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New laws miff the right, left, and center

Cows can keep their tails but puppy-mill restrictions are vetoed

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After a miserable year of partisan gridlock and budget showdowns, Governor Schwarzenegger managed to infuriate constituents on the political right, left, and center when he signed more than 400 bills into law, while vetoing a little more than 200.

 

Political pundits have a hard time pinning down which direction the governor is heading. He infuriated the right by beefing up gun laws and establishing a day memorializing gay activist Harvey Milk, but disappointed the left by vetoing significant civil and patients’ rights bills.

 

The governor’s signings show how the months-long budget stalemate affected the legislative agenda, said Dan Schunur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California.

 

“None of the state’s long-term issues like education, tax reform, or water infrastructure were dealt with,” said Schunur. “It was political small ball and if anything, the governor went back to his political roots of economic conservatism while going to the left on the social issues.”

 

 Schwarzenegger signed into law one of the few new gun control measures nationally, Assembly Bill 962. He vetoed the same bill last year and, facing stiff opposition from gun groups, it struggled to make it through the Legislature this year. The law will make gun shops collect fingerprints, signatures, and driver's license information from ammunition buyers and keep those records for five years. Ammunition can now be sold only in person, leaving ammo dealers operating on the Internet in the cold, as far as California sales are concerned.

 

In a move that will not endear him to many Republicans, the governor signed a bill proclaiming May 22 as Harvey Milk Day. Though public schools won’t be closed in recognition, it’s a day designated “as having special significance in public schools and educational institutions and would encourage those entities to conduct suitable commemorative exercises on that date.”

 

Homosexual-rights advocates have a little something to crow about: Senate Bill 52, now law, mandates California recognize gay marriages from other states and countries, provided the matrimonies occurred before Proposition 8 was enacted last November. Though the law treats the marriages only as civil unions, it’s likely supporters of traditional marriage will challenge the law in court.

 

Assembly Bill 17, now law, increases fines for human trafficking by 400 percent, and tacks on an additional fine of $20,000. The police can now seize the assets of traffickers and half the proceeds will go to community-based organizations that help underage trafficking victims.

 

Several new consumer loan protection bills made it into law. Assembly Bill 260, for example, ensures that loan brokers can’t push customers into high-interest loans if they can qualify for loans with more reasonable rates. Senate Bill 239 raises the penalty for lying on a loan mortgage application to a felony instead of a misdemeanor. Assembly Bill 329 sets strict guidelines for reverse loans for seniors and provides financial counseling.

 

The governor signed two bills that are sure to upset the utility companies.

 

Schwarzenegger signed Assembly Bill 640, which makes utilities pay for surplus electricity produced by home solar and wind power generators. Assembly Bill 32 raises the cap for commercially generated solar power bought at a set price from 500 to 750 megawatts and creates incentives for businesses to use roofs and parking lots for solar arrays.

   Unlicensed contractors face stiffer fines if they’re caught, now that Assembly Bill 370 is law: The maximum penalty for a first offense rose from a fine of $1,000 to $5,000 and from 6 months maximum in the county jail to a year.

   It looks as though politicians’ spouses won’t be able to make money from their husbands’ or wives’ campaigns. Senate Bill 739 prohibits political candidates from paying their spouses or domestic partners to work on their campaigns. Tony Strickland of Thousand Oaks, who was criticized for hiring his wife for one of his campaigns, sponsored this approved bill.

 

Put away the laughing gas. Assembly Bill 1015 outlaws giving containers containing nitrous oxide to minors. The governor also signed an anti-paparazzi bill that makes it easier to sue publications that use photos that invade celebrities’ privacy.

 

 Cows will be happier, too. Ranchers and dairy farmers will no longer be allowed to dock the tails of their cows. Tail docking prevents cows from flinging their waste on each other; an apparently fun thing to do if you’re a cow but an unhygienic practice that can cause health issues down the line. Docking also prevents cows from swatting away flies.

 

Schwarzenegger vetoed bills that would have enhanced patients’ rights and forced utilities to use more renewable energy.

 

Assembly Bill 2 would have forbidden insurance companies from dropping sick patients who ring up huge medical bills. Schwarzenegger vetoed it, claiming that it would have benefited attorneys, not consumers. He rejected Assembly Bill 98, which would have required health insurance companies to cover maternity services.

 

One bill, Assembly Bill 64, would have required utilities to produce a third of their power from renewable energy sources within 10 years. Though the governor said he liked its sentiment, he vetoed it, but signed an executive order that has the same renewable energy mandates, but many loopholes.

 

Senate Bill 34 would have forced groups trying to get a proposition on the ballot to pay their hired workers by the hour instead of by the signature. The governor vetoed the bill saying it was “undemocratic” because it would have complicated getting propositions on the ballet. He vetoed a ban on electric cigarettes because if “adults want to purchase and consume these products with an understanding of the associated health risks, they should be able to do so unless and until federal law changes.”

 

Finally, Schwarzenegger vetoed Assembly Bill 241, a bill designed to put severe restrictions on puppy mills. It would have restricted anyone who raises pets to a maximum of 50 unsterilized animals. The governor said: “This measures simply goes too far in an attempt to address the serious problem of puppy mills. Instead this measure has the potential to criminalize the lawful activities of reputable breeders, pet stores, kennels, and charitable organizations engaged in raising service and assistance dogs. For these reasons, I am unable to sign this bill.”

 

Robert A. McDonald can be reached at rmcdonald@newtimesslo.com.

 

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