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Attorney General Lockyer's Proposition 65 Bill Signed by Governor
(SACRAMENTO) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer announced today that a bill he sponsored to limit frivolous Proposition 65 lawsuits, while upholding the landmark environmental initiative passed by voters 15 years ago, has been signed by Gov. Davis.
SB 471 by Senator Byron Sher, D-San Jose, will make it more difficult for private lawyers to file unfounded lawsuits by requiring attorneys to prove their claims have merit before they are filed. Business groups say many companies currently opt to pay thousands of dollars to settle even the most flimsy cases because it is cheaper than financing costly court battles.
"SB 471 will screen out those cases that have little scientific support, but are instead simply designed to pressure companies into settling quickly," Lockyer said. "We recognize that while we must protect Californians from unsafe chemicals, we must also protect the state's business community from harassment by lawyers looking only to line their pockets."
The Attorney General worked closely with business organizations and environmentalists to craft a law that will help businesses while still uphold the strict warning requirements mandated by Proposition 65. The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 requires that Californians be given clear and reasonable warning before they are exposed to chemicals known by the state to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm. Warnings are not required if the exposure or discharge poses no significant risk of cancer or if the amount is 1,000 times less than the level that would cause reproductive toxicity.
The Attorney General's office became aware of problems while compiling data on Proposition 65 litigation. In one incident, a law firm perused web sites that listed products containing various amounts of Proposition 65 chemicals. The firm then filed complaints against companies that manufactured those products, with no scientific basis as to whether the amount of Proposition 65 chemicals they contained posed any danger.
In another case, a lawsuit was filed against a company that manufactures bike tire repair kits. Although the amount of Proposition 65 chemicals contained in the company's tiny tubes of patch glue was minuscule, the company opted to settle the case rather than risk lengthy litigation.
SB 471 will require private attorneys to use neutral experts to back up their claims when they notify the Attorney General that they intend to file a Proposition 65 lawsuit. The bill also requires judges to approve all settlements, ensuring that attorneys' fees, penalties and the Proposition 65 warnings the defendant agrees to post are just and reasonable.