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California Legislators Debate Froot Loops and Free Condoms


SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California state lawmakers this year are continuing their progressive tilt on health policy with dozens of proposals including a ban on a Froot Loops ingredient and free condoms for high schoolers.

As states increasingly fracture along partisan lines, California Democrats are stamping their supermajority on legislation that they will consider until they adjourn at the end of August. But the cost of these proposals will be a major factor given the enormity of the state’s deficit, currently estimated at between $38 billion and $73 billion.

Health Coverage

Lawmakers are again considering whether to create a government-run, single-payer health care system for all Californians. AB 2200 is Democratic Assembly member Ash Kalra’s second such attempt, after a similar bill failed in 2022. The price tag would be enormous, though proponents say there would also be related savings. The high potential cost left Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas and others skeptical it could become law while the state faces a deficit.

AB 4 would require Covered California, the state’s health insurance exchange, to offer health insurance policies to people who are otherwise not able to obtain coverage because of their immigration status, to the extent it can under federal law. That could eventually lead to subsidized insurance premiums similar to those offered in Colorado and Washington.

Medical Debt

Health care providers and collection agencies would be barred from sharing patients’ medical debt with credit reporting agencies under SB 1061. The bill would also prohibit credit reporting agencies from accepting, storing, or sharing any such information without consumer consent. Last year, the Biden administration announced plans to develop federal rules barring unpaid medical bills from affecting patients’ credit scores. California would be the third state to remove medical bills from consumer credit reports.

Medi-Cal

The Medi-Cal program, which provides health care for low-income people, would be required to cover medically supportive food and nutrition starting July 1, 2026, under AB 1975. The bill builds on an existing but limited pilot program. The legislation says Californians of color could benefit from adequate food and nutrition to combat largely preventable chronic health conditions, and it’s one of 14 measures sought by the California Legislative Black Caucus as part of reparations for racial injustice.

More than 1.6 million California residents, disproportionately Latinos, have been kicked off Medi-Cal since the state resumed annual eligibility checks that were halted during the covid-19 pandemic. AB 2956 would have the state seek federal approval to slow those disenrollments by taking steps such as letting people 19 and older keep their coverage automatically for 12 months.

Violence Prevention

An increase in attacks on health workers is prompting lawmakers to consider boosting criminal penalties. In California, simple assault against workers inside an ER is considered the same as simple assault against almost anyone else, and carries a maximum punishment of a $1,000 fine and six months in jail. In contrast, simple assault against emergency medical workers in the field, such as an EMT responding to a 911 call, carries maximum penalties of a $2,000 fine and a year in jail. AB 977 would set the same maximum penalties for assaulting emergency health care workers on the job, whether they are in the field or an ER.

California could toughen penalties for interfering with reproductive health care services. Posting personal information or photographs of a patient or provider would be a felony if one of them is injured as a result. AB 2099 also boosts penalties for intimidation or obstruction.

Under SB 53, gun owners would have to lock up their weapons in state-approved safes or lockboxes where they would be inaccessible to anyone but the owner or another lawfully authorized user. Democratic Sen. Anthony Portantino, the bill’s author, says that would make it tougher for anyone, including children, to use guns to harm themselves or others or use the weapons to commit crimes. Critics say it would make it harder to access the weapon when it’s needed, such as to counter a home invasion. Relatedly, AB 2621 and AB 2917 address gun violence restraining orders.

Substance Use

The spike in drug overdoses has prompted several responses: AB 3073 would require the state’s public health department to partner with local public health agencies, wastewater treatment facilities, and others to pilot wastewater testing for traces of dangerous drugs in an effort to pinpoint drug hot spots and identify new drugs. AB 1976 would require workplace first-aid kits to include naloxone nasal spray, which can reverse opioid overdoses. And senators have proposed at least nine bills aimed at curbing overdose deaths, particularly from the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl.

Youth Welfare

Under AB 2229, backed by a “Know Your Period” campaign, school districts’ sex education curricula would have to include menstrual health. There was no registered opposition.

Public schools would have to make free condoms available to all pupils in grades nine to 12 under SB 954, which would help prevent unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, according to the author, Democratic Sen. Caroline Menjivar. Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a similar bill last year.

Reality show star Paris Hilton is backing a bipartisan bill to require more reporting on the treatment of youth in state-licensed short-term residential therapeutic programs. SB 1043 would require the state Department of Social Services to post information on the use of restraints and seclusion rooms on a public dashboard.

California would expand its regulation of hemp products, which have become increasingly popular among youths as a way to bypass the state’s adults-only restrictions on legal cannabis. AB 2223 would build on a 2021 law that Assembly member Cecilia Aguiar-Curry said in hindsight didn’t go far enough.

Public schools would, under AB 2316, generally be barred from providing food containing red dye 40, titanium dioxide, and other potentially harmful substances, which are currently used in products including Froot Loops and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. It’s Democratic Assembly member Jesse Gabriel’s follow-up to his legislation last year that attempted to ban a chemical used in Skittles.

Women’s Health

AB 2515 would ban the sale of menstrual products with intentionally added PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals.” PFAS, short for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, have been linked to serious health problems. Newsom vetoed a previous attempt.

Public grade schools and community colleges would, under AB 2901, have to provide 14 weeks of paid leave for pregnancies, miscarriages, childbirth, termination of pregnancies, or recovery. Newsom vetoed a similar bill in 2019.

AB 2319 would improve enforcement of a 2019 law aimed at reducing the disproportionate rate of maternal mortality among Black women and other pregnant women of color.

Social Media

Social media companies could face substantial penalties if they don’t do enough to protect children, under AB 3172. The measure would allow financial damages of up to $1 million for each child under age 18 who proves in court they were harmed, or three times the amount of the child’s actual damages. The industry opposes the bill, calling it harmful censorship.

Cyberbullies could face civil liabilities up to $75,000 under SB 1504, and those damages could be sought by anyone. Under current law, damages are capped at $7,500 and may be pursued only by the state attorney general.

Wellness

Bosses could be fined for repeatedly contacting employees after working hours under AB 2751, a “right to disconnect” bill patterned after similar restrictions in 13 countries. The bill’s author, Democratic Assembly member Matt Haney, said despite the advent of smartphones that “have blurred the boundaries between work and home life,” employees shouldn’t be expected to work around the clock. The measure is opposed by the California Chamber of Commerce.

Finally, Democrat Anthony Rendon, a long-serving state Assembly speaker, is spending his last year in the chamber leading a first-in-the-nation Select Committee on Happiness and Public Policy Outcomes. The committee isn’t planning any legislation but intends to issue a report after lawmakers adjourn in August.

This article was produced by KFF Health News, which publishes California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation. 

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