SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown cracked down on sex offenders who disarm their electronic trackers while on parole, signing legislation Saturday requiring that they stay in jail once they are caught.
Some counties with severely crowded jails have freed such offenders almost immediately after detaining them for tampering with the GPS devices, a Times investigation found this year. The bill Brown approved requires that the offenders be sentenced to 180 days and serve their entire parole revocation in jail.
With one day left before his deadline for acting on bills this year, much of Brown's focus Saturday was on criminal justice issues as he signed 21 measures and vetoed 12.
He rejected a measure that would have allowed prosecutors to charge possession of heroin or cocaine as a misdemeanor rather than a felony. He also said no to bills that would have provided condoms to prison inmates and required law enforcement officials to obtain search warrants when they seek emails and other electronic communication from Internet providers.
The sex offender bill was introduced by state Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) after The Times documented a sharp increase in reported cases of such offenders removing their GPS devices. Many served little or no time behind bars after doing so, and some committed new crimes — including rape and murder — that might have been prevented if they had been kept in custody.
The monitors are required under a law approved by California voters in 2006. But "when sex offenders know that there are little or no repercussions" for disabling them, "it's time to strengthen the deterrent," Lieu said in a statement Saturday. "Real deterrents for sex offenders drastically reduce the likelihood they will commit another crime."
State corrections officials said that more than 5,000 warrants for GPS tampering were issued in the first 15 months after penalties for doing so were reduced under Brown's 2011 prison "realignment" program.
Law enforcement groups supported Lieu's bill, SB 57. The American Civil Liberties Union opposed it.
The ACLU supported the measure on prosecution of hard-drug possession. Brown said he vetoed that one because the state is about to conduct a review of sentences for all crimes.
"That will be the appropriate time to evaluate our existing drug laws," the governor wrote in his veto message.
Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) had introduced the bill, saying 13 other states have similar laws and it would save the state and counties money on incarceration. More could then be spent providing drug users with rehabilitation programs.
Law enforcement groups and prosecutors fought the measure, SB 649, viewing it as a threat to public safety.
"We applaud the governor's decision," said Covina Police Chief Kim Raney, president of the California Police Chiefs Assn.
The veto drew criticism from Kim Horiuchi, a drug policy attorney for the ACLU.
The governor should not have rejected "a modest reform that would have helped end mass incarceration in this state," Horiuchi said.
Brown also rejected a bill that would have required the state corrections department to make condoms available in all state prisons. Supporters of the measure, AB 999 by Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), said it would help reduce the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
Brown noted in his veto message that family members are already allowed to bring condoms for purposes of overnight visits.
In rejecting the bid to force law enforcement officials to get search warrants for electronic communications, Brown said federal law already requires them. Other provisions of the bill, SB 467 by Leno, "could impede ongoing criminal investigations," Brown wrote.
Meanwhile, environmentalists lauded Brown for his decision a day earlier to sign a ban on commercial trapping of bobcats in areas adjacent to national and state parks, national monuments or wildlife refuges in which trapping is currently prohibited.
Assemblyman Richard H. Bloom (D-Santa-Monica) introduced the measure after a group of residents near Joshua Tree National Park complained about trappers killing bobcats just outside the park boundaries.
Times staff writer Melanie Mason contributed to this report.