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Bills die, advance during ‘suspense day’ doings in California Assembly

It was do-or-die day for over 820 bills languishing in the California Assembly on Thursday.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — "Suspense day" at the California Legislature on Thursday saw several key bills killed while others moved ahead on the path to passage and a spot on Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk. 

The Assembly Appropriations Committee entered its annual rapid-fire session where lawmakers quickly decide which bills live and die in a single hearing. In most such hearings, there are no debates and no public votes are taken. 

Both the Assembly and Senate ran through more than 820 bills Thursday in anticipation of the end of the legislative year on Aug. 31. Any bill passed through Appropriations from the suspense file must survive a full Assembly vote and another Senate vote before heading to Newsom.

The committee held Senate Bill 100, which sought to make law enforcement radio communications publicly available, effectively killing it for the time being.

Written by state Senator Josh Becker, a Democrat from San Mateo, SB 1000 sought to stop a trend of police departments encrypting radio communications, thereby blocking the media and public from monitoring police activities. Law enforcement agencies pointed to instructions from the state Department of Justice in 2020 to protect personally identifiable information, such as Social Security numbers and criminal records, from transmissions. 

Co-sponsored by the California News Publishers Association and the California Broadcasters Association, the bill sought to require all law enforcement to restore or preserve public access. Multiple news organizations and the First Amendment Coalition wrote editorials supporting it, including The Mercury News which said such a law is essential to ensure that law enforcement communications are open and subject to free press oversight.

Becker said on Twitter that the Legislature ​​”missed a chance to ensure police transparency and accountability.”

“Without this fix, many agencies will continue to encrypt vital radio communications, cutting off almost 90 years of public and press access to critical public safety info,” Becker wrote.  

In a phone interview, Becker said he intends to bring the bill back in the future given the support by many media organizations and the American Civil Liberties Union.

“Obviously there’s some misinformation on (implementation) costs, and we need to work harder on clarifying that,” Becker said. He also noted Palo Alto police have reversed course and allowed public access to radio traffic, which other cities might consider. His office has been asking state Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office to clarify their memo with California cities. 

Survivor DNA protections

Bills OK’d in committee include a measure to protect sexual assault survivors’ DNA held in law enforcement databases. 

Written by state Senator Scott Wiener, a Democrat from San Francisco, Senate Bill 1228 took shape after the discovery that the San Francisco Police Department crime lab was retaining DNA collected from sexual assault survivors in its database and searching that database to incriminate survivors in unrelated crimes. Then-District Attorney Chesa Boudin reported the practice this past February, after DNA from a survivor’s rape kit was used six years later to incriminate them in a property crime. The local database containing victims’ DNA includes samples from child victims

SB 1228 looks to protect survivors’ privacy by prohibiting DNA profiles collected from survivors from being used for any purpose other than to identify a perpetrator in an assault. Local law enforcement agencies will be prohibited from searching the DNA of a survivor, or those from among a survivor’s contacts, to incriminate them in unrelated crimes. 

Wiener, who saw 21 bills he wrote move to the Assembly floor Thursday, said “This bill is about making sure that survivors feel safe coming forward. Going to a hospital to provide a DNA sample is very invasive. This bill will restore their sense of safety.”

Gun regulation

The Appropriations Committee also advanced two bills on firearm regulation. 

Senate Bill 918 requires firearms licensors to ensure a person buying a gun is qualified and at least 21 years old, and removes the good character and good cause requirements. An applicant would not be qualified if they engaged in a threat or act of violence or used unlawful physical force against themselves or another person. Gunowners would be registered with the state Department of Justice required to do at least 16 hours of training, including on safe storage and legal transport of guns.

Senate Bill 1384, which would require firearms to stay in "legally appropriate hands" also advanced. This bill would require gun stores to have an alarm system installed along with video and audio surveillance in hopes of decreasing theft and straw purchases.

But the committee killed Senate Bill 505, which would have required gun owners to buy liability insurance.

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