tv KQED Newsroom PBS January 15, 2016 8:00pm-8:31pm PST
♪ good evening and welcome to kqed "newsroom." i'm thuy vus. health care good for your wallet and a thicker el nino. first, a new poll shows california voters evenly split over capital punishment. 48% of voters support speeding up the execution process. 47% favor doing away with the death penalty altogether and replacing it with life in prison without the possibility of parole. california has nearly 750 inmates on death row. more than any other state in the nation. theast majority are at san quentin where reporters were recently invited to tour death row and speak with inmates.
it was the first such tour in a decade. ♪ ♪ >> i've been here since 1993. i'm an inmate. >> my name is john mathis. i've been in san quentin for 35 years. and i came in when i was 19 years old. we got everybody -- >> i admitted to my crimes. i confessed. i pled guilty. i said from the outset that i deserved it. >> my name is charles smith. 46 years old. i've been convicted of four gang
murders. i was sentenced to death. >> step away, please -- >> i've been here 15 years at san quentin. 35 years since that. >> i was an evil person. no other way to put it, you know. i didn't care for other people's lives. i was an adult, and i chose to do what i did. >> you damaged a lot of people when you do crimes like the ones i did, robbery. how do you get that back, you know? you don't. you acknowledge that but something that hurt someone. and it hurts. it tears you up, too, because you know that you were 19 years old. when you try not to make an excuse for it, that's where you really take on a lot of pain and stuff. >> there is such a thing as evil. some people are evil. >> are you no longer evil? >> yes, i'm no longer evil.
>> what changed? what flipped the switch? >> my acceptance of jesus christ as my lord and savior. do a lot of praying. reading, carrying the bible. trying to be a blessing in people's lives. >> it's hard, i'll tell you. i try to keep my mind straight. >> try to make friends in here that understand that it's a lone journey. [ inaudible ] >> mostly health issues. a couple of suicides. >> i don't think there should be a death sentence. when you think about it like
you're killing someone because of a crime that they may have committed -- what make you different from the person that's a murderer on the street? you're going to execute a person, what makes you different? in god's eyes you ain't no different. >> there are a lot of people on death row who committed serious crimes and been convicted of murder. as far as the death penalti, it seems arbitrary to me. >> i don't think god -- god gives hope. i want god to know i've changed. >> i'm assuming god will come back. i want to know what will happen after i die. >> i can't live one way thinking
i'm always going to get out, and i can't live the other way thinking i'm always going to stay in. somehow i have to find resolution with both. >> all i can say is if you set me in here and you will execute -- yeah, at any time, you know, once all your rights are gone, you can come get you and execute you. that's the thing. always on your mind. always in the back of your head, right?
♪ >> it is a pivotal time for california's death penalty with two proposed ballot initiatives and a court ruling that could allow the state to resume executions for the first time in a decade. joining me for our discussion, professor rory little of u.c. hastings college of the law. san mateo district attorney
steve wagstaff. and politics and government senior editor, scott schaefer. welcome to you all. scott, you were among the journalists who toured death row. what were your impressions? >> well, i'd been to san quentin numerous times. never to death row. the comparison was stark. the rest of san quentin is relatively low security. so i was struck then with all the men walking around. it almost had the feel of a college campus. grass, trees, birds, so on. death row is very different. it's dark. it's noisy, all steel and concre concrete. there's nothing soft or warm or fuzzy about it at all. men don't get to walk around by themselves at all. they're chained or have some restraint when they move from one place to another. there's very little freedom. if they follow the rules, they get to play basketball, as you saw in the one clip. they also get some time outside. but oftentimes it's just in a cage, but a 12 by 16 cage. so they can get some fresh air, do some pull-ups, that kind of
thing. >> a rather grim environment to spend decades in. one inmate in the piece said he's been there 35 years. professor little, this comes at an interesting juncture in time in california. we have not one but two conflicting ballot initiatives in circulation. can you take us through the two of them? >> the two initiatives are founded on the same person which is that the death penalty in california takes too long to carry out and is too expensive. one proposition would say let's abolish the death penalty, get rid of it, save ourselves a lot of money. we're talking about millions of dollars, and have life without parole instead which some view as slow death. you die in prison, you won't be released. the other says the way to solve the problem is to speed up the process, reduce the number of appellate opportunities that you have, reform it is the title of the proposition.
and require lawyers to take death penalty cases. one problem is they don't appoint death penalty cases quickly because no one wants to take them. they take years, they're expensive. you don't get paid well. >> i data bank takes five years just to get an attorney appointed to your case in the first place. >> yes. at least five years. even longer in some cases. then it takes another so many years to file a brief. it takes a long time. this would require certain lawyers to take these cases, thereby speeding up the process, and put time limits on how long you can take. >> district attorney steve wagstaff, are you one of the sponsors of the initialives that wants to speed up the death penalty process. why are you a supporter of that? >> well, three years ago when there was the earlier initiative to end the death penalty and i was on the other side of it, what i heard from everybody pretty much was it's not working. i agree with. it our thought was let's not throw it away. that's what i was hearing from the people i was andre agassiing. the really thousands i addressed, is fix it if you can. that's what i think this is.
it's our best effort to try at a state level to fix it. i want to do that because i believe in the penalty as an appropriate punishment in the rare case. and secondly for the families of the people who i personally have dealt with for the people who are on death row, i owe it to them and to my juries that made that decision that we will try to fix it before we throw it out. >> so this proposal calls for more attorneys to take on capital punishment cases. is -- does it provide funding? how would you fund that? >> certainly there has to be additional funding. that's there. one of the things as d.a.s, we don't believe in budgeting by the ballot box. we think our legislature needs to do. t. it has to be done. clearly, it has to be done to get attorneys there. >> as you know, the legislature and governor would have to approve the extra spending for that. and they have never wanted to do that. there's sort of this situation where nothing happens and people are dying of old age, suicide, natural causes. in some ways, the republicans don't want to spend more on
this. democrats certainly don't. they're happy to have the status quo in some ways. >> that's exactly right. and that will be the -- we didn't start with the initiative. we went to the legislature first. and they wouldn't -- it wouldn't pass out of committee. there's though way it would. your assessment is correct on that. however if the initiatives passes, it's the will of the people. we are hopeful representatives will react to that. >> this is not the first time a ballot initiative addressing the death penalty will come before california voters. in 2012, 52% of california voter rejected a similar ballot initiative to repeal the death penalty. this week's poll shows as we said at the beginning that california's now roughly split on the death penalty. what were some of the divisive factors that drove their opinions? >> as both guys have said, people were split. everyone agrees that the death penalty is broken. so the question is, can it be fixed, and how do you want to fix it. the split is sort of what you'd
expect. those who want to speed it, try to speed it up and fix it that way tend to be republican, they tend to be non-hispanic whites and asians. they tend to live further away from the coasts -- >> older, as well. >> and older, as well. sort of what you would imagine on a topic like this. democrats and dependents to alers degree would like to -- to a lesser degree would like to get rid of the death penalty and replace it with life if prison with no chance of parole. will be interest figure they're presented with both questions, i'm not sure i'll be able to get the signatures for both. there will be so many ballot measures circulating. if they get on, it's going to be a fascinating discussion to have in california about what's the best thing to do with the situation. that's truly broken. >> the problem with the proposition is you can't amend them. once they're out, they're out. neither of these propositions address the certain problems that are problems. for example, many people would
say we want a death penalty, but we don't want to execute anybody who's innocent. the death penalty right now as it's written in california applies to a broad category of cases. it's hard to not charge a case as a death penalty if you want to maneuver within the statutory semantics. it's not reserved for the worst of the worst. it's not reserved for the people who are unalterably guilty. let's say life without parole is just slow death. it makes as little send as the death penalty expensively because all the money is spent in the last three years of somebody's life. >> if you look at where people on death row come from, where they're sent to trial, a lot are from los angeles which, of course, has the most people. almost none from san francisco. 15 from your county. riverside has a disproportionate number. fresno has a disproportionate number. it depends on where the crime is and when the trial is. one other thing i would add -- >> the district attorney --
>> who the d.a. is, right. one thing to add quickly, now the legislature can weigh in on a ballot measure. so -- and change it potentially. there will be hearings, that was not true in the past. proponent if they feel the legislature has embraced the basic thrust of their measure, they can pull it off the ballot closer to the election than they used to be able to. i don't know if that's the case with this. >> i think a legislative freeze on this -- >> what rory mentions is right, though. there's a lot of special allocation that's make it possible. d.a.s retain the discretion. of all the murders in california, it's less than 2% where the d.a.s seek the death penalty. it isn't like every murderer that qualifies is in -- it's an infinitesimal portion. >> steve, so much has been spent on this issue including the cost of the appeals process. hundred of millions of dollars. in the long run, would it cost less to abolish the death penalty or to put more resources into speeding up the appeals process which is what you want?
>> yes. well, i think it's not that -- it isn't the issue. i agree. you can abolish the death penalty, you'll save money. you abolish life without parole, you'll save money. it becomes a -- what is a good criminal justice system for punishing people who commit egregious and evil crimes. for us, what we want to do -- and we kept on the fact of what people are trying to abolish it three years ago said. they kept saying it's expensive for these reasons. part of our initiative is to snake things and change it. for instance -- take things and change it. for instance, death row can go away. department of corrections can house the 760 anywhere they deem appropriate if they choose to. that horrible place you described can be gone if they want to. >> in effect that's true in both measures because it is expensive to house them in the way they do, single celled, with all the high security. that would change under both measures actually. and so that would be the death row could go away, be integrated into other parts of the system. the lao, legislative analysts, did a fiscal analysis of both
measures. they see the one to expedite is basically a wash financially. the other they're saying would save tens of millions of dollars if you were to convert all the cases to life without parole. >> professor little, where do you think this will get resolved ultimately? in the courts or at the ballot box? >> that's an interesting question. the united states supreme court is also interested in the death penalty now which it hasn't opinion really in many years. ju justice briar and justice ginsburg. there will be an order on monday as to whether the supreme court would review the constitutionality of the death penalty. they could take it off the table if they rule against it. they could write restrictions on the type of people that are eligible. it may be resolved in the courts. i think one of these propositions i think is l'il to pass if they both qualify for the ballot. it won't reserve the controversy, though. people will still be split. >> i agree. he's right.
>> if they pass, whichever gets more votes would prevail. >> right. >> interesting situation. thank you all. hastings professor rory little, san mateo county d.a. steve wagstaff, and our own political editor, scott schaefer. nice to have all of you here. >> thank you. some of the bay area's biggest health care systems are continuing to consolidate to expand across the region. what impact this will have on your health costs? a new report by the california health care foundation based in oakland examined some of the key consolidations. the region's health care market is changing as proposed mega mergers among the nation's health insurance giants are attracting scrutiny. here to dissect this is kqed's health editor, lisa alafaris. >> hey. >> tell us which bay area hospital are among the biggest consolidating, and why are they doing this? >> we see john buren, walnut creek aligning with ucsf. stanford has reached across the bay to pleasanton and valley
care. and sutter is taking its physicians groups, the palo alto medical foundation is the most well known and consolidating those as well. >> when consolidating, what's the effect? are -- are they trying to play the role of health insurance company? >> in some cases, yes. what they say is they want to deliver to you better care at a lower cost. ucsf is playing a role as a health insurer. they're starting with the university of california. it's -- workers sign up with us, we'll take full risk. they're say figure we keep our patients healthy, the savings that we get from keeping them healthy go to the health plan. in this case, they're say figure we can keep them healthy, we can save money. we can pass that along to employers and perhaps ultimate ly employees, as well. >> they are the health plan. whatever savings came from the
health plan, they would reap the savings and pass them on to the consumer? >> yes. i don't want to get too far over the -- there are limited health plans. sutter in particular in sacramento is offering a health plan. this is something we're seeing more across the country of providers starting to get into this plan business and reap those savings, yes. >> and is everybody in agreement that this will result in savings, or are there skeptics say, wait a minute, consolidation almost never results in a better deal for the consumer? >> that is what some health economists argue. that all this is is a better deal for provide force get a better deal for insurance plans they work with and that ultimately costs will go up for you. >> will we see a change in the way thing are charged on our bill? if i'm a patient of sutter -- >> you won't see -- that part of it will be the -- will not change. >> that part is invisible. in addition to what's happening with the hospitals, we're also hearing about all these proposed
mega mergers among insurance giants. who's proposing mergers with whom? >> anthem is seeking to align with cigna. aetna and humana, in california, also centi no, sir ane and heal. if these deals go through, it would transform the health insurance marketplace. now health -- these deals are being looked at federally by the department of justice from an antitrust perspective. insurance is regulated on the state level. so this is the department of managed health care, the department of insurance, and they're holding hearings, looking at how they can extract better deals for the consumer, make sure that provider networks adequate and maybe hold down premiums for a little while, at least going forward. if these deals go through, anthem would become the biggest player in california. the biggest self-insurer ahead of kaiser. >> ahead of kaiser?
>> yes. >> so these are mega deals. >> yes. they are. everybody is looking at what's going to happen here. >> why is all of this happening? is there tremendous price pressure for this to happen? >> i would say that a lot of these changes were in place before the affordable care act was in place. the affordable care act is driving this push toward reining in health care costs. here in the united states, we pay much more for health care than anywhere else in the world. if we as a country don't bring down those costs, it's rapidly becoming unaffordable. >> i know that you will keep your eye it. i think that the next hearing is next week. >> coming up. there will be a series in the coming weeks. people should watch for those. >> all right. lisa, our health editor, thank you. >> thank you, thuy. this month's powerful storms have duffeled snow and rain
across california amid what's expected to be a monster el nino. that's welcome news for our state, now in its fifth year of the worst drought in california's recorded history. will the projected storms be enough, though, to bring the state out of its dire conditions? with me now in the studio is long-time bay area weather expert, meteorologist jan nall. welcome. >> thank you very much. >> with the rain this week and continuing to have, what are we at now in terms of reservoir and snowfall totals? >> the reservoirs are coming up. they're not -- historical averages for this time of year. the snow pack is a better picture, above where we would normally be by a few percentages points. with the upcoming storms, those numbers will rise in the next week. >> where do we have to be at to declare an end to the drought? >> you know, actually declaring an end to the drought is the political move by the governor. as a practical number, if we see
150% of the normal rainfall and snowfall for the year, that will cover most of the activities, most of the users in the state. >> so percentage-wise, where are we at? >> we're just about at normal for this time of year. we need to get things cranked up more over the next few weeks, next few months. and with the upcoming storms, we're on that track. >> everyone is worried about the drought, and we're hoping for more rain. doesn't the el nino pattern necessarily guarantee rain? >> no, it doesn't. that's one of the real misconceptions about el nino. we've had dry el nino years. the fact this is a strong el nino increases the odds that we will be above normal, and if -- if history is proving to be right from past strong events, we could be very much above normal. that's -- that's certainly the pattern that we hope will continue on into the spring. >> and do el nino conditions
make it harder for you to predict the weather? is it volatile? >> you know, what we have seen with a lot of the storms so far this year and what i remember from being a forecaster in the ae el nino of '97 and '98, el nino is fast-moving storm. we have a hard time keeping up with the fast timing. the overall pattern is actually fairly predictable. it's periodic rain every 24, 36 hours or so, that's what we've seen. and for the next week, 2 1/2 weeks, that will continue. >> timing wise sometimes you miss the mark. what about severity? is it volatile in terms of severity and your ability to predict that? >> no, you know, i think that is something we're pretty good at looking at. the moisture that they're going to drop. what gets a little hard at times
is exactly where the maximum rainfall amounts will be. will it be in the north bay or south bay or split in between. >> like you said, we need to be at 150% of normal rainfall to really think of this as being an end to the drought. but what about the billions of gallons of groundwater that's been pumped and severely depleted the central valley? do we need to find a way to replenish that for a true recovery to happen? >> yeah. if we're looking to make up the whole deficit that we've had. there are areas where the groundwater has been depleted under the san joaquin valley for decades. it's not just this current drought. it's been going on and on. some of the aquifers have collapsed. we have no place to put the water there. we will never get back to 100% of what we have had historically. getting a lot of rainfall will start the recharge process to the maximum possible. >> how worried should we be
about flooding this season? >> if we can continue the pattern we've had with relatively mild storms that -- with a little space in between them, then we won't see a lot of big flooding. if we get into an event where we're tapping into a lot of moisture over a short period of time, like any year, not just el nino years, that's when california sees flooding. >> okay. but talk about volatility in terms of timing. best guess, super bowl weekend, going to be a soggy super bowl or not? >> it certainly looks like the week of super bowl week with a lot of outdoor activities from february 1st through the game on the 7th, there -- almost for sure there wille rain during that week. whether rain will occur during the game itself is really problematic at this time. we'll have to get about a week out before we can start raising that question. >> all right. you heard it. keep your eye on the super bowl. thank you very much. >> thank you very much. >> thank you for watching. that does it for us. for all of kqed's news coverage,