Gov. Jerry Brown had until Sunday to take action on 896 bills sent to him by state legislators. He vetoed slightly more than 10 percent of them, the lowest rejection rate of this term of office. Here is our analysis of some of his hits — and misses.
<b>Autonomy is good — but only for state?</b>
Last year, the state Supreme Court made clear that the state cannot require charter cities to comply with prevailing wage rules when it comes to awarding locally funded public works contracts. So the union-backed legislators came up with a backdoor punishment. SB 7 would withhold all state construction funds from any charter city that fails to comply with prevailing wage laws. It's punitive, divisive and most likely unconstitutional. But unless a challenge is successful, it's the law. Brown signed the bill on Sunday. All this at a time when the state is squawking because the federal government is pressuring California in a similar way concerning transportation funds. Santa Rosa and Petaluma, both charter cities, already comply with the state's prevailing wage laws without exemption. Nevertheless, the autonomy of charter cities deserves more respect than this.
<b>A bid for extra special treatment</b>
On the positive side, the governor vetoed AB 1373, which was heavily backed by public safety labor unions. They claim that families of retired workers who die of work-related illnesses aren't sufficiently compensated. Not so. As it is now, retired police officers and firefighters who die of illnesses such as cancer and heart disease within five years of retirement receive $250,000 or more in death benefits because it's assumed to be work related. This bill would have lifted the five-year limit, costing millions in additional retirement and health obligations for cities and counties. Brown vetoed a similar bill a year ago noting the case had not been made that families were being denied benefits they were rightfully due. Here's hoping the case is closed.
<b>Denying flexibility to prosecutors</b>
Mandatory sentences and inflexible laws are big factors in the crowding issues that put California's prisons under federal court supervision. Brown missed an opportunity to add some flexibility to the system when he vetoed SB 649, which would have given prosecutors the option of charging possession of a small amount of cocaine and other hard drugs as a misdemeanor instead of a felony. The bill would have left the decision in the hands of local prosecutors — the people in the best position to determine the appropriate charge. At least Brown promised to revisit the issue as part of a comprehensive review of state sentencing law.
<b>Getting the lead out</b>
To protect water fowl from lead poisoning, federal regulations have prohibited hunters from using lead shot since 1991. AB 711 makes California the first state to outlaw lead ammunition for any type of hunting. Lead poisoning is a primary threat to the survival of the California condor. Requiring non-lead ammunition is a small price for protecting a majestic species that has soared above California for at least 10,000 years. As Brown pointed out in his signing message, it's a danger to other wildlife, too: "This danger has been known for a long time."