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California gives Milk his day as governor signs 478 bills

By Jim Sanders
Sacramento Bee
Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2009

From celebrating Harvey Milk to banning the sale of laughing gas to kids, California will change in hundreds of ways with legislation signed Sunday by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Schwarzenegger, citing progress in water negotiations, lifted a veto threat over much of this year's legislation and signed 478 of the 707 bills on his desk before Sunday's midnight deadline.

Never before has a governor signed fewer bills ? 632, counting measures acted upon earlier this year. Schwarzenegger also holds the three previous lowest totals, according to Peter Detwiler of the Senate Local Government Committee.

After vetoing similar legislation last year, Schwarzenegger approved Senate Bill 572, creating a yearly "day of special significance" honoring the birthday of Milk, a former San Francisco county supervisor and gay-rights pioneer.

Milk was the nation's first openly gay man elected to public office in a major city. His life was depicted last year in an Academy Award-winning movie, "Milk," and he was inducted posthumously into the California Hall of Fame.

Milk served less than one year on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors before he was fatally shot along with Mayor George Moscone by colleague Dan White inside San Francisco City Hall in November 1978.

"He is a role model to millions, and this legislation will help ensure his legacy lives on forever," said Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, a nonprofit group promoting same-sex rights.

Schools and government offices will remain open each year during Harvey Milk Day, May 22, which will not be a state holiday. Schools will be encouraged to conduct "suitable commemorative exercises."

Opponents contend that Milk had numerous character flaws and that his annual day of recognition is a step toward presenting children with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender "indoctrination" despite opposition from many parents.

"Harvey Milk Day teaches children as young as 5 years old to admire the life and values (of homosexuals) and the notorious homosexual activist Harvey Milk," said Randy Thomasson of

In explaining last year's veto of a bill honoring Milk, Schwarzenegger had said he should be honored in the local community where he worked. Aaron McLear, the governor's spokesman, noted Monday that Milk's Hall of Fame induction and movie biography occurred after that veto.

"Harvey Milk has become a symbol of the gay community in California, and the governor wanted to honor that community by signing that bill," McLear said.

Assemblyman Tom Torlakson's crackdown on nitrous oxide sales to children, Assembly Bill 1015, targets "laughing gas" that can be sniffed for a cheap high or used for legitimate purposes ranging from a dentistry sedative to a whipping agent in whipped-cream dispensers. Sales to minors can be charged as a misdemeanor.

Potentially one of the most significant revenue-producing measures is Assembly Bill 1383 to impose a new fee on hospitals that is designed to draw several billion dollars in matching federal funds. The measure includes no appropriation, however, so companion legislation is needed.

Schwarzenegger, continuing a multiyear trend, hammered legislation designated by the California Chamber of Commerce as "job killers." He vetoed six such bills Sunday, adding to the 47 of 51 that have died upon reaching his desk since 2004, according to chamber officials.

Other legislation vetoed Sunday by Schwarzenegger included Assembly Bill 241, which would have banned so-called "puppy mills" by prohibiting a business or individual that buys and sells animals from having more than 50 unsterilized dogs and cats.

Two health-related bills killed by the governor were Assembly Bill 98, intended to force health plans to cover maternity services, and Assembly Bill 911, which would have required hospitals to create and enact a response plan to reduce emergency-room overcrowding.

Schwarzenegger refused to extend until 2016 a program offering low-cost, bare-bones auto insurance to low-income drivers. In vetoing Assembly Bill 725, Schwarzenegger said he supports the concept but that participation is low and changes may be needed before the program expires in 2011.

Schwarzenegger also vetoed bills to bar the sale of electronic cigarettes, set statewide standards for tattoo and body piercing salons, prohibit businesses from requiring that patrons speak English, and restrict health insurance firms from rescinding policies after costly claims are filed.

Bills signed ranged from banning gender-based health insurance to allowing seatless bicycles.

They will ease "lowest bidder" requirements for a new 49ers football stadium in Santa Clara, impose restrictions on "talent services" that solicit would-be actors, and regulate vocational training colleges and other private postsecondary institutions.

New driving-related consumer protection laws include Senate Bill 95, requiring auto dealers to pay off outstanding liens before selling a used car; and Assembly Bill 647, designed to provide greater public access to a national database of title, theft and other vehicle information.

Other measures signed by Schwarzenegger include:

* Senate Bill 54, to recognize spousal rights of same-sex partners who wed outside California. Their unions are not deemed "marriages," however, if they occurred after passage of Proposition 8 last November.

* Assembly Bill 962, to require, beginning in 2011, that handgun ammunition vendors obtain thumbprints and other data from buyers.

* Assembly Bill 636, to impose new restrictions on charter buses operating without proper permits or driver training. The bill stemmed from a Colusa County crash that killed 11 passengers and injured dozens.

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