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The Chico Enterprise-Record

Kristie's Bill blocked in Senate Judiciary Committee

By LARRY MITCHELL - Staff Writer
April 28, 2004
SACRAMENTO-- Just when things were looking good for Kristie's Law the bill to restrict police pursuits the measure failed to pass out of the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday.
That means the bill is blocked for now. It was granted "reconsideration," so it can have another hearing, but arranging one for this year, at this late date, could be difficult, said Brett Michelin, chief of staff to Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley, the bill's author.
"It's very disappointing that it didn't get out of committee today," Michelin said. "But it's an issue that will be around here till the problem is addressed."
Michelin said it's still possible for the bill to be revived this year. It could be incorporated into another measure, he said.
Senate Bill 1866 needed four votes to move out of the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. It only got three.
Michelin blamed pressure from police groups for its stalling. A hearing before the committee seemed to go well Tuesday, but in the end, the votes weren't there, he said.
Kristie's Law would limit police vehicle pursuits to only those cases where suspects posed "an imminent peril" to the public.
At Tuesday's hearing, questions were raised about the phrase "imminent peril." It was suggested the term was too vague. Michelin said Aanestad agreed to change the bill, and it seemed like that would satisfy the committee.
Three senators voted for the bill: Committee chair Martha Escutia, D-Norwalk, Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Los Angeles, and Sen. Byron Sher, D-Stanford. Sen. Bill Morrow, R-Oceanside, voted against the bill. Two other senators abstained: Sen. Dick Ackerman, R-Tustin, and Sen. Denise Ducheny, D-San Diego.
Aanestad hoped the remaining committee member, Sen. Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, would supply the fourth aye vote, but in the end he abstained.
SB1866 is being called Kristie's Law after 15-year-old Kristie Priano of Chico, who died in 2001 after a police pursuit ended in a crash.
Kristie's mother, Candy Priano, said Aanestad told her he'd try again with the bill next year.
"I just hope we'll be back in 2005," she said. "But, unfortunately, so many people are going to die unnecessarily between now and then."
It's estimated more than 350 people are killed each year in the United States as a result of police pursuits. Many are innocent bystanders and police officers themselves.
Kristie, an honor student and athlete, was being driven to a high-school basketball game by her parents, when the 2002 crash occurred at the intersection of Palm and East Fifth avenues in Chico.
Chico police were pursuing another 15-year-old girl, who had taken her mother's SUV and gone joyriding with friends. The SUV ran a stop sign at Palm and Fifth and hit the Priano family's van broadside. Kristie sustained head injuries and died a week later.
The Prianos claimed police had not followed their department's policy on pursuits. They sued the city of Chico, but the suit was thrown out because of a law granting cities and counties immunity from suits if their police agencies have written policies on pursuits. The immunity applies whether or not the policies are followed.
SB1866 would allow such immunity only if police departments adopt policies stating pursuits will not be initiated unless there is immediate peril to the public. Also, police would have to follow those policies in order for their employers a city, county or the state to be immune to litigation.
Some law-enforcement officials, like Chico Police Chief Bruce Hagerty, say Kristie's Law would impair officers' ability to do their jobs.
But others disagree. At Tuesday's hearing, Candy Priano quoted Cpl. Dennis Gutierrez of the Riv
side County Sheriff's Department as saying, "If (SB1866) does pass, it won't stop us from catching the bad guys. We can put out a warrant, we can pick them up at their home; they have families in the area."
Because pursuits are so dangerous, many police agencies across the country have limited their use, according to professor Geoffrey Alpert of the University of South Carolina, who has studied the subject for about 20 years.
Michelin said he and Aanestad had a productive meeting Tuesday morning with law-enforcement officials, who indicated they would work cooperatively on SB1866. It seemed to him the police agencies' opposition to the bill was easing, he said.
Last week, SB1866 passed the Senate Public Safety Committee.




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