Jerry Brown Navigates Labor Wins, Losses

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The dust has settled at the Capitol after a long weekend of legislative triage.

With the fate of hundreds of bills now decided, the result is a reminder that defining Jerry Brown is not easy, if not altogether impossible.

Labor invested heavily in Brown's return to the governorship, bankrolling TV ads last year that helped him counter massive spending by his Republican opponent, Meg Whitman

But getting a solid return on that investment was never a sure thing.

Pundits are fond of referring to an old Brown quote about his "canoe" theory of governing; paddle a little to the left, a little to the right, to maintain a straight course.  This weekend provided a reminder of that.

Brown's blizzard of bill decisions handed labor some big wins.

He signed, for example, SB 202, which moves all future initiatives to the fall ballot.  That will help unions defeat a pending measure that would retrict their ability to raise campaign cash. 

He also signed AB 183, which bans the sale of alcoholic beverages unless the transaction is processed by a checkout clerk, not a self-serve machine. 

And he signed AB22, which prevents employers from using credit checks in making hiring decisions.

But the governor also handed labor some significant setbacks.

He vetoed SB 469, which would've required Wal Mart and other big box stores to pay for expensive economic reports. 

He vetoed SB 931, which would've stopped employers from saving money by paying some employees with debit cards. And he vetoed a measure that would've mandated employers to give workers three days of bereavement leave.

The tug-of-war between business and labor is just one measuring point on the yardstick. 

He also surprised the legislature by vetoing a bill that would've required state agencies to prepare detailed justifications for their spending.

"A siren song" of reform, the governor said, that would have us "bask in the pretense that it is some panacea for our budget woes."

Instead, he said it would result in thousands of hours of make-work.

Brown's bill marathon this weekend, punctuated by often-tart comments, is a reminder, if we needed it, that he doesn't mind if his "canoe" theory continues to make waves.

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