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California lawmakers pass a raft of bills as session winds down

With a deadline of midnight Friday approaching, bills on cosmetic surgery, breast-feeding and water softeners are approved. Legislators are still grappling with the contentious water issues.

September 10, 2009|Eric Bailey and Patrick McGreevy

SACRAMENTO — State lawmakers forged into the final 72 hours of their legislative year by passing a flurry of measures Wednesday that included a jab at the Culligan Man, a bow to breast-feeding mothers and an effort to thwart the potential perils of cosmetic surgery.

With the fate of California's biggest issues -- including a potential re-plumbing of the state's water system -- still unresolved, lawmakers churned through scores of bills as the clock ticked toward the end-of-session deadline at midnight Friday.

The Senate approved a measure, dubbed the Donda West Law, inspired by the death of rapper Kanye West's mother.

She died in 2007 at 58 from complications after cosmetic surgery, allegedly performed without a physical examination.

The proposal would prohibit performance of electronic cosmetic facial surgery unless, within 30 days before the procedure, a physical examination is conducted and written clearance for surgery is provided. West died from preexisting coronary artery disease and multiple postoperative factors following surgery, experts said.

"Sometimes patients may think they are well enough for cosmetic surgery, but in reality are not," said Assemblywoman Wilmer Amina Carter (D-Rialto), author of the bill, AB 1116. "This bill will potentially save lives."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, September 11, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 2 inches; 87 words Type of Material: Correction
Last-minute bills: An article in Thursday's Section A -- on bills passed in the final hours of California's legislative year -- mentioned a measure establishing a test program in four counties, including L.A., to require Breathalyzer devices linked to the car ignitions of convicted drunk drivers. The article misattributed a statement by a foe of the measure. It was American Beverage Institute spokeswoman Sarah Longwell, not its spokeswoman Sarah Kapenstein, who said the measure would deny judicial discretion in cases involving first-time offenders or low blood-alcohol concentrations.

The American Nurse Assn. California opposed the measure, arguing that cosmetic surgery should not be singled out for a different standard than that applied to other procedures.

The Assembly must approve minor changes before the bill goes to the governor.

In the Assembly, legislation was given final approval and sent to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger requiring that mothers who have trouble breast-feeding newborns be allowed to use health insurance to cover "lactation consultation" -- experts who can tutor the new moms.

Republicans tried to block the measure, AB 513 by Assemblyman Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles), saying it would boost health insurance premiums, making it tougher for small businesses and nonprofits to offer the coverage to employees.

The Assembly also gave final approval to a bill by Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles) that would allow local governments to ban residential water softeners and permit their removal if water regulators find that salts discharged into municipal sewer lines pose a problem.

Salts make it difficult for sanitation districts to clean and reuse sewage, an increasingly crucial source of irrigation water in drought-plagued California.

AB 1366 drew opposition from the Rosemont, Ill.-based Culligan, whose executives criticized it as a Big Government grab at private property.

The Assembly passed another Feuer measure that would set up a test program in Los Angeles County and three other counties requiring people convicted of drunk driving to install a device that blocks the car from starting unless the driver passes a Breathalyzer test.

Feuer told colleagues that California had more than 200,000 DUI arrests in 2007. He argued that AB 91 could potentially prevent hundreds of deaths caused by drunk drivers.

The bill -- which sets up a similar pilot program in Tulare, Alameda and Sacramento counties -- was opposed by the American Beverage Institute. Sarah Kapenstein, an institute spokeswoman, said the measure would deny judicial discretion in DUI cases involving first-time offenders or low blood-alcohol concentrations.

The bill now goes to the governor.

Lawmakers also signed off on a bill by Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield (D-Woodland Hills) to expand the use of digital textbooks in public schools by removing restrictions on districts that want to purchase electronic book viewers.

The measure, AB 1398, overcame opposition from the textbook industry.

Blumenfield argued that the measure would save money and literally ease the load on students, who carry up to 40 pounds of textbooks during the school day.

Meanwhile, the Senate gave final passage to a proposal by Sen. Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro) that would increase the public notice required of general acute-care hospitals before closing or downgrading their emergency departments. SB 196 would increase the current 90-day notice to 120 days.

Corbett pushed the measure in part because of Tenet Healthcare Corp.'s sale of 19 hospitals in 2004, which she said exacerbated the crisis facing Los Angeles County's emergency medical services system.

In the wake of some of the most expensive and deadly wildfires in state history, the Assembly gave final approval to a bill by Assemblyman Dave Jones (D-Sacramento) toughening planning and development standards for regions plagued by blazes.

The measure calls for more defensible space, fire-resistant green zones and better access roads.

On the water front, legislators continued to haggle over a slate of bills dealing with the state's contentious water problems.

The governor is vowing to reject water legislation that doesn't include money for new dams, putting him at odds with Democrats.

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