Some bills are silly, and some are just dumb

Every session of the California Legislature generates some bills that can only be labeled as silly – that is, they defy common sense.

One example this year is a bill that would abolish paper receipts at retail businesses, thereby requiring customers to supply their email addresses so merchants can send them electronic records of their purchases.

The rationale for the legislation, Assembly Bill 161 by Assemblyman Phil Ting, a San Francisco Democrat, is to reduce paper waste that may contain dangerous chemicals.

The supposed problem this bill purports to solve is minuscule, or more likely infinitesimal, but if it becomes law, it will build databases for merchants that can be used for marketing, and make it easier for hackers to steal consumers’ identities.

Another is Assembly Bill 1162, the brainchild of Assemblyman Ash Kalra, a San Jose Democrat, which would prohibit hotels from supplying their patrons with tiny containers of shampoo and other personal care products, once again on the spurious notion that it would reduce the waste stream.

Kalra takes his cue from a local ordinance to that effect in Santa Cruz County. If the residents of that county want to engage in feel-good gestures, that’s their business. But why should their foolishness be foisted on the 40 million other Californians and the millions of people who visit California each year?

Both bills, as well as many others, reflect the current Legislature’s yen to regulate or eliminate every aspect of human behavior that doesn’t comport with current progressive dogma. But there’s a point at which silliness gives way to pure dumbness – and that brings us to Assembly Bill 857.

Carried by Assemblyman David Chiu, also a San Francisco Democrat, the measure would authorize local governments to create their own banks.

During an Assembly committee hearing on the measure last week, Chiu railed at “Wall Street bankers” that have mistreated consumers. He portrayed local government-owned banks as an antidote that would provide financing for progressive projects and services and shun loans to such politically incorrect activities as oil drilling and the manufacture of guns and cigarettes.

“The private banking system has unfortunately failed,” Chiu said, contending that local government-owned banks would “keep taxpayer dollars in local communities.”

While Chiu demonized big banks – who certainly have not been paragons of ethical operations – shifting local government funds into their own banks would have virtually no impact on the big guys.

Rather, as the Assembly Banking and Finance Committee was told by several witnesses, it would undermine the liquidity of local community banks, create unfair competition to those banks, and disrupt the pooled money investment accounts that county treasurers maintain for other local governments.

From that standpoint alone, AB 857 is very flawed. But that’s just the beginning of its dangerous aspects.

At the very least, local politicians would be under terrific pressure to provide funds from their banks for cockamamie schemes that can’t pass muster with regular banks.

Furthermore, under the legislation, any local government entity could create a bank – even the tiniest mosquito abatement or water district.

We’ve seen time after time how sharp operators gain political control of such obscure agencies and then devise ways to manipulate their powers, such as issuing bonds and awarding lucrative contracts, to loot their treasuries. It’s why the speaker of the state Assembly, Anthony Rendon, calls his Los Angeles County district a “corridor of corruption.”

Creating local government banks would be creating new conduits to such chicanery. And that makes AB 857, which won committee approval, a very dumb bill.

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