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Bill to Show Bank Data to Patrons Dies

A measure that would let customers learn what personal information their financial-services companies give to other firms dies in Assembly.

August 22, 2003|Nancy Vogel | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — A bill that would let customers find out what sort of personal information their banks have sold or shared with other businesses failed to pass the Assembly on Thursday, two days after a more sweeping financial privacy bill overwhelmingly cleared the Legislature and headed for the governor's signature.

The failed measure by Sen. Liz Figueroa (D-Fremont) would have given consumers the right once a year to ask businesses to disclose what information about them has been shared and with whom.

The bill, SB 27, failed on a 36-12 vote, with 31 lawmakers simply not voting, including 10 Democrats.

Figueroa vowed to keep trying to pass the bill before lawmakers end their session next month.

"People want this," she said. "Constituents hopefully will contact their legislators during the weekend."

Another financial privacy bill, SB 1, finally passed the Legislature this week after banks, credit card companies and other financial institutions agreed to a compromise that prohibits them from selling a customer's financial information without permission. That bill, by Sen. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough), passed after a four-year struggle as consumer advocates threatened to put a stronger financial privacy measure on the ballot. Gov. Gray Davis has said he will sign SB 1 into law.

Speier's measure would ban financial institutions from selling customer information to an outside company without written permission from the customer. Figueroa called her own bill complementary.

"To really, truly, implement SB 1," Figueroa said, "you should know what information they have on you."

But banks and other businesses resisted being regulated by more than one financial privacy bill. They dispatched teams of lobbyists to pressure Assembly members Thursday.

"They believe that with this additional bill that they will have two sets of different financial reports," said Assemblywoman Barbara Matthews (D-Tracy), who voted against the measure.

In other legislative action, the Senate Environmental Quality Committee passed a bill to tighten regulation of bottled water and water sold through 8,200 vending machines.

Assemblywoman Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro) says bottled water costs hundreds of times more than tap water, but its contents are largely a mystery to consumers.

Her bill, AB 83, would require water bottlers who sell their products in California to list a phone number or Web site on the bottle where consumers can get a "consumer confidence report" describing the level of contaminants in the water, such as arsenic and lead. The companies would have to explain the health risks of such contaminants and open their bottling operations to inspection.

Bottled-water companies and grocers oppose the measure, saying they don't see any health problem that needs to be fixed.

They also say the bill would increase the price of water. County health officers would be authorized to inspect bottling operations at a cost of roughly $500,000 a year, to be paid through fees on the industry.

"It's going to be an ouch," said Paul A. Smith, vice president of governmental affairs for the California Grocers Assn., which opposes the bill.

AB 83 passed the committee with five Democrats in support and two Republicans opposed. It goes next to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

With fewer than three weeks before lawmakers adjourn until January, the Assembly acted on dozens of measures Thursday. Those sent to Davis to be signed or vetoed included:

* AB 458 by Assemblywoman Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park) would require that licensed foster parents be taught not to discriminate against gay and lesbian foster children. Davis vetoed a similar bill last year.

Republicans argued that Chu's bill would discourage some people morally opposed to homosexuality from becoming foster parents. Democrats said the bill would help protect young, vulnerable people from bias. The Assembly agreed to Senate amendments on a 46-28 vote.

* AB 846 by Assemblyman Juan Vargas (D-San Diego) would ban smoking within 20 feet of the main doors and working windows of public buildings. Republicans derided the measure as "nanny government" and questioned how it could be enforced.

"Why not 18 feet? Why not 22 feet?" asked Assembly Minority Leader Dave Cox (R-Fair Oaks). "Are you going to get someone out there with a tape measure?"

Assemblyman Dennis Mountjoy (R-Monrovia), a smoker, questioned whether the Assembly balcony, a popular place for smokers, would be included under the bill. Vargas said it could be.

"I would have to jump over the balcony and shimmy over the ledge," Mountjoy said.

The Assembly gave its final approval to the measure on a 43-25 vote.

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