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September 8, 2013
Editorial: Three bad bills Gov. Brown should veto

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(Sept. 8 -- By the Editorial Board)

It's September, so legislative crunch time is upon us. Bills of dubious merit are being rewritten surreptitiously and shoved hastily through the legislative process. Other bad bills have gone through in the normal way in the full light of day. We have commented on a number of them. Unfortunately, many have survived and are likely to make it to the governor's desk. Some are so noxious, so damaging to the public interest and so costly, particularly to struggling local governments, that they deserve extra attention. Three of the worst are outlined below.

Senate Bill 7, authored by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento, would deny all state construction funding to charter cities that use their own municipal funds for public works projects and, therefore, do not adhere to the state's prevailing wage law. Under a recent court ruling, they are not required to do so. Unions sued when the city of Vista sought to build firehouses and other public projects with city funds without adhering to prevailing wage. The case went all the way to the California Supreme Court, which decided in favor of Vista. SB 7 seeks to undermine that ruling. It would punish any city that failed to pay prevailing rates, making that city ineligible for state construction funds. The city would be denied state funds even for those joint city-state projects where the prevailing wage was paid.

Because of the peculiar way California calculates prevailing wage rates, it is, in effect, the union rate. For many impoverished municipalities, particularly those in the Central Valley, the union rate is wildly inflated, well beyond average construction pay for those communities. It makes public projects prohibitively expensive. As a result, many poor cities can't afford to fix roads, upgrade water systems or build schools. SB 7 not only challenges the sovereignty of charter cities, it needlessly runs up the cost of public construction.

Senate Bill 556, authored by Sen. Ellen Corbett of San Leandro, would require all contractors hired by a government entity to announce on their uniform or vehicle that they are not government employees. The measure has been amended since we last editorialized on it. In its current form, it applies only to those workers providing public health or safety. Sponsored by the powerful state firefighters union, its real goal is to make it more difficult and costly for local governments to contract out for ambulance service.

The bill is an expensive remedy in search of a nonexistent problem. There is no evidence that the public is ill served by private ambulance companies that contract with local governments. Contracting out helps lower the cost of vital services. The bill is likely to promote confusion and will certainly add to costs.

Assembly Bill 1373, authored by Assembly Speaker John Perez of Los Angeles, would double the statute of limitations for death benefits for public safety officers or firefighters who die from a service-related injury or illness. Under current law, the firefighter or cop would have to die within 240 weeks of sustaining an injury on the job for their survivors to qualify for a lump- sum death benefit payout, worth more than $300,000 in some cases. AB 1373 expands the statute of limitations to 480 weeks.

Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a similar bill last year that was virtually open-ended, subjecting local governments to huge potential liability. This pared-down bill is less costly but still adds unknown and unnecessary costs to local governments that are still struggling to recover from the deep recession.

Police officers, firefighters and prison guards in California are among the most lavishly compensated public servants on the planet. When they die in the line of duty, their family members are generously compensated under current law. Perez's bill goes beyond what is reasonable or fair or affordable.

All these bad bills have something in common. All have been introduced by Democrats at the behest of labor unions, not exclusively but mostly public employee unions. The concerns of working people deserve attention. But in their zeal to do the bidding of the unions who bankroll their campaigns, too often Democrats ignore the needs of the wider public, the taxpayers who pay the bills and citizens who rely on vital government services. When the public interest is ignored, government itself is undermined. When these bad bills reach his desk, the governor should consider the public interest and veto them.

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