For a second year running, an attempt to impose onerous and restrictive scheduling regulations on California’s business owners came to a screeching halt in the state legislature.
Last Friday’s death of SB 878 (Leyva-D) in the hands of Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Ricardo Lara (D) and other level-headed Democrats was an important victory for the business community, displaying the merits of our often messy bicameral legislative system and the opportunities it affords political combatants to shape and influence policy outcomes.
Having been designed to promote compromise and provide plenty of procedural escape hatches, both bringing a bill into law and the act of killing a bill require nearly constant recalibration and the strategic placement of leverage. For each bill the CRA’s governmental affairs team fights, a public record of opposition is created. Letters of opposition are submitted to the bill’s author and testimony is given during committee hearings.
The act of making sausage is often used as a political metaphor for the policy process, and in the case of SB 878, the comparison is especially apt.
There are many ways to kill a bill. Legislation can be gutted and amended to a point beyond recognition, fail through an up-and-down vote on the house floor or in committee, be held by author or legislative leader to never receive a vote at all, and as a last resort, a governor can veto legislation after it has been passed. These different pathways form a duality as each bill must overcome the same hurdles in the senate and assembly. (Learn more from our “How a bill becomes a law” infographic)
Bills with an impact on the state budget require additional approval from a fiscal committee. Because the restrictive scheduling bill would have cost the state an estimated $5.6 million to implement, SB 878 had been held in the Suspense File for further debate. Friday marked the deadline for legislation to move out of the Suspense File and to proceed to a floor vote, which the restrictive scheduling measure failed to do as the measure was shelved by Senator Lara and other members of the Senate Appropriations committee without casting a single vote.
While the political calculus behind pulling a bill can be complex, many policy arguments simply come down to leverage and the pressure applied by constituents with the potential to hurt a politician’s chances at re-election. With the help of many restaurant owners and other businesses who voiced their opposition to SB 878, the CRA and its allies in the grocer and retail industries doggedly battled this legislation at each stage of the bill’s lifecycle, resulting in the death of one of California’s most burdensome attempts to regulate business.
A bill can die, even if the issue lives on
After the bill was held on suspense, Senator Leyva promised to return to the issue in the future.
Making this issue even more likely to continue to be a major issue, the California Labor Federation has made restrictive scheduling a legislative priority.
The morning of last week’s crucial deadline their spokesman released a statement saying, “We will use every tool available to us to get the message out about why this bill is important for workers.”
One procedure for resurrecting an issue after it has been put to bed – like SB 878 – is known as the “gut and amend” process, whereby a piece of legislation on an entirely different topic is literally “gutted” and changed to have new content.
The final weeks of the legislative session leading up to its end (August 31) are notorious for the use of the gut and amend process. It is a time period where the legislature is on the floor of each house considering hundreds and hundreds of bills late into the night each night, presenting plenty of opportunity for mischief.
The CRA team of lobbyists is always present (often around the clock) and makes themselves known inside the Capitol during these times to work on the other bills of concern to the restaurant community, but also to watch for and react to these types of midnight specials.