Governor snuffs sunshine bill

Governor Schwarzenegger’s promise to bring more sunshine into the state may actually have been in reference to the weather and not a metaphor for a more open government, as everyone had thought. The governor vetoed the California Public Records Act (Assembly Bill 2927), which would have significantly simplified the process for citizens seeking public records from state agencies. The veto comes as a surprise considering the bill passed both the state Assembly and Senate without a single opposing vote.

In his veto statement, the governor said the attorney general would have been unduly burdened and placed in an inherent conflict of interest if the bill were passed.

The attorney general, however, never said his office would have been overly burdened by the bill, according to Terry Francke, counsel for Californians Aware, a government watchdog group and lead advocate for the bill.

“I think it’s safe to say the attorney general is a better judge of what will be unduly burdensome for his office and his staff than is the governor,” said Francke.

San Francisco Assemblyman Mark Leno, who introduced the bill, found no merit in the governor’s objections either.

“I am amazed. All I can say is that 120 legislators disagree with him. It speaks for itself,” said Leno.

—Luke Gianni

But gives new life to Laura’s Law

After years of neglect, counties have a second chance to help people with mental illness who are too sick to help themselves. Assembly Bill 2357, signed into law by the governor on September 29, extends “Laura’s Law” for seven more years.

Laura’s Law was named after Laura Wilcox, a 19-year-old college student who was gunned down by Scott Harlan Thorpe on January 10, 2001, in a Nevada City public mental-health clinic following years of unsuccessful tries by his family to get him to accept treatment. The law allows involuntary outpatient treatment for some individuals suffering from mental illness who otherwise refuse treatment.

“We’re just happy it’s signed,” said Heidi Sanborn, executive director of Sacramento NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. In New York, which enacted similar legislation in 1999, statistics showed that during assisted outpatient treatment, 74 percent fewer participants experienced homelessness, 77 percent fewer needed psychiatric hospitalization, and 83 percent were arrested. Opponents contend that assisted treatment amounts to coercion. But supporters say such treatment is more humane than allowing someone to refuse treatment because they are too ill to know they could benefit from help. To date, only one county out of 58 has used the law.

—Amy Yannello


Once upon a time, in the ‘70s, it was free. Not love, of course, but community college. “We believe it still should be,” Dennis Smith, president of the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges, told SN&R. Students at area community colleges have begun signing petitions for a new ballot initiative being circulated that promises to reduce student fees. Since 1984, when student fees were raised from free to $5 per unit, the price of community college has been ratcheted up steadily—and rose 136 percent between 2003 and 2005, to the present rate of $26. “We lost well over 100,000 students,” Smith said. “We lost more students, during that fee-increase period, than are enrolled in the entire UC system. That’s pretty startling.” California’s community colleges receive their funding from the same pool as K-12 schools—funding set by the parameters defined in Proposition 98. Since Prop. 98 calculates funding increases based only on inflation and increases in K-12 enrollment, community colleges, whose enrollment has been swelling as K-12 growth slackens, are directly threatened by funding shortfalls. The initiative would revise Prop. 98 to include community-college enrollment growth as a funding trigger, reduce fees to $15 a unit and put a cap on fee increases—without harming K-12 funding, Smith said. The petitions have to be gathered by January 2007, and, if qualified, the measure would appear on the next general-election ballot, in June 2008.

—Justin Allen