 people who suffered losses in fires dating to 2015, including the wine country fires of 2017 and the Camp Fire that destroyed the Butte County town of Paradise in 2018. 

Lobbyist Patrick McCallum, whose Santa Rosa home was destroyed in 2017 and represents Up from The Ashes: 

  • “For all those victims, we’ve turned a corner. We’re almost there.”

Victims will need to document their damages in proceedings to come.

Hedge funds that hold bonds and are seeking to take control of the utility are less than pleased with the deal.

The Wall Street Journal quoted an unnamed source as saying

  • “If bondholders determine their plan has become less practicable, they will focus more on a complex litigation scheduled to start this week that could boost the value of their claims against the California electric utility by as much as $2 billion.”

Gun ownership in California

An estimated 4.2 million California adults own a gun, and there are roughly 19.9 million guns in private hands in California, but 9.6% of all gun owners own 10 or more guns and account for 47.5% of the firearms in the state.

Those are some of the findings in the latest study by the state-funded University of California Firearm Violence Research Center at UC Davis, as reported in the journal Injury Prevention based on a survey by California adults.

Among the findings:

  • 73% were men.
  • 64% were white, and 20.4% were Latino.
  • 43% were 60 or older, and 24% were 44 or younger.
  • 38.2% were Republicans, 28.4% were Democrats, and 27.5% were no-party preference.

At 7.9 deaths per 100,000 population, California had the seventh-lowest rate of firearm deaths among states in 2017, the most recent year compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

California’s deaths by firearms, 3,184, was second-highest in that year after Texas’  3,513.

California lawmakers and Gov. Gavin Newsom, and Jerry Brown before him, provide $1 million a year to the Firearm Violence Research Center in large part because Congress fails to adequately fund research into guns and gun violence.

The rise of ghost guns

Students are escorted off campus after a shooting at Saugus High in Santa Clarita. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

The recent report that the shooter who killed two students and wounded three others at Saugus High School in November used a ghost gun reflects the reality that firearms are increasingly difficult to regulate.

The Trace’s Alain Stephens reports in this explainer that 30% of guns used in crimes recovered by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have no serial number and thus cannot be traced.

Arms traffickers have identified homemade firearms as lucrative, Stephens writes. 

  • “It’s not exactly a surprise: In a high-regulation state like California, weapons command a premium on the black market. But an arms dealer can construct a gun with parts worth a few hundred dollars, and then hawk the weapon for four times the cost.”

California is one of the few states that require that gun parts be sold through licensed dealers. But as Stephens writes, “There are serious gaps in what we know about how often ghost guns are used in crimes. To read CalMatters’ explainer on California gun laws, please click here.

Moderates beware

Assemblyman Tyler Diep, Republican from Westminster, outside the California Capitol.
Assemblyman Tyler Diep, Republican from Westminster, outside the Capitol.

Republican Assemblyman Tyler Diep, who represents Westminster and is one of the Legislature’s moderates, will face a Republican challenge from former state Sen. Janet Nguyen in the March 3 primary, CalMatters Ben Christopher reports.

Nguyen lost her senate seat by 3,089 votes to Democratic Sen. Tom Umberg last November as much of Orange County flipped to Democratic control. 

  • Diep: “Republicans would be far better served by spending our time and resources taking on Democrats, not trying to defeat our own.”

Diep is an immigrant from Vietnam, who has dared to criticize President Trump’s immigration policy. He is is one of only 18 Republicans in the 80-seat Assembly, after Chad Mayes, a former Assembly GOP leader, bolted Trump’s Republican Party and now is registered without party preference.

Scott Baugh, an Assembly Republican Leader of a much earlier vintage, is encouraging Nguyen’s candidacy.

Baugh ran an unsuccessful congressional race in 2018 and had chaired the Orange County Republican Party. 

Baugh said he believes Diep will soon leave the party and accused Diep of “abandonment of principle.”

Moderate Democrats face challenges, too. Carpenters, Service Employees and a teachers union each gave $9,300 to Marisol Rubio who is running from the left against Sen. Steve Glazer, an Orinda Democrat who has crossed labor on occasion.

An unusual lobbying break-up

Jason Kinney, center, greets state officials and staffers near the Capitol in Sacramento on the first day of the 2019 Legislative session. Photo for CALmatters by Byrhonda Lyons.
Jason Kinney, center

Axiom Advisors, founded by lobbyist Jason Kinney, a close political adviser to Gov. Gavin Newsom, didn’t catapult to become the fifth-biggest billing lobby firm in town by dropping clients.

But with no fanfare, Axiom on Friday filed a public statement indicating that it will no longer represent the Association of Global Automakers

Global automakers paid Axiom $145,900 in the first three quarters of 2019. Axoim’s overall billings from interests ranging from oil and cannabis to builders and the L.A. Clippers were $4.46 million in that period.

Another Newsom political adviser, communications consultant Brian Brokaw, also is parting ways with the Association of Global Automakers. No comment on the reason for the split.

Best guess: The association didn’t heed Axiom’s or Brokaw’s counsel when it aligned with Trump against Newsom in a court fight over the state’s authority to regulate auto emissions and clean air. That’s a fundamental California issue.

New law in 60 seconds, Episode 4

Villa Medanos apartment building in Antioch (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

Ever wonder if apartment ads that say “no Section 8” are a form of illegal discrimination? Starting Jan 1, they will be in California.

CalMatters video journalist Byrhonda Lyons and reporter Jackie Botts explain the new law that makes it illegal for landlords to discriminate against people with federal housing vouchers in a minute.

To see Episode 4 of CalMatters’ new laws in 60 seconds, please click here.

To subscribe to CalMatters’ YouTube channel, please click here.

Commentary at CalMatters

Laura Holmes Haddad, cancer patient advocate, speaker and author: I was 37 years old, and the mother of two children ages 1 and 4, when I was diagnosed with Stage IV inflammatory breast cancer. It is a rare, aggressive form of breast cancer that attacks the lymphatic system around the breast. A clinical trial saved my life. So why aren’t more cancer patients enrolling?

Dan Walters, CalMatters: Local government officials complain about rising pension costs but shy away from telling voters that is why they need to pay more taxes.

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See you tomorrow.

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