On suspense file day, state legislators killed dozens of bills, including some controversial proposals on health care costs, social media regulation, pay transparency, climate change and much, more more.
On most days, California lawmakers deliberate, debate and decide bills out in public for every Californian to see.
Today is not one of those days.
In simultaneous marathon hearings, the appropriations committees in the Assembly and Senate rattled through hundreds of bills in a single discharge of rapid-fire legislating. Many proposals lived to see another day. Among them: Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposal for new courts to compel more homeless individuals to seek mental health and substance abuse treatment, and bills to strictly limit the use of solitary confinement in California jails and prisons, allow for the composting of human remains and increase family leave payments for lower-wage workers, though it wouldn’t take effect until 2024.
But many other closely-watched bills came to an unceremonious end, killed in one of Sacramento’s most opaque lawmaking processes. They included a Republican-backed bill that would have capped copays for insulin, a California Medical Association-backed proposal making it easier for doctors to approve procedures and prescriptions without first getting permission from an insurance company, and a bill to allow prosecutors to go after social media companies for knowingly addicting children.
It’s called the suspense file. For months, the appropriations committees, tasked with assessing the fiscal impact of any bill outside the annual budget, gather any legislation with more than a negligible price tag and put it to the side. Then twice a year, after legislative leaders decide which bills live and which die behind closed doors, they announce the results in a single hearing. In most cases, no public votes are taken and no debates are held.
In theory, this arcane procedure allows lawmakers to quickly run through the hundreds of fiscal bills they need to consider by the end of the legislative session, which arrives at the end of this month. Today, the two committees ran through more than 820 bills.
In practice, it’s also a good way for Democratic lawmakers, who hold super-majority power, to kill legislation without having to take a public, and potentially politically difficult, stand. The stakes were especially high today. The legislative session ends this month and many lawmakers will either retire or be replaced before the next one begins, making this the last opportunity for some legislators to leave their mark on state policy. Politically, it’s also a tense time: the November general election is less than three months away.
Thus, bills requiring gun owners to buy liability insurance and forcing law enforcement agencies to let the public listen to police radio transmissions were also quietly killed. Who pulled the trigger? The public often has no way to know for sure. We can only count the legislation that succumbed.
In this case, more than 200 were killed, while nearly 600 stayed alive.
Here are some of the bills that were culled — and the advocacy and interest groups that lobbied on them:
No help for diabetics
Dead for the session: A bill by Sen. Pat Bates, a San Clemente Republican, that would have capped insulin copays at $35 per prescription per month for diabetics. With insulin list prices increasing on average 15% to 17% per year since 2012, some state and federal leaders have been pressing for action with little success. A similar effort for privately insured patients was also recently abandoned in the U.S. Senate; Congress is, however, moving forward with a $35-a-month cap for Medicare patients.
“The decision by Assembly Democratic leadership to hold the bill blocked meaningful relief for millions of California residents struggling to pay for the rising cost of insulin. This was a missed opportunity for the California State Legislature to accomplish what Washington D.C. failed to do,” Bates said in a statement.
Her bill was opposed by the health insurance lobby that has long argued that copay caps do nothing to bring down the actual list price of the drug and would only shift the cost in the form of higher premiums.
Supporters said such a bill could have provided more immediate relief to patients. California has plans to manufacture and distribute its own, more affordable insulin, but that could take years. As of last week, the governor’s office said it has started a “request for information” process with drug manufacturers interested in partnering with the state. In California, 3.2 million people have been diagnosed with diabetes and many of them rely on insulin to survive.