The five state representatives from our area, all but one of them Republicans, face an uphill battle in getting bills through the Democratically controlled Legislature. However, several bills by our reps have been signed by the governor or are still alive, awaiting action when lawmakers return from their July break.
A recap of some of their proposals:
OUSTING CORRUPT OFFICIALS Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, whose 12th District reaches into Monterey County, carried a bill for that county that makes it easier for district attorneys to prosecute public officials for misconduct. Senate Bill 1357 clarifies that an accusation from either a civil or a criminal grand jury can be used in pursuing charges against an official who violates the law. Previously, the state Attorney General issued an opinion that criminal grand juries could not handle civil matters, resulting in the possibility that a guilty official could get off on a technicality.
Generic complaints about public officials are relatively common, but it is not common for any grand jury to actually level accusations of willful misconduct at a sitting public official. This bill should make it easier to get rid of those guilty of civil or criminal wrongdoing and hence help the credibility of the many honest politicians.
There was no organized opposition to this bill, which unanimously passed both houses and was signed by the governor July 13.
REMOVING A ROADBLOCK The governor also has signed Assembly Bill 1973 by Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, whose 25th District includes several mountain communities. This is a specific-issue bill that will allow Caltrans to proceed with permanent reconstruction of Highway 140 in Mariposa County, which was closed by major rock slides in spring 2006.
Although there has been a temporary detour in place, there have been numerous obstacles to getting a permanent fix. Among them is the presence of the rare limestone salamander, a protected species. With this bill, the Department of Fish & Game can provide the permit for the work to go on so long as Caltrans provides certain mitigation measures to protect the tiny salamander, considered one of the state's rarest native amphibians. It only lives along the Merced River in western Mariposa County.
Olsen negotiated with conservation groups to get this bill passed proof that there is such a thing as compromise in Sacramento.
PREVENTING UNFAIR LAWSUITS As we noted in a June 11 editorial, several legislators proposed ways to reduce the problem of unscrupulous lawyers demanding settlements from businesses that might be at risk of fines for not abiding by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Both Democrats and Republicans have acknowledged the problem of lawsuit abuse. The goal for these lawyers and alleged plaintiffs seems to be more about making a quick buck than ensuring compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Some of the bills have died. One by Assemblyman Bill Berryhill, R-Stockton, is still alive, though in watered-down form. As now written, AB 2282 would require the California Commission on Disability Access to who study and report on is seeking relief from the state and federal disability access laws and whether they have actually been to the business that is accused of violating the laws. A Senate staff analysis suggests Berryhill's bill might complement another bill still under consideration to limit the so-called drive-by lawsuits.
MAKING IT SIMPLE There are a variety of state statutes regarding state-mandated construction wages, known as prevailing wages. Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Modesto, is pushing a bill to require the Department of Industrial Relations to put on its Web site a complete list of these laws, making it easier for for businesses to comply. SB 1370 was passed by the Senate on a 37-0 vote and got past its first Assembly Committee hearing.
LOOKING FOR BODIES As we reported in the news pages Wednesday, Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton, was successful with her very unusual legislation to allow state prison authorities to let convicted serial killer Wesley Shermantine help investigators search for more bodies. Shermantine and Loren Herzog were known as the "speed freak killers" and may have killed as many as 72 people, very few of whom have been found. Herzog committed suicide earlier this year. Shermantine is on death row, and the bill makes it clear that he must remain under heavy guard and that his opportunity to assist authorities expires Dec. 31.
The Legislature reconvenes Aug. 6 and faces an Aug. 31 deadline to get bills passed.