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DEMOCRAT BILLS ARE READY FOR ARNOLD'S JUDGMENT DAY.

Byline: David M. Drucker Sacramento Bureau

SACRAMENTO - Democrats, with overwhelming majorities in both houses of the Legislature, have had their day and approved dozens of labor-friendly bills. Now it's Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's turn to decide which will be vetoed and which will become law.

In recent years, Democrats could count on Gov. Gray Davis signing most of what they wanted. But those days are over.

And at the top of the list of likely vetoes is a Democratic assemblywoman's $1 increase in the state minimum wage, which would raise it to $7.75 per hour - making California's the highest in the country.

The governor's spokesmen have indicated he will blue-pencil any bill he believes hampers job creation and puts California at a competitive disadvantage, leaving the minimum wage bill with Schwarzenegger's veto all but preprinted on it.

``The governor will work to strike a balance between creating jobs, protecting the environment, protecting essential services and acting in a fiscally responsible manner,'' said spokeswoman Ashley Snee.

Also facing an uphill climb for the governor's signature are Democrat- sponsored bills to prevent the state from contracting out service jobs to companies that would employ overseas workers to do them, force hospitals to charge uninsured patients less for care and veer the state away from a free-market electricity system.

Schwarzenegger generally does not take a position on a bill before signing or vetoing it, but Snee said the first hurdle for a bill's approval will be its impact on the economy and job creation.

The actor-turned-politician stormed into office last year on a platform of making the state more ``business-friendly,'' promising to scale back excessive regulations and encourage an atmosphere that creates jobs by giving companies incentives to locate and expand in California.

With the 2003-04 legislative session ending by Tuesday, the governor's commitment to that philosophy will be tested between then and Sept. 30, the final day for him to decide the fate of more than 1,000 bills the Legislature is sending to his desk.

Many of the bills will force him to back up his campaign promises with a veto. Political observers say Schwarzenegger will likely deliver.

``These are the kinds of bills you'd expect the governor to veto,'' said Los Angeles political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe.

Despite Schwarzenegger's consistent rhetoric disparaging the Democrat-controlled Legislature for overregulating industry and increasing the cost of doing business in the state, a number of bills that appear ripe for his blue pencil continue to land on his desk.

Assemblywoman Sally J. Lieber, who authored Assembly Bill 2832, said she was undeterred by Schwarzenegger's philosophical alignment with the California Chamber of Commerce, the business lobbying group that regularly opposes such bills.

``It's a fundamental moral issue,'' Lieber, D-Mountain View, said. ``Should the minimum wage be lower than the federal poverty limit? We feel that's unconscionable.''

Capitol insiders point to a number of other bills probably in trouble.

--Senate Bill 1056, by Sen. Richard Alarcon, D-Van Nuys. The proposal, an effort to make it harder for giant retailers like Wal-Mart to open more stores, would require such companies to conduct an ``independent economic impact report'' before receiving a municipal building permit.

The studies would determine ``if the superstores will help local economies or bust small businesses and kill good-paying jobs,'' Alarcon said.

--Senate Bill 379, by Sen. Deborah Ortiz, D-Sacramento. The proposal would force hospitals to ``limit their charges to low-income, uninsured patients.''

Such patients would be defined as people who earn up to 400 percent of the federally designated poverty level. The mandate would also require hospitals to negotiate payments with patients and exhaust other sources of payment before filing adverse credit reports.

--Assembly Bill 1829, by Assemblywoman Carol Liu, D-Pasadena. The measure is designed to limit the outsourcing of state contract service jobs to other countries.

Critics call Liu's bill a ``job killer.'' They cite statistics showing the state and nation gain more jobs from foreign companies that outsource jobs to the United States than the state and nation lose due to outsourcing.

--Assembly Bill 1839, by Assemblywoman Cindy Montanez, D-Mission Hills. Called the ``Car Buyer's Bill of Rights'' by supporters, the proposal would give used-car buyers three days to return their purchases for a refund from the dealer.

The proposal also would cap dealers' markups on automobile-loan interest rates.

--Assembly Bill 2006, by Assembly Speaker Fabian Nu nez, D-Los Angeles. Supporters call it an answer to California's ongoing power crisis because it would keep prices stable and affordable. Opponents deride it as a ``blank check'' because it would give utilities a monopoly on power delivery.

The Schwarzenegger administration recently sent a letter to Nunez promising a veto unless the bill is amended to incorporate free-market principles the governor believes are needed to cure the state's electricity woes.

Nunez, undeterred by Schwarzenegger's veto threat, delivered on his promise to send AB 2006 to the governor's desk, daring him to veto it.

Bebitch Jeffe said Democrats are happy to send the governor bills they know he is inclined to veto because it puts him on the record as opposing minimum wage hikes and other priorities of Democrats.

``They can say, 'We tried and the governor vetoed them,''' Bebitch Jeffe said.

David M. Drucker, (916) 442-5096

david.drucker(at)dailybulletin.com
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 29, 2004
Words:877
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