Dan Walters: Unions held whip hand in California Capitol
09/13/2013 12:00 AM
09/13/2013 6:33 AM
When the Legislature’s 2013 session began nine months ago, a giant question mark hung over the Capitol.
What would be the effect of having so many new members – nearly half of the Assembly – and of new districts created by an independent commission for the first time, of the first-ever use of a top- two primary election system, and of having two-thirds Democratic supermajorities in both houses?
We now know the answer: Unions, particularly those representing public employees, tightened their already strong grip.
Dozens of measures that unions wanted to enhance their members’ incomes, fringe benefits, bargaining positions and procedural rights were enacted, albeit not always as extensively as they wished.
Just as consistently, legislation that unions opposed fell by the wayside, even when it had broad public support, or even when Gov. Jerry Brown, their on-again, off-again ally, wanted it. An overhaul of the California Environmental Quality Act was the most conspicuous example.
Two bills, both dealing with sexual abuse of children, illustrate the syndrome.
Lawmakers pushed to pass Senate Bill 131, inspired by scandals in the Catholic Church, to open a new window to allow victims of sex abuse to sue employers of their alleged abusers.
Democrats lined up to denounce sex abuse and shed figurative tears for its victims, saying that simple justice demanded that they be given more time to seek redress, and passed the bill.
The measure also happened to exempt public agencies, including schools, from liability.
But they took a different tack on Assembly Bill 375, which purported to improve dismissal processes for teachers, especially those who sexually abuse children.
In 2012, inspired by a truly shameful incident in Los Angeles in which an abusive teacher was paid off rather than fired, legislation to give school trustees more power to dismiss such cretins was passed by the Senate. But it died in the Assembly due to pressure from the California Teachers Association and other unions.
The backlash from that cowardice cost at least one legislator her seat in the 2012 elections, so the CTA and other unions ginned up AB 375, which superficially changes some dismissal procedures but falls well short of what should be done. It would even limit the number of abused children whose testimony could be used against a teacher.
School trustees and administrators opposed the bill as inadequate, but the unions’ sycophants in the Legislature – who had expressed such concern for abuse victims on SB 131 – passed it anyway.
If the unions can have their way on child abuse, they can have their way on anything in the current Legislature.
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