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The Riggs Report: CA’s end-of-life option law still in limbo

Law can’t take effect until special session gavels to a close

It’s been five months since Gov. Jerry Brown signed hotly debated legislation that would give dying Californians a series of medical options for ending their own lives.

In signing the End of Life Option Act, Brown indicated his own personal musings on the issue, saying, “I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain. I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options considered by this bill.”

But that law, passed as part of a special session on health care, remains in limbo.

Under legislative rules, it can’t go into effect until 90 days after that special session is officially shut down—and that session is still chugging along.

This week, lawmakers passed significant legislation to revive a tax on managed care organizations, or MCOs, to avoid blowing a $1 billion hole in the state budget for Medi-Cal patients.

Negotiations on that package of bills were especially tricky, since it required a two-thirds vote, meaning Republican support was needed.

Brown signed the legislation almost as soon as it hit his desk Monday, saying in a statement that it would, “save money and help millions of people with health care and disability services.”

But with that hurdle cleared, the special session isn’t over yet. Next up, an ambitious effort by a coalition of health care groups, including the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society, to pass a half-dozen bills aimed at cracking down on tobacco use.

Those bills include measures to regulate electronic cigarettes, strengthen a workplace ban on smoking, boost the age for buying tobacco from 18 to 21 and create higher state fees for tobacco wholesalers and retailers.

All of those measures failed to win approval before the Legislature adjourned its regular session last year, and the authors rolled them on to the special session agenda.

Although the Senate has approved its version of the bills, the measures face great political difficulty in the Assembly.

There will be an effort to break that logjam this week, but sources indicate the bills are still in trouble.

Whatever happens with the tobacco bills, their fate is expected to be decided quickly—in contrast to the months spent on the MCO issue.

That means we are approaching a point where the special session can come to a close.

If that happens this week, the clock would start ticking on the end-of-life law, which would mean the law could finally take effect in early June—eight months after Brown put his signature on the bill.