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Air Quality Panel Power Increased; AIDS Bill Signed

September 29, 1987|RICHARD C. PADDOCK | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Gov. George Deukmejian on Monday signed legislation granting the South Coast Air Quality Management District expansive new authority to reduce air pollution in the Los Angeles Basin, including the power to ban trucks from freeways during peak hours.

Deukmejian also signed a bill that would allow the state to test experimental AIDS drugs in humans, but cautioned that California will not attempt to supplant the federal Food and Drug Administration's authority to license new drugs.

At the same time, declaring that California is already "a leader in the fight against AIDS," the Republican governor vetoed legislation designed to raise an estimated $150 million for AIDS research by offering a tax credit to private donors.

As he plowed through 350 bills awaiting his action by midnight Wednesday, Deukmejian also vetoed legislation that would have raised the minimum wage in California to $4.25 an hour.

The air pollution measure, carried by Sen. Robert Presley (D-Riverside), will overhaul the membership of the oft-criticized South Coast air board and give it new powers over vehicle pollution, new development, ride-sharing and the fuels used by car and truck fleets.

"I would expect as a result of this bill that we're going to see an improvement in air quality," Presley said.

In particular, the board will gain the power to ban trucks from freeways during hours of peak air pollution levels--a system that was used successfully during the 1984 Olympics. The bill will also give the board the power to order public and commercial vehicle fleets to switch to fuels that create less air pollution, such as methanol.

The air board will assume the authority to require employers to provide incentives to their employees to commute to work in buses and car pools--including free bus passes, preferential parking for car pools or cash bonuses for ride-sharers.

And the board will be empowered to ensure that new developments, such as shopping centers and housing projects, are designed to minimize air pollution and provide such alternatives as bus service and bicycle paths.

Presley's bill was motivated by concern from environmentalists and public officials that the South Coast air board had been lethargic in its efforts to reduce air pollution in the Southland. In an attempt to make the agency more aggressive in its efforts, the bill will pare the board from 14 to 11 members and, for the first time, require members to attend the agency's meetings.

Deukmejian, under growing pressure to take action to halt the spread of acquired immune deficiency syndrome, said he signed the drug testing bill in the hope that it would allow more California AIDS patients to take part in clinical tests of drugs that could cure the fatal disease.

The measure, initially proposed by Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp, had been sought by AIDS patients, many of whom are so desperate for a cure that they cross into Mexico to buy experimental drugs.

The bill, carried by Assemblyman William J. Filante (R-Greenbrae), also had strong backing from some pharmaceutical companies that have had difficulty winning FDA approval of their drugs for treating AIDS patients. Backers had sharply criticized the FDA for moving too slowly to approve AIDS drugs for clinical tests, a charge the agency denied.

While the state has the authority to license drugs for sale within California, the governor said he intends to leave that function exclusively to the FDA. The state will confine its role to testing.

"I am concerned that by signing this bill into law, the public will expect California, independent of the FDA, to approve drugs in the treatment of AIDS," Deukmejian said. "Quite the contrary is true."

In vetoing two bills aimed at raising private donations for AIDS research, Deukmejian said he was opposed to a financing method that departed from the normal budget process and circumvented review by the Administration and Legislature.

The legislation, first proposed by Controller Gray Davis and carried by Assemblyman Johan Klehs (D-San Leandro), would have raised an estimated $61 million a year for 2 1/2 years by offering a 55% state income tax credit for AIDS research donations.

But Deukmejian pointed out that the state will spend $63 million this year to fight AIDS, including more than $15 million for vaccine development, research and treatment.

"Unfortunately, mankind has experienced the devastating, life-threatening effects of polio, cancer, heart diseases, muscular dystrophy, arthritis, mental illness and others, yet we have not provided special tax credits for each," he said.

Bruce Decker, Deukmejian's appointee to the California AIDS Advisory Commission, said he was "devastated" by the veto. "I think that this is a significant opportunity that will now be missed to make the medical breakthrough of the century," he said.

Davis also attacked Deukmejian's veto as "bureaucratic shortsightedness."

In a widely expected move, Deukmejian vetoed legislation by Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles) raising the minimum wage to $4.25 an hour, saying it was "unnecessary" and would circumvent the Industrial Welfare Commission, which has the responsibility of setting the wage level. The commission, made up entirely of Deukmejian appointees, voted earlier this month to adopt a two-tiered wage system of $4.00 an hour for most workers and $3.40 an hour for young employees, students and those who receive tips.

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