Wilson Approves Cut in College Fees, Tax Break on Saving for Tuition

From Associated Press

Gov. Pete Wilson signed a slew of education-related bills Friday, including a state college fee cut and a tax break for parents saving for college.

Also signed into law were bills more than doubling the fine for running a red light to $270 and giving counties more money to pay for trial courts.

The fee bill by Assemblywoman Denise Ducheny (D-San Diego) will cut fees at all state colleges beginning next fall. The cuts will be 5% for the University of California and California State University and $1 a credit for community colleges.

UC fees will drop by $190 to $3,609 for the year. CSU fees will go down $79 to $1,505. Next fall, community college fees will be $12 a unit. The bill also freezes fees at those levels for the 1999-2000 school year.

College fees rose 103% at CSU, 134% at UC and 290% at community colleges during the recession in the early 1990s, but have been frozen for three years.

"It is great to know students will see a direct benefit from this legislation," said Ducheny, adding that it was only the second fee cut in the history of public higher education in California.

"We are finally making amends for the outrageous fee hikes of the early '90s," said Lt. Gov. Gray Davis, a backer of the bill.

"One of my top priorities is ensuring that California's world-class higher education system continues to be both affordable and accessible," Wilson said.

The tax break bill by Assemblyman Ted Lempert (D-San Carlos) sets up the Golden State Scholarshare Trust. It allows California parents to take advantage of federal tax law changes that defer income taxes on the interest generated by contributions to a state-sponsored college savings plan. Taxes become due when the student withdraws the funds to go to college.

"This bill provides another option for parents to plan for their children's educational futures while enjoying the security of knowing that their investment is safe," Wilson said.

Also signed was a special education funding reform bill by Assemblywoman Susan Davis (D-San Diego). It attempts to equalize funding for special education and calls for a study on the distribution across the state of high-cost handicapped students and a comparison of public school with private school placement.

Another bill, by Sen. Herschel Rosenthal (D-Los Angeles) eliminates the use of excused absences by school districts to calculate their "average daily attendance," which determines funding.

Wilson said no district would lose funding from the change, but would no longer have to spend staff time to collect and file excuses and maintain records for three years. The bill allows schools to use that staff time instead to prevent truancy. It takes effect next fall.

The stoplight bill by Assemblyman Kevin Shelley (D-San Francisco) will, beginning Jan. 1, increase the base fine for running a red light from $104 to $270. Half the increase will stay with the local government to increase enforcement.

"Red light runners need to know that irresponsible behavior has a cost attached to it. And it's a high one," Shelley said. He said 288 people were killed and more than 33,000 injured in 1995 in California by people running red lights or stop signs.

Beginning next July, counties will get an additional $288 million in state funding for courts per year under three bills signed by the governor.

Since 1988, the state has been paying about 40% of court costs, with counties paying the rest. The bills, all by Assemblywoman Martha Escutia (D-Bell), will let the state take over full court funding.

The bills also transfer $62 million from fines and penalties to cities, establish task forces to study ways to consolidate trial courts, and give court employees the legal right to collectively bargain over noneconomic issues.

Wilson also signed a bill by Assemblyman Joe Baca (D-Rialto) that will create 40 Superior and Municipal court judgeships. The Judicial Council will decide which counties get the new judges, based on caseloads.

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