Capitol Alert

There’s a new top advocate for women’s reproductive rights in California

After more than two decades fighting for women’s reproductive rights, Kathy Kneer is retiring as the head of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California next month. The organization hired Crystal Strait, an experienced Democratic political aide and strategist, to take on the role of chief executive.

The move represents a changing of the guard for a vocal and powerful advocacy group for women’s health at the Capitol. Strait, a senior advisor to Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and former chief of staff to Kevin Johnson, assumes the leadership position as the national organization battles funding threats out of Washington and affiliates in the state prepare to shutter at least three health centers in Northern California. Kneer officially retires July 5.

California has long been considered a beacon of progressive ideals compared to conservative states like Texas, which recently passed laws requiring burials or cremation for aborted fetal tissue and outright bans on common second-trimester abortions. That’s not to say Planned Parenthood doesn’t also face challenges in the Golden State.

California’s low reimbursement rates for Medi-Cal providers is at least one reason for the health center closures in Vacaville, Pittsburg and Richmond, officials said. Nearly 90 percent of Planned Parenthood patients use Medi-Cal, a state program that provides health coverage to low-income residents. Kneer and others have long argued that reimbursements for services are so low that it becomes difficult to continue to treat Medi-Cal patients and keep health centers afloat.

The organization supported Proposition 56, the 2016 ballot measure that increased tobacco taxes by $2 per pack of cigarettes. Proponents intended for $1 billion of the new tax revenue to go toward raising rates for doctors, hospitals and other providers. But Gov. Jerry Brown’s initial budget proposal instead spent the money to cover cost increases for the Medi-Cal program.

Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, the California Medical Association and others are mounting pressure on lawmakers to carve out funding for rate increases in the final budget. Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, said Thursday that a budget deal is in the works to do just that, although details on the increases have not yet been released.

WORTH REPEATING: “Why didn’t you stop and say ‘Mr. President, this is wrong – I cannot discuss that with you?” – Sen. Dianne Feinstein, questioning former FBI Director James Comey

DREAM BIG: California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is taking a break from his stately duties to deliver the commencement speech for C.K. McClatchy High School, from which he graduated in 1976. The ceremony begins at 7 p.m at Memorial Auditorium on J Street.

BROWN BEAT: Fresh off a trip to China to forge ahead with an agreement to reduce emissions sans Washington, Gov. Brown is appearing at Milton Marks Auditorium in San Francisco today to continue stumping for the environment. Brown and Barbara Hendricks, a German federal minister for environment, are slated to talk to reporters about their ongoing commitment to fight climate change as part of the Under2 Coalition, described as a global pact among cities, states and countries to keep the global average temperature below 2 degrees Celsius.

TALK POT: The state weed bureau is hosting its third public meeting to receive feedback on medical cannabis regulations today. The 10 a.m. forum at the California Department of Consumer Affairs will focus on rules related to distributors, transporters and dispensaries.

Editor’s note: Thursday’s AM Alert inaccurately described the status of the death penalty in California. Statewide voters last year rejected a ballot measure to repeal the death penalty and approved another aimed at expediting the process.

Taryn Luna: 916-326-5545, @TarynLuna