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New state protections for animal researchers OKd

Lawmakers take action on dozens of measures ranging from neutering pets to a plan to solve the state's water crisis.

August 23, 2008|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Lawmakers on Friday adopted new protections for animal researchers, rejected a controversial bid for neutering pets and floated a plan for solving the state's water crisis.

They also addressed efforts to protect homeowners from foreclosure scams and to provide consumers with more choices on milk as 87 bills moved through the Legislature a week before their scheduled adjournment.

On Friday, three weeks after firebomb attacks on UC Santa Cruz animal researchers and months after vandalism at a UCLA professor's home, state senators unanimously approved an emergency measure to strengthen laws protecting academics against violence and intimidation.

It would create a new misdemeanor charge for entering residential property of an academic researcher with the intent to intimidate or interfere with research.

The measure also would make it a misdemeanor to publish information on the Internet that describes an academic researcher or his or her family members, or gives the location of their residence with the intent that another person use the information to commit violence or make threats.

"After the number of violent incidents against researchers, it seems to me they do need some additional protection over and above what the criminal law provides now," said state Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica).

The home of a UCLA researcher incurred more than $20,000 in damage after being flooded by animal-rights activists who inserted a garden hose into the house. An incendiary device destroyed a car outside the home of a UC Santa Cruz researcher and a firebomb exploded nearby on the front porch of another researcher's home.

The attacks are believed to have been orchestrated by activists who regard the use of animals in research as inhumane. Lawmakers say the targeting of academics in such ways is intolerable.

Virginia Handley, head of San Francisco-based Animal Switchboard, said she worries that the measure could chill the exchange of information on the Internet about animal researchers.

"We do not condone these actions," she said of the firebombings. But "I don't want the law interfering with people getting information."

The bill, AB 2296 by Assemblyman Gene Mullin (D-San Mateo), is subject to final approval in the Assembly before it goes to the governor, whose signature would make it effective immediately.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has said he will not act on bills that come to him before there is an agreement on the long-overdue state budget.

Senators rejected a proposal to require the spaying and neutering of cats and dogs that are unlicensed and caught running astray on a 27-5 vote.

"On behalf of my dog, he'd like to remain intact," said Sen. Bob Dutton (R-Rancho Cucamonga). "He hasn't caused any problems."

Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) disagreed, saying the measure, AB 1634 by Assemblyman Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys), was needed to address a pet overpopulation problem that results in 500,000 cats and dogs put to death by animal shelters each year at a cost of $250 million to taxpayers.

Several lawmakers objected to Levine trying to impose Los Angeles' rules on rural areas. Cats, for example, are not required to be licensed in many parts of the state.

"What works for Mr. Levine in Los Angeles County won't necessarily work in Alpine or Modoc County," said Sen. Dave Cox (R-Fair Oaks).

In the Assembly on Friday, Democrats unveiled a $9.8-billion water bond that would require voter approval -- one similar to a proposal drafted last month by Schwarzenegger and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

Both measures include up to $3 billion for dams and other water storage projects. The Assembly Democrats' version also would invest $500 million to help drought-affected communities improve water supplies within two years.

Democrats said they hope to negotiate with Republicans to put a water bond on the November ballot.

Mike Villines of Clovis, leader of the Assembly's Republicans, said he did not want to hurry the matter and would set a special election next year if necessary.

A stable water supply is "one of the most important unmet needs in California," he said. "I would not rush for that deadline just to get a bad deal."

In other action Friday:

The Senate approved a bill to protect those facing the loss of their homes from unscrupulous foreclosure consultants. AB 180 by Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) would allow a homeowner to cancel a contract with a foreclosure consultant within five days of signing it, and require the consultant to provide documents in the language of the mortgage holder and maintain a surety bond.

The Assembly approved a measure aimed at ensuring that consumers of raw milk continue to have access to it and that it is safe. Under the bill, SB 201 by Sen. Dean Florez (D-Shafter), producers of unpasteurized milk would submit a plan to the state showing how they guarantee that their product is safe.

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patrick.mcgreevy @latimes.com

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Times staff writer Nancy Vogel contributed to this report.

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