New year, new laws, new low for state

by Michael Gardner, San Diego Union Tribune

Tally of measures ‘ 700 ‘ is fewest in four decades

Harbor seals that inhabit Children’s Pool beach in La Jolla were the subject of state legislation passed this year that allows the San Diego City Council to decide their fate.

K.C. Alfred

Harbor seals that inhabit Children’s Pool beach in La Jolla were the subject of state legislation passed this year that allows the San Diego City Council to decide their fate.

The bills passed in Sacramento this year ran the gamut, from setting penalties related to paparazzi and offering gay spouses various employer benefits to blessing a high-tech billing system for toll roads like the South Bay Expressway and giving San Diego more control over the seal colony at Children’s Pool beach.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature may have covered a broad range of issues, but their total number of measures enacted ‘ about 700 ‘ is the lowest for any year during the past four decades.

Former Gov. George Deukmejian holds the record for presiding over the year with the most new laws ‘ 1,760 in 1984.

This lawmaking cycle was "dismal," said Richard Holober, executive director of the Consumer Federation of California. He decried the lack of consumer-protection bills and said Schwarzenegger vetoed most of the measures his group supported.

"Mixed" was the conclusion from Warner Chabot, CEO of the California League of Conservation Voters. He praised passage of water policy initiatives and a $11.1 billion water bond headed for the November ballot.

New Year’s Day marks the launch of most new laws.

One of the Capitol’s most talked about ‘ and lampooned ‘ measures of 2009 threw lawmakers into a feud over the fate of seals lounging at the Children’s Pool in La Jolla.

Starting Jan. 1, the San Diego City Council can determine the colony’s fate under Senate Bill 428. The panel seems content to leave the seals alone and has no immediate plans for the cove.

Another San Diego-centric measure was a curiosity piece.

Most lawmakers had never seen a seatless bicycle, but went ahead and passed legislation granting it equal rights to the road. Passage of SB 527 was a victory for two Solana Beach entrepreneurs who designed the elliptiGO, which simulates jogging but doesn’t create as much stress on riders’ joints.

Perhaps the most controversial new directive isn’t really new.

Assembly Bill 1497 passed in 2007 but goes into effect tomorrow. It requires new models of semi-automatic handguns to be outfitted with technology that leaves a microscopic identifying code on spent shell casings.

A second delayed-implementation measure, AB 97, passed in 2008, prohibits restaurants from cooking with trans fats. California is the first state to impose the ban, which will broaden to include bakeries in 2011.

Other notable new laws include:


–Small, family-run child-care homes must have a staff member trained in pediatric first aid and CPR on duty at all times (AB 1368).

–Utilities must pay customers who generate power, such as solar or wind systems, for any excess electricity sold on the grid (AB 920).

–Companies offering free or one-time trial products and services, including magazine subscriptions, must obtain permission before automatically renewing for a price. The law will take effect Dec. 1 (SB 340).

–If a product is labeled "honey," it can’t contain more than 20 percent water and no more than 8 percent sucrose (AB 1216).


–Drivers can choose a "pay by plate" option at toll booths, depending on the toll operator. After their license plates are recorded by cameras to keep tabs, motorists register a credit card or send a check to cover their fee. The program has been launched along the South Bay Expressway, state Route 125, in southern San Diego County (AB 628).

–After years of being banished to back seats, video monitors can now be installed on the dashboard for front-seat passengers. But the screen must be placed where the driver can’t see it (AB 62).

–Drivers must move to another lane or slow down when approaching roadside emergencies, Caltrans crews or working tow trucks (SB 159 and SB 240).

–Repeat drunken drivers can qualify for a restricted license if they agree to install an ignition interlock device that prevents cars from starting when a breath analyzer detects alcohol. The law will take effect July 1 (SB 598).

–Insurers must notify consumers that they have the right to seek independent estimates for auto-body repairs (AB 1179).


–Married gay employees are eligible for benefits extended to opposite-sex couples as long as their vows were exchanged in a state that recognizes same-sex weddings (SB 54).

–Street vendors who are disabled veterans won’t be forced to collect sales tax on food and products priced at less than $100 (SB 809).

–It will be illegal for brokers to steer borrowers to high-risk, inflated-interest loans if those home buyers qualify for less-costly mortgages. Prepayment penalties are capped at 2 percent of the loan balance (AB 260).

–Mortgage lenders must provide all documents to customers in the language used to negotiate the deal. The law will go into effect July 1 (AB 1160).

–Landlords and certain companies, such as storage-facility owners, can more easily and without liability destroy personal information abandoned by a tenant. They must ensure proper disposal, such as shredding, and can charge special security deposits to cover related costs (AB 1094).

–Bar owners and liquor stores can accept military I.D. cards as proof of age, even if a physical description is missing. The cards must include date of birth and a photo (AB 59).

–Managers of mobile-home parks can’t force tenants to use a specific broker when buying or installing a replacement home (SB 804).

Animal rights

–California becomes the first state in the nation to ban tail docking of cows.

–Spectators arrested at illegal dogfights can face up to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine (AB 242).

–Dogfight organizers and participants risk forfeiting cash and property tied to the illegal activity (SB 318).


–Sewer agencies that also operate recycling systems, including some in San Diego County, can restrict salinity levels in water softeners (AB 1366).

–Homeowner associations can’t prohibit landscaping that uses little to no water (AB 1061).

–At least half of all new toilets sold must comply with high-efficiency water standards, and waterless urinals are now legal. Assembly Bill 715 was signed in 2007 but takes effect tomorrow.


–Tabloids, Web sites and television programs that routinely feature celebrity images will face financial penalties of up to $50,000 if they knowingly buy photographs or recordings obtained by paparazzi through illegal tactics. Those include encircling vehicles to block movement, giving chase at high speeds and trespassing at churches, hospitals and schools (AB 524).

–Children younger than 18 can’t buy small containers of nitrous oxide. The containers are generally used to recharge aerosol bottles of whipped cream, but also can provide a cheap high when inhaled. These hits from "whippets" can cause heart damage and death. The law will take effect July 1 (AB 1015).

–In hardship cases, veterans cemeteries can voluntarily waive the standard $500 fee to bury a veteran’s spouse or child (SB 469).