By Grace Gedye |CalMatters
The California Legislature, with its Democratic supermajority, is known for passing first-in-the-nation laws that ramp up labor and consumer protections — often in the face of intense opposition from business groups.
At the same time, the California Chamber of Commerce, a powerful business lobbying group, has honed a specific strategy with a high success rate — labeling bills it deems most burdensome “job-killers” and tracking them on an annual list.
This week, the chamber announced its initial list for 2023. Among the bills are:
A new tax on total wealth for individuals with a net worth of $50 million or more, introduced by Assemblymember Alex Lee, a Milpitas Democrat. Unlike an income tax, a tax on overall wealth is unprecedented in the U.S.
- Lee argues that ultra-wealthy people are able to avoid paying much in income taxes by holding assets, like stocks and property, and borrowing against them. The revenue raised by the tax would be used to invest in “schools, tackle homelessness, maintain and expand needed services, and much more.”
- The chamber argues the new tax would drive “high net-worth earners” to leave the state and “discourage other entrepreneurs from investing in California innovation, jobs and our economy.”
- CalMatters has looked at the research on how people move in response to tax increases.
- Durazo says that women and workers of color are the “backbone” of our healthcare system and they “are working multiple shifts only to take home poverty wages in understaffed facilities.”
- The chamber argues this measure would raise costs at health care facilities, “jeopardizing access to affordable healthcare for Californians and threatening jobs.”
A proposal to increase the number of paid sick days an employer has to offer from three to seven a year, introduced by Sen. Lena Gonzalez, a Long Beach Democrat, and backed by the California Labor Federation.
- Gonzalez points to research showing expansions of paid leave during the pandemic reduced the spread of COVID-19, and said that without adequate paid leave, workers either have to show up to their jobs while sick, risking the health of their coworkers, or forgo wages, putting their fiances at risk.
- The chamber argues that some businesses can’t afford to offer more paid sick leave, and that ”increased labor costs will inevitably either be passed on to consumers as higher prices for goods and services, or force employers to reduce jobs or cut wages or other benefits.”
The chamber currently has tagged 13 bills as “job killers,” but says it expects that number to grow in the coming weeks.
By the business group’s own accounting, the list is a remarkably successful lobbying tool. Last year, it dubbed 19 bills ‘job killers’ and two were signed into law. In 2021, it put the label on 25 bills and one was signed into law. But not all “job killers” are truly killed, to borrow the group’s phrase. The chamber also takes bills off the list when they are amended in a way that the group supports.
Out of the 824 bills that the group labeled “job killers” between 1997 and 2022, only 58 have been signed into law. Translation: Just about 7% of bills the chamber puts on the list make it across the finish line without significant amendments that the business community favors.
Lobbying against bills isn’t the only way the business group tries to influence policy — there are also campaign donations. Out of the 11 legislators behind the bills already on this year’s list, eight haven’t taken any money from the chamber while they’ve been in public office, according to data from the Secretary of State, analyzed by CalMatters data journalist Jeremia Kimelman.
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1 Newsom’s cross-country campaign
In a move that says I am totally not running for president, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Thursday that he’s launching a cross-country tour. It’ll start this weekend and he’ll visit several states to promote not himself but… democracy. Or rather, a Democrat’s views on democracy.
Called the Campaign for Democracy, Newsom said that the country is going through an “existential struggle” for democracy from “extremist Republicans” and “authoritarian threats,” citing recent actions, such as the banning of books, the passing of laws targeting transgender youth and the rolling back of abortion access.
On the campaign website, Newsom specifically calls out his conservative foil, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, as well as U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, as “threats.”
- Newsom, in a promo video: “What’s happening in those red states, that’s not who we are. It’s un-American, it’s undemocratic. All it takes to fight back is a willingness to stand toe-to-toe and say ‘enough.’”
To push back against the Republican agenda, the governor will visit like-minded officials and organizations in conservative states to rally support for policies and Democratic leaders. Newsom will be out of the state for nearly two weeks: He will travel today to attend a Democratic Governors Association event on Saturday in Florida, then his Campaign for Democracy tour will kick off from Sunday to Tuesday in Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama. He’ll follow that with a family vacation from April 6 to 12.
California Republicans, predictably, are questioning Newsom’s priorities.
- Assembly GOP leader James Gallagher from Chico, in a statement to CalMatters: “This is yet another sad attempt by Gavin Newsom to distract from his failed leadership. California has the highest homelessness rate, most expensive gas, crumbling roads, failing schools, sky-high home prices and a $22 billion budget deficit. The only thing he’s qualified to teach the rest of America is how to run a state into the ground.”
The announcement comes less than two weeks after the governor wrapped up another traveling tour — four days of State of the State events, where he drummed up support for his second-term agenda in lieu of giving a traditional speech to the Legislature.
Newsom insists that this campaign should not be perceived “as a launchpad for a future White House run,” according to The Washington Post, which was the first media organization to report the news, in the latest example of the governor cultivating the national press. But the tour will undoubtedly raise his national profile and will give him the opportunity to extol California and its leadership as a model for the rest of the nation.
The Post reports that the initial $10 million for the tour comes from leftover money from his 2022 reelection campaign. It will also be funded by a newly established Campaign for Democracy political action committee.
2 Reparations meeting gets emotional
After some emotional public comment Thursday, California’s reparations task force instructed the Department of Justice to use the term “African American” in final documents set to be delivered to the state Legislature on June 30.
The first-in-the-nation task force was formed in 2020 to determine whether and how the state government should issue reparations for residents who are descendants of slaves. Part of the meeting time was devoted to language issues.
“All of the language needs to say African American,” task force Chairperson Kamilah Moore said, firmly. The term is important, task force members and community members said, because it more clearly defines the group to be compensated as the “descendants of persons who were enslaved in the United States.”
The nine-member body also instructed DOJ staff to clarify a draft chapter that examines other attempts at reparations as being just that — attempts.
California’s task force is poised to become the first governmental body in the United States to come up with a reparations framework that comports with the United Nations’ international standards — which include restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and promises not to repeat the past. California’s framework could become the basis for federal reparation efforts.
On Wednesday, task force members decided they won’t be putting forward an exact dollar figure amount on what is owed for compensation for decades of housing discrimination, over-policing, and disproportionate mass incarceration. Economists have pegged the potential losses the descendant community has suffered to be more than $800 billion, but that figure does not necessarily reflect what will be paid or what is considered owed.
“The task force should feel free to go beyond our loss estimates and determine what the right amount would be,” said Thomas Craemer, a public policy professor at the University of Connecticut who is consulting with the Department of Justice.
Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer, a Los Angeles Democrat, said he and Sen. Steven Bradford, an Inglewood Democrat, will have to consult with other legislators, the governor’s office and budget analysts to see what amount would receive support from the Legislature.
Public comment on Thursday turned emotional, with some commenters playing music and others bringing their young children to emphasize, as some put it, “what is at stake.” A seventh grader gave tearful testimony about being bullied at school because of the color of her skin, resulting in her deciding to be homeschooled.
Some public commenters expressed dismay and anger at one of the task force members, Rev. Amos Brown, who traveled to Ghana with Vice President Kamala Harris this week, instead of attending the meeting.
3 CA schools grapple with ethnic studies
In 2021, the governor signed a new graduation requirement into law: Starting in the 2025-26 school year, high schools must offer ethnic studies courses, and the class of 2030 will be the first batch of students to graduate with that requirement.
Putting aside the controversy about whether this should be required learning for high schoolers at all, schools across California still have a dilemma on their hands, reports Megan Tagami of CalMatters’ College Journalism Network: How should they prepare educators to teach this sensitive, often politically fraught, curriculum?
If schools require a special credential, it might make it even more challenging to find qualified teachers for the subject. But if they don’t require one, low-quality classes might do more harm than good.
Currently, the state allows teachers with a social science credential to teach ethnic studies. And when ethnic studies is combined with other subjects, say reading or art, teachers from other subject areas are also eligible. Some say this approach makes it easier to recruit educators who are eager to teach the subject.
- Tim Zalunardo, executive director of educational services at Santa Rosa City Schools: “It provides flexibility on both the students and on the school’s course offerings.”
But lawmakers and other educators argue that even if teachers have their hearts in the right places, it’s still not enough to give students the knowledge they need, Megan reports.
That’s why in February, Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo, a Los Angeles Democrat, introduced a bill that would require the state’s Commission on Teacher Credentialing to offer specific ethnic studies credentialing by 2025.
- Carrillo: “The social science credential program does not cover ethnic studies sufficiently. We maintain that at the present time there is no existing credential that sufficiently covers the depth and breadth of the multidisciplinary nature of Ethnic Studies.”
In the meantime, California’s universities have developed various programs to prepare future teachers. Some place them into ethnic studies classrooms to gain firsthand experience, while others offer classes on ethnic studies teaching methods and curriculum.
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