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• BILL INCREASES FINES FOR TEXTING WHILE DRIVING: SACRAMENTO (AP) — California drivers would face tougher consequences for chatting and texting on their cellphones while driving under a bill that passed the California Assembly.

Lawmakers voted 66-10 Thursday to approve AB1646 by Democratic Assemblyman Jim Frazier of Oakley.

The bill more than doubles the base fees for a first violation, from $20 to $50, and boosts the fine to $100 for subsequent violations. With additional penalties, the actual fines can be more than triple those amounts.

Under Frazier’s bill, a second ticket would also come with a one-point penalty on the driver’s license, which could lead to suspensions.

The bill also requires the Department of Motor Vehicles to test would-be drivers for their knowledge of the dangers of distracted driving on driver’s license exams.


• STUDENT WINE AND BEER TASTING BILL ADVANCES: SACRAMENTO (AP) — It would be legal for underage college students aspiring to be winemakers and brewers to taste what they produce under a bill approved by the state Assembly.

AB1989 heads to the Senate after passing Thursday on a 70-2 vote.

Democratic Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro of Arcata says some viticulture students cannot graduate in four years because certain classes are restricted to students 21 and older.

His bill allows eight programs, including at UC Davis and Fresno State, to remove age restrictions. The bill applies only to students majoring in winemaking and brewery science and not to students taking elective classes.

Despite legislative records labeling the bill as “Underage Drinkers,” Chesbro cautions that it only permits tasting and spitting and doesn’t encourage partying in class.


• BILL RESTRAINS SCHOOLS TRACKING SOCIAL MEDIA POSTS: SACRAMENTO (AP) — The state Assembly has unanimously passed a bill restricting how school districts monitor and track students on social media.

Democratic Assemblyman Mike Gatto of Los Angeles says limits should be set as more districts monitor cyberbullying. In his district, Glendale Unified School District hired a firm last fall to monitor Facebook and Twitter posts after two students committed suicide.

Gatto’s bill, AB1442, mandates school districts to hold public hearings before starting such programs. It requires schools to only collect publicly visible social media posts and requires them to delete data after students graduate or leave the district.

The bill comes as the Legislature tackles online privacy concerns amid increasing data breaches. It heads to the Senate after passing Thursday on a 78-0 vote.


• MEDICAL MALPRACTICE MEASURE TO BE ON NOV. 4 BALLOT: SACRAMENTO (AP) — An initiative seeking an increase in the amount of money that victims can recover in medical negligence lawsuits has qualified for the November ballot.

California Secretary of State Debra Bowen certified Thursday that the measure had received enough signatures to be placed on the Nov. 4 general election ballot.

The measure would require drug and alcohol testing for doctors as well as increase the cap on pain and suffering damages that medical malpractice plaintiffs can receive, which is currently set at $250,000. The cap would be raised to about $1.1 million to account for inflation.

An increase in the cap has been sought by medical negligence victims’ advocates for decades.


• SENATE OKS BILL TO DIVERSIFY COVERED CALIFORNIA: SACRAMENTO (AP) — The state Senate has approved a bill to diversify the board overseeing Covered California, the state’s health insurance exchange.

SB972 by Democratic Sen. Norma Torres of Pomona passed 33-0 Thursday and moves to the Assembly.

The bill initially sought to expand the five-member board by two seats but was met with resistance by other senators. The amended version adds several categories to the qualifications for appointment. They include health product marketing, information technology, information systems management and enrollment assistance.

Torres says the exchange could have avoided some consumer complaints about under-enrollment of Latinos and blacks had board members ensured it did a better job reaching out to those populations.

Covered California also was criticized for problems with its website and long wait times for consumers calling its service centers.