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Less is more, suggests governor's vetoes

2:01 PM, Sep 22, 2012   |    comments
Courtesy: Governor's Office
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As Gov. Jerry Brown wades through the scores of bills left on his desk by the Legislature, it seems safe to say that Brown's biggest frustration isn't with policies he opposes -- but rather, proposals he thinks are superfluous.

And to the surprise of some, perhaps that seems to make the Democratic governor more simpatico with small government libertarians than anyone else.

Having said that, though, it's important to note that Brown is signing far more bills than he's vetoing, thus making it hard to actually call him a governing minimalist.  On Saturday, he signed 25 bills into law, including one to allow registered nurses in California to dispense birth control.

But it's undeniable that his veto messages over these last two years have almost always focused on the fact that the bill in question... is simply unnecessary.

Case in point: the governor's batch of Saturday bill actions, which included a veto of Assembly Bill 1513 by Assemblyman Michael Allen, D-Santa Rosa. The bill would have added new rules regarding cleaning standards for those ubiquitous play places at fast food restaurants.

"This bill," said the legislative floor analysis, "is intended to bring more specificity to state and local regulation of the nonfood areas" where kids play.

The governor, though, wasn't convinced.

"Until there's more evidence that the problem warrants new state law," wrote Brown in his veto message, "let's maintain the principle of subsidiarity and let the locals enforce what can already be called a comprehensive mandate."

If you're not up on your Catholic teachings, the Jesuit-trained governor's reference is to a "principle" that the smallest authority possible -- in this case, local government -- should deal with matters needing attention.

Brown's hands-off approach is found throughout the five veto decisions made Saturday. In the veto of a bill by Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (a rare occurrence for a legislative leader's bill to get nixed) regarding telehealth at regional centers for the developmentally disabled, the governor said existing law is sufficient.

"Mandating," wrote Brown, "seems excessive. Where beneficial and available, I expect they will consider it, without the state telling them to do so."

So, too, was the hands-off approach Brown urged in vetoing Assembly Bill 2561, an effort by Assemblyman Roger Hernandez, D-Baldwin Park, to codify the term "certified surgical technologist" into state law.

The governor's veto message was one even Milton Friedman would have been proud of.

"For those who have taken the time to become certified, let the marketplace reward their higher skills and education," wrote Brown. "Recognition by the state is not needed."

While the authors of these bills are no doubt disappointed with a veto, Gov. Brown's reluctance for state action via legislation was well chronicled in 2011 -- best seen in the veto message that year which stated, in part, "Not every human problem deserves a law."

Like governors before him, Brown also occasionally will issue a message when he signs a bill. but unlike most governors, who delegating much of the work to staffers, Brown is known for being very hands-on in the writing of veto messages . As such, they feel much more like a measure of the chief executive himself than they do a recitation of official administration doctrine.

And the governor isn't above throwing an elbow or two in veto messages. Take the jab at one vocal GOP legislator, Assemblywoman Linda Halderman, in his rejection of the Fresno physician's bill imposing new rules on the state Department of Consumer Affairs.

"In keeping with the author's oft-stated mantra that government should not be wasteful or do unnecessary things, I am returning Assembly Bill 1892 without my signature," he wrote.

By law, Brown has eight more days to sign or veto bills and many of the most thorny policy and political decisions have yet to be taken. And based on what we've seen so far, the governor won't hold back if he believes that he needs to make his thinking clear on a bill's merits... or flaws.


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