Month: May 2011

Despite undocumented status, day laborers are demanding their rights

Jose Cruz stood on the corner of a well-trafficked gas station in San Francisco’s Mission District. The cars passed him by. Drivers rarely stopped to look at Cruz on this recent morning. The Mexican immigrant is a day laborer, and like thousands of workers who stand on the street corner looking for work, Cruz hopes to make enough money to pay his rent and food and other basic needs. And like many who seek daily work on street corners, Cruz is vulnerable to being cheated out of his wages.

Ruling could shake up prison policy

By Daniel Weintraub

The U.S. Supreme Court decision requiring California to reduce overcrowding in its prisons has triggered an outcry from legislators and the criminal justice community about the possibility of thousands of dangerous felons being released to the streets before the end of their terms.

That’s not likely to happen.

But the decision has shone a spotlight on one of the fastest growing parts of the state budget at a time when Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers are trying to cut anywhere they can. And the opinion has the potential to reignite a decades-long debate over whether California can and should do more to reduce crime by ensuring that felons who leave prison are as prepared as possible to start new, law-abiding lives on the outside.

Gays, lesbians suffer health disparities

“The eyebrow goes up and it feels like a judgment when I tell them I am attracted to girls. They look confused.”

“The default is always that you are straight, and you have to correct them. It is never an open ended-question. They don’t know what to say when you’re having sex with a woman. That discredits my lifestyle and the risks involved in all types of sexual activity.”

These are remarks from two young women in a recent focus group in Los Angeles County about the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) patients with health providers. Their comments underscore a pervasive but often ignored problem within health care for LGBT populations – a problem that is coming to light more and more through new research and legislation.

LGBT patients, according to a March report by the Institute of Medicine, have unique healthcare needs and concerns – just like other minorities. The UCLA Center for Health Policy Research also revealed in March that older LGBT adults in California have higher rates of chronic disease, mental distress and isolation than heterosexuals.

Why? Because too often LGBT patients receive substandard treatment from medical staff – or skip care altogether, fearing judgment, ignorant questions, blank stares and irrelevant recommendations.

The answer is health professionals who are more knowledgeable about and sensitive to the specific needs of LGBT patients, approaching each patient as an individual, without assumption, judgment or ignorance about what they need or are concerned about. This concept isn’t new. In fact, throughout health care there is a movement to increase “cultural competency”: the degree to which patients and providers can communicate without cultural differences hindering the experience.

Government payrolls shrinking. Really.

In this time of crushing budget deficits and guaranteed public pension plans, one sentiment seems widespread among voters: government always grows. Even with cutbacks and a floundering economy, many Americans clearly believe that government only gets bigger.

But in California, government has indeed shrunk by one metric: the number of employees on the payroll. Employment numbers independently collected by the state Employment Development Department show that since the housing market collapsed in 2008 more than 100,000 federal, state and local government jobs have been eliminated in California, creating the worst job market in that sector since at least 1990.

Locals could get more power to tax

A pot tax for police? How about sin taxes for schools?

California lawmakers are tip-toeing toward giving cities and schools broad new authority to ask voters those questions.

But whether Democrats are truly serious or merely feinting during intense negotiations to place taxes on a future state ballot will probably not be answered until later this summer.

Student success linked to student health

California faces a devastating future because too many students are not graduating or are in remediation classes at college, especially children of color and lower income students. Too many kids are disengaged and don’t care if they drop out, stay in school or just get by.

We also know that students need help to address their health and well-being because children who are hungry, sick, unfit, stressed or who feel disconnected from school will not perform or be motivated to learn. That is why we need to make schools more relevant by supporting legislation that links learning with health.

Yesterday, as chairwoman of the Assembly Committee on Education, I had the pleasure of hearing information gathered by The California Healthy Students Project, which linked student health to student academic success, at a joint oversight hearing by the Assembly Committees on Education and Health.

During the hearing, participants challenged the two committees to work together on implementing strategic, cost-effective reforms across health, education, juvenile justice and nutrition sectors so that students are ready to learn and meet high academic expectations.

Deborah White of Fontana fishes on a recent Saturday afternoon at the Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier in Long Beach. Outreach programs have helped White and other anglers learn about the dangers of contaminated fish.

Anglers still flock to piers, despite contaminated fish

Fontana resident Deborah White has spent most of her life fishing along the Los Angeles County coast. “I’ve been fishing down here since I was knee-high to a duck,” she said this month while fishing at the Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier in Long Beach. And for most of her life, White and her husband Ray – along with other anglers – have had to be careful about which fish they eat.

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