Peter Funt Peter Funt, 1/20/2015 [Archive]

California Lays Down the Laws

By Peter Funt

SAN FRANCISCO — With a legislature controlled by Democrats and a sometimes unpredictable chief executive whose critics still favor the "Governor Moonbeam" nickname he had decades ago, California is often the outlier in U.S. governance. But the rest of the nation should pay close attention to what Gov. Jerry Brown and his colleagues are up to.

Over 900 new laws are taking effect here during 2015 — some seemingly frivolous, such as making it easier for folks to bring their dogs to restaurants; others practical and long overdue, like requiring cell phones to have kill switches to render them useless if stolen.

Perhaps the boldest initiative is the new law allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain California drivers licenses. Not surprisingly, there have been long lines at DMV offices for the program that could bring as many as 1.4 million people out of the shadows, while making the roads safer for all motorists. Another new law allows those residing here illegally to obtain state-funded student loans.

California's new laws respond to almost every hot button on the national agenda. Some of the specific actions solve only slivers of the problems yet represent a start — and a wake-up call for the nation.

Gun control, for example, seems to defy sweeping changes on the national scene but can be addressed in smaller ways at the state level. Among California's new laws is one that gives families the right to seek a judge's help in preventing their troubled and dangerous relatives from owning weapons. Another requires toy guns to be brightly colored so as not to be confused with real firearms.

On the environment, one new measure requires greater disclosure by oil and gas companies regarding their fracking operations. Another law requires landlords to allow apartment and condo residents to grow fruits and vegetables in containers.

In the area of juvenile justice, records of young offenders will be automatically sealed if all court-directed orders are followed. Also, kids who skip school can no longer be incarcerated as a penalty for failing to obey a judge's order to attend class.

Many new California laws protect and expand basic rights. One mandates a minimum of three days paid sick leave per year for all workers. Another makes it easier for those in prison to obtain DNA evidence for legal challenges. Same-sex couples are now allowed to identify themselves on birth certificates as "father," "mother" or simply "parent."

Not all residents, of course, support every new law. Among the blunders, I believe, is a law that will ban all single-use plastic bags in supermarkets beginning this summer. While it is true that these bags can contribute to litter and pollution, they also help consumers when repurposed wisely, such as for kitchen garbage. Besides, reusing paper and cloth bags is unsanitary. Opponents of the law are seeking to delay it while placing a referendum on the November 2016 ballot to overturn the measure.

Overall, most of California's new laws make eminent sense. One bars public officials from using campaign funds to pay fines for illegal use of campaign funds. Another prohibits owners of pro sports teams from deducting league fines from their taxes.

And it goes on: It's now legal to use digital money, such as Bitcoin, for business transactions in California. State-operated stores are barred from displaying or selling copies of the Confederate flag. And, the red-legged frog, featured in Mark Twain's "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," is, under a new law, California's official state amphibian.

There would be more had Gov. Brown not vetoed 143 other proposed laws for 2015.

Legislators in other states take note. Overwhelming national problems can be chipped down to size at the state level by following California's lead. However, you'll probably want to come up with your own state amphibian.

——-

Peter Funt is a writer and speaker. His book, "Cautiously Optimistic," is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com. © 2014 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate.

This column has been edited by the author. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author

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