January 1, 2012

CA: New year to bring new laws

The new year will bring new laws, thanks to the legislative efforts of Peninsula politicians.

The legislation addresses a variety of concerns, including gas pipeline safety, clean energy innovation and conservation, consumer protections, and substance abuse prevention.


Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, authored 11 bills that have become state law or will by Jan. 1.

Two of them were a product of his "There Oughta Be a Law" contest. SB 514, restricts youth access to over-the-counter medicines containing dextromethorphan, which causes an "out of body" experience when taken in high doses.

"By putting age limitations on these drugs, we're communicating to kids and their parents that, when used inappropriately, these are dangerous drugs with serious consequences," Simitian told the Bay Area News Group last week.

The other constituent-inspired bill, SB 445, extends library privacy protections to online records, emails with library staff and other electronic content.

Focusing on the environment, Simitian's SB 2X requires public and private utilities to obtain 33 percent of their electricity from renewable resources -- such as solar and wind -- by 2020.


Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, had a productive first year in the Legislature, getting Gov. Jerry Brown's signature on 15 of his bills.

Two are related to open space preservation. AB 612, authored on behalf of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, extends the amount of time the organization has to pay back promissory notes used to buy and protect open space from 20 to 30 years. And AB 703 extends a property tax exemption for nonprofits that acquire land for conservation through 2020.

Gordon also passed AB 611, which seeks to protect students who enroll in for-profit colleges and other post-secondary education programs by requiring the institutions to disclose any known limitations of the degrees offered.


Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, will see nine of his bills take effect next week, including two that are related to the 2010 San Bruno gas pipeline explosion.

AB 56 requires remote control shut-off valves in high population areas and comprehensive testing of gas transmission lines, among other provisions. Also, AB 50 exempts San Bruno residents from paying state taxes on recovery funds received from PG&E, the Red Cross and the city.

Two of Hill's bills were also inspired by his constituents. AB 75 requires solicitors who send official-looking letters that appear to be from governmental agencies to disclose their true identity at the top of the forms; AB 459 adds California to a list of states interested in dumping the electoral college in favor of electing the nation's president by popular vote.

After the first of the year, AB 1601 will give judges the power to suspend a driver's license for 10 years after a third drunken-driving conviction. The current limit is three years.

Before he joined the state Legislature, Hill said he "naively" believed too many laws were passed each year. His outlook is different now.

"There's often a real need and reason for them," Hill said. "Times change, so should laws."


Sen. Leland Yee, who represents parts of San Mateo and San Francisco counties, authored nine bills. They range from SB 397, which allows citizens to register to vote via the Internet, to SB 41, which permits the sale of hypodermic needles to adults without a prescription to help prevent the spread of blood-borne diseases.

Yee also succeeded in passing SB 8. The bill puts foundations and other auxiliary organizations that perform government functions at state colleges and universities under the purview of the public records act. It was his third try for such legislation.


Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, who also represents parts of San Mateo and San Francisco, succeeded in passing seven bills. They include AB 183, which bans the sale of alcoholic beverages at self-service checkout stands, and AB 631, which aims to encourage expansion of electric vehicle charging stations.


Finally, eight new laws from Assemblyman Paul Fong, D-Cupertino, include AB 80, which moves the California presidential primary from February to June, and AB 376, which makes it unlawful for any person to possess, sell or trade a shark fin. Some restaurants, however, will receive a one-year exemption.


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