Today’s News: Commissioner targets Anthem; Sayonara Scantrons?; ‘Endangered’ sharks

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Rate row. Anthem Blue Cross says accusations that it’s arbitrarily imposing steep rate hikes on small businesses in California are unfounded. State Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones is blasting the company for overstating projected costs, and improperly adding fees related to federal health care reform a year before it takes effect. Anthem – one of the nation’s largest insurers – is proposing rate hikes on businesses with 50 or fewer employees that Jones says average out to about 11 percent per year. In some cases, those increases would approach 20 percent. Anthem disputes Jones’ numbers, saying the increases average about 8 percent.  L.A. Times

Bubble bursting. State schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson says California will phase out multiple choice standardized tests in favor of exams that require more detailed responses. In other words, students will have to do more than simply fill in a bubble. The overhaul focuses on tests that measure English and math proficiency. Those tests have become a flashpoint in the debate over teacher evaluations. The new tests are scheduled to debut in the 2014-2015 school year. L.A. Daily News

Fired. The fallout from the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shootings in Connecticut, continues to be felt in Sacramento. State lawmakers are proposing several new restrictions on guns and ammunition and State Treasurer Bill Lockyer is pushing to unload firearm investments from public employee retirement portfolios. Lockyer previously called on CalPERS and CalSTRS to divest holdings in companies that manufacture assault weapons. Now he’s calling on the funds to sell investments in companies that make high-capacity magazines that are illegal in California. Sacramento Bee

Shark bite. Fish and Game officials are recommending that great white sharks be listed as an endangered or threatened species under the state’s Endangered Species Act. The move follows a report by environmental groups that found low numbers of the toothy predators in state waters. State officials say they’re skeptical of the conclusions of the report. But they agreed that the best available evidence indicates that the local population of great whites is shrinking. The recommendation begins a year-long review process that will look deeper into the status of great whites in California. L.A. Times

Yosemite changes. The National Park Service has a new proposal for managing Yosemite Valley. It would eliminate some visitor amenities in favor of environmental restoration, but it skirts the problem of overcrowding in the park. The latest blueprint is the third effort by the Park Service to adopt a plan acceptable to a wide range of interest groups. It calls for 150 new parking spaces in the Valley, 174 new camp sites and restoration of 203 acres along the Merced River. Gone would be the Valley ice skating rink, the Yosemite Lodge swimming pool and bicycle and horse rentals. National Parks Traveler

Going low. Short sales now represent more than a quarter of the California housing market. That’s a big increase and it represents a major change in strategy for lenders. Banks were reluctant to cut deals with homeowners in the early days of the housing meltdown. But with housing prices on the rise, mortgage lenders are now repossessing homes on a large scale. Real Estate research firm DataQuick says short sales have surpassed foreclosures for the first time since the crash in 2007. In a short sale, lenders allow homeowners to sell for less than what they owe, and homeowners can walk away with no additional debt. L.A. Times