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Despite Reduction, “Job-Killer” Bills Still Lurk About

Despite Reduction, ‘Job-Killer’ Bills Still Lurk About

COMMENTARY

by Howard Fine

What a difference a year makes.

Among the dozens of bills state lawmakers passed last summer that business lobbyists deemed “job-killers” were an employer-paid health care mandate, a hike in the minimum wage and a law expanding the right of employees to sue their employers. Gov. Gray Davis signed most of the bills just before voters recalled him.

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This year, only 23 “job killers” were on the table; of those, only 10 passed and are now on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk. Eleven bills were stopped in the final two weeks of the session, while the remaining two were sufficiently amended so that business groups withdrew their opposition.

The reason for the drop-off, of course, is Schwarzenegger, a Republican who campaigned on a theme of making California friendlier to business and who has publicly vowed to veto bills that would place additional burdens on business.

Also, earlier in the year, the governor took on workers’ comp reform and changes to the law allowing private parties to sue employers over labor and environmental violations. As a result, there was less on the table during the final weeks of the session.

Yet that didn’t mean business groups could lower their guard.

“We had a tremendous concern about all these ‘gut-and-amend’ measures out there,” said Michael Shaw, assistant state director for the California chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business.

Gut and amend refers to the practice of taking a bill, gutting its original content and inserting entirely unrelated language. One of these involved a last-minute attempt by environmentalists and consumer groups to cut a deal on reforming the unfair business competition law to head off Proposition 64 on the state ballot.

While there may be fewer so-called “job-killers” now on the governor’s desk, that doesn’t mean they have any less potential impact on the economy or business climate. Some of those with the most potential impact include:

– & #8201;AB 2832, by Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, D-Mountain View, which would raise the state’s minimum wage $1 to $7.75 an hour by 2006.

– & #8201;AB 2317, by Assemblywoman Jenny Oropeza, D-Long Beach, which would raise penalties on employers who fail to pay women the same as men for equivalent work.

– & #8201;Four bills restricting the ability of California businesses to outsource operations abroad.

Among the bills that failed in the final weeks were measures that would have set up a publicly funded universal health care system, allowed local governments to levy income taxes, and imposed a fee on railroad companies that operate in the Los Angeles area.

Howard Fine covers statewide business issues for the Los Angeles Business Journal.

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