Bill on financial aid for undocumented college students advances in California Legislature
Reporting from Sacramento -- State lawmakers Wednesday advanced measures that would allow undocumented university students to apply for financial aid, would help police monitor use of social networking websites by sex offenders and would end the fingerprinting of food stamp recipients.
Legislators also moved on bids to preventBell-style financial scandals, pension “spiking” and disruptive picketing at military funerals.
The bills were among more than 200 passed by the Senate or Assembly and sent to the other house.
The state aid that undocumented students could become eligible for would include Cal-Grants, institutional aid and fee waivers at publicly funded colleges. Then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed measures that would have provided the same privileges.
Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles) said his proposal, which passed the lower house, would help “children brought here through no choice of their own, who embrace our values and learn the language.”
Republicans voted en masse against the measure, AB 131, saying it would create an incentive for illegal immigration.
Over in the Senate, members voted to require that registered sex offenders disclose to law enforcement their online names, email addresses and social networking accounts to help reduce Internet-related crime.
“It does give sex offenders reason to think before engaging in predatory practices on the Internet,” said Sen. Sharon Runner (R-Lancaster), author of the legislation, SB 57.
Lawmakers also moved to eliminate a fingerprinting requirement for food stamp recipients. The practice was put in place to prevent fraud, but supporters of a repeal described it as too expensive and unneeded because of other existing protections.
Democrats cited a state audit that estimated the cost of fingerprinting for next year alone at $17 million, which the lawmakers deemed excessive. Most Republicans voted no, reasoning that striking the fingerprinting requirement would be an invitation to fraud. But the measure, AB 6, passed the Assembly.
“Why would we continue wasting money and keeping people from food?” asked Assemblyman Roger Dickinson (R-Sacramento).
Fraud of another kind is the target of legislation that would give the state controller more power to delve into the financial records of California cities. Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) introduced the proposal in response to the scandal inBell.
The state controller now is limited to sending auditors into local agencies when the annual financial reports they file show evidence that state money is misspent. Pavley wants to give the controller broad power to examine the financial records of cities and other local agencies without relying on the reports. Her bill, which moved out of the Senate, is SB 449.
Senators also approved a bid to stop pension spiking and double-dipping by public employees who retire from one government job only to immediately start another — and receive money from two state sources simultaneously.
The bill was introduced by state Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) amid reports that state and local employees, including administrators in Bell, had their pay boosted substantially in hopes of increasing their pension benefits.
Under Simitian’s proposal, SB 27, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System and the State Teachers’ Retirement System would be prevented from raising pension benefits based on end-of-career salary hikes. In addition, employees would be barred from returning to work for a government agency for 180 days after retiring from one.
Another bill advanced by the Senate would make it a misdemeanor to picket a funeral in a disruptive way unless protesters are at least 1,000 feet away and on public property. Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) said his legislation would preserve “the sanctity and dignity of funerals.”
The vote follows a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that a Kansas church has a constitutional right to picket military funerals as part of a campaign asserting that the deaths of U.S. soldiers are divine retribution for the nation’s tolerance of homosexuality. No lawmakers spoke out against Lieu’s measure, SB 888, in Wednesday’s session.
Another proposal would allow minors sentenced to life behind bars without parole to have their cases reviewed by the courts after 15 years. Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) said his bill recognizes that young people are more prone to impulsive acts and have a better chance of rehabilitation than older criminals.
“This bill is about giving kids a second chance,” Yee said.
Republican senators objected to the legislation, SB 9, saying serious criminals should serve their full sentences.
Other legislation approved Wednesday would:
-- Require online retailers such as Amazon.com to collect sales tax on purchases by California residents. Many giant e-retailers are exempt under current law because they do not have physical plants in the state.
-- Give counties the power to impose extra vehicle license fees to pay for local services, if two-thirds of the board of supervisors votes to put the matter on the ballot and a majority of voters approve.
-- Restrict public pensions to the federal cap of $195,000.
-- Require law enforcement agencies to annually report rape-kit data to the state Department of Justice. The measure is, in part, a response to Times reporting that showed Los Angeles County had more than 10,000 unopened rape kits in 2008.