California’s lawmaking session ends with break for newspapers, protester tossing blood on senators

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California newspapers will have a one-year reprieve from a sweeping new labor bill that would have required them to reclassify delivery drivers as regular employees, after a vote early Saturday in the final hours of the legislative session in Sacramento.

A bipartisan vote of 62-4 approved a so-called “carve-out measure” that would give newspapers until the end of the end of 2020 to comply with Assembly Bill 5, a broad measure passed Wednesday that makes it more difficult for businesses to classify workers as independent contractors.

Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to sign both AB 5 and AB 170, the bill giving newspapers the extra year to comply.

State Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, who voted for both bills, said in an interview Saturday that AB 170, “strikes a balance by protecting California workers and advancing a fair compromise for Golden State newspapers.”

The bill, he said, was drafted along with AB 5, a labor-backed measure largely aimed at forcing Uber and Lyft to treat drivers as employees rather than independent contractors, who are not guaranteed benefits such as compensation for workplace injuries.

California newspaper publishers lobbied hard for an exemption, citing declining revenues and the possibility that smaller minority newspapers could be put out of business by the added expense.

McGuire said the carve-out measure gives publishers a year to “develop a game plan” for the requirements of AB 5.

Steve Falk, chief executive officer of Sonoma Media Investments, which owns The Press Democrat, noted that AB 170 had “very strong support in both houses, including all of our North Bay elected leaders.”

“Implementation of an employee delivery system will take months of thoughtful planning in order to minimize the impact which could mean higher prices, reduced home delivery and more dependence on digital readership,” he said.

Calling himself “a diehard newspaper reader,” McGuire said papers “are one the of the key foundations of our democracy.”

Saturday’s vote in the Assembly came after Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, who authored both bills, made an emotional plea against the newspaper carve-out and voted against it. She also said she was not urging her colleagues to reject it.

“This is a terrible bill and I do not plan to vote for it,” she said. Referring to newspaper carriers, she said, “This is probably one of the most exploitative jobs we have.”

The legislative session ended just hours after a protester tossed two containers full of blood onto the Senate floor, splattering seven senators and prompting an hourslong delay as lawmakers relocated to a large hearing room to complete the year’s business.

McGuire, who was standing about 10 feet from where the containers landed and was not hit, said the incident was unprecedented and “deeply concerning.”

“People were in shock,” he said. “You never go to work in the morning thinking someone is going to throw blood on you.”

The protester, an opponent of mandatory childhood vaccinations, shouted, “That’s for the dead babies!” as she tossed the containers from the gallery overlooking the Senate floor.

McGuire called the incident a “criminal act” and said the person responsible should be charged with as serious a crime as possible.

Blood spattered desks, chairs and laptop computers as well as senators near the front of the chamber, he said. Lawmakers had blood on their hair, bare scalp, arms and clothes, he said.

The Senate floor and gallery were declared a crime scene and the chamber will require decontamination, McGuire said.

The woman, identified as Rebecca Dalelio, 43, of Boulder Creek near Santa Cruz, was booked on suspicion of six crimes, including assault and vandalism, and was being held on $10,000 bail.

After resuming business in the hearing room, the Senate worked until about 3 a.m. Saturday, McGuire said.

This story includes information from the Sacramento Bee and Associated Press. You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @guykovner.

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