Session Wasn’t Complete Waste

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History will remember California’s 2008 legislative session as a wretched failure, largely because it ended Sunday without a budget. Lawmakers failed in their most fundamental duties – to bring spending in line with revenues and prevent the state from running out of money.

Given their sorry performance – the budget is now 67 days late – it’s tempting to simply ignore any legislation that lawmakers passed this session that is headed toward the governor’s desk. But there are bills deserving of the governor’s signature. Here are some of the most notable:

Smart planning: Senate Bill 375 would streamline the state’s environmental laws and realign transportation funding to discourage sprawl and reward development that facilitates transit.

Environmentalists, builders, cities and other groups are all supportive. This bill by Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, is one of the biggest achievements of the session.

Fast food: Senate Bill 1420 would make California the first state to require chain restaurants to post calorie counts on their menu boards. Such information helps consumers make more-healthful choices and prompts fast-food restaurants to lighten up their offerings. Kudos to Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, for getting this bill through.

Cleaner ports: Senate Bill 974 would reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality by setting a fee of $30 per container on cargo going through the state’s major ports. The bill’s author, Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, argues persuasively that state bond money shouldn’t be the main source of funding for goods-movement infrastructure. Businesses profiting from the ports should pay their fair share.

College opportunity: SB 1301 would open college financial aid to some of the estimated 25,000 children of illegal immigrants who graduate each year from California high schools. The bill, pushed by Sen. Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, would make these students eligible for scholarships and grants from community colleges and public universities.

Green chemistry: Assembly Bill 1879 would give the state broad authority to oversee, and even ban, dangerous chemicals in consumer products. This bill by Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles, furthers the "green chemistry" initiative the governor has launched. Environmentalists and chemical industry lobbyists have come behind this bill as a compromise.

Fire zone sanity: Assembly Bill 2447 would restrict building of new homes in tinderbox canyons and other high-risk fire zones. Under this bill by Assemblyman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento, counties and cities could approve new development in such areas only if it met strict fire-safety standards.

Mortgage reform: Assembly Bill 1830 would cap prepayment penalties, ban negative-amortization loans and take other steps to prevent future mortgage crises. Assemblyman Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, has fought the mortgage industry over this bill. Among other things, it would prevent lenders from steering buyers to riskier, more-expensive loans.

Pedestrian safety: Assembly Bill 1358 would require cities and counties to accommodate all users – including bicyclists, pedestrians and transit passengers – when building new streets and highways. This "complete streets" bill by Assemblyman Mark Leno of San Francisco would encourage the building of more sidewalks and bike lanes statewide. It dovetails with the governor’s efforts to fight obesity and reduce greenhouse pollution.

Health insurance: Assembly Bill 1945 would make it harder for health insurance companies to rescind coverage for policyholders. This bill, by Hector De La Torre, D-South Gate, was a response to reports of insurance companies retroactively canceling coverage after people became ill and began drawing benefits.

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