State assemblywoman talks trials, triumphs and aspirations during first term

One year into her first term, State Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez discussed her efforts to pass new legislation for area residents and meet those same residents’ concerns head on during a session with a small group of reporters shortly after 10:30 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 11.

Melendez, a Republican and former Lake Elsinore city council member, represents California’s 67th district.

Melendez is a pro-business politician who has frequently stressed the importance of working across party lines with Democrats to draw up important legislation and facilitate positive change.

However, in an era when the state assembly, state senate and Governor’s office are all controlled by her opposing party, Melendez said she has found it difficult to make headway in bringing about the change her constituents would like to see in Sacramento.

But it’s not necessarily the divisiveness that characterizes party politics that’s the issue at play with spearheading pro-business legislation, according to the assemblywoman.

She said the biggest problem with creating a successful pro-business bill is just getting enough people – Republican or Democrat – to support it.

“It’s not as easy as I was hoping it would be,” she said. “We have a­­­­­­ lot of pro-business legislators of both parties in Sacramento; they’re not an anomaly. The question is how do we make them a majority to get these bills passed?”

The actual issue in getting pro-business legislation approved in Sacramento has been the number of special interest groups at play within the state capital, according to Melendez.

But for all the frustration and difficulty the assemblywoman is having with bringing more business and better business legislation to Southwest Riverside, she said she is enthusiastic about the prospects of other bills she is working on as well as Gov. Jerry Brown’s indication that he is interested in eliminating some of California’s debt while forgoing any new taxes for this year.

“We’ve got a lot of things we need to pay back,” she said “So I’m encouraged that he wants to go after that debt and encouraged to hear that he said this is not the year for new taxes.”

Melendez was referring to a speech Brown made Thursday, Jan. 9, after a leak revealed his budget plan for the coming fiscal year. In the plan, Brown said that he wanted to increase general spending by 8.5 percent and that he also wanted to set up an emergency reserve of funds.

The bill has received moderate support from some Republicans but it also has its fair share of critics.

One element of the bills spending Melendez praised was the $4 billion increase it would give to K-12 schools, something the assemblywoman said local educators need.

“I just had a school board meeting with some members from Hemet and they’re telling me the woes that they’re having with funding and how they can’t pay their teachers – the really good teachers – what they need to pay to keep them and boost their education system up, so that’s good news,” she said.

Melendez said it’s not only quality student education that’s important to her, but also student safety. She has been working hand in hand with school officials in various districts in order to ascertain the best way to put together a bill that would allow AED’s, Automated External Defibrillators, on school campuses.

The devices would be in place and ready to use to help students if they should experience heart failure. This kind of implementation at elementary schools would mirror what has already been done at many colleges and universities throughout the country.

The assemblywoman tried to get a similar bill, Assembly Bill 939, passed and while it received the approval it needed in the assembly, it ultimately failed in the Senate.

Members of the California Federation of Teachers fought hard against the bill, as they felt it was too much of a liability because teachers might be required to use devices which are outside their line of expertise.

But Melendez said she’s not buying the argument that the devices are too dangerous or too risky. She said that because proper use of the devices is easy to learn, there’s no reason why teachers shouldn’t be able to handle them if the need arises.

“It was just by happenstance that there was a demonstration being done in the capital for these new AED’s they have and I have to tell you, my 7-year-old could use one of these things,” she said. “They’re that simple. There are just four pictures and it talks to you.”

The bill will be introduced later this year and is expected to receive the same level of scrutiny from the California Federation of Teachers, but the assemblywoman will push forward with it anyway.

New legislation appears to be only one component of meeting constituent needs in California’s 67th district. The office also manages phone calls from many individuals who express their concerns about happenings in the local area.

One concern that Melendez hopes to investigate is the claim that the Covered California website is storing users’ personal information and then releasing it to third party insurance agents.

The assemblywoman provided an example of a “Jane Doe” who recently lost insurance and went on the website. Doe entered personal information before stopping short of creating an account.

However, once the information was entered it was transferred to insurance agents who called the web user to see how they could make her insurance registration process simpler, according to Melendez.

Now many individuals are seeking answers on whether the website is acting under the parameter of the law by giving out the personal information of individuals who never actually set up an account.

“I think there’s a way Covered California can help these people in this process without infringing upon their personal privacy,” Melendez said. “So what we’re looking at is, ‘Did Covered California follow all the rules?’ and if they did not then we need to address that issue swiftly.”

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