Financial-privacy bill hits major hurdle;

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But Davis gets a tougher measure on driver’s licenses for immigrants.

Sacramento Bee

On a whirlwind final night of session Saturday, state lawmakers blocked a high-profile financial-privacy proposal while they sent other measures on immigrant driver’s licenses and housing construction defects to Gov. Gray Davis.

One of the most heavily lobbied bills of the two-year session, SB 773 would have blocked financial companies from sharing a consumer’s personal information without permission in most cases.

The measure died last year on the final night of session, but a renewed effort this summer on the part of its author, Sen. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, breathed new life into the proposal.

On Saturday, the Assembly treated SB 773 like a pingpong ball. In an initial vote, the bill fell short of passage. Then Assemblyman John Dutra, D-Fremont, hijacked the measure, inserting business-friendly amendments that allowed companies to share information with related affiliates without requiring a customer’s permission.

Dutra and other Assembly lawmakers touted the amended version as still the strongest privacy measure in the nation, while consumer groups and liberal Democrats charged that the bill had been gutted.

The amended bill was on hold in the Assembly late Saturday.

“It’s been a circus and a charade,” said a disappointed Speier. “Consumers will continue to be vulnerable in this state.”

On other key legislation Saturday:

– The Senate sent a compromise measure to Davis that would enable as many as one million undocumented immigrants to obtain California driver’s licenses if they pass criminal background checks.

Lawmakers previously sent a separate proposal to Davis, but the Democratic governor demanded changes, including a battery of checks to ensure that license recipients are not criminals.

After days of negotiating with Davis, senators Saturday approved a second measure that would require license applicants to submit fingerprints that would be used to determine any past criminal involvement.

The legislation applies only to undocumented immigrants who are not yet citizens or permanent residents but have filed citizenship papers with the federal government.

SB 804 would prohibit the state from issuing licenses to felons or those facing a conviction for serious crimes, such as large drug transactions or terrorist plots.

Proponents assert that issuing driver’s licenses would make California streets safer because undocumented immigrants would be able to purchase insurance and receive training.

Some senators on Saturday anguished over SB 804. While they say it is discriminatory and unfair, they want undocumented immigrants to obtain licenses.

Sen. Deborah Ortiz, D-Sacramento, said SB 804 treats immigrants “as second-class citizens. But right now, they’re not even second-class citizens.”

The Senate passed the bill on a 25-8 vote to send it to Davis, who has no stated position on the bill.

– The Senate passed a last-minute measure exempting small-scale car dealers – including the bill’s author, Sen. Maurice Johannessen – from a new law that requires dealers to post more expensive surety bonds.

The bill, SB 2073, previously set up a grant for short-line railroads. But Democratic lawmakers Wednesday waived deadline rules, allowing Johannessen to gut the bill and insert the exemption.

Johannessen provided the lone Republican vote for the budget in June.

The Redding lawmaker said the increased bond requirement was unfair to small-car hobbyists, such as himself, who collect and purchase limited numbers of vehicles each year. Critics called the last-minute move a special-interest exemption.

The Senate voted 24-5 in favor of the measure.

– A long-discussed bill that could spark housing construction went to Davis on Saturday.

SB 800 by Senate leader John Burton, D-San Francisco, and Wesson, D-Los Angeles, enables builders to fix construction defects before homeowners can sue.

The bill is intended to encourage more insurers to cover builders of apartments in California.

The Senate passed the measure on a 33-0 vote.

– Drivers who have carried insurance for at least three years would receive a policy discount under a bill sent to the governor, but consumer groups say that it would unfairly burden the poor.

State Insurance Commissioner Harry Low plans to implement rules that would let insurers consider a driver’s insurance past – dubbed “persistence” – only when customers renew their policy with the same company.

SB 689 would expand that policy by enabling drivers to receive a persistence discount from any insurer, not just their current one. Proponents say the measure would increase competition and lower prices for most drivers.

But Doug Heller, of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, said it would create another barrier to low-income drivers seeking insurance for the first time. He said companies would offset discounts to long-term policyholders by charging higher rates for drivers who have never had coverage.

SB 689 passed the Senate 30-0.

– AB 669, allowing creation of a 311 non-emergency telephone system, was sent to the governor. The Assembly voted 68-7 to concur in amendments.

The measure, by Assemblyman Robert Hertzberg, D-Sherman Oaks, would permit local governments to operate such a phone system in hopes of reducing 911 calls for non-emergency police, fire and other services.

Hertzberg said 20 percent to 80 percent of calls received by 911 systems are not emergencies.

– AB 2240, giving courts greater latitude to overturn paternity judgments, was sent to the governor. The Assembly voted 46-16 to concur in amendments.

The bill sets conditions under which a man who did not initially challenge an allegation of paternity, but later discovered he did not father the child, could challenge a judge’s paternity order and sue the biological father for financial relief.

Regardless of DNA results, however, a court would not be obligated to overturn a paternity judgment if doing so would not be in a child’s best interest.

– AB 2747, proposing tax credits designed to encourage Hollywood studios to film in California, died Saturday in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The measure would have given studios a tax credit of up to 15 percent for wages paid to film a motion picture, excluding salaries over $200,000.

– AB 634, regarding mandatory kindergarten attendance, was sent to the governor. The Assembly concurred in amendments, 41-20.

The legislation would prohibit children between the ages of 5 and 6 from withdrawing from kindergarten if they have attended classes for at least 30 days during the school year.

Currently, children are not compelled to attend classes until the first grade. Many parents send their kindergarten-age children to school occasionally – not daily – which can confuse them and disrupt the pace of education, AB 634’s supporters say.


The Bee’s Kevin Yamamura can be reached at (916) 326-5542 or [email protected]

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