SACRAMENTO — The Senate on Thursday narrowly approved legislation requiring manufacturers of poisonous consumer products to help pay the costs of California's financially threatened poison control centers.
The bill by Assemblyman Lloyd Connelly (D-Sacramento) was supported by physicians, hospitals, churches, children's safety organizations and firefighters. It was opposed by manufacturers of pharmaceuticals, chemicals, soap and cosmetics.
Opponents said the estimated $6 million a year in fees that the manufacturers would be charged constitutes a tax increase that would be passed on to consumers. But supporters said the state's seven regional poison control centers face imminent collapse without an infusion of money.
After a three-hour roll call vote, the bill cleared the Senate on a bipartisan 21-14 tally, the simple majority required, and was returned to the Assembly for approval of Senate amendments.
A representative of Gov. Pete Wilson said the governor has not taken a position on the bill.
The centers counsel the public on treating cases of poisoning, including telling callers where to go for medical treatment if necessary. The facilities are financed with both private and public funds. But some are facing closure, the Senate was told.
Currently, state taxpayers contribute about $6 million a year for support of the centers. But continued state support seemed doomed in the current tight budget situation and Connelly turned to manufacturers of potentially dangerous consumer products to pick up the shortfall.
Conservative Republican Sen. Marian Bergeson of Newport Beach told the Senate she was not happy about levying new fees on manufacturers, but said, "We cannot lose sight that this is perhaps one of the most important health assets that we have."
But Sen. Barry Keene of Ukiah, the Democratic floor leader, denounced the proposed fees.
He said efforts to raise taxes on higher income earners and close loopholes have been rejected and asked: "How in the world can we justify raising the tax on needed and necessary consumer products?"
Sen. Quentin L. Kopp (I-San Francisco), who carried the bill on the Senate floor, said the fees would be apportioned among manufacturers based on the number of poison center calls that identified a specific brand name.
"The fee is based upon the problem being attacked," Kopp said. "It's not a tax."
Gene Erbin, an assistant to Connelly, said the bill would apply to products that now contain a label instructing the user to "call your local poison control center" in case of emergency.
"These industries have been subsidized by the taxpayers for years and when we ask them to help, all we get is a flat no," Erbin said. "They are not willing to contribute to the maintenance of the centers."