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Senate OKs referendum on Iraq war

Times Staff Writer

California could become the first state to formally call for immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq under a ballot proposal the state Senate approved Wednesday.

The Senate vote came the day after lawmakers weighed in on another Middle East country by passing legislation that would require the state’s public pension funds to shed certain investments in Iran.

That measure, which could affect about $20 billion invested in 10 companies, is meant to protest Iran’s reputed pursuit of nuclear weapons and support of terrorism.

One controversial bill introduced this year, which would require dog and cat owners to spay or neuter their pets, cleared the Assembly without a vote to spare.

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People who hadn’t spayed or neutered their dogs and cats by four months, when the animals reached sexual maturity, would face a $500 fine under the bill by Assemblyman Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys). He said dealing with unwanted animals costs state and local governments $300 million a year, but he also made a humanitarian appeal.

“We have nearly a million dogs and cats a year going into shelters, and over 50% of those, nearly 500,000, are euthanized every year,” said Levine.

During the debate, one lawmaker held up photos of his three dogs and another put a bag of kitty litter on Levine’s desk. The bill, AB 1634, passed 41-38.

Lawmakers also approved measures to protect consumers from lethal bacteria in leafy vegetables; create a state-run health insurance system; make prison sentences more consistent, and keep track of bullets.

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A 50-minute debate over the Iraq bill broke along party lines and was one of the most passionate moments Wednesday.

“That war is costing California dearly,” said Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland), who sponsored the measure and noted that 340 soldiers from the state had died so far.

The resolution is an advisory measure that voters would consider on the presidential primary ballot next February. The proposal is expected to be approved by the Assembly, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has not said publicly whether he will sign it.

Democrats depicted Perata’s nonbinding measure -- a rarity in California’s century of direct democracy -- as a way to prod President Bush to give up on the increasingly unpopular war. They decried the conflict as a waste of money that could have been better spent on domestic concerns.

Republicans called the idea a “cynical” ploy that would deflate military spirits while increasing Democratic turnout in an election when Perata and other legislative leaders hope to have another initiative on the ballot that would ease California’s term limit rules.

GOP lawmakers also said a nonbinding referendum on the war would be redundant, because last November’s elections, in which Democrats gained control of both houses of Congress, made clear the country’s dissatisfaction with the war.

“You would think an election on this subject had never taken place,” said Sen. Roy Ashburn (R-Bakersfield). “Is there any one among us who doubts that uppermost on the minds of the voters who cast ballots last November was the issue of the conduct of the war in Iraq?”

Ashburn said California gained a powerful voice in Congress when the new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives elevated San Francisco’s Nancy Pelosi to speaker. He chided Pelosi and other Democrats for failing to alter the direction of the war, and said a ballot resolution on the war would further “raise false expectations” that the war would be immediately brought to a close.

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The measure, SB 924, passed 23 to 11, with six senators absent or abstaining.

The ballot question would read: “Shall President George W. Bush, in support of the men and women serving in the armed forces of the United States, end the United States occupation of Iraq and immediately begin the safe and orderly withdrawal of United States forces; and, further, shall President George W. Bush and the Congress provide the necessary diplomatic and nonmilitary assistance to promote peace and stability in Iraq and the Middle East?”

The bill on divestment from Iran, AB 221, passed the Assembly unanimously Tuesday. It would require the boards that oversee the pension funds of state workers and teachers to withdraw investments in companies with business operations in the defense, nuclear and petroleum industries in Iran.

The California Public Employees’ Retirement System estimates that it has $2 billion invested in 10 companies meeting the bill’s criteria. The teachers fund had not prepared a detailed analysis.

These bills also were approved by one house and sent to the other for review:

* A trio of proposals designed to protect consumers from deadly bacteria in California-grown spinach and lettuce passed the state Senate. The bills by Sen. Dean Florez (D-Shafter) were prompted by two E. coli outbreaks last fall that killed at least three people and sickened hundreds of others.

SB 200 would give state health inspectors authority to inspect farms and recall tainted produce. SB 201 would make mandatory “best practices” rules that are now voluntary for growers. SB 202 would establish a faster system for authorities to trace contaminated produce to processors and handlers. The first two bills passed 23 to 14; the third, 21 to 17.

* Private health insurers would be replaced by a state-run “single-payer” that would use payroll and income taxes to provide coverage for all Californians under a bill approved by the Senate, 22 to 4. SB 840 by Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) was vetoed by Schwarzenegger last year. The governor has said that he will reject it again if it reaches his desk.

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* A new parent would have 30 days rather than three to surrender an unwanted newborn without being charged with abandonment under AB 81 by Alberto Torrico (D-Newark), which the Assembly approved 56 to 10. Current law allows parents to abandon babies at a designated place, such as a hospital or fire station, without criminal liability within 72 hours of birth.

* Sellers of ammunition would have to register with the state, keep ammunition in locked cabinets or behind counters, and gather the thumbprint, identity and date of birth of purchasers under a bill the Assembly approved 41 to 31. Republicans called AB 362 by Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles) an unnecessary burden for retailers and gun owners.

* An independent commission to examine prison sentences in California and set up a system to make them more equitable would be established by similar bills in both chambers. SB 110 by Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) passed the Senate, 24 to 14. AB 160 by Assemblywoman Sally Lieber (D-Mountain View) passed the Assembly, 43 to 29.

* Container cargo exported through the ports of Long Beach, Los Angeles and Oakland would be subject to fees to be used for congestion relief and transportation projects under SB 974 by Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach). Goods manufacturers and retailers would pay $60 per typical 40-foot container. The Senate passed the bill 22 to 11. Schwarzenegger vetoed last year’s version of the measure; he has not signaled what he would do this year.

* The state would set standards on lightbulb efficiency and mercury and lead content under a measure by Assemblyman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael). The bill also would require manufacturers to set up a system for recycling lightbulbs. Major bulb manufacturers have said that they expect to be able to meet the anticipated standards. The Assembly approved AB 1109 by a vote of 44 to 23.

* The cost of installing solar water heaters, estimated between $4,000 and $6,000, would be subsidized by a bill that would assess a monthly surcharge on natural gas consumers. AB 1470 by Huffman would raise about $25 million a year. It passed the Assembly, 41 to 31.

* Cities and counties would be liable for flood damage where they unreasonably approve new development on floodplains under a bill the Assembly approved 41 to 27. Under current law, state taxpayers are on the hook for damages when state-maintained levees fail, even though local governments -- not the state -- decide whether to allow home construction near those levees. AB 70 by Assemblyman Dave Jones (D-Sacramento) passed despite Republican opposition.

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jordan.rau@latimes.com

Times staff writers Nancy Vogel and Marla Cone contributed to this report.


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