Assembly approves compromise racial profiling bill backers call 'first step'

SACRAMENTO - A compromise bill prohibiting police from stopping motorists because of their race or ethnicity was approved Monday by the state Assembly as backers called it ''better than nothing.''

The bill would ban what is known as ''racial profiling'' - police pulling over motorists just because they are black, brown or another minority.

It would also require police to take diversity training and to give a business card to any motorist who asks for it. That would make it easier for a motorist to file a complaint.

The author, Sen. Kevin Murray, D-Culver City, introduced a different bill after he was pulled over by a Beverly Hills officer in June 1998, right after he had won nomination to the Senate.

The Legislature last year approved his bill, which would have required police agencies to keep statistics on the race and ethnic background of detained motorists. Gov. Gray Davis vetoed that bill, contending the data collection would be too expensive.

Davis worked with Murray and other lawmakers on this new version and has agreed to sign it.

The bill is supported by dozens of civil rights groups, but opposed by many other similar groups. At a committee hearing in June, Michelle Alexander, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Racial Justice Project, said without the data collection, it would be impossible to know if the training worked or the ban was effective.

During Monday's Assembly debate, all lawmakers who spoke supported the bill and it was returned to the Senate for a final vote on amendments by a 63-1 vote.

However, some backers were less than enthusiastic.

''This is a bill that's not much at all, but it's better than nothing,'' said Assemblywoman Audie Bock, I-Piedmont.

''This does move the issue forward,'' added Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. ''This is a beginning and a first step, but not a last step.''

Several black and Hispanic lawmakers said the bill would make a difference in their communities.

Assemblyman Tony Cardenas, D-Arleta, described how his law-abiding brother fears catching the attention of a police officer and being pulled over. He said the required training might help police.

''Maybe some of them don't realize they are racially profiling people,'' Cardenas said.

Assemblyman Rod Wright, D-Los Angeles, said black constituents told him the new bill was better because the 1999 version would have forced officers to give tickets to motorists to justify the stop in the statistics.

''If you are in South-Central (Los Angeles), would you rather get a ticket or a business card?'' Wright asked.

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