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A Capitol political battle lasting years over placing restrictions on Wal-Mart and other big box retail stores flared anew Wednesday when the Senate Governance and Finance Committee approved union-backed legislation.

The bill, Senate Bill 469 by Sen. Juan Vargas, D-San Diego, would require proposed "superstore" projects to undergo an "economic impact report" before approval by local governments. It's the latest in a long-string of anti-big box bills; predecessors were vetoed by former Govs. Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Several cities now require such reports, similar in concept to environmental impact reports, but Vargas bill stems directly from a flareup in San Diego. At the behest of unions that have battled with Wal-Mart, the San Diego City Council approved such a requirement last fall, but Mayor Jerry Sanders vetoed it.

The council then overrode the veto, but Wal-Mart gathered 54,000 signatures to place the issue before voters. The council then backed down and rescinded its ordinance. Vargas immediately pledged to pursue the issue with legislation that would apply to the entire state.

Vargas called his proposal "a modest approach" aimed at determining how superstores affect small business, but Wal-Mart and other critics said it was aimed only at big stores that sell groceries and was obviously aimed at giving anti-Wal-Mart forces more legal ammunition.

The bill cleared the committee on a 6-3 party-line vote, with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed.


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