Breasts, Bars And Bans
A slew of new laws hit the books Jan. 1.
Thursday, January 8, 1998
If human cloning happens to be on your to-do list for 1998, you won''t be able to do it legally in the state of California thanks to a law that went into effect with the new year. The human cloning law is only one of 959 bills passed by the state legislature and signed into law during 1997. Among the new laws in effect as of Jan. 1, are statutes relating to breast feeding in public, parental permission for body piercing performed on minors, and the fine you will have to pay if you run a red light in the new year.
The ban on human cloning establishes stiff fines for illegal cloning activity: $1 million for a corporation, hospital, lab or research facility and $250,000, or twice the amount of financial gain from the illegal activity for individuals. The law also makes it illegal to sell or purchase an ovum, zygote, embryo or fetus for the purpose of cloning. The prohibition is only temporary, however, establishing a five-year moratorium and creating "a panel of experts to study the implications of human cloning and to advise the governor and Legislature of its findings," according to a governor''s office press release. "We must not hinder the bona fide work of researchers and scientists as they unlock important secrets of nature," the release quotes Wilson as saying, but that "we should fully understand the implications and effects of human cloning before we allow it to occur in California."
But such a wholesale ban could merely be giving in to rash fears, says Paul Berg, director of Stanford University''s Beckman Center for Molecular and Genetic Medicine. "One of the great concerns," says Berg, "is that the people who write the legislation don''t understand the concept of cloning," and may carelessly write legislation that would "prohibit meaningful research." Berg characterizes the state legislation as "a knee-jerk" reaction, adding, "If you go back over the history of advances in reproductive biology, at every stage when a radical new approach to reproduction [has been developed], people have recoiled in horror, but now [such practices] are widely accepted."
"There are undoubtedly instances where people with seriously ill children who will die without the perfect match for a bone marrow transplant [for instance], have created a new child for the purpose of being a donor," says Berg. "Is that any more horrible than what the legislature is trying to head off?"
A new breast feeding law, AB 157, makes it legal for a woman to breast feed her child in public. "There was previously no statute on the books," says Steve Tatum, Governor Wilson''s assistant press secretary, "but without a doubt now mothers have the legal right to breast feed in public." The bill, intended to encourage more mothers to breast feed their infants, also "sets forth legislative findings and declarations regarding the benefits of breast feeding, the fact few women continue to breast feed beyond eight weeks despite these benefits, and the need to encourage public acceptance of breast feeding," says a legislative summary.
"It''s really nice that mothers can meet the needs of their babies in public without wondering" whether or not they have the right to do so, says Ruth Gingerich, executive board member of the Childbirth Education League of the Monterey Peninsula, which provides parent counseling and information and referral services in the areas of childbirth education, childbirth choices and parenting. "Anything we can do to make it easier for moms [to breast feed their babies] is very good," says Gingerich, pointing to a recent recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics that babies be breast fed for the first 12 months.
If you are under 18 and want to have any body part other than your ear pierced in 1998, you''ll have to have your parents'' permission. Parental consent was already required for tattooing of minors.
Gold Coast Tattoo in Monterey and Marina already followed a policy of not performing body piercing on minors without parental permission, so they will not be effected by the law, says Jeremy Swan, a tattoo artist at the Monterey studio. Gold Coast owner Stephen Hendricks, who has been in the business since 1977, says he implemented the policy voluntarily because he felt it was "the responsible thing to do."
"I think it''s a good law," says 13-year-old King Middle School student Kira Santiago. Santiago doesn''t think the law is an unreasonable restriction on her freedom. "I think it''s good because a lot of kids out there, when they get their nose pierced or something, they look like freaks," she says.
If your list of New Year''s resolutions isn''t quite full enough yet, here''s a good one for you: Don''t run red lights. If you get caught, it will cost you twice as much in 1998 as in 1997.
"The statistics show that the highest single cause of collisions, next to speeding, is running red lights," says Sergeant Ed Smith of the Monterey Police Department. Drivers who run red lights "cause a lot of broadside collisions, which is the worst impact area that you can get-even worse than head on, because your airbags [often] won''t activate," he says.
Among the more infamous of new laws for ''98 is the hotly debated barroom smoking ban, intended to protect bar employees and patrons from the noxious effects of second-hand smoke.
But dangerous as second-hand smoke may be, not everyone is happy with the new law. "I think it''s extremely unfair," says Joe Puccinelli, a bartender at Alfredo''s Cantina on Pearl Street in Monterey. "I think the owner of the establishment should be able to make the decision" to allow smoking or not. A smoker himself, Puccinelli has been going outside to light up since the law took effect Jan. 1.
Reaction to the new law has been mixed says Puccinelli, who has tended bar for about six years. "I got a telephone call this morning from a group of people who were in last night and were extremely happy that there was no smoking inside the bar," he says, "but I''ve had it the other way too."
But the new law has been "kind of a non-event" at Blue Fin Billiards, says owner Bruce Brooks. Customers are "complying without complaints" he says. "A couple times we''ve had to remind people," he says, "but they just said ''Oops, I forgot'' and put it out."
Other tobacco-related legislation includes a law prohibiting "billboard advertising of tobacco products within 1,000 feet of schools and public playgrounds" and a resolution that "notes the deceptive use of the Joe Camel character to market tobacco products and cigarettes, particularly to young people" and states the Legislature''s "opposition to the marketing and promotion of tobacco products to minors" and its support for the Federal Trade Commission''s attempts to force R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company to "conduct 10 years of anti-smoking education for teenagers."
Most of the 959 new laws, however, fall into one of three categories: crime, education and taxes. Many of the new crime-related laws are specifically aimed at increasing criminal penalties. "The governor signed some of the toughest laws in the nation," says Tatum, "including the 10-20-life bill, where if a criminal uses a gun in the commission of a crime he or she automatically gets 10 years in prison. If they fire a gun in that crime they will get 20 years and if they hurt someone or kill someone, they will get 25 years to life."
"That''s a law that''s really going to hit people who use guns," says Monterey County Assistant District Attorney Klar Wennerholm. The new law, he says, will likely have a dramatic impact on criminal justice proceedings and prison population. "It will have more impact than the three-strikes law, at least here in Monterey County," he says. The new law prohibits probation, explains Wennerholm, and provides for obligatory jail time, limiting the discretionary authority of sentencing judges. This will have a major impact on plea bargaining, he says, "because you can''t plea-bargain those cases." As a result of the 10-20-life law, for example, "you''ll never see a disposition on a murder trial-they''ll all go to trial," says Wennerholm, "because when you look at the minimum and maximum sentences, you see there''s not a lot of leeway, not a lot to negotiate about."
The 10-20-life law also applies to attempted crimes. Wennerholm cites attempted robbery as an example. If a suspect attempts to rob a gas station but flees without doing so, the minimum sentence under the new law would be 11 years and four months if the suspect was in possession of a gun, even if the gun isn''t fired or even shown, he says. That''s 10 years more than it would have been in 1997. "It''s quite Draconian in some of its aspects," says Wennerholm, "but maybe that''s what is needed for people who use guns."
Another new law, AB 115, classifies all the offenses covered by the 10-20-life law, as well as "home invasion robbery," as violent felonies for purposes of sentencing, "to ensure that perpetrators serve at least 85 percent of their sentences." While ensuring jail time for felons sounds laudable, the law may be blurring an important distinction by deeming "violent felonies" many offenses that do not, in fact,include any actual violence.
Among a package of laws passed under the heading "juvenile justice and gangs," is a law designed to "remove the incentive for gang members to kill witnesses to gang crimes" by establishing what the governor''s office says will be "a new hearsay exception for sworn statements relating to gang crimes." As a result, such statements will be admissible as evidence should the witness die from "other than natural causes." Another law establishes a statewide witness protection program, primarily for witnesses in gang-related cases.
Wennerholm is doubtful of the efficacy of these new laws, however, pointing out that the hearsay exception is useless "to the person who''s dead." As to the law acting as a deterrent to taking out witnesses, "I don''t think they''re that sophisticated," he says, "I think they act on revenge."
Also among the new crime laws are a whole collection of laws relating to domestic violence. Among them is a law that allows judges "to set a [bail] amount necessary to protect the victim and victim''s family from further abuse," and a law designed to "deter and punish domestic violence cases witnessed by a minor.[by requiring] the court to consider that fact as a circumstance in aggravation" for sentencing purposes.
"I think what''s happening is that there are more advocates," says Barbara Davies, program director for the YWCA of Monterey County, which runs a safe house for victims of domestic violence, "[These] advocacy agencies are really getting the word out and helping to make changes in the law." Davies notes that 1996 saw a considerable number of new domestic violence laws as well.
As a result, says Davies, "a lot of police agencies are beginning to understand that domestic violence is not an ''issue''-it is a crime."
Other crime-related laws of note are a law prohibiting convicted rapists "from obtaining custody or having unsupervised visitation of a child who was conceived as a result of the rape;" a law that will require "every police officer.to complete an elder-abuse training course;" and a law making anyone convicted of a felony "that includes the use, possession or distribution of a controlled substance" ineligible for public assistance provided under the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKS) program, the program that replaced welfare (AFDC).
Tax relief is on the horizon for some in 1998 through a package of laws expected to result in tax savings of $1 billion for "middle-class" Californians. The tax changes include an increase in the dependent care credit of $150 by Jan. 1, 1999, an increase in tax cuts for Individual Retirement Accounts, and a capital gains exemption for home-sellers that applies to homes sold after May 7, 1997.
Parents also have some reason to celebrate the New Year. The legislature also passed a law requiring standardized tests for all California elementary school children. Formerly the state''s schools were permitted to choose between several tests, leaving parents with no consistent criteria for comparing school performance.
If one of your New Year''s resolutions happens to be to educate yourself about these and the other 945 or so laws not covered here, these two Web sites will help you fulfill that ambitious goal: www.leginfo.ca.gov or www.capitolalert.com.