After Democrats captured two-thirds majorities in both
houses of the Legislature in last fall's election, observers speculated on what
the real-world implications might be.
Since the state constitution requires a two-thirds vote to pass tax increases, most of that speculation focused on taxes.
But there will be no attempt to muster a two-thirds vote for a general tax increase this year. Bills that sought to raise taxes on oil, cigarettes, sugary drinks and commercial property have already been killed in committees.
This week, facing a Friday deadline to move bills out of their house of origin, lawmakers will meet in all-day sessions every day, deciding the fate of hundreds of bills.
Will there be a bill requiring a two-thirds majority that will pass with only Democratic votes?
If there is, it could be a bill that organized labor has made a top priority -- one targeting a company that unions revile. Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation, calls it a bill to close "the Wal-Mart loophole" in federal health care reform.
The measure, Assembly Bill 880, would require large companies -- those with more than 500 employees -- to reimburse the state if any of their low-wage workers make so little that they seek and qualify for Medi-Cal coverage. A fee would be imposed for each worker who goes on Medi-Cal.
The bill was approved Friday by the Assembly Appropriations Committee on a party-line vote. Because it would require the payment of fees, it would need a two-thirds majority vote for passage on the Assembly floor.
Labor groups see the bill as a test for the Democratic members they helped elect. Business groups, led by the California Retailers Association, are pulling out all the stops to prevent a two-thirds majority from coalescing around the bill.
"It's hand-to-hand combat right now," said Bill Dombrowski, president and CEO of the association. "Labor has made it their No. 1 issue."
Kenneth Burt, political director of the California Federation of Teachers, said he considers AB 880 to be a test of the Democrats' supermajority.
"It is a test whether politicians who ask for our help at election time share our values," he said. "Conservatives thought we'd test the two-thirds majority on taxes, but this bill is so much bigger."
Supporters believe the bill is necessary to ensure that large employers of low-wage workers meet their obligations under federal health care reform. The Affordable Care Act requires that employers with 50 or more full-time workers pay a $2,000 penalty for each worker if at least one receives government subsidies to purchase a health policy through the state health insurance purchasing exchange.
But the federal law imposes no penalties on employers of any size that have part-time workers who make less than 133 percent of poverty wages ($15,282 for an individual) and receive no employer-provided health benefits but turn to taxpayer-funded Medi-Cal for health insurance.
Pulaski calls the bill "the taxpayer protection act" because it would prevent large employers from "shifting their costs onto taxpayers." The federal law, he argues, places responsibilities on individuals, the government and employers. He believes some large companies, including Wal-Mart, will not uphold their end of
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