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State Sen. Richard Pan in the Senate chambers in 2015 / Photo courtesy of CALmatters

Thursday saw another long and contentious vaccine debate as SB 276, a bill that seeks to curb illegitimate medical vaccine exemptions, went before the Assembly Health Committee.

It was the first time the bill was heard since undergoing an overhaul.

“The bill originally allowed for the health department to review and potentially reject any child’s medical exemption approved by a doctor,” the Los Angeles Times reported. “As now modified, SB 276 would allow for such reviews only at schools with immunization rates of less than 95% or for doctors who grant five or more medical exemptions in a year.”

Voice of San Diego’s reporting on a South Park doctor who has written almost one-third of the medical vaccine exemptions in San Diego Unified was mentioned several times in the hearing as evidence of a problem among doctors who are too willing to dole out exemptions simply because a parent wants one and not based on legitimate medical considerations. (The Mercury News this week found similar results among certain Bay Area doctors.)

“I’d like to point out again that the five is not a cap. It’s a trigger for examination,” said Sen. Richard Pan, a pediatrician who wrote the bill. “A physician writing legitimate medical exemptions has nothing to fear.”

One of the doctors who testified against the bill, Bob Sears, has written a number of vaccine exemptions for students in San Diego Unified, according to records provided by the district in response to a public records request. He’s been disciplined by the California Medical Board and investigated for writing inappropriate vaccine exemptions.

One parent testified that her daughter had heart surgery at age 2, and can’t receive vaccinations. She said parents who choose not to vaccinate their children put her daughter at risk.

Other parents opposed to the bill decried “misinformation” about what it would do. One told Pan they hoped he would be reincarnated as a child injured by a vaccine. (A New York Times report this week found that vaccine injuries are incredibly rare.)

The bill passed the committee 9-2, with Escondido Assemblywoman Marie Waldron voting no. It now moves to the Assembly Appropriations Committee, chaired by San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who is a coauthor of the bill.

State Treasurer, San Diego Developers Talk Housing Tax Credits

State Treasurer Fiona Ma is on a mission to update two state housing tax credits so they can deliver more housing at a lower cost.

The former Democratic assemblywoman and her staff visited San Diego on Thursday to get a second round of feedback from more than 70 developers, housing advocates and labor leaders as her office wrestles with changes to tax credits that distribute funding for affordable housing projects.

Ma said she wants to improve those programs to help Gov. Gavin Newsom achieve his target of building 3.5 million new homes statewide by 2025.

At Thursday’s meeting at the San Diego Housing Commission, Ma urged attendees to speak up about potential improvements to her office’s financing programs.

“A lot of state agencies, we wait for you to come see us,” Ma said. “We’re really pushing this out – government to the people.”

Ma shared a PowerPoint presentation with suggestions her office has gotten since it began its listening tour earlier this year.

Ma’s team emphasized it is still collecting feedback and that the policy tweaks presented aren’t necessarily what it plans to pitch. Ma’s team expects to unveil proposed changes late next month and hopes to enact the new policies in 2020.

Tom Lemmon of the county’s construction trades council was the first member of the public to speak at Thursday’s meeting, arguing that Ma’s office should consider requiring prevailing wages for affordable housing projects to get state tax credits. Those requirements hike costs for housing developers.

Deputy Treasurer Jovan Agee didn’t dismiss the idea.

Saving cash in other areas might make it easier to tackle higher labor costs, he said later in the meeting.

“I think we have to move from this idea that in order for all boats to rise, someone has to lose,” Agee said.

Developers spoke up too. John Seymour of National Community Renaissance said he personally supports prevailing wage commitments but noted the increased cost and tradeoffs that can come with them. Seymour also urged Ma to work with her own staff and state housing agencies to push out housing funding opportunities more often.

Developer Ginger Hitzke asked Ma’s office to look at incentives to encourage developers to allow families who move into affordable housing to eventually purchase their homes.

Ma and Agee embraced the suggestion.

“I love your ideas, especially around wealth-building,” Agee told Hitzke. “I think that’s oftentimes a missing piece of the conversation. Again, it’s how do we improve the plight of developers, how do we improve the plight of organized labor, but what about the actual residents?”

Lisa Halverstadt

Two Bills, Two Different Approaches to Mass Shootings

Two bills that address mass shootings in very different ways passed committee hurdles this week.

AB 61 by Assemblyman Phil Ting would expand who is able to initiate a gun violence restraining order, a tool that San Diego has become a leader in implementing. Current law allows members of law enforcement to petition for a gun violence restraining order, which requires someone who is a danger to himself or others temporarily relinquish their guns. This bill would let family members, teachers, employers and co-workers petition the court for a GVRO as well.

The bill analysis notes that San Diego is largely responsible for the increase in gun violence restraining orders: “Last year, 424 GVROs were issued throughout the state. San Diego County accounted for the majority of the increase with 185 orders issued.”

Last week, the state budget deal included $250,000 to the San Diego city attorney’s office to conduct gun violence restraining order trainings to law enforcement groups across the state.

But despite City Attorney Mara Elliott’s leading role in GVROs, her spokeswoman said she has not taken a position on AB 61. The bill passed the Senate Public Safety Committee on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, a bill by Sen. Pat Bates, who represents parts of southern Orange County and northern San Diego County, would require all schools with more than 50 people to conduct a lockdown or “multi-option response” drill at least once a year, beginning in kindergarten.

The bill says the drills should be conducted “in an age-appropriate manner.”

It passed the Assembly Education Committee on Wednesday.

In Other News

Katy Stegall contributed to this report.

Correction: An earlier version of this post inaccurately described the housing financing programs the state treasurer’s office is looking to reform. They are tax credit programs.

Sara Libby

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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