Jerry Brown toughens law on cellphones in prison

Published: Friday, Oct. 7, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011 - 11:40 am

Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Thursday making it a misdemeanor for prison guards or visitors to smuggle cellphones to inmates, a bid to reduce inmates' ability to organize gang activity and other crimes from behind bars.

Senate Bill 26, by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, toughens penalties for inmates caught with cellphones and subjects the smugglers to as much as six months in jail and a fine of $5,000 per device. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed similar legislation last year, saying it was too soft on inmates and those who smuggle phones.

Brown, a Democrat, also issued an executive order instructing the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to increase physical searches of people who enter prisons and to find a way to interrupt unauthorized cellphone calls.

Brown said in his order that prison staff discovered nearly 10,700 contraband cellular devices in 2010, and 7,300 in the first half of this year.

"When criminals in prison get possession of a cellphone, it subverts the very purpose of incarceration," Brown said in a prepared statement. "They use these phones to organize gang activity, intimidate witnesses and commit crimes."

The bill was one of dozens Brown announced signing Thursday, with hundreds more to process before a Sunday deadline.

Brown signed legislation requiring health insurance plans in California to cover childbirth and other maternity services, eliminating an exception that allowed some smaller plans to exclude those services.

Federal law requires employers who offer health insurance and who have 15 or more employees to cover maternity services, and California has long required HMOs and large group health insurance plans to do so. Senate Bill 222 and Assembly Bill 210 require individual and small group plans to provide coverage for maternity services starting in July 2012.

The legislation was supported by Kaiser Permanente and Blue Shield of California. It was opposed by the California Chamber of Commerce.

In a package of food-related bills, Brown signed legislation eliminating the state's requirement that food stamp applicants be fingerprinted. Supporters said fingerprinting deterred participation in the federally funded CalFresh program, with just half of eligible Californians receiving assistance.

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