Obamacare survives SCOTUS, but can it survive mathematics?

For the third time, the U.S. Supreme Court has issued a ruling that finds a way to allow the Affordable Care Act to survive.

Last Thursday the justices handed down their decision in California v. Texas, in which a number of states and some individual plaintiffs contended that the law known as Obamacare is unconstitutional. The court did not rule on the merits of the claim. Instead, the justices concluded that the states and the individual plaintiffs did not have standing to bring the lawsuit because they had not been harmed by the law. That opens the door for a future lawsuit by different plaintiffs.

This case had its origins in the 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act, which lowered the penalty for failing to buy individual health insurance from $695 to zero. In 2012, a divided Supreme Court had upheld the ACA based on Chief Justice John Roberts’ characterization of the penalty as a tax, finding that Congress’ power to levy taxes gave it the constitutional authority to enact an unprecedented law that required Americans to buy health insurance.

Without the penalty, there was no tax, and that prompted Texas and other states to challenge the law again. A federal district judge agreed with Texas and found that the elements of the law were inextricably and financially intertwined: absent a penalty to enforce the individual mandate, the law was materially different than the law Congress had passed.

For example, the cost to businesses resulting from the mandate to buy employee health policies might be far higher than Congress anticipated when requiring it. The judge ruled that the entire law must fall along with the individual mandate.

The tax/penalty for not buying insurance was always the least popular part of the law, but Congress determined that without it, fewer young and healthy people would choose to buy insurance, resulting in a risk pool that was older, sicker and steadily more expensive to insure.

By ruling on the issue of standing, the Supreme Court has not guaranteed the survival of the law. Another challenge is possible, and the risk-pool problem remains, hiking costs to businesses and taxpayers.

But the Affordable Care Act has gotten by the Supreme Court again. Now it just has to get past the laws of mathematics.

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Northwood football coach Justin Utupo resigns weeks after being hired

Northwood High is again searching for a football coach.

Justin Utupo, recently hired to lead the Timberwolves’ program, has resigned, co-athletic director Brandon Emery said on Tuesday, May 25.

Northwood confirmed Utupo’s hire earlier this month.

Utupo spent this past season as an assistant at Orange Lutheran. Prior to that, he served as an assistant at Azusa Pacific University and was the coach at Long Beach Millikan for two successful seasons.

Utupo was a star defensive lineman at Lakewood and went to play at Notre Dame.

Lakewood is seeking a coach after the departure of Scott Meyer to his alma mater, Long Beach Wilson.

At Northwood, Utupo was set to replace Mike Stewart, who resigned after serving as the team’s interim coach during the coronavirus-shortened season this spring.

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UCLA women’s basketball feels well prepared for Wyoming

The UCLA women’s basketball team is used to dealing with the bare minimum this season, having a shortened bench of eight players, give or take. But bare minimum took on a whole new meaning after the Bruins saw the women’s designated weight room for the NCAA Tournament.

True to the images circulating on social media, the women’s teams were given a spartan arrangement, with a rack of dumbbells and sanitized yoga mats. Meanwhile, the men’s teams were given a large room filled with benches, squat racks — any equipment that might be required.

An effective work environment is essential in any occupation, but for teams like UCLA, which will play Wyoming in the first round of the tournament on Monday, the NCAA’s setup didn’t cut it.

“Different programs do different things for different weight programs,” said senior Michaela Onyenwere. “We might be different than the next team and how we’re going to use that room, but we didn’t really even have a choice because we didn’t have the resources because we were an afterthought.”

For the Bruins’ small roster, the weight room won’t affect the postseason regiment too much. They’re also trying not to be bothered by the differences in food quality, swag bag items and other external factors related to the tournament as they prepare for Wyoming.

UCLA earned the No. 3 seed in the Hemisfair Region on an at-large bid after finishing as runner-up behind Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship Tournament. Wyoming, the No. 14-seed, won the Mountain West Tournament as a No. 7 seed and is riding a six-game win streak heading into the NCAA Tournament.

It will be the first meeting between the Bruins (16-5) and the Cowgirls (14-9), but Coach Cori Close feels well prepared for any situation after the Pac-12 season.

“When we started talking about their sort of spread offense and their motion offense, we were able to say OK, it’s sort of like Colorado in this way, it’s like Utah in this way,” she said. “We just have such vast styles of play in the Pac-12, but it’s at such a high level, so you’re already forced to be exposed to so many things.”

McKinley Bradshaw leads Wyoming in scoring with 11.5 points per game and is 33-for-79 from beyond the arc. Quinn Weidemann and Alba Sanchez Ramos each have double-digit scoring averages as well, with Weidemann clicking at 11 ppg and Sanchez Ramos at 10.1 ppg in addition to a team-high 6.1 rebounds per game.

Onyenwere is UCLA’s top-scoring player. Her 18.7 ppg have helped move her to sixth in program history in career points with 1,842. In terms of scoring this season, she’s followed by Charisma Osborne (17 ppg, 5.7 rpg) and Natalie Chou (10 ppg, 4.3 rpg).

Tipoff for the Bruins’ first-round game is set for Monday at 7 p.m. on ESPN at the Frank Irwin Center in Austin, Texas. No matter how small the weight room or how limited the food selection and quality, Close expects her team to remain focused.

“What I don’t want to have happen is any of the extraneous things on the outside to distract from this incredible experience that these student-athletes have worked so hard for,” Close said. “So, I’m excited to compete, to get better and to continue to enjoy with great gratitude.”

UCLA (16-5) vs. Wyoming (14-9)

When: 7 p.m. Monday

Where: Frank Irwin Center, Austin, Texas

TV: ESPN

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UCLA alumnus Krys Barnes test positive for coronavirus, placed on reserve/COVID-19 list

The Green Bay Packers placed linebacker Krys Barnes and reserve quarterback Jordan Love on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

The list is for a player who has tested positive or has been in close contact with an infected person.

Barnes, who is asymptomatic, played in the Packers’ 34-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday night. Barnes left the game early with a calf injury. He has started seven of the eight games he has played in this season, totaling 49 tackles and a sack.

Love is not known to have tested positive but is a roommates with Barnes.

The Packers drafted Love in the first round out of Utah State while Barnes went undrafted before signing with the Packers after four years at UCLA. The rookies were also teammates Liberty High in Bakersfield.

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NLCS Game 7 live updates: Dodgers vs. Braves

The Dodgers have battled back into the NLCS and forced a Game 7 against the Braves.

Los Angeles has not named a starting pitcher but Clayton Kershaw is expected to be an strong option.

GAME 7

The Dodgers and Braves are tied at 3 in the best-of-seven NLCS

When: Sunday, 5:15 p.m. PST

Where: Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas

TV: FOX

Can’t watch the game? Follow our live updates feed below.

A Twitter List by JHWreporter

 

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Lakers-Heat live updates: NBA Finals Game 6

LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Lakers can win the franchise’s 17th championship tonight, with a Game 6 victory over the Miami Heat.

Jimmy Butler is coming off a monster performance, finishing with 35 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists, 5 steals and a block in the Heat’s 111-108 victory in Game 5 on Friday.

 

Lakers  (3-2) vs. Heat (2-3)

When: Sunday, 4:30 p.m. PST

Where: Walt Disney World Resort, Lake Buena Vista, Florida

TV: ABC

Can’t watch the game? Follow our live updates feed below.

A Twitter List by JHWreporter

 

 

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Proposition 16 will bring discrimination in the name of equality: Michelle Steel

Over two decades ago, California set a clear standard by passing a constitutional amendment that put the state on a path to towards true equality.

Proposition 209, passed by voters in 1996, adopted language from the 1964 Civil Rights Act to prohibit the state from discriminating against or giving preference to any individual or group on the basis race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in the areas of public employment, public contracts and public education admissions.

The Californians who voted to pass Prop. 209 knew that discrimination, though long entrenched in our society, is against the fundamental values of American culture. Prop. 209 applied to California the essence of Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of a nation where individuals would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Both morality and data prove that this merit-based approach is working in its most controversial application – college admissions – and aiding minorities in the state. Hoping California voters ignore this, politicians in Sacramento recently approved Assembly Constitutional Amendment 5 (ACA 5), a ballot initiative repealing Prop. 209 and ensuring a return to racial discrimination.

Prop. 209 allows college applicants to be judged by their accomplishments in high school or community college in the admissions process, not by the color of their skin, where they come from, or by their gender. Because of this, we have seen an increase in both enrollments and graduation rates in California’s public colleges and universities.

Since the passage of Prop. 209, University of California schools have seen higher graduation rates. In the first ten years of Prop. 209, Black graduation rates at UC Berkeley saw a 6.5 percent increase. At UC San Diego, graduation rates for Black students rose from 26 percent to 52 percent. At UC Santa Cruz and UC Riverside, Black enrollment had a dramatic increase, and grades by Black students increased significantly as well.

Across the UC system, the four-year graduation rate for Black freshmen rose to 38 percent in the six years following Prop 209, from 22 percent in the six years prior to its passage.

Latino enrollment also increased in the UC system from 11.3 percent in 1998 to 20.7 percent in 2010. And while four-year graduation rates averaged 27 percent for Latino freshmen in the six years prior to Prop. 209, they rose to 40 percent in the six years after.

Asian American enrollment saw about a 5 percent increase from 36.1 to 41.3 percent over the ten-year period following passage of Prop. 209, with the percentage dropping to 39.8 percent in 2010.

In a press release announcing the UC Board of Regents support for ACA 5, Board Chair John A. Perez said –  without irony – “As we continue to explore all the University’s opportunities for action, I am proud UC endorsed giving California voters the chance to erase a stain, support opportunity and equality, and repeal Proposition 209.”

Proposition 209 did not eliminate discrimination altogether in California, and we still have much to do to fight racism. Yet the success of Prop. 209 toward race-neutral opportunity for all is anything but a “stain.”

The text of Prop. 209 reads: The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.

And it works, even though there is still more to do.

What we cannot and should not do, in our ultimate quest for equality, is to reinstate racial discrimination. Particularly when we’ve seen that a policy of non-discrimination is actually lifting up Black, Hispanic and Asian Americans.

Eliminating Prop. 209 will divide us further along racial lines. It will reverse decades of merit-based advancement for all and promote unequal treatment based on race in California. This division is exactly what we seek to eliminate in the United States.

Michelle Steel is the chairwoman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors. 

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Now is not the time for more regulations

Earlier this year, President Trump’s EPA opted to keep a regulatory standard imposed by President Obama’s EPA that aims to reduce amount of particulate matter emitted by industry.

These National Ambient Air Quality Standards, or NAAQS, have become a lightning rod issue for activists seeking to capitalize on the national apprehension around the COVID/Wuhan Virus crisis.

Surprisingly, many of the same voices who championed the Obama EPA’s 2012 NAAQS standards are now vocally opposed to them since they are being extended by a political rival.  Even the head of the EPA under Obama – a person who certainly had the opportunity to change the current rule herself – is criticizing this move by the current EPA administrator.

NAAQS standards are designed to regulate pollutants that are common in outdoor air and are considered harmful to public health and the environment.

Exposure to a large amount of particulate matter pollution, especially if it persisted over a long period of time, could damage your lungs.  But in the 50 years since the Clean Air Act was first enacted, air standards have gotten tougher and tougher, and our air has become cleaner and cleaner.

Indeed, annual concentrations of fine particulate matter in our air have decreased nearly 40 percent in just the last 20 years.  Americans pay for that increased regulation in with depressed employment and higher prices. Despite the economic impacts, many would argue that the trade-offs justify a cleaner, more healthy environment.

In this case, however, the majority of outside scientists advising EPA did not find sufficient justification for changing the current standard.

Why not lower the standard and make the air even cleaner?  The problem is that regulations cost money and that means they cost jobs.  Take away jobs and you take away the quality of life – the ability to hope for a better life.

Regulation in the United States is expensive – about $10,000 per employee.  For small businesses, the cost is even higher.  The manufacturing sector bears the brunt of this cost with small businesses absorbing costs of nearly $35,000 per employee every year.  The vast majority of those costs were from federal environmental regulations.  Those costs prevent businesses from hiring new employees and investing in new opportunities.

The newly minted opponents of the Obama EPA particulate rule are now touting a Harvard University study that the opponents claim provides a link between deaths due to the Wuhan Virus and increased particulate matter pollution.  But the Harvard study itself only argues for “continuing to enforce existing air pollution regulations,” which is exactly what EPA proposes to do here.  Even if the study is later verified through a peer-review process, EPA is not proposing to loosen the standards for particulate emissions.  Instead, the Obama-era rule will remain in effect.

Another factor that must be considered is the impact of the coronavirus. With state governments shutting down businesses for an extended period, what will the effect be of any new regulatory standard on the country as it struggles to recover from a massive economic disaster?

Because of the shutdown, more than 38 million Americans have lost their jobs.  This does not include the self-employed or “gig-economy” workers.  The unemployment rate is already the highest it has been since the Great Depression nearly a century ago.  The current unemployment rate of nearly 15 percent is significantly higher than the great recession of 2007-2009.  Nearly one-half of Americans are unemployed.

More regulation will not bring those jobs back.  It will have the opposite effect.  During its first 15 years that the Clean Air Act was in force, nearly 600,000 jobs were lost due to the new regulations.  Those jobs were lost at a time we had a functioning economy.  That is not the situation in which we currently find ourselves, however.  The “stay-at-home” orders have hammered our nation’s economy, and nobody knows how long it will take to rebuild.

In December of 2019 we had an unemployment rate of 3.4 percent.  Employers were having a difficult time finding employees to fill job openings.  Today we have a complete reversal.  Now people who want a job are having a hard time finding companies that are still in operation.  More than 100,000 small businesses have permanently closed their doors.  Many larger businesses have closed many of their locations and bankruptcy filings are on the rise.

Now is not the time to put more burdens on business.  If anything, the federal government should be looking for ways to reduce the regulatory burden in order to get the economy moving again.

In this case, however, EPA is only proposing to maintain an Obama-era regulation that was lauded by environmental advocates at the time.

There is no new scientific consensus that the EPA under President Obama made a mistake in adopting the PM standards in 2012.  EPA is right to reject calls to make those standards more stringent, particularly when the American economy is struggling to rebound from a historic calamity.

Anthony Caso is the director of the Claremont Institute’s Constitutional Jurisprudence Clinic at Chapman University, Fowler School of Law.

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The Legislature should pause and rework ACA25

Perhaps all Californians can agree, after more than three months of living under a state of emergency that has devastated the state’s economy and treasury, that state constitutional provisions regarding emergency powers need a few tweaks.

Unfortunately, a proposed state constitutional amendment now under consideration in the Legislature would worsen what we have already seen is the risk of unaccountable and secretive government overreach in an emergency.

Assembly Constitutional Amendment 25, authored by Speaker Pro Tem Kevin Mullin, D-San Mateo, would allow remote voting by lawmakers during a state of emergency and proxy voting if the state of emergency prevents the member from “safely attending the proceeding in person.”

Further, the measure would change the rules for a quorum. If one-fifth or more of the members of the Senate or Assembly could not attend because they are deceased, disabled or “missing,” bills could be passed by a simple majority of those members able to attend.

Because the terms “emergency” and “missing” are not narrowly defined, there is a concerning vulnerability to abusive practices. “State of emergency” is said to mean “the existence of conditions of disaster or of extreme peril to the safety of persons and property within the State, or parts thereof.” That covers a lot of ground, from the fear of a possible global pandemic to a local flood. “Missing” could mean anything from lost in a natural disaster to visiting another state to get a haircut.

ACA 25 was prompted by legislative pique that Gov. Gavin Newsom was issuing dozens of executive orders during the coronavirus state of emergency and signing contracts that committed the state to hundreds of millions of dollars in spending, with no transparency or legislative oversight. These are valid concerns.

It certainly makes sense to allow lawmakers to vote remotely during an emergency when travel to the state Capitol in Sacramento may be difficult or impossible. Proxy voting is more problematic. The constituents of an elected representative have the right to expect that their interests will be actively represented by the person they elected, not by a person designated to cast votes on behalf of their representatives.

A form of unofficial proxy voting has caused problems before. Tim Anaya of Pacific Research Institute pointed out that in the Assembly, lawmakers sometimes reach over and press the voting button for a seatmate who is away from the desk, a practice that draws little attention unless the vote is cast in opposition to that member’s position on a bill. In 2008, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that then-Assemblyman Kevin de Leon cast such a contrary “ghost” vote for Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi.

It’s not difficult to imagine that with a long list of bills to consider, the chaos of remote and proxy voting would decrease transparency to the point that the public was unable to determine what legislation was being passed and whether their representative supported or opposed it.

Any constitutional amendment revising emergency powers should include protections against abuse, including a precise definition of when an emergency has ended.

ACA 25 has already passed the Assembly and is under consideration in the Senate, where it would need a two-thirds vote to be placed on the ballot for voter approval. Lawmakers should slow down and consider more fully how best to revise emergency powers to maintain the operations of government during a disaster.

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California’s budget will take a very big hit

A bit of fiscal history is in order.

The Great Recession that hit California 13 years ago had a devastating effect on the state budget.

General fund revenues — principally personal income taxes paid by affluent Californians — dropped by about 20% and to maintain basic services, the Legislature and then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ran up deficits and covered them with borrowed money.

They shifted money from special funds, such as highway construction and maintenance, to prop up the general fund portion of the budget, and they triggered temporary cuts in state aid to schools, among other tactics.

When Jerry Brown returned to the governorship in 2011 he confronted what he called a “wall of debt” more than $30 billion high. Eventually, all of the borrowed money was repaid.

This history frames what is about to happen to the state budget because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Countless businesses have been shut down to battle the spread of the coronavirus, millions of jobs have been erased at least temporarily and countless billions of dollars have been wiped from stock market accounts and other investments.

The $222.2 billion 2020-21 budget that Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed in January, containing substantial increases in spending on education, health care and social services, has now been set aside. Newsom’s staff is working on a revised version to be unveiled in mid-May.

“The economic disruption from the pandemic is expected to result in a recession and have significant negative effects on state revenues,” Newsom’s Department of Finance said in a preliminary overview in mid-April. “Concurrently, the drop in the stock market may cause further revenue declines.

“This impact is expected to be immediate, affecting fiscal year 2019-20, and will continue into fiscal year 2020-21 and additional years depending on the pace of recovery of local, state and national economies.”

How bad will the “significant negative effects” be? A passage in the back pages of the budget says that a moderate recession would likely reduce general revenues by $25 billion a year. This recession isn’t moderate and could easily surpass the Great Recession in severity.

Moreover, the state is now markedly more dependent on personal income taxes than it was during the Great Recession, especially levies on the highest-income Californians whose taxable incomes are the most volatile.

The Legislature’s budget analyst, Gabriel Petek, has told lawmakers, “The state now faces a budget problem, potentially a significant one” and estimated a near-term deficit as high as $35 billion, eventually reaching $85 billion.

A $35 billion drop would be 23% of the revenue previously estimated for the 2020-21 general fund and it might be a conservative figure, given the budget’s estimate of a $25 billion impact from a moderate recession. Even so, $35 billion is twice what the state has squirreled away in its emergency reserve accounts.

State officials estimate that fighting the pandemic will cost about $7 billion, most of which will likely be reimbursed by the federal government, albeit with borrowed money. Nevertheless, the state would still see a heavy hit on non-pandemic spending — unless Congress and President Donald Trump give state and local governments substantial no-strings relief.

The revised budget that Newsom will propose this month, and the one the Legislature will enact by June 15, will be nothing more than preliminary guesses, since the fuller extent of the fiscal crisis won’t emerge until after the July 15 income tax filing deadline.

The budget will be revised more or less continuously thereafter as both the pandemic and the economy evolve. It will be bad, but until it happens we won’t know the depth of the fiscal damage.

CalMatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories by Dan Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary

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