Immigration reform that the Bay Area Council has been pressing for several years took a promising step forward this week when a bipartisan bill cleared a key Senate committee. With the approval of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the so-called “Gang of Eight” immigration reform bill now moves to the full Senate for deliberation. The action comes after timely meetings the Bay Area Council held last week with legislators during our annual D.C. advocacy trip. We are particularly focused on reforms related to increasing visas for high-skilled workers to help tech and other employers in the Bay Area that rely on such talent to fuel their growth. The Bay Area Council has also been partnering with some of the country’s top tech industry associations to pressure Congress to approve long-awaited and necessary reforms this year. To engage in our immigration reform work, contact Policy Vice President Michael Cunningham.
The Bay Area Council scored several legislative victories this week related to our focus policy work. We gave lead testimony before the Committee on Governance and Finance on SB 209, a bill by Sen. Ted Lieu that would block the collection of retroactive taxes from entrepreneurs and small business investors and reinstate the Qualified Small Business tax credit going forward. The bill cleared the committee on a 6-1 vote. The Bay Area Council has been at the front of this issue since it surfaced last year following unfortunate rulings by a state appeals court and the Franchise Tax Board. To join us in advocating for this bill and engaging in our other tax policy work, contact Policy Manager Emily Finkel.
Our work as part of a statewide coalition to reform CEQA gained traction this week when a bill authored by Sen. Steinberg passed out of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee. Thank you to Sen. Steinberg for his leadership on this issue. The Bay Area Council was among the groups testifying in favor of SB 731, and we will remain closely engaged in the coming debate over its final language. To engage in our CEQA reform work, contact Government Relations Vice President Matt Regan.
On the healthcare front, the Bay Area Council joined with a broad coalition of providers and health plans to testify in support of three bills authored by Sen. Ed Hernandez – SB 491, 492 and 493 – that seek to expand the scope of practice for non-physician medical providers, such as pharmacists, optometrists and nurse practitioners. All three bills made it out of the Senate Committee on Business, Professions and Economic Development in spite of stiff resistance from opponents.
On Wednesday, we joined members Safeway and SeeChange Health to provide lead testimony in opposition to SB 189, a proposal to limit the use of employer wellness incentive programs. While the bill made it out of committee, the author has taken significant amendments due to the pressure we have applied, and we are confident that we will either stop the bill or transform it into a reasonable measure we can support. We also testified, alongside Small Business Majority and Bay Area Council members Kaiser Permanente and Blue Shield, in favor of SB 161, which would limit the use of self-insurance by very small businesses. The trend toward purchasing stop-loss coverage is causing an exodus of employers with younger and healthier employees from traditional coverage, disrupting the market on which all small businesses rely. To engage in our healthcare policy work, contact Senior Policy Advisor Micah Weinberg.
California’s new health insurance marketplace — Covered California — last Wednesday took a big step forward when it launched the website where individuals, families and employers will go to get information and purchase health insurance. Pre-enrollment in the marketplace is scheduled to begin in October with coverage starting in January. The site includes an online calculator that enables consumers to estimate how much insurance plans will cost. The Bay Area Council has been deeply involved in the creation of this new health insurance purchasing pool, working to make it an ally of businesses in improving the value that we get for our medical spending. The progress in setting up this new marketplace, though, may be hampered by legislative action in the “special session for healthcare” currently ongoing in Sacramento. Health insurance plans have already submitted their bids to participate in the exchange and are working furiously with staff to meet the October 1 deadline for the start of open enrollment. The legislature, however, is reopening a number of issues that had previously been settled, including how many rating regions the state will have. It is critical that we clearly establish the new rules of the game as soon as possible so that businesses have the certainty they need to move forward with their planning. The Bay Area Council is working closely with Covered California to avoid costly delays. To engage in our healthcare policy work, contact Senior Policy Advisor Micah Weinberg.