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Transit strike ban bill dies on party-line vote

A bill to ban all California public transit workers from going on strike died on a party-line committee vote Monday.

SB 423 by state Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, R-Brea, had gone first to the Senate Public Employees and Retirement Committee. There, senators Jim Beall, D-San Jose; Leland Yee, D-San Francisco; and Marty Block, D-San Diego, all voted against it, while senators Mimi Walters, R-Laguna Niguel, and Ted Gaines, R-Granite Bay, voted for it.

BART strike (AP photo)Huff suggested in a news release that the bill should’ve been heard first by the Senate Transportation Committee, since it’s all about making sure our transit systems actually work for the public.”

“But instead it was sent to the committee that focuses on the concerns of public workers,” he said. “That should tell you something about the priorities of the majority party.”

“Last year Californians witnessed the Bay Area come to a screeching halt not once, but twice, as leaders of the BART employee union called strikes and BART trains went dark,” Huff said in a news release. “Hundreds of thousands of Bay Area residents could not get to work, go to school, see the doctor, or visit with family and friends and it cost the region $73 million each day. We have made the public rely on public transit, but as a legislature, we have failed to make public transit reliable. That’s a major failure. Californians deserve a government that works for everyone but today they were let down.”

Huff in September had gutted and amended SB 423 to compel BART workers to honor the no-strike clause in their contracts even after those contracts expire. But he only amended the bill on the last working day of the legislative session, so no action was taken.

He later amended the bill further to ban strikes by all California public transit workers, with anyone who violates the ban subject to removal or other disciplinary action. Huff said the bill provided “a fair violation determination process” for such workers, but if a violation is found, such workers would lose two days of pay for every day of strike. Public transit unions similarly would have been banned from instigating strikes, and if the Public Employee Relations Board found a violation, that union’s rights would have been forfeited for an indefinite period; after three years of forfeiture, an employee organization could have sought reinstatement by the Legislature.

UPDATE @ 1:11 P.M.: Beall says he voted against the bill because it “just was not solution-oriented. It offered nothing to resolve the underlying bargaining issues that separate employees and management or to keep both sides at the table, such as binding arbitration.”

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Senate GOP leader offers new transit-strike ban

All public transit employees in California would be prohibited from striking, under a bill rolled out Monday by the state Senate’s Republican leader.

State Sen. Bob Huff, R-Brea, pitched the reworked bill during an interview with Ronn Owens on KGO Radio.

Bob Huff“If we’re going to make the people of California reliant on public transit systems, then we also have an obligation to make sure those systems can be relied on,” Huff said. “Shutting down public transit is neither safe nor fair. Police officers and fire fighters aren’t allowed to strike because they provide a vital public service. The same reason applies here. Public transit is a vital public service and it’s too important to be used as a bargaining chip against the needs of the people.”

Huff in September had gutted and amended SB 423 to compel BART workers to honor the no-strike clause in their contracts even after those contracts expire. But he only amended the bill on the last working day of the legislative session, so no action was taken.

When BART workers did go on strike, it cost the Bay Area about $70 million per day, according to the Bay Area Council, and public opinion weighed heavily against the striking workers.

“There are approximately 400 public transit agencies in California serving 1.35 billion riders each year and when union contracts are up, threats of strikes increase dramatically,” said Huff. “Workers for the two largest transit systems in California – San Francisco and Los Angeles – have combined to strike nine times since 1976. Management is just as responsible for creating these situations, and enough is enough.”

Yet Huff’s new bill would control and penalize only workers and unions, not management.

Huff’s newly amended SB 423 would ban strikes by all California public transit workers, with anyone who violates the ban subject to removal or other disciplinary action. Huff says the bill provides “a fair violation determination process” for such workers, but if a violation is found, such workers would lose two days of pay for every day of strike.

Public transit unions similarly would be banned from instigating strikes, and if the Public Employee Relations Board finds a violation, that union’s rights would be forfeited for an indefinite period; after three years of forfeiture, an employee organization could seek reinstatement by the Legislature.

BART’s biggest unions didn’t immediately respond to phone calls or emails seeking comment.

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Senate GOP leader wants to prohibit BART strike

BART employees would be compelled to honor the no-strike clause in their contract, under a bill introduced by state Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff.

Bob HuffHuff, R-Brea, also has written a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown asking him to call a special session of the Legislature in time to pass his SB 423 and head off a possible BART strike next month.

“The bill is very clear,” Huff said in a news release. “It simply compels the BART unions to honor the no-strike clause in their existing contract. Time is of the essence. With millions of dollars at stake, it’s time for the governor to step up and bring the Legislature back to Sacramento to resolve this pending strike before the governor’s cooling-off period closes.”

Huff notes that Section 1.6 of the Amalgamated Transit Union Unit 1555’s current 2009-2013 contract includes the following language:

NO STRIKES AND NO LOCKOUTS; A. It is the intent of the District and the Unions to assure uninterrupted transit service to the public during the life of this Agreement. Accordingly, No employee or Unions signatory hereto shall engage in, cause or encourage any strike, slowdown, picketing, concerted refusal to work, or other interruption of the District’s operations for the duration of this Agreement as a result of any labor dispute;

Existing contracts with AFSCME LOCAL 3993 and Service Employees International Union, Local 1021 also contain similar No-Strike clauses.

The unions were about to go on strike in August when Brown, via the courts, imposed a 60-day cooling off period. Negotiations resumed only a week ago.

Huff said the unions have been offered a sweet deal while many California families are still struggling, and a strike would cause havoc for the Bay Area’s economy.

“We can’t lose this opportunity. The law doesn’t allow for a second cooling-off period,” he said. “The window of opportunity is closing rapidly, because BART union employees repeatedly shout they will strike, unless their demands are met. The governor and Legislature have the responsibility to act now to resolve this labor dispute before October 11th, when the 60-day cooling-off period the governor imposed expires.”

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U.S. Senate nixes GOP health care repeal effort

The U.S. Senate today nixed Republicans’ efforts to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and roll back last year’s health care reforms.

CNN explains how the vote actually worked:

The specific motion the Senate will vote on Wednesday involves a Democratic challenge to the Republican repeal amendment on the grounds that it would increase the federal deficit. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has said the health care reform law will lower the deficit by $230 billion over 10 years, so Democrats argue that repealing it would increase the deficit.

By filing a budget point of order against the repeal amendment, Democrats will force Republicans to hold a vote on waiving the point of order to consider the amendment. That will require 60 votes in the 100-seat Senate to pass, a threshold out of reach of the Republicans, who hold 47 seats.

The repeal amendment died on a 47-51, party-line vote.

But the Senate did agree, on a bipartisan 81-17 vote, to approve a Democratic amendment repealing part of the Affordable Care Act that requires companies to file a 1099 tax form for all goods and services valued at more than $600; it affects nearly 40 million self-employed workers, companies and charities, according to the IRS.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said:

“I am pleased that efforts to repeal the health reform law failed. This law may not be perfect, but overturning it would mean once again refusing insurance to anyone with a pre-existing condition, higher drug prices for seniors, and increasing the millions of Americans without health coverage.

“I pledge to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to improve this bill. Both sides agree that the onerous 1099 IRS reporting provision must go. I firmly believe we need a strong rate review authority to prevent unfair health insurance rate increases, which is why I have already introduced the Health Insurance Rate Review Act of 2011, to grant regulatory authority to reject unfair insurance premium hikes.

“The best solution is to repair, not repeal.”

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said:

“If Republicans had succeeded in repealing health care reform, nearly 450,000 California seniors would pay thousands of dollars more for their prescription drugs; small businesses nationwide would lose out on $40 billion in tax credits; children could be denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition; and taxpayers would see the deficit increase by $230 billion over the next ten years and $1.3 trillion over the next two decades.

“Instead of fighting the old political battles of the past, Republicans should join us in improving health care reform – as we did today by reforming the 1099 reporting requirement. We should not go back to the days where 62 percent of all bankruptcies were linked to a health care crisis and 45,000 people a year died because they could not get access to health insurance.”

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said:

“The Senate Republicans promised the American people we would vote to repeal Obamacare, and we have done that. But this fight isn’t over. We intend to continue the fight to repeal and replace Obamacare with sensible reforms that would lower the cost of American health care, like medical malpractice, like selling insurance across state lines. This fight isn’t over, so I hope you’ll stay in the fight with us.”

U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the Finance Committee’s ranking chairman, put it more forcefully:

“This budget-busting, unconstitutional $2.6 trillion health law must be repealed – it destroys jobs, increases health costs, raises taxes, and threatens liberty all in the name of one of the greatest expansions of federal power in our nation’s history. It’s not too late to fix this – we can and should start over on real reform that actually reduces health costs without the heavy hand of government.

“For two years, the American people and the people of my state of Utah were clear that they did not want this government takeover of health care. And once the White House and its Capitol Hill allies jammed it through using every budget gimmick and parliamentary trick in the book, the American people called on Congress to repeal it. The House heard that call and acted; and Senate Republicans have as well. Unfortunately, the majority in the Senate hasn’t gotten the message. This fight does not end today – we will use every tool available to tear down a law that is a threat to liberty itself.”

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What they’re saying about the budget deal

There are a lot of unhappy people out there this morning.

California Association of Counties Executive Director Paul McIntosh told me a few minutes ago that California counties are staring at “the three prongs of the devil’s pitchfork,” losing redevelopment money, gas tax revenue and property tax revenue.

McIntosh said redevelopment funds already seem tapped out. As for gas taxes, McIntosh noted CSAC had advocated for a temporary 5-cent increase in the state gas tax to cover the debt-service payments for which the state now intends to seize counties’ money – a move counties believe is unconstitutional. “They’ve actually got to adopt legislation and the governors got to sign a bill before we have a challengeable action, but rest assured that if they follow down that path, as soon as possible after that we would be filing litigation.”

The gas tax diversion, if consummated, would devastate county public works departments, leaving local roads in a sorry state uncontemplated by Californians in recent years.

“We don’t like to see the state borrowing our property taxes, we’re quite protective of our local revenues, but we recognize that the constitution does allow for that contingency,” he said, noting the constitution requires the state to repay counties this money within three years, and CSAC wants to ensure the legislation is written strong enough so that counties can go to Wall Street and borrow now against that promise.

And now… to the quotes!

California Welfare Directors Association Executive Director Frank Mecca:

“Serious damage has been done to the seniors, people with disabilities, and children of our State by our leaders’ misguided budget choices. The full magnitude of that damage to people is not yet completely clear, but one thing is certain: this is the biggest step back from protecting and investing in vulnerable Californians in a generation.”

Senate Republican Leader Dennis Hollingsworth, R-Murrieta:

“We were able to resolve California’s 26.3 billion dollar budget deficit without raising taxes. It solves our cash flow issues and saves money by reforming key government programs so they operate more efficiently. By being accountable for every taxpayer dollar we can save billions in future years.”

Children’s Defense Fund California Policy Director Deena Lahn:

“The Governor and the Legislature are breaking promises to children. For the first time in a decade, instead of reducing the ranks of uninsured children, the situation for children in California will get much worse. How can our leaders not consider closing all tax loopholes before working parents are told that preventive care for children isn’t possible any longer. Even more outrageous, they are forcing a freeze in a program (Healthy Families) that is paid for mostly with federal dollars! California is being shamed in front of the nation, as other states manage to increase health care for working families, even in the midst of a recession.”

State Treasurer Bill Lockyer:

“Getting this budget agreement enacted will be a big step forward, but our state still has a lot of hard work and sacrifice ahead before we are out of the woods. At this point, it’s too early to assess the effect of the budget deal on our cash borrowing needs. Until enactment of the budget changes by the Legislature and the Governor later this week, it will not be possible for anyone to estimate or announce the size, sequence or scheduling of any short-term cash borrowing. That determination will be made in collaboration with the Controller’s Office and the Department of Finance after we study an analysis of new state cash flow reports.”

More, after the jump…
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GOP backs Obama’s Afghanistan/Pakistan plan

House Republicans have introduced a pair of bills in support of President Barack Obama’s strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“President Obama has outlined a responsible strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and he deserves support from Democrats and Republicans in Congress as our troops, intelligence professionals, diplomatic officials, and allies work to ensure security in the region,” said House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. “Today, House Republicans are introducing legislation reflecting and authorizing the Commander-in-Chief’s plan. Importantly, this legislation does not include arbitrary congressionally-mandated benchmarks that tie the hands of our generals and diplomatic officials on the ground as they work to stabilize a part of the world that is vital to our national security. At the same time, it fully authorizes the funding levels requested by the President for each country, while requiring that he submit a specific implementation plan to measure progress and help ensure his strategy’s success.”

Boehner praised representatives Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands; Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.; John McHugh, R-N.Y.; Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich.; and Peter King, R-N.Y. for shaping the bills. “We urge swift bipartisan passage of the measures to make certain those responsible for carrying out the President’s strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan have the resources they need to get the job done.”

Specifically, the bills would support the President’s strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan that he outlined on March 27; authorize the money he wants for Afghanistan; authorize $1.5 billion a year in foreign assistance aid to Pakistan, as well as the President’s request for $700 million for the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund; require the President to submit to Congress a comprehensive plan to implement his strategy for long-term security and stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan “that includes measures of effectiveness;” and require the Administration, including the departments of Defense and State, to regularly brief and notify Congress on the implementation of the President’s strategy.

Meanwhile, some liberal Bay Area House members still aren’t convinced Obama’s on the right track.

(T)he administration’s supplemental request does not adequately reflect these diplomatic and humanitarian priorities — priorities that we believe are essential to success for U.S. security interests,” Reps. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma; and Maxine Waters, D-Los Angeles, recently wrote for the Politico. “In fact, 90 percent of the supplemental request would go toward funding ongoing and increased military operations. The remaining $7 billion would be divided between humanitarian, civil affairs, reconstruction and diplomatic efforts in the region.”

“The United States must reorient our national security policy in the region and maximize what the Obama administration has called our nation’s “smart power.” At the heart of this strategy must be a regional diplomatic surge that engages all of Afghanistan’s neighbors as full partners in aiding the Afghan people and strengthening its central government.”