SACRAMENTO — The Senate narrowly approved and sent to Gov. Pete Wilson on Monday heavily contested legislation outlawing the use of rabbits to test the safety of cosmetics and household cleaning products.
A Wilson spokesman, Franz Wisner, said the governor has taken no position on the bill--a stance that is likely to put him at the center of intense lobbying attention from proponents and foes of the legislation.
The proposal was approved on a vote of 22 to 9, one more than required in the 40-member Senate. It had cleared the Assembly, 52-17.
The bill, by Assemblyman Jack O'Connell (D-Carpinteria), was strongly supported by scores of animal rights groups and just as vigorously opposed by major cosmetics manufacturers, former Surgeon Gen. C. Everett Koop and various medical organizations.
Although Wilson is neutral on the bill, his top administrators in the state Health and Safety Agency oppose it on grounds that, if rabbits are eliminated as test subjects, the products "could potentially have an adverse effect" on public health and safety, an Administration spokesman said.
The measure would make it a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 to use the so-called Draize test--in which a drop of chemical compound is put into a rabbit's eye to determine the chemical's toxicity. Also banned would be a skin-irritation test in which chemicals are placed on the skin of live rabbits.
O'Connell has said the tests often result in the death or blindness of the animals.
Proponents of the bill, including Senate leader David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles), who carried it on the Senate floor, contend the Draize test is especially "cruel and archaic" and that several alternative tests have been developed that do not use animals. Among cosmetics makers and others that "stated their commitment" to non-animal testing, according to Roberti, were Estee Lauder, Shaklee, Revlon, Max Factor, Noxell, Redken, Nexxus, Paul Mitchell and Dial Corp.
Opposition came from the California Cosmetology Assn., Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, Mary Kay Cosmetics, Helene Curtis and Elysee.
A similar bill by O'Connell was vetoed last year by then-Gov. George Deukmejian, who voiced concern over whether testing that did not involve animals adequately protected the health of consumers. Roberti called this year's measure a "watered-down" version.
He said that the bill, among other things, would not apply to animal testing for medical research or to the testing of foods, drugs, medications and medical devices.
However, Sen. Wadie P. Deddeh (D-Chula Vista), who voted for last year's bill and has since undergone heart surgery, led the debate against the measure. He cited opposition by several medical school professors, and said his own good health resulted, in part, from use of medical testing of animals.
Another opponent, Sen. Newton Russell (R-Glendale), told colleagues that in deciding who should be protected by the state--people or animals--the "public health and safety is far more important."