Consumers Get a Breath of Fresh Air from Jerry Brown

by Richard Holober, CFC Executive Director, California Progress Report

On issues ranging from household toxics to food safety to elder abuse to personal privacy, Governor Jerry Brown has demonstrated much greater empathy with consumer protection than his predecessor.  The 2011 end of session tally stands at 33 signatures and four vetoes on Consumer Federation of California supported bills that made it as far as the governor’s desk.

In his final year in office, former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger agreed with consumers on only ten of 27 bills that made it to his desk.

Legislation signed into law this session include a ban on retailers selling baby food, infant formula and over-the-counter medications after the product’s expiration date (AB 688 ‘ Pan); a prohibition on food containers for baby food with unsafe levels of toxic bisphenol A (BPA) (AB 1319 ‘ Butler); a law that protects the financial privacy of job applicants by limiting prospective employer inquiries into credit histories in cases where the credit record is not germane to the job (AB 22 ‘ Mendoza); and an  improvement in security breach notices that will make it easier for Californians to take measures to prevent identity theft (SB 24 ‘ Simitian).

These new laws are all the result of multi-year efforts. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the expired food and drug bill once, the job applicant financial privacy bill twice, and the security breach notice bill three times. Attempts to approve a bisphenol A regulation died in 2008 and 2009 in the legislature, victims of chemical industry lobbyists and their generous PAC donations to lawmakers.

Important consumer protection bills vetoed by Governor Brown include SB 408 (Hernandez), which would have imposed greater scrutiny of the records of corporations purchasing hospitals before licenses to operate are granted, and SB 931 (Evans)  which would have protected workers who are paid through a payroll debit card from unfair transaction fees imposed by banks that issue these cards. In both cases, Governor Brown’s veto messages suggested his openness to working with proponents next year to resolve the issues that kept him from signing the bills last week.

Each year the Consumer Federation of California issues a consumer scorecard for all Assembly members and State Senators. We don’t produce a scorecard for the governor, because it would invite unfair comparison to our score card for legislators. It would be an apples and oranges comparison, since many pro-consumer proposals never reach the governor’s desk. They are victims to the killing fields of the state legislature, buried by an alliance of business Democrats and Republican lawmakers catering to wealthy business interests.

Three key consumer bills that were stopped  in the legislature this year are AB 52 (Feuer),  which would regulate health insurance and HMO rate hikes, SB 810 (Leno)  which would establish a single payer health insurance system, and SB 147 (Leno)  which would allow Californians to purchase fire-safe home furnishings that are not saturated with highly toxic flame retardant chemicals. Opposition by insurers to the first two measures and by chemical manufacturers to the third bill remains fierce. These bills will be back in 2012, and a concerted effort by consumer advocates will be needed to push these bills through to the governor’s desk.

After several drought years, our new governor just demonstrated his appreciation for common sense consumer legislation.  It’s a welcome change.

A list of Governor Brown’s actions on Consumer Federation of California supported bills:

CFC-supported bills signed into law:

AB 22 (Mendoza) Employment: credit reports.
AB 56 (Hill) Gas corporations: rate recovery and expenditure: intrastate pipeline safety.
AB 183 (Ma) Alcoholic beverage licenses: self-service checkouts.
AB 313 (Monning) Residential care facilities for the elderly.
AB 332 (Butler) Elder abuse.
AB 581 (John A. P