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California Sikh Dagger Bill Vetoed by Schwarzenegger

India West, News Report, Sunita Sohrabji Posted: Oct 23, 2009

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger termed unnecessary a bill mandating kirpan training for all state law enforcement officers and vetoed the measure Oct. 11, amidst a flurry of bill signing.

AB 504, authored by assembly member Warren Furutani, D-Long Beach the first bill of its kind in the nation would have required the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training to create a teaching component on kirpans, the small swords Sikh men are required to carry as an article of faith. Anyone entitled to making an arrest in California would have had to undergo the training.

This measure is unnecessary, said Schwarzenegger in a statement accompanying the veto. It is the policy and practice of the Commission to periodically review and update existing course curricula.

If the Commission determines that training on the kirpan is warranted, it can create a program without this measure. For these reasons, I am unable to sign this bill, he said.

Furutanis office expressed disapproval of the governors veto. For the past eight years, there has been heightened harassment of Sikhs in California by law enforcement officials, Dean Grafilo, Furutanis chief of staff, told India-West. When agencies fail to act, laws need to be passed, he said.

In the years since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, the Sikh Coalition, an advocacy group, said it has successfully resolved more than 20 criminal cases involving mistaken arrests of Sikhs carrying small kirpans.

Sikhs are permitted to carry small kirpans in California, but state law prohibits concealed weapons. Many Sikhs have been mistakenly arrested for allegedly hiding their kirpans, which are normally worn under the clothing. Others have taken to wearing the kirpan on the outside of their clothing to avoid charges of concealed weapons.

Grafilo said Furutani could amend a different bill to reflect the content of AB 504, or the state assemblyman could reintroduce it at a future point.

I am committed to carrying this legislation again until this or any other governor signs it, said Furutani in a statement released by the Sikh Coalition.

I urge the Sikh community to stand with me as we continue this fight, he said.

It is very unfortunate that the governor has decided peace officers do not need to be trained about Sikhs, Neha Singh, Western Region director of the Sikh Coalition, told India-West.

The bill was modeled on an identical piece of legislation that garnered the governors approval last year, which requires CPOST to train all law enforcement officers on how to handle autistic people, she said.

Earlier this year, AB 504 passed through the state Assembly without opposition, 77-0. The California Senate also passed the bill Sept. 1, by a vote of 36-0.

CPOST, which had initially opposed the bill, changed its position to neutral after the bill was amended to make the instruction part of a larger, in-service training. The Sikh Coalition would have provided materials for the training, free of cost to the state.

It makes no sense to us. The legislature felt this measure was necessary and was 100 percent behind it, asserted Singh.

The Sikh Coalition has asked Furutanis office to set up a meeting with CPOST to see if kirpan training can be arranged without legislation.

If the bill had passed, CPOST would have been required to create a telecourse, a video-based presentation on case law and cultural issues surrounding kirpans. The agency would have also created an electronic training bulletin, which would have gone out to the 660 agencies of the commission.

Several cities around the state are already conducting kirpan training on an ad-hoc basis, said Singh, but added that there was a lack of training in areas with low Sikh populations and where such training would be most useful.

The coalition Oct. 12 began a campaign to urge members of the community to phone the governors office to express disapproval of his veto.

Related Articles:

California Passes Pioneering Kirpan Bill, First in US

The Ocean of Pearls: Sikh Doctor Struggles to Fit In

Sikhs Keep Turbans on at Airports






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