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Capitol Roundup: Farm Worker Overtime Doesn't Get Vote, Other Bills Pass


State Assembly Approved State-Run Retirement Program

The California Assembly has approved a new, state-run retirement program for workers whose companies don’t offer them. 

The bill would require companies without their own retirement plans to allow workers to enroll in a state option. Democratic Assemblyman Mike Gatto says nearly seven million workers could be eligible.

"This is a mechanism for getting Californians to save for retirement. It’s giving them the trust that comes from the state of California and the structure, and then the ability for us to access investments that they couldn’t access on their own," says Gatto.

Investment firms opposed the bill. Republican Assemblyman David Hadley, a former investment banker, says he liked the concept, but not the execution.

"This may not be the headline bill of the year, but 10 or 20 or 30 years from now, this bill has the makings of an epic, epic problem," says Hadley.

Hadley argues the state will look out for the fund of money, but not necessarily individual accounts.

The bill moves to the Senate for a final vote.

California Assembly Voted To Ban Smoking On State Parks And Beaches

The California Assembly has voted to ban smoking on state parks and beaches.

During debate Thursday, Democratic Assemblyman Richard Bloom said discarded cigarettes don’t decompose and can spark fires.

"If this measure prevents just one wild fire, it will save millions of dollars," says Bloom.

The bill passed largely along party lines, although another Democratic Assemblyman, Mike Gatto abstained. He questioned why the bill also bans e-cigarettes on parks and beaches.

"They cost money, they cost $20, they’re something that is not thrown away," says Gatto. "Nobody would think to discard them on a beach, because people don’t discard $20 bills on the beach."

A California law passed earlier this year generally classifies e-cigarettes under other tobacco laws.

This bill moves to the Senate for a final vote.

New Rules Passed For Janitorial Industry

The California Senate has passed new rules to crack down on sexual harassment, violence and low pay in the janitorial industry.

A bill passed Thursday would require companies providing janitorial services to register with the state and offer sexual harassment training.

Janitorial companies that don’t register and businesses that hire them could both be subject to thousands of dollars in fines. Republican Senator Jeff Stone called that onerous.

"The past seven years, 9,000 businesses have fled the state of California. This will only add more businesses to that list," said Stone.

"Apparently all business ain’t good business," responded Democratic Senator Holly Mitchell responded. "To suggest that a worker’s physical safety does not warrant our action over the fear that another business will leave California is irresponsible policy-making."

The bill follows a UC Berkeley Labor Center report that found few janitorial workers receive overtime, while many are paid less than minimum wage and vulnerable to sexual harassment and assault.

The bill passed with bipartisan support and moves to the Assembly for a final vote.

Farmworkers Overtime Pay Legislation Didn't Get Vote

Widely-watched, heavily-lobbied legislation that would allow California farm workers to receive overtime pay more quickly did not come up for a vote Thursday, as it was expected to. That led to a renewed pledge that it will pass from the Assembly Speaker.

When the Assembly adjourned and it became clear the bill would not come up, farm workers who’d rallied at the Capitol lined up outside Speaker Anthony Rendon’s door, until he came out.

"We did not take a vote today," said Rendon. "We will take a vote next week. I will do everything in my power to make sure this passes next week."

The bill is a favorite of labor unions and would require farm workers to receive overtime pay after an eight-hour day or 40 hour work-week. The agriculture industry argues it’s too costly and will just mean hiring more workers for shorter spells.

The fact the bill was held suggests it may not yet have enough support in the Assembly, where another version died earlier this year.

Counties Might Get Option To Move To All-Mail Ballot System

California counties will likely have the option to move to an all-mail ballot system in 2020. Voters could still travel to a few, county-wide vote centers to fill out the ballot, under the measure that’s nearly passed the Legislature.

Bill author and Democratic Senator Ben Allen argued in a Senate committee Thursday it would be more efficient.

"At the vote centers, voters can register to vote, cast a vote, get a new ballot, if they lost or damaged their ballot that had arrived by mail," says Allen. "They’re also equipped with the accessible voting machines for disabled voters and electronic poll books that interact with the official voter database." 

Allen and county governments say the change would save the state money, which could be reinvested in improving turnout.

Some voting rights groups worry a lack of polling places could make it more difficult to vote.

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