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The state Senate barely passed today a labor-sponsored bill aimed at Wal-Mart and other large retailers by requiring cities and counties to review an economic impact report before deciding whether to approve superstore projects.

The law would apply to retail projects greater than 90,000 square feet that devote significant space to selling groceries. Affected retailers such as Wal-Mart would have to pay for the city or a city contractor to do the report, which would have to give local officials insight into the expected revenues from the new store, the net impact on jobs in the area and the long-term effects on the surrounding community.

Republicans who voted against the bill objected to imposing a new burden on both local authorities and job creation.

"Let's let the communities decide what's best for them instead of us deciding for them," said Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar.

"This targets the wrong type of employers at the wrong time," said Sen. Tom Harman, R-Huntington Beach. "We want to do things that help large businesses create jobs."

Sen. Juan Vargas, the San Diego Democrat who authored the measure, defended his bill as simply a chance to ensure local officials are making informed decisions.

The measure, Senate Bill 469, is supported by the California Labor Federation and half a dozen other labor unions. Vargas said local officials need to consider whether superstores are paying employees a "living wage" or if they would become reliant on state services such as Medi-Cal.

Vargas said the bill does not apply to superstores with membership requirements such as Costco because they pay a living wage.

The California Chamber of Commerce and several other business associations oppose the bill. The League of California Cities also opposes the bill because the organization believes it would erode local land use discretion.

Sen. Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, called it ironic that Republican-authored bills requiring economic impact reviews of proposed regulations stalled in Democrat-controlled committees while this measure was pushed through. The vote was 21-14 to send the bill over to the Assembly.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger twice vetoed similar bills.


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