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Legislators OK higher fines for texting while driving

Lawmakers also advance measures that would allow voters to register on election day and would restrict the ability to track people through cellphones.

August 24, 2012|By Patrick McGreevy and Michael J. Mishak, Los Angeles Times

SACRAMENTO — Acting on nearly 200 proposals, state lawmakers Thursday advanced measures that would increase fines for texting while driving, allow voter registration on election day and restrict the ability of law enforcement to track people through their cellphones.

The Senate passed and sent Gov. Jerry Brown a bill that would require law enforcement officers to obtain a warrant before searching for someone's location and movements based on data in the person's cellphone or other wireless device.

"California consumers are rightfully concerned about mobile privacy and the rate at which their location information is being shared with law enforcement," said state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), author of SB 1434.

Other bills receiving final legislative action and going to the governor would:

•Mandate that a gun owner report to authorities within 48 hours when a weapon is lost or stolen to help curb illegal trafficking of firearms in California. Sen. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) introduced SB 1366.

•Require private agencies that provide nonmedical home care services and the aides that work for them to register with the state and allow authorities to post and investigate complaints against them. Sen. Curren Price Jr. (D-Los Angeles) authored SB 411.

•Extend collective bargaining rights to graduate student researchers, affecting roughly 14,000 researchers in the UC system. SB 259 is by Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley).

•Allow alcohol producers to conduct contests and sweepstakes in California, lifting a 13-year ban imposed because some contests were deemed too aggressive in pushing alcoholic products. The bill is SB 788 by Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima).

Also passed Thursday were bills that await only approval of mostly minor amendments before going to the governor.

One would increase fines for driving while texting or using a hand-held cellphone from $20 to $30 for a first offense, and from $50 to $60 on a second offense.

Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian (R-San Luis Obispo) said existing laws against texting while driving have been effective, "but there is still room for improvement."

Assemblyman Tim Donnelly (R-San Bernardino) voted no, calling the proposal a "nanny-state regulation" and asking whether the state would set fines next for driving while holding a cheeseburger.

"I just don't see how increasing a penalty from 20 bucks to 30 bucks is going to change people's behavior," Donnelly said. The bill is SB 1310, by Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto).

Additional measures with mostly minor amendments remaining would:

•Allow people to register to vote on election day rather than 15 days before, as now required. Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles) is the author of AB 1436.

•Make it easier for survivors of police officers and firefighters to collect death benefits by doubling the amount of time they have to file certain claims. Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) introduced AB 2451.

•Extend for two years a study program that allows nonsurgical abortions to be performed by a limited number of nurse practitioners, certified nurse-midwives and physician assistants. SB 623 is by Sen. Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego).

patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

michael.mishak@latimes.com

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