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Brown signs bills: prison cellphones, maternity coverage, food stamps

October 6, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
With the deadline to act approaching, Governor Jerry Brown Thursday signed off on several bills passed recently by the state legislature. The bills affect everyone from pregnant women to prison inmates.

After prison guards confiscated more than 10,000 contraband cellphones in state prisons so far this year, including two from notorious killer Charles Manson, Governor Brown gave hints last week he wanted to crack down on the out-of-control problem.

"We have individuals who are dedicated to their gang membership, who order people to be killed, who order crimes to be committed on the outside," said Brown on Sept. 29.

Brown signed a bill that would make it a misdemeanor to smuggle a cellphone into state prison, whether by an employee or visiting family member.

He even issued an executive order to move ahead with technology that blocks incoming and outgoing calls and messages from unauthorized cellphones.

"The message to the inmates is that it's no longer going to be tolerated," said Scott Kernan, undersecretary of the Calif. Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation. "We're going to get the phones out of the system, and I think the safety of staff, inmates and the public is going to be increased."

Despites calls from opponents that say fingerprinting helps detect possible fraud, the governor signed another bill making it easier to get food stamps by no longer requiring fingerprinting during the application process.

California has one of the lowest food-stamp participation rates in the country at 50 percent, and advocates for the poor say fingerprinting was a major hurdle.

Current recipients believe relaxing eligibility will feed more people.

"We got to think about the children too. We go to think about feeding the children. We got a lot of hungry people out here and mothers need that help," said Genesis Robinson, who receives food stamps.

And Brown sided with women, signing legislation forcing health insurance companies to cover maternity care. Nearly 3 million Californians are enrolled in plans that don't provide it.

"That's a tremendous gap there that provides an inequity for women and I believe it's discriminatory for women not to have this coverage," said Assm. Roger Hernandez (D-San Gabriel Valley).

The deadline is Sunday. Brown is waiting until the very last minute to act on some controversial bills, including bans on tanning beds for minors and shark fins for soup.

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