Online credit card privacy bill advances

SACRAMENTO — Californians who use their credit cards for online purchases would gain some protection, and voters would decide whether the state's public universities could consider race and gender for admissions, under measures passed by the state Senate on Thursday.

The Assembly has yet to act on either measure.

Responding to cases in which hackers stole personal financial information on millions of credit card users, Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) proposed limiting the details that online merchants may collect from their customers.

Her measure would permit merchants to have only certain information, such as ZIP Codes and maiden names, necessary to combat identity theft. It also would bar them from selling the information or using it for marketing purposes.

In addition, the online retailers would have to destroy the information once it is no longer needed for fraud protection — for instance, when a consumer cancels an account.

"In the wake of recent, highly public data breaches, consumer privacy is at the forefront of all our minds," Jackson said in a statement. "Consumer privacy rights must become a priority as we make more purchases online and become more aware of how easily our privacy can be compromised."

The bill is opposed by groups including the California Bankers Assn., the California Chamber of Commerce and the California Retailers Assn.

Opponents called the bill, SB 383, overreaching and said its limits on information would jeopardize fraud prevention efforts.

Senators also voted Thursday voted to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot that, if passed, would allow state universities and colleges to award preferential treatment based on race or gender in deciding whom to recruit and admit.

If approved by the Assembly, the measure could go on the ballot in November, but would be more likely to appear before voters in 2016, to coincide with the next presidential election.

Voter approval of the measure would repeal portions of a 1996 law, Proposition 209, that prohibits preferential treatment using race or gender in admission decisions.

"A blanket prohibition on consideration of race was a mistake in 1996, and we are still suffering the consequences from that initiative today," said Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-Los Angeles), the bill's author.

Republicans, including minority leader Bob Huff of Diamond Bar, voted against the measure, SCA 5.

"This bill allows our public schools to use race and gender to discriminate against students," Huff said.

Also on Thursday, the Assembly passed a bill to require additional testing on sewage sludge exported from Los Angeles and other counties to the Central Valley.

Residents of Kern County have objected to the imports of treated human waste, known as biosolids, for recycling as fertilizer. The measure, by Assemblyman Rudy Salas Jr. (D-Bakersfield), would allow the State Water Board to test the biosolids for contaminants twice a year.

The city of Los Angeles opposes the bill, arguing that it already performs extensive tests on its exported waste. Many Los Angeles-area lawmakers abstained from voting on the bill.

Times staff writer Melanie Mason contributed to this report.

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