Capitol Alert

Assisted death battle drags on in California

Deborah Ziegler holds a photo of her daughter, Brittany Maynard, with her husband Gary Holmes after the California Senate passed SB 128 on June 4, 2015. SB 128 allows for physicians to assist in the death of terminally ill patients.
Deborah Ziegler holds a photo of her daughter, Brittany Maynard, with her husband Gary Holmes after the California Senate passed SB 128 on June 4, 2015. SB 128 allows for physicians to assist in the death of terminally ill patients.

More than a year after California became the fifth state to allow assisted death, the controversial policy is still embroiled in court.

Just last week, supporters celebrated the first anniversary of the law, which authorizes physicians to prescribe lethal medication to patients with less than six months left to live. The advocacy group Compassion & Choices announced that it has already helped at least 500 Californians obtain a prescription, though we won’t know until July exactly how many people statewide took advantage of the law in its first year.

But opponents, who have raised concerns about the devaluing of life and potential abuses against vulnerable Californians, are still seeking a way to overturn the policy. Though they previously failed to put a referendum on the ballot, a lawsuit filed last June shortly before the assisted death law took effect, alleging that it violates the civil rights of terminally ill patients, is ongoing in Riverside County.

It’s been nearly nine months since a judge denied the plaintiffs’ request to suspend the law, and the case remains in limbo. Several subsequent hearings have been delayed.

A session is finally scheduled this morning, however, to consider a February motion by Attorney General Xavier Becerra to dismiss the lawsuit. He argued the assisted death law is constitutional because it recognizes an adult’s right to control his or her own health care.

The judge could choose to grant that motion and end the legal wrangling – for now, at least. But if he decides to issue a ruling, set further hearings or even allow the plaintiffs to re-plead their case, it may be weeks or months more before we reach a resolution.

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ARE WE THERE YET: Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, chairman of the California State Transportation and Housing Committee, will be joined by several other big names in transportation at a summit to discuss Senate Bill 1, his controversial bill that dedicates over $50 billion to transportation projects via increased fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees. The bill passed in April. During the summit, which starts at 8:15 a.m. at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, the panel of experts will be asked to assess the various strategies local and regional governments have undertaken to address California’s transportation needs. Scheduled speakers include Norman Mineta, former U.S. Secretary of Transportation and U.S. Secretary of Commerce; Asha Agrawal, director of the Mineta Transportation Institute’s Finance Center; Nuria Fernandez, CEO of Valley Transportation Authority; and Bill Higgins, executive director of CALCOG.

MUST READ: Language in a budget-related bill sent to Gov. Jerry Brown will make dam-safety plans secret, to “protect public safety.”

HEALING AND PREVENTION: In promoting Senate Bill 442, which would update California’s 20-year-old residential Pool Safety Act, Newman will meet with Fullerton residents to discuss drowning prevention, at the Fullerton Community Center, 10:15 a.m.

PUBLIC CONTAMINATION: The Sacramento Bee has written about contaminants that still plague California drinking water – see here, here and here – but according to Senator Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, “more than one million Californians are exposed to unsafe drinking water in their homes and school each year.” Today, he will visit Fresno County to speak with residents like Bertha Diaz, who live with contaminated drinking water. The visit continues at 11:30 a.m. at Lanare Community Center in Riverdale.

VIDEO OF THE DAY: Senators debated the budget.

CELEBRATE: The Bee wishes happy birthdays to Assemblyman Mark Stone, D-Scotts Valley, and Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego. On Saturday, they will turn 60 and 59, respectively. And a happy birthday to Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, as he turns 66 on Sunday.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff