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Davis Signs Bills, Boosts Hybrid Cars

Federal waiver is sought so fuel-efficient vehicles can use carpool lanes. One new law protects women hospital patients from invasive exams.

October 03, 2003|Evan Halper | Times Staff Writer

With just a few days remaining before voters decide whether to recall him, Gov. Gray Davis took a flurry of actions that would do everything from opening the state's carpool lanes to hybrid vehicles to protecting women hospital patients from having invasive tests performed on them without consent.

The Davis administration called on the federal government Thursday to give California a waiver that would allow the 20,000 hybrid gas/electric vehicles sold in the state to use freeway high-occupancy vehicle lanes, now reserved for carpools and electric vehicles.

Davis believes doing so would encourage people to use the vehicles because carpool lanes are generally less congested than normal freeway lanes.

Environmentalists gave the carpool lane proposal mixed reviews. Some said the fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles made by Toyota and Honda are already selling fast and there is no reason to clutter the carpool lanes with them.

"These cars are not in our view enough of a shift away from petroleum to get HOV status," said Todd Campbell, policy director for the Coalition for Clean Air, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization.

"We're not sure why this is all of a sudden being contemplated. We don't think this is sound policy."

Lawmakers in the past have proposed laws to allow hybrids in carpool lanes, but environmental groups such as the Sierra Club helped defeat them. Sierra Club representatives, however, said they have not yet taken a position on the governor's proposal.

The Natural Resources Defense Council has come out in support of the plan.

Officials at the U.S. Department of Transportation, which would have to sign off on the waiver, could not be reached for comment.

California has 1,112 miles of carpool lanes, or about 40% of the nation's total. State officials project another 1,045 miles of carpool lanes could be added by 2030.

State estimates show the sales of hybrid vehicles accelerating over the next few years. The Air Resources Board projects annual sales of hybrids will reach 430,000 vehicles by 2010, when more car makers will have vehicles on the market.

Davis requested the waiver in a letter to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta, a former California congressman.

Davis also signed a bill that will make consumers aware, through new labeling requirements, of the effect on fuel efficiency of the tires they buy. He signed another bill requiring state agencies to purchase fuel-efficient vehicles when they add to their fleets.

Before the announcement of the hybrid car effort, administration officials and women's health groups held a news conference to announce that the governor would be signing several reproductive rights bills.

One measure bans teaching hospitals from performing invasive pelvic exams on women unconscious in hospital beds without explicit consent.

The law, the first of its kind in the country, comes as many teaching hospitals acknowledge that they routinely perform the exams on anesthetized women without permission.

Women's and patient's rights groups across the country were outraged to learn of the practice.

"It is very important for women that, when they go into the hospital, they will have the confidence to know what is happening to them," said Assemblywoman Sally Lieber (D-Mountain View), author of the bill, AB 663.

Lieber said the new law "requires a woman give her explicit consent to be used as a medical model or a human guinea pig."

In a study published in the February issue of the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 90% of medical students surveyed at five Philadelphia hospitals acknowledged performing pelvic exams on unconscious patients.

The authors of the study, which was conducted in 1995, said it was unlikely that the students got consent in most of those cases.

Other reproductive rights bills Davis signed into law Thursday included AB 996, which will prohibit companies from canceling the property insurance policy of an abortion clinic that has been the target of hate crimes.

Another bill, SB 71, streamlines the sex education curriculum in the state so that all districts teach the same information about topics such as HIV/AIDS prevention and abstinence.

The governor also signed bills intended to crack down on businesses that avoid paying their share of taxes. Companies that move their headquarters overseas to avoid paying taxes will no longer be able to do business with the state of California under one of those laws, SB 640.

State Treasurer Phil Angelides said the law is aimed at companies that "want the benefit from operating here but are unwilling to face up to their responsibilities."

State officials estimate that California stands to lose $132 million in taxes over the next 10 years as a result of companies that have moved offshore in name only.

Another set of bills signed by Davis, AB 1601 and SB 614, will give the state more time to investigate and prosecute peddlers of abusive "tax shelters."

The shelters are set up for companies to illegally shield them from paying some of the taxes they owe.

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Times staff writer Carl Ingram contributed to this report.

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