New year, new laws

Seven of eight new laws authored by Speaker pro Tempore Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, kick in next Sunday. Ma said the batch of legislation builds on her previous two terms where she "focused on creating jobs, securing funding for education and public safety

  ·  San Mateo Daily Journal   ·  Link to Article

The new year also means a whole new batch of laws in California.

Thanks to San Mateo County legislators, gas pipelines might be safer, buying some cough syrup will be illegal for minors and social studies students will learn in school about the contributions of Filipino veterans during World War II.

All of the laws are based on legislation passed in 2011 and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown. Unless otherwise specified, each take effect Jan. 1.

A strong theme in the last year was pipeline safety with both Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo, and Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, taking aim at preventing another disaster like the 2010 San Bruno explosion.

Yee’s bill requires PG&E and other gas utility companies to install automatic and remotely-controlled shutoff valves on pipelines statewide. The proposal was in response to news that the San Bruno line only had manual shutoff valves leading to the inferno continuing for hours because a technician was not in the vicinity.

Hill has two San Bruno-spurred laws. The first requires remote controlled shutoff valves in high population areas and prohibits utilities from using rate payer money to pay safety violation penalties assessed by the California Public Utilities Commission. Natural gas corporations are also required to meet annually with local fire departments to review emergency response plans.

The second bill exempts San Bruno residents from paying state taxes on recovery money they received from PG&E, the Red Cross and the city of San Bruno.

Hill’s work also means judges can now suspend a driver’s license for 10 years after his or her third conviction for driving while intoxicated. Currently, the limit is three years and the Department of Motor Vehicles is charged with the suspension authority. If every judge now uses this discretion, more than 10,000 repeat DUI offenders could be taken off state roads annually, according to Hill’s office.

Judges also have discretion to recognize paternity for non-biological parents who have an established relationship with a child. Previously, courts could not recognize such a parent even if the biological father had no connection with his offspring.

Lower retirement rates for sheriffs

Hill’s bills will also let San Mateo County implement a memorandum of understanding providing lower retirement tiers for new employees in the Deputy Sheriff’s Association, cracks down on fraudulent solicitations by letting the Secretary of State refuse to process such documents and clarifies that the “real party in interest” named in a California Environmental Quality Act lawsuit as those involved in the project or permit.

California, in conjunction with other states, will now award all of its electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote under Hill’s bill but it does not take effect until a majority of states follow suit.

Another bill is already under way — an emergency measure clarifying the types of financing used for people to install solar on their homes and make the state more competitive in luring solar firms. One example, according to Hill, is Maryland-based SunEdison which relocated its headquarters to Belmont this year.

Hill said he is “honored” the bills are becoming state law.

“My hope is that they improve the safety and quality of life for my constituents and all Californians,” he said in a prepared statement.

Elder protection

Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, is particularly proud of his law to protect the elderly and dependent adults from financial abuse in conservatorships.

“It’s pretty important and protecting our vulnerable seniors is something cool to do,” Gordon said.

The bill closes probate loopholes and gives the public guardian more power by expanding its scope to include control of assets held in financial trusts and extends from 15 to 30 the number of days for temporary possession of property.

Gordon said his bill on plastic recycling has “potential for some good long-term impact, allowing us to beneficially reuse plastic and create California jobs.”

That bill, refining the plastic market development program, extends the sunset date for the existing law authorizing CalRecycle to pay up to $150 per ton for empty plastic beverage containers. By promoting recycling, Gordon said the bill will grow new jobs in that industry and manufacturing.

Gordon’s priority areas since taking office have been education, the environment and government reform. He said his 2011 bills and his plans for the future reflect that.

His other successful laws include incentives for local governments to develop renewable energy projects to offset energy costs at separate buildings. He also authored a bill to reauthorize the waste tire grant program and require CalRecycle to provide outreach in hopes of diverting tires from state landfills. Another law extension continues exempting work by volunteers, like beach cleanup crews, from the public works wage requirement for another five years. Another bill extends a tax exemption for property used exclusively to preserve natural resources or open space.

A Gordon-authored bill requires schools regulated by the Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education to disclose limitations related to unaccredited degrees to better protect consumers from predatory practices in recruitment and student loans.

Specific to San Mateo County, the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District is allowed up to 30 years rather than the current 20 to repay debt in form of promissory notes which is estimated to provide up to 20 percent more purchasing funds. 

Corporations and limited liability corporations will be able to receive notices from the Secretary of State’s Office via email beginning Jan. 1 and the Healthy Start program will be given grants again once funding is available. Local assessors, tax collectors and auditors will be able to increase the fees for preparing documents and the Local Agency Formation Commission will more easily be able to dissolve obsolete special districts.

The California Building Standards Commission must have at least one member experienced in sustainable design and construction and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority is authorized to implement express lanes, courtesy of Gordon.

Another new law lets the state retain unobligated federal transportation funds it would otherwise lose by using them on ready-to-go projects and later use bond revenue to repay the funds to the State Highway Account.

Fight against youth drug abuse

Beginning Jan. 1, California will be the first state banning the sale of over-the-counter cold and cough medications containing dextromethorphan to minors thanks to state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto.

One in 10 minors have reported using DXM to get high and the abuse is growing according to WebMD and the Consumer Healthcare Productions Association. Simitian said his bill will limit how young people obtain medicine that can be as dangerous as abusing alcohol and other drugs.

“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 said.

The law was the winning entry in Simitian’s 2004 “There Oughta Be a Law” contest from Wayne Benitez and Ron Lawrence, both with the Palo Alto Police Department at the time. The bill stalled in 2004 but Simitian successfully reintroduced it earlier this year.

Violations will be an infraction and the law provides an exception for minors with a prescription.

Yee also touched on pharmacies, authoring a bill allowing pharmacies to sell sterile syringes to an adult without a prescription in hopes of curbing the spread of blood-borne diseases and viruses.

Simitian’s other bills aimed at establishing California as a renewable energy leader by requiring private and public utilities to obtain 33 percent of their electricity from sources like solar, wind and geothermal by 2020. Other legislation lets counties tap additional federal funds for health insurance without cost to the state and extends the Financial Elder Abuse Reporting Act requiring bank employees to report suspected cases.

Simitian also continued his commitment to consumer privacy protection by requiring state agencies and businesses to notify the Attorney General’s Office if more than 500 Californians are affected by a data breach. Simitian’s privacy protection efforts also extended to electronic content under a law proposed by Cupertino library law consultant Mary Minow in the 2011 law contest.

His remaining laws include expansion of the California Capital Access Program, which encourages banks to make loans to small businesses, spurs investment in California bonds and reauthorizes until 2018 two popular tax check-off funds authorized by Simitian’s 2007 legislation: the State Children’s Trust Fund for the Prevention of Child Abuse and the Rare and Endangered Species Preservation Program.

Online voter registration

Yee’s other bills update the California Public Records Act to include auxiliary organizations and foundations that work with the state’s public universities and allows citizens to register to vote via the Internet. Government agencies will need a court order to access consumers’ reading records from bookstores and online retailers because of Senate Bill 602 and an automotive repair dealer who knowingly fails to fully repair and restore an auto air bag faces a $5,000 fine and/or a year in prison. Workers will be ensured prevailing wages on energy service contracts of public agencies and Yee succeeded in declaring Firefighter Memorial Day and Sunshine Week.

“These laws will increase government transparency, protect consumers, safeguard our communities, support working families and get more people involved in our democracy,” Yee said in a prepared statement.

Seven of eight new laws authored by Speaker pro Tempore Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, kick in next Sunday. Ma said the batch of legislation builds on her previous two terms where she “focused on creating jobs, securing funding for education and public safety and improving the quality of life in San Mateo and San Francisco neighborhoods.”

Sasha’s Law

In response to drug-related teen deaths at dance parties and raves, Ma created Sasha’s Law which requires anyone promoting an event on state property to create an Event Action Plan when a fairground governing board thinks there is a threat to life.

Ma also authored a ban on alcoholic beverage sale at self-service checkout stands so that a grocery clerk must have a face-to-face transaction much like the sales of cigarettes, spray paint and prescription drugs.

Her bill promoting Filipino veteran curriculum will affect children in grades seven to 12. They will learn about this quickly diminishing population as, according to Ma’s office, there are only 17 such veterans alive today. The goal is to keep their contributions alive before they are lost in history.

Retired certified public accountants will get their own designation throughout the California Board of Accountancy to prevent the cancellation or surrendering of their licenses and the Medical Board of California will be required to publish only factual proven information on medical accusations and investigations. Another law provides market certainty for electric vehicle charging stations for the state’s consumer fleet while promoting consumer demand through infrastructure investments. Another extends a pilot program in San Francisco which issues parking tickets via forward facing cameras on buses to double-parked vehicles.