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Editorial: Gov. Brown, veto these 5 bills!

The Legislature sent a pile of bills to Gov. Jerry Brown for his blessing this month, when it wrapped up its regular session for the year. If history is any guide, Brown will sign most of them, reserving his veto for only a few stinkers. These five bills ought to be among the rejects because they could cause real harm to the state and its inhabitants:

SB 172 would retroactively excuse all California high school students from taking the mandatory exit exam, and would put the test on hold for at least three years while a panel studies how to make it relevant to Common Core. That’s an unnecessarily long time. If high school graduates aren’t required to prove they have mastered basic skills, then we are doomed to return to the bad old days of social promotion and meaningless diplomas. Better for lawmakers to adopt a more rapid and sensible plan than to threaten the entire future of the exam.

SB 376 would require the University of California system to pay all contract workers — even temporary ones — the same wages and benefits as university employees. UC officials say it would drive up costs and possibly force the system to take on new employees it can’t afford. UC is already prohibited from contracting solely to pay workers lower wages. As long as the university makes sure its own minimum wage is being paid to everyone, it shouldn’t be faulted for trying to be frugal — as Brown has encouraged it to do — by doing outside contracting.

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FOR THE RECORD

An earlier version of this story gave the wrong number for the bill dealing with UC contractors. It is SB 376, not AB 376.

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SB 331 is designed to discourage cities and government agencies from adopting so-called Civic Openness in Negotiations ordinances that require more independent analysis and disclosure of public employee contract negotiations. The bill, sponsored by public employee unions, states that any agency that has adopted such an ordinance or similar law must meet stringent analysis and disclosure requirements for the larger private contracts it awards. It purports to be about transparency but is clearly designed to achieve the opposite, seeking to punish cities that have adopted civic-openness ordinances for their public employee contracts by piling absurd layers of bureaucracy onto their private ones.

SB 682 is another contracting bill that sounds reasonable until you delve into the details. It would make it much harder for state courts to hire contractors to do work that “customarily” was performed by court employees. But what does “customarily” refer to? The work done in the 1990s, before the last recession led to deep cuts in court budgets, forcing the closure of courthouses and elimination of services?

Proponents argue that the contracting provisions are the same ones that apply to state agencies and K-12 schools, but they’re wrong. Those agencies are protected by language that limits the definition of “customarily.” Besides, it would be manifestly unfair and counterproductive to slash court budgets and then deny judges the ability to cut their biggest costs.

Finally, SB 292 would exempt a handful of cities from one requirement of the public employee pension reforms from 2013. Under the bill, employees would not have to cover half the cost of their pensions if they worked for a city where voters had passed a special property tax levy specifically to pay for retirement benefits.

Proponents of the bill, which was sponsored by lobbyists for police and firefighters, argue that cities with this sort of levy should be exempt because their voters wanted to pay for pensions through special taxes. But it’s far from clear that these voters, some casting ballots as far back as the 1930s, intended to cover the employees’ share of the cost of future pension plans with different benefits. In any case, we believe it would be unfair to the state’s other local agencies to exempt a few cities from this important reform simply because of how they’ve paid for previous pension plans.

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