Brown signs bill on youth defendants, vetoes probe of gas prices

Jerry Brown finished signing bills Sunday, with the lowest rejection rate of his current term.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown on Sunday approved safeguards for minors accused of crimes and vetoed a probe of spikes in gas prices, wrapping up action on a wide range of bills this year that will expand healthcare, help low-wage workers and protect the environment.

When the ink dried on about 900 proposals lawmakers had sent him, down from nearly 1,000 last year, the governor had accepted all but about 11% of them — the lowest rejection rate of his current term.

“This is the most generous Jerry that we have seen by far,” said Jaime Regalado, professor emeritus of political science at Cal State L.A. Brown approved almost all major bills from fellow Democrats, Regalado noted.


But the famously moderate governor was also a check on their most liberal tendencies, vetoing some ideas as too extreme and issuing warnings that blocked proposed tax hikes before they even reached his desk.

“He has struck me as the adult in the room,” said Larry Gerston, a political scientist at San Jose State. He kept the Democrats “from going to a point where some people would think they are abusing their two-thirds majority.”

With his centrist actions, Brown could help Democrats retain their supermajority in next year’s elections, especially those lawmakers who represent swing districts. And the governor’s middle-of-the-road inclinations were on display in many areas.

On the environment, he banned lead hunting bullets and placed restrictions on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in oil and gas drilling. The oil industry fought the fracking bill, while some environmentalists objected that it did not go far enough because it lacked a moratorium.

He signed measures aimed at improving the lot of low-income Californians, including a 25% raise in the minimum wage by 2016 and a requirement that domestic workers receive overtime pay, after requesting changes to address the concerns of business groups.

Brown also expanded access to abortion, permitting nurse practitioners and other non-physicians to perform the procedure. But he vetoed a bill that would have given Medi-Cal interpreters the right to join a public-employee union.

The governor signed 11 bills boosting rights and benefits for immigrants, the most that activists can recall for a single year. And he approved several gun-safety bills. But on a key measure that gun-control groups considered critical, he sided with the National Rifle Assn. and rejected it. The measure would have banned the manufacture, import and sale of semiautomatic rifles with detachable magazines and would have required those who already own such guns to register them.

Brown also took action to reduce penalties for some users of minor drugs. But he vetoed a proposal to allow prosecutors to charge possession of heroin and cocaine as misdemeanors rather than felonies — which law enforcement groups vigorously opposed.

On Sunday, the governor signed 18 bills and vetoed 18.

He OKd proposals aimed at protecting against false confessions by minors in homicide cases and giving some nonviolent felons the ability to have their records cleared.

Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) introduced SB 569, requiring that interrogations of underage suspects in homicide cases be videotaped.

“False confessions are a significant and sometimes only contributor to many wrongful convictions,” Lieu said.

The governor also granted some nonviolent felons, sentenced to county jail instead of state prison, the right to have their crime expunged from their records by a judge, just as misdemeanor violators can already do. AB 651 is by Assemblyman Steven Bradford (D-Gardena).

Another Bradford bill, AB 128, will now give Los Angeles International Airport police officers the same elevated authority as members of the LAPD.

Brown signed SB 54, by Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley), as well. It requires workers for contractors at refineries to be graduates of state-approved apprenticeship programs.

Current contract workers are mainly affiliated with the United Steel Workers and cannot gain access to apprenticeship training run by unions that belong to the California State Building Trades Council.

“Trained, well-paid workers are a solid investment for California,” Brown wrote in a signing message.

Brown vetoed SB 448, by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), which would have directed the California Energy Commission to analyze data and consult with other state and federal agencies to see whether high gasoline prices stem from market manipulation by oil companies, refiners and middlemen.

“This bill is unnecessary,” the governor wrote in his veto message. “The Energy Commission already has the authority to analyze and interpret changes in petroleum supply and market price.”

Overall this year, Brown exhibited far more caution than in his earlier years as governor, three decades ago. In 1982, he rejected just 30 bills — a record low for California governors of the last six decades — compared with the 96 he vetoed in 2013.

Times staff writers Marc Lifsher and Melanie Mason contributed to this report.