The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.
Today is a new year — and the beginning of some new laws courtesy of the county’s elected leaders.
Starting today, habitual drinking and driving will revoke a license for a decade, domestic violence victims needn’t fear eviction and malicious online impersonators face a misdemeanor conviction.
One of 19th District Assemblyman Jerry Hill’s 2010 bills is already in place. An urgency measure by Hill, D-San Mateo, providing tax relief for victims of the San Bruno fire took effect Oct. 19, allowing homeowners who already qualified for a $7,000 state property tax exemption to still receive the write-off even if their homes were destroyed in the Sept. 9 explosion and fire.
Other 2010 legislation by local legislators waited out the year until Saturday when they finish their journey from idea to proposal to state law.
Hill, the newest of the county’s legislators in Sacramento save newly elected Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, had a dozen bills signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The 12 represent 95 percent of Hill’s bills send to the governor’s desk which he said is a sign of bipartisan cooperation.
Hill tackled the problem of driving while intoxicated with a bill giving judges the power to suspect a driver’s license for 10 years after a third conviction for driving while intoxicated. The previous law limited the ban to three years and give authority to the Department of Motor Vehicles. If every judge acted on the revocation, more than 10,000 repeat offenders would vacate state roads each year, Hill estimated.
Hill increased from $1,000 to $1,500 the amount of money low-income Californians receive to replace smoggy vehicles and hiked the penalty to six months in jail or a $1,000 fine for pirate limousine drivers at San Francisco International Airport. These drivers illegally soliciting business on airport grounds would now face misdemeanors rather than infractions.
The San Mateo County Community College District can now serve alcohol at special events held on campus including the new dining commons. Booze is typically barred at public schools but Hill introduced legislation to allow it as a way to hold special events and generate more money for the district.
Another bill lets the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority use a one-time, nine-county option for improvements rather than requiring separate elections in each county while a different piece of legislation requires insurance companies to tell consumers about cancellation fees before they create or renew a policy.
A law sponsored by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine lets HIV-positive couples use advanced technology to have HIV-negative children biologically. Previously, state law barred the use of sperm from an HIV-positive male even with safeguards to prevent the risk of passing on the virus.
Brisbane-based biotechnology company Tercica inspired a bill that removed apomorphine from the California Uniform Controlled Substances Act which Hill said will help Parkinson’s disease patients. The federal government removed it from all drug schedules in 1976 but California remained the sole state that hadn’t reclassified it.
For state Sen. Leland Yee, 2010 marked a major legislative milestone — reaching 100 pieces of legislation authored by him and signed into law during his eight years of state office as both an assemblyman and senator.
The laws kicking in Jan. 1 authored by Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo, cover a wide span of interests.
“These new laws will help children, bring greater transparency to government, protect consumers, safeguard the environment and improve our economy,” Yee said.
A human trafficking bill allows the courts to seize any property, such as a home or automobile, used in its commission and adds civil penalties up to $25,000.
Another law modeled after a 2009 San Francisco ordinance prohibits unfair evictions of victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. The fear of losing their homes discourages women from reporting the crimes, according to Yee.
Yee, whose past legislation also took aim at student censorship, struck again with a law protecting student speech at charter schools and protecting employees from unfair retaliation for defending the right. The bill wasn’t Yee’s only efforts at schools. One bill protects faculty and workers at the University of California who report illegal or improper actions.
Another law allows the latest generation of low-emission vehicles to have access to the High Occupancy Vehicle lanes during commuting hours beginning in 2012.
Other Yee-authored laws will provide for the safe production of rice-based Asian noodles, require heritage schools to follow existing laws that apply to private schools and child-care centers, restricts alcohol sales at hotels that do not include bars or restaurants and restructures the Osteopathic Medical Board to promote professional standards.
One bill signed into law but killed when the governor signed a contingent bill — the requirement of children under age 18 to wear helmets while skiing and snowboarding — is expected to be reintroduced this month.
State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, also had a busy year crafting legislation that passed muster with the Legislature and the governor.
The Kindergarten Readiness Act, which changes to 5 the age that children start school, doesn’t begin until the fall of 2012. Simitian said the new year signals to districts and parents to begin planning for the switch.
California’s impersonation law, authored by Simitian, is updated for the Internet age, making it a misdemeanor to maliciously impersonate someone else online. The violations an include phony Facebook pages or e-mails made to look as though they came from another’s account.
“E-personation,” Simitian wrote in a prepared statement, “is the dark side of the social networking revolution. Facebook or MySpace pages, e-mails, texting and comments on web forums have been used to humiliate or torment people and even put them in danger. Victims have needed a law they can turn to.”
California’s impersonation law had not been updated since 1872.
Simitian also addressed privacy, specifically that of California motorists using the FasTrak device. The law controls the use of the personal information collected electronically and stored each time a motorist uses FasTrak. The law also lets motorists whose information is improperly released to recover damages and legal fees.
Abusing the review process of the California Environmental Quality Act also becomes harder because of a Simitian law streamlining the work to eliminate frivolous appeals that delay or defeat projects.
Former assemblyman Ira Ruskin, D-Redwood City, is no longer in office but he left a legacy of legislation that also takes effect Jan. 1. A bill signed in October helps state agencies better protect the ocean off of California’s coast by directing the Ocean Protection Council to work with state agencies that have ocean- and coastal-related jurisdictions.
Two other bills protect small businesses and disabled veteran-owned businesses from unfair competitive practices while another protects consumers by ensuring the continued accuracy of weighing and measuring devices. The law continues funding statewide uniform methodology for point-of-sale scanner inspection and continues registration fees assessed on weights and measures to partially reimburse county inspection costs.
Another Ruskin-authored law enforces inspection of agricultural shipments to prevent harmful pests from entering the state.
Michelle Durand can be reached by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.