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BAD BUSINESS

Rejection complex

Schwarzenegger's vetoes show a pattern -- if business doesn't like a bill, it gets the ax despite its merits.

October 04, 2008

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed so much legislation in the final days of September that the sheer volume -- 415 measures rejected, 35% of all bills sent to his desk -- obscures the pattern that has emerged over the course of his tenure in the Capitol: Business gets its way. If a bill winds up on the California Chamber of Commerce's list of supposed "job-killers," it will go down.

This year, nine of 10 bills on the list were vetoed, even though many of them were good for Californians and posed only the most tangential or theoretical challenge to job growth. Other bills, not on the list but also targeted by business, fared just as poorly.

For the second time in as many years, Schwarzenegger struck down a bill that would have fought the growing problem of identity theft. AB 1656 would have prevented merchants from storing customer information they no longer need, such as personal codes offered for a particular, long-completed transaction. The governor said in his veto message that industry standards should take care of the problem. Maybe they should, but in fact they don't.

AB 437 would have applied a rational standard to California lawsuits brought by workers who discover that they have been targets of job discrimination over many years. Such a move is entirely legal and workable -- and necessary, after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that requires employees, without state legislation, to be essentially clairvoyant in order to secure their rights. Schwarzenegger vetoed it, explaining that it would lead to "frivolous" lawsuits.

Each time a bill makes its way through Sacramento, interested parties spend weeks studying it, preparing arguments and testifying at hearings. That's hard and expensive work for people with day jobs. They are outpaced by lobbyists with full-time staffs in offices across the street from the Capitol. The mismatch is all the greater when the bill's enemy is the California Chamber, which also happens to underwrite much of Schwarzenegger's travel budget.

Imagine, then, the thought process of proponents whose bill has been repeatedly vetoed by the governor. Just a little nip and tuck, the veto message might say, and next year's version may be one I can sign. But when the nipped and tucked version is vetoed, again at the insistence of the chamber, it's easy to understand why proponents might just give up. For the bills cited above, and the two below, we hope they don't.

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