New California laws range from the nitpicky to the necessary

California Legislature passed 876 new laws that took effect Jan. 1

January 7, 2013 

Leatherback sea turtle

U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE

It was a busy year for our state Legislature. Not only did California lawmakers deal with an election and the ever-pesky budget, they also managed to find the time to pass 876 new laws that took effect Jan. 1.

Does California really need 876 more laws? The short answer is, probably not.

For example, with all due respect to nature lovers, we could have lived without the naming of an official state marine reptile (the Pacific leatherback sea turtle, thanks to passage of AB 1776).

And while we have nothing against adding a Ronald Reagan statue to the state Capitol — provided it’s paid for with private funds — why did it require a special law (AB 2358) to spell out the design and review process?

An even bigger head-scratcher is SB 1292, which includes a provision that authorizes school districts to evaluate school principals during their first and second years of employment. Seriously? We needed a new law to clarify that?

But enough nitpicking. We found several laws on the list that put us in the mood to stand up and cheer.

In no particular order, here are some laws that could help restore our faith in Sacramento:

  • SB 661 limits picketing at funerals — an abhorrent practice that gained notoriety when members of the rabidly anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church began picketing funerals of soldiers. It will now be a misdemeanor in California to picket during a funeral service, as well as one hour before or after. If we had our way, it would be a felony.
  • SB 900 and AB 278 safeguard the rights of homeowners facing foreclosure. Among other provisions, lenders can no longer proceed with foreclosures while loan modification applications are pending. About time.
  • AB 340 reins in pensions for public employees, saving taxpayers billions of dollars over the coming years — one of the biggest achievements of 2012, in our book.
  • AB 1478 and AB 1589 are intended to reform the scandal-ridden State Parks system. Among other measures, there is a two-year moratorium on closing — or threatening to close — any parks. Good idea, but a longer moratorium would have been even better.
  • AB 970 requires the CSU Board of Trustees to provide student associations with a minimum six months’ notice before raising fees. In another break for students, two new laws pave the way for providing free access to digital textbooks for 50 lower-division courses offered in the CSU, UC and Community College systems.
  • SB 1047 expands the Amber Alert program for missing children by adding a Silver Alert for missing senior citizens who could be in danger. Every year, several seniors go missing in SLO County. We applaud any tool that will help law enforcement bring them home safely.
  • SB 1145 doubles the maximum fine for cockfighting to $10,000. Spectators who knowingly attend a cockfight can be fined $5,000, up from $1,000. Cockfighting has been a problem in SLO County’s rural areas; let’s hope larger fines send a message that this cruel form of entertainment won’t be tolerated.
  • AB 1445 adds San Luis Obispo to the list of counties that can use inmate welfare funds — which include revenue from the sale of candy, toiletries, writing supplies and other items — for re-entry programs designed to help smooth the transition back to the community. Great idea.
  • AB 2530 prohibits the barbaric practice of shackling pregnant inmates at any stage of pregnancy — not just during labor and delivery — unless deemed necessary for public safety.
  • AB 1844 prohibits employers from requiring workers or job applicants to provide user names and/or passwords for social media sites. This helps protect privacy — but given the pervasiveness of social media, we still don’t recommend posting anything you wouldn’t want your mother (or your kids) to see.
  • And finally, AB 1616 legalizes a cottage industry that’s been operating clandestinely for years. The California Homemade Food Act allows entrepreneurs to use their home kitchens to prepare certain foods for sale to the public, including breads, muffins, cakes, pies and other items that don’t contain cream or meat, which can spoil. Home cooks must complete a food processing course and open their kitchens to public health inspections — a common-sense approach that helps ensure food safety, while giving mom-and-pop businesses a break.

Bon appetit … and happy new year.

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