State Issues

Actually, business groups did just fine in legislature

Many people consider California’s legislature, led by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, left, and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, right, very liberal. But only three of the 27 bills that business deplored got through this year, another very good record for business groups.
Many people consider California’s legislature, led by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, left, and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, right, very liberal. But only three of the 27 bills that business deplored got through this year, another very good record for business groups. AP

From all appearances, the California Legislature’s 2017 session was one of the most liberal – or progressive, as liberals prefer to say – in the state’s history.

Despite the overall left-of-center tone to the session that ended last week, the California Chamber of Commerce and other business lobbies did what they have done for nearly two decades: killed all but a few of the measures they call “job killers.”

This year, the chamber put 27 bills on its hit list. When the dust settled early Saturday morning, 24 had been executed. Only three had been sent to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk for signature or veto. That 89 percent kill rate is right in line with the chamber’s record ever since its “job killer” program began in the late 1990s.

As usual, no one will find fingerprints on the ones that died in the form of up-or-down rollcall votes, because virtually all were either dropped by their authors or held in committee when those involved realized they couldn’t get them through the process. The subtle influence of a bloc of moderate Democrats was a major factor in these soft kills.

Most of the contentious measures, including the three that survived, were sponsored by generally liberal groups – unions, personal injury lawyers, environmentalists or consumer activists.

They were billed as protecting California consumers and/or workers, but chamber president Allan Zaremberg tagged them “a threat to our state’s future prosperity and our quality of life.” Nine of the stalled bills would have directly or indirectly raised taxes.

The most prominent casualty was Senate Bill 562, which would have created universal health care for Californians. It passed the Senate but Speaker Anthony Rendon blocked action in the Assembly, calling it “woefully incomplete” because it lacked any kind of financing mechanism.

Ever since, the chief sponsor of the measure, the California Nurses Association, has waged a campaign of personal invective against Rendon, mirroring the ideological split in the state’s Democratic Party. The three survivors are:

▪ Senate Bill 33, carried by Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa. It would void arbitration clauses in banking agreements if they involve fraud or identity theft. This is a reaction to the scandal involving huge numbers of accounts opened for Wells Fargo customers by bank employees without knowledge or permission.

▪ Senate Bill 63, by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara. It would extend job-protected maternal and paternal leave, now affecting employers with 50 or more workers, to those with 20 or more. Brown vetoed a similar, but not identical, Jackson bill last year, saying he was “concerned … about the impact of this leave particularly on small businesses and the potential liability that could result.”

▪ Assembly Bill 1209, by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, D-San Diego. It would require large employers to collect and report data on wages by gender and is aimed at closing the gap between male and female workers. The chamber calls it “public shaming” of employers. Gonzalez Fletcher has had a knack for getting her legislation labeled “job killers” enacted.

Those three legislators and their backers now will wage a behind-the-scenes battle with the chamber and its allies over whether Brown signs or vetoes the three bills.

Dan Walters writes on issues of statewide significance for CALmatters, a public-interest journalism venture. Go to calmatters.org/commentary.

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