May 28, 2019      News      

Troublesome bills still alive as key deadline approaches

Every legislative session reminds us of the oft-quoted words of 19th-century New York politician and journalist Gideon Tucker: “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.”

As the California Legislature careens toward Friday’s deadline for bills to pass out of their house of origin, we’re struck by the timeliness of that quotation.

One of the most far-reaching measures, Assembly Bill 5, would codify the state Supreme Court’s Dynamex decision from last year. The details of the ruling are still being hashed out in the courts, but it poses an existential threat to the gig economy as well as to some old-school business models (barbers, real-estate agents, etc.). Many app-based companies such as Uber rely on the use of contractors to provide core functions of their business.

The court, however, found that these companies must consider contractors as regular employees except in limited circumstances. It’s a threat not only to businesses, but to workers who enjoy their newfound flexibility. Not everyone wants to work 9-5 in an office or warehouse. The Legislature could fix the problem by limiting the ruling’s reach, but instead is considering this union-backed bill that could raise labor costs dramatically. It’s been recently improved to allow for various exemptions, but the amendments don’t go far enough.

California’s unions have immense power in the Capitol and are pushing the envelope now that Democrats have expanded their supermajorities. AB1066 would let striking workers collect 22 weeks of unemployment benefits while standing on the picket line, forcing all Californians to subsidize strikes.

The Assembly voted 50-3 in favor of AB196 to provide workers with 100 percent of their pay when on family leave — upping the current percentage of 60 percent to 70 percent. The money is paid through the State Disability Insurance program, which means every worker’s contributions to that fund will increase to pay for the relatively small percentage of people who take advantage.

The Senate shelved the highest-profile housing bill, Senate Bill 50, which would have allowed developers to build high-density housing near transit lines and job centers. But the Assembly this week will consider two other housing-related measures. AB1481 and 1482 would cap rent increases and limit the ability of landlords to evict tenants, despite amendments that have softened them a bit. Rent-control laws reduce housing supply and undermine property rights.

Every year, legislators have a habit of passing symbolic bills — e.g., bans on plastic bags or straws – that don’t do much for the environment, but bump up costs and annoy consumers. This session is no different. The Assembly passed a bill (AB161) last week that forbids retailers from handing out paper receipts unless a customer specifically requests one. Any measures that pass still have to be approved by the other house. But Californians need to watch these bills closely given the threats they post to their liberty — and their wallets.