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Davis to Sign Bills Limiting Soda Sales at School

Under the new law, vending machines on primary and middle campuses would offer milk, water and juice instead of soft drinks.

September 17, 2003|Nancy Vogel | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Trying to take a few scoops out of the 30 pounds of sugar the average child consumes from sodas each year, Gov. Gray Davis on Tuesday said he would sign bills to restrict the sale of soft drinks in elementary and middle school vending machines.

Davis said he would also sign a bill requiring schools to hold a public hearing for parents before enacting or renewing a contract with a soft-drink company. Many schools raise thousands of dollars a year from companies by agreeing to sell only one brand of soda in machines on campus.

Public health officials hailed the new measures as a return to the days when girls and boys drank more milk than soda pop. Obesity rates have doubled in children in the last 20 years, and experts put some blame on soft drinks.

The consumption of soft drinks by children rose 40% between 1989 and 1996, according to a report released Monday by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an independent advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. To burn off the calories in a 20-ounce bottle of soda, a child would have to bicycle for 75 minutes.

"We're seeing startling statistics that show many of our children have become out-of-shape, overweight and obese," Davis said. "Our responsibility to children is not only to educate them, but also to make sure they are as healthy of mind as they are of body."

The governor said he would sign SB 677, by state Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento). Her original bill would have banned the sale of soft drinks on high school campuses also, but that requirement was stripped by the Assembly Health Committee. Children may still bring sodas to school, but under the new law can buy them on campus only during school activities or fund-raisers that begin 30 minutes after the school day ends.

Many school districts have already begun replacing soft drinks in vending machines with juice, water and milk. A soda sale ban enacted by the Los Angeles Unified School District, for example, is to take effect in January.

Davis also signed SB 65, by state Sen. Tom Torlakson (D-Antioch), the public hearing measure.

Torlakson, a former high school health teacher and track coach, said he wants to bring public scrutiny to a "corrupt" system in which schools give soft-drink makers exclusive rights to sell their brand on campus in exchange for money for athletic teams and field trips.

"The schools have been way too complicit in this," Torlakson said. "They are addicted to the money and they should get off the addiction."

Schools don't necessarily lose money when they reject soft-drink sales, Torlakson said. Many soft-drink companies also sell water and juice, and in some schools kids bought more milk than soda once a switch occurred, he said.

"These athletic directors are locked into a corrupt relationship with these companies that have corporate goals that are far different than an educator's goals," Torlakson said.

Davis is expected to sign the bills, making them law, within the next few days.

In other legislative news, Assembly leaders blamed one another for the Legislature's failure to extend the law that gives public access to a database of 81,000 registered sex offenders. "Megan's Law" -- named for a 7-year-old New Jersey girl killed by a convicted sex offender -- is set to expire in January.

A Democratic-sponsored bill to extend the law died in the last hours of the legislative session Saturday morning for lack of votes from Republicans, who called it inadequate reform.

Republicans said Democrats repeatedly rejected proposals in the last several months to put the database on the Internet, locate sex offenders with an address instead of a ZIP Code and include license plate numbers. At least 30 states put such sex-offender registries on the Internet.

Assembly Minority Leader Dave Cox (R-Fair Oaks) called for a special session to revive and reform the law. Without new legislation, according to Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer, Californians will no longer be able to review the registry at local police stations.

Assembly Speaker Herb J. Wesson Jr. (D-Culver City) said he was pleased by what he called the Republican change of heart.

"I hope -- either in a special session or the minute we return in January -- we can now count on Republican votes," Wesson said.

Other bills aides said Davis had signed or would soon sign:

* AB 1180, by Assemblyman Tom Harman (R-Huntington Beach), which imposes fines for jury service no-shows: $250 for the first violation, $750 for the second and $1,500 for the third. The money would go to the Trial Court Trust Fund.

* SB 739, by state Sen. Denise Ducheny (D-San Diego), which creates a three-year pilot program to make Indian tribes, rather than counties, responsible for providing child welfare services on reservations and rancherias.

* AB 1594, by Assemblywoman Nicole Parra (D-Hanford), which allows housing programs that serve veterans -- estimated to be 30% of California's homeless population -- to apply for state grants from the Department of Housing and Community Development. The department previously did not allow such applications, because veteran housing programs discriminate against those who have not served in the military.

* AB 1036, by Assemblyman Gene Mullin (D-San Mateo), which raises loan limits under the Cal-Vet program for the purchase of farms and mobile homes. It also allows Cal-Vet loans to be used for remodeling.

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