Gov. Jerry Brown signed a new law that will allow hundreds of thousands of young illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses and vetoed another that would have restricted sheriffs from helping federal authorities detain undocumented Californians for potential deportation.
His actions, announced Sunday as the deadline neared to finish work on nearly 1,000 bills sent to him by the Legislature this year, followed an intense week of protests, prayer vigils and lobbying by immigrant advocacy groups.
The governor also revived a tax break for Hollywood, allowed juvenile killers serving life in prison a chance for release and outlawed treatment intended to turn gay children straight. The laws take effect Jan. 1.
The immigration bills sparked the most controversy.
The driver’s license measure will make illegal immigrants eligible to drive legally in California if they qualify for a new federal work permit program. That Obama administration protocol allows illegal immigrants who came to the United States before they were 16, and who are now 30 or younger and meet certain other criteria, to obtain work permits.
“Gov. Brown believes the federal government should pursue comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship,” said Brown spokesman Gil Duran. “President Obama has recognized the unique status of these students, and making them eligible to apply for driver’s licenses is an obvious next step.”
Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), the measure’s author, had been crusading for such a law since a broader measure he pushed through the Legislature in 2003 prompted a voter backlash. The earlier bill was signed into law by former Gov. Gray Davis, who was ousted from office soon afterward. Before it took effect, lawmakers repealed it.
The assemblyman had wider support for the latest measure, AB 2189, however, with backing from some GOP lawmakers.
“I’m proud the governor chose public safety over the politics of the day,” Cedillo said.
The other closely watched immigration bill was known as the Trust Act. It would have prohibited local law enforcement officers from cooperating with federal authorities to detain suspected illegal immigrants, unless they are charged with a serious or violent felony.
Some in law enforcement campaigned hard against the measure, AB 1081 by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco). Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca said it conflicted with federal law and vowed to defy it.
The act is aimed at Secure Communities, a federal program that creates a pipeline from local jails to deportation. In participating jurisdictions, the fingerprints of every person arrested and booked into local jails are run through federal databases. Federal authorities flag suspected illegal immigrants, then request that police detain them for 48 hours, providing more time for a transfer to federal custody.
Brown wrote in his veto message that he supported the intent of the Trust Act but it was “fatally flawed,” as it would have protected illegal immigrants involved in such crimes as child abuse, drug trafficking and selling weapons. “I believe it’s unwise to interfere with a sheriff’s discretion to comply with a detainer issued for people with these kinds of troubling criminal records,” he said.
Reshma Shamasunder, executive director of the California Immigrant Policy Center, said in a statement that the governor’s veto “has doomed thousands of immigrants including domestic violence survivors, food vendors, and people who for minor offenses are separated from their loved ones and detained unjustly.”
Proponents of the act noted that fewer than a third of the roughly 80,000 people deported from California since the state joined the program in 2009 were convicted of serious felonies. Most of the rest committed misdemeanors, while others were guilty only of previous immigration violations.
Brown acted on dozens of other contentious proposals, among them the one addressing gay “conversion” treatment, which he condemned in his veto message.
“This bill bans non-scientific ‘therapies’ that have driven young people to depression and suicide,” Brown wrote. “These practices have no basis in science or medicine and they will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery.”
The measure was supported by gay rights groups including Equality California. Its president, Clarissa Filgioun, said the governor’s action reaffirmed that the therapy practices are “relics of prejudice and abuse.”
The bill, SB 1172 by Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), was opposed by Republican lawmakers as an intrusion by the state into a family decision. And the conservative Pacific Justice Institute vowed to file a lawsuit alleging that the measure violates constitutional protections such as therapists’ free-speech rights and patients’ rights to privately pursue medical help.
Christopher Rosik, president of the Assn. for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, called the new law an “unprecedented legislative intrusion.”
Brown’s decision to allow juvenile killers sentenced to life in prison to become eligible for early release after 25 years also came despite strong words from opponents.
The measure was championed by Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), a child psychologist who argued that minors lack good judgment and should be given a shot at a new life. He said that with the governor’s signature on the bill, SB 9, “California said we believe all kids, even those we had given up on in the past, are deserving of a second chance.”
The measure would apply to about 300 convicted murderers. They would have to show remorse and work toward rehabilitation before petitioning for a new sentence. The California District Attorneys Assn. fought the bill, saying in a letter to lawmakers that it is “an affront to justice and disrespectful of the victims of these crimes.”
Hollywood applauded the governor’s signature on a two-year extension of the state’s tax credit for films and television shows shot in California, providing up to $200 million in breaks.
Supporters said extending the tax breaks to July 1, 2017, was justified amid “runaway film production,” in which film companies are enticed to other states that offer their own tax breaks and other incentives.
“We commend the legislature and Gov. Brown for recognizing that the motion picture business is an integral part of the economic and cultural powerhouse that has been California during the last 100 years,” said a statement issued by a coalition of entertainment industry unions, including the Directors Guild of America and the Teamsters.
Times staff writers Richard Verrier and Cindy Chang in Los Angeles contributed to this report.