Climate changed by cash and war

Whistle-blowing: Governor Gray Davis didn’t just veto Senate Bill 783, the toughest corporate accountability bill that passed out of the Legislature this year after a difficult battle SN&R profiled in the August 29 cover story “Attack on Big Business.”

No, instead, Governor Pay-to-Play waited until Monday’s midnight deadline to quietly veto a bill that, just a month and a half earlier, his spokesman Steve Maviglio said Davis was “inclined to sign” because “in this climate, I think that’s why you’re seeing the support for something like this.” That was before the threat of war with Iraq squeezed out corporate wrongdoing as the public’s biggest concern.

So, why would Davis wait until the very last minute to act on a bill that used new protections and the threat of fines to encourage corporate executives to report financial fraud in their companies? Given that the bill hadn’t changed, what had changed the climate?

Suspecting that Davis saw delaying a decision on this bill as a great way to rake in even more campaign contributions from corporations that wanted to see it vetoed, Bites decided to peruse Davis’ recent contribution reports at the Secretary of State’s Web site. More than a half-hour later, the long list of contributions was still loading onto Bites’ computer, despite a DSL connection to the Internet.

During the month between when the Legislature adjourned and Davis’ September 30 deadline for signing or vetoing bills, he raked in millions of dollars in campaign contributions from a wide variety of sources, from union locals to corporate CEOs. September made his previously brisk fund-raising pace look lackadaisical.

Apparently, the veto pen is mightier than just the hat in hand.

Nuclear veto: Other vetoes drew deserved scorn from environmentalists. Davis vetoed a pair of bills that would have helped keep toxic electronic waste and radioactive materials from decommissioned nuclear facilities out of our landfills.

SB 1970 was the Legislature’s response to a quiet Davis administration policy change earlier this year that allowed low-level radioactive waste to enter municipal landfills (“Radioactive Landfills,” SN&R, March 28).

Davis added insult to his injurious veto by attaching with it an executive order temporarily keeping radioactive waste out of most city landfills until the Department of Health can develop new regulations. Yet, all his order did was duplicate a Sacramento Superior Court order that halted nuke dumping until its impacts could be studied.

That study might answer environmentalists’ questions about how much radioactive waste already has been dumped in landfills, where it could be recycled into everything from to zippers to children’s braces.

So far, the state has refused requests by environmental and citizens’ groups to get that information, and a brief telephone press conference didn’t offer any more illumination. The closest thing to addressing the question was California Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Winston Hickox’s less-than-reassuring comment: “We don’t believe that much material has found its way into landfills.”

Needling the moralists: In signing 1,168 bills and vetoing 264, there were some bright spots. Davis signed a couple bills strengthening the rights of renters, a couple more bills to help farm workers reach labor contracts with intransigent growers, a four-pack of corporate reform bills, and a bill bringing physical education back into the schools.

But Bites can’t end on such a positive note, so let’s wrap up by renewing concerns that Sacramento County denies intravenous drug users access to clean needles, thereby exposing them and those around them to HIV and hepatitis (“Politicizing Junkies,” SN&R, July 12, 2001).

SB 1785 would have allowed pharmacists to sell needles, whereas now state law requires county boards of supervisors to declare a state of public-health emergency to legalize needle-exchange programs, something the moralistic Sacramento County Board of Supervisors has refused to do.

On Monday, Davis vetoed SB 1785 and said he didn’t want to interfere with local control, although in reality, it was just his usual kowtow to cops. Once again, the war on drugs has trumped public health and common sense.