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Gov. Brown rejects drivers licenses to ease border crossings
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SAN DIEGO (AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed legislation Friday that would have positioned California to be the first state on the U.S. border with Mexico to issue driver’s licenses that can be used to prove citizenship when entering the country as he acted on dozens of legislative measures.

The bill, SB249, would have authorized California’s Department of Motor Vehicles to negotiate with the federal government to issue “enhanced” driver’s licenses similar to those issued in five U.S. states along the Canadian border.

“While I support the purpose of this bill to allow easier passage across certain borders within the Western Hemisphere, I believe there are other means, such as the U.S. Passport Card, that achieve the same goal without imposing new burdens on the Department of Motor Vehicles,” Brown said.

California would have become the first state on the 1,954-mile border with Mexico to issue enhanced licenses. Five U.S. states on the Canadian border — Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont and Washington — issue them for U.S. citizens, and several Canadian provinces issue them for Canadians.

Brown acted on dozens of measures Friday as he faced a Sunday midnight deadline to decide on bills lawmakers approved this year.

Legislation he signed will establish California’s first regulatory scheme for medical marijuana, nearly 20 years after state voters first legalized pot for medical use, setting up licensing and operating rules for pot growers, manufacturers of cannabis-infused products and retail weed stores.

Legislation backed by abortion rights groups will force crisis pregnancy centers that discourage women from getting abortions to provide information about abortions and other services, establishing what advocates say are the first such statewide rules in the nation.

But the Democratic governor rejected a series of reforms to the state’s top utility regulator, vetoing six bills that sought to boost transparency and accountability at the California Public Utilities Commission in the wake of revelations after a deadly gas pipeline explosion. The bills that unanimously passed the state Legislature sought to dilute the powers of the president, require more open meetings and add oversight.

Brown also rejected union-backed legislation that would have banned the University of California from outsourcing full-time jobs to companies that do not offer the same wages and benefits as comparable jobs in the university system.

The special driver’s licenses he rejected would have been equipped with radio-frequency identification chips that allow border inspectors to retrieve personal information on their computer screens. They are for land and sea travel to Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean only. They can’t be used for air travel.

Border states introduced the licenses during the last decade as the U.S. government sharply limited acceptable travel documents to passports and a few others, including trusted traveler cards for people who agree to extensive background checks and pay a fee. Previously, many U.S. citizens crossed by land with driver’s licenses alone.

The $22 licenses are a relatively affordable choice, compared with $135 for a passport and $55 for a passport card. Business groups including the California Chamber of Commerce and local governments along California’s border with Mexico embraced the licenses as a way to boost the cross-border economy after the 2001 terrorist strikes led to heightened security and longer delays.

California has six border crossings with Mexico, including San Diego’s San Ysidro, the nation’s busiest with about 50,000 motorists and 25,000 pedestrians daily from Tijuana. Supporters of the new licenses touted studies that found delays cost the San Diego-Tijuana regional economy billions of dollars a year, mostly from lost productivity and foregone trips.

The American Civil Liberties Union and privacy groups said the radio-frequency identification technology is vulnerable to identity theft.

Kevin Baker, legislative director for the ACLU of California, said he was prepared to drop opposition until the bill’s author, Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, scrapped a data-encryption requirement and an explicit ban on companies requiring workers get the licenses, undermining the principle that they be voluntary.

Tanya Duggan, a spokeswoman for Hueso, highlighted privacy protections that critics found insufficient, like providing protective sleeves that prevent hackers and thieves from reading a license and agreeing not to store personal information on the chip.

Washington, which became the first state in the country to issue enhanced licenses in January 2008, had 447,000 in circulation as of June. New York, which followed Washington by nine months, has about 800,000.