The California Legislature is off to a pretty big start this year with the passage of the first major transportation infrastructure funding bill in more than two decades. SB 1, coauthored by the two Transportation Committee Chairs, Senator Jim Beall, (D) San Jose, and Assembly Member Jim Frazier, (D) Brentwood, raises both the gas and diesel fuel taxes as well as imposes a new $100 fee for each electric car in use. This will fund the repair of California’s deteriorating streets and highways.
This is good news for our members who work in the construction industry but the bill also contains significant increases for funding public transit systems. It was necessary to obtain a two-thirds vote for the bill because it contained tax increases. That threshhold was met almost entirely with Democratic votes; one Republican member, Senator Anthony Canella, (R) Merced, a moderate Republican, also voted for the bill. State Senator Steve Glazer, (D) Orinda, and Assembly Member Rudy Salas, (D) Bakersfield, were the lone dissenting Democratic votes. The transportation spending bill was pushed very heavily by Governor Brown, Speaker Rendon, and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, which helped overcome the fear and resistance of more conservative Democrats to vote for a tax increase.
We also have some Teamster sponsored legislation to help our members. AB 695 by Assembly Member Raul Bocanegra, (D) Los Angeles, will insure that our members who repair railroads are fully protected by highway safety laws when they are at work. AB 553 by Assembly Member Tom Daly, (D) Santa Ana, will insure that injured workers who are permanently disabled will get their full measure of a $120 million fund that was created by workers’ compensation reform legislation a few years ago. And AB 673 by Assembly Member Kansen Chu, (D) Milpitas, will give transit workers a voice in safety issues during the procurement process when transit agencies purchase new buses.
We are also co-sponsoring an important bill with the California Federation of Labor that will deal with rising prescription drug prices. SB 17 by State Senator Ed Hernandez, (D) West Covina, will require drug companies to give major purchasers, such as our trust funds, advanced notice of price increases, so that we will be able to try to negotiate lower prices or find less expensive and equally effective alternative drugs.
There are always bad bills to worry about. Mirroring the conservative agenda on the federal level, the Republicans have introduced a bill to make California a so-called “Right to Work” state. Assembly Member Matthew Harper, (R) Costa Mesa, is the author of AB 1174, which will prohibit unions from collecting representational fees from non-members, forcing all the other members to support these “free riders.” You can bet we will be fighting this one with all we’ve got.