Some bills are silly, and some are just dumb

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY DAN WALTERS CAL­mat­ters Colum­nist

Ev­ery ses­sion of the Cal­i­for­nia Leg­is­la­ture gen­er­ates some bills that can only be la­beled as silly — that is, they defy com­mon sense.

One ex­am­ple this year is a bill that would abolish paper re­ceipts at re­tail busi­nesses, thereby re­quir­ing cus­tomers to sup­ply their email ad­dresses so mer­chants can send them elec­tronic records of their pur­chases.

The ra­tio­nale for the leg­is­la­tion, As­sem­bly Bill 161 by As­sem­bly­man Phil Ting, a San Fran­cisco Demo­crat, is to re­duce paper waste that may con­tain dan­ger­ous chem­i­cals.

The sup­posed prob­lem this bill pur­ports to solve is mi­nus­cule, or more likely in­fin­i­tes­i­mal, but if it be­comes law, it will build data­bases for mer­chants

that can be used for mar­ket­ing, and make it eas­ier for hack­ers to steal con­sumers’ iden­ti­ties.

An­other is As­sem­bly Bill 1162, the brain­child of As­sem­bly­man Ash Kalra, a San Jose Demo­crat, which would pro­hibit hotels from sup­ply­ing their pa­trons with tiny con­tain­ers of sham­poo and other per­sonal care products, once again on the spu­ri­ous no­tion that it would re­duce the waste stream.

Kalra takes his cue from a lo­cal or­di­nance to that ef­fect in Santa Cruz County. If the res­i­dents of that county want to en­gage in feel-good ges­tures, that’s their busi­ness. But why should their fool­ish­ness be foisted on the 40 mil­lion other Cal­i­for­ni­ans and the mil­lions of peo­ple who visit Cal­i­for­nia each year?

Both bills, as well as many others, re­flect the cur­rent Leg­is­la­ture’s yen to reg­u­late or elim­i­nate ev­ery as­pect of human be­hav­ior that doesn’t com­port with cur­rent pro­gres­sive dogma. But there’s a point at which silli­ness gives way to pure dumb­ness — and that brings us to As­sem­bly Bill 857.

Car­ried by As­sem­bly­man David Chiu, also a San Fran­cisco Demo­crat, the mea­sure would au­tho­rize lo­cal gov­ern­ments to cre­ate their own banks.

Dur­ing an As­sem­bly com­mit­tee hear­ing on the mea­sure last week, Chiu railed at “Wall Street bankers” that have mis­treated con­sumers. He por­trayed lo­cal gov­ern­ment-owned banks as an an­ti­dote that would pro­vide fi­nanc­ing for pro­gres­sive projects and ser­vices and shun loans to such po­lit­i­cally in­cor­rect ac­tiv­i­ties as oil drilling and the man­u­fac­ture of guns and cig­a­rettes.

“The pri­vate bank­ing sys­tem has un­for­tu­nately failed,” Chiu said, con­tend­ing that lo­cal gov­ern­ment-owned banks would “keep tax­payer dol­lars in lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties.”

While Chiu de­mo­nized big banks — who cer­tainly have not been paragons of eth­i­cal op­er­a­tions — shift­ing lo­cal gov­ern­ment funds into their own banks would have vir­tu­ally no im­pact on the big guys.

Rather, as the As­sem­bly Bank­ing and Fi­nance Com­mit­tee was told by sev­eral wit­nesses, it would un­der­mine the liq­uid­ity of lo­cal com­mu­nity banks, cre­ate unfair com­pe­ti­tion to those banks, and dis­rupt the pooled money in­vest­ment accounts that county trea­sur­ers main­tain for other lo­cal gov­ern­ments.

From that stand­point alone, AB 857 is very flawed. But that’s just the be­gin­ning of its dan­ger­ous as­pects.

At the very least, lo­cal politi­cians would be un­der ter­rific pres­sure to pro­vide funds from their banks for cocka­mamie schemes that can’t pass muster with reg­u­lar banks.

Fur­ther­more, un­der the leg­is­la­tion, any lo­cal gov­ern­ment en­tity could cre­ate a bank — even the tini­est mos­quito abate­ment or wa­ter district.

We’ve seen time after time how sharp op­er­a­tors gain po­lit­i­cal con­trol of such ob­scure agen­cies and then de­vise ways to ma­nip­u­late their pow­ers, such as is­su­ing bonds and award­ing lu­cra­tive con­tracts, to loot their trea­suries. It’s why the speaker of the state As­sem­bly, An­thony Ren­don, calls his Los An­ge­les County district a “cor­ri­dor of cor­rup­tion.”

Cre­at­ing lo­cal gov­ern­ment banks would be cre­at­ing new con­duits to such chi­canery. And that makes AB 857, which won com­mit­tee ap­proval, a very dumb bill.

CAL­mat­ters is a public in­ter­est jour­nal­ism venture com­mit­ted to ex­plain­ing how Cal­i­for­nia’s state Capi­tol works and why it mat­ters. For more sto­ries by Dan Walters, go to cal­mat­ters.org/com­men­tary

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