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Legislative Wrap-Up: American-Made Flags, Education Reform, Prison Condoms

Some of the items involving East Bay legislators this week in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.

The state Capitol in Sacramento
The state Capitol in Sacramento
The House and Senate approved a provision by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Napa) to require the Department of Defense to buy only flags that are 100 percent manufactured in the United States.

The provision, part of H.R. 3547, applies the Berry Amendment to the flags. The amendment, approved in 1941, requires the defense department to buy certain products that are only manufactured in the United States.

“This provision will make sure every American flag DOD buys is made in America, by American workers with American products,” said Thompson. “I am proud to have worked to pass this law so that our men and women in uniform never have to fight under a U.S. flag made overseas.”

Another provision in H.R. 3547 authored by Thompson holds the Department of Veterans Affairs responsible for ending the backlog of claims at the Veterans Benefits Administration.

Currently, new claims can take almost 300 days to process. The regional office in Oakland has one of the longest backlogs in the country.

“This law will help hold the VA accountable for making sure our veterans and their families receive the benefits they have earned,” said Thompson. “No one who has served our nation in the Armed Forces should be forced to wait nearly a year for care and benefits because their local VA is backlogged. With this law in place, we will be able to make sure the VA continues to do everything possible to get this problem fixed.”

An education reform bill was introduced by Rep. Mike Honda (D-San Jose).

H.R. 3873 would allow districts to use the community schools model in education reform.

Community schools is a school improvement model that is effectively transforming low performing schools across the country by improving school readiness, parent involvement, academic support and success, students’ physical, social and emotional well-being, and community engagement.

“The Community School model is a positive, proven method for improving public schools,” said Honda. “It gives school districts more flexibility, and it focuses on bringing the entire community together to educate our children. Providing schools with this turnaround model is a critical step in improving education for millions of children.”

An environmental bill by state Sen. Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro) was approved by the Senate Environmental Quality Committee.

SB 674 would allow a mixed-use project that contains residential and retail uses to qualify for a residential infill exemption under the California Environmental Quality Act.

“SB 674 will improve air quality and lessen the need to build new roads by locating stores, banks and other community needs closer to where people actually live. Clearly, walking or biking to the corner store or coffee shop is a cleaner and greener alternative to traveling by car,” said Corbett.

Corbett also introduced two bills designed to prevent future tragedies like the one that occurred at the Valley Springs Manor facility in Castro Valley.

In January 2013, authorities say 14 Valley Springs patients had limited care after being abandoned by facility employees.

Corbett's SB 894 would strengthen and clarify the obligations of the California Department of Social Services and the licensee when a license is suspended or revoked and ensure the safe relocation of residents when a facility closure occurs.

SB 895 would bolster the assisted living facility inspection process by requiring that unannounced, comprehensive inspections of all residential care facilities for the elderly occur at least annually and more often, if necessary, to ensure the proper quality of care.

A related bill was introduced by state Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley).

The bill would reform the state’s system used to investigate complaints of neglect and abuse within California’s 7,500 senior care homes.

“No longer will complaints of abuse and neglect be swept under the rug. The tragic incident at the Castro Valley care facility was preventable,” Skinner said. “We know now that stronger measures are needed to ensure the safety of our most vulnerable.”

An education bill by Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) was approved by the Assembly Higher Education Committee.

AB 1271 would California community colleges to receive full funding for courses offered in correctional facilities.

“California has one of the highest recidivism rates in the country. Attorney General Kamala Harris has stated that two-thirds of released prisoners commit another crime within three years of release. Although these figures are alarming, we know that education is a key part of the solution to the problem,” said Bonta.

Another bill by Bonta was approved by the Assembly Public Safety Committee.

AB 966 would require California prisons to develop a five-year plan to distribute condoms in an effort to reduce HIV, AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases in prisons.

“The data speaks for itself,” said Bonta. “Over the life of the patient, a single infection can cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars. The long-term benefits to vulnerable communities and to the budget are well worth the modest state investment in providing condoms to state prisoners."

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