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Parking ticket payment plan for low-income Californians now state law

For low-income Californians, a parking violation will no longer mean breaking the bank.

On Friday, Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 503, which will create a parking ticket payment plan for low-income drivers.

“It’s shocking how many Californians owe hundreds of dollars in parking ticket fines and late fees that they have no ability to pay,” the bill’s author Assemblyman Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale) said in a statement to The Signal Monday. “This new law is all about making sure that all drivers are able to responsibly pay their debts.”

Cities will now be required to offer monthly payment programs and reduced fines before the Department of Motor Vehicles can withhold low-income individuals’ car registration.

Prior to the bill’s passage, unpaid parking tickets could accumulate into hundreds of dollars in fees and prevent drivers from registering their cars if their fines went unpaid.

The DMV was previously required to refuse vehicle registration renewal to someone with unpaid penalties.

This legislation was “long overdue,” according to Michael Herald, Director of Policy Advocacy for the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

“Just because someone is on a fixed income or low income shouldn’t be a barrier to registering their car as long as they are making payments on the ticket,” Herald said in a statement in June.

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California Governor Signs Legislation to Prevent School Lunch Shaming

The Child Hunger Prevention and Fair Treatment Act establishes a process to tackle school lunch debts without publicly embarrassing kids

Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, announced on Thursday that Gov. Jerry Brown has signed his legislation to stop schools from publicly shaming or embarrassing students by either denying them lunch or providing a snack instead because their parents haven’t paid lunch fees.

SB 250 ensures that school officials do not delay or deny food to hungry students as punishment for unpaid school meal fees, and it directs schools to establish a process for notifying their families about unpaid fees and collecting them.

The legislation, which drew national media attention, won overwhelming bipartisan support. The Assembly approved SB 250 on a 77-0 vote, and the Senate approved it 40-0.

“When President Truman established the National School Lunch Program, it was based on a fundamental principle that we will feed our kids in school because it helps them learn and respects their human dignity. This isn’t partisan,” Hertzberg said. “When you’re treated differently as a child in school, it’s shameful. And in this case, the child is being harmed as a tool to collect their parent’s debt. That makes no senses whatsoever.”

Students have a harder time focusing and learning when they are hungry, and 23 percent of California children come from families living below the federal poverty line. According to a national survey conducted in 2015 by the anti-hunger organization Share Our Strength, 75 percent of teachers say their students come to school hungry and 59 percent say “a lot or most” of their students depend on school meals as a primary source of nutrition.

In recent years, the practice of school lunch shaming has come to light. In some school cafeterias, students who haven’t paid lunch fees are directed out of lunch lines and instead given bread and cheese, or their lunches are simply dumped into the garbage while peers look on.

SB 250 forbids this practice and requires schools to make meals available to needy kids, even if their fees have not been paid. Instead, schools must recognize that meal costs are the obligation of the parents, not the children. For families that cannot afford the meal fees, the bill directs schools to find a way to certify students for free or reduced-price meals or to reimburse them for the fees.

In addition, schools must notify guardians when unpaid lunch fees exceed the amount for 10 full-priced lunches.

The legislation was co-sponsored by the Western Center on Law and Poverty, Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations, Children’s Defense Fund-California, Food Research and Action Center, MAZON and SEIU California. It was supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, California; California Association of Food Banks; California State PTA; California Teachers Association; California School Nurses Organization; and many other organizations.

“Our research found that policies which shame children with unpaid school lunch debt are more common in California than we could have ever imagined,” said Jessica Bartholow, of the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “We commend districts that have taken action to end these policies voluntarily, and we thank Governor Brown for signing SB 250 to ban these practices throughout the state.”

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Transparency Coming to Prescription Drug Prices in California

California Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday approved a health care bill that requires pharmaceutical companies to give advance notice of price increases, and mandates new cost reporting from health insurance providers.

The measure, Senate Bill 17, was crafted to shed light on rising prescription drug costs and force the pharmaceutical industry to justify its prices going forward.

Supporters called SB 17 a much-needed victory for consumers and a rare loss for the powerful pharmaceutical industry, which lobbied heavily against the measure.

“Drug companies abuse their market power by jacking up prices, and the public is looking to their government for help,” said state Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-Azusa, the bill’s author. “Requiring drug companies to provide advance notice and some explanation for large price hikes is a step toward a more stable and predictable prescription drug marketplace.”

The bill requires drug companies to give the state and insurers at least 60 days’ notice before planned price increases of more than 16 percent over a two-year period. It also forces insurance companies to file yearly reports with state regulators outlining the impact of medicine costs on health care premiums.

The powerful pharmaceutical lobby, which helped derail a similar proposal and a veteran drug cost initiative supported by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2016, called the transparency requirements “misguided government intrusion.” Opponents warn the new reporting regulations could drive businesses out of California.

“The legislation the governor signed into law seriously jeopardizes the future of California’s leadership in this innovative industry,” Gary Andres, Biotechnology Innovation Organization spokesman, said in a statement. “Despite its intent, this law will neither provide meaningful information to patients nor lower prescription drug costs.”

The legislation was supported by a wide array of California unions and health care groups. Proponents included the California Labor Federation, Health Access California, Anthem Blue Cross, Kaiser Permanente and the Western Center on Law and Poverty. It cleared the state Senate by a wide margin and with bipartisan support.

In a signing ceremony, Brown said “Californians have a right to know why their medication costs are out of control, especially when pharmaceutical profits are soaring.”

Legislation roundup: STEM school, later school start, ‘meal shaming,’ budget reserves; what passed and what didn’t

In the final hours of the California legislative session, there was lots of drama without passage of bills to mandate a later start to middle and high schools and create a state STEM school in Los Angeles. There was success without drama for bills to end “meal shaming” of children without money for school lunches and to let districts keep more money in their budget reserves. Those were among the important education bills that lawmakers acted on — or put off till next year. What follows are a recap of other bills that EdSource followed.

Ending meal shaming: Passed
Students in California whose families owe money for school lunches will no longer be given only a snack — a cheese stick, an apple and a glass of milk — or nothing at all, until they’re all paid up. They’ll get the same meal as all the other students, under a bill the Legislature passed last week.

With the unanimous passage of SB 250, by Sen. Robert Hertzberg, D-Los Angeles, California will join a movement not to hold children hostage for the debts of their parents. The bill will also end “meal shaming,” the practice used in some districts across the nation of verbally reprimanding students in the lunch line or stamping children’s hands as a reminder to their parents they owe money.

A survey by the Western Center on Law and Poverty, which supported Hertzberg’s bill, found that many districts didn’t post their policies for students in arrears. Of those that did, several dozen served less than a fully nutritional meal. Torrance Unified, for example, provides “a snack consisting of crackers, a milk and fruit/veggies when a middle or high school student reaches a $0 balance.” The policies only apply to students whose families don’t qualify for federal meal subsidies.

Seeing legislation coming, this year Elk Grove Unified ended its policy of giving kids in debt only a cheese sandwich. Michelle Drake, director of Food and Nutrition Services for the district, told the Sacramento Bee that food service workers encouraged the switch. “It’s just not good for our children and it’s difficult on the staff. The last thing they want to see is a 3rd-grader and 4th-grader with that look on their face. We have changed it up for this school year.”

The bill specifically says that districts are not required indefinitely to give parents a pass on not paying. Instead it requires that districts do all they can to enroll families in the subsidized school lunch program and notify families  — not bill collectors — of unpaid balances as soon as they are 10 days behind.

The state PTA and the California Teachers Association were among organizations backing the bill. There were no registered opponents.

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California Still Struggling with Nation’s Worst Poverty Rate

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Stubborn poverty continues to plague the Golden State, which maintains the worst poverty rate in the nation, with 14.3 percent of residents, and almost 20 percent of children, living below the federal poverty line.

However, the new Census numbers on poverty do show that the state is a bit better off than last year. The state’s median annual household income of $67,000 dollars is about $10,000 higher than the national average, but that money doesn’t go very far because the median price we pay for a home is more than twice the national average.

Jessica Bartholow, a legislative advocate with the Western Center on Law and Poverty, says the cost of living here is a huge problem.

“With high rent prices, a low vacancy rent on rental housing, you’re starting to see that really hit our supplemental poverty rate,” she explains. “And we know that the lack of affordable housing is the number one reason why we are in this spot that we’re in now.”

California’s supplemental poverty rate, which takes the cost of living into account, is above the national average. San Francisco has the highest median income in the nation, at more than $97,000, but the state also has a very large gap between rich and poor.

The state legislative session ends tonight at midnight, and lawmakers still are working on a package of housing bills that would create more affordable units and prevent rents from spiking.

Bartholow says a lot also depends on the federal budget and the GOP push to repeal Obamacare and slash Medi-Cal.

“We’re hoping that the federal government takes heed of these good numbers and doesn’t make drastic changes to either the economy impacting low-income workers or the safety net,” she says.

Anti-poverty groups also support bills that reduce fines and fees in the criminal-justice system and one that would prevent debt collectors from using bank levies to wipe out people’s last dollar.


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Fees for parents of incarcerated youth could end with proposed CA bill

Currently, families of incarcerated youth are required to pay numerous fees to counties holding their children; however, if SB 190, which was presented to Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday, is signed, these payments would be eliminated.

Families can be charged for investigation reports, drug testing, probation supervision, electronic monitoring, public defenders and their children’s detentions in juvenile hall. These fees can cost families between $513 and $6,000 per incarcerated child, according to a press release issued by State Senator Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, who drafted the bill with State Senator Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens.

UC Berkeley School of Law dean Erwin Chemerinsky recently wrote an op-ed in the Sacramento Bee in support of the bill, detailing how these fees can hurt families through debt, garnished wages, intercepted tax refunds and legal action. These fees disproportionately impact families of Black and Latinx children, who represent more than 70 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system, according to Chemerinsky.

Incarceration fees may increase the rate of youths returning to the juvenile justice system, according to a Berkeley Law report.

Additionally, according to Estevan Ginsburg, a Senate fellow in Mitchell’s office, most of the money earned through the fees is spent collecting them in the first place.

Berkeley Law’s Policy Advocacy Clinic, or PAC, represented a coalition of advocacy groups supporting SB 190, said PAC director Jeff Selbin. PAC looked into the fiscal impacts of juvenile justice fees on families and the state.

PAC students wrote evidence-based reports and gave recommendations to advocacy groups, including the Western Center on Law and Poverty, the bill’s lead sponsor.

The passing of SB 190 in the State Senate and Assembly was a “hard-earned victory for students,” Berkeley Law spokesperson Susan Gluss said in an email.

According to Ginsburg, what catalyzed the bill were stories from families affected by the fees. Maria Rivera, the mother of a incarcerated youth, sold her home and filed for bankruptcy when Orange County charged her over $16,000 for her son’s detention and lawyer, according to a Berkeley Law article.

Nine counties have already stopped charging some or all fees, according to Ginsburg.

Selbin said such fees “undermine both rehabilitation and safety,” which he said are the main goals of the juvenile justice system. Selbin said he believes this is why the bill passed with bipartisan support — 37-3 in the Senate and 57-9 in the Assembly.

According to Selbin, Brown has until Oct. 15 to sign or veto the bill. In the case that Brown does neither, SB 190 will pass by default.

If SB 190 becomes law, it will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2018.

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