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New laws promote gay history, illegal immigrants
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SACRAMENTO  (AP) — Laws that promote the historical contributions of gays and lesbians and help illegal immigrant college students gain financial aid will take effect with the new year in California, even as opponents seek to overturn the legislation at the ballot box.
They are among hundreds of new laws aimed at issues as diverse as protecting sharks, farm workers and teenagers. Other measures prohibit people from carrying unloaded handguns in public and let children as young as 12 get vaccinated against the leading cause of cervical cancer without their parents' consent.
On Jan. 1, California becomes the first state to require public schools to teach the contributions of gays and lesbians. The law adds people with disabilities to the list of social and ethnic groups whose "roles and contributions" must be included in California and U.S. history lessons. It bans instructional materials judged to reflect adversely on gays or particular religions.
"We're talking about teaching historical facts at a grade-appropriate level. That's all it is," said Equality California spokeswoman Rebekah Orr, who represents California's largest gay-rights group.
Opponents are not giving up on overturning SB48, despite failing in October to gather enough signatures to force a referendum to repeal the law.
They have filed five potential ballot initiatives that would repeal the requirement outright or let parents pull their children from classes when gay and lesbian contributions are being taught. The opponents have until spring to gather enough signatures to put the referendums before voters in November.
"That law undermines the integrity of objective history instruction for students, and even more importantly undermines the rights of parents in deciding what is appropriate for their child regarding controversial moral and lifestyle issues," argued Brad Dacus, a spokesman for the Pacific Justice Institute, which is helping lead one of the repeal efforts.
State Sen. Mark Leno said his bill is even more important in light of recent publicity about lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender students being bullied, which has been blamed for some suicides of homosexual students.
"We are currently censuring the history and role and contribution of LGBT-Americans," said Leno, D-San Francisco. "It's no different than when the idea of black history or women's history was first proposed — radical concepts at the time."
Equally contentious is the California Dream Act, which is taking effect in two steps.
AB130 becomes law Jan. 1 and will let students who entered the country illegally receive private financial aid at California's public colleges. Opponents are challenging AB131, the second portion that allows illegal immigrants to apply for state-funded scholarships and financial aid at state universities. That provision takes effect Jan. 1, 2013.
Dream Act supporters, including Gov. Jerry Brown and the bills' author, Democratic Assemblyman Gil Cedillo of Los Angeles, say the laws show that California remains progressive while other states, including Arizona and Alabama, enacted punitive measures.
"A lot of us have grown up here. This is the only place that we know. It's home," said Irvis Orozco, 24, a senior studying international relations at the University of California, Davis. "We just want to contribute to the country by getting our education."
Orozco was brought to the country as an infant when his parents sneaked into the Central Valley from Mexico. At age 13, he joined them in the tomato fields surrounding their home in Woodland, 20 miles northeast of the state capital. He was still picking tomatoes in his second year in college to pay his way because he was not eligible to receive financial aid.
The new law will make scholarships available only if money remains available after legal residents have applied.
Orozco and other proponents say immigrants have paid for the aid with their taxes but have not had the benefits. He acknowledged he will have trouble getting a job because he is in the country illegally but said he hopes Congress will create a path to citizenship for students like himself.
Republican Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, who once led California's largest Minuteman group opposing illegal immigration, is leading the effort to rescind AB131. That requires collecting 505,000 signatures by Jan. 6 to put a referendum on the November ballot. He said the law creates "a massive new entitlement program."
"This is not about the poor immigrant kids who came here through no fault of their own," Donnelly of Hesperia, said of his repeal effort. "It's going to be fascinating if this goes on the ballot, because we haven't had something similar since Prop. 187."
Voters approved Proposition 187 in 1994, prohibiting the state from providing public services such as education and health care to illegal immigrants. Most of the initiative was later declared unconstitutional.
Among other laws taking effect Jan. 1:
— California will be the first state to make it illegal for anyone younger than 18 to use tanning beds, under SB746 by Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance. Before the law, using tanning beds was illegal for those 14 and under, but those ages 15-17 could use them with their parents' permission.
— Agriculture employers found to have violated union election rules will face tougher sanctions under a law authored by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. His SB126 lets the state Agricultural Labor Relations Board automatically certify farmworker unions as a penalty.
— California is joining Hawaii, Washington, Oregon and Guam in banning the sale, trade and possession of shark fins. Gov. Jerry Brown said he signed AB376, by Assemblyman Paul Fong, D-Cupertino, to protect the world's dwindling shark population, over objections that the fins are used in a soup considered a delicacy in some Asian cultures.
— It becomes illegal to carry an exposed and unloaded handgun in a public place under AB144. Violators could face up to a year in prison or a $1,000 fine. The bill by Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-La Canada Flintridge, prompted some gun-rights activists to carry their unloaded weapons in public to protest the legislation. A National Rifle Association attorney predicted some owners may now carry their rifles in public to make a political statement.
— Children as young as 12 can be vaccinated without their parents' consent against human papillomavirus, known as HPV, the leading cause of cervical cancer. AB499 by Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, pitted public health officials against parental-rights advocates.
— California becomes the first state to require businesses to report the risks of human trafficking and inhumane working conditions during the manufacture of the goods they supply. SB657, by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, applies to companies with $100 million in worldwide sales.
— Caffeinated beer products will be banned after several high-profile incidents in which college students drank too much of the beverages and had to be hospitalized. The drinks typically have a high alcohol content and come in large containers. California becomes the seventh state to outlaw the drinks under SB39 by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, although most manufacturers already changed their formulas to exclude caffeine.
— California becomes the first state to prohibit selling over-the-counter cold and cough medications containing dextromethorphan (DXM) to minors. SB514 by Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, requires clerks to check identification before selling the medications, which in high doses can cause hallucinations, seizures, loss of motor control, "out of body" sensations and liver failure.
— Children must be buckled into booster seats in vehicles until they turn 8 or grow to a height of 4-foot-9, under SB929 by Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa. That's two more years than under the previous law, which required the restraints until children turned 6 or reached 60 pounds.
— Drivers with older, unpaid traffic tickets will have a six-month window in which they will owe just half the amount of the original fine. Under SB857, a budget bill approved by lawmakers, those who have not paid fines that were due by Jan. 1, 2009, will be allowed to pay just half but must do so before June 30.
— Businesses that willfully misclassify employees as independent contractors could face penalties of $5,000 to $25,000, under SB459 by Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro. Labor unions that sought the bill say some employers misclassify workers who thus lose minimum wage and overtime protections, workers' compensation coverage, family leave and unemployment insurance. Business groups opposed the bill, saying the line between employee and contractor is ambiguous. They say the law could prevent small businesses from hiring outside consultants without employing them.
— Employers will be prohibited from using consumer credit reports when considering applicants for most jobs under AB22, by Assemblyman Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia. Credit checks still will be allowed for hiring managers, law enforcement, financial jobs and other positions in which the person would handle valuable items or information.
— Two laws are intended to improve the state's business climate. SB617, by Sens. Ron Calderon, D-Monterey Park, and Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, requires state agencies to evaluate new regulations if they have an estimated $50 million economic impact or more on businesses. AB29 by Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, creates the Governor's Office of Business and Economic Development.
— Local police will no longer be able to impound vehicles at sobriety checkpoints if the driver's only offense is not being licensed. The author of AB353, Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, said some cities have used checkpoints in poor areas to target unlicensed drivers.
— Developers of projects costing $100 million or more can speed up judicial review of environmental challenges. AB900, by Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, was a companion bill to SB292 by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, which is designed to aid construction of a downtown Los Angeles professional football stadium.
— Insurers must provide coverage for maternity care under a pair of bills. Previously, more than 200,000 women of childbearing age had health insurance plans that do not cover maternity care. SB222 by state Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, requires health insurance companies to provide maternity coverage through individual insurance plans. AB210 by Assemblyman Roger Hernandez, D-Baldwin Park, covers group health insurance policies.
— Jurors will be specifically prohibited from texting, tweeting and using smart phones to discuss or research cases under AB141. The bill by Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, D-Sylmar, adds to existing instructions warning jurors that they must consider only facts presented to them in court without doing their own research or communicating outside the jury room.
— It will be illegal to disrupt students as they enter or leave school under AB123. Assemblyman Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, sought the bill after an appeals court ruled that an anti-abortion group could display large photographs of aborted fetuses during a 2003 demonstration outside a California middle school.
— Testimony by a jailhouse informant will no longer be enough to convict a suspect under SB687. The bill by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, requires that prosecutors corroborate claims that a cellmate confessed to a crime.