Capitol Alert

Jerry Brown sounds notes of caution in vetoes

Less than a week after signing legislation allowing California doctors to prescribe their dying patients lethal drugs, Gov. Jerry Brown on Sunday vetoed a bill that would have let terminally ill people petition pharmaceutical companies for access to experimental drugs before they are approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

The so-called “right-to-try” legislation had gained support in more than a dozen states, and it sailed through the Legislature with nearly unanimous support.

But despite the wide latitude that Brown has given the Legislature to craft laws in recent years, as he cleared his desk of hundreds of bills, the Democratic governor struck continued notes of caution.

On Saturday, Brown warned of a “precariously balanced” state budget and the prospect of future spending cuts while vetoing a slate of bills to create new tax credits or expand existing ones.

The following day, he vetoed not only the “right to try” legislation but a bill to provide more training for child care providers and another measure focused on responses to sexual assaults at California colleges.

He also vetoed legislation ranging from a measure to expand California’s unpaid family leave policy to a bill that would have regulated when someone could call herself a “board-certified music therapist.”

“This bill appears to be unnecessary as the Certification Board for Music Therapists, a private sector group, already has defined standards for board certification,” Brown wrote in a veto message. “Why have the state now add another violin to the orchestra?”

14.1 percentPercentage of bills Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed in 2015

By the time Brown finished acting on bills Sunday – hours before the midnight deadline – he had signed 808 measures and vetoed 133, according to his office.

His veto rate – 14.1 percent – was slightly higher than in the previous three years but not quite as high as in 2011, when Brown returned to office and vetoed 14.4 percent of bills, according to his office.

Yet Brown remains more difficult for the Democrat-controlled Legislature than when he was governor before. From 1975 to 1983, Brown vetoed fewer than 5 percent of bills from the regular session.

His action on legislation can be unpredictable. Brown signed a bill Sunday banning the use of “Redskins” as a school mascot or team name.

But he vetoed legislation that would prohibit naming public buildings and roads after Confederate leaders.

Local governments ... are quite capable of deciding for themselves which of their buildings and parks should be named, and after whom.

Gov. Jerry Brown

The “Redskins” bill’s enactment comes 11 years after then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed similar legislation, saying local boards should retain “general control over all aspects of their interscholastic policies.”

Opponents of this year’s bill made a similar argument, and Brown himself appealed to local control in vetoing Senate Bill 539, the bill concerning Confederate names.

Brown said in a veto message that the issue is “quintessentially for local decision makers.”

“Local governments are laboratories of democracy which, under most circumstances, are quite capable of deciding for themselves which of their buildings and parks should be named, and after whom,” he said.

Brown’s veto of expanded family leave came after he enacted pay-equity laws this year that are among the strongest in the nation.

Senate Bill 406, by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, would have let workers take up to 12 weeks off to care for sick siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, domestic partners and parents-in-law.

Current law provides that benefit only for sick children, parents or spouses.

In a veto message, Brown said that he is open to legislation allowing workers to take leave for more family members but that the expansion provided in the bill “creates a disparity between California’s law and the Federal Medical Leave Act and, in certain circumstances, could require employers to provide employees up to 24 weeks of family leave in a 12-month period.”

The legislation was opposed by business groups and included on the California Chamber of Commerce’s list of “job killer” bills. The chamber argued it would increase business costs and risk of litigation, and the bill narrowly passed the Legislature.

Brown said in his veto of “right to try” legislation that “patients with life-threatening conditions should be able to try experimental drugs” but that proposed changes to federal policies will streamline access to such drugs.

“Before authorizing an alternative state pathway,” he wrote, “we should give this federal expedited process a chance to work.”

Assembly Bill 159, by Assemblyman Ian Calderon, D-Whittier, would have permitted pharmaceutical companies to make not-yet-fully approved treatments available to terminally ill patients, while shielding doctors and insurance companies from liability for negative outcomes.

Proponents of the legislation said access to drugs in development via clinical trials has been insufficient, while opponents – including oncologists and nurses – said the legislation could harm patients or give them false hope.

David Siders: 916-321-1215, @davidsiders