Speaker Emeritus Toni G. Atkins | Notes from Toni
It’s easy at the state capitol to get caught up in negotiations over precise bill language and amendments and so much legalese and legislative jargon. It’s an intense place. And then something happens that reminds us why we take it all so seriously.
On March 8, the day after I handed over the keys to the Speaker’s office to my colleague Anthony Rendon, I held a press conference to announce one of my new bills, AB 1795. The bill will eliminate several arbitrary restrictions that block low-income Californians from receiving testing and treatment for breast and cervical cancer.
One of the speakers that day was a woman named Sonia, who was 35 years old in 2008 when she discovered a lump in her breast. A single mother of two daughters, she was under-insured and in need of care. But she didn’t qualify for the state’s Every Woman Counts (EWC) program because she was too young.
That’s one of the barriers: EWC provides mammograms only for women older than 40. And EWC is a gateway for enrollment in the Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment Program (BCCTP), which has a couple of arbitrary barriers of its own: It doesn’t cover treatment for a recurrence of cancer in the same part of the body — the same breast, for example — and it cuts off treatment coverage for breast cancer at 18 months and cervical cancer at 24 months.
After scrambling for months to find a clinic that would help her, unsure how sick she really was, Sonia finally learned that she had Stage 2 breast cancer and began treatment under the BCCTP.
But five years later, she was diagnosed a second time for breast cancer, this time in the other breast. Right around the same time, her sister, who was 36 years old, was also diagnosed with breast cancer. She, too, was ineligible for Every Woman Counts.
I heard Sonia say she was “lucky” that her two diagnoses were in different breasts, because if they had been in the same breast, her second cancer wouldn’t have been covered under BCCTP. Still, both Sonia and her sister needed treatment for longer than the limit of 18 months, so their care was halted.
It’s these personal stories of trauma and hardship that motivate me to find solutions that help real people like Sonia and her sister — and men too, because men get breast cancer as well — and make their lives at least a little bit easier.
AB 1795 is one of those bills that remind me how important the work I get to do can be. This bill, which is sponsored by Susan G. Komen, is just one of my new bills for 2016.
The centerpiece of my legislative package is a two-bill tandem on human trafficking: AB 1730 will create a pilot project to provide services and temporary housing to victims and AB 1731 will establish a task force that will collect and share data.
My biggest priority remains affordable housing, and my AB 2734 — the Local Control Affordable Housing Act — would restore funding for affordable housing lost when the state ended redevelopment.
As always, I’ll keep you posted throughout the year on the progress of my efforts to improve the quality of life for San Diegans — and all Californians.
Around the district: It’s the last chance to take advantage of California’s new Earned Income Tax Credit when you file your taxes, which are due April 18 this year. The tax credit, along with the federal EITC, benefits working families. Returns vary depending on your income, marital status and number of children.
For more information, and a calculator to see if you qualify, please see CalEITC4Me.org. You also may qualify for free tax preparation if you make less than $54,000 a year. Many local sites provide Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA). Find them by searching CalEITC4Me.org or calling 211 San Diego … The state budget can be complicated and we want to give you a chance to learn more about it at a free interactive workshop at 10 a.m. April 9 at the University of San Diego Degheri Alumni Center. Assemblymember Shirley Weber and I will host the Next10 California Budget Challenge workshop to give you the opportunity to figure out how to split funding among state programs like schools, health care and transportation. Parking is free. Please RSVP by calling 619-645-3090.
—Toni G. Atkins is the Speaker Emeritus of the California State Assembly. For more information, visit her website, asmdc.org/speaker or follow her on Twitter, @toniatkins.