Business-Opposed Job Killer Bills Will Face Final Test Next Month

Dan Walters in The Sacramento 

When the Legislature reconvenes next week for the final month of its biennial session, it will decide the fate of hundreds of bills ranging from game-changing to trivial.

One question it will answer is whether the California Chamber of Commerce continues its remarkable run of blocking bills it labels “job killers.”

Kirk West may be watching, at least in spirit.

West, who died in June, was the chamber’s top executive for 13 years and launched the organization’s practice of attaching the “job killer” epithet to measures it considers especially noxious,.

Over the nearly two decades since, through four governorships, only a handful of the targeted bills have made it into law while still carrying the labels. In 2015, a typical year, just one of 19 “job killers” was passed.

This year’s list has 23 entries and so far just one – albeit a biggie – has been enacted. In April, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 3, which will raise the state’s minimum wage in stages to $15 per hour by 2022, giving labor unions and their allies a rare “job killer” win.

Roughly half of the remaining 22 appear to be permanently stalled, while the others are still alive or have been amended enough to have the chamber’s label removed.

One of those in limbo is Senate Bill 1166, carried by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, on behalf of the Legislature’s Women’s Caucus. It would expand the state’s family leave law, and the chamber says it would be a big burden for employers.

SB 1166 cleared the Senate easily but stalled in the Assembly Labor Committee, whose chairman, Roger Hernández, had been the target of a Women’s Caucus demand that he take a leave of absence after his former wife accused him of violent abuse.

Later, after a restraining order was issued against Hernández, Speaker Anthony Rendon removed him from the chairmanship, and with a new chairman, Tony Thurmond, the committee is likely to move SB 1166 along next month, or it will be folded into a different bill.

The biggest of the remaining “job killer” bills, however, is Senate Bill 32, which the Assembly rejected last year.

SB 32, carried by Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, would extend authorization for the state’s efforts to curb carbon dioxide emissions, including the controversial cap-and-trade system of issuing and selling emission allowances, past the current 2020 cutoff.

A CalChamber lawsuit challenges the cap-and-trade program as an illegal tax, and its shaky legal status has undermined allowance auctions that had been projected to generate billions of dollars for Brown’s bullet train and other projects.

Brown’s Air Resources Board is proposing an administrative extension past 2020. But its legality is very uncertain, and the governor clearly prefers legislative reauthorization to remove the legal cloud and shore up the auctions.

It’s not only a big “job killer” showdown, but one of the decade’s most contentious issues, affecting countless billions of dollars, a significant part of the economy and Brown’s legacy as a climate change leader.

Those are big stakes by anyone’s measure.