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California's new laws: The game has changed for cars, guns, dogs, cats

January 02, 2013|By Patt Morrison
  • In May 1967, Black Panthers protesting an Assembly bill to ban openly carrying loaded weapons showed up at the state Capitol with unloaded firearms. That's a young Willie Brown, future Assembly speaker, talking with a Panther.
In May 1967, Black Panthers protesting an Assembly bill to ban openly carrying… (Walt Zeboski / Associated…)

You can have your "A Visit from St. Nicholas" and "A Christmas Carol."

My favorite holiday reading is always the list of new state laws.

Nearly 750 new ones for 2013 were passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor last year. With the Legislature in session about seven months, that's something like 100 a month. But it can hardly be said that every one was accompanied by stirring, democracy-defining debates.

My favorite so far is the slam-dunk law ending the discounts for past and current state legislators and California members of Congress who order vanity plates for their cars.

A discount? To subsidize vanity? Who thought that was a good idea in the first place? Oh yes -- probably the Legislature.

For $12 -- one-quarter of the minimum cost for everyone else, including firefighters, veterans and police -- legislators could buy plates identifying their status as California lawmakers. And they paid no annual renewal fee. More than 700 legislators past and present took advantage of this deal.

In bipartisanship at its finest and easiest, the Assembly vote to pull the plug on this perk was 63-0. La Cañada Flintridge Democrat Anthony Portantino sponsored the bill, saying he was "shocked but not surprised" at the Legislature's tender care of its own interests. Personally, in this political climate, I can't imagine a state legislator wanting to drive around with license plates advertising his or her line of work.

Now, this being California, it's not a surprise that a lot of those laws had to do with cars.

The Legislature took the Vegas factor out of DUIs, declaring that DUI suspects now can't choose a chemical urine test for blood alcohol content. Defense lawyers liked that option because the results were easier to challenge in court. DUI suspects will now have to submit to the more reliable blood test -- in other words, it's the needle, not the cup. (But the Legislature giveth as it taketh away. Those reviled red-light cameras now can't be used just to make money, and a new law makes it easier to challenge red-light-camera tickets.)

Behind-the-wheel texters caught a break from the Legislature, which created an exemption to the no-texting-while-driving law, permitting drivers to text hands-free, which, with Bluetooth-type devices, is not impossible -- but is it advisable? The National Safety Council wants the 2013 Legislature to repeal the law. Already, at least half the drivers I see on the phone are still breaking an earlier law mandating only hands-free phoning, but there they are, one hand draped over the steering wheel, the other one clamping a phone to an ear. Yes, I mean you, and don’t give me, "Well, I see cops doing it." They're allowed to do it.

Another thing police can do is carry guns in public. You can't, loaded or unloaded (the gun, not you, although drunk gun-totin' may be a rich and unplowed legislative field).

The new open-carry law is not about a can of beer in the cup holder. It's about a ban on toting unloaded rifles and shotguns in public, on the heels of last year's ban on openly carrying handguns. This new law has the support of LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, after 2012 saw a number of gun owners carrying their weapons around town to exhibit their 2nd Amendment rights.

California has a curious open-carry history. On May 2, 1967, as the state Assembly was debating a bill banning the public carrying of loaded firearms, a contingent of Black Panthers showed up at the state Capitol carrying unloaded weapons to protest the bill. They and their guns ended up on the Assembly floor. There wasn't a dry seat in the place.

(A couple of those Panthers were arrested for possessing sawed-off shotguns. As of this year, one of a raft of movie-friendly bills cuts the red tape for filmmakers and TV productions that want to use sawed-off shotguns as props. Funny old world, isn’t it?)

Reporters called the Mulford Act "the Panther bill," because although it applied to all Californians, it was believed to be targeting Black Panthers in Oakland, where police were uneasy that Panthers were openly and legally carrying weapons -- to defend themselves and their families and neighbors from police violence, the Panthers said.

Then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, who ended up signing the bill, was about to meet with a group of schoolkids when the Panthers arrived. He later said he supported the right to bear arms, but “there’s no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons ... you don't settle anything by the citizens' taking the law into their own hands."

The state that's had two actor-governors will also now require that parents who put their adorable babies to work must get a doctor's clearance to get an entertainment work permit if the baby is younger than a month old -- and just about anyone working with kiddie performers has to undergo a criminal background check.

The Legislature was looking out for four-legged Californians in measures that protect dogs and cats from having to be debarked or declawed on landlords' orders, that set $10,000 fines for pitting bears, bulls or roosters against other animals or people in fights, and that ban using dogs for hunting bears and bobcats.

How do you say "happy new year" in canine?

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