State adds to reputation as nation's trailblazer for laws

Jessica Brice The Associated Press
Thursday September 26, 2002


SACRAMENTO — California has enacted first-in-the-nation laws this year on family leave, auto emissions and stem-cell research, lending credence to the saying that wherever America is going, California will get there first. 

California rivals Washington, D.C., as an epicenter of change because of its size (34.5 million people, more than any other state) and economic clout (sixth-largest economy in the world, with a gross state product of $1.3 trillion). 

Lawmakers elsewhere look at California laws for direction. 

“If it works in California, it is likely to work in states throughout the country,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics in Charlottesville, Va. “The states are the laboratories for democracy, and California is the chief laboratory.” 

When the state passed the nation’s first “lemon law” in 1982 to protect consumers who buy cars with serious defects, the measure became the model for similar laws in all 50 states. California enacted the nation’s first ban on assault weapons in 1989; it was quickly adopted in six other states and led to a federal ban in 1994. California’s 1970 Clean Air Act is still the toughest in the nation. 

National firsts in California this year include a law explicitly allowing embryonic stem cell research, the country’s toughest auto emissions laws and a requirement that 20 percent of the state’s power come from renewable energy sources by 2017. 

Earlier this week, Gov. Gray Davis signed the nation’s first comprehensive paid family leave law, which allows workers to leave their job for up to six weeks at 55 percent pay to care for a newborn, newly adopted child or sick family member. 

Also, the gun control movement successfully pushed a measure this year making California the first state to repeal gun manufacturers’ special immunity against lawsuits. Davis is expected to sign the bill this week. 

“What we do here has tremendous impacts both in the message we send and its immediate impact on the health and safety of a large group of Americans,” said Luis Tolley of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. 

Because of California’s reputation as a liberal state, it often attracts interest groups that can’t get what they want from Congress.