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Brown signs bills: utility requirements, ballot initiatives, shark-fin ban

October 7, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Governor Jerry Brown has until midnight Sunday to sign or reject hundreds of bills that have crossed his desk. He approved a number of major bills Friday, including one dealing with the San Bruno gas pipeline explosion.

In light of last year's gas pipeline explosions in San Bruno that killed eight people and destroyed dozens of homes, Governor Brown took steps to make California neighborhoods safer.

Brown signed a number of bills to help prevent such tragedies from happening again, including the requirement that all utility companies have an automatic or remote-controlled shut-off valve.

"Had PG&E [Pacific Gas and Electric Co.] and other utilities gone ahead and put those valves in these highly concentrated areas, the San Bruno fire would not have been as bad in destruction and lives lost," said state Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco).

Brown also sided with public employee unions, moving all ballot initiatives to November elections only.

While he said it's consistent with the Constitution, critics slammed the last-minute bill because an initiative slated for the June ballot limits the use of union dues on political activity.

Now it'll go on the November ballot, when there's a greater chance to defeat it with bigger turnout.

And finally, Brown weighed in on the controversial shark-fin ban, probably one of the most heavily lobbied bills this year. Celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio wrote the governor urging him to sign it. And the head of Virgin Airlines felt compelled to give Brown a ring.

"The phone is off the hook," said Brown last month. "People say, 'I want to talk about this one. I want to talk about that one.' I got a call from Richard Branson yesterday from Australia. He's worried about shark fins."

In the end, Brown wanted to protect the shark population, which researchers say has declined by more than 90 percent as the shark is dumped back into the ocean and left to die.

He signed a law banning the possession and sale of shark fins, mostly used for shark fin soup.

It's a victory for animal rights and environmental groups.

"NOAA estimates about 85 percent of the trade in shark fin is moving through California ports. This will stop that in its tracks," said Jennifer Fearing, Humane Society.

Some in the Chinese community felt the ban picked on their culture.

Brown also signed a bill that allows existing stocks of shark fins to be sold in California until July 2013.

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