Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Roundup: The 'stealth attack' on unions; AZ workers trade protections for ... - Sacramento Bee (blog)

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Dan Walters Daily: Jerry Brown signs (another) workers' comp bill - The Sacramento Bee's Capital Alert (blog)

VIDEO: Dan says Tuesday's workers' comp bill signing was a once-a-decade exercise at the Capitol.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

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Rancho Cordova's VSP threatens to leave state over health insurance decision - Sacramento Bee

California's rollout of the federal health care overhaul, still in its infancy, has prompted one of Sacramento's most important companies to threaten to leave the state.

Vision Service Plan of Rancho Cordova is protesting a decision last month by the agency that is building California's online insurance market, a key piece of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act. The decision by the California Health Benefit Exchange would keep VSP from competing for a big chunk of consumers.

The exchange said it would not allow stand-alone vision plans, like those sold by VSP, to be offered through the exchange to individual customers. Such a provision would greatly limit vision services available through the exchange, since most are offered through stand-alone plans.

VSP, which employs 2,100 Sacramentans, has suggested that the exclusion could prompt the company to move its headquarters to another state. Several of VSP's allies, including area business leaders and state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, urged the agency this week to reconsider.

On Tuesday, the agency indicated it might back down. Without going into details, Executive Director Peter Lee said the board expects to "revisit this matter" next month.

"We want to make sure we don't foreclose any options," he said during the monthly meeting of the agency's governing board.

VSP said in a statement that it was "pleased" the agency would take another look at the issue.

The controversy offers a glimpse of the difficulties facing the Health Benefit Exchange as it tries to build an online marketplace to serve uninsured individuals and small businesses.

About 2 million uninsured Californians are expected to purchase coverage through the online market, which is set to debut in 2014. Eligible purchasers will get federal tax credits to help make the coverage affordable.

First, the agency has to plow through myriad issues to bring the market to life.

At Tuesday's meeting, for instance, the board wrestled with the problems of publicizing the marketplace to millions of uninsured Californians, many of whom don't speak English.

The agency expects to receive $40 million from Washington for community outreach, but "we won't have the resources to do everything," said board Chairwoman Diana Dooley, secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency.

The agency is paying Ogilvy Public Relations $900,000 to help with publicity.

Even the seemingly straightforward topic of what to call the marketplace is being thoroughly vetted. Last week, focus groups in Sacramento and Los Angeles batted around names as varied as CaliHealth, Eureka, "and of course 'Avocado,' still a crowd favorite," said Chris Kelly, the agency's senior marketing adviser.

While the audience at Tuesday's meeting chuckled, board member Kim Belshé held up an avocado and said, "This is an important decision for us."

Perhaps the agency's trickiest task is shaping the contours of the marketplace itself.

Under the Affordable Care Act, coverage sold through the state exchange must include 10 "essential health benefits," including hospitalization and prescription drugs.

Last month, the exchange's board voted to let stand-alone vision care insurers such as VSP sell coverage to small businesses. But VSP, and others like it, were locked out of the market for individuals, which is expected to be larger.

Why the difference? It has to do with the federal tax subsidies: Individuals will get them, businesses won't. Letting an individual purchase eye-care insurance from a separate company would mean having to split the individual subsidies between their main insurance and their vision coverage. The agency decided that was too difficult a task to tackle, at least in the first year of operation, according to staff.

VSP, in a protest filed with the agency, said most Californians get their eye-care insurance from a stand-alone company. VSP covers 14 million Californians and a total of 58 million Americans, company President J. Robinson Lynch said in a letter to the agency.

In an opinion piece printed in the Sacramento Business Journal last month, Robinson suggested VSP might leave the state if it were left out.

"Like other successful California companies, we have been heavily solicited to relocate out of state with incentives and subsidies," he wrote. "Maybe it's time for us to choose to go where we are wanted."

Business and political leaders in the region are taking up VSP's cause.

"VSP is a valued member of our business community that we cannot afford to lose," business leaders wrote in a letter to the board. The letter was signed by the heads of the Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, Valley Vision, the Sacramento Area Commerce and Trade Organization, and the Sacramento Area Regional Technology Alliance.

"Aside from being a home-grown California company, VSP is a major employer of over 2,000 Sacramentans in a district struggling mightily to recover from this prolonged recession," Steinberg wrote in a letter to the board.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.


Call The Bee's Dale Kasler, (916) 321-1066. Follow him on Twitter @dakasler.

• Read more articles by Dale Kasler


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State flags 4 Sacramento-area districts over blacks in special education - Sacramento Bee

Sacramento County's four largest school districts are among dozens in California that have gotten letters from the state saying they have a disproportionate number of African American students in their special education programs who are designated as emotionally disturbed.

The state sent a letter to 49 school districts in July telling them that their special education classes were "significantly disproportionate" racially during a four-year period that ended last year.

Twin Rivers Unified, Elk Grove Unified, San Juan Unified and Sacramento City Unified all were told they had an unusually high percentage of African American students in their special education programs, particularly in classes for the emotionally disturbed.

About one of every 35 black students in San Juan Unified â€" 101 total â€" have been classified as "emotionally disturbed," compared with one out of 80 statewide, according to data from the California Department of Education from December 2011.

Sacramento City Unified, Elk Grove Unified and Twin Rivers Unified also exceeded the statewide average.

The high percentage of students designated emotionally disturbed in Sacramento County isn't limited to African Americans, although their numbers are the most overrepresented. San Juan, Elk Grove, Sacramento City and Twin Rivers are among the seven California school districts with the highest overall percentage of students identified as emotionally disturbed, according to the 2011 data.

San Juan tops the list. About 11 of every 1,000 students in San Juan Unified â€" 551 in all â€" were designated emotionally disturbed in 2011, roughly 2 1/2 times the state average. None of the other 40 largest school districts in the state had a higher rate of students labeled emotionally disturbed.

The letters from the state, sent out annually, warn districts if they have a "disproportionate" or "significantly disproportionate" number of students of any particular race in special education classes over a four-year period. The aim is to make sure districts are not putting students in special education who don't have recognized disabilities but might be struggling for other reasons.

"They need to review their policies, procedures and practices to make sure there isn't any bias or discrimination," said Fred Balcom, director of special education programs for the California Department of Education.

In 2004, Congress expressed concern about the high number of minority children in the nation's special education programs. It directed states to require school districts singled out as "significantly disproportionate" to dedicate 15 percent of their federal allotment for educating special education students to preventive programs. That's about $5 million for the four local districts.

The districts also must come up with intervention plans that will be monitored by the state.

In past years only about 20 districts a year in California were hit with the "significantly disproportionate" tag, Balcom said. But a new federal formula for determining when districts are out of compliance more than doubled the number facing sanctions.

Standard evaluations used

Officials at the four local districts all defended their systems for identifying students as emotionally disturbed, saying they used standard evaluation procedures. But they also said they are aware that African American students are overrepresented in special education programs and have been working to lower the numbers.

In fact, districts statewide have seen their overall numbers of emotionally disturbed students fall in recent years. San Juan saw an 8 percent decline over five years. It wasn't enough, however, to keep the district out of the "significantly disproportionate" category after the federal government changed the way it is calculated.

Still, several experts interviewed found the local numbers alarming and spoke of a cultural bias they say pervades many schools.

"There is a disproportionate number of African American boys. Why that category?" said Diana Blackmon, director of special services for the Washington Unified School District in West Sacramento. "We certainly don't see it with autism, retardation or deafness. That, off the top, leads me to think something more is going on."

Washington Unified did not receive a warning letter. The district of 7,100 students has 17 designated emotionally disturbed, two of them African American.

Blackmon, who also served as a special education consultant for the state Department of Education, said that students labeled emotionally disturbed often simply have behavior problems.

A large number are foster youths who have been through horrific life trauma, she said. "Many are the average defiant kid that tosses a chair over but doesn't hurt anyone," she said. "Sometimes educators aren't prepared to deal with these kids."

Arun Ramanathan, executive director of Education Trust-West, a research group that focuses on poor, minority students, echoed Blackmon, saying the special ed label was being misapplied to students who may present a challenge for teachers for other reasons.

"Designating a student as emotionally disturbed is an easy way to exit a troublesome child out of school," Ramanathan said. "It's a good way to move a kid from the school and into a special-day classroom."

Bill Tollestrup, director of special education from Elk Grove Unified, calls the problem a cultural issue that goes beyond special education. He said test scores of African American students aren't increasing as quickly as other groups and that many African American males end up in the penal system.

He said the Elk Grove district is looking at students referred for "willful defiance," for example, to determine whether the child is really a behavior problem or has a teacher who doesn't understand how to interact with an African American student.

Psychologists involved

Officials at the four local districts stressed that they use standardized protocols in assessing students. Students are identified as emotionally disturbed only by a licensed psychologist. Districts often pair that with classroom observations and academic testing. Parents, teachers, school staff and law enforcement personnel can request such an evaluation, and the information is evaluated by a team that usually includes the parent.

The criteria for designating a student as emotionally disturbed are broad. Among them: an inability to learn that can't be explained by intellectual or health factors; an inability to maintain interpersonal relationships; inappropriate behavior; and depression.

Once identified as emotionally disturbed, students qualify for an array of services and counseling. That can range from spending a set amount of time each day with a resource teacher to attending therapeutic centers that offer small classes and specially trained teachers.

The specialized services are often sought out by probation and juvenile court officers looking for support and structure for students who have gotten into trouble, district officials said.

"They are trying to get them some protection from the disciplinary structure of schools," said Tom Janis, assistant superintendent at Twin Rivers Unified. "They are going into classes with very supportive teachers."

Maxine Johnson, who is African American, said she's grateful for the services San Juan Unified provided her daughter after she was designated emotionally disturbed a few years ago. Johnson said La Vista Center, a district school for students with emotional issues, helped her daughter, who had become a discipline problem.

Johnson said her daughter thrived at La Vista. She eventually transferred to Mira Loma High School, where she graduated. She's now waiting to be accepted into the Navy.

"La Vista is a wonderful school, and the teachers are wonderful," Maxine Johnson said. "They really helped my daughter and she is really, really bullheaded."

Blackmon and Ramanathan acknowledged that educators are usually trying to help students get services they believe those students need when they designate them emotionally disturbed. But they say the label can be harmful and has ramifications that extend beyond schooling.

"It follows them all the way through life," Ramanthan said.

Blackmon said Washington Unified has reduced the number of students designated emotionally disturbed by offering counseling, support groups, anger management and academic intervention before placing students in special education.

She said it is just as easy to offer students services without labeling them: "Either way, you have to pay."

Districts with a "significantly disproportionate" letter have until Dec. 21 to submit an action plan to the state, said Patricia Skelton, administrator of the state's Special Education Division.

Most are busy forming committees and sifting through data to formulate a plan. They aren't on their own, Skelton said. The Department of Education offered a training session last week, and each district is paired with a state monitor.

"It's not a year fix," Skelton said. "You may not see a lot of improvement for a year or two."

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.


Call The Bee's Diana Lambert, (916) 321-1090. Follow her on Twitter @dianalambert.


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• Keep your comments civil. Don't insult one another or the subjects of our articles. If you think a comment violates our guidelines click the "Report Abuse" link to notify the moderators. Responding to the comment will only encourage bad behavior.

• Don't use profanities, vulgarities or hate speech. This is a general interest news site. Sometimes, there are children present. Don't say anything in a way you wouldn't want your own child to hear.

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If you submit a comment, the user name of your account will appear along with it. Users cannot remove their own comments once they have submitted them.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Ask Sacto 911 crime Q&A: What happened to wrong-way driver in fatal Highwy ... - Sacramento Bee (blog)

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Sacbee.com is happy to provide a forum for reader interaction, discussion, feedback and reaction to our stories. However, we reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments or ban users who can't play nice. (See our full terms of service here.)

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• Keep your comments civil. Don't insult one another or the subjects of our articles. If you think a comment violates our guidelines click the "report abuse" button to notify the moderators. Responding to the comment will only encourage bad behavior.

• Don't use profanities, vulgarities or hate speech. This is a general interest news site. Sometimes, there are children present. Don't say anything in a way you wouldn't want your own child to hear.

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• Stay on topic. Only post comments relevant to the article at hand. If you want to discuss an issue with a specific user, click on his profile name and send him a direct message.

• Do not copy and paste outside material into the comment box.

• Don't repeat the same comment over and over. We heard you the first time.

• Do not use the commenting system for advertising. That's spam and it isn't allowed.

• Don't use all capital letters. That's akin to yelling and not appreciated by the audience.

You should also know that The Sacramento Bee does not screen comments before they are posted. You are more likely to see inappropriate comments before our staff does, so we ask that you click the "report abuse" button to submit those comments for moderator review. You also may notify us via email at feedback@sacbee.com. Note the headline on which the comment is made and tell us the profile name of the user who made the comment. Remember, comment moderation is subjective. You may find some material objectionable that we won't and vice versa.

If you submit a comment, the user name of your account will appear along with it. Users cannot remove their own comments once they have submitted them, but you may ask our staff to retract one of your comments by sending an email to feedback@sacbee.com. Again, make sure you note the headline on which the comment is made and tell us your profile name.

Frontier Airlines Abandons Sacramento International Airport - KTXL

SACRAMENTOâ€"

Frontier Airlines has decided to end service to Sacramento International Airport in January.

The airline has been at the airport for nearly ten years. One reason is that gate fees don't mesh with how the airline may want to position itself after a merger with Midwest Airlines didn't work out. Frontier is headed toward becoming an ultra-low-cost carrier.

"That business model is really not that conducive to this market," said Linda Beech Cutler, the Sacramento County Airport Systems Deputy Director for Commercial Strategy.


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Cutler said Frontier flies only to Denver and makes up just three percent of its passengers.

"Southwest, United and United Express also provide very robust service to Denver so our passengers will hopefully not feel a loss of service," said Cutler.

Cutler says it's more expensive to operate out of Sac International because airline fees were raised to cover the $1 billion cost of building a new terminal.  Frontier has been dropping flights from lager cities and adding flights to smaller markets in older airports. Sacramento is not the only city that Frontier dropped.

Donna Van Hoose, who has taken Frontier many times to Denver and back, says she's sorry to see service end.

"It leaves you with less choice and to get a cheaper flight," said Van Hoose.

Cutler acknowledges that it's more expensive for airlines to operate out of Sacramento International, but says they have no regrets about the upgrade.

"It was an investment we needed to make and it was for the long term," said Cutler.

Some passengers agree.  Irum Ahsan grew up in Sacramento.

"I think the population is just going to keep growing and if they hadn't built it, it would make it really hard to keep up,” said Ahsan.

Cutler said the airline industry can be volatile and that airlines do come and go.  She said it was hard to lose Frontier, but said Mexican airline Volaris announced two weeks ago that it will start service to Sacramento.


Fatal collision involving school bus reported near Rancho Cordova - Sacramento Bee (blog)

The California Highway Patrol is investigating a fatal collision that occurred this shortly before 4 p.m.at Jackson Road and Sunrise Boulevard.

According to the CHP website, the collision involved a school bus and a Jeep.

Details were not immediately available. Return to www.sacbee.com for more information.

What You Should Know About Comments on Sacbee.com

Sacbee.com is happy to provide a forum for reader interaction, discussion, feedback and reaction to our stories. However, we reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments or ban users who can't play nice. (See our full terms of service here.)

Here are some rules of the road:

• Keep your comments civil. Don't insult one another or the subjects of our articles. If you think a comment violates our guidelines click the "report abuse" button to notify the moderators. Responding to the comment will only encourage bad behavior.

• Don't use profanities, vulgarities or hate speech. This is a general interest news site. Sometimes, there are children present. Don't say anything in a way you wouldn't want your own child to hear.

• Do not attack other users; focus your comments on issues, not individuals.

• Stay on topic. Only post comments relevant to the article at hand. If you want to discuss an issue with a specific user, click on his profile name and send him a direct message.

• Do not copy and paste outside material into the comment box.

• Don't repeat the same comment over and over. We heard you the first time.

• Do not use the commenting system for advertising. That's spam and it isn't allowed.

• Don't use all capital letters. That's akin to yelling and not appreciated by the audience.

You should also know that The Sacramento Bee does not screen comments before they are posted. You are more likely to see inappropriate comments before our staff does, so we ask that you click the "report abuse" button to submit those comments for moderator review. You also may notify us via email at feedback@sacbee.com. Note the headline on which the comment is made and tell us the profile name of the user who made the comment. Remember, comment moderation is subjective. You may find some material objectionable that we won't and vice versa.

If you submit a comment, the user name of your account will appear along with it. Users cannot remove their own comments once they have submitted them, but you may ask our staff to retract one of your comments by sending an email to feedback@sacbee.com. Again, make sure you note the headline on which the comment is made and tell us your profile name.