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Davis Gets Bills, Including Crackdown on Unscrupulous Movers

September 03, 2003|Nancy Vogel | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — A bill to make it easier to crack down on dishonest furniture movers cleared the Legislature on Tuesday.

Sought by the Los Angeles city attorney and now pending before the governor, the legislation seeks to prevent movers from holding a customer's goods hostage until payment of an amount that may be several times higher than the mover's original estimate.

AB 845 by Assemblyman Juan Vargas (D-San Diego) raises penalties for wrongdoing by movers from $1,000 to as much as $10,000 and requires moving companies to give customers a "not to exceed" price up front. It also prohibits a moving company from failing to deliver a customer's goods once that "not to exceed" price has been paid.

To make it easier for customers to get repaid for damaged or lost goods, the bill also makes a moving company responsible for the actions of anyone hired as a sub-hauler.

"The bill protects consumers from unscrupulous moving companies, gives law enforcement the necessary legal tools to prosecute and ensures that licensed legitimate moving companies retain the ability to conduct their business," said Los Angeles City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo, whose office worked closely with Vargas on the bill.

Gov. Gray Davis has not yet taken a position on the bill, said spokesman Russ Lopez.

With 10 days to go before the Legislature adjourns and dozens of bills pending on his desk, Davis signed several into law Tuesday.

They include AB 634 by Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), which seeks to prevent secret settlements in nursing home abuse lawsuits. It would discourage secret settlements under the state's 1991 Elder Abuse Act by requiring those who want to seal information to justify their position to a judge. Steinberg said the bill would help families learn of patterns of abuse or poor care at residential care facilities and nursing homes.

It has become common practice for nursing homes to demand secrecy about abuse when they settle lawsuits, said Bruce Brusavich, president of the Consumer Attorneys of California.

"The public clearly should have this information," he said. "I think it's going to help clean up the industry."

The governor also signed a bill requiring convicted sex offenders to show their parole officer proof of registry with a local law enforcement agency within six days of their release from prison.

The bill, AB 1098 by Assembly member Bonnie Garcia (R-Cathedral City), follows a state audit that described California's database of sex offender addresses as rife with errors because many parolees fail to register as required. The audit said that problems with the Megan's Law database prevent the public from knowing where many of the state's 80,000 convicted sex offenders live.

"This bill gives us an added level of comfort, knowing that parole officers will know exactly where these criminals live shortly after release from prison," said Davis in signing the legislation.

Davis also signed a bill to increase the penalties for involvement in cockfighting -- the pitting of roosters against one another for sport and wagering -- from $1,000 to up to $5,000. The bill, SB 732 by Sen. Nell Soto (D-Pomona), was sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States and takes effect in January.

Among the bills that cleared the Legislature on Tuesday:

* AB 587 by Assemblyman Mark Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles) would require voter registration cards to include a space where people can voluntarily list their race or ethnicity. Such information will help the state boost voter registration, according to Ridley-Thomas.

The bill is opposed by the Assn. of Clerks and Election Officials, whose members worry that the information could be used to discriminate against voters.

If the bill is signed into law, it could be overridden by the passage of Proposition 54 on the Oct. 7 ballot. That initiative would prevent public agencies from collecting and using many kinds of racial data.

* AB 514 by Assemblywoman Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego) would require the cities of Folsom, Orange Cove and Fresno to install water meters on nearly all homes by 2013. Kehoe deleted Sacramento after opposition from Sacramento lawmakers.

The use of water meters is pervasive in Southern California, but some Central Valley cities allow residents to use water for a flat monthly fee.

Davis has yet to take a position on either of the bills.

Times staff writer Jenifer Warren contributed to this report.

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