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.
In fact, legislative leaders such as Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon are saying as much.
However, despite the overall left-of-center tone to the session that ended last week, the California Chamber of Commerce and other business and employer lobbies did what they have done for nearly two decades: killed all but a few of the measures tagged with the “job killer” epithet.
This year, the chamber placed 27 bills on its hit list and when the dust had settled early Saturday morning, 24 of them had been executed, and 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 the “job killer” program was instituted in the late 1990s.
As usual, however, one will not 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 that they couldn’t make it through the process. The subtle influence of a bloc of moderate Democrats was a major factor in the soft kills.
Most of the contentious measures, including the three that survived, were sponsored by liberal groups, such as 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 as “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 of the annual battle was Senate Bill 562, which would have created a universal health care system for California. It passed the Senate but Speaker Rendon blocked action in the Assembly, calling it “woefully incomplete” because it lacked a 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, sparked by a 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 publicly report data on wages by gender and is aimed at closing the gap between male and female workers. But the chamber denounces it as “public shaming” of employers. Gonzalez Fletcher has had a knack for getting legislation labeled as “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.