California’s Capitol is under perpetual siege by lobbyists for hundreds of specific interest groups, each with an agenda of bills it wants enacted or killed.
After each legislative session, many of those groups produce scorecards for their members, not only reporting how well their agendas fared, but how the 120 legislators voted on those agendas.
Those scorecards, however, can never chart the mysterious ways in which bills sometimes vanish without telltale votes. And that’s particularly true of the bills that fuel the perennial clash between business groups, led by the California Chamber of Commerce, and liberal groups such as unions, consumer advocates, personal injury attorneys and environmentalists.
The latter have ambitious agendas that usually involve higher taxes, more regulation, more employee benefits and/or more opportunities for litigation.
For nearly two decades, CalChamber has published an annual list of what it calls “job killers” – the bills it finds to be the most onerous, which also tend to be their rivals’ highest priorities.
Despite Democratic control of the Legislature, and usually of the governorship, the chamber, et al, have been remarkably successful, burying about 90 percent of measures on their hit lists.
Overwhelmingly, the targeted bills have died without formal votes. Their authors, or legislative leaders, simply decide to allow them to wither on the vine. And that pattern seems to be holding true so far in the 2017 legislative session.
The chamber put 25 bills on its “job killer” list this year and with the session about three-fourths completed, 15 of them are stalled out, most likely permanently. Most of the survivors will probably suffer the same fate, especially several for new taxes that would need two-thirds legislative votes.
Only two of the 15 died on actual votes, one in an Assembly committee and one on the Senate floor. Two were amended to remove their “job killer” epithets and the others are in limbo, at least for the rest of this year’s session.
Interestingly, one of those stalled in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, which would give part-time workers first call on new work by their employers, is carried by the committee’s chair, San Diego Democrat Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, who has been one of the few legislators able to win on bills targeted by CalChamber.
Interestingly, too, several of the bills on this year’s list are being carried by Democratic legislators whom the chamber and other business groups backed when they competed for their seats against more liberal Democratic foes.
The most spectacular casualty is Senate Bill 562, which would create a state-run “single-payer” health care system. The bill, carried by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, sailed through the Senate in June, but Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon declared it “woefully incomplete” because it lacked financing and dead for the year.
Ever since, Rendon has been under fire from the California Nurses Association and other single-payer groups, which accuse him of being a corporate toady.
The most important survivor, at least so far, is Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León’s measure (SB 49) which would require all California environmental regulations to be at least as strict as federal regulations were before Donald Trump became president.
It’s a cornerstone of efforts by de León and others to counteract the impacts of the Trump presidency but the chamber contends that it would create regulatory uncertainty for business and invite “costly litigation” by allowing private attorneys to enforce the new rules.