Democratic legislators take bold stands, except when they don’t

Here's why you should know about your kids' online privacy.
Here's why you should know about your kids' online privacy. Common Sense Media

California’s Legislature, it’s said, is about as liberal as can be.

With supermajorities of Democrats in both houses, legislators definitely go out of their way to defy President Donald Trump, especially on immigration issues. On business issues, however, lawmakers are far less adventuresome.

In the coming days, the Democrats’ leftward slant will be tested on major bills affecting the powerful telecommunications industry, privacy rights and consumer protection.

At the top of the list is legislation by Assemblyman Ed Chau, a Democrat from Monterey Park. Chau’s Assembly Bill 375 seeks to counter perhaps the most significant bill passed by the Republican-controlled Congress and signed by Donald Trump, a measure that overturned an Obama administration regulation to limit major internet providers such as AT&T and Comcast from amassing and marketing customers’ information.

Chau’s bill, which is backed by consumer and privacy advocates, would restore the Obama regulation for Californians. Not surprisingly, the internet giants that fought the Obama regulation are lobbying to kill Chau’s bill. But legislators should follow Obama’s lead, not Trump’s, and grant giving Californians the fundamental option of agreeing or not to allow internet providers to use their information.

Late last week, the Senate Rules Committee headed by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon referred Chau’s bill to three committees. It faces its first hearing on July 17. If it clears that committee, it would head to two more committees the following day. A triple referral is a rarity, generally reserved for bills destined for the trash heap. We hope Chau defies the odds.

A second, Senate Bill 649 by Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, would give wireless providers such as AT&T virtually unfettered ability to place wireless transmitters on utilities poles control by cities and counties, for a nominal fee.

It’s part of a national effort by wireless providers to introduce 5G technology, which promises to vastly increase wireless’ ability to provide super-fast connections, and compete more directly with old-line cable providers. Similar bills are pending or have been approved in 20 states.

Hueso’s bill would cap fees that local governments could impose on wireless companies at $250 plus expenses for placing their devices on polls. Certainly, local authorities should not gouge companies that provide what could be useful technology. But Hueso’s bill also strips local authorities of the right to regulate the use of property in their jurisdictions. We side with local officials: they should be able to determine what corporations build in public spaces, not Sacramento legislators.

A third bill, AB 814 by Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, would grant city attorneys in L.A., San Jose, San Diego and San Francisco the power to issue subpoenas before they file lawsuits.

L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer became the lead sponsor of the bill, after he was unable to obtain pre-litigation subpoenas as he investigated whether Wells Fargo ripped off customers by opening accounts without their knowledge. The California attorney general and district attorneys already have that authority.

The bill is caught in Senate Appropriations Committee limbo known as suspense, reserved for bills that would cost state taxpayers, though AB 814 would cost the state little if anything. It would, however, cost business.

Hence, the opposition by the California Chamber of Commerce, the anti-litigation Civil Justice Association of California, and groups representing telecom, builders, broadcasters, manufacturers, oil companies, and, of course, bankers.

Clearly, something else is going on. We cannot help but think that for all their bluster and bravado, Democrats see business lobbyists arrayed against them and do what too many politicians do: duck.