The onset of a new legislative session means renewal of the perpetual war that pits business and employer interests against liberal groups such as labor unions and environmental activists.
The Legislature is overwhelmingly Democratic and mostly liberal, so – not surprisingly – the unions, environmentalists and others, such as consumer advocates and personal injury lawyers play offense while the business groups are on defense.
The former sponsor hundreds of bills to advance their causes, such as better pay and fringe benefits for workers, more regulation of business activities, or making it easier to sue and collect damages.
Lobbyists for the latter devise strategies to either kill bills that business finds offensive or at least force changes to make them more palatable.
The Capitol, it should be noted, is not the only front in the perennial war.
The combatants also fight it out in a handful of key legislative elections, in recent years via the “top-two” primary system that can pit liberal Democrats against more moderate, business-backed Democrats. A “mod squad” of business-friendly Democrats emerged over the last three election cycles, much to the chagrin of liberal groups.
They clash over ballot measures that sidestep the legislative process, they duel in the bureaucracy over regulations to implement legislation, and fight in the courts.
The most obvious battleground, however, is the Legislature, and the new session shapes up as a new version of the same old war.
The Chamber of Commerce signaled that this month when it issued its first list of “job killers” – bills it annually considers the worst.
Although there are just four bills on the list, it will doubtless grow to at least two dozen by spring.
The “job killer” program, initiated nearly two decades ago, has been remarkably successful, with fewer than 10 percent of those given the epithet making it into law.
Two of the four, Senate Bills 62 and 63, are carried by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, and deal with expanding family leave rights of employees. Both are revivals of measures that made it through the Legislature, only to be vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown.
The third, Senate Bill 33 by Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, deals with consumer arbitration contracts and is a little bit surprising since business groups lined up behind Dodd, a former Republican, when he ran for the Senate last year.
The fourth is by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, D-San Diego, who’s made many appearances on past “job killer” lists. A former labor union official, she often carries bills dealing with worker rights and benefits, and has a knack for overcoming “job killer” listing.
Gonzalez Fletcher’s new measure, Assembly Bill 5, requires employers to offer part-time workers more hours before hiring additional employees.
She’s carrying another that seems destined for targeting. Assembly Bill 206 would require workers’ compensation coverage for day laborers, including those hired on the spot by homeowners for minor jobs, and would specifically include undocumented immigrants.