Months after statewide voter turnout hit a historic low of 25% in this year's primary election, Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday signed eight bills aimed at getting more Californians to participate in the political process.
He also signed dozens of other bills Friday — a hodgepodge that included new rights for gay and transgender Californians, a requirement that state prisons expand the availability of condoms to inmates and measures that promote the "farm to fork" movement to increase consumer access to fresh food.
The voting-related measures will allow absentee ballots mailed on election day to be counted as long as they arrive within three days, and will permit 16-year-olds to preregister to vote.
One bill prohibits disqualification of a voter on grounds that he or she signs the registration affidavit with a mark, cross or signature stamp.
"As we approach another election, these bills make it clear that California is committed to helping, not hindering, its citizens' ability to vote," said Evan Westrup, a spokesman for the governor.
The new mail ballot law takes effect Jan. 1. Currently, mail ballots must be received by election day. State Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) said 23,220 absentee ballots were delivered too late to be counted in the June primary.
In the 2012 election, 85% of late ballots were postmarked by election day and came in within three days, he said.
"The right to vote is one of our most important civil liberties," said Correa, author of SB 29. "This bill will help ensure that all Californians make their voice heard through the ballot box."
Correa's measure was opposed by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., which said it could lead to voter fraud.
The measure allowing youths to preregister, by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), is intended to prepare them to participate in elections when they turn 18. Jackson envisions teenagers preregistering by mail as part of high school civics classes or at the DMV when they get their driver's licenses.
"It's clear we must do more to get young people voting, and one way to do that is to give them sufficient time and ample opportunity to get ready to vote, " Jackson said in a statement, noting that young people have lower registration rates than other age groups.
Her measure cannot take effect until the state completes work on a new voter registration database in 2016. Thirteen other states have law similar to hers, SB 113.
Among the other legislation approved by Brown was a measure allowing transgender Californians to have the gender they identify with listed on their death certificates.
The law, AB 1577, is by Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), who argued that all official government documents of a transgender person should be consistent with that person's gender identity. To do otherwise would be disrespectful and stigmatizing, she said.
Transgender Californians already can change their birth certificates and driver's licenses.
The legislation to expand the availability of condoms in state prisons is by Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Alameda). It is intended to help stem the spread of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases in prisons.
AB 966 requires the prison agency to develop a five-year plan to offer condoms in all California prisons.
Brown also signed seven bills designed to foster the "farm to fork" movement in the state. One creates a California Farm to Fork Office, to promote access to food and increase agricultural products available to schools and underserved communities.
Assemblyman John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) introduced the bill, AB 2413. He said recently that California is home to 81,000 farms and ranches but has areas where getting fresh fruits and vegetables is difficult.
"Farmers are at work in every county of this state, yet nearly 1 million of our residents live in areas known as food deserts," Perez said in a radio address last month. People in those areas "suffer from higher rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer."
The governor also signed AB 2561, which makes it easier for people who live in condominiums and apartments to grow their own fruits and vegetables.
The bill, by Assemblyman Steve Bradford (D-Gardena), requires landlords for one- or two-unit rental properties to permit tenants to grow food for their own use in portable containers in private outdoor backyards, as long as the plants are maintained.
Other bills Brown approved Friday will:
• Require large airports to provide, behind the security screening, a room separate from restrooms where women can express breast milk. Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) introduced AB 1787.
• Prohibit state universities from requiring female graduate students to take leaves of absence for pregnancies and allow those who do take leaves to return in good standing. The bill is AB 2350 by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla (D-Concord).
• Require that assisted reproduction agreements with surrogates using donated embryos contain information on medical coverage for the surrogate and the newborn. Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) introduced AB 2344.
• Punish paroled sex offenders who failed to report for fitting with a GPS monitoring device or who willfully render the device inoperable, with a mandatory penalty of 180 days in incarceration. The bill, AB 2121, is by Assemblyman Adam Gray (D-Merced).