Reporting from Sacramento — A plan to crack down on paparazzi who drive recklessly in pursuit of celebrities is moving through the Legislature despite heated opposition from media organizations as lawmakers approach next week's deadline for advancing bills to the governor's desk.
As the paparazzi bill neared a floor vote Wednesday, the full Senate and Assembly gave approval to dozens of other measures. Proposals to help finance operation of a new private hospital to replace the closed Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital, make public the names of businesses that receive state tax breaks and fine minors who ski or snowboard without a helmet all got final legislative approval.
The paparazzi proposal, written by Assemblywoman Karen Bass (D- Los Angeles) with help from Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich, would impose stiff penalties — including possible jail time — on photographers caught driving dangerously in search of exclusive still photos or video images of famous subjects.
"Some artists fear there is going to be a terrible accident," said Bass, noting that those voicing concern to her personally included actresses Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon. "This is certainly no attempt to regulate the press."
But the California Newspaper Publishers Assn. argues that laws on the books already allow the prosecution of people who recklessly flout traffic and trespassing laws. Heaping new penalties on violators just because they are seeking photographs, the organization says, is an affront to the 1st Amendment.
Thomas W. Newton, general counsel of the group, said AB 2479 subjects photographers to "extreme liability solely because he or she intends to capture an image of another person."
The bill passed a Senate committee Tuesday and is scheduled to come before the full Senate later this week.
The Senate, meanwhile, gave a boost to the new nonprofit hospital planned in Willowbrook, which is intended for patients in the area previously served by Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital.
Members passed a bill, AB 2599, mandating that the hospital be reimbursed from the Medi-Cal health insurance program for the poor at a higher rate than other institutions are guaranteed.
Some Republicans objected.
"This bill asks for preferential treatment to an entity that has been under fire for years for fiscal mismanagement," said Sen. Sam Aanestad (R-Grass Valley).
Sen. Curren Price Jr. (D-Inglewood) noted that the new hospital would be privately run and involve different management than at Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital.
The bill has already been approved by the Assembly, but must return there for a final vote after some modifications were made in the Senate.
Lawmakers also decided Wednesday that minors who ski or snowboard without a helmet should be fined $25.
Sen. Leland Yee (D- San Francisco), the author of SB 880, said the fine is needed because the state and counties often have to pay for medical care when children are seriously injured on the slopes after ignoring advice from parents and others to wear a helmet.
"This is nanny government at its worst," said Sen. Jeff Denham (R-Atwater). "What happened to personal responsibility?"
The bill now goes to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a longtime skier.
Teenagers were also the focus of a measure the governor signed into law Wednesday. SB 1422, by Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), allows the student government at high schools to form a committee to develop a survey of student opinions about their classes and "teacher effectiveness." Under the bill, the survey results would be shared only with the teacher whose class is surveyed; administrators would not see the surveys and the results would not go into the teachers' personnel files.
And the Senate moved a bill to Schwarzenegger's desk aimed at making it easier for students at California community colleges to transfer to California State University campuses. SB 1440, by Sen. Alex Padilla (D- Pacoima), would require Cal State to guarantee admission with junior status to community college students who obtain associate degrees tailored to specific majors and who meet all requirements for transfer.
The names of companies that receive billions in California tax credits would be publicly posted for the first time on a state website under AB 2666, sponsored by Nancy Skinner (D- Berkeley), which the Assembly on Wednesday moved to the governor's desk. In 2009, nearly $14.5 billion in tax credits went to corporations as incentives to do business and create jobs in the state, but the public — and lawmakers — have no way of knowing whether the money was well spent, Skinner said.
Opponents, including the state Chamber of Commerce, argued that disclosure would be bad for business. Assemblyman Chuck DeVore (R-Irvine) accused supporters of trying to "somehow use a website to … embarrass people not to take a tax credit."