Tuesday, September 24, 1996 · Page A17 © 1996 San Francisco Chronicle

Wilson Signs Legislation Forbidding Genital Mutilation of Girls
The practice has appeared among recent immigrants

Robert B. Gunnison, Chronicle Sacramento Bureau


Governor Pete Wilson yesterday signed a bill to outlaw female genital mutilation, routinely practiced in 41 nations in the Middle East and Africa and most recently appearing in California among new immigrants.

The bill by Assemblywoman Liz Figueroa, D-Hayward, was introduced after a newspaper reported five cases of genital mutilation were discovered among pregnant women in the San Jose area since 1980.

``This legislation will help protect young girls from a mutilating procedure that can cause lifelong physical and psychological damage,'' Wilson said in a statement. ``Abolishing this cruel practice is vitally important for the health and welfare of these young girls.''

The new law will add one year to the prison sentence of anyone who violates an existing statute that forbids unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering. The maximum term is currently six years in prison.

The law also requires the state to conduct an education program about the health risks and emotional trauma of genital mutilation, which is usually administered to girls about age 13. Practiced by Muslims, Christians and other religions, the ritual is thought to keep girls virginal and wives faithful.

The procedure can range from cutting the hood of the clitoris to the removal of the clitoris and tissue at the entrance to the vagina. It is often performed with unsterilized knives, razor blades or pieces of glass and done without anesthesia, causing pain and possible infertility, painful intercourse, chronic infections, incontinence, increased risk in childbirth and death.

With a week left to dispose of dozens of measures sent to him by the Legislature last month, Wilson also signed a bill that will exempt food and cosmetic containers from a state law that required 25 percent of the package to be made of recycled materials.

The industry contended that the rule, scheduled to take effect in January, would result in packages that contained a ``potential risk of contaminants,'' said Gene Livingston, lobbyist for the Soap and Detergent Association.

``We're very pleased and relieved as well,'' Livingston said. ``The previous law put us in a very difficult position. We couldn't comply with the law without compromising the safety of our packaging.''

Opposing the bill were environmentalists, including Californians Against Waste, whose lobbyist Luke Breit, said that the technology existed to insure the purity of the containers. ``Plastics are the largest volume of materials going into landfills,'' he said.

Also signed by Wilson was a bill by Assemblyman Richard Rainey, R-Walnut Creek, that only benefits a company in his district that converts methane gas from landfills into methanol.

Rainey carried the legislation on behalf of TeraMeth Industries Inc., of Walnut Creek, the sole creator of a technology that converts landfill gases into alternative fuels.

The bill requires the State Air Resources Board and local air quality districts to report on ``noncombustion landfill gas control technology'' options.

Right now, the only such option on the market is TeraMeth's product, which captures the methane gas generated from decomposing organic materials in landfills, refines it and creates methanol, which can be used in making clean-burning vehicle fuels.

Rainey has said he hopes to give TeraMeth a chance to compete against other methods of disposing methane emissions from landfills by having the state list TeraMeth's technology as an option landfill owners can use.

Vetoed by Wilson was a bill by Senator Quentin Kopp, independent-San Francisco, that would have required the state to transfer its rail cars and locomotives for local operation to the Peninsula Rail Transit District for service between San Jose and San Francisco.

Wilson said the bill—which had only one dissenting vote in the Legislature—would ``alter the existing agreement negotiated between the Department (of Transportation) and the district as originally directed by the Legislature.''

Transfer of the equipment was directed by the Legislature in 1988, but has been delayed by negotiations over such issues as liability for costs of toxic cleanup at stations.

© The Chronicle Publishing Company

(File revised 28 December 2003)