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Big business on a hot streak with governor

Times Staff Writer

For weeks, they trooped to the state Capitol. Consumer activists sought help to fight ID theft and protect their checking accounts and credit cards. Permanently injured workers rallied for better insurance benefits. Farmworkers held a noisy vigil in front of the Capitol to bolster their union organizing efforts.

Last weekend the rallies had ceased, the lobbying had ended and the governor worked into the night, signing or vetoing the final stack of this year’s bills. In all, he signed 750 bills in 2007 and vetoed 214.

When the smoke cleared Monday, there were plenty of grins and grumbles. But no group in Sacramento was smiling wider than one of the governor’s most predictable allies: big business and its Sacramento mouthpiece, the California Chamber of Commerce.

In recent years, the chamber has focused much of its lobbying firepower on an annual list of “job killer” bills. This year, Schwarzenegger complied with 12 out of 12 chamber requests for vetoes on those bills. In 2006, he vetoed nine of 11 bills that the chamber listed as job killers.

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“The chamber has had more success than most in getting vetoes,” said Steve Blackledge, legislative director for the California Public Interest Research Group, a consumer advocate. “They draw a bright line in the sand and say, ‘These bills have to be stopped.’ They’ve got the governor as their backstop.”

The chamber, which represents 16,000 large and small companies, is a major force in Sacramento. It has eight registered lobbyists on staff and operates out of a multistory suite of offices in a luxury high-rise headquarters two blocks from the Capitol. It and its members contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to campaigns for politicians and ballot initiatives.

It’s no surprise that the governor and chamber mostly are on the same page, particularly when it comes to keeping jobs in California, said Sabrina Lockhart, a Schwarzenegger spokeswoman. “There are times he will agree with the chamber and times he will disagree,” she said.

Adds chamber President Allan Zaremberg: “Our agendas are aligned to ensure the economy stays strong and robust.”

The governor didn’t limit all of his pro-business vetoes to the chamber’s list. He also killed a bill, supported by consumer advocates and law enforcement, that would have required retailers to protect their customers’ financial information from being hacked in security breaches.

The bill, Schwarzenegger said, would interfere with the private sector’s efforts to police the data industry and would raise costs, particularly for small businesses. The chamber opposed the bill because it would have made some retailers a target for lawsuits even if they fully complied with the bill, Zaremberg said.

Some of Schwarzenegger’s vetoes this year were expected. The governor had telegraphed that he would turn back efforts to increase benefits for permanently disabled victims of on-the-job accidents. He also said he would derail a Democratic bill that would expand health insurance coverage with a hefty tax on employers.

However, not all of the governor’s vetoes could be predicted easily. He waited until near the midnight deadline Saturday night to show his hand by vetoing a bill sponsored by the United Farm Workers union.

Growers opposed the measure, which would have allowed farmworkers to organize unions by signing cards instead of voting in secret-ballot elections.

“The veto is devastating for farmworkers,” union spokesman Marc Grossman said.

The governor said he directed his administration to increase efforts to enforce all laws protecting people who pick crops. However, he said, all prospective union members should have the “opportunity to cast a ballot privately without fear of coercion or manipulation by any interested parties.”

Schwarzenegger, who has staked out an international reputation as an environmental leader, on Sunday also whacked a series of so-called green building standards for commercial, residential and state government structures.

In his veto message, the governor said he shared the goal of the Democratic-sponsored bills but feared that the proposed standards would create “a bias. . . in favor of foreign grown bamboo and wheatgrass” and against wood products milled in California.

The green-building bills would have destroyed jobs by increasing construction costs, the chamber argued.

But, environmentalists, who generally praised Schwarzenegger for signing many of their bills this year, said they were surprised that the chamber was able to persuade him to veto the new building standards.

“The whole job killer list usually is a bunch of baloney,” said Jim Metropulos, a lobbyist with the Sierra Club.

“I’m sure he probably feels he has to pay attention to it, but the chamber is obviously big business in the state and it is a large donor.”

Metropulos is quick to acknowledge that the chamber, though usually in sync with the governor, doesn’t always get its way when it urges him to veto cutting-edge environmental bills.

Last year, Schwarzenegger didn’t heed a plea to quash a landmark proposal aimed at curbing global warming.

Indeed, on Sunday he pleased environmentalists again by signing a first-in-the-nation measure to ban the use of a potentially harmful chemical compound called phthalates in toys and other plastic products used by children under 3 years old. The bill was opposed by the chemical industry and business groups, including the California Chamber of Commerce.

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marc.lifsher@latimes.com


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