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Backers See No Harm in Safety Bills

Times Staff Writer

Strap your kids into car booster seats until they’re 8 years old. Add a fence or another safety feature around your old pool if you remodel it. No riding in the trunk. No smoking with kids in the car.

In between negotiations over sweeping legislation that would retool Los Angeles schools and relieve prison overcrowding, California lawmakers are expanding safety rules in ways that would directly affect their constituents’ daily lives.

Such bills are a staple of legislative life in Sacramento, derided by some as part of an overly intrusive “nanny state” and praised by others as the cutting edge of consumer safety.

“Most parents want to do the right thing,” said Assemblywoman Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa), the sponsor of the booster seat bill, which won final passage Thursday and will be sent to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for approval or veto. “It’s up to us to help them to understand what the right thing is.”

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Assemblyman Ray Haynes (R-Murrieta) is so aggrieved by such bills that in past years he has given out the “Nosey Awards” to the lawmaker whose measures he says are most intrusive.

The award is a Groucho Marx eyebrows and glasses mounted on an oak plaque. Previous years’ winners include authors of legislation regulating the practice of hair threading and outlawing the cropping of dog ears.

“You can’t assume everyone is an idiot,” said Haynes. “Most people can figure things out for themselves. We kind of lose sight of what we’re really about: stopping bad people from doing bad things, not stopping good people from doing stupid things.”

Haynes, who will leave office this year because of term limits, said he would not be giving out any Noseys this year because he was too busy looking for a job.

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Evans’ bill, AB 2108, was prompted by several children’s safety advocacy groups that said 53 6- and 7-year-olds died in California car crashes between 1999 and 2002, and 933 were injured.

It extends by two years the current law that requires booster seats for children up to 6 years old or 60 pounds. The bill also refines existing California law to say that toddlers under 1 year old must ride facing backward even if they weigh more than 20 pounds.

Another bill awaiting a final vote in the state Senate would make it illegal to smoke in a car when a child is inside. Violators could be fined up to $100.

The bill, AB 379, was written by Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood), who proudly displays his 2005 Nosey Award in his office.

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Car safety bills are not the province of Democrats. One of the more conservative members of the Assembly, Dennis Mountjoy (R-Monrovia), has sponsored a bill to stop people, particularly teenagers, from driving with someone in the trunk.

Mountjoy says the practice, known as “trunking,” is employed by teenagers trying to get around a law prohibiting novice drivers from carrying teenage passengers without an adult in the car. The state police say nine people have died and 140 have been injured since 2000.

Violators would get a point added to their license records and fined from $370 for first-time offenders to $900 for three-time scofflaws. AB 1850 won final approval Monday and is awaiting review by the governor.

Assemblyman Gene Mullin (D-San Mateo) has his eye on another major source of child deaths: the swimming pool. His bill would require people remodeling older pools to install a safety measure, such as a fence or pool cover. That rule already applies to pools built since 1998. Remodeled pools also must have anti-entrapment grates over suction drains. AB 2977 is awaiting a final vote in the Senate.

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Such measures were far from the only things on lawmakers’ minds Thursday as they ended the session’s penultimate workweek.

A bill to make condoms available to prisoners won final passage in the Senate. Koretz’s measure, AB 1677, which would allow any nonprofit or public healthcare agency to distribute condoms to limit the spread of HIV and AIDS in prisons, now heads to the governor’s desk.

Also Thursday, the Senate deferred a vote on Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s bid for greater control of the Los Angeles Unified School District because some Democrats wanted more time to study the bill, said Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland).

He predicted that AB 1381, by Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles), would pass the Senate on Monday.

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One lawmaker with concerns, Sen. Debra Bowen (D-Marina del Rey), said she just got a copy of the newly amended bill, which would allow the Los Angeles mayor to take direct control of three low-performing L.A. Unified high schools.

“It’s not a crime to want to read the bill and the analysis and work through the issues that have been raised on both sides,” she said.

School board President Marlene Canter, who has been in Sacramento the last couple days lobbying lawmakers against the bill, said, “I’m not surprised” that the Senate shut down.

“I just wish that they’d come to their senses and say there has to be a better way to go about doing this.”

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If the bill passes the Senate, it faces votes in the Assembly Education Committee and the full Assembly before it can reach the governor’s desk. Schwarzenegger has said he will sign the bill.

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Times staff writer Nancy Vogel contributed to this report.


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