BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    





                             SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE
                         Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, Chair
                             2015-2016  Regular  Session


          AB 797 (Steinorth and Santiago)
          Version: June 6, 2016
          Hearing Date: June 14, 2016
          Fiscal: No
          Urgency: No
          RD   


                                       SUBJECT
                                           
           Motor vehicles:  rescue or provision of care for animal:  civil  
                               and criminal liability

                                      DESCRIPTION  

          This bill would provide a person civil immunity from any  
          property damage or trespass to a motor vehicle, if the damage  
          was caused while the person was rescuing an animal in accordance  
          with specified law.  This bill would also provide, however, that  
          such immunity does not affect a person's civil liability or  
          immunity from civil liability for rendering aid to an animal.  

          Additionally, this bill would: (1) expand existing provisions  
          applying to the responsibilities of peace officers, humane  
          officers, or animal control officers upon removing an animal  
          from a vehicle to also apply to firefighters or other emergency  
          responders; (2) specify that existing law does not prevent a  
          person from taking reasonable steps that are necessary to remove  
          an animal from a motor vehicle if the person holds a reasonable  
          belief that the animal's safety appears to be in immediate  
          danger, as specified; and (3) would provide that such a person  
          is not criminally liable for actions taken reasonably and in  
          good faith, as specified.

                                      BACKGROUND  

          In 2006, recognizing that animals left unattended inside closed  
          vehicles in the heat, even for short periods of time, can suffer  
          severe injury and death and that even moderately warm  
          temperatures outside can quickly lead to deadly temperatures  








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          inside a closed car, California enacted SB 1806 (Figueroa, Ch.  
          431, Stats. 2006) to prohibit a person from leaving or confining  
          an animal in any unattended motor vehicle under conditions that  
          endanger the health or well-being of an animal due to heat,  
          cold, lack of adequate ventilation, lack of food or water, or  
          other circumstances that could reasonably be expected to cause  
          suffering, disability, or death to the animal.  SB 1806,  
          establishing Section 597.7 of the Penal Code, among other  
          things, established various criminal fines and penalties for  
          anyone who violated that law and expressly stated that the  
          resulting statute does not prevent a peace officer, humane  
          officers, or animal control officers from removing an animal  
          from a motor vehicle if the animal's safety appears to be in  
          immediate danger, as specified.  In doing so, however, the bill  
          further required that the peace officer, humane officer, or  
          animal control officer take the animal to an animal shelter or  
          other place of safekeeping, or, if the officer deems necessary,  
          to a veterinary hospital for treatment.  Pursuant to Section  
          597.7, an officer is authorized to take all steps that are  
          reasonably necessary for the removal of an animal from a motor  
          vehicle, including, but not limited to, breaking into the motor  
          vehicle, after a reasonable effort to locate the owner or other  
          person responsible.  While the bill originally provided for both  
          civil and criminal immunity, ultimately, it was amended to  
          remove that language.  The resulting statute, in fact, expressly  
          states that it does not affect in any way existing liabilities  
          or immunities in current law, or create any new immunities or  
          liabilities.  (See Pen. Code Sec. 597.7.)  
           
           According to the proponents of this bill, co-sponsored by the  
          Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office and the Humane  
          Society of the United States, animals continue to be left in  
          unattended vehicles, despite educational efforts and the fact  
          that owners risk fines and imprisonment.  At the same time,  
          bystanders hesitate to take life-saving actions to rescue an  
          animal whose safety is in immediate danger out of fear of both  
          civil and criminal liability.  The Los Angeles County District  
          Attorney's Office cites an example with current law that their  
          office was made aware of: "In this tragic case a bystander  
          noticed a dog that had collapsed on the floor of a locked  
          vehicle on a warm summer day.  The bystander called 911 and  
          waited for emergency service personnel to arrive.  As the  
          bystander waited other people gathered around the vehicle  
          waiting for emergency services to arrive.  As the[y] waited,  
          they watched as the animal continued to suffer and eventually  







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          die.  The bystanders told law enforcement that they considered  
          making entry to the vehicle but decided against taking action  
          because they were afraid of being arrested or sued." 

          Accordingly, this bill now seeks to grant immunity from both  
          civil and criminal liability to any person who takes reasonable  
          steps that are necessary to remove an animal from a motor  
          vehicle if the person holds a reasonable belief that the  
          animal's safety is in immediate danger from heat, cold, lack of  
          adequate ventilation, lack of food or water, or other  
          circumstances that could reasonably be expected to cause  
          suffering, disability, or death to the animal, and the person  
          meets certain statutory requirements.  Those requirements  
          include, among other things, that the person: (1) contacts a  
          local law enforcement agency, the fire department, animal  
          control, or the "911" emergency service prior to forcibly  
          entering the vehicle; (2) uses no more force to enter the  
          vehicle and remove the animal from the vehicle than was  
          necessary under the circumstances; and (3) immediately turns the  
          animal over to a representative from law enforcement, animal  
          control, or another emergency responder who responds to the  
          scene.



                                CHANGES TO EXISTING LAW
           
           Existing law  provides that, besides the personal rights  
          mentioned or recognized in the Government Code, every person  
          has, subject to the qualifications and restrictions provided by  
          law, the right of protection from bodily restraint or harm, from  
          personal insult, from defamation, and from injury to his  
          personal relations.  (Civ. Code Sec. 43.)  
           
          Existing law  provides that every person is bound, without  
          contract, to abstain from injuring the person or property of  
          another, or infringing upon any of his or her rights.  (Civ.  
          Code Sec. 1708.) Existing case law provides that an act, which  
          in many cases is itself lawful, becomes unlawful when by [the  
          act] damages have accrued to the property of another. (Colton v.  
          Onderdonk (1886) 69 Cal. 155, 159.)   Existing case law provides  
          that, in general, if a voluntary act, lawful in itself, may  
          naturally result in the injury of another, or in the violation  
          of his legal rights, the actor must at his peril see to it that  
          such injury or violation does not follow, or he must expect to  







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          respond in damages therefor, regardless of the motive or degree  
          of care with which the act is performed.  (McKenna v. Pacific E.  
          R. Co. (1930) 104 Cal.App. 538, 542 (internal citation  
          omitted).)
           
          Existing law  provides that everyone is responsible, not only for  
          the result of his or her willful acts, but also for an injury to  
          another caused by his or her lack of ordinary care or skill in  
          the management of his or her property or person, except so far  
          as the latter has, willfully or from lack of ordinary care,  
          brought the injury upon himself or herself.  (Civ. Code Sec.  
          1714(a).)

           Existing law  provides that the ownership of a thing is the right  
          of one or more persons to possess and use it to the exclusion of  
          others. In the Civil Code, the thing of which there may be  
          ownership is called property.  (Civ. Code Sec. 654.)  Existing  
          law provides that there may be ownership of all inanimate things  
          which are capable of appropriation or of manual delivery; of all  
          domestic animals; of all obligations; of such products of labor  
          or skill as the composition of an author, the good will of a  
          business, trademarks and signs, and of rights created or granted  
          by statute.  (Civ. Code Sec. 655.)  Existing law provides that  
          property is either: (1) real or immovable; or (2) personal or  
          movable.  (Civ. Code Sec. 657.)  Existing law provides that  
          every kind of property that is not real is personal.  (Civ. Code  
          Sec. 663.)  

           Existing law  , Section 597.7 of the Penal Code, provides that no  
          person shall leave or confine an animal in any unattended motor  
          vehicle under conditions that endanger the health or well-being  
          of an animal due to heat, cold, lack of adequate ventilation, or  
          lack of food or water, or other circumstances that could  
          reasonably be expected to cause suffering, disability, or death  
          to the animal.  A person who violates this law would be subject  
          to specified fines and penalties.  (Pen. Code Sec. 597.7(a),  
          (b).)  

           Existing law  further provides that nothing in this law prevents  
          a peace officer, humane officer, or an animal control officer  
          from removing an animal from a motor vehicle if the animal's  
          safety appears to be in immediate danger from heat, cold, lack  
          of adequate ventilation, lack of food or water, or other  
          circumstances that could reasonably be expected to cause  
          suffering, disability, or death to the animal.  Existing law  







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          authorizes the officer to take all steps that are reasonably  
          necessary for the removal of an animal from a motor vehicle,  
          including, but not limited to, breaking into the motor vehicle,  
          after a reasonable effort to locate the owner or other person  
          responsible.  Existing law further requires the officer to take  
          the animal to an animal shelter or other place of safekeeping  
          or, if the officer deems necessary, to a veterinary hospital for  
          treatment, and to leave a written notice on the car, as  
          specified, including the address of the location where the  
          animal can be claimed.  (Pen. Code Sec. 597.7(c).)

           Existing law  provides that Section 597.7 does not affect in any  
          way existing liabilities or immunities in current law, or create  
          any new immunities or liabilities.  (Pen. Code Sec.  
          597.7(c)(5).)  

           This bill  would apply the provisions, above, for peace officers,  
          humane officers, and animal control officers to firefighters and  
          other emergency responders, as well.

           This bill  would provide that Section 597.7 does not prevent a  
          person from taking reasonable steps that are necessary to remove  
          an animal from a motor vehicle if the person holds a reasonable  
          belief that the animal's safety is in immediate danger from  
          heat, cold, lack of adequate ventilation, lack of food or water,  
          or other circumstances that could reasonably be expected to  
          cause suffering, disability, or death to the animal.
          This bill would further provide that a person who removes an  
          animal in accordance with that provision is not criminally  
          liable for actions taken reasonably and in good faith, if the  
          person meets certain other requirements. For example, the person  
          must:
           determine the vehicle is locked or there is otherwise no  
            reasonable manner for the animal to be removed from the  
            vehicle;
           contact a local law enforcement agency, the fire department,  
            animal control, or the "911" emergency service prior to  
            forcibly entering the vehicle;
           use no more force to enter the vehicle and remove the animal  
            from the vehicle than was necessary under the circumstances;  
            and
           immediately turn the animal over to a representative from law  
            enforcement, animal control, or another emergency responder  
            who responds to the scene.








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           This bill  would add a new civil statute to provide that there  
          shall not be any civil liability on the part of, and no cause of  
          action shall accrue against, a person for property damage or  
          trespass to a motor vehicle, if the damage was caused while the  
          person was rescuing an animal in accordance with the standards  
          in the Penal Code provisions, above.  This bill would further  
          provide that this immunity from civil liability for property  
          damage to a motor vehicle established does not affect a person's  
          civil liability or immunity from civil liability for rendering  
          aid to an animal.

           This bill  would make other conforming and technical changes.  
                                        COMMENT
           
          1.   Stated need for the bill  

          According to the author: 

            California's existing "Good Samaritan" statute does not  
            protect a person from liability from acting to rescue an  
            animal facing imminent danger from being trapped in a hot car.  
            As a result, well-intentioned people who notice an animal  
            illegally left in an unattended vehicle are unable to act to  
            save the pet from potential heat exhaustion or death in the  
            event that law enforcement or emergency responders are unable  
            to arrive in time to act.

            AB 797 establishes immunity from civil liability for any  
            person who acts to rescue an animal facing imminent danger  
            while left unattended in a vehicle. In order to receive such  
            legal immunity, the person must follow specific steps  
            identified in this legislation prior to entering the vehicle.  
            These steps include: 
             (1)  Determining the vehicle is locked or there is otherwise  
               no reasonable manner for the animal to be removed from the  
               vehicle;
             (2)  Have a good faith belief that forcible entry into the  
               vehicle is necessary because the animal is in imminent  
               danger of suffering harm if not immediately removed from  
               the vehicle, and based upon the circumstances known to the  
               person at the time, the belief is reasonable;
             (3)  Contact local law enforcement prior to forcibly entering  
               the vehicle.

            To enter the vehicle, the person is required to use no more  







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            force than necessary to enter the vehicle and remove the  
            animal from the vehicle. Following entry into the vehicle to  
            rescue the animal, the person is required to remain with the  
            animal at a safe location, out of the elements but reasonably  
            close to the vehicle, until an emergency responder arrives.

            The person rescuing the animal will only receive criminal and  
            civil immunity if each and every one of the above steps are  
            followed. [Emphasis in original.] 

          The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office, co-sponsor of  
          this bill, writes that:

            Every year, hundreds of animals suffer, and many die, in Los  
            Angeles County from being left in hot vehicles.  Even when  
            temperatures are in the low 70s and a car's windows are left  
            slightly open, a vehicle can heat up more than 40 degrees  
            within an hour. If an animal's safety appears to be in  
            immediate danger, California Penal Code [S]ection 597.7 allows  
            peace officers, human officers, and animal control officers to  
            take any reasonable steps to remove the animal from a vehicle,  
            including, but not limited to, breaking into the vehicle.  The  
            section does not, however, allow civilians to physically  
            remove an animal from a vehicle, regardless of how urgent or  
            life-threatening the situation is.  Currently, civilians in  
            California who observe an animal in immediate danger are not  
            permitted to do anything, other than attempt to find the  
            animal's owner (which can prove to be difficult, if not  
            impossible, and time-consuming) and/or notify the authorities.  
             By the time a citizen spots an animal trapped in a hot  
            vehicle, the situation is often dire, and requires immediate  
            action.  Because a call of this nature is not a priority for  
            law enforcement, peace officers may not respond in time.  Due  
            to the very limited resources of animal control agencies  
            across the state, as much as animal control officers would  
            like to respond quickly to a call of an animal in a hot  
            vehicle, it is not always feasible."    Accordingly, they  
            write, "AB 797 will provide a legal framework for a Good  
            Samaritan to follow in order to remove an animal from a hot  
            car, without fear of legal repercussions." 

          2.   Civil liability and Good Samaritan laws, generally
           
          Civil liability has the primary effect of ensuring that some  
          measure of recourse exists for those persons injured by the  







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          negligent or willful acts of others, and the risk of that  
          liability has the primary effect of ensuring parties act  
          reasonably to avoid harm to those to whom they owe a duty.   
          Fundamentally, California law provides as a general rule that  
          everyone is responsible, for both the result of his or her  
          willful acts, and for an injury occasioned to another by his or  
          her want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his or  
          her property or person.  (Civ. Code Sec. 1714(a); though the  
          statute recognizes an exception to this rule where the person  
          injured has, willfully or from lack of ordinary care, brought  
          the injury upon him or herself.)  California law also provides  
          that the duty of every person to abstain from injuring the  
          person or property of another, or infringing upon any of his or  
          her rights.  (Civ. Code Sec. 1708.)  Indeed, under case law, it  
          is clear that an otherwise lawful act can become unlawful when  
          it causes damage to the property of another. (See Colton v.  
          Onderdonk (1886) 69 Cal. 155, 159.)  In general, if a voluntary  
          act, lawful in itself, may naturally result in the injury of  
          another, or in the violation of his legal rights, the actor must  
          see to it that such injury or violation does not follow, or he  
          must expect to be liable for damages-regardless of his motive or  
          the degree of care with which he performed the act.  (See  
          McKenna v. Pacific E. R. Co. (1930) 104 Cal.App. 538, 542  
          (internal citation omitted).)

          Although immunity provisions are rarely preferable because they,  
          by their nature, prevent an injured party from seeking a  
          particular type of recovery, the Legislature has, in limited  
          scenarios, approved limited immunity from liability (as opposed  
          to blanket immunities) to promote other policy goals that could  
          benefit the public.  Along these lines, this Legislature has, on  
          multiple occasions, enacted legislation that encourages the use  
          of life saving medications or medical interventions (such as  
          automatic external defibrillators (AEDs), epinephrine  
          auto-injectors (epi-pens), and opioid antagonists) in order to  
          avoid preventable deaths by limiting the liability of "Good  
          Samaritans," as long as certain minimal requirements are met.   
          In most of those scenarios, the qualified immunity does not  
          apply in the case of personal injury or wrongful death which  
          results from the gross negligence or willful or wanton  
          misconduct by the person who renders the care.  (See e.g. Civ.  
          Code Sec. 1714.21.)  

          This bill seeks to now provide Good Samaritans who act  
          reasonably to save the life of an animal whose life is in  







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          immediate danger, as specified, with immunity from civil and  
          criminal liability.  

          3.  Bill appears to craft a narrow immunity for the reasonable  
            actions of a Good Samaritan to rescue an animal whose safety  
            is in immediate danger  

          Currently, California law Section 597.7 of the Penal Code makes  
          it unlawful for a person to leave their animals unattended in a  
          vehicle under conditions that endanger the health or well-being  
          of an animal due to heat, cold, lack of adequate ventilation, or  
          lack of food or water, or other circumstances that could  
          reasonably be expected to cause suffering, disability, or death  
          to the animal.  While this law authorizes peace officers, animal  
          control officers, and humane officers to take reasonable steps  
          to save the life of an animal trapped in an unattended vehicle,  
          even if they must break into the car to do so, it is silent on  
          the ability of citizen bystanders to act to save the life of the  
          animal in the same situation.  As a practical matter, the only  
          legally-sound options available to a bystander are to attempt to  
          track down the owner or to call for help. Some might argue that  
          a reasonable person in this situation would even go as far as to  
          break into the car to save the animal's life in the  
          circumstances described by proponents, but, ultimately, there is  
          no assurance that a court would agree if the person were to in  
          fact be sued by the animal's owner for the damage caused to  
          their car. 

          Accordingly, this bill would create a new civil immunity  
          provision to encourage Good Samaritans to act when it becomes  
          clear that the animal's life is in immediate danger.   At the  
          same time, however, the bill appears to base that immunity  
          narrowly on the reasonableness of the person's actions, the  
          person's reasonable and good faith belief that the animal's  
          safety was in immediate danger, and the person's compliance with  
          certain enumerated requirements.  

          Specifically, this bill would provide that a person is not  
          civilly liable for property damage or trespass to a motor  
          vehicle, if the damage was caused while the person was rescuing  
          an animal in accordance with certain provisions in the Penal  
          Code.  By making the immunity contingent upon acting in  
          accordance with the proposed Penal Code provisions, the bill  
          ensures that the person has to take the same actions that are  
          necessary for the person to avoid criminal liability in order to  







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          enjoy civil immunity for the damages they cause to the motor  
          vehicle in rescuing an animal whose safety is in immediate  
          danger. Those Penal Code provisions at the outset require that  
          the person held a reasonable belief that the animal's safety is  
          in immediate danger from heat, cold, lack of adequate  
          ventilation, lack of food or water, or other circumstances that  
          could reasonably be expected to cause suffering, disability, or  
          death to the animal, and that the person took reasonable steps  
          that are necessary to remove the animal from the motor vehicle.   
          Even then, the person would only be immune for those actions  
          taken reasonably and in good faith, if he or she:
           determines the vehicle is locked or there is otherwise no  
            reasonable manner for the animal to be removed from the  
            vehicle;
           has a good faith belief that forcible entry into the vehicle  
            is necessary because the animal is in imminent danger of  
            suffering harm if it is not immediately removed from the  
                                                                           vehicle, and, based upon the circumstances known to the person  
            at the time, the belief is a reasonable one;
           has contacted a local law enforcement agency, the fire  
            department, animal control, or the "911" emergency service  
            prior to forcibly entering the vehicle;
           remains with the animal in a safe location, out of the  
            elements but reasonably close to the vehicle, until a peace  
            officer, humane officer, animal control officer, or another  
            emergency responder arrives;
           used no more force to enter the vehicle and remove the animal  
            from the vehicle than was necessary under the circumstances;  
            and
           immediately turns the animal over to a representative from law  
            enforcement, animal control, or another emergency responder  
            who responds to the scene.

          At the same time, this bill would also ensure that by creating  
          civil immunity for property damage to the motor vehicle when  
          saving an animal in accordance with the requirements above, it  
          does not in any way affect either the liability or immunity that  
          a person might hold under existing law in rendering aid to the  
          animal. In support, co-sponsor Humane Society of the United  
          States writes:
           
            Plenty of Californians have come across animals in need of  
            rescue from parked cars on hot days, but aren't sure what to  
            do and fear being sued or arrested if they take unauthorized  
            steps to free an animal.  [ . . . ] First responders on the  







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            scene to rescue animals left in hot cars have given firsthand  
            accounts of the suffering that a dog left in a hot car  
            endures. They have described the claw marks left on the door  
            with nail particles still stuck in them made by trapped  
            animals, the contorted body shapes of those desperately trying  
            to get out, and what it looks like when they do not. They have  
            described the look of horror on a person's face when they find  
            out this happened to their dog, because of their mistake, and  
            how the guilt, the sadness and the remorse can eat away at  
            them over time, and how the emotions, public shaming and legal  
            prosecution can destroy their lives. And they have stressed  
            how utterly unnecessary it all is.

            A number of states, such as Tennessee, Wisconsin, Michigan,  
            and Florida, recently enacted similar legislation with  
            bipartisan support. And a similar bill is on the Ohio  
            governor's desk now. Good Samaritan bills addressing children  
            left in hot cars have a long history and it makes sense to  
            apply the same concept to the common problem of pets being  
            left in hot cars. AB 797 includes thoughtful language that  
            increases protection for animals but also prevents  
            vigilantism. Intervention is carefully defined and kept as a  
            last resort only to be used when all other options have been  
            exhausted and the animal is in visible distress. This bill  
            also spells out steps for after an animal has been removed to  
            ensure that emergency care is provided and pets are returned  
            to their owners appropriately.

          4.   Definition of "animal"  

          The authors may wish to amend this bill to apply to only  
          domesticated or household animals, so as to avoid any unintended  
          consequences or confusion as to damage caused to a motor vehicle  
          hauling, for example, livestock, horses, or other agricultural  
          animals.  

          5.   Support if amended letter  

          The State Humane Association of California's Board of Directors  
          writes a support if amended letter requesting that the bill be  
          amended to ensure that all people - including bystanders,  
          officers, and employees - and the agencies, organizations and  
          companies that employ them are immune from civil and criminal  
          liability when acting in good faith to rescue an animal or child  
          from a car.  Staff notes that under the Government Tort Claims  







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          Act (Gov. Code Sec. 810 et seq.), public entities and employees  
          are generally not liable for an injury, except as otherwise  
          provided by statute, and that ultimately, the problems described  
          with respect to inaction on the part of Good Samaritans do not  
          appear to exist in the context of professionals who respond to  
          these scenes in their professional capacities. 

          6.    Bill should be sent back to Senate Rules for consideration  
            of request from Senate Committee on Public Safety 
           
          In addition to establishing a specified civil immunity for  
          persons who rescue an animal pursuant to a reasonable belief  
          that the animal's safety is in immediate danger, this bill would  
          provide for a criminal immunity as well under the Penal Code.   
          That immunity, like the civil immunity, is contingent upon the  
          person meeting certain requirements.  Additionally, as with the  
          civil immunity provision, as a threshold matter, the person is  
          only permitted to take "reasonable steps necessary" to rescue  
          the animal if he or she "holds a reasonable belief" that  
          animal's safety is in immediate danger.  

          If approved by this Committee, the Senate Rules Committee has  
          directed that AB 797 be sent back to Rules Committee for  
          consideration of the Senate Committee on Public Safety's  
          re-referral request. 


           Support  :  ASPCA; Best Friends Animal Society; Council Member  
          David J. Toro - City of Colton; Civil Justice Association of  
          California; Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association; Marin  
          Humane Society; Office of the San Diego County District  
          Attorney's Office; San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon;  
          San Diego Humane Society; San Francisco SPCA; Social Compassion  
          in Legislation; State Humane Association of California (support  
          if amended); one individual

           Opposition  :  None Known 

                                        HISTORY

          Source  :  Humane Society of the United States; Los Angeles  
          District Attorney

           Related Pending Legislation  :  None Known 








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           Prior Legislation  :  SB 1806 (Figueroa, Ch. 431, Stats. 2006) See  
          Background.  Earlier versions of the bill also provided for  
          civil and criminal immunity, but that language was ultimately  
          removed coming out of the Senate Public Safety Committee, and  
          was therefore not heard in this Committee.  

           Prior Vote  :

          Assembly Floor (Ayes 77, Noes 0)
          Assembly Appropriations Committee (Ayes 17, Noes 0)
          Assembly Accountability and Administrative Review Committee  
          (Ayes 9, Noes 0)

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