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July 17, 2013
Editorial: A scarlet letter for private contractors?

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(July 17 -- By the Editorial Board)

Senate Bill 556 is another sad example of how legislative Democrats can't say no to their main benefactor, public employee unions, even at the expense of the voters they represent. This bill is costly, unnecessary and meddlesome - a legislative solution in search of a problem.

Authored by Sen. Ellen Corbett of San Leandro, SB 556 would require contract employees working for state or local governments to affix notices to their uniforms or vehicles that identify them as "not a government employee."

According to the Assembly Judiciary Committee analysis, Corbett thinks "this bill is needed to ensure that members of the public can visually distinguish between government employees and nongovernment employees who are increasingly subcontracted to perform services once exclusively the domain of true public employees."

We would be curious to know which members of the public are clamoring for more signage in their lives so they can distinguish between contractors and true public employees. Is there a petition drive we missed? Have there been mass rallies at the Capitol on this cause that have escaped our attention?

We hoped Corbett might enlighten us on these matters, but her staff said she was too busy to comment. That leaves us little option but to conclude the intent of her bill is clear and simple: To stigmatize private contractors with a scarlet letter. The apparent intent is to make it more difficult for local governments to contract for services, even when it saves them money and improves efficiencies.

To be clear, this is strictly a public employee union ploy, with emphasis on public.

This bill would create a negative perception about union employees who happen to work for government but are not actually government employees. The Yolo County Transportation District and its nongovernment-but-unionized bus drivers are a perfect example.

The bill contains specific requirements for how agencies such as Yolo Transportation would have to add notices to district vehicles and uniforms of nongovernment employees, even down to the font size they would have to use. Yolo County Transportation, which opposes the bill, claims it would have to add notices 2 feet tall and 30 feet long on all of its Yolo buses.

Similar signage would be required on every bus, ambulance, garbage truck or other government vehicle in the state not driven by a government employee.

Despite opposition from the League of California Cities, California State Association of Counties, California Special Districts Association and a host of other local government organizations, the Corbett bill zipped out of the Senate on a largely party-line vote.

SB 556 again raises the disturbing question: Just how far are Democrats willing to go to stay in the good graces of public employee unions?

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