Saturday, August 2, 2014

Beach safety, recreation, economy take center stage at event urging passage of rapid beach water testing

Area officials, environmentalists and business leaders today urged passage of  legislation by Senator Marty Block (SD-39) permitting county public health officials to use an “early alert” test that would allow same day test results of beach water quality.

“SB 1395 safeguards the public and protects local economies,” Block said. “We want the public alerted to any health danger as quickly as possible. We also want beaches reopened as soon as possible for visitors to enjoy once safety is assured.” He noted that over the Memorial Day weekend more than 450,000 people enjoyed San Diego’s beaches and that statewide 238 million beach-goers enjoy California’s beaches annually.

Swimming, surfing or participating in other water activities in polluted water can result in stomach flu, skin rashes, pinkeye, respiratory infections, meningitis and hepatitis. California Coastkeeper Alliance states that every year approximately one million Southern California beachgoers contract gastrointestinal illness from exposure to polluted coastal areas at a public health cost of $21 to $51 million.

The County of San Diego is sponsoring SB 1395. “Our beaches define San Diego, and San Diegans expect them to be safe,” said County Supervisor Greg Cox. “That is why we must continue to improve our beach water testing and get same day results. This bill allows us to do that.” Cox advocated for the legislation.

The San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce is supporting the measure. “There’s no doubting the importance of the beach to San Diego’s tourism and economy," said Jerry Sanders, President and CEO of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. "Our beaches are a point of pride for our city and having the ability to quickly determine the safety of our beaches is important to tourists, residents and the many businesses that depend on the beach and beach-goers. The Chamber appreciates Senator Block’s leadership on this bill that will benefit San Diego. ”

Under the state’s Beach and Bay Water Quality Monitoring Program, county public health departments perform beach water sampling and close beaches or post warning signs if water quality does not meet state standards. Current permissible tests are culture-based involving a multiple sample standard for three indicators – total coliform, fecal coliform and enterococcus. Test results are typically available in 24 to 48 hours – and sometimes as long as 96 hours – leaving beachgoers at risk before results are obtained.

To address the current waiting period for results, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) certified an alternative testing method, the qualitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) test which shortens the result waiting period to four hours, a significant time savings.

“We want to protect people as they play in the ocean and visit waterfront businesses, but today's best information uses yesterday’s water quality,” said Megan Baehrens, Executive Director of San Diego Coastkeeper. “With this rapid test, we’ll know if water is safe right now--only four hours after the test. This has huge health and economic implications.”

Block’s bill would authorize local health officers to use the current or future rapid tests to determine beach water quality. The jurisdiction must first perform the tests side-by-side with the currently approved culture-based assessment over an entire beach season to determine that the tests are a reliable indicator of public health standards. Additionally the new tests must be performed in compliance with the federal EPA’s established guidance and with oversight by the California Department of Public Health.

Serge Dedina, Ph.D., executive director of WILDCOAST and author of “Wild Sea,” also underscored the importance of quicker test results. “By helping to close and open our beaches quicker,” SB 1395 will protect the health and safety of beach-goers throughout San Diego County as well as our economy.”

In addition to the County of San Diego, the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, the California Coastkeeper Alliance and WILDCOAST, SB 1395 is also supported by the California Association of Environmental Health Administrators and the Surfrider Foundation.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The U.S. Must Not Lower the Bar on Protecting Children Fleeing Violence

July 30, 2014

Washington D.C. - The humanitarian challenge posed by the arrival of thousands of unaccompanied children and young families at our southern border has once again ignited passions over the role immigration plays in our country. Rather than respond to the arrival of children and young families as refugees fleeing violence and crime, and appropriately fund our ability to prioritize the health and well-being of these individuals, Washington has yet again become mired in anti-immigration rhetoric. As the Senate and House take up supplemental funding bills, this debate is likely to involve numerous attacks on existing protections for children, including rolling back the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), accelerating court proceedings to limit the due process available to children, and other measures that will in essence blame the children for needing protection.

During the course of this debate, it bears constant repeating that neither the TVPRA nor providing access to immigration court proceedings is the problem. Some have argued that existing measures designed to screen Central American children to determine whether they might be eligible for asylum, protection as trafficking victims, or some other form of relief is hindering the rapid removal of children, and without speedy removal there is no deterrent effect. Others have argued that the court process itself is too slow or that providing counsel to children is too burdensome. All of these arguments ignore the fundamental fact that the TVPRA is not a barrier to efficiently and effectively deciding the cases of unaccompanied children.

Responsibility for the delays under the current system lies squarely at the feet of those who have consistently refused to provide resources to the adjudicators and judges that are a critical part of our immigration system in general, and this process in particular. Abandoning the protections of the TVPRA would not only be a travesty of justice, but would be a victory for those anti-immigrant members of Congress who have consistently expanded immigration enforcement without addressing the equally important issue of providing fair and timely hearings for all. This is particularly important in situations where the life of a child is endangered, and where an accelerated process reduces the chances that those in need of protection will be identified. In fact, the current screening process for identifying Mexican children who are victims of trafficking (which is far more limited than the process for Central American children) has been found by the UNHCR to utterly fail as a vehicle for identifying children at risk.

Success is achievable without undermining legal protections. Providing additional resources to the immigration courts is a first step, but far more can and should be done. Improving access to counsel, including making counsel available to all children, ensures protections and actually leads to a more efficient adjudication process. In those cases where children choose to return to their countries or are ordered removed, the U.S. must comply with its international obligations and follow its moral compass to ensure that returns are conducted with appropriate attention to the best interests and needs of the child. We can make use of international monitoring and protection standards for ensuring safe repatriation of children and support programs that help the countries of origin reduce the violence, crime, and poverty that is driving children from their homes. In other words, thoughtful, holistic approaches will, in the long run, produce better results for all. Simply pouring more money into border protection or downgrading “inconvenient” laws sounds tough, but is ultimately the weakest response of all.

The United States Congress must ensure that its legacy is the improvement of our immigration court and adjudication processes and not the demise of humanitarian protections put in place to protect children fleeing violence.


Teamsters, Transit Workers, and other Labor Groups Back Prop 45 Campaign To Make Health Insurers Justify Rates

Sacramento, CA - Two powerful labor groups, the California Teamsters Public Affairs Council and the California Conference Board-Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), have joined the growing list of leaders, organizations, and labor groups that support Proposition 45, the health insurance rate regulation initiative. It will be on California's November 4 ballot.

The Teamsters and ATU join many other labor organizations in supporting Prop 45, including AFSCME Local 685 - LA County Deputy Probation Officers, California Federation of Teachers, California Nurses Association, California School Employees Association, Labor United for Universal Healthcare, Northern California Carpenters Union Regional Council, ILWU-Northern California District Council, Orange County Employees Association, United Food and Commercial Workers Western States Council, and United Teachers Los Angeles.

In addition to the initiative's strong labor support, Prop 45 has been endorsed by the California Democratic Party; statewide leaders such as California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, Democratic Candidates Betty Yee for State Controller and Alex Padilla for Secretary of State; and advocacy organizations such as AllCare Alliance, California Alliance for Retired Americans, California Congress of California Seniors, California National Organization for Women, Campaign for a Healthy California, Consumer Federation of California, Consumer Watchdog, Courage Campaign, and Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), amongst others.

Proposition 45, the Insurance Rate Public Justification and Accountability Act, would:
    •    Give the insurance commissioner the authority to reject excessive rate increases for individual and small group health insurance.
    •    Require health insurance companies to publicly disclose and justify, under penalty of perjury, proposed rate changes before they take effect.
    •    Make public every document filed by an insurance company to justify a rate increase.
    •    Allow Californians to challenge unjustified premium rate increases.

Health insurance premiums for California families have risen approximately 185% since 2002, more than 5 times the rate of inflation. Today, 35 other states, but not California, already require health insurance companies to get approval for rate increases before they take effect.

"Holding health insurers accountable with respect to rate increases is critical to making health insurance affordable and accessible to Californians," stated PNHP.

 In 1988, voters approved an insurance reform law called Proposition 103 at the ballot. Proposition 103 requires auto, homeowners and other business insurance companies to open their books and publicly justify rate increases. Since then, consumers have saved tens of billions of dollars on their auto insurance premiums. Prop 45 simply applies these same rules to health insurance companies.

Opponents of Proposition 45, mostly health insurers, have already raised more than $28 million for its defeat.

Learn more about Proposition 45 at

On Medicare's Anniversary, Peters Keeps Working to Strengthen and Protect It


San Diego -- Protecting and strengthening Medicare and Medicaid are among Rep. Scott Peters’ top priorities in Congress. Today, on the 49th anniversary of their creation, Peters reaffirms his commitment to them and reminds voters of his work to make sure seniors continue to have access to affordable and reliable health care.

Peters is a member of the Democratic Caucus Seniors Task Force and was recently recognized by a  health-care advocacy group for his work to keep prescription drugs affordable for seniors.

“Medicare and Medicaid are a lifeline for many seniors,” Rep. Peters said. "Seniors who have spent decades paying into them deserve the peace of mind of knowing the benefits they’ve earned through a lifetime of hard work will be there for them.”

In sharp contrast, Carl DeMaio has praised Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal that would turn Medicare into a voucher program.

Peters has taken numerous steps during his first term in Congress to make sure seniors have health-care security. He successfully fought against drastic cuts to the Medicare Advantage Program by meeting with a group of leaders including White House officials and the head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

His successful efforts to protect Medicare’s Part D affordable prescription drug coverage earned him praise from the Healthcare Leadership Council, which wrote: “Thanks to Medicare Part D, seniors and the disabled get coverage plans. And thanks to Representative Scott Peters, we can all still rely on that.”

Rep. Peters also voted to ensure that doctors continue to receive reimbursements that allow them to provide Medicare recipients with high-quality health care. And he co-sponsored the Preventing and Reducing Improper Medicare and Medicaid Expenditures Act, which helps keep these benefits sustainable by cracking down on fraud and abuse.

Over and over again, Rep. Peters has been clear and vocal in his opposition to turning Medicare into a private voucher system, noting that such a system will produce a spike in out-of-pocket healthcare costs for seniors.