A weekly update on the goings-on in Sacramento
For the week ending October 27, 2007
Key bills and issues we’ve been following during the
Past week and beyond
Last week we highlighted bills dealing with healthcare, consumer rights and environmental issues. Again, keeping in mind that a legislative session is comprised of two calendar years, there are many bills that will re-emerge in January if they were not resolved during this portion of the legislative session. We will follow those bills when the session reconvenes in January.
This week we’ll look at what happened to a variety of bills dealing with working families, public safety and civil rights. Generally speaking, labor issues and particularly bills dealing with fixing the heavily skewed workers compensation mess faired very poorly. Attempts to improve conditions for workers also faired badly as did efforts to provide reforms for the criminal justice system.
But before going into detail on some of these measures, it is only fitting that we comment on the devastating fires that so impacted our state and our communities over the past week. The impacts of these fires caused a staggering toll on our state. Just to provide some context for those who were fortunate enough to be out of harms way, consider that the fires:
Were responsible for the deaths of 15 or more people
Destroyed more than 650 square miles, an area two times the size of New York City
Caused over $1 Billion in damage
Destroyed or seriously damaged over 2500 homes
Forced 22,000 people into temporary shelters
Forced the evacuation of over 1 million people—the largest peacetime movement of American citizens since the Civil War
Cost the state over $90 million to fight (and still counting)
At the same time this massive devastation was taking place, the brave firefighters of this state (and the western U.S. who were called into service) demonstrated a level of courage and professionalism that must be commended and acknowledged.
Although there are those who believe more could have been done, there is no question that the response and effort of our firefighters was extraordinary. We all owe these brave people a debt of gratitude and thanks. While California has suffered numerous natural disasters and fires, nothing of this magnitude has occurred in the state before. The response by our Government’s public safety branches—and particularly our firefighters, was exemplary.
Was it perfect? Probably not, but these are lessons that will be learned so that should we be faced with another emergency of this proportion, we will be even better prepared. In the meantime, major kudos to the firefighters who demonstrated, yet again, their bravery, tenacity and expertise is fighting back the awesome power of nature’s devastation.
We hope that with the changing weather, we’ve seen the last of this devastating fire season. We need to continue perfecting our responses to emergencies, both from a government perspective and as individuals and communities. We will continue to learn from the natural disasters- fire, flood and earthquake- we experience in this state on a fairly regular basis.
We clearly need to ramp up our discussion of climate change that has caused such dangerous weather conditions and most seriously address how to reverse the perilous trends that are making our planet more susceptible to these kinds of devastating events.
We here at Speak Out California hope to be able to keep you up-to-date on all of this and any signings or vetoes by the Governor in the weeks and months ahead, so
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And now for the continuation of our analysis of the legislative year completed earlier this month:
Just what this legislative year accomplished—or not.
From just a numbers perspective, the Governor vetoed 22% of the measures that got to his desk, which is a new record. This figure includes the signing of 750 bills and 214 vetoes.
Having complied with Chamber of Commerce’s view of the world (see our discussion last week in our While California Dreams-Volume 20 here) the Governor encouraged them by vetoing important Worker’s Compensation reform, the employee family-leave extensions. While signing measures to build more prisons to house the burgeoning penitentiary population, the Governor also quashed major reforms sought for the criminal justice system and civil rights.
Although he surprised many by signing bills to require firearm micro-stamping, releasing some terminally ill prisoners so they can live their remaining few months at home, and banning toxic phthalates from children’s toys, the Governor came down pretty hard in areas where working folks and others are seeking some relief. Here are some of those key areas where the Governor’s veto pen was working overtime:
Signing, Vetoes and other legislative offerings:
Disability Compensation Benefits: SB 727 (Kuehl) would have allowed employees covered by the Family Temporary Disability Insurance program to take paid leave to care for grandparents, siblings and parents-in-law. Vetoed.
Workers’ Compensation: permanent disability schedule. SB 936 (Perata) This bill would have increased the benefits paid to permanently disabled workers over a 3 year period. When the governor championed his workers’ compensation reform legislation in 2003, in response to the out-of-control premium increases being paid by businesses for coverage, the reforms were so draconian that truly injured workers today receive the lowest benefits in the nation. And when we talk about permanently disabled workers, we’re talking about those who can no longer work because of devastating injuries such as brain injury, or spinal injuries where they are now wheel-chair bound. Yet these workers have seen their benefits slashed by 50% or more, according to studies by the University of California researchers. At the same time, insurer profits have exceeded all benefits paid to or on behalf of disabled workers. This situation cries out for correction as families and children of disabled workers suffer as they struggle to survive the financial devastation of these serious injuries. Vetoed.
AB 1636 (Mendoza). In keeping with the need to fix the way disabled workers are treated, this measure would have expedited a job retraining voucher to disable workers unable to return to their former jobs due to the extent and nature of their work-related injuries (for which workers’ comp is supposed to compensate them). Instead, the governor vetoed this bill, further impeding the efforts of these laborers who are struggling to find work to replace the income they need for their families to survive.
Labor elections: SB 180 (Migden) would have allowed a new process, known as “majority sign up” to be available as the means for agricultural workers to choose to bargain collectively. This change was being sought by the United Farm Workers Union (UFW) and other labor organizations, including the California Labor Federation as well as the California Catholic Conference. Since it was opposed by the California Chamber of Commerce, growers and the Farm Bureau, it received the Governor’s veto.
Again, efforts to help the plight of farm workers suffered a setback when AB 377 (Aramula) was vetoed. This measure would have required an employer who is a farm labor contractor to disclose in the itemized statement furnished to employees up to five names and addresses of the legal entities that secure the employer’s services. Farmers today are able to avoid responsibility for the workers toiling their fields by bringing in these contractors who serve as the middle-man and are supposed to be assuming the liability for these workers. Unfortunately, they are often fly-by-night operations with no accountability. With this veto, field workers are left with no recourse when they have suffered at the hands of these employers.
One last measure to highlight (although there are many that also saw the Governor’s veto pen) deals with the issue of independent contractors, one of the fuzzier legal definitions in employment law today. SB 622 (Padilla) would have prohibited the willful misclassification of employees as independent contractors and would have authorized the state to assess civil penalties for persons or employers violating the terms of the bill. Employers often characterize employees as independent contractors to avoid paying workers’ compensation insurance premiums, unemployment insurance or employment taxes, overtime, and other employee-related benefits and costs otherwise required by law.
Public Safety/Civil Rights and Criminal Justice Reform AB233
The highlight of the year’s session dealing with tracking down violent criminals came in the form of the governor signing AB 1471 (Feuer). This measure, captioned the Crime Gun Identification Act as mentioned last week, is the cause celebre for both law enforcement and the Gun Lobby. This is one that the law enforcement won, much to the vocal consternation of the NRA. The measure requires that all new guns manufactured after 2010 provide for the microstamping of bullet cartridges fired by semiautomatic pistols. Thus each spent bullet will have a marker that law enforcement will be able to trace in pursuing criminals who fire these weapons in the commission of crime.
And speaking of crimes, the losers this year were those advocating for victims who are wrongfully convicted of committing them. Highly respected and experienced former Attorney General John Van De Kamp was put in charge of the Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, to address this serious problem. Unfortunately, the governor rejected their recommendations and vetoed all three of the bills they sponsored. While always controversial, these bills were designed to improve the administration of criminal justice and ensure that the real bad guys are the ones convicted and sentenced appropriately.
SB511 (Alquist). This measure dealt with interrogations of persons suspected of a homicide or violent felony by requiring that all custodial interrogations be recorded. The Commission’s study claimed that the second most frequent cause of wrongful conviction is the extraction of false confessions during police questioning of suspects. Vetoed.
SB756 (Ridley-Thomas). This measure would have developed guidelines for the collection and handling of eyewitness evidence in criminal investigations by all law enforcement agencies in the state. Vetoed.
SB609 (Romero) This bill would have banned uncorroborated testimony of in-custody informants, a highly suspect source of truthful information often used to convict. Vetoed.
For more on this subject, check out Frank Russo’s article here
Although not an exhaustive summary, we think these examples of both successes and disappointments gives a good flavor of what was and was not accomplished this past year. Of course, the real big topics came out empty, with healthcare reform and water policy programs left in the lurch. There is no question where this governor stands on both topics and where the areas of disagreement are. The question is whether there will be any give-and-take in the coming session and whether that will lead to real reform or be expedient window-dressing approaches as election season approaches.
If, in the meantime, if you have any pieces of legislation you would like to hear more about, please let us know by going to www.speakoutca.org/weblog
New and previously dead initiatives on the horizon
The big news this week is the return of the once thought expired power grab by leading Republican operatives to change the electoral college process in California in time for the presidential election in November, 2008. Now a new group has stepped forward and picked up the gauntlet of this shameless and transparent attempt to rig, yet again, the election of the President of the United States. For a full report on the changing players and what it all means for California-and the country at large, click here
The Rest of the Story
Our blogging offerings for the week:
Governor’s Veto of the Dream Act limits the Future for Many: How the veto of this measure affects the hopes and aspirations of a generation of young students in California.
Is Greed Good? – An article questioning the motivation of a generation in the pursuit of wealth and the American Dream.
To read and comment on these entries just go to: www.speakoutca.org/weblog/
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Until next week,
Hannah-Beth Jackson and the Speak Out California Team