SACRAMENTO WATCH : New Laws, Fresh Hope

For all the things that aren't done right in Sacramento, a new year at least brings a reminder that last year wasn't a total loss in the state capital. For all the budget crises, corruption probes and political bickering, some good laws still were passed.

Anytime useful legislation can survive in a year as monumentally bad for state government as 1991 was, there's reason to hope.

Probably the law that will have the most effect over the long run is the one launching the "healthy start" program. It will provide up to $20 million in grants to school districts and county offices of education.

Schools will refer students and their families to nearby social and health care services and will do the coordination. Hungry, ill or abused students cannot do their best. It's part of the sensible "preventive government" approach that spends money now to develop young potential, instead of waiting until disadvantaged children become troubled adults who are expensive burdens on society.

There are other good, possibly lifesaving, new laws:

--Criminal background checks are now required for tow-truck drivers under a 2-year pilot program in the Los Angeles area; motorists stranded on deserted roads at night are likely to be appreciative.

--Junior and senior high school students will be required to receive AIDS prevention instruction, if parental permission is granted.

--And although many motorcyclists are unhappy about it, safety helmets are the order of the day.

To life!

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