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Assembly Approves March Primary


SACRAMENTO — The Assembly on Wednesday gave final legislative approval to advancing the 1996 California presidential primary from June to March, a measure designed to give the state more political clout in choosing candidates for the White House.

A 62-12 vote sent the legislation, by Assemblyman Jim Costa (D-Hanford), to Gov. Pete Wilson, who is expected to sign it into law.

The measure, approved last week by the state Senate, sets up the 1996 early primary as a one-time experiment. Included in the primary will be all state races and some local ones.

The proposal was among many bills voted on Wednesday by a busy Assembly and Senate as they rushed to finish their work before Friday's adjournment for the rest of the year. Wilson also announced his decisions on signing or vetoing nearly a hundred bills.

In other action, the Assembly approved a controversial automobile smog testing bill at odds with the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Clinton Administration, which has threatened to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in federal highway aid from the state.

In a late-night vote, the Assembly narrowly approved and sent to the governor a bill requiring all bicycle riders under the age of 18 to wear safety helmets or face a $25 fine.

The Assembly also approved a measure providing personal computer users with electronic access to the Legislature's public files.

The vote moving up the primary was the culmination of years of frustration for Costa and others that arose from the state's predicament of having the most convention delegates but having a primary vote so late in the year that California played virtually no role in selecting the Republican and Democratic nominees.

If the bill is signed into law, the California presidential primary will move up to No. 31 in the nation, ahead of 18 other states, including New York, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Virginia and New Jersey. But those states could yet adjust their primary schedules.

"This is an effort to give California a say in who ultimately is nominated by the two major political parties to serve as the nation's highest elected official," said Costa, who has waged a 14-year campaign to move up the primary.

Opponents of the early primary argue that it will make the general election campaign for state and local offices, which would still be held in November, longer and more expensive.

Meanwhile, in direct opposition to the Clinton Administration, the Assembly voted to keep the current automobile smog testing system in place but augment it with tougher anti-fraud standards, annual tests for cars more than 8 years old, and a ban on the the driving of "gross polluting cars." The bill returns to the Senate for approval of Assembly amendments.

The measure, authored by state Sen. Newton R. Russell (R-Glendale) and approved on a 65-6 vote, is in conflict with EPA standards calling for a more centralized testing system focused on government-operated testing stations, rather those run by service stations.

Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sylmar), the chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee, said the EPA has a plan "that it is trying to shove down our throats."

"We should not roll over and play dead," he said. "We should pass this bill and go to Washington to fight for it. The air in California is getting better. It is not where we want it to be, but we are getting there."

An opponent, Assemblyman Terry B. Friedman (D-Brentwood), disagreed. "The Los Angeles air basin has the worst air in America," Friedman said. "It is worse than any other area. We are the smog capital of America. We ought to take the steps recommended by the EPA to move faster and stronger toward cleaner air."

On the bill requiring helmets for young bicycle riders, the Assembly cast a 41-34 vote, the bare minimum needed for approval to send the measure to the governor's desk.

The bill's author, Assemblyman Louis Caldera (D-Los Angeles), told his colleagues that helmets would help reduce serious head injuries. But a leading opponent, Assemblyman Dean Andal (R-Stockton) said: "This is ultimate nanny bill. . . . What kind of behavior are we going to regulate next?"

In other action, computer users won free access to the Legislature's electronic bill files with final Assembly passage of a bill by Assemblywoman Debra Bowen (D-Marina del Rey). The measure provides instant access to computerized bill texts, voting records and bill analyses to anyone hooked up to Internet, a nonprofit computer network that serves an estimated 15 million users worldwide.

The measure, which did not receive one "no" vote in the Legislature, goes to the governor.

Wilson, meanwhile, announced that he had signed or vetoed nearly 100 bills that were on his desk. Among them, Wilson:

* Signed two bills banning baby walkers and smoking in state-licensed child-care centers, including private homes used for day care.

"California's children deserve a healthy start in life, and these two measures will help to protect infants so they can develop in a safe environment," Wilson said.

* Signed a bill requiring telephone companies to notify their customers that calling numbers with the 800 or 900 prefix may result in the disclosure of the customer's telephone number even if it is unlisted.

* Vetoed a bill that would have limited the salaries of state board and commission members--most of whom are appointed by the governor--to no more than that earned by rank-and-file members of the Legislature. Wilson called the bill "punitive and shortsighted."

* Signed a bill extending the life of a commission promoting a privately built and operated super-speed train between Southern California and Las Vegas.

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