It was a veto message that, if not for the famous signature at the bottom, sounded like the guiding principle of a conservative Republican governor.

“Not every human problem deserves a law,” it said.

Of course the author of that statement is not a Republican, but rather Democrat Jerry Brown. And it’s one of several new veto messages that shed a little light into the veteran politician’s approach to the Legislature in his second go around as governor.

Brown’s desk pen is now getting a workout, as the legislative session ends for the first year of his second go round as governor. Hundreds of bills are now on their way to his office, bills on which he must act by October 10.

But the law gives the governor a much shorter window for action on bills that landed on his desk prior to this final Capitol sprint– 12 days. And so we’re now seeing a flurry of actions, some resulting in veto messages that are quintessential Brown.

The above referenced veto was of SB 105 by state Sen. Leland Yee (D-SF), a bill imposing a $25 fine for kids who ski or snowboard without a helmet. The fine would be imposed on either the kids or their parents or guardians. A similar proposal was actually approved by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, but never went into effect because Schwarzenegger vetoed a cojoined bill that placed new rules on ski resorts. Yee’s new bill also had bipartisan support… but not support where it counted.

“While I appreciate the value of wearing a ski helmet,” wrote Brown on Tuesday (PDF), “I am concerned about the continuing and seemingly inexorable transfer of authority from parents to the state.”

All but one of the bills the governor vetoed on Tuesday were from Democratic legislators. And his rebukes were both pensive and pithy.

In vetoing SB 448 by state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord), which would require initiative signature gatherers to wear a button if they’re being paid:

If it is acceptable to force paid signature gatherers to place identifying badges on their chests, will similar requirements soon be placed on paid campaign workers? I choose not to go down this slippery slope where the state decides what citizens must wear when petitioning their government.

Brown then vetoed SB 28 by state Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), which would have upped the penalties for not using a hands-free device to call or text from a cell phone while driving:

I certainly support discouraging cell phone use while driving a car, but not ratcheting up the penalties as prescribed by this bill. For people of ordinary means, current fines and penalty assessments should be sufficient deterrent.

Even when not vetoing a measure, Brown is not averse to offering a thought. In an unusual move, the governor allowed one bill to become law without his signature, but not without an opinion. The new law, AB 412 by Assemblymember Das Williams (D-Santa Barbara), allows Santa Barbara County to continue imposing additional fines on certain criminal offenses. The money helps pay for local emergency services. Brown’s musing about the bill on which he was taking a pass but not nixing:

Obviously these penalty assessments are for good purposes… Costs of such projects, however, should not be borne by a narrow class of citizens. Those who break the law should be fairly punished for their transgressions, but not be subjected to ever-increasing costs that are more properly the responsibility of the public at large. Sooner or later, we must find better ways to pay for the public goods we truly need.

That last line sounds very much like Brown’s approach all year to the state’s finances and its systemic fiscal challenges.

The governor is no doubt going to have much tougher calls to make over the next month. Some of the bills he’s sure to receive are politically volatile, emotionally charged, policy-wise dubious, or perhaps some combination of all three.

The gubernatorial veto message is often a predictable, somewhat rote statement. Schwarzenegger occasionally challenged that stereotype, most notably when he was trying to send a — ahem — subtle message to Democrats. Brown’s rejection letters are also turning out to unique, but for very different reasons all his own. Either way, they’re proving to be an interesting read, helping us all get a better take on the person holding California’s most powerful pen.

Here’s a legislative update from the Governor’s office listing the latest bills signed and vetoed.

John Myers is KQED’s Sacramento Bureau Chief. Follow him on his Capital Notes blog and on Twitter.

Brown Vetoes Yee Helmet Bill, Simitian Bill on Cell Phone Penalties; “Not Every Human Problem Deserves a Law” 7 September,2011John Myers


John Myers

John Myers is Senior Editor of KQED’s new California Politics and Government Desk.  A veteran of almost two decades of political coverage, he was KQED’s longest serving  statehouse bureau chief and recently was political editor for Sacramento’s ABC affiliate, News10 (KXTV). John was moderator of the only 2014 gubernatorial debate, and  was named by The Washington Post to two “Best Of” lists: the 2015 list of top state politics reporters and 2014’s list of America’s most influential statehouse reporters.

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