SACRAMENTO -- Legislation to reimburse the Modesto Police Department for its work on the Peterson case survived a key committee vote Friday.
The measure still has several more hurdles to clear during the remaining week of the legislative session.
Police Capt. Greg Savelli revealed during testimony before the Assembly Local Government Committee that the department's cost could reach $750,000 by the end of the Scott Peterson's murder trial.
Outside the hearing, he gave a firm figure for the department's costs so far, $485,000, in the case that began as a disappearance and turned into a homicide that has gained international attention.
Assemblyman Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto, put forth legislation this week to provide state money to cover 90 percent of Modesto's costs, excluding normal salaries and expenses.
Cogdill attached his proposal to Senate Bill 348, and the Local Government Committee approved the amended bill 7-0. SB 348 now goes to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
The bill needs approval from the full Assembly and Senate before going to the governor's desk -- and both houses have a Friday deadline for finishing up with legislation.
The Local Government Committee vote came after members questioned whether the state might be setting a precedent with Cogdill's legislation.
For decades, the state has helped rural counties pay for the costs associated with big murder cases. But the state has never done so for cities.
Savelli argued that Modesto, as the lead agency in the Peterson case, deserves the same consideration as county sheriff's departments.
At his side sat the latest issue of People magazine, which features Laci Peterson on the cover, and a supermarket paperback book about the case. He said the publicity is a "vicious circle" that keeps bringing in more tips and leads -- 9,000 so far.
"Each and every one of them must be followed up," he said. "That is an obligation we accept, but it is enormous."
Fire Chief James Miguel also testified, saying the city money that goes to the Peterson case might drain resources from his agency.
"It has a tremendous impact on all city departments," Miguel said.
Before the hearing, Savelli said that about 100 of the Police Department's 370 employees have had some involvement in the case since 27-year-old Laci Peterson was reported missing Christmas Eve.
Police arrested her 30-year-old husband on April 18, and he is charged with the slayings of his wife and their unborn son, Conner. He has pleaded innocent.
Peterson told police that he last saw his wife at 9:30 a.m. Dec. 24 as he left with the boat to go fishing in San Francisco Bay and she prepared to walk their dog in East La Loma Park.
Bee Capitol Bureau reporter Eric Stern can be reached at (916) 326-5544 or firstname.lastname@example.org.