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East Bay lawmakers feel stung by governor's vetoes

By Steven Harmon
Contra Costa Times
October 16, 2009

SACRAMENTO — Forbidding teens from buying electronic cigarettes until the Food and Drug Administration could enact new regulations seemed to be the reasonable thing to do. In fact, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's staff suggested that state Sen. Ellen Corbett include adults in the ban.

So, the San Leandro Democrat was stunned to learn that Schwarzenegger vetoed her bill, SB400, in part because he supports the right for adults to buy these new battery-powered, nicotine-dispensing, flavored smoking devices. Corbett got the idea of a ban when she found that the devices are being sold at kiosks in malls and appear to be marketed to youths.

"We added amendments that expanded it from kids to everybody," Corbett said. "And then he vetoed it even though we did what he asked. All we tried to do was stop the process until the FDA had the ability to regulate it. Now, I'm worried about kids getting hooked on nicotine."

The veto was one of 240 by Schwarzenegger, in keeping with his history of robust rejections. Over six years, Schwarzenegger has vetoed an average of 279 bills per year, second only to George Deukmejian's average of 287, according to the Senate Committee on Local Government.

A governor's veto is a blow to the egos of a bill's sponsors and a rebuke to the two legislative chambers that sent it to his desk. And it stops an idea in its tracks, though a rejected bill has a way of lingering — sometimes for years — until it finds a sympathetic ear.

Assemblyman Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch, won't get another shot at bills of his that were vetoed. He's term-limited in 2010, and will have a difficult time resurrecting vetoed legislation. One such measure, AB476, would have authorized an evaluation of the state's Standardized Testing and Reporting, or STAR, program to determine whether alternative testing models should be considered.

In his veto message, the governor said the work called for in the bill is already being done by other entities and that it would circumvent the authority of the state Department of Education.

"That didn't make sense," Torlakson said. "It's very disappointing."

The problem, Torlakson said, is that time is running short for evaluating the testing program before it comes up for reauthorization in 2011.

The STAR test assesses students once a year in math, language, science and history. The test results give an idea of how schools are progressing but don't help students improve in their daily studies, Torlakson said.

"The state spends a half-billion dollars a year doing testing, which drives a lot of what teachers are expected to do," Torlakson said. "My bill said let's examine how effective the tests have been. Are there reforms that could make the test more meaningful, help students learn more effectively?"

Assemblyman Alberto Torrico, D-Newark, said he wasn't surprised by Schwarzenegger's veto of two of his bills, given the apparent tensions between the two. Torrico has called Schwarzenegger out publicly for what he has said are his "bullying" tactics in dealing with the Legislature.

One of Torrico's bills, AB1049, would have added the state Safely Surrendered Baby Fund to the state income tax return form's voluntary contributions section. Schwarzenegger had previously signed nine similar such checkoff bills, but said simply, in his veto message, "I have reviewed the merits of this bill ... I do not believe it is necessary to sign this bill at this time."

Another Torrico bill, AB1270, would have made it easier for victims to receive compensation from the Victim's Compensation and Government Claims Board in a timely manner.

"It really shows how mean-spirited this governor is, that he couldn't put our differences aside," Torrico said.

Corbett said she believes the hospital lobby influenced Schwarzenegger on her bill, SB196, that would have lengthened the notice from 60 days to 90 days given to the state and required public hearings before a hospital emergency room can be shut down. Her bill was a response to the shutdown plans for San Leandro Hospital.

Schwarzenegger said he was sympathetic to the problem of hospital closures putting additional strains on emergency rooms, but "I cannot support a bill that would mandate a hospital to maintain specific services when those services are not a requirement of licensure. Forcing hospitals to keep an emergency room open, especially when they are closing because of financial circumstances, will only jeopardize patient care due to the rapid attrition of medical and nursing staff, as well as suppliers."

"Nobody likes to have their bill vetoed," Corbett said, adding that she was particularly disappointed with this veto.

"I can't think of any valid reason why it's OK to not allow for more notice," she said. "If you know you're going to close in 60 days, you know you'll close in 90 days."

The extra days could be used to find another medical group to run the hospital, or to allow voters to place an initiative on the ballot to fund the operations.

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