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SACRAMENTO — Hoping to rescue a bill on secret settlements from death at the hands of business interests, a state assemblywoman has substantially revised her own legislation, which had aimed to keep records open in cases involving danger to the public. In the face of a full-scale lobbying offensive against Assembly Bill 1700, Assemblywoman Fran Pavley held “frank discussions with members,” according to her chief of staff, Debra Gravert. On Tuesday she agreed to cut from her bill portions covering civil cases that allege public danger in connection with the medical or pharmaceutical industries or the tech sector, except in cases of environmental hazard. Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, had run into substantial objections from Republicans — and from the moderate Democrats whose votes she needs most. The opposition is the result of intense lobbying from industry groups representing health care, pharmaceutical companies and technology firms. Those groups have helped kill previous attempts to bar secret settlements, and a previous bill, SB 11 by Sen. Martha Escutia of Whittier, died without a single vote in the Assembly in 2001. Bill amendments also strengthen existing language protecting trade secrets — a major point for tech lobbyists, who have made that issue a focal point. Pavley’s original language would have exposed trade secrets only in cases of grave danger of injury — and even then, a company could petition a judge to protect proprietary information. The bill retains a ban on secret settlements on cases involving public danger in connection to faulty vehicles or faulty vehicle parts, and in cases alleging repeated sexual abuse and molestation. Even with those changes, Gravert said, there is still no indication that the bill will make it out off the Assembly floor, where it is expected to be considered today or Friday. “[Pavley] is at a solid 36 [votes] and she needs 41,” Gravert said. AB 1700 is supported by the Consumer Attorneys of California, the Consumers Union, the Sierra Club and state Attorney General Bill Lockyer. Still undecided are at least seven members of the so-called “mod squad” — moderate Assembly Democrats who often support business interests. “We’re just hoping that these amendments will bring those seven squishy ones over,” Gravert said. “If we get the bill off the floor, it will be 41 votes — there will be no votes to spare.” So far, industry opponents have been slow to react to Pavley’s changes. A spokesman for TechNet, an industry and lobbyist group of CEOs representing the tech industry, said the group has not yet decided whether to remove their opposition. John Sullivan, the president of the Civil Justice Association of California, said the changes won’t affect his group’s position. “Environmental hazards are still in there,” Sullivan said. “That could cover almost anything.”

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