Monday, August 24, 2009

"East Bay Democrat Mary Hayashi is carrying a bill for insurance companies at the expense of consumers."

"East Bay Democrat Mary Hayashi is carrying a bill for insurance companies at the expense of consumers," is the first sentence of an email message I received recently from the Consumer Attorneys of California, of which I am a member.

I took a look at the bill, AB 1200. As summarized in the State Senate analysis of the bill, AB 1200
Would significantly revise and recast California's auto repair anti-steering law duties, obligations and allowed conduct for insurance companies, relative to consumers and other parties in the claims settlement process, including 1) Eliminating an insurer's duty to provide a specified written notice of a consumers right to select an auto body shop, and 2) Eliminating a prohibition in current law on an insurer suggesting or recommending that the claimant select a different body shop after a consumer has indicated their body shop choice.

The bill is sponsored by State Farm and a host of other auto insurance companies. It has received stiff opposition from consumer groups.

AB 1200 would reverse current California law. California has an anti-steering law authored by then state senator Jackie Speier in Senate Bill 551. The law prohibits insurers from recommending repair shops unless the consumer has requested recommendations, or the insurer has informed the consumer in writing that the consumer has the right to choose a repair shop. A.B. 1200 overturns this prohibition and permits insurers to direct claimants to a list of auto body shops preferred by the insurance company.

What appears to be an expansion of choice for the consumer under AB 1200 is an illusion. What is never disclosed to the customer, and why SB 551 was necessary, is that insurance companies have agreements with the auto shops they refer customers to and which operate to the detriment of the consumer. As now U.S. Representative Speier recently wrote:
In 2003, while serving in the state Senate, I wrote the law that gives consumers the right to select the collision repair facility of their choice. This law was necessary because insurance companies routinely make deals with preferred shops to use cheaper used or "after-market" parts rather than parts made by the vehicle manufacturer. Sometimes the imitation parts work fine, but too often they don't fit the vehicle or are made of inferior metals and plastics. The law made it illegal for insurers to steer policy holders toward specific shops.

Most auto polices require the insurance company to pay for parts of "like kind and quality." However, auto insurance companies, if allowed, will not pay for fixing cars with auto parts produced by the original auto manufacturer. Instead, the insurance companies insist that auto repair shops, in exchange for receiving the referral, use lower priced, and lower quality, parts from third party manufacturers.

Speier added in her commentary:
Let's say that you are able to withstand your insurer's pressure tactics and demand that your body shop use factory parts. You still may not be protected. Because buried in many policies is a provision where the insurer reserves the right to use either factory or aftermarket parts, whichever is cheaper.

Hayashi has defended her bill claiming that "AB1200 has been subject to a disinformation campaign led by those who have a vested interest in not allowing insurers to discuss these options with their claimants."

That is not the case. One of the state's leading consumer organizations, the Consumer Federation of California, is opposed to Hayashi's bill:
California law protects policy holders from receiving what appears to be impartial advice, when they are actually being steered to insurer-preferred auto repair shops. Body shops in the insurer’s preferred network may be contractually obligated to perform an inferior scope of repair services to save the insurer money.

This can lead to costly re-repairs, and even to the voiding of factory warrantees. AB 1200 also contains legislative intent language that would apply the weak consumer protection standards of the bill to cases after January 1, 2010, regardless of the date of the violation of anti-steering law. Far from providing consumers with more information in order to make better informed choices, AB 1200 opens the door for unscrupulous insurers to provide one-sided and manipulative information, even after a policyholder has selected a repair shop, for the purpose of unduly influencing the policyholder to act in the insurer’s financial interest at the policyholder’s expense.

Likewise, California-based Consumer Watch is also opposed to AB 1200:
"California legislators were right to stop this kind of anti-consumer steering six years ago, and nothing has changed that would make the relationships between insurers and body shops any better for consumers," said Consumer Watchdog staff attorney Todd Foreman. "If anything, lawmakers should be adding consumer protections to the anti-steering law, not gutting the existing rules."

What is really at issue is money. The auto insurance companies can significantly boost their profits if they can steer consumers to auto shops that use cheap replacement parts for damaged cars. A hundred or two hundred dollars saved on each repair for every customer in California can amount to millions over the course of the year for State Farm and other auto insurers.

Hayashi's bill easily passed the Assembly. Hopefully, the State Senate will undertake a closer examination and reject the bill.

Update

Below is the vote on in the State Senate on AB 1200 on August 24, 2009. It needed 21 votes to pass and came up 2 votes short. The bulk of the support came from Reps. The progressive Bay Area Dems - Corbett, Hancock, Leno, etc. - all voted against it.

UNOFFICIAL BALLOT
MEASURE: AB 1200
AUTHOR: Hayashi
TOPIC: Motor vehicle insurance: direct repair progra
DATE: 08/24/2009
LOCATION: SEN. FLOOR
MOTION: Assembly 3rd Reading AB1200 Hayashi By Calderon
(AYES 19. NOES 17.) (FAIL)

AYES
****
Aanestad Ashburn Benoit Calderon Cedillo Cogdill Correa Cox Denham Dutton Harman Hollingsworth Huff Kehoe Runner Strickland Walters Wyland Yee

NOES
****
Alquist Corbett DeSaulnier Ducheny Florez Hancock Leno Liu Lowenthal Maldonado Negrete McLeod Oropeza Romero Simitian Steinberg Wiggins Wolk

ABSENT, ABSTAINING, OR NOT VOTING
*********************************
Padilla Pavley Price Wright

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

2009 San Leandro Schools STAR Test Scores And No Child Left Behind

San Leandro Unified School District students recorded modest improvements on the 2009 California Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) test compared to the 2008 results.

The summary report for 2009 showed that on the English-Language Arts test (Grades 2-11) 40.6% of students scored proficient or advanced, up from 37.4% in 2008. In mathematics, however, there was no improvement. 33.8% of students for Grades 2-7 were proficient or advanced in both 2008 and 2009. Certain schools at the elementary level showed significant progress.

However, the overall performance of San Leandro schools was less than the average scores for California and Alameda County students in 2009:

Alameda County
English-Language Arts: 54.9% Proficient or Advanced
Mathematics: 49.5% Proficient or Advanced

California
English-Language Arts: 49.9% Proficient or Advanced
Mathematics: 45.8% Proficient or Advanced


For San Leandro, the most significant aspect of the 2009 STAR test results is that the district no longer meets the proficiency standard set by California under the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) statute. As explained by EdSource, under NCLB the state:
sets annual benchmarks (called annual measurable objectives or AMOs) for the percentage of students in each California school and district who should be proficient in English and math. Schools are expected to achieve these benchmarks in order to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) toward a goal of 100% proficient in 2013-14. In 2007-08, the state's performance targets began to rise sharply; and under current NCLB rules, they will continue to do so until [they reach 100% proficiency by] 2013-14.

In addition to all students at each grade level meeting the proficiency standards, students within every racial/ethnic and socioeconomic subgroups must score "proficient" or better.

The AYP goal for unified school districts in California last year was about 35% proficient or advanced. In 2009, the number jumped to 45%. Even though San Leandro's English test scores improved, the district did not meet the 2009 proficiency standard of 45%, and showed no progress in standard math. Nor given the gradual progress of the district over the past six years on STAR tests, is there any realistic chance San Leandro will meet the proficiency standards for the current school year. The standards are 56% proficient or advanced for 2009-2010. The district would have to show a 16% increase in English Language Arts and 22% increase in mathematics. While in some years test scores at individual schools have jumped significantly, there have never been such gains districtwide.

Sadly, the media may report that San Leandro schools are "failing" under NCLB. There certainly is room for substantial improvement in San Leandro's test scores, particularly given the district falls under the average for test scores in Alameda County. We should expect the best of all students.

San Leandro Superintendent Christine Lim has focused much of her work on eliminating the achievement gap among students of different races and ethnic groups within the district. While I supported this work as a board member, I also sought to ensure that the district's top goal was high academic performance by all students. The latest test scores highlight that a substantial achievement gap exists between the performance of San Leandro students and students in other districts in the county.

However, the educational experience of our children should not be distorted by overwhelming pressure placed on teachers and principals to meet unattainable performance levels. When in human history have all students at every school been proficient in every subject? In March 2008, I wrote,
The federal government has intruded in education through the No Child Left Behind Act. NCLB establishes wholly unrealistic standards of performance for our public schools. When schools do not meet these standards, they are labeled failures, triggering a set of escalating sanctions ending in the conversion of our public schools into charter schools. Congress is debating whether to reauthorize NCLB. If Congress applied the same performance measurements to itself, Congress would receive an "F." The federal government should offer a helping hand to schools in need, not punitive sanctions.

NCLB is another example of the truth of the saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. In time, every school district in California will be labeled a failure under the law, even districts such as Fremont and Pleasanton where students score in the 70% range or higher for proficiency in English. They will never achieve 100% proficiency - unless the state were to so water down the standards as to make them meaningless. As explained in a recent report by the Public Policy Institute of California:
NCLB requires that every student be proficient in math and English-language arts by 2013–14. In California, student proficiency rates have climbed steadily for several years. Yet California schools and districts will soon miss the mark, because NCLB’s timetable for proficiency growth is now climbing rapidly toward the 100 percent goal. Although average student test scores in California are at all-time highs in many subjects, nearly every school and school district in California will be labeled a failure within the next five years.

In the meantime, because San Leandro did not meet the proficiency standards under NCLB, the state may notify the district that it is in "Program Improvement." Program Improvement is the name for the sanctions under NCLB. It involves a succession of interventions that become more severe with each year that a district does not meet the proficiency rates. EdSource provides a summary of Program Improvement for school districts:

And as with schools in PI, consequences for districts (and county offices) in PI grow more serious over time:

The first year of PI is primarily a planning year, with the agency required to revise its existing plan for Title I dollars. In addition, 10% of Title I funds must be set aside for the staff’s professional development, and parents must be informed of the reasons for entering PI.

If the agency again fails to make AYP, it enters Year 2 and must implement its revised Title I plan. In addition, the California Department of Education is to provide technical assistance.

In Year 3, the district enters the “corrective action” phase, and the CDE must take one of the following actions:

* Defer programmatic funds or reduce administrative funds;
* Institute new curriculum and professional development for staff;
* Replace the district staff;
* Remove individual schools from district jurisdiction and arrange for governance;
* Appoint a trustee in place of the superintendent and school board; or
* Abolish or restructure the district.

Community Meeting on San Leandro Hospital: August 27th

"What’s Next for San Leandro Hospital?" is the title of town hall scheduled by State Senator Ellen Corbett. Her flyer asks:

Is a transfer of San Leandro Hospital to Sutter in the best interest of our community? What will this potential transfer mean to services at San Leandro Hospital?

The town hall will be on Thursday, August 27, 2009, at 6 p.m. at the San Leandro Main Library.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Schwarzenegger Eliminates Funding for Domestic Violence Shelters

As part of the budget, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger used his line item veto power to eliminate state funding for all domestic violence shelters in California. The cuts could lead to the closure of some shelters, particularly in rural areas. Where the shelter is operated by an organization with other funding sources, the shelter will likely remain open for the next year, but with reduced staffing and programs. Some shelters may be reduced to offering only emergency services.

In Alameda County, five shelters lost their funding, including a hit of $200,000 for San Leandro's shelter operated by Building Futures with Women and Children. As reported in the San Leandro Times,

Building Futures Executive Director Liz Varela said that the budget cuts will mean that the shelter won’t be able to take in as many people and that Building Futures may have to lay off employees. Building Future’s “Sister Me Home” shelter houses over 200 women and children each year and the state cuts will take $208,000 from the shelter’s $380,000 annual operation budget. The organization has a total annual budget of $2 million, including counseling and career services for 800 clients.

Varela said that shelters like “Sister Me Home” are often the only thing coming between victims and their abusers, and the state funding is vital, perhaps even life-saving. “Basically, over half of our funding is gone,” said Varela. “ And what is so devastating is that this particular money goes to the core of what we do: the safehouse for battered women. Cuts to that make everything else we do more fragile.”

Varela said that Building Futures will have to make across-the-board cuts to staff and programs. Most of the money was to have come from the state on July 1, the start of the fi scal year, and was delayed when the state budget was delayed. Now, it is not coming at all.

Peggy Combs, the Development & Operations Director of BFWC, also sent an email message to supporters of the organization that I've copied below:

Dear Friends and Supporters of Building Futures:

Because we know you are a strong supporter of Building Futures with Women and Children and you have a deep interest in our domestic violence programs, including our safe house shelter, we wanted you to know about the crushing budget cut we received last week when the Governor used his line item veto to wipe out completely the State’s funding for all 94 domestic violence shelters across the state.

As you will see in the attached press release from Building Futures, this means a cut of $208,000 this fiscal year for our safe house – our single largest funding contract for the entire agency. This funding was central to our safe house shelter budget, which overall is about $380,000 per year. Although this cut is about 10% of the agency’s budget for operating five sites and multiple programs, it is over half the budget for the safe house shelter.

Since this shelter is for women and children in immediate danger from their abusers, we do not have options like closing the shelter during the day or operating the shelter without 24-hour staffing. Instead, Building Futures plans to maintain our core shelter program by cutting back on some of the support services that are helping women to make positive transitions to lives and relationships without violence. Domestic violence support groups and other community-based programs will be curtailed in order to realign staff and funding resources with core support for clients in the safe house.

A second press release is attached that is being distributed by a coalition of all five domestic violence agencies in Alameda County , including Building Futures, which addresses our major concerns about the $1,000,000 loss this budget cut imposes on the five domestic violence shelters in this County.

Today there is an article in the SF Chronicle about the State’s cuts to domestic violence shelters across the state, and about what one legislator from San Francisco is proposing in new legislation that would provide some replacement funding for all the hard-hit shelters; here is the link to the article:

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2009/08/05/BA76193RL1.DTL

If you have any questions or comments, please contact our Executive Director, Liz Varela , or me.

Meanwhile, please know how much all of us at Building Futures appreciate the many ways you and our “community of supporters” make our work possible with underserved women and children in crisis.

Peggy

Peggy Hynd Combs
Development & Operations Director
Building Futures with Women & Children
1395 Bancroft Avenue, San Leandro , CA 94577
(510) 357-0205 x106 * FAX (510) 357-0688
pcombs@bfwc.org
www.BFWC.org

Serving women and children in crisis to build futures free from homelessness and family violence.


Click here for a story on the impact of the funding cut for the domestic violence shelter for Contra Costa County.