As his legacy, perhaps, former Gov. Gray Davis set a new record for signing the smallest number of bills since Ronald Reagan. Still, California's new laws were plentiful enough to warrant attention from media outlets as far away as Miami. The 909 new laws range from ground-breaking-such as advances in rights for domestic partners-to the whimsical: you can now buy fresh churros from a vending cart.
Following are some new laws that caught our attention.
Students will no longer have to hover above the rim when using school restrooms, as a new law requires public and private schools to maintain, clean and stock their bathrooms. The California Childhood Obesity Prevention Act will also now regulate student sugar intake, banning soft drinks from elementary and junior high schools.
Kindergarteners could soon be learning foreign languages as a new law requires the Department of Education to create content standards, by 2009, for K-12 foreign language instruction.
The California Comprehensive Sexual Health and HIV/AIDS Prevention Education Act makes teaching a little easier by consolidating 11 other laws governing the teaching of sex education in schools. Under this law, school districts may begin sexual health education in kindergarten and must start HIV/AIDS prevention education by the seventh grade.
The Supreme Court ruling that 50 years ago abolished the "separate but equal" motto for public education will be memorialized by the Brown v. Board of Education Advisory Commission. For the next two years, the commission will be charged with developing community and education programs that focus on equal rights.
Speaking of equality, colleges and universities that fail to offer equal athletic opportunities to both men and women will see public funding for their athletic programs dwindle to nothing.
The Electronic Waste Recycling Act of 2003 won't kick in until April, but when it does, expect computer and television prices to jump $5 to $10. The additional fees will be used to fund the recycling of millions of tons of appliances and consumer electronics currently leaking toxic lead, mercury and other hazardous materials into California's soil. Additionally, the state's Regional Water Quality Control Boards now have the authority to block the approval of logging plans that would violate water quality standards.
The Protect California Air Act blocks the Bush administration's softening of federal Clean Air Act regulations. It also adds a $1 fee to automotive registration in the South Coast Air Quality Management District to be used for the implementation of a clean-burning fuels program.
Props to Central Coast Assemblymember Hannah-Beth Jackson for putting together guidelines to prevent and clean up perchlorate contamination. Perchlorate is the primary ingredient in rocket fuel, and has made its way into an estimated 81 California water supplies thanks to Cold War defense contractors who dumped chemicals willy-nilly into the soil surrounding their plants. It's also a nasty carcinogen.
Is that mean old landlord shutting off the heat and kicking over your plants in an attempt to oust you from the property? Now you, as a tenant, have recourse to sue for up to $2,000 for every act that interferes with your "right to quiet enjoyment of the premises."
Government and social service agencies that provide housing for the mentally ill can breathe a sigh of relief. The California Statewide Supporting Housing Initiative would have gone bye-bye Jan. 1 if it weren't for a five-year extension that allows supportive housing agencies to apply to the state for grants.
It's now easier for whistleblowers to turn in dirty bosses. In addition to a "whistleblower hotline" the state has extended legal protections to employees who tattle or refuse to participate in illegal activities or have done so in the past.
Californians this year will get some help protecting sensitive financial information. Banks and other financial institutions are now required to provide written notice of how they share consumer information. They must also allow consumers an opportunity to opt-out of having their information passed on to affiliates and third parties. The new law won't take effect until July. Another related law requires telemarketers to comply with both state and federal "do not call" laws. It also makes it a crime to interfere with a person's right to place a telephone number on a "do not call" list.
California lawmakers also took steps this last year to protect residents from unsolicited spam e-mail. The law allows California residents, the state and Internet providers to seek civil damages against spammers amounting to $1,000 per e-mail and $1 million per incident. It also prohibits the collection of e-mail addresses for the purpose of advertising. But the new law, which allows consumers to opt-in to receiving e-mails, won't be the end of spam altogether. A new federal law allows companies to send unsolicited messages so long as they give consumers the chance to opt-out.
In July the pioneering Paid Family Leave Act will make up to six weeks of benefits available to new parents or those caring for sick family members. Employers had to start providing related information and claims forms to employees by Jan. 1.
Another new law allows employees to sue their employer for labor-code violations, such as basic wage-hour rules including overtime pay and meal and rest periods missed, after state agencies refuse to take action.
Cross-dressing employees now have legal basis to sue if they feel they're being discriminated against because the clothes they're wearing don't necessarily conform to traditional gender expectations.
A new law gives a defendant in a capital case the right to a pretrial hearing solely to determine if he is mentally retarded. In order to be considered mentally retarded, the defendant must exhibit a significantly below-average general intellect along with difficulty in adapting socially. The law was implemented after a recent Supreme Court decision prohibited the execution of the mentally retarded.
By 2005, the San Jose Police Department, formerly headed up by San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne, could serve as a training model to help police officers deal with mentally ill and emotionally distraught people. A new law asks the state Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training to, by Oct. 1, 2004, submit a report detailing how other police forces in other California cities measure up to San Jose and San Francisco when it comes to Crisis Intervention Training.
Anyone convicted of possessing, producing or distributing child pornography must register as a sex offender and be added to the state database. And if that sex offender happens to go to a California college, everyone on campus is now entitled to know about it. The names of any students who've been classified "high-level" sex offenders will be released to any member of a campus community who inquires with campus or local police.
And don't think you can duck a summons by not answering the door. Under new state law, a courier can leave a summons at your home or office provided it's followed up with a mailed copy.
A new law will increase the number of firearms entered into and checked against a federal database. Also, anyone convicted of shooting into an inhabited building or car will lose the right to posses a gun. Additionally, retired peace officers are no longer allowed to own or posses assault weapons. Finally, starting in 2006, all new semiautomatic handguns sold in California must be equipped with a variety of safety mechanisms.
Drugs and Healthcare
A new law orders the state Department of Health to issue medical marijuana identification cards to patients who qualify. However, due to a lack of funding, nearly $500,000 is needed to get the program running. The same law also limits the amount of dried marijuana a patient or primary care giver can possess to no more than 8 ounces per patient. The same individuals may also raise six mature or 12 immature plants per patient. Another related law indefinitely extends the University of California's California Marijuana Research Program, which is designed to study the safety and medical implications of marijuana and develop guidelines for its use.
A law establishes a Human Stem Cell Research Advisory Committee within the Department of Health Services, which will develop guidelines for research involving the use of human embryonic stem cells. Another law creates an anonymous registry of embryos available for research. Despite the progress in a sensitive subject, any actual research is at least a year off as legislation that would fund the new laws has yet to be approved.
Pharmacists will no longer need special education to dispense emergency contraception like the morning-after pill. They are also prohibited from requiring an emergency contraception patient to provide medical information that could be used to identify them.
Another law requires the Department of Health and Human Services to put together recommendations on how best to advise people if they think they've been exposed to HIV.
Like a handful of other states, California banned over-the-counter dietary supplements containing ephedra. Also known as "ma huang," ephedra is an herb and a natural source of ephedrine, a stimulant found in many prescription and over-the-counter drugs, and a staple of traditional Chinese medicine. Ephedrine has been linked to 155 deaths and dozens of strokes and heart attacks. However, the FDA may make the law irrelevant, recently announcing its own upcoming ban on the supplements.
Folks living in residential-care facilities that specialize in Alzheimers and dementia will get to spend more time outdoors. Studies have found that being outdoors during the day helps combat the effects of "sundowning"-a condition that causes people with cognitive impairment to become increasingly disoriented toward the end of the day. Residential and long-term care facility staff must get training in how best to care for sundown-prone individuals.
Businesses employing more than 50 people will now have to provide health insurance for those workers or pay the state to provide services under Medi-Cal. However, the insurance won't be available for workers until 2006 or 2007, depending on the size of the business. Another new insurance-related law protects patients by requiring health care service plans and providers to make "continuity of care" provisions for a six-month extension of their contract if the parties cannot agree on a new contract. The law keeps both plans and providers from leaving the patient without medical care in the event of a dispute.
Call it irony. While our new governor is busy making plans to put a cap on enrollment in the Healthy Families program-which provides medical insurance to children living in poverty-a new law authorizes money from cigarette taxes to be spent on expanding healthcare services to kids living in rural areas.
And it's now 100 percent illegal for a doctor to anesthetize a female patient and then give her a pelvic exam without her permission.
Anyone caught using a video camera to record a movie in a theater could face a $2,500 fine or get up to one year in jail. The Legislature also raised the fines and penalties for those who aid, abet, attend or participate in cockfighting.
Not every bill passed by the state Legislature became a law. In the past year, Gov. Davis, who holds the unofficial record among recent governors for the highest percentage of vetoes in a single year at nearly 25 percent, quashed more than 50 bills. Some of the most controversial include legislation which would have allowed pharmacists to sell hypodermic needles and syringes without a prescription, required any contractor working for a state agency to pay its employees a living wage, increased inmate drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs and allowed local governments to develop clean needle and syringe exchange programs.
Other vetoed bills would have included marriage counseling and social work under Medi-Cal; established pilot programs allowing voter registration on the day of an election; allowed U.S. citizens or legal residents from Mexico who were forced to leave California against their will during the years 1929 to 1944, or their children, to sue; increased inmate education programs; allowed low-income illegal immigrants attending California Community Colleges to have some fees waived and prevented non-financial services companies from collecting or requesting consumer information during a transaction.
The majority of the bills Davis vetoed were related to education. If enacted into law some of the legislation would have removed funding limits on tutoring programs, allowed schools to hire retired teachers without requiring a basic skills proficiency test and added to school accountability systems criteria including the qualifications of teachers, the condition of buildings and the availability of books and other materials.
What local lawmakers have been up to
Assemblymember Christine Kehoe got 13 bills all the way to the governor's desk. Davis said no to just one of them. Kehoe's bills include one that prohibits state agencies from contracting with businesses that don't provide benefits to an employee's registered domestic partner or spouse. Another declares San Diego's own Californian the state's official tall ship.
Assemblymember Juan Vargas made sure that employers can't purchase life-insurance policies for their employees and list themselves as the beneficiary. One law enhances public school dropout-prevention programs while another makes it illegal for bars and restaurants in Mexico to do cross-border advertising with the intent of luring the under-21 crowd with the promise of alcohol.
Assemblymember Jay La Suer was responsible for three new laws, including one that allows legal guardians to adopt a child who's been in their care for six months. And, if someone grabs your cell phone and smashes it to bits while you're dialing 911, you can thank La Suer for making sure that person receives just punishment.
Sen. Dede Alpert saw 19 bills signed into law. SB 15 sets aside funding to update school facilities every 25 years. SB 68 establishes a committee to keep an eye on water quality in the San Diego Bay. SB 496 encourages police and social-service agencies to come up with a plan for how to handle a narcotics bust when kids are present.
Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth saw three of his bills survive the veto machine. SB 877 forbids defense attorneys representing an accused child pornographer from handing over pornographic evidence to any member of the defendant's family. SB 642 establishes protocol for how to best deal with crop infestation-a response, no doubt, to the fruit-fly quarantine last year that hit the local avocado industry pretty hard.