SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Jerry Brown sharpened his veto pen over the weekend, rejecting almost half the bills left sitting on his desk since the Legislature's session ended a month ago.
Brown scrapped 30 bills on Saturday and Sunday, including a highly controversial measure that would have extended the statute of limitations for some childhood victims of sexual abuse. The bill was carried by state Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, who on Sunday lashed out at Brown's decision and accused the governor of ignoring the plight of sex-abuse victims.
The weekend vetoes brought the total number of bills vetoed by Brown this year to 96. Since January, Brown has signed 805 pieces of legislation, including the 39 he signed Saturday and Sunday.
The governor also vetoed a bill sponsored by Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, which would have required pharmacists to notify prescribing doctors when they substituted generic for brand-name drugs, vaccines and complex medications for cancers and other diseases. CalPERS and other large drugs purchasers had warned that the requirement would cast doubt on the safety and reliability of lower-cost prescriptions.
Brown dismissed efforts by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, to give prosecutors an option of reducing heroin and cocaine possession charges from a felony to a misdemeanor. Law enforcement unions said the bill would have dangerously compromised public safety.
But it was Senate Bill 131, Beall's measure, that seemed to get most of the governor's attention. He took the time to pen a rare, three-page veto message. Brown wrote that statutes of limitations are vital to preserve fairness no matter how valid a claim of mistreatment might be because, over time, evidence may be lost, memories fade and key witnesses die or move away.
"There comes a time when an individual or organization should be secure in the reasonable expectation that past acts are indeed in the past and not subject to further lawsuits," Brown said.
He also criticized the bill for failing to also hold public entities accountable for their employees' past acts. Beall's bill aimed to close a loophole in existing law that barred some victims from filing suit against private employers that protected or should have known about their abusive employees.
Under current law, victims who turned 26 before 2003 were not able to file lawsuits against private employers under a 2002 law that afforded that benefit to other victims. But Brown argued in his veto message that legislation that fails to treat public and private entities equally is not fair.
"The children assaulted by Jerry Sandusky at Penn State or the teachers at Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles are no less worthy because of the nature of the institution they attended," Brown said.
Beall called that criticism unfair and said he introduced a bill with limited scope because he expected it would have the best chance of getting signed into law. He called the governor's "policy paper" on the importance of statutes of limitations a step backward for the state and a smack in the face for victims.
Beall said Brown had declined to speak directly with him about his bill, adding that he suspects the governor hasn't spent much time speaking with sex-abuse victims either.
"Saturday was a sad day for sexual abuse victims who clearly got the message that the governor is not on their side," said Beall, who believes his legislation could have helped hundreds of victims who have so far been denied their day in court.
Will Lynch, a San Jose resident who became famous for physically attacking the priest who he claims abused him as a child, said he doesn't support the governor's beliefs on statutes of limitations and doesn't care what his reasons are.
"This governor and all of the special interests that lobbied against this bill have shown an inability and unwillingness to protect children," said Lynch, who has begun efforts to put a statute of limitations question on the ballot next fall.
Lynch was acquitted last year on charges he attacked the then-65-year-old priest at a Jesuit center in Los Gatos. He has since apologized for the attack, which left the priest bloodied, bruised and with two small cuts requiring stitches.
The priest accused of abusing Lynch cannot be prosecuted on charges he raped him because the alleged molestation took place in the 1970s, when Lynch had only six years to report the alleged crime. Now, most California victims have until age 28.
Victims rights advocates had lobbied fiercely in favor of the bill, while nonprofit groups, private schools and the Catholic Church battled against it, spending millions on lobbyists throughout the legislative session.
Rev. Gerald Wilkerson, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, said in a statement that one of the main reasons the church opposed the bill was that it failed to help all victims, adding that the church has done plenty in recent years to prove its commitment to sex-abuse victims.
"We hope the way the Catholic Church in California has responded to the abuse crisis over the last 10 years, and 'walked the walk' with respect to protecting young people and reporting allegations to law enforcement helped play a role, too," he said.
Brown applied his beliefs on statutes of limitations to another bill he vetoed over the weekend. Legislation that would have extended the time that relatives of public safety officers have to file workers' compensation claims for death benefits also failed to earn the governor's approval.
That bill, sponsored by Assembly Speaker John A. Perez, D-Los Angeles, would have given survivors of officers who die from cancer or tuberculosis, among other diseases, 480 weeks to file claims. Under current law, relatives have 240 weeks.
Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-San Mateo, was one area lawmaker who saw his bill approved by Brown in the final hours before Sunday's midnight deadline. His bill will extend long-term-care benefits to public employees' domestic partners.
Another contested bill vetoed by Brown would have limited the use of paid signature gatherers by individuals seeking to bring issues before voters through a ballot initiative.
In his veto message, Brown acknowledged that the system for gathering signatures is "imperfect," but said this solution would not deter special interests from circumventing the rules.
State Assemblyman Paul Fong, D-Cupertino, who sponsored the labor-backed bill, said he was disappointed by the governor's veto because any effort to limit the dominance of well-financed special interest groups in the initiative process is an important one. Those groups abuse the process, he said.
Still, Fong said he was hopeful sweeping initiative reforms would eventually be enacted.
"The governor's openness to changes to the initiative system, along with recent polling by the Public Policy Institute of California that demonstrates Californians' support for efforts to reduce the influence of special interests in the initiative process, makes me optimistic that meaningful reforms can be enacted in the near future," Fong said.
AB 373 by Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-San Mateo -- Extends long-term-care benefits to public employees' domestic partners.
SB 7 by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento -- Withholds state money from charter cities that don't pay prevailing wages for local public construction.
AB 1019 by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco -- Requires state prison officials to set higher career technical-education standards.
SB 131 by Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose -- Would have extended the statute of limitations for some victims of childhood sexual abuse to file lawsuits.
AB 857 by Assemblyman Paul Fong, D-Cupertino -- Would have limited hiring of paid signature gatherers by initiative campaigns.
SB 639 by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco -- Would have allowed prosecutors to reduce charges of possession of heroin or cocaine from a felony to a misdemeanor.