Gov. Gets Bill to Restrict Use of Phones by Drivers

Times Staff Writer

Bills that received final legislative approval and were sent to the governor Thursday included a measure to ban drivers from talking on cellphones unless they use a headset that frees their hands.

Lawmakers had introduced similar measures in each of the last five years to no avail, but Schwarzenegger recently expressed support, saying, “We must make sure that people don’t use phones, because it not only endangers them but it endangers everyone else out there.”

SB 1613 by Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) would make driving while holding a cellphone an infraction starting in 2008.

Other measures headed for the governor include:


Cable TV: A bill to open California’s pay television industry to competition from telephone companies. AB 2987, by Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles), would free phone companies to offer their services after getting a single, statewide permit. The legislation would shift regulation of pay TV services from cities and counties to the state, though local governments would continue to get 5% of cable revenue.

Ports: A bill to raise roughly $500 million a year from shippers at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. SB 927 by Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) would impose a $30 fee per shipping container and the money would be used to improve rail infrastructure at the ports, strengthen port security and clean up air pollution generated by trucks, ships and trains.

Nursing Homes: Legislation requiring the state Department of Health Services to enforce state standards at nursing homes. The bill, SB 1312 by Sen. Elaine Alquist (D-Santa Clara), was inspired by a Times article last year reporting that the department had all but stopped enforcing state laws at the homes, instead using looser federal standards. The bill would raise fines at hospitals that place patients in jeopardy.

Biomonitoring: A measure to begin testing for chemicals in the blood, urine, breast milk and other substances from volunteer Californians. SB 1379 by Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento) would create a statewide biomonitoring program to search for links between disease and environmental contaminants.

Bills defeated Thursday included a measure to restrict the interest that “payday loan” companies can charge military employees.

Military brass sought the bill, AB 1965 by Assemblyman Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), after a Defense Department report found that payday lenders outside military bases hamper military readiness. When soldiers and sailors take on too much debt, the military considers them a risk and may revoke their security clearance.

The bill would have, in effect, capped loan rates at 36%. It fell short of the votes needed in the Senate late Thursday in the face of opposition from the lending industry.