Budget fixes, no; blueberries, yes

SACRAMENTO – Elected officials would have us believe that the world would not go around if they weren’t busy addressing the “big” issues in city councils and state legislatures. But, in reality, most of what elected officials do ranges from the nonsensical to the malevolent. How many readers believe that their lives are greatly diminished when the California Legislature is not in session?

The 2009 legislative session is over, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed and vetoed scores of bills – the work product of the Assembly members and senators who “labor” in this world, which often resembles a giant fraternity house. The people’s business is really the business of special interests (in Sacramento, mainly unions and trial lawyers) and kooky ideologues who have zero trust in the decency and wisdom of the people they represent.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the work from the Capitol, and you can see that for yourselves. I’m focusing here on the minor stuff – not the attention-grabbing bills you see in news headlines. Californians need to look at the mainstream bills, which clearly represent the current legislative mindset.

For instance, Senate Bill 95 would have created the Car Buyers’ Protection Act, which added additional regulatory restrictions on car dealers that take trade-ins from customers. The bill should be called the Trial Lawyers Make Work Act. Although the bill, fortunately, was amended into meaninglessness, it would have excluded “disputes involving motor vehicle purchasers and lessees” from mediation authority, which then expands the number of disputes that will be handled through lawsuits by trial lawyers. And it would have expanded the amount of damages that car buyers could collect from dealers.

This bill gives folks an idea of how things work up here. Consider that this legislation was proposed at a time when record numbers of car dealers are going out of business.

One of my “favorite” job-killer bills, as termed by the California Chamber of Commerce, was Assembly Bill 656, which would have imposed a special new tax on gasoline to fund higher education. As the Chamber rightly noted, this bill, which, thankfully, also stalled, targeted a single industry, would have harmed the economy by raising gasoline prices, and would have put California at a competitive disadvantage with states that would not have this additional tax. I chose to highlight this silly failed bill because it epitomizes the thinking of legislators, and the legislative Democrats, in particular: There’s no industry they wouldn’t tax to provide more funding to poor-performing government bureaucracies.

Here’s a favorite piece of union-backed nuttiness: AB1421, which includes this demand: “Time spent in transit on a facility-provided conveyance from a remote employee parking location to and from the place at which an employee’s presence is required by the employer shall be considered to be part of a day’s work when the employee is employed at an airport, amusement park, sports venue, or entertainment venue.”

This one stalled, too, but it proves again (if you need any more proof) that legislators believe that there is no aspect of your life immune from their dictates. It seems radical or quaint these days to believe that employers and employees can work out their own terms without micromanagement from state bureaucrats.

Yes, such bills – and many more like them – have stalled, which suggests that there might be some modicum of reasonableness left up here, but who thinks of these things? Oh, that’s right, the union leaders and other special interests who are constantly pushing here and there for a little more privilege. Legislators don’t dare buck their masters, so they push these little bills that garner little attention. And then we all wake up and wonder why we can’t breathe without a special permit from a union-certified air-quality inspector.

Many of the bills that pass are symbolic measures. Here’s one signed into law by the governor, per his press office: “Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger today announced that he has signed AB1440 by Assembly member Sandré Swanson, D-Alameda, ensuring that eligible firefighters and emergency personnel are able to vote in elections held while they fight on the front lines of any emergency in California.” This wasn’t a pressing issue, but legislators always outdo themselves trying to show their support for public safety officials and unions.

Another common ploy is to propose bills that increase penalties on horrific crimes, such as a bill the governor signed into law that increases penalties for human trafficking. Obviously, such trafficking is evil and deserves harsh punishment, but take a look at the number of new laws that fit into this category of upping the ante on bad crimes. It would be worth analyzing whether any of them actually reduce such crimes or whether their authors’ main goal is to get their names in the media as defenders of the public.

And here’s more pressing business, in the form of AB606, signed into law by the governor: “Creates the California Blueberry Commission (CBC) with prescribed membership, powers, duties and responsibilities, and requires a positive referendum vote by blueberry producers and handlers, as specified, to activate.”

Actually, this legislative session deserves a round of raspberries.

Steven Greenhut is director of the Journalism Center at the Pacific Research Institute.

Contact the writer: [email protected]

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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