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California bills on guns, police video and pension funds await governor's action

California bills on guns, police video and pension funds await governor's action
Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), left, discusses legislation with Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), center, and Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla (D-Concord). (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

State lawmakers on Wednesday sent the governor bills that would ban concealed guns from schools and college campuses in California, make it a felony for police officers to alter or delete video evidence, and require the state's public pension funds to divest their holdings in thermal coal.

The gun legislation passed the state Senate as the latest in a series of gun controls approved by the Legislature — and in many cases signed into law — in recent years.

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It would prohibit those with concealed-weapons permits from bringing the firearms onto college and K-12 campuses without permission from school officials.

"Many would be surprised, as I was, to learn that California law currently allows concealed firearms on any campus, even on an elementary school campus," said the bill's author, Sen. Lois Wolk (D-Davis). She said her proposal would be "helping our school officials control firearms on their campuses."

The California College and University Police Chiefs Assn. requested the measure. The National Rifle Assn. opposed it, arguing in a letter to lawmakers that it "raises significant concerns under the Second Amendment by further infringing the rights of law-abiding — and properly licensed and trained individuals — to possess a firearm for self-defense."

Also sent to the governor was a bill that would bar the California Public Employees' Retirement System and the California State Teachers' Retirement System from making new investments in coal companies. It also would require the pension funds to liquidate their investments in coal by July 1, 2017.

"California is a world leader in the fight against climate change. Certainly we can find more sustainable and profitable investments for our public pension funds that better suit our values," said Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Alameda). He presented the bill, by Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), on the Assembly floor.

Assemblyman James Gallagher (R-Nicolaus) opposed the proposal, arguing that limiting investment options could harm the funds' fiscal health.

"We need to make sure we're making the best decisions that would provide for the overall sustainability of these pension funds," Gallagher said. "Let's not attempt to micromanage."

The Senate also gave final legislative approval to a measure filed in response to a proliferation of citizen-made videotapes of police abuse incidents. The bill would make it a felony for a police officer to destroy or alter video evidence.

"The public has a right to record the police, and we need to send a clear message that any law enforcement official who tries to destroy this evidence will be punished," Jeff Thoma, president of the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, said in support of the measure.

Lawmakers also approved several bills that still require the other house to approve amendments.

They include one aimed at getting police agencies throughout California to adopt effective controls when officers wear body cameras to record interactions with the public.

Local agencies would have to follow "best practices" in establishing procedures, such as the assignment of an officer's supervisor to download recorded data in cases of a shooting or other use of force.

"This is a good bill, a first step in the process of achieving uniformity," said Sen. Ben Hueso (D-San Diego).

Another bill would prohibit people in California from buying or selling elephant ivory and rhinoceros horns or possessing them with intent to sell.

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It would close a loophole that allows transactions involving products purchased before 1977. The U.S. and California both ban ivory imports.

Opponents said the proposed law was unneeded because most ivory purchases are made in China and other Asian countries and it would become difficult for those who legally purchased ivory in the U.S. before 1977 to sell or keep it.

"This is nothing more than feel-good legislation that is going to make criminals out of law-abiding citizens in California," said Sen. Jeff Stone (R-Murrieta). Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) countered: "The slaughter of elephants is so severe we may not have them a generation from now."

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