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The State

New Laws Cover Wide Range of Subjects

October 06, 2002|NANCY VOGEL and CARL INGRAM | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

In 2002, state lawmakers introduced 2,554 bills and resolutions. Of those, 1,116 died in the Legislature. The governor signed 1,173 measures, vetoed 264 and allowed one to become law without his signature. Here are highlights of those actions, by subject.

Abortion

Davis and the Legislature enacted a law that aims to preserve the right to an abortion in California even if federal rights are weakened. The "Reproductive Privacy Act" makes the state's scattered statutes referring to abortion consistent with the Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision.

The governor also signed bills to keep abortion clinic workers' addresses private, guarantee sexual assault victims access to emergency contraception and make it a crime to threaten or attack abortion clinics. A fifth new law reinforces a requirement that obstetrics and gynecology training programs teach students how to perform an abortion. Students may opt out on religious or ethical grounds.

Consumers

The Legislature and governor toughened restrictions on the payday loan industry.

Typically, these loans are a short-term advance in which a borrower writes a check for $100 to $300. It is held by the lender and not cashed until the borrower's next payday. However, substantial charges and fees and high interest rates can be imposed, which, critics argue, keep the borrower in debt for long periods.

Effective Jan. 1, payday loan companies will be regulated by the Department of Corporations in the same way other financial institutions are regulated. Additional restrictions will be imposed, including prohibiting a charge for merely opening an account. Also, the industry will pay substantially higher regulatory fees.

A new law will require calling-card companies to disclose certain hidden charges and fees and will require that consumer information be printed in languages other than English.

One key bill would have required financial institutions to get consent before disclosing a consumer's private information to other enterprises, including affiliates.

The bill, fought by major national businesses, was passed by the Senate but so weakened in the Assembly that the author, Sen. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough), killed it.

Crime

As an offshoot of the Rampart police scandal, a new law will require that a felon sentenced to death or life without parole can get access to evidence that may have been false.

The legislation was introduced in response to Los Angeles cases in which convicted felons were voluntarily freed by the district attorney and courts because their convictions depended heavily on the testimony of law enforcement officers that turned out to be false.

For inmates in custody, habeas corpus procedures have long been of assistance. But until now, there was no remedy in California law that enabled someone who had been freed to return to court and seek to reverse a fraudulent conviction.

Amid concerns over terrorism, the Legislature also approved and Davis signed a bill that extends until 2008 the state law authorizing law enforcement to place wiretaps on telephones and other communication devices.

Education

Unlike in recent sessions in which the Legislature and governor enacted major education initiatives, lawmakers in 2002 generally preferred to fine-tune earlier reforms. However, the year was not without controversy.

The California Teachers Assn.'s top-priority bill would have created "academic partnerships" between teachers unions and school district officials to make decisions jointly on the operation of public schools. The bill also proposed giving the unions a voice in the selection of textbooks and other instructional materials, a provision that critics, including Davis, said went too far.

The bill was stopped in its tracks in the Assembly when the governor warned that he would veto it. The Legislature undertook a major reform of the charter schools system, clamping new fiscal accountability standards on such schools, which can operate outside the statutory and regulatory systems required of regular public schools.

Supporters of the bill said the need for tighter standards for charter schools was dramatized by operations at Gateway Charter Academy, which ran multiple satellite campuses far from its Fresno headquarters.

Gateway's charter was revoked when education authorities discovered that the recently opened school had piled up $1 million in debts in a single year, hired employees with criminal records and recruited teachers without credentials.

The new law will establish tighter fiscal controls, including the requirement that charter schools each year file a financial statement to the officials who approved its charter. In applying for a charter, such schools also will be required to detail how they intend to keep parents informed of the transferability of courses and whether the courses meet college eligibility requirements.

Energy

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