The Capitol’s struggles over big issues such as housing and water get a lot of public and media attention, but the building’s bread-and-butter, so to speak, are hundreds of bills that would benefit some interest group, often to the disadvantage of a rival group.
That’s especially true of the legislative agendas of four such factions that are embedded with the Capitol’s dominant Democrats: labor unions, consumer activists, environmental groups and personal injury lawyers.
Each year, the four press their causes in bills introduced by friendly Democratic legislators and given the Legislature’s liberal bent, one would think that their bills would roll easily into enactment.
However, the cream of the crop – the measures that are the highest priorities of their sponsors – also tend to have the greatest economic effect on California’s business and employer community, a motivation for the latter to exert maximum effort to defeat or at least water them down to an acceptable level.
The age-old conflict over such bills was formalized nearly two decades ago when the California Chamber of Commerce created its annual “job killer” list of bills it wanted to block. Each year, the chamber picks a couple of dozen bills for its hit list and over the years has been remarkably successful in blunting their potential effects, killing or neutralizing about 90 percent.
This month, the chamber published its latest list of 24 bills, including eight that had been blocked in 2017, the first year of the Legislature’s biennial session, but automatically carried over to 2018.
Most of those carryovers, including a highly controversial single-payer health care system for all Californians (Senate Bill 562) and two constitutional amendments to raise taxes, are, in effect, already dead. This year’s major focus, therefore, will be on the 16 newly introduced measures, most of them pushed by labor unions and lawyers.
That said, the one with the most potential for long-term impact is Assembly Bill 1745 by Assemblyman Phil Ting, a San Francisco Democrat, which would require all new cars sold in the state after 2040 to have zero emissions of pollutants – in effect, a ban on internal combustion engines.
It has, to put it mildly, virtually no chance of being enacted this year and is more of a statement of ideological intent – much like that single-payer health care bill – than a serious legislative proposal.
The more viable newbies deal with issues ranging from employer-employee relations to opening new opportunities for litigation.
Two of the employment measures are being carried by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, a former labor union official who has been one of the very few legislators to have beaten the “job killer” jinx in recent years with bills aimed at improving wages and working conditions for low-skill workers.
Gonzalez Fletcher, a San Diego Democrat who takes pride in having her bills on the list, would ban settlement agreements and arbitration in employment cases in one measure, and in another force hotel employers to publicly disclose employee wage information.
As the Capitol continues its leftward ideological drift, it would seem that the Chamber of Commerce and other business groups would find it steadily more difficult to stave off their rivals in the annual clash.
This year’s batch will be a test of that theory