Mod Squad strikes back

Moderate Democrats helped stall a bill in Senate Appropriations this week that sought to prevent hospitals from releasing and transporting homeless patients without their consent.

The practice, known as “patient dumping,” has received news coverage in Los Angeles, where 10 hospitals are under investigation for discharging patients to downtown’s Skid Row. City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo filed criminal and civil charges against Kaiser Permanente after a female patient, Carol Ann Reyes, was videotaped getting out of a taxi cab and wandering the downtown streets still dressed in her hospital gown.

The bill, SB 275 authored by Los Angeles Democrat Gil Cedillo, would prohibit hospitals from transporting newly discharged patients without their consent. Hospitals that do so could be charged a fine of up to $10,000 if Cedillo’s measure was signed into law, and individual staff members could also be held liable.

The bill is opposed by the California Hospital Association.

The bill passed the Senate Public Safety Committee on a party-line 3-2 vote last month, where liberal Democrats enjoy a voting majority. But during Monday’s hearing in Senate Appropriations, two Democrats–Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, and Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana–voted against the bill.

Those two Democratic “No” votes, coupled with all seven Republicans voting against the bill, left the measure one vote short of the nine required to get the bill on to the Senate floor.

The vote underscores the precarious majority Democrats enjoy on the committee, and the problems some of the house’s more liberal members say they’re having getting bills out of Appropriations and other Senate committees.

Cedillo requested that the vote be expunged, and said he would try to bring the bill up against next week. And while he refused to criticize any specific members who voted against the measure, he did make his case for the bill’s passage.

“What does it say about our ethics and humanity?” asked Cedillo rhetorically when discussing the difficulty of the bill’s passage. “These people are more vulnerable than when they went in to the hospital. Who thinks this is OK?”
Meanwhile, Kaiser Permanente agreed to offer more staff training, create new protocols for discharging homeless patients and allow a retired U.S. District Court judge to monitor its progress as part of a settlement in the city’s suit against the hospital chain announced late Tuesday.

[The move to expunge the vote prompted a letter from Senate Secretary Greg Schmidt to all Senate offices about proper Senate protocol. “By the custom and usage of the Senate, the expungement of a vote is not permitted in committees or on the floor,” Schmidt wrote. “This prohibition dates to reform approximately forty years ago, when efforts were made to correct gross irregularities in the voting process, and is intended to ensure (a) that the public is not misled as to the disposition of motions before committees or the House and (b) that the actual votes on any motion are duly recorded.”]

Cedillo said he’s optimistic that the announced settlement, coupled with a piece scheduled to run on 60 Minutes about the Reyes case, will help increase pressure on members of the committee to move the bill to the Senate floor. The bill is scheduled to be heard again in Senate Appropriations next week.

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