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Sunday, October 1, 2000

Davis Signs 2 Bills That May Expand Health Program for Poor


SACRAMENTO--Approving the framework for an expansion of health care to California's working poor, Gov. Gray Davis on Saturday signed legislation that could eventually allow an underused government program to cover parents as well as children.

Facing a midnight deadline to sign measures passed at the end of this year's legislative session, Davis blessed two bills by Assemblyman Martin Gallegos (D-Baldwin Park) that outline an expansion of the beleaguered Healthy Families program.

Also on Saturday, Davis signed legislation by Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg (D-Sherman Oaks) that will relieve the Coastal Commission of the duty of reviewing Malibu residents' minor coastal building projects.

And the governor, who on Friday had disappointed his union allies by vetoing benefit increases for unemployed and injured workers, signed a pair of bills high on organized labor's priority list.

But Davis vetoed legislation making it easier for immigrants to obtain driver's licenses, and allowing immigrants to get in-state tuition breaks while applying for U.S. citizenship.

Healthy Families, envisioned as a way to provide health care to many of the 2 million poor California children without health insurance, has fallen far short of expectations. Only 340,000 children have enrolled in the program in a state with more than 7.5 million uninsured residents, the most in the nation.

As a result of the lack of participation, California is faced with returning $590 million in unspent federal money to Washington. Thirty-nine other states are in the same predicament, having also failed to put their federal health care dollars to use. But California has been the worst performer.

Hoping to keep the money, Davis has joined Hertzberg and Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco) in a last-minute campaign to obtain a federal waiver so that California can also apply the money to parents of uninsured children. By including their parents, lawmakers believe, they will enroll more children.

Davis recently wrote President Clinton asking for support, and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has been organizing her colleagues in Congress in hopes of obtaining an extension.

One Gallegos bill, AB 1015, authorizes California to extend the Healthy Families benefits to parents of children already eligible for the program. The other, AB 2900, makes technical changes to the state's Medi-Cal program for the poor to make that possible.

Davis also signed legislation, AB 2415 by Assemblywoman Carole Migden (D-San Francisco) that will allow children of legal immigrants to continue using the program. Previous legislation required that the benefits to children of immigrants end this year.

"California is committed to maximizing state and federal resources to ensure the health of our children and their families," Davis said in a written statement. "It is important to note that we are providing assistance to legal--not illegal--immigrants who are fully legitimate residents in California."

But citing the potential for fraud, the governor vetoed a pair of bills that would have made it easier for immigrants who apply for legal status to obtain California driver's licenses.

In recent years, Davis noted, California has been tightening rules to make driver's licenses more secure against possible use as identification documents for illegal activities.

One bill, AB 1463 by Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), would have allowed license seekers to demonstrate that they were properly in this country by showing proof that they had applied for legal immigrant status. Davis dismissed the bill as "an invitation for fraud."

The second measure, AB 1601 by Assemblyman Keith Olberg (R-Victorville), would have allowed use of certain visas to also prove that the license applicant was in the country lawfully. Davis said such visas are "easy to counterfeit and impossible to verify" for purposes of issuing a driver's license.

Davis also vetoed legislation by Assemblyman Marco Firebaugh (D-Los Angeles) that would have allowed immigrants engaged in the lengthy process of applying for U.S. citizenship to obtain in-state tuition breaks to attend the University of California and California State University systems.

The Legislature's Latino Caucus championed the bill as an important breakthrough, noting that the Immigration and Naturalization Service often takes years to process an application, leaving immigrant students in the lurch. In striking down the measure, AB 1197, Davis argued that it would be unfair because foreign applicants or U.S. citizens from other states do not receive such tuition breaks.

The union bills Davis signed Saturday had generated some controversy. One, AB 1889 by Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), makes it illegal for anyone doing business with the state to spend state funds on

anti-union-organizing activities. Violators will be subject to stiff civil fines. Labor officials have complained that some state contractors have diverted the funds to oppose the unionization of their workers. They identified hospitals as a chief target.

"We find a lot of intimidation of those folks who want to speak up against injustices at the workplace," said Art Pulanski, secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO. He said he was pleased by Davis' action.

The second labor bill, SB 1960 by Burton, will require all public school and community college employees who are not union members to pay an "agency shop" fee to the union that negotiates their work contracts.

Opposed by Republicans, boards of education and school administrators, the legislation is similar to a recently enacted program for employees of the University of California and California State University systems.

By signing the Malibu bill, AB 988, Davis authorized the end of "Malibu Days" at the Coastal Commission. Coastal commissioners and the politicians who appointed them--Hertzberg, Burton and Davis--had reportedly grown tired of lobbying by the coastal city's wealthy celebrity residents for minor home add-ons. The Coastal Commission maintains watch over 1,100 miles of California coastline.

The bill will require the Coastal Commission to draft a plan governing coastal development in the city, something that Malibu has failed to do, and immediately require the city to assume responsibility for issuing coastal permits for building projects. Malibu officials had opposed the measure.

And a day after vetoing a tougher measure to crack down on farm labor contractors, Davis signed a bill, AB 1338 by Assemblywoman Sarah Reyes (D-Fresno) that imposes tougher licensing standards on the largely unregulated middlemen who employ much of the state's agricultural work force.

The bill increases license fees and examination requirements for the largely unregulated contractors, as well as boosting enforcement. It also increases wage surety bonds to ensure that farm workers are paid if a contractors' dispute arises.

"I have the greatest respect for farm workers," said Davis, who on Friday vetoed a farm laborer protection bill sponsored by the United Farm Workers union. "They do some of the most backbreaking work there is."

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Davis also signed Saturday:

* Driver's licenses. Inspired by the case of Brandi Mitock, a 15-year-old Woodland Hills girl killed by a 96-year-old motorist, the DMV will be required to test certain vision-impaired drivers to ensure that they are able to operate a motor vehicle under SB 335 by Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Los Angeles). The bill establishes a minimum vision requirement for a driver's license, and imposes additional behind-the-wheel testing requirements.

* Santa Monica Mountains. The governing board of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy will grow from eight to nine members and the advisory board from 23 to 26 members. SB 1455 by Sen. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) also allows both houses of the Legislature to appoint three members to meet with the conservancy on a regular basis.

* Water Replenishment District. Two bills impose new restrictions on the controversial Water Replenishment District of Southern California, following recommendations made in a critical state audit. AB 1834 by Assemblywoman Sally Havice (D-Cerritos) reforms the way such districts are governed, including the way they increase assessments. It also requires them to follow competitive bidding practices. SB 1979 by Sen. Martha Escutia (D-Whittier) addresses the use of the extraordinary cash reserves held by the district.

* Health plans. Health care service plans will have to notify those enrolled in their programs if they terminate a contract with a primary care provider under SB 1746 by Sen. Liz Figueroa (D-Fremont). The bill also requires the plans to help those affected choose new primary care providers.

* Credit disclosure. Credit card companies will be required to inform customers of their right to block disclosure of personal marketing information at least 60 days before the data are released. AB 2869 by Assemblyman Michael Machado (D-Linden) also requires issuers to provide toll-free telephone numbers for customers to call to prohibit release of the information.

* Credit scoring. Credit reporting companies and lenders must explain in greater detail how they arrived at a consumer's "credit score" for purposes of a home loan under SB 1607 by Figueroa. The companies also must disclose the identities of businesses that inquire about a customer's credit worthiness.

* * *

Davis vetoed:

* Voting. AB 2519 by Assemblyman Kevin Shelley (D-San Francisco) would have authorized an experiment to test voting on the Internet. Davis said he believed the proposal did not contain sufficient safeguards against fraud.

* Judges' retirement. Judges would have been allowed to retire under CalPERS or the state Judges Retirement System--whichever would give them higher compensation--under AB 2911 by the Assembly Judiciary Committee. Davis said the bill would be too costly.

Davis also took action last week in several other areas:

* Electricity tax. A minor electricity tax on customers to pay for alternative energy programs will continue for another 10 years under SB 995 by Assemblyman Roderick Wright (D-Los Angeles), which Davis signed. The levy would have expired in 2001.

Amounting to roughly a nickel a day for most residential users, the fee produces about $425 million a year, and pays for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects supervised by the state. The bill was supported by environmental and consumer groups, organized labor and major utilities.

* Tires. The fee that motorists must pay on each new tire they buy will rise from 25 cents to $1 under legislation Davis signed, aimed at battling illegal dumping of millions of used tires. The law--SB 876 by Escutia--is expected to raise about $4.5 million a year, and give the state an infusion of money to deal with illegal tire dumps. California generates 31 million scrap tires each year.

* Credit cards. Davis vetoed a consumer bill that would have required credit card companies to inform debtors how long they would need to pay off their credit cards if they make the minimum payments. "It was a strong pro-consumer protection bill," Shelley Curran of Consumers Union in San Francisco said of the credit card bill, AB 1963 by Hertzberg.

* Oil spills: Davis signed SB 221 by Sen. Dede Alpert (D-Coronado) to establish a lower level of legal liability for oil spills by certain small ships if they are owned or operated by the state or federal government. The new standard, which applies to nontank vessels carrying 7,500 gallons of oil or less, would still have to cover cleanup costs and damages from an oil spill.

* Inmate camps: Davis approved AB 1999 by Assemblyman Dick Dickerson (R-Redding) that would eventually expand the number of low-risk inmates assigned to the Conservation Camp Program for such duties as fighting forest fires.