The just-ended biennial session of the California Legislature was arguably the most liberal in California.
Driven by their party’s anti-Donald Trump fervor, the Legislature’s majority Democrats drafted and passed hundreds of bills, many of them openly aimed at setting California apart from what Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress have been doing.
The legislative session’s overall left-of-center tone, however, had a curious exception.
The California Chamber of Commerce did even better than usual in sidetracking the liberal measures that it placed on its notorious “job killer” list.
Over the last two decades, ever since the annual list was first published, the chamber and allied business groups have rung up about a 90 percent kill ratio. But in 2018, the organization was even more successful, killing or watering down all but one of the 29 bills that it targeted, including one added in the dying hours of the session. Most vanished without leaving the political DNA of rollcall votes.
The one survivor had a familiar author, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, a San Diego Democrat who has a remarkable record of getting her “job killer” bills, most of which deal with labor union or employment issues, through the Legislature.
Her victory this year was a biggie. Assembly Bill 3080 bars employers from imposing arbitration agreements as a condition of hiring employees.
It was framed as a way of protecting women from sexual harassment on the job by making it easier for them to sue and is a major piece of an anti-harassment package that legislators passed after they were embarrassed by harassment allegations against fellow lawmakers and legislative staffers.
The chamber argued in vain that the bill would just benefit personal injury attorneys, would delay settlements of employment disputes and may be set aside by the courts as an infringement on federal arbitration law.
The last-minute addition to the job-killer list was Assembly Bill 893 by Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, a Coachella Democrat, which would have required the state’s utilities to acquire more geothermal electric power, thus boosting a project sponsored by the Imperial Irrigation District.
It wasn’t the first time the Imperial district has pushed such a bill, and this one lasted just three days before being quietly killed in the Senate Rules Committee.
Unlike AB 893, most “job killer” bills are, like Gonzalez Fletcher’s successful measure, sponsored by four major groups allied with the Democratic majority – labor unions, trial attorneys, environmental groups and consumer protection advocates.
They tend to be major agenda items for those groups, which makes their demise even more remarkable.
Among the failures was a Senate-passed universal health care plan, which was blocked in the Assembly by Speaker Anthony Rendon, who cited its lack of a financing mechanism.
Rendon was chastised by the uber-liberal wing of his party, which considers universal health care its highest policy priority.
Ultimately, the Legislature created a blue-ribbon commission to study the issue for three years, which will remove immediate pressure on Rendon and other leaders, such as Governor-in-waiting Gavin Newsom, to act.
A major contributing factor to the stall on health care, as well as several other bills on the list, was the palpable reluctance of many Democratic legislators to pass any more new taxes.
That reluctance stemmed from the June recall of a Democratic state senator, Josh Newman, who had voted for a package of gas taxes and other fees for transportation projects. A November ballot measure, Proposition 6, would repeal the taxes.
Ironically, the transportation taxes are strongly supported by the California Chamber of Commerce.