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Despite strong opposition from Republicans, the Assembly narrowly passed a union-backed bill to make cities and counties blow through a series of roadblocks before they can privatize their libraries.

Under Assembly Bill 438, library systems would have to:

• pick a contract after a competitive bidding process.
• give four straight weeks of public notice before enacting a change, doubling the current requirement.
• prove through a broad analysis that a switch away from the free public library system saves the city or county money.
• show that the cost savings are not simply a factor of lower pay for the private company's employees.
• require an audit before hiring a library contractor charging more than $100,000 a year.
• ensure that the public employees don't lose their jobs.

National contractor Library Systems & Services, which already runs some libraries in the state, and the Service Employees International Union engaged in dueling lobbying efforts on the measure.

Both the League of California Cities and Republicans in the Assembly said the state shouldn't be interfering with local issues. They also said local officials already trying to save money through library sell-offs likely would drop their efforts if this bill became law later this year. The bill would also touch renewals of existing contracts.

Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, assured Republicans that he would not expand his bill to apply to privatization of other public services. Some still said it would set too strong a precedent.

Williams originally called for any library privatization proposal to be approved by voters in that jurisdiction. He later amended the bill to garner the extra support needed to the move the bill to the Senate. It passed 44-28.


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