Like Ending a TV Drama, the Legislature needs to tie up Loose Ends before Shutting Down

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

One might look at the last week of the legislative session like the last episode of a TV series. The job of the performers, writers and producers is to tie up loose ends in many of the story lines, and there are many story lines under the Capitol dome that beg for an ending. 

By no means an exhaustive list, the legislature and the governor have to deal with whether the state will change the direction of the nature of work and the status of workers in a new economy (AB 5); close an agreement on vaccinating children entering school (SB 276 and its new companion SB 714); dictating rent control rules for the entire state (AB 1482); and countering moves on the environment by the Trump Administration (SB 1).

Not everything the legislature considers has an ending. Sometimes, like a renewed TV series, the saga continues to the next season. A case in point, the intense battle to create wildfire recovery bonds for PG&E, which was tabled for now the end of last week.

There will be surprise twists as these stories conclude, just like a good TV drama. The battle over vaccinations saw such a turn when Gov. Gavin Newson threw more demands at the legislature the last minute after he previously agreed to sign the bill. A resolution will happen when a late bill mollifying the governor’s concerns will move forward allowing him to sign both measures, one to tighten the rules on medical exemptions for the vaccinations, and the second to ease back on some of the proposed new exemption requirements. A final package that will not satisfy advocates on either side of the question.

Another bill tangled up with exemptions is AB 5 to determine worker classification in the changing economy.

The push to classify workers in the new economy that would demand more worker benefits has many loose ends—more and more with each amendment as the legislature lets certain businesses and workers escape from the proposed rules. If the end result is a bill signed by the governor with many loose fringes, consider this drama headed to a series of sequels featuring more requests for exemptions.

In true Hollywood fashion, when a show gathers a big following, similar themed stories appear—in this instance taking the classification of gig workers in a different direction via an initiative to re-write the rules. With a $90 million commitment from Uber, Lyft, and Doordash to go to the voters with an alternative plan for gig workers, you could say another series, to use a Hollywood term, is under development.

The initiative effort could come into play even if the legislature does not act on AB 5. Supporters of the bill feel they are in the driver’s seat because while the bill is a way to codify a California Supreme Court decision (Dynamex) that sets up a test for workers, if the bill fails the court ruling is still in place and efforts will be made to adhere to the decision. However, the way for a court decision to be overturned is by writing a new law, which can be accomplished via an initiative. (For a different perspective on the effectiveness of the Uber, Lyft, Doordash proposed initiative, see Joe Mathews column also posted today.)

The rent control bill will satisfy some legislators that they have done something on California’s housing crisis. But will that something be to make the situation worse by drying up investments for new apartment buildings? That uncertainty weighs on legislators as the final vote is taken.

Despite the author of SB 1, Sen. Toni Atkins, being one of the most powerful legislators and the bill’s positioning as taking another potshot at President Trump, concerns raised by California’s prime agriculture industry adds enough suspense to tune in to see how this show ends. (My take on SB 1 ran Friday.)

Unlike television series, what’s going on in Sacramento is policy mixed with politics, and in such circumstances there is rarely a finish to a tale, let alone a satisfactory ending for all parties involved. I suppose in that way, you might say on a number of major bills, this legislative session will end a little like Game of Thrones ended—With the audience asking: Is this the best you could come up with?

 

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