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Gov. Signs Bills Aimed at Helping State's Foster Children

September 23, 2006|Nancy Vogel | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Saying that "a society is judged by how well we treat our most helpless," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Friday signed eight bills aimed at making California a better parent to roughly 75,000 foster children.

He also signed a bill that makes it a crime to leave a pet in a hot car.

Cheered by several dozen foster children at a Capitol ceremony, Schwarzenegger enacted a measure to help foster youth stay in touch with their adopted brothers and sisters and not endure the sort of separation imposed on Danielle Thompson when her grandmother died and she joined the foster system at 11.

Until she was 15, Thompson had no contact with her four brothers and sisters, including her twin brother and a younger sister who once idolized her.

"It's one thing to lose a mother and father, but it's a bigger thing to lose your siblings, because that's the only thing that's keeping you guys together and holding you up," said Thompson, 20, who now advises social workers and other professionals in the foster care system.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday September 27, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 55 words Type of Material: Correction
Vetoed fee bill: An article in Saturday's California section about bills that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had signed or vetoed misidentified a bill he vetoed that would have allowed coastal counties to increase vehicle registration or renewal fees as AB 2681. The correct number of the legislation by Assemblywoman Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) is AB 2838.

Current law doesn't allow adopted children to petition to see their brothers and sisters until both siblings are at least 21. But when AB 2488 by Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) takes effect in January, that age will drop to 18. The new law will also allow siblings who are even younger to request contact with their family if their adoptive parents permit.

Under the law, confidential intermediaries may be used to reunite families, such as in the case of an older brother or sister whose sibling was adopted too young to even remember that he or she has siblings.

Another bill signed by the governor would require counties to request credit checks for foster children when they turn 16 to make certain they haven't become identity theft victims. The bill, AB 2985 by Assemblyman Bill Maze (R-Visalia), was the result of stories of biological and foster parents exploiting children's Social Security numbers.

Schwarzenegger also signed a bill by Assemblywoman Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) that creates a new council to improve collaboration among all the state agencies that serve foster children. The council, Bass has said, should serve the same purpose as the daily conversations parents have about whether their children are getting what they need to thrive.

A champion of foster youth since her arrival in the Assembly two years ago, Bass helped win an additional $83 million in this year's budget to improve a system that statistically does a deplorable job of raising children who have been removed from their biological parents because of neglect or abuse.

Within four years of leaving the system at 18, about a fourth of former foster children are homeless, a fourth are in jail or prison and a third are on welfare. Fewer than 1% graduate from college.

At the Capitol bill-signing, Bass praised Schwarzenegger for "working on behalf of children for many, many years" and said the new laws and budgets will "directly improve the quality of life for California's most vulnerable children."

With less fanfare, the governor also signed a bill to impose fines of $100 to $500 and possible six-month jail terms on people who leave pets unattended in vehicles under conditions likely to cause suffering or harm. More important to the Los Angeles Department of Animal Services, which sought the bill, it allows humane officers to rescue the animals.

Animal Services General Manager Ed Boks said that under current law, his officers must call the police to break into vehicles for the sake of unattended pets.

"Sometimes the police do arrive in time," he said, "but not always.... It will save the lives of a couple of dozen of animals a year, and that's what we're trying to do."

Boks also praised the governor's signature on another bill that increases penalties for dogfighting or cockfighting, SB 1349 by Senator Nell Soto (D-Pomona).

In other action Friday, the governor vetoed seven bills that he argued would have imposed $700 million in new fees, including a $30-per-container fee at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to pay for improved security, rail infrastructure and air pollution controls.

Other vetoed fee bills included AB 2681 by Assemblywoman Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), which would have allowed the boards of supervisors in coastal counties to vote to increase vehicle registration or renewal fees by $6 to minimize the environmental damage of traffic congestion.

nancy.vogel@latimes.com

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