As protectionist measures go, Senate Bill 556 was bad enough.
It would have required any private contractor working for a state or local public agency to wear a special badge or uniform — perhaps one with a scarlet letter C for "contract employee." That way, the public, which for some reason must know without asking whether the person helping them at the DMV or the Franchise Tax Board is a true government employee or not, would not be confused.
Fortunately, this attempt at branding contract employees, after passing through the Senate on a vote of 24-13, did not make it out of Assembly committee this past session.
But another one did — one that's equally worthy of a veto by Gov. Jerry Brown.
Assembly Bill 566 by Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, would essentially block trial courts, regardless of their financial situation, from hiring anyone on a contractual basis — for any reason.
The legislation is a clear slap at agencies such as the Placer County Superior Court, which, as the Sacramento Bee has reported, was forced to scale back its staff from 183 employees to 102 over the past four years. Budget constraints also forced the courts to close courtrooms and reduce operating hours. Ten court reporters ended up losing their jobs when administrators decided to contract out for some services. But the net savings of $600,000 a year allowed the court to preserve services in other areas.
The public employee unions, which hold great sway over the Democratic majority in the state Legislature, clearly want to put a stop to that.
AB 566, which is sponsored by the California Court Reporters Association and the Service Employees International Union, calls for the creation of a trial court employee personnel system that would have sole authority to hire trial court personnel and would oversee classification and compensation of trial court employees.
Yes, the legislation would allow for the hiring of contract personnel, but to do so a court would have to jump through so many hoops — including having to prove that savings would occur, report back to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee and make sure no existing employee would lose a job — it would never happen.
Moreover, given that the legislation covers all services that have historically been performed by court employees, the bill casts a shadow on modernization efforts to bring services such as access to court documents into the digital age. This would likely put all of those advancements on hold — while preventing courts from making needed payroll changes to adapt to economic downturns.
At best, this is a protectionist measure. At worst, it's evidence of more head-in-the-sand thinking by union-backed legislators who seem to believe that financial problems will go away through a combination of denial and legislative mandate.
They won't. Courts, as with other public agencies, need to have the flexibility to respond to the shifting sands of the state economy. And Governor Brown needs to make that clear by giving AB 566 a quick veto.