Dan Walters

Dan Walters: Three obscure bills show how big policy gets buried

Dan Walters
Dan Walters

The Legislature was in full sausage-factory mode during the last days of the biennial session that ended on Aug. 30, spewing hundreds of bills onto Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

In time-dishonored fashion, many of the bills were either newly minted or underwent last-minute changes and therefore received only cursory attention. Buried in them were some fairly significant changes of public policy.

These three measures typify the syndrome:

Senate Bill 1300 by Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, is aimed at improving refinery safety in the wake of a disastrous fire at Chevron’s Richmond refinery in 2012.

It would require refineries to annually report to the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health scheduled “turnarounds” – operational shutdowns for maintenance and repair – and other data bearing on safety.

However, it not only would treat the data as trade secrets and bar public disclosure – questionable unto itself – but would require OSHA to tell refineries if anyone requests the data and allow refiners to then seek court orders against the requester.

Open records and free speech advocates are up in arms, as they should be, about this chilling legislative decree.

Senate Bill 628 by Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, surfaced just four days before adjournment.

It would re-establish local government redevelopment agencies as “enhanced infrastructure financing districts” with virtually all their former powers.

But it eliminates many of redevelopment’s safeguards, such as a requirement to establish “blight,” and also lowers the vote for bonds to 55 percent. Thus, it would re-establish – and even enhance – cities’ ability to engage in crony capitalism with subsidies for favored developers.

The excesses of redevelopment led Brown and legislators to eliminate it a couple of years ago. Legislators have now reversed and it will be interesting to see if Brown follows suit, since anti-poverty and civil rights groups oppose the bill.

Assembly Bill 155 by Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, would give the Monterey County Water Resources Agency authority to use a “design-build” contract for linking two of its reservoirs with a pipeline.

Such authority is not unusual, but AB 155 goes further by requiring the agency to have a “project labor agreement” for the contract, meaning, in effect, that it could use only a unionized contractor.

Public works projects already pay “prevailing wages,” usually meaning union wage rates, but AB 155 is the latest front in the political war over project labor agreements, which exclude the majority of contractors that are nonunion.

Brown often touts “subsidiarity” – allowing local governments to make decisions – and since Monterey officials oppose AB 155’s provisions, his action will reveal whether he really means it, or it’s just a buzzword.

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