Gov. Brown signs broad sweep of bills into law

Gov. Jerry Brown signed measures Friday designed to boost water conservation in the face of California's lingering drought and to build on healthcare benefits and other protection for people in the country illegally.

Acting on a slate of water bills, Brown approved a proposal meant to ensure that residents who replace lawns with drought-friendly alternatives don't run afoul of local regulations.

It prohibits cities and counties from enacting rules that ban the installation of artificial turf or drought-tolerant landscaping at residential properties.

"We are all working so hard to do our part to save water," said Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles), author of the measure. "This legislation prevents governments from interfering with their citizens' efforts to conserve."

Drought-friendly landscapes also will be coming to properties owned by state agencies. Brown approved a measure that requires state agencies to modernize irrigation systems on their properties and to install native plants that consume less water.

The governor also signed a bill mandating that urban water agencies assess their infrastructure for earthquake vulnerability.

On immigration, Brown cemented the state's extension of public healthcare for immigrant children who do not have legal status and are younger than 19. He signed a measure that implements the $40 million set aside for such health coverage in this year's budget.

The measure's author, Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), said the move will pave the way to offer similar benefits to adult immigrants in the country illegally.

"We can demonstrate that not only is there a need, but we can implement this successfully," Lara said. "It's a precursor for us to getting healthcare for all in the next year or so."

Brown also moved to protect immigrants in the country illegally from deportation if they are victims of certain crimes and cooperate with the police.

He signed a measure requiring law enforcement officials to certify in writing that an immigrant crime victim has been helpful in an investigation. The certifications are needed for an application for a "U-Visa" issued to prevent deportation of immigrant crime victims.

The governor also continued a taxpayer subsidy for the United Farm Workers' healthcare plan.

Brown and Democratic lawmakers have already supplied two years of funding; the measure signed by the governor will provide up to $3 million annually for an additional five years.

Union officials said they need the money to backstop their insurance plan, which falls short of standards set by President Obama's healthcare law.

The governor's signature also created new regulations for crisis pregnancy centers, which have been accused of providing inaccurate information to women.

Under that new law, such centers will be required to post notices that they are not licensed medical providers, and they'll be required to tell women that California has public programs for affordable contraception and abortions.

Schools will have to provide places for students to breast-feed or express milk under another bill signed by Brown.

The governor vetoed 20 bills Friday, including a package of six measures meant to boost transparency and oversight at the troubled California Public Utilities Commission, which has come under fire for appearing too cozy with the companies it regulates.

Brown said he supported legislators' aim, but technical issues made the proposed changes "unworkable."

He also nixed a measure that would have required the University of California system to give contracted service employees, such as custodians or food service workers, the same pay and benefits as direct UC employees.

The Times recently reported that the U.S. Department of Labor was investigating allegations that a UC Berkeley custodial contractor, Performance First Building Services, routinely underpaid its workers and denied them overtime.

In his veto message, which mentioned "the difficulty in balancing things we commonly value," Brown cautioned UC to "provide a transparent accounting of its contracts and clearly demonstrate how the interests of all its lower-paid workers are being protected."

Twitter: @melmason, @chrismegerian

Times staff writers Patrick McGreevy and Chris Kirkham contributed to this report.

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