Why California’s 2022 Ballot Is So Healthcare-Heavy

While the 2022 election is still months away, lobbying groups are already pushing hard for bills they want on the ballot. During most election cycles, there are common themes among the laws that appear on a ballot, such as safety or infrastructure. This year, it looks like California voters will be presented with a broad range of healthcare bills.

But why are there so many healthcare laws up for consideration? As you might expect, this is in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Below, you’ll learn how COVID-19 has shaped the legislation up for debate and some of the many healthcare bills you could see on your ballot in November.

The Impact of COVID-19 on California’s 2022 Ballot

The pandemic shone a spotlight on some of the significant flaws in California’s healthcare systems. Hospitals have been overwhelmed for nearly two years straight, running out of beds to treat any patients beyond COVID-19 sufferers. As recently as October 2021, Governor Newsom was forced to deploy the National Guard to hospitals across the state as case numbers surged with the Delta variant.

More than 80,000 people have died in California due to the pandemic. While nationally, California’s COVID-19 numbers are among the lowest per capita, this is primarily due to the state’s mandated lockdowns. Even with the comparatively low numbers, the system’s struggle to keep up has undoubtedly caused unnecessary deaths at hospitals that simply don’t have the staff or resources to provide adequate treatment.

Legislators and lobbyists have responded to this crisis in force. Dozens of referendums and proposals may make it onto the 2022 ballot that are inspired by the pandemic. While the details of each piece of legislation differ, they’re united by a single, overwhelming argument: this cannot happen again. The result is that California’s 2022 ballot is likely to be one of the most heavily healthcare-oriented votes in history.

Potential Healthcare Topics on the 2022 Ballot

So what bills are actually up for consideration? There’s a broad range. Some of these laws are already guaranteed a spot on the ballot, while others are still fighting for their place. All of the bills below are either likely or definitely going to show up on your California ballot. Understanding the individual bills will help you make better choices when you cast your vote.

Bars on Public Health Orders Closing Schools and Businesses

The bill most obviously connected to the pandemic is a proposal to limit governmental rights to restrict business and school operations during public health crises. It has not yet made it onto the ballot, but supporters have until May 3rd to collect signatures. This proposal is a direct response to California’s strict lockdowns, which forced businesses and schools to close their doors for months at a time.

Should the bill be confirmed, it would limit business restrictions to 30 days at a time. To extend the restricted period, state and local lawmakers must renew the lockdown for another 30 days. Furthermore, the bill would define schools as essential services that would not be closed unless necessary.

Increased Funding for Public Health Systems

Another proposal in response to the pandemic is intended to shore up California’s crumbling public health system. The bill’s proponents argue that the increased demand for public health services has overwhelmed them and that extra investment is needed to adequately support California residents’ health. It’s not on the ballot yet, but lobbyists have until May 23rd to gather signatures.

The proposal would collect the funds by raising income taxes on only California’s wealthiest residents. The tax would last for ten years, increasing the income tax on earnings beyond $5 million annually by 0.75%. This means that anyone earning less than $5 million would not face additional taxes. Someone earning $6 million would only pay that 0.75% on $1 million, raising their tax bill by $7500 total.

The funds would go to three initiatives. First, 50% of the proceeds would be spent to create an infectious disease institute to monitor and prevent new disease outbreaks like COVID-19. Second, 25% would be spent on public health workforce and infrastructure improvements, such as increasing staffing and open beds at public hospitals. Third, the remaining 25% would be spent on school safety upgrades.

Overturning a Ban on Flavored Tobacco

Moving away from pandemic-related healthcare, a proposal that’s already on the ballot would overturn a ban on flavored tobacco products in California. The state banned the sale of flavored tobacco products in 2020 based on the argument that these items are more popular with young people and encourage them to take up smoking.

The tobacco lobby known as “The California Coalition for Fairness” is attempting to overturn that ban with a referendum. Should the referendum succeed, candy, fruit, and menthol-flavored cigarettes and tobacco products will once again be available for sale and marketed towards young people in California.

Increased Medical Malpractice Damage Caps

Another referendum nearing inclusion on the ballot is a proposal to dramatically raise medical malpractice damage caps in California. For decades, the state has limited the amount of money courts could award in medical malpractice cases to $250,000. However, this limit has not been adjusted for inflation since it was set in 1975.

The referendum would raise the cap to $1.2 million, where it would be if it had been increased with inflation rates. It would also give judges permission to exceed the cap in cases where someone has been permanently disabled, disfigured, or killed. As a result, people injured by California healthcare practitioners’ negligence would be able to fight for the compensation they actually need.

Cast Your Vote for California Healthcare Improvements

The laws and referendums that may appear on 2022 ballots run the gamut of healthcare. Whether you’re in favor of better-funded healthcare or you want to hold negligent medical practitioners accountable for their actions, you can make your voice heard in November. Regardless of which way each vote goes, it’s clear that California’s government and residents are stepping forward to improve the state’s healthcare in the wake of COVID-19.

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