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State Smog Check Bill Is Signed by Wilson : Legislation: The measure creates a two-step inspection and repair process for some vehicles. It is designed to reduce fraud and improve reliability.

March 31, 1994|DANIEL M. WEINTRAUB | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Pete Wilson on Wednesday signed legislation to overhaul the state's Smog Check program, ending a yearlong feud with the federal government over how best to remove pollution-spewing vehicles from California roadways.

The three-bill package signed by Wilson without fanfare will force more than 1 million drivers each year to use a new two-step inspection and repair process intended to reduce the chance of fraud and improve the reliability of the smog checks.

The governor also signed several other bills that the Legislature sent to his desk before its one-week spring recess, including a measure to tighten local open meeting laws and another to extend a tax break to victims of last fall's fires in Southern California.

The new Smog Check program will require 15% of the state's cars and trucks in urban areas to be inspected and, if necessary, repaired at separate independent garages. The current system allows motorists to have their vehicles tested and fixed at the same location.

The Department of Motor Vehicles will select a 2% random sample of vehicles to undergo the new, more rigorous inspections. Also subject to the new system will be cars whose smog controls have been tampered with, taxis, high-mileage fleet vehicles and so-called gross polluters.

The gross polluters are high-polluting vehicles that will be detected through the placement of special roadside sensors that will seek out the worst offenders and record their identities for action by authorities.

Owners of these smog-belching vehicles who have low incomes will be eligible for subsidies of $450 to help pay for repairs or as much as $800 if they junk the vehicle and buy a cleaner-burning one.

The legislation, which takes effect in 1995, represents a compromise reached recently with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which had demanded that all the inspections be separated from repair services now conducted at about 9,000 garages licensed as Smog Check stations in California.

At one point, the Clinton Administration threatened to withhold federal transportation money from the state's freeway building program but later backed down and agreed to the compromise.

"This legislation is a win-win situation for California," Wilson said in statement released by his office. "It allows us the flexibility to target the worst polluting vehicles, get them fixed or off the road, and it saves the jobs of mechanics currently employed at Smog Check stations through the state."

In other action Wednesday, the governor signed:

* A bill by state Sen. Quentin L. Kopp (I-San Francisco) that is the final piece in a package of legislation intended to make it more difficult for local government agencies to meet behind closed doors. The measure clarifies the definition of a meeting and ensures that retreats and other out-of-town gatherings of public officials are open to the public.

* A measure to extend income tax relief to the victims of last fall's Southern California fires. Fire victims will be able to deduct their losses on their income tax returns for the next 10 years. Similar relief already has been granted to victims of the Northridge earthquake.

The bill, by Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach), also waives a state fee that would have been charged to hospitals when they reopen buildings closed by the Northridge quake. In some cases, according to the governor's office, the fee could have been as much as $12 million.

* Legislation by Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) to end the state's ban on investments by state trust funds in companies that do business in South Africa. The prohibition originally was adopted as part of an international campaign to pressure South Africa to end apartheid.

* A measure to prohibit the loaning of firearms to minors except with the written consent of their parents, for no longer than 10 days, and only for the purpose of lawful sporting, hunting, agriculture or ranching activity. The bill was carried by Sen. Steve Peace (D-Bonita).

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