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California and the West

Sound and Fury That Signify Silly

Laws: Minor issues--think horse massages--can provoke raucous debate.


SACRAMENTO — When they toss out the pizza boxes next week and tally up what the 1999-2000 Legislature accomplished, memories will undoubtedly drift toward the big stuff--better health coverage for the poor, tax breaks, more grants for the college-bound.

But lurking amid such meaty issues are handfuls of smaller bills that--dare we say it?--border on silly.

Oddly, these measures often spark passionate debate, proving yet again that lawmakers are never too weary to express an opinion. Here's a peek at some of the lighter legislation bequeathed to California this year:

Stripes or Solids?

You may not know this, but interior designers don't get no respect. The public, one designer told The Times, "thinks we do nothing but pick colors and fluff pillows."

To elevate their stature, designers asked the state to license their profession. The bill, SB 1096, is on the governor's desk, despite opposition from some architects who seem worried that designers might be after a piece of their pie.

Skeptics in the Legislature got in a few memorable jabs. One joked that licensure would ensure "nobody ever maliciously mixes pastels and horizontal stripes again."

In Memoriam

There are few pastimes in Sacramento as popular as naming things after dead or retired politicians. Bridges, libraries, playgrounds--all are considered fair game for plaques.

Continuing that grand tradition, the Legislature adopted Senate Concurrent Resolution 99, naming a freeway interchange in Moreno Valley after the late entertainer and Inland Empire congressman Sonny Bono.

The measure's sponsor, Senate Republican leader Jim Brulte of Cucamonga, believes the tribute is fitting for a man whose "leadership and values continue to positively shape progress throughout California."

If signed by Gov. Gray Davis, the measure will require Caltrans to erect commemorative plaques on the interchange. But a more suitable marker might be a Bonoesque offramp sign, something like, "Time to exit, babe."

I Now Pronounce You. . .

In case you're not stressed out enough in the weeks before your wedding, legislators want to make you read a fact sheet about how marriage will affect your life.

About 200,000 couples marry each year in California. The bill's author, Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), thinks the state would benefit if those heading for the altar better understand their rights and obligations before saying, "I do."

The fact sheet covers property rights, payment of debts, child support and information on domestic violence and spousal rape. That ought to cast a little shadow over the old nuptial bliss.

Where Does It Hurt?

The target of the biggest bipartisan guffaws was a bill that sought to crack down on rogue horse masseurs. The legislation, AB 2042, died in the Senate, and its author, Assemblyman Mike Briggs (R-Fresno), acknowledges that he may never live this one down.

Massage is an increasingly popular technique used on racehorses and other equines, and ill-trained masseurs are a legitimate threat, Briggs said. "Horses can't communicate, they can't say 'Ow' " when something goes wrong, he added.

His colleagues weren't moved: "I can't think of anything that would make a horse crankier than to get a bad massage," said fellow Republican Tom McClintock of Granada Hills.

Give Fido a Break

One supporter called it "probably the most important property rights bill of the year." Another waxed nostalgically about a beloved little dog.

Still, AB 860--which would forbid mobile home parks and condominiums from banning pets entirely--sparked more than a few snickers as it journeyed through the Legislature.

The issue is a serious one. Studies show that seniors--many of whom own mobile homes--live longer and happier lives if they have a pet.

But some lawmakers said the state has no business passing such regulations: "I have a nice little cat that runs around the garage, and it is a great, great animal," said state Sen. Ray Haynes (R-Riverside). But those who want to keep pets, he argued, should choose housing that allows them to do so.

That sort of thinking lost out, however, to pro-pet sympathies, including those expressed by Senate leader John Burton--a crusty Democrat not normally associated with warm and fuzzy stories.

Urging a yes vote, Burton recalled how his mother was comforted by a poodle after Burton's father passed away.

The question now: Does the governor care about the Fluffy vote?


The Times Sacramento bureau staff contributed to this report.

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