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Going into this year’s legislative session, it appeared that the California Chamber of Commerce’s long string of wins on bills it labels “job killers” might end.

Over the previous two decades, the chamber and its allies in the business community had killed or neutralized about 90 percent of the bills on the annual list. In 2018, just one targeted bill reached then-Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk and he vetoed it.

The list is a fairly reliable annual guide to the big conflicts pitting business and employer groups against unions, environmentalists, personal injury attorneys and consumer advocates. They typically involve business tax increases, additional civil liability, higher employee compensation and/or more governmental regulation with multi-billion-dollar financial stakes.

This year seemed to be a new opportunity for those four Democrat-friendly groups to advance their agendas. Democrats scored big wins in 2018 elections, jumping from two-thirds supermajorities in both houses to superduper majorities of about 75 percent and the Legislature was clearly tilting further to the left as this year’s session began.

Moreover, Brown had retired after four terms as governor and an outwardly more liberal Gavin Newsom had become governor.

Thus far, though, the chamber is doing fairly well, with all but five of the 31 bills on this year’s list failing to make the session’s first cut – moving out of their original houses by May 31.

As usual, most died without a formal committee or floor vote as their authors parked them, having decided that they lacked enough support, or were quietly killed in the appropriations committees that act as legislative traffic cops.

Although five of the 31 bills are still alive, two of them are virtually identical. Assembly Bill 1080 and Senate Bill 54 would mandate a sharp reduction in the use of plastic packaging by 2030 to reduce environmental degradation. The chamber calls it “an unrealistic compliance time frame.”

AB 1080 is being carried by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a San Diego Democrat who clearly relishes having her bills on the list and has scored several notable wins in the past. She was the author of the one bill that Brown vetoed last year, a measure to ban binding arbitration agreements in employment.

Gonzalez has introduced the arbitration ban again this year as Assembly Bill 51. Once again it’s on the job killer list and it’s also one of the five survivors.

In fact, Gonzalez is carrying three of the five. Her third is Assembly Bill 1066, which would allow striking workers to obtain unemployment insurance benefits if the dispute lasts more than four weeks. She raised the threshold from two to four weeks once the bill reached the Senate, evidently hoping to make it more palatable to moderate, pro-business Democrats.

The fifth and in some ways most controversial of the five survivors is Senate Bill 1, carried personally by Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, also a San Diego Democrat. It would empower a variety of state agencies to adopt, without many of the usual procedures, environmental and labor rules that mimic federal regulations before they were weakened by the Trump administration – and allow attorneys to enforce them with lawsuits.

It’s a major component of California’s “resistance” to President Donald Trump and is needed, its advocates say, to protect the state from the Republican president. But, business critics say, it would give too much authority to unelected bureaucrats and create “the potential for costly litigation” – making it a classic example of the “job killer” genre.

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CALmatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California's state Capitol works and why it matters. 

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