By Patrick McGreevy
Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday signed into law a measure aimed at reducing deportations of legal immigrants who are convicted of misdemeanors.
The measure, SB 1310, was one of 24 bills signed by the governor, among them a ban on homeowners associations fining members who, during periods of declared drought, let their lawns go brown because of lack of watering.
The legislation aimed at reducing deportations of noncitizens who are legal residents cuts the maximum possible misdemeanor sentence in California by one day, from one year to 364 days.
Under federal immigration law, a felony is a crime punishable by 365 days or more, in which case a noncitizen legal resident can face deportation, according to state Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens). Deportable crimes that carry a maximum one-year sentence include theft, fraud and forgery.
"As a result of the differences between state and federal sentencing laws, some legal residents are torn from their families for committing minor crimes, such as writing a bad check," Lara said.
The new law, which takes effect Jan. 1, will affect thousands of legal residents in California each year who might otherwise face a deportation hearing, said Zachary Nightingale, an immigration attorney in San Francisco.
Each year, 10% of all deportees are legal permanent residents, and 68% of them are sent out of the country for minor, nonviolent crimes, according to the American Immigration Council, an immigrant advocacy group in Washington.
"The governor signed SB 1310 to help ensure legal residents won't be deported for minor crimes," said Jim Evans, a spokesman for Brown.
But critics say not all of the crimes covered by the new law are minor, even if they are misdemeanors. Sen. Mark Wyland (R-Escondido), who opposed SB 1310, said it could allow criminals to escape deportation for crimes such as identity theft, cruelty to animals, child neglect and repeat drunk-driving offenses.
Assemblyman Steve Fox (D-Palmdale) also voted against the bill. "Too many criminals aren't serving their full sentences now," Fox said. "I wanted judges to have all options available for the worst repeat offenders."
The law signed by Brown follows the example of similar legislation in Washington and Nevada, according to the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.
"While the federal government continues to turn a eye blind to our broken immigration system, California continues to advance state legislation to ensure aspiring citizens are integrated into our fabric instead of being in the shadows," said Joseph Villela, the coalition's policy and advocacy director.
The governor also signed a measure by Assemblywoman Nora Campos (D-San Jose) prohibiting homeowners associations from fining members who, during periods of declared drought, let their lawns go brown due to lack of watering.
The bill, AB 2100, takes effect immediately and addresses situations in which homeowners face potential government fines if they don't cut back on water use but also face potential fines from homeowner associations.
Brown declared a drought emergency in January and local government agencies have power to fine homeowners up to $500 for wasting water.
"We can't be sending mixed messages about the importance of conserving water during this drought," Campos said.. "Fines for wasting water make sense. Fines for not watering your lawn don't. We shouldn't punish people who are doing the right thing." Her office has heard concerns from homeowners on the issue.
Brown also approved a bill allowing winemaking or brewery science students who are under the legal drinking age to taste -- and spit out -- alcoholic beverages in the course of their studies. The bill, AB 1989, is by Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro (D-Arcata).
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