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Bonilla proposes tax on cocktails to aide disabled

By DONNA BETH WEILENMAN
Martinez Tribune

A bill introduced by Assemblymember Susan A. Bonilla (D-Concord) would increase funding to help California’s developmentally disabled residents through a nickel a drink charge for mixed cocktails and liquor shots.

Bonilla, Martinez’s representative in the Assembly, introduced Assembly Bill 18 at the Second Extraordinary Session Tuesday afternoon as a way to provide more money to the community-based system for developmental disability services (DDS).

Should the bill be passed in the State Legislature by a mandatory two-thirds vote, the new charge in restaurants and bars would be effective Jan. 1, 2016.

While the need of California’s developmentally disabled residents has risen, funding has continued to fall.

However, the state needs to comply with the Lanterman Act, the California law approved in 1969 to provide necessary services locally to those residents and their families, Bonilla noted in her announcement of the bill’s introduction.

“Currently, 280,000 Californians are diagnosed with a developmental disability that requires the State of California to fund regional centers, which provide respite care, transportation, day treatment and independent and supported living programs,” Bonilla said.

“In the next three years alone, 24,000 children will leave public school and need services. The problem is regional center workers are already extremely overburdened with caseload ratios of one worker to every 75 individuals seeking services,” she said.

Long-term DDS system funding reductions have forced those centers and the service providers to provide care to more clients, but with less money. To meet caseworker ratio limits set by the state, about 650 more regional center workers need to be hired, Bonilla said.

“During the Great Recession, the DDS community experienced over $1 billion in reductions, while demand is growing with over 10,000 additional individuals needing services each year,” Bonilla said.

ABx2-18, as the bill also is called, would raise the price of a mixed drink or a shot – some of which can cost several dollars each – by five cents.

Bonilla said that extra nickel to the beverage price would generate more than $200 million each year to underwrite essential services to those she called “some of our state’s most vulnerable populations.”

Once the $167.6 billion state budget went into effect July 1, Governor Jerry Brown announced the two special legislative sessions to deal with two significant state issues – how to pay for badly needed roads and bridge repairs and how to close an upcoming $1 billion gap in health care programs’ funding.

Bonilla, mindful that the extra charge would need the backing of two-thirds of the Legislature, spoke with some who would be affected before she wrote her bill. She also has been reaching out to representatives of all political views in hopes of getting their support.

She crafted her bill so the charge wouldn’t have a significant impact, and would be a low price to pay for a good cause, one aide said.

“This very small charge – a nickel – will have a significant impact, easing hardships facing our developmentally disabled loved ones across California,” Bonilla said.

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