SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger made California the first state to create an insurance exchange under new federal health care reform as he ended the bill signing period Thursday by also approving bills addressing topics ranging from kindergarten to foster care.
He signed seven major health care-reform bills and another seven bills extending foster care benefits, along with measures to punish parents of truant children and crack down on human trafficking.
He also signed a bill that delays kindergarten entry for thousands of 4-year-olds. The law moves up the cutoff date by one month each year for three years, from the current Dec. 2 deadline to Sept. 1.
The Legislative Analyst's Office estimates the state could save $700 million a year by reducing enrollment. Under the law, half the savings will help plug the state's deficit.
In his first wave of actions Thursday afternoon, the governor vetoed 43 bills, including one requiring tanker ships to deploy floating barriers, or booms, as a preventive measure before transferring fuel in California waters.
Environmentalists had made the bill a top priority. The measure, AB 234, by Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, written after an oil spill in San Francisco Bay by the Dubai Star last year.
Schwarzenegger called the bill "unnecessary" in his veto message, however, because he said the state Department of Fish and Game is already studying the issue. He also criticized a provision of the bill that would have increased the fee that oil companies pay from 5 cents to 6 cents per barrel to fund California oil spill programs, saying the revenue it would have raised "far exceeds" the cost of the state putting the booming rule in place.
The state's landmark health care legislation sets up an oversight board for an insurance exchange that will let consumers comparison-shop for coverage. Other bills in the package bar insurers from denying coverage to children because of a pre-existing condition and let young adults stay on their parents' health care plans until they turn 26.
The laws all tie the nation's most populous state into federal reforms set to take effect in 2014.
Thursday's developments represent a "significant breakthrough in the historic effort to overhaul the broken health care system in America, the worst excesses of which are seen daily in California," said Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, author of one of the flagship reform bills.
The foster care bills extend some services to youths until they turn 21. Currently, they lose all benefits when they turn 18.
The state will take advantage of federal funding to help those youths stay with relatives, in group homes or with a foster family.
Introduced by Assemblyman Jim Beall, D-San Jose, AB 12 is described by children's rights advocates as the most significant policy change to take place in the foster care world in decades. The new law, which allows the state to draw on federal funds, begins in January 2012. Favorable outcomes are anticipated for many of the 4,500 teens who "age out" of foster care in California each year, a majority into homelessness, unemployment and incarceration.
Also, Schwarzenegger vetoed two bills passed in response to a pay scandal in the Los Angeles County city of Bell, saying they don't go far enough. AB 1987, by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, would have barred employees of some counties from "pension spiking" -- using last-minute retirement incentives to drive up benefits. SB 1425, by Democratic Sen. Joe Simitian of Palo Alto, would have prohibited pension spiking by state employees covered by California's two largest pension funds.
The governor already has signed or vetoed about 500 bills in a year when legislators and Schwarzenegger were preoccupied with the state's $19 billion budget deficit.
Under California law, the governor has until Oct. 1 to act on bills that passed during the latest legislative session. If he does nothing, the bills automatically become law, according to Schwarzenegger's press office.
Among other bills signed by the governor:
Mercury News staff writers Karen de Sá and Paul Rogers contributed to this report.