Sacramento collectively let out a breath of relief as the end of the two-year legislative session closed at the end of August.
Out of thousands of bills, hundreds were passed by the legislature and sent to the governor for his approval or veto. Many bills went the way that the business community fought for.
VICA worked to defeat two power grabs which would have allowed Sacramento to pack the boards of Metro and the South Coast Air Quality Management District. These brazen attempts to reduce local control over local boards set a bad precedent, and their defeat should send a strong message to Sacramento.
On a more positive note, a bill clearing the way for Los Angeles to bid for the 2024 Olympics was sent to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk. The 2024 Olympics will be wonderful for the San Fernando Valley, with several events hosted locally and new facilities to leave a legacy for our young athletes. Also, the entertainment industry welcomed a bill which adds an independent filmmaker and a commercial producer to the California Film Commission. It was passed and signed by the governor.
Legislators rejected a bill which would have required some retailers to pay employees twice their hourly rate on Thanksgiving, another effort designed to win a few votes for politicians but representing the worst of government overreach.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t win them all. We faced two big losses for business and all Californians who rely on stable jobs and a vibrant economy.
Earlier this year, the minimum wage was raised in a sudden whirlwind of legislating which completely shut business, the ones paying the cost, out of the room. SB 32, a bill which mandates reducing emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, was also sent to the governor. This type of mandate places most of the burden on businesses without careful thought to cost or nuance.
As the governor spends this month considering the hundreds of bills which have landed on his desk, VICA will lay out the case for signing or vetoing the most important bills.
Of course, this is an election year, and we are turning our attention to the crowded November ballot. VICA has been advocating for several measures which will be critical for business.
But with the end of the legislative session fresh in mind, one ballot measure seems especially important for all of us. Proposition 54 will make constitutional changes that will require legislation to be posted online in its final form at least 72 hours before the final floor vote by either house. It will also require online video of sessions and committee meetings.
It’s not just the sheer quantity of bills considered by our active legislators that’s challenging for businesses to follow. Legislators commonly practice “gut and amend,” removing all of the contents of a bill and rewriting it as a new piece of legislation, often voting on it merely hours afterwards. This forces leaders to track bills that aren’t related to their industry in case the author suddenly amends the bill to address a completely new topic.
That’s difficult enough for organizations like VICA whose main mission is advocacy and legislative affairs. It’s almost impossible for small businesses without the people, connections, and resources to staff a legislative team. And it’s out of the question for individual citizens who rely on the media to stay engaged and informed.
The gut and amend process can be used legitimately, when an author has a policy proposal that he or she hasn’t quite finished by the deadline to submit bills, or if an issue arises which needs to be addressed quickly through the legislative process.
But gut and amend can also be used as a bludgeon to force through bills without any discussion or true analysis by legislators. A bill which is amended can be voted on immediately, which doesn’t allow legislators time to fully consider the bill or hear from their constituents. Gut and amend can be an effective tool at silencing the opposition. In fact, several times during debate, legislators commented that they wished they knew more about what they were voting for, but they were just handed the bill.
Gut and amend is already supposed to be against the rules, but legislators can suspend their own rules. That’s why Prop 54 is so important – it’s a constitutional amendment that will guarantee a legislative process that is more transparent, more considered and more fair. A bipartisan coalition of voters, civil liberties groups, businesses and environmentalists support this ballot measure, proving that all Californians have an interest in transparency and contributing to the discussion.
I hope that in the 2017-2018 legislative session, Proposition 54 will allow the business community to know what is going on and weigh in on policies that impacts us, our employees and our communities.
Stuart Waldman is president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, or VICA, a business advocacy organization based in Van Nuys that represents employers in the San Fernando Valley at the local, state and federal levels of government.