SACRAMENTO — State lawmakers have advanced measures that would institute the country’s first ban on gay “conversion” therapy for minors, regulate the state’s booming medical marijuana industry and bar legislators from accepting spa treatments, golf outings, concert tickets and some other gifts from special interests.
Legislators also are seeking to make college more affordable, passing separate bills that would give students free access to popular textbooks online and establish a scholarship program for middle-class Californians whose families make less than $150,000 a year.
The bills were among the hundreds passed by the Senate or Assembly this week and sent to the other house.
The first-of-its-kind proposal to ban “conversion” treatment targets psychotherapy aimed at making gay people straight. State Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) said the therapy is based on “junk science” that has been discredited by many in the medical community.
“It’s not just that people are wasting their time and money on these therapies that don’t work,” Lieu said. “These therapies are dangerous.”
Psychiatric, family therapy and mental health advocates split on the bill, SB 1172. State Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) said some medical professionals were concerned that it is “overly broad and might prohibit their ability to engage in discussions about sexuality.”
With the federal government shutting down medical marijuana dispensaries and growers in California, the Assembly passed a measure that would create a state board to enact and enforce statewide regulations on growing, transporting and selling pot.
It would require all dispensaries to register with the state, and allow cities and counties to tax sales.
Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) and his Democratic colleagues pitched the measure to clarify gray legal areas that continue to plague the state’s medical marijuana program more than 15 years after voters approved it.
Republicans countered that five of the new state board’s nine members — two medical marijuana doctors, a patient advocate, a patient and a representative of unionized pot workers – would be biased toward legalization.
“Something smells when you stack the deck like that,” said Assemblyman Donald Wagner (R-Irvine), “and we know what that smell is.”
Ammiano said local governments would have the right to ban dispensaries, and pledged to work with critics on the composition of the proposed state board. The bill, AB 2312, squeaked out of the Assembly.
In the state Senate, members approved the measure to ban certain gifts from companies lobbying the state. It was proposed by state Sen. Sam Blakeslee (R-San Luis Obispo) because of concern that the Legislature is tainted when members accept Lakers box seats, Disneyland tickets and other treats from special interests.
“Every time an elected official receives one of these gifts, it erodes the public trust and undermines the Legislature’s ability to lead on the big issues facing our state,” Blakeslee said after the vote to approve SB 1426 and send it to the Assembly.
Legislative leaders in both chambers also moved to cut costs for college students.
State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) pushed a bill, SB 1052, to create a website where students could read textbooks from the 50 most popular classes in the state’s public university systems for free. Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) championed legislation, AB 1501, that would cut fees by two-thirds for middle-class public college students.
Funding for the Perez program is far from certain. A companion bill, AB 1500, that would change corporate tax formulas to generate an estimated $1 billion a year for the scholarships has yet to be voted on by the Assembly. It needs Republican support to pass, and a similar measure failed last year for lack of GOP votes.
Other legislation approved this week would:
• Expand worker rights under the state’s Family Rights Act, allowing employees to take unpaid leave to care for siblings, grandparents, grandchildren and domestic partners (AB 2039). Currently, the law defines “family members” as parents, spouses and children.
• Allow same-day voter registration on election days (AB 1436). Currently, voters must register at least 15 days before the next election.
• Require all athletic coaches, administrators and directors to report suspected cases of child abuse to law enforcement (AB 1435). The bill was spurred by the Penn State sex-abuse scandal, in which critics said university officials did too little to respond to allegations that a football coach molested boys for years on the college campus, as well as in other locations.
• Protect clergy members who refuse to perform gay marriages on the grounds that same-sex unions violate their faith (SB 1140).
• Allow county sheriffs to release terminally ill and medically incapacitated inmates from local jails before they serve their full sentences (SB 1462).