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Legislature OKs bill to let noncitizens serve on California juries

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SACRAMENTO — Legal immigrants who are not American citizens would be able to serve on juries in California under a bill that lawmakers sent to Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday.

The measure joins a proposal already on the governor's desk that would also allow legal permanent residents to serve as poll workers in California elections.

The bills are among a handful that would expand immigrant rights in California and have sparked rancorous debate in the Legislature.

Immigrants "are part of the fabric of our community," Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) said during the floor debate Thursday. "They benefit from the protections of our laws, so it is fair and just that they be asked to share in the obligation to do jury duty."

Republicans opposed the measure, which passed the Assembly with a bare majority. The Senate approved the bill Monday.

"I do think there is something called the jury of your peers," countered Assemblyman Rocky Chavez (R-Oceanside). "Peers are people who understand the nuances of America."

He noted that some immigrants come from countries where suspects are guilty until proven innocent and where people are taught to obey authority, not question it.

The bill, AB 1401, was authored by the Assembly Judiciary Committee, which seeks a way to expand the pool of eligible jurors in California.

Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles), who has said that non-citizens facing trial deserve a jury of their peers, supported the measure. He characterized it as the latest reform to a system that once barred non-whites and women from jury service.

"Really, it's about making sure that we uphold the standards of our justice system and make sure everybody is afforded a jury of their peers," Pérez said at a legislative hearing.

The other measure would reduce the time and expense that elections officials need to recruit poll workers and provide more bilingual services, according to Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Alameda), its author.

There are 3 million Californians who are eligible to vote but who are not proficient in English, Bonta said.

"We have a shortage of multilingual poll workers in California," he said. "There must be language access for voters at the polls, and that's what this bill provides."

Republicans said the bill could affect the integrity of the election process.

"Allowing people who are not actually eligible to vote to work in the polling places, I believe, would be a grave mistake," said Assemblyman Tom Donnelly (R-Twin Peaks). "The net effect is going to be to undermine the confidence that the citizens of California have in their election process."

Added Assemblywoman Diane Harkey (R-Dana Point): "Something doesn't smell right to me."

Assemblyman Luis Alejo (D-Watsonville) called such comments offensive. If non-citizens can serve in the military and die for this country, they ought to be able to work at the polls, he said.

The measure would allow up to five non-citizen workers at each polling place. It would continue the requirement that poll inspectors, who supervise and protect elections, be citizens.

The National Assn. of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center proposed AB 817.

"Limited English speaking voters struggle to cast their ballots when bilingual poll workers are unavailable to assist them," said Eugene Lee, voting rights project director at the legal center.

Lawmakers also sent Brown a bill Thursday that would bar law enforcement agencies from requiring a person to show proof of legal residency to obtain a crime report. Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) authored the measure, AB 1195.

Other bills that went to Brown would:

— Allow counties to increase vehicle registration fees from $1 to $2 to fund anti-theft programs (AB 767 by Assemblyman Marc Levine, a Democrat from San Rafael).

— Increase the penalty for those convicted of making false 911 calls, a prank called "swatting" because it aims to draw out heavily armed SWAT teams, often to the homes of celebrities (SB 333 by Sen. Ted Lieu, a Democrat from Torrance and a swatting victim). Those convicted would be responsible for the full cost of the police response, which could be $10,000 or more.

— Prohibit the sale of animals at swap meets and flea markets unless the city or county adopts minimum animal care and treatment standards to prevent inhumane treatment and consumer fraud (AB 339 by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, a Democrat from Sacramento).

patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

melanie.mason@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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