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Legislature Votes to Bar Sales of Sodas in Schools

If Gov. Davis signs the bill, vending machines could not dispense soft drinks, except on high school campuses, starting in July.

August 29, 2003|Nancy Vogel | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Most public school vending machines would dispense water, juice or milk but no sodas under a bill that cleared the Legislature on Thursday and headed for the governor's desk.

Students could still take sodas to school, but they would not be allowed to buy them there under SB 677, by Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento), which passed the Senate on a 22-14 vote.

The original version of the bill would have banned soda sales in all public schools, but Assemblyman Dario Frommer (D-Los Feliz), chairman of the Assembly Health Committee, insisted on exempting high schools. If signed into law, the bill would ban soda sales in elementary, middle and junior high schools, starting in July.

Ortiz said she found it hypocritical for schools to teach good nutrition while accepting revenue from soda vending machine sales.

"Children learn from what we tell them, but also what we sell them," she said.

"This is one part of tackling the issue of childhood obesity," said Ortiz. "It also is a question of whether or not school districts, for the sake of chasing revenues, ought to provide a product that is high in calories and devoid of nutrition."

Ortiz carried a similar bill last year, but it died amid opposition from soda makers and school administrators. Some educators fought the legislation because their schools earn thousands of dollars a year from contracts with soft drink companies.

This year Ortiz won the support of the Assn. of California School Administrators, dentists, doctors and the California State PTA.

Some school districts have already imposed a soda ban, including the Los Angeles Unified School District, where the prohibition will take effect in January.

The Ortiz bill would still allow campus sale of sodas for fund-raising events before or after school hours.

As the bill moved through the Legislature, committee hearings featured such props as jars showing the amount of sugar in a bottle of soda. Pediatricians testified on an epidemic of childhood obesity, which is estimated to affect 30% of California youngsters, and the calcium deficiency risked by teenage girls who regularly drink sodas.

A spokesman for Gov. Gray Davis could not be reached for comment on whether he is prepared to sign the bill into law.

Also on Thursday, the Assembly rejected a bill that would have encouraged California to transfer foreign prisoners back to their native countries.

The bill's author, Sen. Betty Karnette (D-Long Beach), said that, with more than 19,000 foreign-born inmates in state prisons, the bill could save the state as much as $25 million a year. Most of those prisoners are to be deported when they are released.

The bill, SB 300, would have applied only to countries with which the U.S. has treaties allowing such transfers. Prisoners could be transferred only when the receiving country agreed not to release them sooner than they would have been eligible for parole in the California penal system.

Democrats who supported the bill said it would spare California taxpayers the $25,000- to $50,000-a-year cost of housing each prisoner. But Republicans argued that such transfers would cheat crime victims, who could no longer attend parole hearings or know for certain how much time criminals served.

The bill failed, 34-35, with no Republican support and several Democrats not voting.

In other business, the Assembly passed a bill that would license people who want to call themselves doctors of naturopathy, a method of healing that uses herbs, exercise and nutrition. SB 907 by Sen. John Burton (D-San Francisco) would give state licensing to Californians holding a degree from one of four naturopathic schools in the nation. The licensees could also prescribe some drugs, order lab tests, help deliver babies and perform some minor surgeries.

The bill dictates that fees for naturopathic doctors -- not taxpayers' money -- be used to cover the administrative costs of licensing. It is opposed by an association of naturopathy practitioners who lack the credentials described in the bill. SB 907 returns to the Senate for approval of Assembly amendments.

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