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tv   This Week in Northern California  PBS  August 27, 2010 7:00pm-7:30pm PST

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closed captioning of this program is made possible by the fireman's fund foundation. >> belva: this week, lawmakers in sacramento pass a bill to make it easier to access and compare health insurance under the new national healthcare laws. with the elections just two months away, campaigns are doubling their efforts to mobilize supporters, convince undecided voters, and attack their opponents. and california schools are left behind in the race to the top. the cash-poor school system is turned down in its second bid for the federal grant money. and they plant and pick the food that goes on our tables. what are the living and working conditions for farm workers in california today? conditions for farm workers in california today? those stories next.
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captioning by vitac, underwritten by fireman's fund ♪ >> belva: good evening, and welcome to "this week in northern california." i'm belva davis. joining me tonight on the news panel are john fence terwald, journalist with the "silicon valley education foundation" on california's failed bid for race to the top funding for public schools. carla marinucci, political reporter for the "san francisco chronicle," on the fast-approaching general elections. and we begin with sarah varney,
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health reporter for kqed public radio, on healthcare reform bills in california. sarah, explain. the legislature took action, and it has to do with national healthcare. so what did the legislature decide this week? >> california this week became the first state to pass legislation setting up what's known as the health insurance exchange. this is the marketplace or the health insurance superstore where individuals and small businesses will eventually be able to go and compare and shop for health plans. >> and that -- it is still a couple of years away. did it get through the legislature smoothly enough that the governor might sign the bill? >> well, he's not signaled yet one way or the other whether or not he's going to sign them, but he has pledged that he wants to have exchange legislation signed by the time he leaves office. so if he doesn't sign this legislation, which i think would be -- i would suspect that he would actually sign it since his people were in on the negotiations, but he would only have then the fall to get the legislation through. >> who gets the healthcare
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first? who are the first consumers out there who are going to feet effects of this legislation? and i'm also wondering, california's such a huge market. how does this affect the obama agenda in the rest of the country once we sign on to this? >> well, there are some 4 million people who would be eligible for the exchange in the first year. and you're right, it wouldn't be up and running until 2014. and that's what has been mandated under the federal health reform law. the federal health reform law basically gives wide latitude to the states to implement this element of health reform. and this is really sort of the backbone. this is the marketplace where people will go and shop for these plans. so it'll be individuals who are now either insured through individual plans that they purchase or perhaps they're uninsured. these will be small businesses that are having a very difficult time buying insurance right now. you'll be able to go on to essentially what is a website, and you'll be able to, according to the way the legislation is written, what california's going to do is actually really ensure that the products that you're comparing are actually essentially identical. so the federal legislation sets up some broad categories with
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minimum benefits and establishes standards for cost sharing. but even within those broad standards there's a lot of ways in which the insurance companies can, they would say differentiate their products. we as consumers might say confuse us. so the california legislation is actually quite aggressive. it says to this -- the board that is going to oversee this new independent state agency, you have really broad powers to essentially write the rules here and you can decide who can play in this marketplace and who can't. so -- and they'll say this particular product we don't think is you have to snuff, we don't think it's high enough quality. so one way to think about it, we at kqed or the "chronicle" or other places, who have essentially large employers looking out for us. we have an hr department, they might hire an insurance broker who's going out shopping for different plans, vetting them, bringing them back and saying here's your five options or your two options or ten options depending on the size of your company. but you'll know that those plans are not going to leave you bankrupt, for instance. and that's essentially the role that this new independent state
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board will play. other states may choose to do this very differently. some states may choose to have no insurance exchange at all, in which case the federal government will either set it up itself or they'll contract with a non-profit entity to do that. or other states like iowa are taking a completely different direction. they're essentially just saying here's a phonebook of plans with no judgment on our side about what's right or what's wrong or what's good or what's bad. so california's really seen as having taken a pretty aggressive stance in terms of how they're going to regulate this exchange. >> is the hope that through the information there will be competition and the escalation in rates will slow down? >> that is the hope. and so of course that's what i asked all the health insurers that i talked to. there are some insurers you that might expect are very much opposed to this. anthem blue cross, which is the -- they provide the most individual health insurance plans in california. they've been very much opposed to health reform. they say that this will end up in reduced competition -- well, not reduced competition, rather, but limited choice for
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consumers. because inevitably it will. it will limit choice somewhat. there are other plans like kaiser and blue shield that actually very much support this. and i was talking to somebody from blue shield, and they actually were kind of excited by this idea that one of the rules in this new exchange would be that insurers would actually have to disclose how much they pay for the medical care that you receive. how much are they paying hospitals? how much are they paying drug companies? and device companies. and imaging centers, so on and so forth. so a lot of that information up till now has been very much close to the chest. they've in some cases been required under confidentiality agreements by hospitals not to share that information. so i think the insurers are feeling -- some of them at least are feeling like hey, we really got beat up over the last couple years and we want the chance to show you why these premiums are increasing. >> belva: we mentioned anthem. and this week also there were rate increases granted to anthem as one company. tell us about that because that was part of the whole center of discussion when the healthcare bill was first -- >> exactly. so you remember that even president obama called out the
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proposed rate increases in california when anthem said we're going to raise rates for up to 39% for some 800,000 individual customers in california. they -- the state insurance commissioner then called for an independent audit, and that independent auditor found there were some math errors essentially in their rate proposal. so they pulled that. there were some -- there were also math errors in some other insurers, by the way. so now anthem, as well as blue shield of california, which is a non-profit carrier, they resubmitted their rate plans, and the insurance commissioner approved them this week. anthem rates will go up about 14% on average, and the blue shield rates will go up about 19%. and essentially, the state has as of now, there's no state law that gives the insurance commissioner any authority to block rate increases. as long as the insurers can demonstrate that they're spending 70% of your premium dollars on medical care. that's the only tool they have essentially in their tool chest. >> belva: well, we've talked
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about what's being offered to people who need healthcare and insurance. and the decisions are being made by politicians. so we're going to turn to carla now, where there's a whole new crop of them hoping to be in sacramento to make some of these decisions. >> that's right. californians have seen the governor's race and the senate race played out over the last couple of months in kind of a lopsided fashion because there were some primary contests, but now we're heading into the general election and we're finally seeing things ramping up on both sides. we saw attorney general jerry brown in santa rosa this week before about 800 very enthusiastic people. he's got his campaign sort of up and running. after having spent hardly any money. the unions are helping him out. no doubt about it. but meg whitman, of course, has about $105 million of her own money into this game so far. both of them are starting to go at it. and on the senate contest as well. we've seen carly fiorina, the
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republican, and barbara boxer in a head-to-head battle. both of them are very, very close. and this is going to be for the next two months the battle that the country's going to be watching. fiorina and boxer are going to be debating for the first time this week in a debate co-sponsored by both the "chronicle" and kqed and channel 2. and i think that's going to be a really -- a nationally watched contest. the republicans, we talked to mike murphy, who's the strategist for meg whitman today. he says the republicans are really motivated because they say they have the most diverse group of candidates that they've had in a long time in california. they've got a latino, abel maldonado, lieutenant governor, damon dunn, african-american, for secretary of state. whitman, fiorina, two women at the top. so the democrats have got to challenge this also. and brown has had a very low-key campaign, has hardly spent any money. so this is all going to be about is it this anti-incumbent fever. we've seen these sort of midterm
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elections and primaries all over the country, a lot of talk about tea party favor and anti-incumbent fever. the question is is it going to play in california? the jobs and the economy still a big issue. just coming off the republican convention, as we did in san diego last week, republicans are saying they are ready, they've got the money now, and whitman is throwing a lot of money into the republican party here, more than ever before. so this is going to be very interesting going forward. >> i'm curious with jerry brown, he's someone who's really grown up in front of all of us. and you've been covering politics for many, many years. i'm sure if you find yourself learning anything new about him, or do we already know everything there is to know about jerry brown? >> brown's argument this week in santa rosa was this. look, i've done this. i've been here. and i know the players. there are plans -- meg whitman has a lot of plans, he said, but plans are one thing but you've got to be able to deliver people the good news and the bad news.
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he said, i can work with the unions and the enemies of the unions and bring them together. that's got to be his rationale because whitman on the other side is saying look, jerry brown, 40 years in politics, a failed politician, and really playing to that incumbent thing. it was brown's challenge, you're absolutely right, is going to be to introduce himself to a lot of voters under 40 who don't know who he is. in santa rosa i think that was a thing i noticed. there weren't a lot of people under 40. he has to introduce himself to -- >> belva: people are talking about a million more voters in some new -- >> that's right. >> belva: well, not that new. technology -- >> also the democrats are getting help from president obama. he put out an endorsement letter for jerry brown this week. it crashed brown's website. boxer's appearing in oakland on saturday with the obama campaign people. they're hoping to get help from the national side. but you're absolutely right. the unions were in sacramento this week protesting meg whitman, thousands of them on
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thursday, the anniversary of the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote. of course noting that meg whitman didn't vote for many years. that's how they're going to come at her. and they are going to use technology and other things. but i'd say whitman's campaign has got -- they just introduced an app for the iphone today. they have got technology all over the place, more than we've ever seen in california. >> belva: and as we move on to education, though, there was a poll that showed very well for meg whitman. >> that's right. a new rasmussen poll, which is a republican-leaning poll, and their campaign admits that. they say it's probably very close but it shows meg whitman up eight points today over jerry brown. i think that should be taken with a note of caution. even her campaign says that. but the fact is she's got the money and the message and she's certainly all over the airwaves and jerry brown now is going to have to match that. >> belva: let's turn to the state and its second attempt to share in some federal money to improve education in this state and the second time failing.
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so what did we do wrong this time? >> second time wasn't the charm. that's for sure. but the state did much better on the second time around in terms of points on a 500-point scale. it raised its points 83%. 83 points. which is very good. and the reason it was different is this is a very different proposal. the districts led it as opposed to sacramento, as opposed to the department of education and the state school board. so it was seven superintendents primarily leading what they -- fairly visionary superintendents, including carlos garcia of san francisco and ramon cortinez in los angeles unified. and they came up with actually very impressive and i thought a strong proposal, but ultimately fell 17 points short on that 500-point scale. and it was 16th place and the top ten states, nine states plus the district of columbia. >> 16th out of 19. and one of the things they
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pointed to was the data system in california. here we're in the home of silicon valley. how did that happen? how embarrassing is that? and is there something that can be done about that to put us in the running for the next time around? >> well, you're not the first person to ask that question. it's been asked for the last i think 15 years or so. we are the home of silicon valley, and we're also the home of sacramento. so i don't know if the one cancels -- >> the other one out. right. >> the state has had real difficulties in managing computer systems. and this is a complex computer system in which 1,000 districts are supposed to feed their data into one computer system, and it has a lot of trouble. so other states are far ahead of california in using what they call a student longitudeinial data system. so yeah. california lost 14 points alone on that fact. >> to what extent was it not possible to win this without union support? >> yeah. it's really difficult. it's difficult on two grounds. number one, they rate -- they
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look at the participation of unions as a reflection of the -- all the elements in your educational community. superintendents, school boards, and unions. only about 1/3 of the unions participated in it. so can you win it? it's difficult. but if there's a third round and if some of the unions that are now discussing in los angeles the use of really performance -- factors of performance with teacher evaluations, they're actually discussing this now, if they resolve some of these issues and the unions can sign on, i would think if there's a third round california might do well. >> belva: what else did we learn from just going through the process? what else do we have to do to get in the running like the winning systems back east? >> well, i don't think you're going to fix your data system in a year. in fact, you won't. i think that the entire race to the top is interesting. and you know, it's a competitive spirit amongst states to do it. but there are some very serious things. they gave states cover to do some serious reforms including
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look at how teachers are evaluated. look at the equity of placement of teachers in schools. you know, these are important things that districts wouldn't do on their own. and this was an incentive to do it. >> but is it really fair to compare california, a state this big, this complex, with this many diverse problems, against other states, put it up against a delaware or whatever, and is anything going to change as we go forward, change the way we come out of this process? >> well, new york, florida, ohio, some significant urban states also were winners. so it's not just the diversity of the student body. i think in sacramento it's -- as we learned in the first round, it's impossible to get all the districts to participate. and so this was a say let's have seven districts that are committed to the reforms that the obama administration identified and have them lead it. as a matter of fact, they -- 1/3 of the kids who are low income and minorities are within those districts. and california has 6 million students. so we're talking about 2 million students alone among these
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districts that are participating. that's larger than most states. >> belva: so we're talking about a pot of money that's $700 million that we're trying to get a bit of. >> 700 million. >> belva: where did we do well? >> in terms of the application? >> belva: yes. >> well, california adopted the common core standards which it hadn't -- which it committed. that helped. it has a very strong charter school law. and the matrix, in the obama administration that ranks highly. and california has strong assessment systems. so -- and it also adopted in terms of turning low-performing schools around the models that the obama administration encouraged. so all of those areas it did quite well. >> belva: so there's one more chance. thanks very much, john. and thanks to all of you for joining us tonight. >> thank you. >> belva: well, some other news from this week. president obama's policy on embryonic stem cell research was put on hold this week by a federal judge. the department of justice is
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appealing the ruling. and sacramento elected officials are seriously considering an alcohol tax to help raise revenues to close the city's budget gap. the wholesale tax would affect restaurants and bars and eventually customers. and the number of california high school seniors passing the exit exam went up this year. and there were notable improvements in the test scores of african-americans and latinos. in a moment, photojournalist david bacon joins us. ♪
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>> belva: well, this is our last program before labor day weekend. so we want to take a look at a group of workers who play an integral role in california's economy. in the 1960s cesar chavez mobilized national boycotts on their behalf. they're california's farm workers. and they harvest the fruits and vegetables that fill our supermarkets and our plates at dinner time. labor writer and photojournalist david bacon has been photographing farm workers for years, documenting their lives and working conditions. david, how have farm workers fared in today's -- in terms of what cesar chavez envisioned for them? >> well, i think farm workers, their standard of living has been falling since the heyday of the union. there was a period in the late
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1970s and early 1980s when farm worker wages were about twice the minimum wage. today farm workers make the minimum wage and there are a lot of people working out there in the fields who are making less than the minimum wage. so just taking it in terms of people's income and how much people get for doing this hard work. people's income has, relatively speaking, dropped. so i think farm workers are not doing that well. california, you know, we are the salad bowl of the world, which means that what we grow here in california are fruits and vegetables. we grow a lot of cotton, but not too many people work in cotton since they brought in the machines. we do have machines in california fields. if you go driving through the salinas valley, for instance, you'll see people on machines packing lettuce or packing tomatoes into boxes there, but it still takes somebody, belva, who's working in front of that machine or behind that machine, picking the tomatoes or cutting the lettuce.
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overwhelmingly, that kind of labor is still stoop labor. you work bent over all day. that is a big toll on the body of any human being that does it over a prolonged period of time. >> belva: we talked about pay. but the living conditions for these workers, m some of your photography you've shown condition that's are certainly less than good for the health of those workers living there. >> and the two things are actually very closely related to each other because, first of all, we do have a housing shortage in rural california. it's hard to find a place to rent. especially if you're a migrant. if you're traveling with the crops, you don't have first and last moss rent to put down as a deposit on an apartment, for instance, something that people living in cities are used to having to do. so there's not enough places, just simply not enough -- >> belva: as we're talking, let's look at some of the photographs. >> okay. but low wages also mean that
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there's a lot of overcrowding, for instance. according to government statistics, if you have more than 1 1/2 people living per room in your house, that's considered extreme crowding. in some areas of california like watsonville you have three people living per room. i've gone and visited people at home, for instance, living in trailers near salinas where you have 10 people or 13 people living in a trailer and the reason is pretty simple, belva, and that is that the rent for the trailers, about $1,300 a month. the only way you're going to be able to pay that is by basically a lot of people sharing that expense and that $7.50 an hour, $8 an hour. it takes a lot of people basically to pay that rent. >> belva: who works out for the haeflt these workers, living sometimes just in the out of doors? >> well, living in the out of doors is an increasing problem, actually, for farm workers. partly, we see people who are recent arrivals in california
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who have yet to sort of stabilize their situation, living out of doors. we've seen that for many, many years in places like san diego. but i was just recently in fresno visiting workers who were living out of doors near reedly, california. i've interviewed people living in the wine country, which is probably of all the places in california the highest wage area of california. and yet the housing shortage is such that you find people living out of doors. we don't really have proper regulation for housing conditions for farm workers. we do have regulations about working conditions. in fact, we just passed in 2005 regulations about heat exposure. that's one of the biggest problems, especially in the summer. we've had ten people die in the fields in california from 2005 today -- to today because of heat exposure. so we do have these regulations. but part of the problem sen
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forcement. farm workers are -- unless they have a union or unless they have lawyers that help them or unless they get organized in their own communities, it's very difficult for people to enforce those regulations. >> and what about the children? there were children in the photos that we just saw. >> well, we still have children in california fields. partly, again, this is economic necessity. most farm worker families will tell you, belva, that people growing up often talk about after school, during the weekdays, going out and helping their parents out in the field, where it's pretty common in farm worker families for people to work -- for young people to work out in the fields on a saturday or a sunday if there's work going on on a sunday. and that's again because families need the income. sometimes you do see people, young people working, and there are some photographs that we've been showing here of young people working the machines. >> belva: and finally, the whole area of being documented or not. what do we know about that? are these people in any way
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taken advantage of because they're not documented? >> well, yes. we have about maybe 650,000 farm workers here in california. nobody knows for sure. i would guess that over half of those people are folks who don't have immigration papers. what that means today is often that people are trapped here. i just recently talked to a guy in -- near santa rosa who hasn't seen his family for five years. and the reason is because if he goes home to see his family and then he has to come back here it costs $5,000 to cross the border. >> belva: well, it's an interesting story that we haven't heard too much about. so we thank you for bringing your photos and information. >> thank you, belva. >> belva: well, that's all for tonight's program. we're taking next friday off for labor day. remember to tune in on wednesday september 1st at 7:00 p.m., when kqed public radio co-hosts the first debate between senator barbara boxer and carly fiorina.
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and visit to subscribe to our newsletter and our podcast and share your thoughts about the program. i'm belva davis. good night. ♪
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