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Capitol Roundup: Military Suicide, Hands-Free Cells, Bartender Training


State Legislature Votes To Repeal Law Allowing Prosecution Of Soldiers Who Attempt Suicide

The California Legislature has voted to repeal a law that allows the military to prosecute soldiers who attempt suicide.

The bill’s proponents say that law discourages armed forces members from seeking help.

Republican Senator Jim Nielsen wrapped up debate in the Senate on the measure by saying, "There are no purple hearts for the wounds of those that contemplate suicide. Let’s reach out and provide healing. Let’s not prosecute."

The Department of Defense reports more than 1,100 active duty soldiers attempted suicide in 2014.

Because the bill is a state measure, the repeal would only cover California National Guard and military reserve members.

It now heads to Governor Jerry Brown for his signature.

State Senate Passed Bill That Requires "Responsible Beverages Servers Course"

Another bill passed by the California state Senate would create a Driver’s Ed-type program, but for serving drinks.

Senator Jerry Hill introduced the measure.

"AB 2121 will require all bartenders and servers by 2020 to take a responsible beverage servers course," says Hill.

The state would certify eligible courses, which would have to last at least four hours. Workers serving alcohol would have to participate once every three years.

Non-profits that put on single-day events would also have to receive training.

The measure passed 36 to 2, and heads back to the Assembly for a final vote.

Use Of Map And Music Apps While Driving Might Be Added To "Hands Free" Law

Add maps and music to the list of apps you can’t touch your phone to use while driving in California, if a bill passed by the state Senate becomes law.

California already bans holding a phone to text or call. Democratic Senator Bob Hertzberg says it makes sense to extend the hands-free law to all cell phone uses.

"The bottom line is to pay attention while you drive. I will admit here in this important body that I have often eaten fast food while I’m driving, and that is distracting—not a good thing," says Hertzberg.

Law enforcement say it’s difficult to ticket drivers for texting or calling, because other uses aren’t banned.

The bill passed with one vote to spare. Opponents said it’s too broad and could have unintended consequences.

The measure now returns to the state Assembly for a final vote.

Bill Requiring Drug Companies To Notify Patients Before Increasing Prices Likely Dead

A bill that would have required drug companies to notify patients before they increased prices is likely dead at the California Capitol.

The bill’s author, Senator Ed Hernandez, says he will no longer support it, after the Assembly Appropriations committee amended it without his consent.

The amendments make the bill temporary and exempt drug companies from notifying patients if they raise costs less than 25 percent. Hernandez says that allows hefty hikes for $100,000 drugs.

"They can raise it up to $24,000 dollars without notifying anybody, and that’s a huge increase," says Hernandez.

He also says he doesn’t take the changes personally.

"It’s just the nature of this business. Yes, I’m disappointed. Am I mad? No. I have more resolve; I’ll just continue to move forward with this issue; I believe it’s a righteous issue, and I’ll bring it back next year," says Hernandez.

The bill had the backing of insurers, labor unions and health advocates, but won the ire of pharmaceutical companies.

Priscilla Vanderveer of trade group PhRMA says drug costs are proprietary information, and the bill can be misleading.

"By basing all of these decisions off of the list price of these medicines, that is a very incomplete look at the cost of medicines overall," she says.

Assembly Appropriations chair Lorena Gonzalez, who oversaw amendments to the bill, said in a statement that she’s disappointed, and thought it could have been a framework for larger changes in the future.