2012 Grass Roots Training and Legislative Conference
By Jim Rios, Rios Design Studio
It’s that time of year again and the political climate is heating up. No, I’m not referring to what is going on in Washington, DC. It’s the legislative bills that are being drafted and debated in Sacramento that I speak of. On May 22nd and 23rd, the first CLCA hosted Legislative Action Conference took place at the Sheraton Grand Hotel. This year, our current president, Wayne Cox, and our president-elect, Olga See joined me as representatives of our chapter.
In past years, CLCA was joined at the legislative conferences by other construction industry trade organizations. Although the primary reason for breaking away from the larger group was to reduce the cost of the event, the positive affect of the move allowed a focus on issues that directly affect the landscape industry. Larry Rohlfes, CLCA's Assistant Executive Director started the conference off with a welcome and orientation to all attendees. Peter Dufau, CLCA’s Director of Legislation, followed up with introductions of the 29 participants.
Assemblymember Kristin Olsen, (R-Modesto), representing the 25th Assembly District, was the first speaker to be introduced and spoke on the “State of the State.” While the fiscal situation California finds itself in is daunting, the assemblywomen indicated that she remains optimistic things can be improved if the correct measures are taken soon. She emphasized that the states that have been cutting taxes have seen an increase in job creation and thus have benefited from increased revenue available. Conversely, states that have tried to increase revenue by hiking taxes, have seen an increase in unemployment. She indicated that one quarter of California’s revenue comes from 150,000 high income households. For every 2% drop in unemployment, an additional $1.6 billion in revenue is received in the state coffers. In an attempt to balance the budget, the state has used $10 billion in phantom revenue to our schools (a cash deferral promise to pay our schools at a later date). She did emphasize the need to set priorities in spending and to develop a strategic plan for economic development.
Next, Bob Wade, past CLCA state president, moderated a panel discussion between Assemblymembers Jose Solorio, (D- Santa Ana) and Curt Hagman, (R-Chino Hills). The two legislators spoke about how to be effective when lobbying and building relationships with an elected representative. The first step is to contact the legislator’s scheduler to set up an appointment to discuss issues. They indicated that Fridays are best to meet in the local district office. The typical meeting length is usually about 30 minutes or less. In person meetings are more effective than a phone call or an email. If in depth issues are to be covered, bring handouts that cover the details of the issue. They indicated that constituents should hold their legislators accountable, emphasizing that the “squeaky wheel” gets the grease, so don’t be afraid to be persistent.
California Chamber of Commerce Policy Advocate Jennifer Barrera addressed the issue of California’s Economic Health. She clarified that the Cal Chamber is a policy based organization and is not partisan based. The organization evaluates if legislative bills will result in lost jobs or will cause businesses to leave the state altogether. Other aspects examined are if bill requirements are a burden to employers, and what kind of litigation will result with the passage of a piece of legislation. If the bill is found to be detrimental to a healthy economy, the bill is placed on a “Job Killer” list, then efforts are put forth to encourage opposition to the legislation. These efforts could be in the form of letters, phone calls or face to face meetings with legislators.
Parke Terry, CLCA's legislative advocate, then spoke about redistricting. The new districts have been restructured to be more compact and more or less contiguous. The districts are based on the number of constituents in an area, not the number of registered voters. There are new rules in place that create an open primary, where the top two vote receiving candidates get onto the November ballot regardless of party affiliation. Parke mentioned that, in theory, this is supposed to encourage politicians to trend toward the middle of the political spectrum.
The last speaker of the day was Assemblymember, Ben Hueso, (D-Chula Vista) speaking about his bill, AB 2398. This bill deals with Recycled Water Reform. According to the legislator, the bill deals with establishing new standards that would allow “recycled water” to be used to help address California’s need for water. Having worked with reclaimed water for landscape irrigation, this notion is not earth shattering. The bill has met with resistance because it suggests using the “recycled water” to recharge aquifers, which are used for potable water. There remains some ambiguity regarding just how clean this “recycled water” will be. He mentioned that although his bill initially met with resistance, it is gradually gaining support.
That evening a reception and dinner were held at Lucca Restaurant & Bar. We had a chance to converse with some old colleagues and to get to know some new ones. During the reception, our State Senator, Jean Fuller, joined us and was a delight to talk to. We enjoyed her company and shared some laughter that evening. We took the opportunity to express our appreciation to her for attending and making our chapter kick off meeting at Bill Lee’s a great success. She told us that she had a great time at the event. As dinner was served, two legislators, State Senator Mark Wyland (R- Escondido) and Assemblymember Chris Norby (R-Brea), spoke to the attendees.
The next day started off with an update on the Underground Economy Enforcement. Speaking on the matter were CSLB registrar, Steve Sands, and CSLB Chief of Enforcement, David Fogt.
Steve indicated that there could be another recession in 2013, if the state does not get a handle on the current situation. Although technology related jobs are up, a half million jobs have been lost in construction resulting in a loss of $60 billion. It was noted that the Inland Empire/San Bernadino region of the state don’t need to construct any more single family homes for another 20 years due to overbuilding and expected demographics. It is anticipated that with the population living longer, the markets will cater to more married with no children or simply single person households. Less of the larger homes on large lots are expected to be built in the upcoming years. States such as California, Nevada and Arizona overbuilt causing the construction bubble to burst. This caused those states to be hit harder and they are recovering at a slower pace. It was noted that it is anticipated there will be a shortage of skilled trade workers, (such as electricians, plumbers, auto repair technicians). The underground economy results in higher insurance premiums forced on the contractors that play by the rules. It is estimated that Worker’s Comp insurance would drop 50%-70%, if all contractors did not claim false exemptions and purchased insurance for the correct number of employees.
David reported that there were 72 stings last year, resulting in 700 arrests of illegal uninsured contractors and resulting in the issue of stop orders. It was mentioned that a huge part of the problem are the people who hire the unlicensed operators. In the law’s eyes, when a homeowner hires an unlicensed operator, he/she is now that individual’s employer. This would make the homeowner liable for any EDD holdings/payments. The penalty for any contractor operating without Workers’ Comp Insurance is automatic suspension. CSLB is working on providing a checklist of what a homeowner should look for prior to hiring a contractor. It was suggested by one of the conference attendees, that Angie’s List should be used as a mechanism to filter out unlicensed contractors. Individuals working as day laborers must either possess a license or work on a project under someone that has a license. It was noted that the second offense penalty for operating without a contractor’s license is a 90 day mandatory jail sentence.
The next speaker was Terry Roberts with the Air Resources Board speaking on “Sustainable Communities and the Future of Landscaping.” As part of SB 375, the state will establish 18 MPO, metropolitan planning organizations. Each MPO will then prepare a “sustainable communities strategy (SCS)" that demonstrates how the region will meet its greenhouse gas reduction target through integrated land use, housing and transportation planning. It is anticipated that with an aging population, people will be moving back to inner urban centers, encouraging compact developments. Mass transit, cycling and walking will be encouraged over vehicular transportation. The bill anticipates that landscape design, installation and maintenance will play a big part in making these inner city developments more livable.
Parke Terry then presented a review of the issue papers of the three bills chosen that we would be discussing with legislators that afternoon.
AB 2237 (Monning) is a bill that attempts to clarify an existing law. The CSLB has encountered unlicensed individuals trying to avoid complying with the responsibilities of a licensed contractor by adopting the title of “construction consultant” or “construction coordinator.” The bill states that a person must hold a valid contractor’s license if he/she:
1. provides or oversees a bid for a construction project, or
2. arranges for or sets up work schedules for contractors and subcontractors and maintains oversight of a construction project. CLCA is in support of this bill.
AB1750 (Solorio) would allow a C-27 contractor to undertake the design and installation of rainwater capture systems for the purpose of landscape irrigation. To qualify, the project must be a part of a project that the contractor is supervising and constructing. CLCA supports this bill as a tool to promote water conservation.
AB 1963 (Huber) addresses the huge loss of revenue the state has seen in years of economic recession. The bill strives to be less reliant on revenue obtained from income taxes. This bill recognizes that our economy has become more service based and thus proposes to extend a sales tax on services. The bill exempts medical, educational, auto repair, tax preparation, legal and agricultural & livestock services from this added sales tax. It is estimated that labor accounts for two-thirds of the cost of a project. The effects of this bill would be to increase the cost that legal businesses would then have to pass on to their customers. It is thought this this will only increase the underground economy activity.
CLCA is strongly opposed to this bill. Thankfully, this legislation was amended to direct the Legislative Analyst’s Office to conduct a study of the effects this bill will have. Keep an eye on this issue, as it may come up again in the near future.
During the luncheon, Eric Watanabe, CLCA’s current state president, presented the Legislator of the Year Award to Assemblymember Bill Berryhill (R- Stockton). The award was presented to the Stockton legislator for helping to protect the public from unlicensed operators and the negative effects that result from the underground economy. Peter Dufau said, “We’re pleased to honor Assemblyman Berryhill for his hard work and dedication in protecting the integrity of our industry. Many of these illegal individuals do not even have the proper skills or code knowledge to complete the job correctly. These operators give our industry a bad reputation. We recognize that Assemblyman Berryhill is working hard to pass laws that protect consumers and ensure that everyone has a fair and equal opportunity to do business in the state of California.”
Following the luncheon, the legislation conference participants walked to the Capitol building to attend prearranged meetings with their elected representatives/staff members.
Assemblymember Shannon Grove’s Legislative Director, Robert Smith, met with the three of us to discuss the three legislative issues presented earlier that morning. Later, we met with Senator Jean Fuller’s Legislative Director to go over the same issues and to urge them to support the Unlicensed Contracting by “Construction Consultants” Bill, (AB 2237) and the Rainwater Capture Bill (AB1750), while urging a vote to oppose the “Extending the Sales Tax to Services” Bill, (AB1963) should it surface again. Both gentleman were gracious and agreed to look into the legislation and take our suggestions into consideration.
Prior to the conference, there was some concern that not being part of the larger construction industry group would limit the appeal of attracting legislators to join us. However, this year, CLCA had more legislators attend as speakers and guests than in previous years. I’m told that this was in great part thanks to the efforts of Parke Terry, who is greatly respected in Sacramento. Allow me to express my appreciation to Parke, Larry, Peter and all those whose participation helped make the Legislative Action Conference a great success. I can’t wait until next year. Hope to see you there.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at 661-835-9259 or by email at email@example.com .