Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday signed a bill to sharply restrict the mercury content in vaccines for pregnant women and babies, handing a victory to parent activists across the country who have blamed mercury for a surge in autism and other neurological disorders in children.
The bill by Assemblywoman Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) will prevent expectant mothers and children younger than 3 from getting immunizations with more than trace levels of thimerosal -- a preservative used in some vaccines that is about half ethyl mercury -- a compound known to damage the nervous system. The restriction will take effect in July 2006.
Vaccine makers and many public health officials say that there is no cause for alarm and that there is no credible evidence of harm to children from the small amounts of mercury in vaccines.
Still, manufacturers in the last few years have voluntarily eliminated thimerosal or reduced it to trace levels with one exception: the flu vaccine made by Aventis Pasteur Inc. The sole supplier of flu inoculations for children under 2 years old, it was the only vaccine manufacturer to openly oppose Pavley’s bill.
Aventis released a statement saying that it was disappointed that the bill has become law and concerned that it could undermine public confidence and deter people from getting flu shots for their children.
In a signing message, Schwarzenegger noted that although the best available evidence finds no link between thimerosal and autism, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the American Academy of Pediatrics in 1999 recommended the removal of thimerosal from childhood vaccines.
“I believe that an abundance of caution merits the acceleration of the process already underway to remove thimerosal from the last few vaccines that contain it, as intended by AB 2943,” Schwarzenegger wrote.
Pavley said: “Any time we can reduce public exposure to mercury or any other neurotoxin and there is an alternative readily available, we should be promoting the alternative.”
Rick Rollens, a board member of the Autism Society of America and the father of an autistic child who lives in the Sacramento suburb of Granite Bay, said the new law “has sent a strong message that vaccines that contain mercury have no place in the veins of California’s pregnant women and young children.”
Schwarzenegger also signed Wednesday:
* A bill making it illegal to intentionally install software known as spyware that can collect and transmit data when a computer user visits websites or makes online purchases. Some such surreptitious software can collect passwords and account numbers stored on a computer’s hard drive.
Several privacy proponents had urged the governor to veto the bill (SB 1436) by Sen. Kevin Murray (D-Culver City), saying its definition of what qualified as spyware was so restrictive that it would incidentally legitimize many types of malicious software.
* A bill that imposes a $1 fee on new life insurance policies to raise money to bolster the state’s investigations and prosecutions of fraud. The bill (AB 2316) by Assemblywoman Wilma Chan (D-Alameda) directs half the money to the state Department of Insurance and the other half to local district attorneys.
Also, the governor vetoed AB 2657 by Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles), which would have provided loans to help make metal-plating companies improve their equipment and cut air pollution.
The loans would have been available first to firms regulated by the South Coast Air Quality Management District. According to an analysis of the bill, the Los Angeles Basin is home to the largest concentration of metal finishers in the nation.
In his veto, Schwarzenegger wrote that “it is unfair to provide a publicly funded loan program to a specific industry that is located in one region of the state.”
In vetoing a bill about teaching personal finance skills in schools -- AB 2435 by Assemblywoman Patricia Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa) -- Schwarzenegger chastised lawmakers.
“Learning to balance a checkbook, saving money for a rainy day, and understanding the dangers of too much credit card debt are all vital skills for kids to learn in order to become responsible adults,” wrote Schwarzenegger, who pushed through $15 billion in state borrowing this year.
“While teaching financial responsibility is important for our children, I would welcome future legislation that requires all members of the state Legislature to complete a course in financial management and responsibility.... One of the best lessons we can offer to our children is to practice sound financial principles, and I believe the Legislature should begin teaching kids by example.”
Times staff writer Jordan Rau contributed to this report.