State Net Criminal Law Update: Fast and Furious Flurry of Legislation in California

CRIME & PUNISHMENT: The Supreme Court of the United States refuses to hear an appeal from CALIFORNIA Gov. Jerry Brown (D) to overturn a lower court's directive to cull the Golden State prison inmate population to 137.5 percent of capacity by Jan. 27. The high court issued its decision without comment. The federal three-judge panel that issued the original order recently gave the state a one-month extension so it could negotiate a long-term inmate population reduction plan with inmate plaintiffs (ASSOCIATED PRESS). • CALIFORNIA Gov. Brown vetoes SB 131, which would have given some victims of childhood sexual abuse more time to file lawsuits against their abusers (STATE NET, CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR'S OFFICE). • Still in CALIFORNIA, Gov. Brown signs SB 57, a bill that requires paroled sex offenders who cut off their ankle-mounted GPS monitoring devices to serve 180 days in jail (STATE NET). • CALIFORNIA Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signs AB 1131, which extends to five years the period in which a person who has made a serious threat of physical violence against another person or group is barred from possessing a firearm. The law also requires mental health professionals to report knowledge of such threats via electronic transmission to police within 24 hours (STATE NET, CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR'S OFFICE).

BROWN SIGNS, VETOES FLOOD OF GUN BILLS: The horrific shooting deaths of dozens of students and teachers at a Connecticut school last December sparked a flood of new gun control measures this session from lawmakers across the country in California. Last week, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) addressed those bills, signing 11 into law and vetoing seven.

Among those garnering his favor were: AB 48, which makes it illegal to buy kits to convert guns into assault-style weapons and requires ammunition sellers to record the identification of the buyer and report the sale to the state; AB 500, which allows the state Department of Justice to extend the waiting time for gun purchases if the required background check can't be completed within 10 days; AB 170, which mandates that assault weapon permits be issued only to individuals, not partnerships, corporations or other groups; and SB 683, a bill that requires buyers of rifles and shotguns to pass a written firearm safety test and obtain a certificate, in the manner that handgun purchasers must. Brown also signed AB 711, a bill that phases in a ban on hunters using lead-based ammunition, which critics contend poisons wildlife that feed on carcasses of animals hunters leave behind after a kill.

Brown's vetoes included SB 374 from Senate pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D), a bill that would have closed a loophole in the state's assault weapons ban by requiring fixed magazines on all center fire semi-automatic rifles purchased, sold or manufactured in California beginning in 2014. Steinberg expressed disappointment at the veto, noting in a statement that "more than 1,100 Californians have been killed by continuing gun violence" since the Newtown, Connecticut shooting. He also noted Brown's complaint that the bill went too far, saying "aggressive action is precisely what's needed to reduce the carnage in our communities, and to counter the equally aggressive action by the gun industry which is intent on exploiting loopholes in our existing ban on assault weapons."

Brown also vetoed SB 299, which would have required gun owners to report a gun theft or loss to police within seven days of knowing about it; AB 169, a measure that would have tightened exemptions to the law prohibiting purchase of handguns that haven't been tested and deemed safe by the state; and SB 567, which would have updated the definition of an illegal shotgun to include one with a revolving cylinder and a rifled bore. (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, STATE NET, CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR'S OFFICE, CALIFORNIA SENATE PRO TEMPORE'S OFFICE, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE)

BUSINESS:  CALIFORNIA Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signs SB 400, which bars CALIFORNIA employers from firing or "in any manner discriminating or retaliating against an employee because of the employee's status as a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking"(STATE NET, CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR'S OFFICE). • Gov. Brown vetoes SB 467, which would have required CALIFORNIA law enforcement officials to obtain a search warrant in order to get the contents of electronic communications from an Internet or online service provider (CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR'S OFFICE, STATE NET).

POTPOURRI: CALIFORNIA Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signs AB 48, a bill that bans the sale or possession of conversion kits that allow gun owners to convert weapons to use large-capacity ammunition magazines (CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR'S OFFICE). • The U.S. Supreme Court refuses to hear a challenge to a MARYLAND law that requires applicants for conceal-carry handgun permits to show "a good and substantial reason" why they need to carry a handgun in public. The ruling leaves intact a lower court's ruling that upheld the law (BALTIMORE SUN).

GOVERNORS IN BRIEF:Faced with a large backlog of clemency petitions, ILLINOIS, Gov. Quinn (D) last week announced decisions on 189 pending requests, granting 65 and denying 124. Quinn has addressed over 2,600 clemency petitions since coming into office in 2009, many left behind by his predecessor, impeached and now-imprisoned Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D). In all, Quinn has granted 990 requests and denied 1,650 (CBSLOCAL.COM [CHICAGO]).

— Compiled by RICH EHISEN

NV UPPING ANTE ON MEDICAL MARIJUANA: In 1931 the Nevada Legislature passed "The Wide Open Gambling Bill," which helped turn a nascent industry into a cornerstone of the state's economy. This past June the state passed a law that could do the same for another budding industry: medical marijuana.

"It exceeds our wildest dreams," said Sen. Tick Segerblom (D), a sponsor of the law legalizing medical marijuana dispensaries in the state.

Nevada voters amended the state Constitution to legalize medical marijuana a decade ago. But the new law authorizes the state to issue a limited number of licenses for marijuana dispensaries that will enable people to get their medicinal pot in a convenient and legal way. With medical marijuana already a multi-million dollar business in the state, the new law is sparking a lot of interest from potential investors.

"When we wrote this law, we said we wanted to make it attractive commercially so that people with money and resources will come here and fight for these licenses," said Segerblom. "They're coming here in droves."

Some big-money lawyers in the state are reportedly charging as much as $100,000 to prepare the required medical marijuana establishment application.

"People are kind of shopping for consultants," said Lisa Mayo-DeRiso, a Las Vegas-based consultant. "A guy [called and] said 'I got your number and we have half a million dollars and we're looking to get an application.'"

Back in June, Sen. Mark Hutchison (R) assured fellow lawmakers who were disinclined to support the measure: "This will not be the Dr. Feelgood hanging out in a Jerry Garcia smoking lounge with a giant pot flag hanging outside the door." The industry is actually attracting a range of investors, according to Las Vegas attorney Derek Connor, who said he used to focus on personal injury and criminal litigation but now spends three-quarters of his time working with medical marijuana clients.

"It's taken over a huge area of my practice," he said. "We've seen people who are well-established, well-connected Nevada families down to housewives interested in this as a way to make money."

It isn't easy to qualify for a dispensary license by the law's design. Applicants need to have at least $250,000 in liquid assets rather than a fixed asset like a house and have to pay licensing, background check and application fees. Preference is also given to applicants with business experience, an existing commercial or industrial facility and a record of paying taxes in the state, among other things.

The law also sets strict guidelines for the verification of cardholders, tracking of inventories and quality control, and imposes a 2 percent tax on medical marijuana sales to help offset the cost of administering and enforcing those provisions.

"The Nevada law strikes one of the most reasonable balances I have seen between ensuring safe access for patients, creating a tightly regulated model that is not open to malfeasance, and providing legitimate business and economic opportunities for business people," said Betty Aldworth, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association.

But the current market in the state is relatively small; only about 4,500 residents currently have medical marijuana cards issued by the state's health division, although the new law will allow cardholders from other states to shop at Nevada dispensaries when they open late next year, potentially making Nevada the first medical marijuana tourist destination.

One of the main concerns of advocates and potential investors alike, the threat of federal intervention, has also largely been alleviated in recent months by comments from the U.S. Department of Justice.

"The federal government had been demonstrating and recently made it abundantly clear that it will respect state marijuana laws when marijuana is being properly regulated," said Mason Tvert, director of communications at the Marijuana Policy Project.

Still, local governments aren't done debating what kind of zoning restrictions they'll impose on dispensaries and other medical marijuana establishments. And state regulators could also impose stricter rules of their own, which has some concerned that all of the potential regulations will ultimately discourage investors.

"A lot of people see this as a cash cow," said Peter Krueger, president of the Nevada Medical Marijuana Association. "I'm not so sure if it's a cash cow when government gets through with it."

But Mayo-DeRiso said crafting regulations shouldn't be a problem for her state, which has been so successful in regulating the gaming industry.

"We are the privileged license capital of the world," she said. "We know how to monitor privileged licenses, so we actually should be really good at this." (LAS VEGAS SUN, STATE NET)

STATES DEBATE BENEFIT OF RED-LIGHT CAMERAS: Communities in 24 states now have at least one red-light camera, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. But whether those cameras have made the communities' intersections safer — or just made their respective state's and cities' coffers fuller — is a subject of debate.

A 2003 survey by the National Cooperative Highway Research Program found that the number of red-light running violations and accidents decreased in a majority of jurisdictions where red-light cameras were installed. But more recent research from Texas A&M's Transportation Institute found that when red-light cameras were installed at intersections where drivers frequently run red lights, the number of right-angle crashes declined but the number of rear-end collisions — from drivers stopping short to avoid a violation — went up. When cameras were placed at intersections where red-light violations were infrequent, the Texas A&M researchers found, the number of rear-end collisions rose while the number of other kinds of accidents remained unchanged. A seven-year study of red-light cameras in northern Virginia produced similar results.

The amount of revenue the cameras have generated for some state and local governments, meanwhile, has shot up. Florida, for instance, collected $52 million from red-light cameras installed in 76 jurisdictions across the state in fiscal year 2013. That figure is roughly three times what the state collected in 2011.

"Three years ago, these red-light cameras were pitched as safety devices," said Florida Sen. Jeff Brandes (R), who has proposed a state ban on the cameras. "Instead, they've been a backdoor tax increase."

Richard Ashton of the International Association of Chiefs of Police said much the same thing in a recent issue of Police Chief magazine.

"Redlight cameras should be implemented only to benefit public safety," he stated. "Unfortunately, too many jurisdictions have obtained red-light cameras to generate revenue."

But apparently a lot of people like the cameras. A 2011 poll conducted by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety found that two-thirds of drivers in 14 major cities with cameras supported them. And last year, voters in Longview, Washington, and Pohatcong, New Jersey rejected ballot measures seeking to remove red-light cameras.

Nevertheless, opposition to the cameras appears to be on the rise. Nine states have already banned them, and lawmakers in Ohio are considering doing the same. Colorado, Iowa and New Jersey also considered bans this year, but all of those efforts fell short.

Researchers at Virginia Tech have proposed an alternative to the cameras: longer yellow lights. They have found that increasing the length of a yellow light by as little as a half-second can reduce the number of accidents at an intersection significantly.

Charles Territo, a spokesman for American Traffic Solutions, however, suggests there's a simpler solution than that.

"There are any number of excuses individuals will use to explain why they break the law," he said. "But at the end of the day, there is no revenue generated from red-light safety cameras if drivers obey the law and stop on red." (STATELINE.ORG, FEDERAL HIGHWAY ADMINSTRATION SAFETY PROGRAM)

CO GOV WARNS GUN-CONTROL GROUPS AWAY FROM RECALL: Democrats only have a one-seat majority in the Colorado Senate thanks to the recalls last month of Democratic Sens. John Morse and Angela Giron over their support of gun control legislation passed in the state earlier this year. Millions of dollars from groups and individuals outside the state's borders — including the National Rifle Association and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg — flowed into those races.

But last week Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) told USA Today that national gun-control groups might want to consider staying out of the recall campaign now under way to remove another Democrat who helped pass the gun-control legislation, Sen. Evie Hudak.

"Colorado is a state that people like to be themselves and solve their own problems," Hickenlooper said. "They don't really like outside organizations meddling in their affairs, and maybe the NRA gets a pass on that."

He added that it's "probably not a bad idea" for gun control groups like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Mayors Against Illegal Guns to be less active in the Hudak recall.

Hickenlooper said "it's probably 50-50″ that the organizers will collect enough signatures to force a recall of Hudak anyway. But he also said "I didn't think they'd get enough signatures for the first two," meaning Morse and Giron. (DENVER POST)

— Compiled by KOREY CLARK

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