For two decades, the California Chamber of Commerce’s annual descriptions of certain legislative bills as “job killers” have framed the Capitol’s sharpest economic conflicts.
The chamber, working in concert with other business and employer groups, has been remarkably successful in modifying or killing the two or three dozen measures that find their way onto the list each year.
Even though most of the bills are carried by the Legislature’s dominant Democrats and are sponsored by some of the party’s most influential allies, such as labor unions and personal injury lawyers, the chamber has rung up about a 90 percent kill ratio.
Only rarely do the targeted bills die in formal legislative votes. Most simply disappear when their sponsors and legislative leaders realize that they don’t have the votes.
Last year, just one of the designated “job killers” reached outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk and he vetoed it, saying it violated federal law. That measure, which would have prohibited arbitration agreements as a condition of employment, is back this year, one of the 24 bills on the 2019 list released last week.
The revived arbitration bill, Assembly Bill 51, is being carried again this year by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a San Diego Democrat who is one of the few legislators to score wins against the chamber in past years.
“These bills represent some of the worst policy proposals affecting California employers and our economy currently being considered by the Legislature,” the chamber’s president, Allan Zaremberg, said in a statement that accompanied the release. “Some of these bills have been rejected time and again by the Legislature or vetoed by the previous governor. Legislators should, instead, focus on removing impediments to economic growth and creating upward mobility for all Californians.”
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The chamber’s success, at least in part, has reflected the cultivation of a bloc of moderate Democrats by it and other business groups, and dubbed the “mod squad” by Capitol insiders. Business lobbyists could also count on sympathetic support from recent governors, including Brown, who would quietly advise legislators not to send them measures that they were unwilling to sign.
However, the Capitol’s ideological ambiance has undergone a shift to the left, not only because Democratic legislative supermajorities became even larger in last year’s election, but because California voters also elected a new governor, Gavin Newsom, who is outwardly more liberal than Brown.
Moreover, there’s a big psychological impetus among the Capitol’s Democrats to reinforce California’s status as the leader of the “resistance” to President Donald Trump.
That attitude is reflected in one of the most contentious of the 2019 “job-killer” bills, Senate Bill 1, carried by Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, a San Diego Democrat. It would give state regulators broad authority to adopt new environmental and worker standards to replace those being weakened by the Trump administration.
Finally, a couple of the bills on the chamber’s new list – both relating to protecting private data – are being carried by Republicans, which is another new wrinkle in the annual ritual.
Those changing conditions seemingly give sponsors of bills on the 2019 list more cause for optimism, and will probably make it tougher for the chamber and other business groups to continue to score wins as they go head-to-head with unions, lawyers, consumer advocates and environmental groups.
What happens to these 24 bills, and others that may be added later will reveal much about the practical effect of last year’s elections.