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Waylaid Veto Plans Result in 9 New Laws


SACRAMENTO — Nine bills that Gov. Pete Wilson intended to veto will become law because the governor's staff left the measures on a Capitol copying machine, failing to deliver them on time to the offices of the Assembly and Senate, Wilson's office acknowledged Tuesday.

Several measures are technical in nature, but a few bills are significant, including one that slaps a tax on the sale of California timber sold overseas and uses the proceeds to help pay for the restoration of habitat for endangered salmon and steelhead.

One bill will require the Public Utilities Commission to set minimum rates to be charged by the dump truck industry, while another measure will create a comprehensive program to regulate large propane storage tanks, a step Wilson had said was unwarranted.

"It's a regrettable mistake," Sean Walsh, Wilson's press secretary, said Tuesday. "You have a government of human beings who make human errors. The governor's not happy about it, but it's part of being human."

The error by Wilson's office is apparently unprecedented; no one in the Capitol can remember a similar gubernatorial goof.

The state Constitution gives the governor 30 days to sign or veto all the bills that lawmakers send to his desk at the end of each legislative session. Any bill not signed or vetoed and returned to the house of the Legislature from which it originated becomes law without the governor's signature.

This year, the Republican chief executive handled 1,211 bills during September, vetoing about a quarter of them. His deadline for acting on the bills was Friday at midnight, and the clerks of the Assembly and Senate stayed in their offices until then to receive his last-minute messages.

But in the final rush of actions, a file folder containing the original copies of nine bills Wilson thought he had vetoed never reached the clerks. A Wilson staffer apparently left it on a copying machine outside the Assembly chambers. An Assembly employee found it there Monday morning.

The governor announced Friday that he had killed the bills and released copies of his veto messages, but the error means that they will become law anyway. The fact that none of the nine bills was a major piece of legislation was lucky for the governor. All vetoed bills are shipped to the Assembly and Senate in the same way, and the ones misplaced could just as easily have been some of the most important measures of the year.

The timber bill, by Assemblyman Byron D. Sher (D-Palo Alto), imposes a higher tax on logs cut in California and shipped overseas. The revenue from the tax--estimated at less than $1 million annually--will go to offset a tax credit for private landowners who restore habitat for the Coho salmon and steelhead trout.

Wilson, in vetoing the bill, questioned the constitutionality of the tax and said that in any case, the revenue gains from the tax would "not compensate for the detrimental effect such taxation would have on California's business climate."

That miscue may be a minor embarrassment to Wilson's reelection campaign because the governor, stung by criticism of tax increases early in his term, has been promising not to raise taxes again.

The propane tank regulation measure stemmed from a 1993 explosion that forced the evacuation of the Napa Valley town of Yountville. It will set stricter standards on tanks holding 18,000 gallons or more, clarifies who will enforce the regulations and levies a fee on owners of the tanks to pay for the program.

Wilson contended that the bill would make the regulation of the tanks more complicated, not less so, and said the fees would generate less than 12% of what it would cost to implement the program. The bill was supported by the town of Yountville but split the propane industry.

A third bill that will become law will require the California Public Utilities Commission to set minimum rates for dump truck haulers. The PUC opposed the bill, which was sponsored by the industry, because the commission is trying to inject more market competition into the business.

The bill, Wilson said, "would tie the hands of the PUC as it attempts to design regulations that fit the needs of California's changing trucking industry. Codifying these provisions would be contrary to that demand, and would make further changes to that rate structure extremely difficult and burdensome."

Another bill--inspired by a fatal Los Angeles fire--will require the owners of certain apartment buildings to post evacuation instructions in foreign languages if 25% of their tenants do not speak English.

While lauding its goal, Wilson said he vetoed the bill because it "is somewhat misguided and would result in placing overly onerous responsibilities and costs on apartment building owners and operators."

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