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Democrats Propose Business Regulation Reforms

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SACRAMENTO (AP) — Democratic lawmakers and business leaders announced Thursday a package of bills designed to make California’s regulatory environment friendlier to businesses.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John Perez announced an agreement with business leaders on two bills they hope to pass next week before the end of this year’s legislative session.

Job growth has been at the forefront for state leaders as California continues to struggle with a 12 percent unemployment rate, the second highest in the nation after Nevada.

“We are here … to put an end to the drumbeat that California is not friendly to business,” said Steinberg, a Democrat from Sacramento.

The main bill would require state agencies to assess the economic impact of regulations before they are adopted.

SB617 by Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Monterey Park, and Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, would require state agencies to evaluate new regulations if they have an estimated $50 million economic impact or more on businesses.

The agencies would have to consider the least burdensome and cost-effective method of implementing those regulations.

A second bill would establish the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development to develop an economic strategy and market California as a good place to do business. AB29 by Perez, a Los Angeles Democrat, also would create a business investment program to assist people who want to invest or expand in the state.

The bills are supported by the California Chamber of Commerce and the California Manufacturers and Technology Association, which called the package a good first step to reducing business costs.

“California is in a very deep hole right now,” said Jack Stewart, president of the manufacturers group. “We have 12 percent unemployment. We’re not seeing new investment. There are a lot of other things that need to happen to reduce costs in California to bring California in line with other states and nations.”

Businesses are most concerned with the uncertainty of doing business in California and the package brings “some certainty to the regulatory process,” said Allan Zaremberg, president and chief executive of the California Chamber of Commerce.

“First and foremost, the private sector economic impact of a regulation will be brought to the forefront,” Zaremberg said. “We will have protocols to make sure they are done right. We will have a review to make sure that analysis is done correctly.”

While Senate Republicans applauded Democrats for tackling the issue, other GOP lawmakers said the proposals do not go far enough. Democrats have largely rejected bills that GOP members have long sought, such as flexible work weeks so employers can pay less overtime. Other GOP bills sought to reduce taxes for businesses and curb lawsuits that could be filed against them.

“It is nice to see our friends in the majority party finally embrace a watered-down version of reform that Republicans have been advocating for years,” Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway said in a statement. “Ironically, the majority party blocked these types of common-sense reforms every time Republicans have proposed them in the past.”

Gov. Jerry Brown, who has worked with Perez on AB29, “looks forward to signing the bill into law as soon as it passes the Legislature,” said spokesman Gil Duran. He said the governor will evaluate SB617 once it reaches his desk.

Democrats couldn’t ignore the need for a smarter, responsive government amid California’s fiscal problems, Steinberg said. Although the governor signed a rare on-time budget in late June, the spending plan includes a contingency plan to cut schools and community colleges deeper if rosy revenue projections don’t materialize.

“This is not a partisan issue,” he said.

In the final days of session, lawmakers must also contend with companies like Waste Connections Inc., a waste management company based in Folsom, Calif. The company has threatened to leave the state and relocate to Texas because the Legislature has not passed a bill that would allow it to bypass a voter-approved cap on garbage imports to landfills in Solano County.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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