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Legislators Rush to File Final Bills

CALIFORNIA

Democrats resurrect legislation vetoed last year, while a bipartisan measure seeks mandatory health insurance for all.

February 22, 2005|Nancy Vogel | Times Staff Writer

The governor argued that the bill would violate a federal law that bans individuals from importing prescription drugs. Schwarzenegger launched his own proposal, SB 19 by Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento), to use voluntary discounts from drug companies to cut prescription drug costs as much as 40% for low-income Californians.

Democratic legislators say the governor's plan is too weak. They have introduced and reintroduced a raft of prescription drug measures, including AB 73 by Assemblyman Dario Frommer (D-Glendale). The bill would link Californians to pharmacies in Canada, England and Ireland through a state-run website.

Frommer called the bill a route to immediate relief from spiraling drug costs. "We are not going to support something that is an empty gesture," he said last month.

But administration officials say the governor has been adamant about following federal law, and they defend his plan as workable.

Another vetoed measure to resurface this year would raise the $6.75-an-hour minimum wage in California by an undetermined amount. When he vetoed a similar bill by Assemblywoman Sally Lieber (D-Mountain View) last year, Schwarzenegger said, "Now is not the time to create barriers to our economic recovery."

Schwarzenegger may escape what promises to be time-consuming, heartfelt and emotional debate in the Legislature about gay marriage and doctor-assisted suicide. Last year, a bill to legalize marriage for same-sex couples died after passing one Assembly committee. Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), who wrote the bill, vowed to return to the issue in 2005.

Leno's bill, AB 19, would redefine state law to make marriage a civil contract between two people, not just a man and a woman. But many lawmakers are troubled by the legislation, and leaders have not made it a top priority.

California would become the second state after Oregon to allow people to get a prescription to end their lives under AB 654 by Assemblywoman Patty Berg (D-Eureka) and Assemblyman Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys).

The bill is modeled after a 1997 Oregon law under that so far has helped roughly 200 people commit suicide.

In an omen of powerful debates to come, Berg and Levine convened a Sacramento hearing last month. Witnesses included 65-year-old Vietnam veteran and lung cancer patient Steven Mason of Ashland, Ore. He said he was told nine months ago that he had three weeks to six months to live. Mason told legislators that he did not want his daughters to see him "wither to 80 pounds."

"I am so liberated knowing that when my time is up," he said, "I get to choose."

Other witnesses said they were sickened that legislators would even discuss the issue.

"When one person intentionally ends the life of another," 70-year-old Bill Young of Sacramento told them, "that's murder."

Times staff writer Jordan Rau contributed to this report.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Guns, Ferrets and Sexual Slavery: Legislative Issues Take Shape

Lawmakers will consider hundreds of issues this year, including those listed below. Today is the deadline for bill introduction. To become law, bills must pass the Assembly and Senate and be signed by the governor. To read the legislation, go to www.leginfo.ca.gov.

* Guns: Would require semiautomatic handguns to include a technology that stamps the gun's serial number on the cartridge to help police identify weapons used in crimes. AB 352 by Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood).

* Political districts: Would transfer responsibility for designing voting districts from lawmakers to an independent commission: ACAX1 3 by Assemblyman Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), SCA 3 by Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), ACA 8 by Assemblyman Bill Maze (R-Visalia) and ACAX1 5 by Assemblyman Joe Canciamilla (D-Pittsburg).

* Income tax: Would raise the personal income tax on top earners from 9.3% to 11%, as it was between 1991 and 1996. AB 6 by Assemblywoman Wilma Chan (D-Alameda).

* Property Tax: Would increase homeowners' property tax exemption from $7,000 to $25,000. AB 62 by Assemblywoman Audra Strickland (R-Thousand Oaks).

* Illegal immigrants: One bill would overturn local government policies that stop police from enforcing immigration laws. AB 332 by Assemblyman Russ Bogh (R-Cherry Valley).

Another would grant driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. SB 60 by Sen. Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles).

Another would ban the state from granting driver's licenses, in-state college tuition and health or social benefits to illegal immigrants. ACA 6 by Assemblyman Mark Wyland (R-Escondido).

* Secretary of state: Would make the office of the state's election chief nonpartisan. AB 5 by Canciamilla.

* Cigarettes: Would require that all cigarettes sold in California be self-extinguishing and would ban smoking on coastal beaches. AB 178 and AB 17 by Koretz.

* Sexual slavery: Would make human trafficking a felony. AB 22 by Assemblywoman Sally Lieber (D-Mountain View), AB 41 by Assemblyman Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), SB 180 by Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica).

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