Thursday, January 7, 1999
While America''s elected officials in Washington focused their energies this year on destroying the Republic, in Sacramento state legislators busily passed new laws, many which will take effect on January 1.
There are new laws affecting the entire state and some specifically affecting the Central Coast. There are also a few strange, obscure laws that boldly address such vital, divisive issues as sports memorabilia and the paparazzi. While many of the new laws unfortunately evidence the timidity of a lame-duck legislature, mercifully, none of them have anything to do with lusty interns in blue dresses.
"It was a relatively calm year except for the usual partisan baloney," says Steve Scott, political editor of California Journal in Sacramento. "It was sort of typical for a lame duck year and a legislature in the middle of an election cycle: no great leaps forward; small leaps forward trumpeted as great leaps. Nobody really wants to go out on a limb."
"The previous year was [legislatively] so spectacular that this year expectations were high," says Sandy Harrison, press secretary for Sen. John Burton, (D-San Francisco), President Pro Tempore of the California state Senate. "We might not have met those expectations but it was, all-in-all, a productive year."
This less-than-expected-but-nonetheless-productive year produced two remarkable accomplishments: A $9.2 billion education bill, and a fragile agreement and funding for the preservation of old-growth redwood in Headwaters Forest. The former seeks to improve an under-funded public school system that now ranks near Puerto Rico in terms of educational quality.
"The legislature passed the largest school bond ever," says Shelley Sullivan, press secretary for Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa. "The speaker considers that the crown jewel of the legislative year."
This bill, known as SB 50 and approved by voters in November, allocates $2.9 billion for new school construction; $1.9 billion for modernization of existing facilities; $.7 billion for class size reduction; $2.5 billion for higher education, and the remainder for ''hardship'' school districts that, for one reason or another, have not been able to pass school bond issues.
Before you start thinking ''Salinas and Pajaro might get some hardship money,'' think again, says Sen. Bruce McPherson (R-Santa Cruz).
"In our area, Salinas and Pajaro have the best chance of getting some of that money, but it doesn''t look good," says McPherson.
The other high-profile accomplishment of this legislative year was the agreement and subsequent funding of a plan for the federal and state governments to purchase 10,000 acres of land in Headwaters Forest 300 miles north of San Francisco. The agreement would save the last remaining old-growth redwood stands in the state from logging.
Earlier this year, the Legislature coughed up the $480 million necessary to complete the purchase and the deal appeared to be close at hand. Recently, however, Pacific Lumber, current owner of Headwaters, backed out, leaving the future of the forest uncertain.
"The federal government came out with its recommendations and they were more stringent than what [Pacific] had agreed to with the state," explains Harrison. "The company has decided they won''t go along with the deal."
Headwaters was not the only tract of land the state decided to preserve this year. Locally, in a display of non-partisan unity, Assemblymember Fred Keeley (D-Santa Cruz) and McPherson secured $5 million in funding for the purchase of 7,000 acres of undeveloped land near Davenport known as "Coast Dairies."
"There was a lot of teamwork going on with this project," says McPherson.
Our "team" in Sacramento also secured $2.1 million in research funding for the study of pitch canker, a pine tree disease that currently threatens to turn Carmel into a meadow. Moss Landing Marine Labs will also receive $145,000 annually to carry out the state mussel watch program.
Each year, the legislature passes hundreds of laws, and inevitably some are notable in their unique irrelevance to the survival of our democracy. This year was no exception. Consider these gems:
&bul;Senator Richard Rainey (R-Walnut Creek) successfully sponsored a groundbreaking bill requiring that autographed sports memorabilia sold to consumers include a certificate of authenticity which verifies the date, location and witness to the autograph.
&bul; SB 1959 allows military training to be substituted for training requirements in state-licensed profession such as security guards, smog check technicians and barbers. Hair salons throughout the state will no doubt soon become much more regimented.
&bul; SB 262, the so-called "paparazzi" bill, allows damages against people who trespass by taking photographs or making audio recordings when there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. This comes too late to save Princess Diana, but should insure the much-needed privacy of those persecuted Hollywood types who hire battalions of publicists to saturate the airwaves with the minutiae of their personal lives.
Then, from the ''what happened to inspire a law like this'' file, get a load of these:
&bul; AB 2303 prohibits an employer from audio or videotaping an employee in a rest room, locker rooms or changing rooms. Yes, Big Brother is peeping.
&bul; SB 705 makes it a felony punishable by up to eight years for HIV-positive individuals to knowingly engage in unprotected sex if the person acted with the specific intent to infect his/her partner.
Finally, this past year the Legislature, with the strong prodding of Republican members and Gov. Pete Wilson, passed a $1.4 billion car tax cut. Interestingly, the Legislative Analyst''s Office recently projected a $1 billion state budget deficit for the ''99-2000 fiscal year, a dose of red ink that will inevitably effect next year''s Democratic-controlled legislative output.
Says McPherson, "The shortfall may give [Governor-elect Gray Davis] some pause. There''s going to be a flood of bills coming through that were vetoed by Wilson and it will be interesting to see, in light of the projected shortfall, how all of this is going to shake out."