Topic: Legal Climate
Aug. 3, 2017

California officials are notorious for ladling on one environmental regulation after another, forcing developers to spend years or even decades producing waist-deep environmental-impact reports and dealing with endless regulatory hassles and litigation. The main tool environmentalists use to stop growth is the 1970s-era California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). It’s the equivalent of placing a “sue me” sign on every job site. . . . CEQA also remains uncorrected because of a disturbing double standard. Whenever there’s a big publicly funded project backed by prominent lawmakers, the first thing backers do is to exempt it from the act’s requirements. Why reform a poorly functioning law when it can be used to stop projects you don’t like, but never inhibits the ones you do like?

July 26, 2017

As if businesses were not troubled enough by substantial penalties tied to minor labor law infractions when private attorneys take on lawsuits under the Private Attorney General Act (PAGA), a California Supreme Court ruling has opened the door for more business burdens when confronting PAGA lawsuits. In a recent unanimous decision in Williams v. Marshalls the court ruled that plaintiffs attorneys have the right in discovery to examine all of a company’s employee records—whether employees worked at the site the alleged infraction took place or not. The plaintiff does not need to show good cause that the company had a statewide policy that violated labor laws before businesses are required to produce the information.

July 23, 2017

Under “workers’ compensation,” enacted in 1914, workers would give up their right to sue employers for injuries and in return, employers would be obligated to pay for medical care and provide cash benefits while disabled employees recuperated. Today, work comp, as it’s dubbed, is a huge program – well over $20 billion a year – whose operating rules are a source of perennial political jousting. . . . However, it still left California employers with – by far – the nation’s highest work comp burden. The 2016 annual survey of costs by the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services kept California in the No. 1 spot with an average cost of 3.24 percent of payroll for work comp insurance, 76 percent above the national average. Obviously, working in California is not inherently more dangerous than in other states, and cash benefits to disabled California workers are not out of line, so the enormous cost differential must be rooted in the system itself, which explains why its rules are the subject of constant political infighting. One factor in those costs is what officials say is an enormous amount of fraud, concentrated in Southern California. Last year, the Center for Investigative Reporting reviewed work comp fraud cases that had been prosecuted and reported that they totaled more than $1 billion. But authorities believe that prosecutions merely are the tip of the iceberg.

July 21, 2017

Plans for what was once billed as one of the world’s largest solar power projects will be scaled back dramatically following years of opposition from three environmental groups who filed lawsuits over an endangered rat and other species they said would be harmed by its construction. . . .But San Benito County supervisors, who were not included in the settlement talks, are furious, saying they will lose out on millions of dollars in taxes that they were promised when they originally approved the larger project in 2010. “I can barely speak because I’m so angry,” said Supervisor Anthony Botelho. “This would have generated much-needed revenue. All you have to do is drive down there and see the conditions of our roads. We have minimal amounts of public safety. This was going to be a big thing, but the rug was pulled out from under us. And it was all done in secret.” . . .The county had been counting originally on $5.4 million in sales tax from the large project — and then roughly $2.5 million under the 247-megawatt project. But Joe Paul Gonzalez, the county’s clerk-auditor-recorder, told supervisors that the county would not be receiving any sales tax from the project because Con Edison had purchased the panels in a way that made San Francisco the recipient rather than San Benito County.

June 27, 2017

A recent action by one of nation’s largest public-employee unions illustrates the importance of an Illinois case that might make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court sometime next year. The technical dispute involves the complex process by which public-sector unions assess dues to those who don’t want to be members. But the real issue is more fundamental to a free society: Should people be forced to fund groups they find offensive? The Service Employees International Union Local 1000, which represents 95,000 California state employees, earlier this month increased the dues assessed on those employees who are known as “non-germane objectors,” or NGOs. These are people who have opted out of paying for the union’s political activities. Because of a 1977 U.S. Supreme Court decision, they are still required to pay for expenses related to collective bargaining. Last year, the SEIU local spent $13.7 million as part of a bargaining process to hike members’ wages. “The union members who voted on the contract favored it by a 90 percent margin,” according to a Sacramento Bee report, “but aspects of the deal were unpopular among some workers.” To pay those costs, the union hiked dues on these NGOs by 6 percent, thus pushing dues payments for nonmembers to 73 percent of the full amount paid by full-fledged members of the union.

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