SACRAMENTO — Gov. George Deukmejian's bill to begin immediate hiring of 150 new California Highway Patrol officers for violence-control duty on freeways plagued by gun shooters won approval of a key committee Monday and was sent to the Assembly floor.
The committee also tentatively endorsed legislation by Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angles) that would provide $950,000 in state aid to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the Los Angeles Police Department to beef up efforts to curb highway violence.
But the Ways and Means Committee, at the urging of the National Rifle Assn. and the California Rifle and Pistol Assn., scuttled a controversial handgun control bill, whose author, Assemblyman Burt Margolin (D-Los Angeles), contended that it would help deter highway shootings.
The measure would have made it a felony, instead of the current misdemeanor, to carry a handgun in the driver's compartment of a vehicle, punishable by up to three years in prison. Under the bill, a handgun could have been carried in the vehicle trunk or a locked box other than the glove compartment.
Margolin insisted that merely removing a pistol or revolver from the easy reach of a motorist would lessen the risk for a shooting during a freeway confrontation.
But Dave Marshall, of the politically influential NRA, said statistics indicated that up to 250,000 Californians legally carry openly displayed handguns in their vehicles each day for "self protection" and the Margolin bill would make them subject to a felony arrest.
While the committee rejected the Margolin plan, 8 to 9, it voted unanimous approval for the Deukmejian and Roberti bills, both of which would take effect immediately upon the governor's signature.
Roberti's bill, however, was kept in the committee so members could take a second look at its price tag later in the week. The measure was opposed by representatives of the Deukmejian Administration as too costly.
Deukmejian proposed his bill on Aug. 22 when he called for immediate authorization to hire 150 more CHP officers who would be assigned to areas that suffered the greatest amount of freeway violence.
Although freeway shootings have occurred occasionally in other parts of the state, most of the incidents were in Southern California, where at least five people have died from gunshot wounds.
Hiring and training the additional officers would cost about $29 million and be financed from motor vehicle registration and driver's license fees. In addition, the governor asked for $2 million to pay overtime to officers currently on violence patrol duty.
The CHP has estimated that the new officers would begin work in five or six months after the Legislature acted and the governor signed his bill, which is authored by freshman Assemblyman Paul Zeltner (R-Lakewood).
The Roberti bill, quickly fashioned in the last couple of weeks, would provide, among other things, $190,000 for a sheriff's office computer system to help law enforcement agencies exchange information on roadway violence, and $160,000 to finance additional sheriff's air surveillance, overtime and additional patrols.
For the Police Department, the legislation would provide state aid to finance more motorcycle and helicopter patrols.