Some new state laws will greatly impact Valley residents

January 04, 2002|By LAURA MITCHELL, Staff Writer

The New Year brings new laws, some that will impact Imperial County residents greatly.

The state's minimum wage increased 50 cents to $6.75 an hour.

"The minimum wage increase is definitely going to have an effect on farmers," said Steve Pastor, executive director of the Imperial County Farm Bureau.

The wage increase will cost farmers more and, since the price of produce is down, it will be even tougher on farmers, Pastor said.

But the wage increase may bring more money into the homes of Valley residents, many of whom earn the minimum wage.


Another new cost to people in California is a quarter-cent sales tax increase that took effect Tuesday. The sales tax increase is not a new law. It is the result of a law from former Gov. Pete Wilson's administration that automatically raises or lowers the sales tax according to the state's surplus revenue.

"People have said a couple of things about the tax, but it's real minimal," said Brian Havens, sales manager at Imperial Valley Cycle Center in El Centro.

Amber Hewitt, co-owner of Computer Guru in Brawley, said she hasn't heard any of her customers complain about the extra tax.

Armando Villasenor, owner of Mando's Stereo Discounted Electronics in El Centro, said he didn't even receive a notice on the new higher tax and knew nothing about it.

In Calexico, the new sales tax is 8.25 percent. It's higher in Calexico than other Valley cities or the county because Calexico voters approved a half-cent increase in the early 1990s.

The money from the increase was supposed to be used by Calexico Hospital to provide care to indigent patients.

Since the tax's inception, critics have complained about mismanagement of the money the tax brings into the coffers of the Heffernan Memorial Hospital District.

Phil Aubry, manager of the Calexico Wal-Mart, said "The average person doesn't understand the reason for the half-cent tax. There is no hospital."

After the hospital closed in early 1998, the money from the tax went to pay debts incurred by the district. Some of those debts were incurred trying to provide service to indigent patients.

Last year the city treasurer worked out a deal with the district that will eliminate the half-cent tax by around 2005. The tax will end when the district's multi-million dollar bond sale is paid off.

The bonds were sold in 1996 using the money from the half-cent tax as collateral. The money from the bond sale was used to buy used medical equipment and in other areas.

The hospital district receives no money from the half-cent tax anymore, as per the 2001 agreement.

A new unemployment benefits bill took effect Jan. 1. The new law increases weekly unemployment payments over the next four years from $230 to $450. Imperial County has the highest unemployment rate in the state.

New legislation allows college-eligible undocumented students to pay cheaper in-state resident tuition in the California State University and community college systems. This law reverses one enacted during the Wilson administration.

Other new laws for 2002:

· Bans on junk-food sales at elementary and middle schools;

· Increased unemployment benefits and expanded rights for gay and lesbian couples who register with the state as domestic partners;

· Anti-telemarketing legislation that provides the public with the option to sign up for a "do not call" list. Telemarketers who violate the law and call people on the list will be fined.

>> Staff Writer Laura Mitchell can be reached at 337-3452 or

>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie contributed to this story.

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