TV & Radio
'Wasted year' laws take effect
Measures on faxes, video games held up by court decisions
- Lynda Gledhill, San Francisco Chronicle Sacramento Bureau
Sunday, January 1, 2006
Sacramento -- Californians will face a slew of minor legal changes starting today, but two of the biggest laws passed this year will not go into effect. The courts have blocked legislation that would have banned junk faxes and restricted minors' access to video games.
But laws that take effect today will place limits on new drivers, ban pocket bikes from sidewalks and roads and prohibit businesses from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status.
In a year where lawmakers and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger were at war most of the time, few pieces of significant legislation were passed. State Senate leader Don Perata, D-Oakland, repeatedly called it a "wasted year."
Schwarzenegger vetoed many prominent pieces of legislation, including measures allowing same-sex marriage, increasing the minimum wage and giving illegal immigrants the right to have a driver's license.
"The session was full of acrimony and very little public policy," said Barbara O'Connor, professor of political communication at Cal State Sacramento. "They couldn't get consensus to get anything significant done. Lawmakers and the governor were consumed by the special election."
Schwarzenegger had pledged to work with lawmakers this year, after the defeat of the measures he placed on the special election ballot, and -- at least for now -- legislators appear willing to meet him halfway.
"Hopefully everybody heard the message of voters loud and clear -- they want their representatives in Sacramento to do things," O'Connor said.
Judges have decided that two of California's proposed new laws need further review. The video game law, sponsored by Assemblyman Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, would have banned the sale or rental of especially violent video games to children under 18 years old unless parental approval was given.
The video game industry sued, charging that the law is unconstitutional. A federal judge said in December that there is enough evidence to block the law until a full court hearing. Supporters of the law remain optimistic that it will eventually go into effect, despite courts across the country striking down similar measures.
A federal judge also put on hold a state law banning unsolicited fax advertising, or "junk faxes." The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a broadcast fax company filed the suit, claiming that California's measure undermines application of a new federal law and interferes with interstate commerce.
Sen. Debra Bowen, D-Marina del Rey (Los Angeles County), said the federal law is insufficient. It allows businesses to send unsolicited fax ads to consumers who have ever shopped for one of its products, without ever having to prove that a business relationship occurred.
Bowen said she was confident the state law will be upheld.
"The new federal law clearly allows states to enact stronger laws to protect people from having their fax machines commandeered by marketers," she said.
A new driving law will affect those under the age of 18. The law, sponsored by Assemblyman Bill Maze, R-Visalia, prohibits those with a provisional license from driving between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. Under current law, the prohibition starts at midnight. The bill also expands from six months to one year the amount of time a provisional driver cannot have passengers under the age of 20 unless there is a driver over the age of 25 in the car.
The law takes effect immediately and includes those currently holding a provisional license.
Another new law affecting motorists increases the penalties for intentionally evading or fleeing police officer, doubling the time in county jail from six months to one year. It also increases the penalty for evading a peace officer and causing injury or death.
Owners of pocket bikes -- defined as a two-wheeled motorized device that has a seat or saddle and is not designed for use on streets or highways -- will no longer be able to ride their vehicles on roads, sidewalks, bikeways or hiking trails. Manufacturers of the bikes must affix a sticker on the device stating that such actions are illegal. Anyone caught riding a pocket bike in prohibited areas will be guilty of an infraction and could have the bike seized.
This year the governor vetoed the most prominent bill backed by Equality California, which advocates on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Californians, when he refused to sign a bill making the marriage laws gender-neutral.
But Schwarzenegger signed three bills into law that expand anti-discrimination codes by including sexual orientation in the law. Another new law allows domestic partners of public employees who retired before Jan. 1, 2005, to receive death benefits if the retiree dies before his or her partner.
Several of the more prominent laws the governor signed this year do not take effect immediately, including measures banning junk food in schools and prohibiting the use of steroids by high school athletes.
A bill by Sen. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, prohibits student athletes from participating in high school sports after July 1, 2006, unless the student has signed a pledge not to take anabolic steroids or banned dietary supplements. The new law also prohibits supplement companies from promoting their products at high school athletic events and will require coaches to take a course designed to educate them on steroids and supplements.
As part of an obesity summit this fall, Schwarzenegger signed a bill requiring that by July 1, 2007, all food sold in K-12 schools meet stricter nutritional guidelines. Another bill requires that by July 1, 2009, high schools join middle and elementary schools in banning the sale of sodas during school hours.
And starting Jan. 1, 2007, manufacturers of cosmetic products sold in the state will be required to disclose the product ingredients that could cause cancer. The state will publicize the information and could use it to make changes in regulations regarding a product's use in hair and nail salons.
E-mail Lynda Gledhill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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