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Davis Signs Last Bills of His Term

The most far-reaching legislation of his final year in office affects gay rights, environmental protection and consumer privacy.

October 13, 2003|Nancy Vogel | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — By late Sunday evening, Gov. Gray Davis had dispensed with all but a few dozen of the 971 bills sent to him by the Legislature, capping his abbreviated second term by signing at least 884 into law.

The most far-reaching include significant advancements in consumer privacy, gay rights and environmental protection.

Late in the evening, he signed a bill that would allow water regulators to halt logging if it would pollute streams and rivers. He met a midnight deadline to decide what action to take on the last remaining legislation before him.

Some bills signed by Davis set a national precedent, including those that attempt to ban e-mail spam, protect personal financial information from marketers, halt the use of flame-retardant chemicals that accumulate in human bodies, require large employers to buy health insurance for their workers and encourage the recycling of used computer monitors and televisions.

"There's a lot of significant stuff," said Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco).

But that spate of far-reaching laws didn't seem to help Davis, who last week became only the second governor in the nation's history to be recalled from office. In the coming weeks, he will be replaced by Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger.

On Thursday, Schwarzenegger said he would prefer that Davis not sign any of the 282 bills that were then on his desk. Davis could sign, veto or ignore the bills; if he ignored them, they would automatically become law.

The statement prompted Davis spokesman Russ Lopez to say that the governor-elect needed to "read up on all of the details" of governorship.

"I'm sure Gov.-elect Schwarzenegger doesn't mean that he would like the governor to take no action on bills."

Rob Stutzman, a Schwarzenegger spokesman, clarified the governor-elect's comments later, saying that he hoped Davis would veto any bill that "radically departs, or takes us onto a different course in a policy area." But Stutzman did not name any specific bills that Schwarzenegger expected to be vetoed.

The new laws include some "small, positive" improvements in policy, said Tony Quinn, co-editor of the nonpartisan California Target Book, which analyzes legislative and congressional campaigns.

But by and large, he said, "nothing the Legislature did could be put in a positive light in this election."

The new laws "didn't resonate with people," he said. "They were not very important to the ordinary Californian."

The one bill that did strike a chord with voters, Quinn said, hurt Davis. He called the governor's signature on a bill granting illegal immigrants the right to apply for California driver's licenses stupid, both in terms of politics and policy.

Davis had vetoed a version of the bill last year for lacking stringent security measures. The bill the governor signed this year also lacks the security measures, such as a criminal background check and a requirement that applicants be in the process of becoming U.S. citizens. Critics accused the governor of pandering to Latino voters.

"That had a lot to do with the recall passing," Quinn said.

In his campaign, Schwarzenegger vowed to work to repeal that law as soon as possible, calling it "absolutely disastrous" to give out licenses without background checks.

The California Republican Assembly, an especially conservative wing of the state party, recently started gathering the nearly 400,000 signatures needed to ask voters to overturn the license law.

Others are trying to block a new law that would make California a national leader in gay rights.

A Republican senator and a legal group that describes itself as being dedicated to traditional family values have gone to court to block the law, which extends to same-sex couples who register as domestic partners many of the rights and responsibilities granted to married spouses. A hearing in the case is pending in Sacramento County Superior Court.

Assemblyman Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), who will take over as minority leader when the Legislature returns in January, warned Democrats in the Legislature -- whose handiwork was largely enacted by Davis -- to pay heed to the governor's recall.

Last year, Davis signed 1,173 bills and vetoed 264. In 2001, he signed 948 bills and vetoed 169. In 2000, he signed 1,091 bills and vetoed 362. In 1999, he signed 1,054 and vetoed 232.

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