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Sacramento Bee
Jan 07, 2005 - 01:00 AM

by Gary Delsohn, Bee Capitol Bureau

Plan to reduce state boards assailed;

Consumer protections are at great risk, critics contend.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration insisted Thursday that his plan to abolish nearly 100 California regulatory boards and commissions would bolster consumer protection, but consumer activists called the claim preposterous.

Included on Schwarzenegger's hit list are boards that license and regulate doctors and nurses, set rules for accountants, administer seismic safety regulations, promote recycling and oversee building contractors, architects and engineers.

Opponents complained that eliminating the boards and commissions saves little taxpayer money, reduces independent oversight and adds to secrecy in government by shifting regulatory roles to existing state agencies not subject to open-meetings laws.

"He's framing this as the people versus the special interests," said Robert Fellmeth, executive director of the Center for Public Interest Law at the University of San Diego. "He ain't no representative of the people. This is a power grab cynically masquerading as an efficiency reform."

Jamie Court of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a Santa Monica-based group that has repeatedly taken aim at Schwarzenegger's pro-business policies, was even more critical.

"This proposal is so far removed from understanding the day-to-day reality of how professional boards protect the public that it is worthy of a Hollywood amateur living in La La Land among fake sets," Court said.

He called Schwarzenegger's proposal, which is subject to legislative approval, "the greatest threat we've ever faced to consumer protection in California."

Fred Aguiar, a former legislator who's now Schwarzenegger's secretary of state and consumer services, defended the boards and commissions proposal in a telephone conference call with reporters.

Aguiar said the work and some of the staff for about three dozen of the boards and commissions slated for abolition would be shifted to his agency.

"We firmly believe there will be more accountability, more direct responsibility," Aguiar said, "through a structure that is not dependent upon calling upon some board of directors, calling them across the state to come to Sacramento and act on something that could have been decided earlier."

Schwarzenegger's proposal, which he announced in his State of the State speech Wednesday, grows from his California Performance Review and pledge to "blow up the boxes" of a state government he's called woefully out of date and inefficient.

"I told you that I wanted to blow up the boxes," he said in his speech. "Well, we have lit the fuse. The California Performance Review has done an outstanding job."

In private, however, even Schwarzenegger has complained that the 285-person committee tackled too much, and sources in his office said there was considerable disagreement over whether he should heed its recommendations.

He also said in his speech, referring to only a handful of boards and commissions on his reorganization list, that "no one paid by the state should make $100,000 a year for only meeting twice a month."

But the vast majority of the boards and commissions being abolished pay no salary - only per diem and travel expenses. Aguiar said he doesn't know how much money the state will save if Schwarzenegger's plan is enacted.

One of the many groups that immediately attacked his proposal was the California Nurses Association. Rose Ann DeMoro, its executive director, said in a statement that abolishing the Board of Registered Nursing was "an unconscionable power grab by a governor who wants to abolish independent agencies created to protect the public exclusively for the financial benefit of
corporate interests, such as the multibillion-dollar health care industry that has been one of his primary donors and supporters."

The nurses union sued the administration last month over Schwarzenegger's move to delay and relax enforcement of the state's nurse staffing law.

Dr. Robert Hertzka, president of the California Medical Association, said his group is not pleased with Schwarzenegger's proposal to abolish the California Medical Board. Although its functions would be shifted to the consumer services agency, Hertzka said he's worried the public may be shut out of the process.

"I'm puzzled," he said of the Republican governor's proposal. "Maybe there's some wonderful thing in here I don't understand, but our initial reaction is one of concern."

Schwarzenegger's office submitted its plan late Thursday to the Little Hoover Commission, an independent state oversight committee that plans to hold hearings on the proposal later this month.

James P. Meyer, its executive director, said the commission will make recommendations on the plan to the governor and the Legislature within the next two months. Once Schwarzenegger formally submits the plan to the Legislature, which he can do in 30 days, the reorganization becomes law unless either the Senate or the Assembly rejects it within 60 days after receiving it.

"The governor's plan ensures that necessary consumer protections and regulations are preserved, while service and accountability are improved," said Ashley Snee, a spokeswoman.

"This is about streamlining and making the process more efficient. He personally reviewed the mission of each board and commission to evaluate whether their current form was the best way to serve those it was set up to serve."

Please see www.sacbee.com/links for a list of the 94 boards and commissions that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed to eliminate.
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The Bee's Gary Delsohn can be reached at (916) 326-5545 or gdelsohn@sacbee.com




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