Editorial: Here are a few bills Schwarzenegger should add to his legacy

09.10.2010 | San Jose Mercury News

Only one in three Californians who say they need help with an emotional or mental health problem have actually seen a mental health professional for treatment.

The cost to taxpayers from that lack of health care is difficult to calculate, but 56 percent of state prison inmates show symptoms of severe mental illness, as do many homeless people. And ask any business owner or manager how detrimental the presence of an employee with untreated mental problems can be in the workplace.

California can require insurers to cover mental health problems as they do other common medical problems. All that’s needed is Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s signature on San Jose Assemblyman Jim Beall’s mental health parity bill, AB 1600.

Three times the bill has passed the Legislature, and three times the governor has vetoed it. But this year, in the wake of federal health care reforms that call for mental health parity, Schwarzenegger has worked with Beall on a version that we hope finally wins his signature.

All told, Schwarzenegger has more than 750 bills to evaluate before the Sept. 30 deadline to sign or veto legislation passed in the last session — many at the last minute. But he should give special attention to AB 1600 and other significant health care reforms, which can help the state win hundreds of millions of federal funds.

In particular, he should make this state the first to establish a health insurance exchange to implement
national reform, and he should sign Sen. Elaine Alquist’s SB 890 to help consumers navigate the complexities of shopping for an individual insurance policy.

Here are a few other bills Schwarzenegger should add to his legacy:

  • SB 1381 by Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, would gradually move the kindergarten cutoff birth date from Dec. 2 to Sept. 1 by 2014. Four-year-olds are often not ready for kindergarten, and starting too early can put them hopelessly behind. The bill is supported by educators, policy wonks and the vast majority of lawmakers, for good reason.
  • SB 330 by Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, would make foundations associated with public universities subject to the same transparency rules as other public institutions. This started with the flap over the secrecy of a Sarah Palin speaking fee, but the foundations are also closely intertwined with state educational missions. Exempting some donors from disclosure should allay the governor’s earlier fears about discouraging donations.
  • SB 933 by Sen. Jenny Oropeza, D-Redondo Beach, would prohibit retailers from charging a fee for using a debit card, the same as a credit card. Small retailers say this will level the playing field for them in competing with the big chains. Chambers of commerce, unions and consumer groups seem to agree it’s a good idea.
  • AB 12, another Beall bill, is a favorite of ours. It would capture federal funding to help support foster children until they’re 21. Amazingly, the state now tosses them out with nothing at 18 — increasing public costs as they struggle to survive without the tools others take for granted. Surely the governor will sign this bill.
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