Politics & Government

Jerry Brown finishes action on bills for the year with 18 signatures and 18 vetoes

Finishing action on hundreds of bills sent to him by the Legislature this year, Gov. Jerry Brown on Sunday signed a prevailing wage law for charter cities but vetoed a measure to give survivors of public safety officers more time to file claims for death benefits.

By the Sunday night deadline to act on legislation, Brown had signed 800 regular session bills this year and vetoed 96, according to the Governor’s Office.

Eighteen of those vetoes came Sunday, including the rejection of a measure that would have extended the statute of limitations for survivors of public safety officers to file a workers’ compensation claim for death benefits in cases involving cancer, tuberculosis or blood-borne infections diseases.

The Democratic governor vetoed a broader version of the bill in 2012, and in his veto message, Brown said the measure is “identical to the one I vetoed last year.”

“At that time, I outlined the information needed to properly evaluate the implications of this bill,” he wrote. “I have not yet received that information.”

In his veto a year ago of Assembly Bill 2451, Brown said there was “little more than anecdotal evidence” available to determine how to balance “serious fiscal constraints faced at all levels of government against our shared priority to adequately and fairly compensate the families of those public safety heroes who succumb to work-related injuries and disease.”

This year’s bill, Assembly Bill 1373, by Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles, was backed by labor unions representing firefighters and law enforcement officers, who argued existing law fails to provide for the families of firefighters or law enforcement officers who die from a work-related disease more than five years after being diagnosed.

Opponents included the California State Association of Counties and the League of California Cities. They argued the bill would increase local government costs by millions of dollars.

Brown also vetoed Assembly Bill 855, by Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown, D-San Bernardino, which would have required the California Department of Human Resources to reinstate an employee who is absent without leave if he or she was terminated before being absent for five days.

Existing California law allows state workers to be AWOL for five days without explanation before they can be terminated, but they can be reinstated if they explain to an administrative law judge why they were absent and failed to get leave.

“This bill seeks to remedy the rare circumstance when the state misapplies the absent without leave statute, forcing both the state and the employee to go to court to resolve the dispute,” Brown said in his veto message. “In these cases, both the state and the employee incur both delay and significant expenses. This does not make sense.”

Brown said he is directing his administration to reinstate employees in the “limited instances” in which an employee has been improperly dismissed under the AWOL statute.

The bill was one of several labor-backed measures Brown vetoed this year, including legislation that would have given thousands of Medi-Cal interpreters the right to join a public employee union and bargain collectively with the state.

Assembly Bill 1263, by Pérez, would have established a certification process and registry of medical interpreters, a measure proponents said would better regulate a service that is critical to patients who do not speak English.

But the bill was also significant to labor unions that believe implementation of the federal health care overhaul will result in a wave of new patients and medical professionals they hoped to add to their union ranks.

Brown avoided the matter of collective bargaining in his veto message Sunday, focusing only on the bureaucracy a new certification process would require.

“California has embarked on an unprecedented expansion to add more than a million people to our Medi-Cal program,” he wrote. “Given the challenges and the many unknowns the state faces in this endeavor, I don’t believe it would be wise to introduce yet another complex element.”

In addition to the 18 vetoes Brown announced Sunday were 18 bills he signed.

Among them was a measure to withhold state funds from charter cities that do not pay prevailing wages for local public works projects.

Senate Bill 7, by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, was backed by labor unions which argued prevailing wage requirements protect middle-class jobs and ensure high-quality public works projects. The League of California Cities and other opponents framed the legislation as a test of Brown’s commitment to local control – a principle the Democratic governor has invoked frequently in other legislative and policy matters.

While Brown pressured cities to pay prevailing wages, he vetoed legislation that would have authorized cities and counties to establish inclusionary housing requirements as a condition of development.

Assembly Bill 1229, by Assemblyman Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, would have effectively overturned a 2009 ruling by the 2nd District Court of Appeal that an affordable housing requirement in Los Angeles conflicted with state law that limited local rent control ordinances. The court ruling left inclusionary housing policies statewide in doubt.

“As mayor of Oakland, I saw how difficult it can be to attract development to low and middle income communities,” Brown said in his veto message. “Requiring developers to include below-market units in their projects can exacerbate these challenges, even while not meaningfully increasing the amount of affordable housing in a given community.”

He said the California Supreme Court is currently weighing whether cities may require inclusionary housing in new developments and that “I would like the benefit of the Supreme Court’s thinking before we make adjustments in this area.”

Brown has frequently complained about the number of bills sent to him by the Legislature, but he was relatively accommodating this year, signing all but about 11 percent of the bills it sent him.

Over the course of his career, the third-term governor has now signed more than 13,500 regular session bills.

After the final bills were dispatched Sunday, Brown’s press office posted a photograph on Twitter of Brown’s desk. The chair was empty, a pen left behind.

“Festina Lente,” the tweet said, or “make haste slowly.”