California’s not just dreamin’

Published 1:46 pm Friday, October 16, 2015

One surefire way to fix broken government in Washington — if only it were possible — would be to transport Gov. Jerry Brown and the entire Sacramento legislature to Capitol Hill in D.C.

Left to their Democratic-controlled devices, California lawmakers have amassed a roster of vital legislation, much of it signed into law by Brown in a flurry of activity this month. Most of the new measures stop short of sweeping change – in, say, dealing with immigration or curbing the use of guns – but rather identify smaller areas in which to make progress as part of gradually addressing and improving the larger picture.

It’s a picture the rest of the nation should study.

Over the weekend Brown signed a bill that automatically ties voter registration to the process of obtaining a driver’s license. If you’re eligible under voting laws, then your DMV paperwork doubles as your voter registration. You would have to “opt out” to skip becoming a registered voter.

A few days earlier Brown, 77, signed into law a measure allowing doctor-assisted suicide for the terminally ill. The bill contains carefully-written safeguards but, at its bottom line, allows competent individuals with conditions declared terminal by at least two physicians to self-administer lethal drugs with their doctor’s help. The new law will be closely watched by health professionals and lawmakers nationwide.

Following the recent campus shootings in several states, California clamped down further on guns, outlawing so-called “concealed carry” at or near schools, except by active or retired police. This sensible safeguard comes as some states weigh allowing teachers and even students to carry concealed guns.

Also this month, California acted to restrict the use of antibiotics in livestock, allowing such drugs to be used only when specifically prescribed by a veterinarian to treat sick animals. In signing the measure, Brown said wholesale use of antibiotics for livestock is creating an “urgent public health problem.”

Among the remarkable success stories is California’s new law that enables undocumented immigrants to obtain a state driver’s license. In the first six months of 2015 over 400,000 such licenses have been issued — after applicants passed written and road tests, and furnished proof of insurance. While the law does little if anything to affect the number of such immigrants on the roads, it makes certain that those behind the wheel are skilled and covered.

This month, Gov. Brown signed legislation strengthening California’s equal-pay protection for women. The new bill, now among the toughest of its kind in the nation, requires equal pay not only when women do the same job as men but also when they do “substantially similar” work.

In response to alleged profiling by police in places such as Ferguson, Missouri, California has just passed a law requiring cops to record the reason for each stop they make along with the perceived race, gender and approximate age of the person involved. Police organizations claim the law demands too much paperwork, while advocates rightly insist it’s a benign form of police protection.

There’s more. Brown signed a bill forcing state contractors to extend benefits to transgender workers. Another new law removes coal from the investment portfolios of California’s public pension plans. And over the summer, Brown signed a law covering vaccinations for young students — eliminating exemptions based on religious or personal beliefs.

Even this raft of lawmaking leaves some here unsatisfied. The governor vetoed 133 bills including three to curb the use of private drones, and one to expand the state’s policies on unpaid family leave.

Still, it’s a remarkable record of legislative reasonability, much of it enabled by the Democrats’ control in Sacramento. But to write it off solely to party domination is to overlook the fact that many of the new laws received wide bipartisan support.

Is there a message here for Washington? Certainly there is in one final bill Gov. Brown signed late Sunday. It prohibits any team in California from calling itself “Redskins.”

PETER FUNT is a writer and speaker. His book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available at and