Reporting from Sacramento — State prisons can release comatose and physically incapacitated inmates on medical parole under a measure approved Tuesday by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that is expected to save California at least $46 million annually.
The legislation was one of 21 bills the governor signed, including a ban on modifying motorcycles to make them more noisy, a scale-back of an early release program at county jails and a 5-year extension allowing shoemakers to import kangaroo parts to California.
Schwarzenegger said the medical parole bill includes a screening process to make sure public safety is not jeopardized by the early release of inmates, many of whom are guarded 24 hours a day even though they are confined to hospital beds.
"The state currently wastes millions of dollars guarding physically incapacitated inmates in comas or in similar conditions that pose no threat to the safety of others," Schwarzenegger said.
Thirty-two inmates are likely to be immediate candidates for medical parole, according to a court-appointed federal healthcare receiver for the state prison system. They include 21 housed in nursing homes or hospitals at a cost of about $5,800 a day, the receiver said.
SB 1399's author, Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), said that eventually up to 1,000 inmates may be eligible for medical parole, saving the state $200 million or more. The Legislature approved the measure over the objection of some Republican lawmakers who argued that it might result in prison officials releasing too many inmates to cut costs.
Any release would have to be approved by the state Board of Parole Hearings, and offenders sentenced to death or life without parole would not qualify, Schwarzenegger said.
The governor also acted Tuesday to scale back a program that expanded the early release of county jail inmates. Some law enforcement officials had complained that offenders were flooding the streets, causing public safety concerns.
SB 76 reduces the good-time/work-time credits earned by county jail inmates from one-half to one-third for those convicted of misdemeanors, so inmates will stay behind bars longer.
The governor also signed SB 435, which allows police to cite motorcycle owners if they remove federally required emissions-control equipment such as the catalytic converter.
"Our motorcycle-riding governor clearly recognizes that a few bad apples on our roads are infringing on the rights of others with their illegal, attention-seeking loud pipes," said Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), the bill's author.
Another measure signed by the governor extends to 2016 an exemption that allows the importation of kangaroo body parts, which are used to make soccer shoes and other apparel. The measure, SB 1345, is by Sen. Ron Calderon (D-Montebello).
Schwarzenegger vetoed 14 bills, including a measure by Assemblyman Tom Torlakson (D-Antioch) that would have required the state to hire an independent expert to evaluate the STAR program, the standardized tests used to compare students, schools and school districts across the state.
Schwarzenegger's veto message on AB 391 was a touch sarcastic: "I vetoed a similar bill last year. I would ask the author to evaluate that."
The governor also shot down AB 2063 by Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), which would have made Chinook salmon the "official state anadromous fish." "Anadromous" is the term for a fish that is born in fresh water, spends its life in salt water and returns to fresh water to breed.
"This bill is unnecessary," Schwarzenegger wrote in his veto statement, arguing that the state is already pursuing the goal of increasing salmon populations.