Gov. Brown signs bills on birth control, inmate rights

Bills to cover contraception for women and prohibit coerced sterilization of inmates are signed into law

Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday signed into law bills requiring most health plans to cover a variety of contraceptive methods, banning forced or coerced sterilizations of inmates in California prisons and giving felons behind bars easier access to DNA tests that could prove their innocence.

The birth control bill covers contraceptive drugs, devices and products for women, as well as related counseling, follow-up services and voluntary sterilization procedures.

Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) said her bill, which runs counter to the limits some other states are placing on access to birth control, ensures that Californians can obtain contraception without restrictions, delays or out-of-pocket costs.

She noted that federal law already requires employers who provide health insurance to include contraception, subject to "reasonable medical management techniques." Mitchell said that those terms were not defined and that her bill eliminates a lack of clarity.

"When a healthcare professional advises a woman of the optimal treatment for her medical or family planning needs, no health plan should stand between her and that treatment, nor make it harder for her to get," Mitchell said in a statement about her bill, SB 1053.

The bill limiting inmate sterilizations comes four months after a state audit determined that at least 39 women in California prisons underwent sterilization in which the inmate's informed consent was in question.

"Pressuring a vulnerable population into making permanent reproductive choices without informed consent is unacceptable, and violates our most basic human rights," Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), author of the measure SB 1135, said in a statement Thursday.

The measure bars sterilizations in prisons for the purposes of birth control unless the inmate's life is in danger or the procedure is needed to treat a medical condition and alternatives are not available.

It also requires a second independent physician to consult with the patient about the effects of the procedure before it is undertaken.

Brown also signed legislation allowing imprisoned felons to get DNA tests of evidence if they show that such tests are relevant to their cases, replacing the current requirement of a demonstration that it would prove their innocence.

The measure, SB 980 by Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), also mandates that law enforcement agencies provide information about the existence of biological evidence.

The new law "promises to help correct the unspeakable offense of a wrongful conviction of an innocent person," Lieu in a statement.

Another bill that Brown approved will require rail carriers to disclose more information about crude oil and other hazardous materials being transported through the state.

Under the measure by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento), carriers will need to notify the state of the weekly movements of oil shipments, including the volume and track routes.

The bill, AB 380, is aimed at preventing incidents like the high-profile accidents in recent years in Quebec and Lynchburg, Va., where derailments of trains carrying crude oil caused huge explosions and extensive property damage.

"State and local emergency response agencies face new challenges when dealing with this amount of hyper-flammable crude oil," Dickinson said in a statement. "Now our emergency response agencies will have the information they need."

The governor also signed a bill requiring more transparency about water use in oil and gas drilling. Substantial amounts of water are used in some oil-extraction methods, such as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in which water mixed with sand and chemicals is injected into rock to tap oil and gas reserves.

Environmental groups, which supported the measure, say California's drought underscores the need for more information on how much water is being used for oil and gas activities. SB 1281, by Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), will require oil and gas companies to report their water usage to the state.

In addition, Brown signed a measure to prohibit the state from displaying or selling merchandise marked with the Confederate flag. AB 2444, by Assemblyman Isadore Hall III (D-Compton), does not apply to images of the flag in books, digital media or state museums if displayed for educational purposes.

In all, Brown said he signed 46 bills and vetoed 10 on Thursday.

Those he rejected included one that would have limited the ability of the state to seize assets from the estates of Medi-Cal recipients. Currently, the state can recover a broad array of costs and assets — including homes — from Medi-Cal recipients 55 and older after they die.

The measure, by Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), would have prohibited recoveries from estates of surviving spouses and provided a variety of ways for beneficiaries to find out how much of their estate is recoverable. However, state officials said SB 1124 would have cost the state $15 million annually.

"Allowing more estate protection for the next generation may be a reasonable policy goal," Brown wrote in his veto message. "The cost of this change, however, needs to be considered alongside other worthwhile policy changes in the budget next year."
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