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Senate OKs Cosmetic Surgery Bill

Doctors opposed the measure, which would allow oral surgeons to perform elective operations. Governor hasn't taken a position.

August 18, 2004|Jordan Rau | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Resolving an impassioned turf battle between doctors and dentists, the California Senate voted Tuesday to allow dentists trained in surgery to perform elective cosmetic operations on the face.

The bill would give new privileges only to several hundred oral surgeons -- dentists who complete a special surgery program. But the clash was one of the most intense this year, given the lucrative prize involved: California's ever-expanding market for cosmetic surgery.

The measure now goes to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has not indicated whether he would sign it into law.

"The governor's wise use of his veto power is the last chance to save Californians from dangerous legislation that would allow dental surgeons without medical degrees to perform cosmetic plastic surgery," said Dr. Michael G. Cedars, president of the California Society of Plastic Surgeons. "The governor has expressed his disdain for special interest legislation, and there's no better way to describe SB 1336."

Plastic surgeons and the California Medical Assn. had argued that the bill would endanger public safety because, they claimed, dental hospital training was inferior to the training they had. However, oral surgeons convinced legislators that it was only fair to let them do elective surgery, saying that they already repair faces damaged in car accidents and other traumatic incidents.

Despite Tuesday's unanimous vote, the bill was the subject of great contention as it moved through the Legislature. While the measure was before the Assembly, its sponsor, Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco), led more than three hours of closed-door negotiations to forge a compromise.

But that deal, which expanded the supervision and qualifications of oral surgeons who wanted to perform cosmetic surgery, was rejected by the board of the California Medical Assn. even though its negotiators had initially backed the compromise.

"They fell back on 'We think it's a bad idea; they should go to medical school,' " said Mark Rakich, a lobbyist for the California Assn. of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons. "It was a thin argument to make, and it was all they had left once their president had come to a handshake deal."

The medical association's president, Dr. Jack Lewin, said, "We still think there are going to be problems with this."

But, Lewin added, because the Legislature had embraced some of the doctors' calls for greater oversight, the association would "not aggressively be working against the bill anymore."

Also on Tuesday, legislators voted to:

* Permanently require landlords to give 60 days notice of any rent increases of 10% or more; and prohibit landlords from taking a prospective tenant's source of income into account when making a decision to rent to them. Those laws had been set to expire. The Senate approved SB 1145 by a 21-13 vote. It now goes to the governor.

* Expand protection for whistle blowers in the state's prisons by requiring the state Inspector General to probe all complaints of retaliation. SB 1342 passed the Assembly 63-3. The Assembly also voted unanimously to require the Department of Corrections to set up uniform rules of guard misconduct for its 32 prisons. Both bills contain amendments that require Senate approval before they can be sent to the governor.

* Require the state to pay a $10,000 death benefit to the surviving spouse or designated beneficiary of any member of the California National Guard, State Military Reserve or Naval Militia killed in the performance of duty anytime after March 1, 2003. The Senate unanimously approved SB 1193 and sent it to the governor.

* Require employers to give workers a written notice if they plan to read their e-mail, track their Internet use or otherwise monitor their activities. The warning must only be given once unless the employer changes what is being monitored. By a vote of 41-29, the Assembly approved SB 1841, which is expected to be approved by the Senate later this week.

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