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Bill Orton
Independence.
Integrity.


The Democratic nominee
for California's 67th Assembly District



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September 15, 2002

Bill Orton's legislative agenda focuses on freedom, quality-of-life issues
By Bill Orton

The 'First Day in Office' series
  • First Ten Bills
  • First Ten Phone Calls
  • First Ten Resolutions
  • First steps on budget reform

         (ORANGE COUNTY, CA.) -- Citing quality-of-life and basic freedoms as the guiding principles behind his legislative proposals, state Assembly candidate William R. "Bill" Orton (D-Seal Beach) outlined the first ten bills he would submit this December.

          "As a member of the majority party, I stand a pretty good chance of getting legislation passed," said Orton, "so I'd like people to know what my legislative agenda would be."

          Orton would hand in ten bills when lawmakers are sworn in to office in the beginning of December, following the election.

          Lawmakers typically carry between 15 to 20 bills each year, many on behalf of constituents or the cities in the lawmaker's district.

    ASSEMBLY BILL 1

          "I've asked the Speaker to hold Assembly Bill 1 for the California Religious Freedoms Restoration Act," said Orton.

          The proposed AB 1, known as CalRIFRA (pronounced RIFF-ra), would require "reasonable accommodation" in the workplace for individuals who use break time to pray or to allow workers to use unpaid personal time to participate in acts of faith, like charitable good works or a pilgrimage.

          "No one should fear losing their job or being unfairly disciplined just because they take an extended unpaid lunch to do a charitable good deed that is an act of their faith."

          The need for the bill, says Orton, comes from a U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down a similar law at the federal level.

          "The Supreme Court ruled that this is not a federal issue," said Orton, "so CalRIFRA would be the right way to guarantee reasonable accommodation for people to abide by their faith in their daily lives."

          So long as it doesn't interfere with the workplace, a person should be able to wear a yarmulke or quietly pray at their desk or go to an employee lounge area to unroll a prayer rug and face Mecca to pray.

          "Religion is a force for good in society," said Orton, an agnostic who volunteers each week delivering food to homeless children at the Mary McLeod Bethune School.

          Orton says CalRIFRA is one of a series of "freedom" bills he would submit as a lawmaker. Orton will also seek to strengthen freedom of speech and the press and widen access by the public to government information.

    FILLING OUT TOP 10 LIST

          The remaining bills submitted in December, says Orton, would be "quality of life" or "stewardship" measures:

    • INFRASTRUCTURE: Orton would instruct an obscure state agency known as the California Development Bank (CalBank) to raise $100 million to pay for upgrades in the region's sewers, storm drains and waste water treatment plants. The money would match federal, county and local funds, which could amount to a billion dollars or more, says the candidate. "No one should get sick just because they go in the ocean or surf in the jetty," said Orton. "It doesn't matter who gets credit for fixing things. All that matters is everybody working together to fix things."


    • SANTA ANA RIVER CONSERVANCY: Using legislation adopted in 1999 as a model, Orton would bring landowners, water companies, cities, sanitation districts and the public into talks aimed at creating a state conservancy to manage the Santa Ana River watershed. "The Rivers and Mountains Conservancy is doing a good job with the San Gabriel River," said Orton. "I'd like to see a common-sense plan for the Santa Ana River, which is a watershed that doesn't get the attention it deserves."


    • STATE BUDGET REFORM: The most recent state budget is the "ugliest in 10 years," says Orton, not simply because times are bad, but due to fundamental, structural problems with the budget process itself. Orton would carry legislation to create a panel of experts from government, business, and the public to propose ways to change the budgeting process. "The system's broken," said Orton. "Fixing it will require clearing the partisan deadwood that creates so many logjams."


    • DNA AND CHILD SUPPORT: Against long odds, Assemblyman Roderick Wright (D-Los Angeles) sent a bill to the Governor this year that would give relief to some men who have been ordered to pay child support for children they never sired, but AB 2250 stops short of allowing DNA proof to be the final factor in child support cases. "We're using DNA evidence to free inmates from Death Row," said Orton. "We ought to be able to use DNA to bring some justice to men wrongfully required to pay thousands of dollars in child support."


    • VOCATIONAL EDUCATION: Shop classes are disappearing in California, as schools push more kids towards college. "Only one high school student in five will complete a college degree," said Orton, "but every child needs skills." Orton wants the state to recruit and train more vocational education teachers -- including for computer technology -- and to lift the stigma that holds many kids from entering the trades.


    • FOOD LABELING: It is estimated that as many as two-thirds of all grocery products may contain ingredients made from "genetically modified organisms," or GMOs. Some GMOs that were banned for use in foods meant for human consumption have made it onto the grocery shelves. "Consumers deserve to know what's in their food," said Orton. "We should require products containing GMOs to be labeled, so people can make a choice about what they buy."


    • VETERANS: "Americans owes a debt of gratitude to veterans," says Orton, who plans to introduce a bill that would waive the state fees for veterans who apply for a hunting or fishing license. "A free hunting or fishing license is a small way to say thanks to the people who served this grateful nation."


    • CHAMBERS OF COMMERCE: Few institutions play a more pivotal role in the life of a community than the local chamber of commerce. Because chambers tend to be small operations, staff often do not receive health or retirement benefits. "Chambers should be able to tap into the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS)," said Orton, who points out that the retirement system is the largest single purchaser of health and pension benefits in the nation. "Individuals and the chambers would still be required to foot the actual costs, but the buying power would make it much more cost effective to hire and retain staff."


    • MARIJUANA NORMALIZATION STUDY: Everybody's got something to say about marijuana, but there is no single definitive study showing the fiscal impact to the state on policing, imprisonment, eradication, intradiction and addiction treatment efforts. "Everyone should be on the same page when talking about a multi-billion-dollar issue," said Orton, who will call for a study that looks at all the ways the state pays out money regulating marijuana. As an example of overlooked facts, state agriculture officials estimated that last year's pot harvest was a $4.1 billion cash crop, worth more than the value of grapes and almonds combined.

          Orton, who has spent seven years as an aide in the state Assembly, has drafted legislation before, on subjects that range from protecting the American Flag, how Native American tribes are designated and safeguarding the defense industry.

          But for the list above, Orton says he will do like most lawmakers and turn to a gathering of 80 lawyers who work in an obscure-but-essential agency known as the Office of the Legislative Counsel. It is this bank of lawyers who actually research and draft bills, based on ideas submitted by the lawmakers.

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