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State Senate passes bills on ethics probes, industrial hemp and animal microchips

May 31, 2011 |  3:44 pm

State lawmakers on Tuesday considered bills that would give politicians a better heads-up about ethics investigations, allow farmers to grow industrial hemp and require some animals to be microchipped.

The Senate voted on a raft of bills as it began taking up about 250 pieces of legislation ahead of Friday’s deadline for action. All of the measures approved by the Senate will now go to the state Assembly for consideration.

SB 415 requires the Fair Political Practices Commission to notify the subject of an investigation before confirming the investigation to the public and the media.

Sen. Roderick Wright (D-Inglewood) introduced the measure after he was called by reporters about a 2009 FPPC investigation into whether he failed to report the issue that caused him to begin fundraising for a legal defense fund. He later amended his filing and there was never a formal charge.

Wright told his colleagues Tuesday that legislators can get a call from a reporter even though "you had no idea there was an investigation." The vote was 38-1, with Sen. Sam Blakeslee (R-San Luis Obispo) voting no.

The Senate also voted to legalize farming of industrial hemp in five counties in California for use in making products such as paper and clothes.

Industrial hemp is a variety of cannabis sativa plant that has much lower levels of psychoactive chemicals than are found in marijuana.

"We are not letting our farmers get in on this growing action," said Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), adding that his SB 676 is "getting government out of the way so the free market can thrive here in California."

The measure, passed on a 22-14 vote, would allow farming of industrial hemp as part of an eight-year test program in Imperial, Kern, Kings, San Joaquin and Yolo counties.

The Senate also acted to require dogs and cats claimed or adopted from shelters to be implanted with a microchip so that the animal can be more easily identified if it is impounded in the future.

The bill will "save significant money," for local shelters by reducing the number of animals put to death because they are not identified or claimed, said Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), author of SB 702.

The Senate was divided largely along party lines over a measure that would increase fees for qualifying an initiative from $200 to $2,000, with Democrats arguing that it would discourage frivolous filings.

Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) said the fee for getting the state attorney general to prepare a title and summary on a proposed initiative has not been changed since the 1940s. She noted that the low cost is partly responsible for an explosion in the number of initiatives, from 47 in 1960s to 647 in the last decade.

"It discourages using the initiative process at the expense of the state," Hancock said of SB 836. She noted that the fee is refunded if the initiative qualifies.

Sen. Doug La Malfa (R-Richvale) said he opposes "using economics to suppress the voters' actions on initiatives."

-- Patrick McGreevy