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June 27

Los Angeles Times on Tuesday being a bad day for getting truthful information out to pregnant women in crisis:

It’s troubling that a divided Supreme Court ruled against a California law requiring licensed pregnancy counseling centers — which typically exist to steer women away from abortions — to hand out information telling women that there are state-funded clinics offering them various options for pregnancy, family planning and abortion.

The point of the disclosure requirement in the Reproductive FACT Act was to give women factual, straightforward information about their options, which most of these so-called pregnancy counseling centers are not in the business of doing. The state argued that it was regulating only a certain type of commercial speech when it required licensed centers to prominently display a notice to clients saying that California offers low-cost and free access to contraception, prenatal care and abortion, and offering an information phone number. Abortion, after all, is a woman’s constitutionally protected right.

But the court’s majority ruled that the state probably ran afoul of the 1st Amendment when it required the antiabortion clinics to post a script telling their clients where to get information about abortions. That, the court said, is “compelling individuals to speak a particular message.”

The court similarly ruled that requiring unlicensed centers to post notices telling customers that they are not licensed medical facilities was probably unconstitutional. That sounds absurd, yet the majority held that the state was unduly burdening those centers.

The court ruled 5 to 4 that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals was wrong in not granting a preliminary injunction against the requirements of the law. The case will go back to the lower courts, where the state law will almost certainly be struck down in light of the Supreme Court’s new guidance.

That leaves California with little ability to warn women who walk into antiabortion pregnancy counseling centers that may have misleadingly presented themselves as having no agenda other than to offer full counseling. In its amicus brief, the Center for Reproductive Rights relates stories of women who told staff at these centers that they wanted an abortion and were given deceptive information, such as in one case being told that it was too late to terminate her pregnancy.

One possibility now would be for the state Legislature to retool the disclosure requirement for unlicensed clinics to make it less burdensome (they were required to display a notice in numerous languages and a specific size font) and to show evidence that not having the disclosure in the past had caused real harm.

Regardless of whether there is hope for any version of the Reproductive FACT Act, the state should strive to get the message to pregnant women in crisis that those so-called pregnancy counseling centers may not offer the substantial counseling they need when time is of the essence.

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June 27

The Press Democrat on sparing motorists from advertising on state highway signs:

California is running a budget surplus, so why are state lawmakers and the Brown administration scrounging for pocket change with a hairbrained idea to sell advertising space on state highways?

Advertisers crave eyeballs, preferably in the heads of people who cannot escape their sales pitch. If it’s somewhere people must be day after day, so much the better. Repetition does strange things to the brain, and eventually a massive cheeseburger with more calories than anyone needs starts to look good.

State lawmakers are considering a proposal to turn motorists trapped in highway congestion over to those advertisers. They aren’t thinking about old-fashioned billboards, though. Instead, officials want to sell advertising on state-owned digital highway signs, the ones that usually inform motorists about delays ahead or missing kids.

State law currently bans advertising on digital billboards in public rights of way along freeways. Assembly Bill 1405, which has cleared the state Assembly and is making its way through the Senate, would exempt 25 of the state’s 904 information signs for a pilot program.

A Caltrans report released in March concluded such advertising could raise millions. The pilot project, for example, could generate $10 million worth of ad sales. Caltrans suggests targeting high-volume traffic corridors to maximize revenue, specifically the Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento regions.

The $10 million, coincidentally, is about how much the pilot program is expected to cost. Advertising on old-school, yellow-text signs with which drivers are familiar wouldn’t be very enticing. Instead, the state would buy fancy high-def digital signs to deliver messages and full-color advertising when there isn’t an Amber alert or more pressing information.

This isn’t the only additional commercial incursion into motorists’ visual space during Gov. Jerry Brown’s tenure. Since he returned as governor nearly eight years ago, his administration has nearly tripled the number of digital billboards allowed along highways. Those, at least, are private. This new program would be public.

Sharing important information with motorists makes sense, and maybe a digital display could convey the message better. But as an advertising forum, potentially with messages flipping over every few seconds, it could only distract drivers from the road. We ban motorists from using digital devices in the name of safety — looking at screens leads to accidents. Putting up bigger screens with flashy ads is contrary to the goal of promoting safety on the highways.

That’s assuming people even consciously see them. Americans have become quite adept at tuning out advertising. If people tune out these signs, though, they would miss the ads, sure, but they also would miss the important messages about hazardous traffic conditions when they come up.

And the state might find it hard to control the messages people and companies pay for. Unlike a private publisher, the state has free speech obligations and won’t be able to control advertisements as easily as it might like. Even a carefully crafted advertising policy is only one American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit away from causing headaches and court costs.

Yet legislators evidently don’t want to be accused of leaving money on the table. Despite a budget surplus projected at $9 billion, they want to sell California motorists’ eyes for a few million. That’s not chump change, but it’s not much in the grand scheme of things.

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June 26

The Press-Enterprise on California needing to slash away at job-licensing red tape:

Should you need a government license to shampoo hair?

In California, the Barbering and Cosmetology Act requires people who wish to provide shampooing, arranging, dressing, curling and waving services to be licensed by the State Board of Barbering and Cosmetology.

Senate Bill 999, introduced by state Sen. Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga, would put an end to that, freeing up Californians who are willing and able to provide such services but perhaps discouraged because they’d first need to get a barbering license in order to do them legally.

Specifically, the bill would eliminate the previously mentioned activities from the definition of barbering, so they would no longer require government licensure, a process that requires, among other things, 1,500 hours of training.

The bill, which passed the state Senate last month with 32 votes in favor and just two opposed (including a no vote from the now-recalled Josh Newman), is now making its way through the Assembly.

While the bill has faced opposition from the Professional Beauty Federation of California, which complained about deregulation, and the California Aesthetic Alliance, which called it “dangerous,” this is a commonsense piece of legislation that will open up economic activities for many Californians.

“There are no safety issues here,” notes the R Street Institute, which is sponsoring the bill. “Indeed washing and preparing hair is something all of us do virtually every day. The bill can also encourage the expansion of a new, entrepreneurial web-based industry of at-home hair care, something that is particularly beneficial to elderly and infirm people.”

The bill also raises important attention to the problem of occupational licensing.

“Occupational licensing is too often an obstacle for people who want to jumpstart their careers and begin climbing the economic ladder,” said Morrell. “At a time when one in five residents now lives in poverty, the state should be doing all it can to lower barriers to entering the workforce and help Californians more freely pursue their financial goals.”

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June 23

The Mercury News on Supreme Court equalizing internet sales tax rules:

The U.S. Supreme Court has imposed long-overdue parity on the world of internet commerce with its ruling Thursday that states can collect sales taxes from out-of-state online merchants.

For far too long, internet retailers with no physical operations in, for example, California have been able to evade collecting and passing on sales tax for purchases made by state residents.

It’s grossly unfair to their brick-and-mortar competitors, who not only struggle under the weight of storefront rents but also are disadvantaged because their products cost up to 10 percent more when sales tax is added.

State officials have been studying the high court ruling and California law to determine whether they can immediately impose a tax requirement on out-of-state retailers or if they will first need action by the Legislature.

It appears that when state sales tax rules were last rewritten in 2011, lawmakers anticipated such a high court ruling. It seems that Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration, which oversees the agency responsible for sales tax collection, could direct immediate implementation. If it can, it should.

For too many years, we’ve been hearing online retailers complain that collecting sales taxes would hinder expansion of internet commerce. That argument is outdated. Consumers no longer need the incentive of a no-sales-tax discount to consider shopping with their desktop computers or smart phones.

Similarly, we’ve heard the cry that small online retailers should get a break — an argument that is equally perplexing. There is no logical reason that small brick-and-mortar companies, or small online companies located within the state, should be required to collect sales tax but fledgling out-of-state competitors should be exempt.

Finally, some online merchants have whined that it’s too complicated to keep track of the different tax rates in state and local jurisdictions across the country. Actually, internet companies such as Amazon, which already collects sales tax for products sold across state lines (but not for third-party sellers that appear on its website), has demonstrated that the problem is easily resolved.

Enterprising companies will undoubtedly come up with competing products to fill the need, just as TurboTax and H&R Block have done for income tax payers for years now. The same technology innovation that brought us internet commerce can certainly also smooth the path for tax collection.

It’s time for California to fully level the playing field, which could bring the state $1 billion or more in additional tax revenues. And, thanks to the Supreme Court ruling, there seems to be no legal obstacle to doing so.

The 5-4 ruling crossed philosophical lines on the high court, with Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch forming the majority.

Their decision came in a case pertaining to South Dakota’s attempt to collect taxes from out-of-state businesses. The justices reversed a 1992 high court ruling that prohibited states from collecting sales taxes from businesses that had no stores, warehouses or other “physical presence” there.

Kennedy and Thomas, who were on the court in 1992, said they regretted the earlier ruling.

“Each year the physical presence rule becomes further removed from economic reality and results in significant revenue losses to the States,” Kennedy wrote for the majority.

We couldn’t agree more. It’s about time.

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June 22

The San Diego Union-Tribune on if ‘me too’ movement peaked too soon:

The “Me Too” movement — spurred by October reports in The New York Times and The New Yorker detailing decades of alleged sexual harassment and violence by film producer Harvey Weinstein — inspired a constructive reaction in America and across the world. It felt like a global epiphany: Both men and women grasped that awful behavior in the workplace that had long been tolerated, ignored or covered up needed to be confronted and stopped.

This was very much the case in Sacramento, where 147 women — including elected officials of both parties, legislative aides and lobbyists — co-signed a letter decrying a pervasively crude and misogynistic culture in the state Capitol.

“Each of us has endured or witnessed or worked with women who have experienced some form of dehumanizing behavior by men with power in our workplaces. Men have groped and touched us without our consent, made inappropriate comments about our bodies and our abilities,” they wrote. “Why didn’t we speak out? Sometimes out of fear. Sometimes out of shame. Often these men hold our professional fates in their hands. They are bosses, gatekeepers and contacts. Our relationships with them are crucial to our personal success.”

For months afterward, the fallout from this letter shook state government — in a good way. Three lawmakers — Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, and Assembly members Matt Dababneh, D-Woodland Hills, and Raul Bocanegra, D-Pacoima — resigned after being credibly accused of grossly inappropriate behavior. By early February, a measure had passed and been signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown that for the first time gave whistleblower job protections to Capitol employees of the Legislature who report misconduct by lawmakers or fellow staffers. The ebullience of women lawmakers in the Capitol after the measure’s enactment was palpable.

But four months later, it’s fair to wonder if the “Me Too” movement peaked too soon in Sacramento. A reform proposal that may face its first votes next week is in key ways a deep letdown.

Crafted by Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, D-Glendale, and Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, the proposal has many pluses. It would adopt the same procedures for dealing with reports of misconduct in both the Assembly and Senate; standardize and professionalize investigations by creating a small team of appropriately trained investigators; and set up a panel of experts with relevant background to weigh in after inquiries are complete with recommendations for appropriate penalties for those found to have behaved unacceptably.

But as an analysis by CALmatters’ Laurel Rosenhall noted, the proposal doesn’t call for revising a law that allows findings about harassment in the Capitol to be kept secret; it limits the independence of the investigative team by making it answerable to the Legislature’s attorney; and it leaves the final decision on punishment up to legislative leaders.

The policy would certainly be an improvement on what it would replace. The suggestion that it is only the first of several steps that the Legislature will take also is encouraging. But it is easy to be cynical about the fact that the proposal amounts to an in-house policy that can be readily changed — not a bill that if enacted has the force of law and can only be scrapped with formal action of the Assembly and Senate and the signature of the governor.

This criticism should not be seen as a shot at Friedman and Mitchell, whose hearts are in the right place on this issue. But if the cliche is true and politics is the art of the possible, then that’s awfully telling. It suggests that legislative leaders have damage control as their primary goal in the aftermath of Me Too — not ending sexual harassment.

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