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In sound-bite politics, the California Chamber of Commerce is king.
For nearly two decades, the statewide Chamber has enforced its legislative agenda by dubbing bills unfriendly to the business community as “job-killers.” The frightening label, which holds sway with both Republican and Democratic politicians, has resulted in a 93 percent success rate for the Chamber’s most important issues dating back to 1997.
“Although we will be opposing a number of bills throughout this year, the ‘job killer’ list represents the worst of the worst,” Allan Zaremberg, president and CEO of the California Chamber of Commerce said of the 16 bills on this year’s list. “These proposals will unnecessarily increase costs on California employers that will likely lead to a loss of jobs.”
But look more closely at the Chamber’s list of job-killer bills and you’ll find some interesting selections, such as a bill by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez that would – wait for it – ban grocery workers from being laid off.
Assembly Bill 359 would require grocery stores to retain employees during a 90-day transition period during changes in ownership and mandate that grocery workers must be retained based on seniority. CalChamber calls that a “costly employee retention mandate” that “inappropriately alters the employment relationship and increases frivolous litigation.”
Of course, that’s not how Gonzalez sees it.
“These middle-class grocery jobs anchor our community, drive a healthy economy, and keeping skilled workers in those jobs should be in everyone’s best interest,” Gonzalez said. “Workers should not lose their jobs and benefits just because giant retailers and private equity firms buy and sell grocery stores in Wall Street-style mergers to make even larger profits.”
The bill, which cleared the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee on a vote of 5-2 this week, is headed to the Assembly Judiciary Committee and represents the greatest threat to Gonzalez’s perfect legislative season.
Granted, both sides can be correct. A bill that saves jobs in the short term can ultimately lead to long-term job loss. But, the job-killing, employee retention bill isn’t the only case of CalChamber confusion.
This session, Sen. Bob Hertzberg has proposed a major tax overhaul that would impose a sales tax on services, a $10 billion tax increase on businesses. That proposal by one of the legislature’s most powerful members who is well-liked by the business community didn’t make the list of job-killers. Back in 2005, CalChamber tagged Assemblyman Joe Coto’s plan for a limited sales tax on services with the ignominious label.
Digital Democracy Heads to Sacramento
It’ll be easier for San Diego residents to follow the fight over Gonzalez’s bill and other legislation this session, thanks to a new online project that’ll open up government hearings.
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and former state Sen. Sam Blakeslee launched Digital Democracy on Wednesday, an open government website that will provide free clips and transcripts of legislative hearings. Many legislative hearings are currently broadcast through CalChannel, but those clips can be hard to navigate.
“I recall a number of occasions during my time in the legislature when I would see a bill come before me that appeared to not include amendments that had been promised,” said Blakeslee, a former minority leader in the state Assembly. “In those moments, I simply had no way to quickly go back and search the record of what was said in the committee hearing.”
With grant funding from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation and Rita Allen Foundation, computer programmers at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo created a search engine to make it easier to find hearings by bill, committee or speaker. There’ll also be transcripts to make it easier for reporters to write the Sacramento Report.
Have no fear – lawmakers still have plenty of tricks to evade open government. In our ongoing quest to decode Sacramento’s lingo, we share “gut and amend” bills, or how lawmakers will evade Digital Democracy’s efforts. That’s when the contents of a bill that’s already cleared the committee process are entirely removed and replaced with new text on another matter. The process usually occurs late in the session to quickly pass controversial measures, leading some to call it “eviscerate and obfuscate.”
Updates from the Assembly Speaker – 140 Characters at a Time
David Rolland, a senior communications consultant for Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, grumbled last Friday that we failed to mention five Atkins bills that passed out of committee. Luckily Rolland – you know him as former editor of San Diego CityBeat – tweeted an end-of-week legislative update from his new-ish post.
“OK, I’m going to start tweeting some news from @toniatkins and the @AssemblyDems,” reads the first Tweet. “We’ll see how this goes. There’ll be a few. Bare with me.”
Per Rolland’s Tweets, the Speaker’s top news of the week:
Along with @asmshirleyweber & @susaneggman, @toniatkins laid out @assemblydems’ state-budget priorities on Tuesday.
The big 5 goals: Build reserves & pay down debt, invest in public schools, increase $ for higher-ed, reduce poverty, fix roads & bridges.
Paying down debt will free up money in the long run. Building reserves will cushion boom & bust cycles. Responsible money management.
For those looking to join in on the fun, follow @drolland on Twitter.
Golden State News
• VOSD’s Andrew Keatts delivered a must-read piece on the future of Civic San Diego, the city-owned nonprofit for urban renewal. Assemblywoman Gonzalez has introduced legislation that would give the City Council control over the group’s decisions.
• Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters reported on a labor-backed campaign to amend Proposition 13, the landmark initiative that capped property taxes in the state. Make It Fair, which includes support from the California Teachers Association and the Service Employees International Union, will try to put a “split-roll” property tax measure on the 2016 ballot that would eliminate Prop. 13’s protections for commercial properties, but leave in place residential property tax protections.
• An aide to California Attorney General Kamala Harris was charged this week with impersonating a police officer. Since his April 30 arrest, Brandon Kiel has been on paid leave from his $67,416 salaried job as a deputy director of community affairs at the California Department of Justice . (Los Angeles Times)
• Assemblywoman Shirley Weber’s video has gone viral, or as viral as California legislative hearings go. Last week, Weber’s teacher performance bill was defeated in the Assembly Education Committee – a story that we first wrote about in last week’s Sacramento Report.
Ever since, Weber’s been working media throughout the state – from a top-rated Los Angeles talk radio show to a profile in the Sacramento Bee. She’s even earned the new distinction of being former San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio’s “favorite Democrat in Sacramento.” She might not want to use that at the next California Teachers Association rally.
• Assemblyman Brian Jones got into “a spirited debate” with an advocate for Greenpeace, while leaving the Capitol Thursday afternoon.