California Veterinary Medical Board Kills 800 (more) California Jobs

One would think in this struggling economy, that state agency leaders would be looking for ways to attract businesses to California and create jobs, right?

You may be surprised to learn that just the opposite is happening.  In fact, as times get tough, companies and special interest groups are the ones directing more and more resources (“money” and “junkets” to vacation destinations) to entice government officials to favor the special interest’s needs and shut out the competition.

That is exactly what happened on Monday, October 17th, as Board members of the California Veterinary Medical Board (VMB) traveled to The San Diego Zoo to hold a hearing. Representatives from the California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) were on hand the night before, pandering to the needs of the Board members at their hotel, in closed-door ‘meetings’ to discuss a strategic effort to change state law in a way which would remove the veterinarians’ main competition.

What could the VMB possible be interested in doing that would kill 800 California jobs? Making it illegal for anyone other than a licensed veterinarian or their personal assistant to use a hand scalar (soft-metal scraper), to pick tartar and plaque from an animal’s tooth. Yes, we are talking about the same $3 tool that any member of the public can go purchase off of the shelf from any corner drug store.

Like one fingernail rubbing against another fingernail, the scalar is intentionally matched in hardness to equal that of the hardness of the pet’s teeth, so the tool causes no injury to the normally exposed and visible portion of the tooth.

In making its decision, certainly the Board relied upon evidence (or at least studies and research), to make their decision, right? No.

So what was the Board’s sound reasoning for outlawing the tool by unlicensed individuals? Because they claim they are “looking out for the safety and well-being of animals and consumers.” Whatever that means!

Then there must at least be examples of abuse… right? No.

This entire discussion (and the reason for the change in law), is the cosmetic teeth cleaning service for show dogs and household pets. The strange part it, none of the Board members have ever actually seen a cosmetic teeth cleaning performed – they admitted that on the record.

So what happened when asked to present even one example of a verified complaint where an animal was harmed or a consumer was displeased in all of the 32 years that cosmetic teeth cleaning has been around in California (about 3.8 million procedures)? Were there any problems with animals having had their teeth cleaned by these unlicensed cosmetic teeth cleaning professionals?

Not even one verified complaint.

Now, after 32 years, the VMB now deems it important to change state law and shut down these small businesses. So then, since the record shows no abuse or misuse in 32 years and after nearly 4 million California cleanings, what could possibly be the reason?


Most of the Board members are veterinarians or make a living directly from veterinary services, and the veterinarians as well as their political special interest association know that this $12 million per year chunk of the pet service industry can be redirected through their own front doors if they can just pull up the ladder and prohibit anyone outside of their profession from delivering the services.

“This is all about money, and individual state officials using their position to increase profits for their own private practices”, says Matt Gray, a California lobbyist with Capital Alliance who is assigned to follow this issue. “There is no evidence to support this change in state law, and it will definitely hurt consumers.”

Added Cost to Consumers
Customers presently pay about $100 for a pet store to perform a cosmetic teeth cleaning that removes tartar and plaque, and $20 for a follow-up appointment to touch-up the teeth. Veterinarians charge $400 – $800, and generally use anesthesia which in many cases has been the cause of pet deaths and permanent brain damage in about 1 out of every 600 cases. Customers are angry that their pets are being needlessly killed when safer alternatives exist – but veterinarians often don’t tell customers about alternative treatments.

“This decision interferes with the free market,” says Gray. “Veterinarians haven’t been able to provide any evidence to support the change in law, and since they cannot be competitive, they changed the rules to give themselves an artificial advantage.”

You Can’t Have it Both Ways
The Board claims outlawing the use of a scalar is “merely clarifying existing law,” but existing law only restricts actions for the “prevention, cure or relief of any wound…” and “preventative dental procedures….”

Cosmetic teeth cleaning is purely cosmetic, and it not intended to prevent, cure, or relief any medical or health need.

Oddly enough, Board members and even their own hired experts stated on the record that “cosmetic teeth cleaning” by unlicensed businesses offer “no health benefit or preventative purpose” and are purely, well, cosmetic.

But at the same meeting, speaking out of the other side of their mouths, the Board claimed that cosmetic teeth cleaning “are not benign” and are “very invasive procedures.”

Bad for Small Businesses, Bad for California
Clearly, since the board recognizes cosmetic teeth cleaning serves “no health benefit or preventative purpose”, and existing law only addresses preventative and curative health purposes, then existing law doesn’t address cosmetic teeth cleaning.

So then, why did the Board’s “Economic Impact Report” say there would be no negative results from eliminating this $12 million from small businesses?

Because they wrote the report, and despite what existing law says, the Veterinary Medical Board has a financial interest in showing that their veterinary members should have all the rights to cosmetic teeth cleaning.

The Board has failed to provide any examples or evidence in support of its decision to change state law.

“The evidence shows cosmetic teeth cleaning is safe for animals and a valued service for pet owners,” says Gray. “This $12 million per year industry has veterinarians licking their chops and doing whatever they can to mark it as their territory.”

“There can be only one conclusion, and we don’t change state law for personal gain,” says Gray. “This change in law is foolish, patently self-serving, and will end up costing consumer six times more for a basic service.”

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Employees v. Independent Contractors

California has very confusing labor laws.

Failure to properly classify an employee or an independent contractor is a violation of state law that can result in huge penalties and the back-payment of wages and benefits.  But despite its desire to flog businesses with excessive punishments, California law never clearly defines what is or is not an employee.

Instead, California law relies upon a laundry list of employment circumstances, case law, and workplace conditions for each business to then decide for itself whether or not the worker is an employee or contractor.

Does the worker wear a uniform?  When they handle money, do they keep it or does it go to the business?  Does the worker control his or her own schedule?  Is a 1099 issued?  The totality of considerations goes on and on, and even state agencies will even disagree with one another on what set of circumstances results in classification as either an employee or contractor.

Consider your parenting skills:  what is the very first thing you establish when you want your children to do something?  Clearly define what is expected, and then set forth clear and consistent consequences.  Well California law does a great job of setting forth clear consequences, but it never ever provides clear definitions (or even examples) for businesses to follow.

That is why Senate Bill 459 (Ellen Corbett, Democrat, San Leandro), only added insult to injury and was very frustrating.  Right out of the gate, this poorly written legislation immediately created additional $5,000-$15,000 penalty enhancement for misclassifying an employee or contractor, and $25,000 for repeat offenses, but did nothing to clear up the ongoing confusion experienced by businesses.

Then, to make matters worse, it set the lowest possible threshold for triggering a violation by relying merely upon “willful” misclassification by the employer.  To most people the term “willful” means an act done of one’s own free will, intentional and voluntarily.

As it applies to the law, it simply translates to someone improperly filling out a form — not that they intended to fill out the form improperly, but that they filled out the form and it was done improperly.  In other words, guilty intent is not a requirement of a willful act.

So when SB 459 sought to make the penalties trigger upon mere “willful misclassification”, that didn’t mean the misclassification itself had to be intentional; rather, it only meant the misclassification occurred and then a review of the forms (intentionally and voluntarily filled-out) would show the wrong boxes were checked off which ultimately resulted in the misclassification.

One would think, if legislation was going to be written that impacted a large business segment, that businesses would be invited to the table as stakeholders to help craft the legislation (so as to avoid the pitfalls contained within SB 459).  That is how things used to be done before Term Limits robbed out Capitol of experienced lawmakers.

The nuances of understanding “willful” misclassification posed subtle yet significant distinctions that ultimately created a host of unintentional consequence; and making a world of difference in levying hefty fines against someone who just made an honest mistake.

To make matters worse, SB 459 made no allowance for affirmative defense against a misclassification, such as relying upon the advice of legal counsel, complying with case law, or adhering to industry-wide standards and historical practice.

That would mean 100% of all businesses with any misclassification would then be guilty and have to pay about $15,000 per offense!  No exception.

Even the IRS make accommodations (Section 530) for filers who can show they took reasonable steps to properly do something, and intended to follow the law.

But not SB 459.

That’s when CalSmallBiz, California’s premier small business association, jumped into action and put forth an aggressive campaign to get the bill amended and remove the offensive language from the SB 459.

A review of the bill’s history so far showed that it sailed through each policy committee on a straight party-line vote (Democrats versus Republicans), regardless of its problems.  The Senate did little more than rubber-stamp its approval on the measure.

This comes as no surprise when considering labor unions are the sponsors of the legislation as part of their effort to increase membership for their unions by increasing the pool of eligible employees.  The power of labor unions on California’s Capitol is unparalleled, though not entirely undeserved given their ability to mobilize and support candidates on various platforms.

For months, opponents to the measure had been trying to meet with Senator Corbett to work out amendments and tighten up the bill’s language.  These efforts were unsuccessful because ultimately labor unions controlled the legislation and they didn’t want to budge on the bill.

Frustrated, but still dedicated to fixing the measure, in preparation for the final policy committee, CalSmallBiz did a massive outreach and contacted nearly 232,000 businesses throughout the collective districts of the Democrat Assembly lawmakers on the committee, explained the situation with SB 459, and then urged them to become involved to discuss their business needs with their Assembly Member.

That’s some serious outreach!  And CalSmallBiz did it in just 4 days!

The lawmakers were then contacted by CalSmallBiz and provided with a courtesy copy of the message that was distributed, and provided a tally of the number of businesses in their district that were contacted about the legislation.(1)

When SB 459 came up for hearing in the Assembly Committee on Judiciary, the labor unions lined up and pounded the podium.  They spoke of oppressed workers and said the misclassifications extended throughout every industry; and they said it all was such a pervasive problem throughout California that while the total number of workers was unknown, but it was sure to be a massive number. (2)   Almost in the same breath the labor union representatives also said California could solve all of its budget problems if they collected employment taxes because all of these (unknown) workers added up to $20 billion in taxes (a miraculously convenient round number).

Lengthy testimonies by business groups who were opposed to SB 459 provided well-reasoned arguments as to why current law was faulty, certain industries deserved exclusions, and the reporting requirements within the bill were onerous at best.

But only CalSmallBiz pin-pointed the discussion on the faulty definition, which was at the heart of everything SB 459 sought to do, that was going to result in 100% penalties, and unfairly penalize well-meaning businesses along with the few bad actors.  Only CalSmallBiz provided real world examples of how the confusion over “willful misclassification” was going to be twisted around and abused by trial attorneys.

The Chair of the Committee, Assembly Member Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles), a Harvard Law School graduate, readily recognized the problems with the definition, saw a need to fix the measure, and stood firm on making sure the legislation that passed out of his committee was responsibly written.  This is unmistakable integrity.

Of no less importance, Assembly Member Alyson Huber (D-El Dorado Hills), proposed a similar version of an amendment to fix SB 459, and both proposals were leaps and bounds better than the bill’s current version.

Finally, Assembly Member Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), who is a newcomer to the Legislature but very articulate and well-reasoned, expressed her valid concerns as well.

If we could keep this caliber of lawmakers in office, then maybe Term Limits won’t be so bad after all.

SB 459, a flawed piece of legislation that had already sailed through three other policy committees and off of the Senate Floor, was suddenly stopped in its tracks.  A reluctant Senator Corbett — still wanting to salvage what she could of the important labor bill — kept flicking her hair back as she stammered at the podium, but finally agreed to accept the amendments.

SB 459 is now undergoing amendments which will remove the “willful” misclassification definition and replace it with something along the lines of “voluntary and knowing effort to misclassify an employee” or “willful misconduct which is done consciously and intentionally in disregard of the law”.

Today the legislative process worked.  Diametrically opposed interests were able to come to the table, understand each others’ points of view, and cross party lines to work in partnership on developing a responsible piece of legislation that seeks to appropriately address a problem without creating unintended consequences.

For all of the griping that people do ever job approval rating, I think there is hope for the California Legislature after all.



1) As a professional courtesy, the mention of any lawmaker or staff in a media story, mailer, or outreach effort is followed-up with a complimentary copy of the piece to the lawmaker or staff so as not to catch them by surprise, should it later come up.

2) CalSmallBiz does not dispute that some workers are misclassified, and that reasonable worker protections are needed so as to avoid abusive work environments.  Further, when some businesses engage in unfair business practices (B&P 17200), it creates an unfair advantage over law abiding businesses that operate in good faith under the law.  However, it has not been shown to be a widespread problem that merits every single businesses being subjected to SB 459 so as to capture and address the misconduct of the minority group of offending businesses.

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Truth is the First Casualty of Lawmaking

Most reasonable people would agree that texting while driving, or a driver otherwise being distracted by using a mobile phone is typically a bad idea.  I agree.

But if California’s new laws about driving while using a mobile phone or texting was proven to have nothing to do with making our roadways safer, would you want to know about it?

What is corporate conglomerates that produced Bluetooth hardware, earbuds, and other hands-free devices promoted the new law to increase their profits?  Should their push to require the use of their products influence how, when, and where you can use your mobile phone if there was no safety risk of hands-free versus hands-on use?

Here is your look into how the California State Legislature functions, why certain laws are enacted, and maybe why lawmakers’ public approval ratings are dismally low.

First you need to understand that every single rule which controls the Legislature has a way to waive that rule.  Some say that flexibility is necessary to make sure that laws are thoroughly considered on the merits, so as to create the best public policy to serve the needs of Californians.

And if you buy that, then I’d like to also show you some land with great building potential along the coastline of New Orleans.

As term limits has taken hold in the Legislature, so has the need for new lawmakers to quickly make a name for themselves through attention grabbing headlines.  It has become an increasingly more common practice for lawmakers and committees to waive just about every rule for the sake of political expediency and personal notoriety.

Proposals for new laws are called “legislation”, and more commonly a “bill”.  As legislation works its way through the Capitol, each bill must stop at a “policy committee” to be heard and voted upon.  These committees are public hearings, and offer the opportunity for the public to provide its input.  The committee completes an “objective” analysis of the bill, and often attempts to include input both for and against the legislation.

So it might surprise you, then, that when there is only one letter of opposition, submitted a week prior to the committee hearing, that it was intentionally excluded from any mention in the bill’s analysis.  The committee’s response?  Because they have a special 7-day cutoff at noon, when other committees have a 4-day cutoff at 5pm.  While a week early, the letter, under the special committee cutoff, was 2 hours and 41 minutes too late to be included for public review.

So here it is (keep reading).

What could be the reason for special exclusion?  Well, if strict adherence to the rules is an anomaly, then it is more likely because the piece of legislation is a partisan headline grabber, like “Mobile Phones & Texting While Driving Bill Moves Through Legislature”.  Presumably this pinpointed ‘progress’ is needed because, while the majority party now has exclusive control over passing the state budget with a simple majority vote, the annual state budget is (again), late and has not been passed.

But the facts and evidence don’t support what the legislation does.  Senate Bill 28, authored by Senator Simitian (a prominent democrat from Palo Alto), is a clean-up bill to previous legislation which outlaws texting and mobile phone usage while driving (also by Senator Simitian).

But since the passage of the mobile phone prohibitions, people have begun looking at the facts and questioning the wisdom of California’s approach.  This year, the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), for example, has done a very good job of researching, analyzing, and presenting the facts about mobile phone usage while driving.  A multi-year, multi-state (including California), meta-analysis was recently completed and shows California’s prohibition on hands-on mobile phone usage while driving has had no measurable positive impact upon roadway safety or collisions.

In summary of the evidence based findings, it doesn’t matter if it is hands-free or hands-on, it is the actual conversation (and the distractions caused by that conversation), that contribute to traffic collisions. (See: for facts & research citations, especially FAQ number 4 and 9). “There is no evidence so far that banning hand-held phone use reduces crashes…” among other things.
There are numerous concerns over SB 28, including two constitutionally fatal flaws with respect to infringing upon a protected form of speech, and equal protection, stemming from flawed assumptions by previous legislation upon which SB 28’s conclusions are premised. 

No Matter Hands-Free, Nor Hands-On

The first concern is over cause and effect, and whether or not this legislation is necessary as a legitimately effective means of improving public safety through a reduction in traffic collisions.

Earlier this year, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), released its findings from a multi-year meta-analysis of collisions, which reviewed multiple jurisdictions with anti-cellphone laws for drivers (including California), and control group jurisdictions without such laws.  The evidence from that multi-state study shows that cell phone bans don’t reduce accidents, and California’s anti-cellphone laws for drivers have had a statistically insignificant influence upon the rate and severity of collisions, despite a quantifiable reduction in drivers’ illegal use of mobile phone devices.
The reason for the insignificance of hands-free use versus hands-on use is attributed to the fact that the manner in which the cellphone is used is irrelevant, because it is the conversation itself that distracts drivers and contributes to collisions.  Therefore, the approach taken by SB 28 and previously related anti-cellphone legislation appears to be based upon erroneous conclusions, and seeks to address a mere symptom – but not the cause – of behavior which leads to collisions and thereby adversely impacts our level of public safety.

While the decision pertained to flag burning, as a related form of protected speech, the United States Supreme Court in Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989), held that Texas’ restrictions upon burning a flag were invalid because as to the “breach of the peace” justification, “no disturbance of the peace actually occurred or threatened to occur because of Johnson’s burning of the flag.” The Court rejected Texas’s claim that flag burning is punishable on the basis that it tends to incite breaches of the peace by citing the familiar test of Brandenburg v. Ohio that the state may only punish speech that would incite “imminent lawless action.”  Overwhelmingly, drivers who use mobile phone devices without hands-free are not imminently in collisions; such collisions are the exception, but not the rule.

Unconstitutionally Overbroad:  Why Restrict Parked ‘Drivers’?
The second concern, and one which perhaps ought to be fleshed out in a judiciary committee, is that SB 28 and Vehicle Code §23123 are unconstitutionally overbroad in their application to limiting protected speech.  The United States Supreme Court has consistently held that First Amendment protections may be limited by government when there is a compelling interest to serve the greater good (such as improving public safety).  But the reason must not be based upon shoddy evidence; the restriction must be so narrowly tailored with respect to time, place, and manner so as to accomplish the goal without going any further; must of course be content neutral; and is necessary to promote the goal which would be less effectively achieved absent the regulation.

By example, in Ward versus Rock Against Racism, the US Supreme Court clarified that such examples of allowable restrictions include “keeping the peace or preventing a probable harm from occurring – but not so broad as to prohibit otherwise benign activities which pose no threat.”  Ward, et. al., v. Rock Against Racism, 491 U.S. 781 (1989).

Through SB 28, as well as previously successful legislation on this subject matter, it is prohibited for any (non-emergency personnel) driver upon public roadways to use a mobile phone device while lawfully stopped at a traffic control device (i.e. a red light), as well as while lawfully parked upon the side of a public highway with the key in the vehicle’s ignition (even if the ignition is turned off).  Clearly, since in these two examples the vehicles are lawfully stopped and the driver is not, well, driving; and there is no credible threat to public safety, no chance of causing a traffic collision, and no basis whatsoever for California to restrict free speech in these situations.  Because SB 28 and Vehicle Code §23123 seek to prohibit free speech through hands-on mobile phone usage (which has superior sound quality and reliability to hands-free alternatives), the restrictions are thereby unconstitutionally overbroad.

Through a larger body of caselaw, the Supreme Court has consistently held that a restriction upon protected speech is narrowly tailored only “if it targets and eliminates no more than the exact source of the ‘evil’ it seeks to remedy.”  Frisby v. Schultz, supra, at 485.  But SB 28 prohibits hands-on mobile phone usage by the driver while driving, while stopped, and even while parked.

Additionally, California law already addressed vehicle code related breaches of the peace via reckless driving and other infractions.  SB 28 and related previous legislation pose no new remedy for safer driving, and as seen by the IIHS findings have failed to demonstrate any actual improvement in public safety.

Shoddy Evidence

The material evidence presented in support of previous legislation upon which SB 28 is premised, specifically that which was compiled and presented by the California Highway Patrol, contains unsupported conclusions which would not likely withstand peer review by academics, nor be recognized as methodologically reliable to the point which public policy should be adopted.

The previously referenced IIHS study findings show beyond all doubt that California’s public safety claims over the method in which mobile phone devices are used by drivers are without merit, and the cause for the dangerous behavior (contributing to collisions) is in fact the distraction of the driver having conversation itself – regardless of whether it is hands-free or hands-on.  SB 28, and prior legislation, does not address the conversation by the driver at all through its allowances and penalty increases, and the claims upon which SB 28 are based at this point appear to be without merit.

In Renton v. Playtime Theatres, Inc., 475 U. S. 41 (1986), the court held that a jurisdiction may place restrictions upon protected speech when that jurisdiction reasonably believes the material evidence is relevant to the problems it seeks to address. (at pgs. 51-52)

However, when direct doubt is cast upon on the jurisdiction’s rationale – as it has been by the meta-analysis by IIHS disproving CHP’s conclusions – and it is shown that the jurisdiction’s evidence does not support its rationale, then the burden shifts back to the jurisdiction to supplement the record with evidence renewing support for a theory that justifies its restriction. See, e.g., Erie v. Pap’s A. M., 529 U. S. 277, 298

Personal Calls on the Public Dime

There is a flaw in the wording of Vehicle Code §23123 with respect to ambiguity over when and how emergency personnel may use their mobile phone device hands-on while driving.  As written, SB 28 (and Vehicle Code §23123), denies non-emergency personnel equal protection under the law and without a compelling government interest to do so.

For example, an emergency service professional is exempted under the law if operating an official vehicle, but this is the only qualifying criteria.  Even if the emergency personnel are using their personal phone for a personal call which has nothing to do with their official capacity, the language in Vehicle Code §23123 is so ambiguously permissive that citizens subject to the prohibition could similarly use their personal phones for the exact same conversation but be subject to penalties.

Form v. Function

Finally, someone will undoubtedly argue that all of the prohibitions within SB 28 and Vehicle Code §23123 are permissible, because under California law, operating a motor vehicle is after all a privilege and not a right. 

However, a simple comparison of true privileges against established rights, and that argument fails the laugh test.  For example, a permit to carry a concealed weapon (CCW), is a true privilege.  With CCW permits, the issuing authority may deny, revoke, or refuse to re-issue a permit, or place any restrictions whatsoever upon the holder at whim, and there is no recourse or right to appeal unless the issuing authority fails to exercise any discretion at all (cf. Pitchess), or overtly denies access to CCW permits due to race, gender, or other protected status.

Drivers licenses, on the other hand, are freely issued to all citizens and even specified non-citizens who pass a series of simple tests; and may only be revoked or restricted under specifically restricted circumstances, with the drivers having the right to appeal any adverse decision.  Subject to the form versus function test, while the form for driving licensure is called a privilege, it clearly functions as a right which may not be removed outside of uniformly inculcated administrative procedures.  As such, First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment protections apply in full force.

As a solution to much of the aforementioned concerns, the California State Legislature could consider the following changes in law to truly improve public safety on our roadways and become constitutionally compliant:

1)                              limit all mobile phone device usage (hands-free or not), while operating a motor vehicle upon any public highway, because the conversation itself is the true threat to public safety.

2)                              waive the restriction upon drivers who are lawfully stopped at a traffic control device, or lawfully parked upon the side of a public highway in a designated ‘parking’ space, until such time as they are again moving; and

3)                              clarify that emergency personnel must be using a department issued mobile phone device and be discussing official business on said device, or else they are subject to the same prohibitions as everyone else.

Senate Bill 28 will be heard in the Senate Committee on Transportation and Housing on Tuesday, March 29th, after Floor Session in Capitol Room 4203.

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Political Pilates: Reforming California

“Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am. Stuck in the middle with you.”  Through this seventies hit, some fans believe Stealers Wheel was singing about politics, and the ebb and flow of reform efforts.

Reform simply means to re-form, or change something that already exists.  But when used in politics, reform is the catch-phrase used in reference to a plan for how someone thinks they can make things better (and usually for their own gain).

Where would any political group be without the pursuit of some new reform?  Every day the halls of the Capitol building in Sacramento are filled with special interest groups and their representatives vying for some reform or another.

Both major political parties and special interest groups use “reform” as a marketing tool for their plan to cure whatever ills California faces.  Used to boost membership and polarize supporters, there is health care reform, prison reform, tax reform, civil rights reform, education reform, workers compensation reform, energy reform, and of course political reform, among others.

One of the most enduring, well, forms of all reform efforts, was the creation of the ballot initiative process.  In 1911, California voters were given the opportunity to vote on whether or not they wanted the power to go around the Legislature to enact, overturn, or change laws at the polls using a ballot initiative process.
While designed to give ‘power to the people’, the well-intentioned initiative process was soon perverted for selfish goals through message manipulation.

“If knowledge is power, and all power is inherent to the people, then why are the masses kept uninformed through intentionally misleading outreach?” says Matt Gray, a senior lobbyist with Capital Alliance.

Upon the passage of the initiative process, almost immediately there were special interest groups investing significant resources into putting their reform efforts onto the ballots for voters’ approval.  In a seemingly contradictory exercise, even lawmakers now use the initiative process when an issue is a political hot potato and they want to step out of the line of fire to effect a change in law. 

An example of this will be seen this coming (special) election, when Californians will be asked by lawmakers and our new Governor to approve tax increases to pay for public employee services.  We expect these reform initiatives to be carefully worded and promoted to sound like wonderful solutions to problems that continue to plague us.  More on that, later.

While most initiative reforms focus upon changes to state statutes, most recently California saw significant constitutional reforms on the ballot in the form of same-sex marriage (Prop. 8), crime and sentencing (Prop. 9), redistricting (Prop. 11), a shift into having an open Primary Election (Prop. 14), and change in state budget vote requirements (Prop. 25) from a super majority (two-thirds) to a simple majority (50% plus one more vote).

Have you noticed that now, at every election, voters are faced with upwards of a dozen different initiatives and usually they are financed by some big business conglomerate?  These entities use their profits from consumer purchases to push for self-serving reform to increase profits.

While the original initiative process was intended to be the peoples’ tool to push back against lawmakers and achieve change through volunteers gathering signatures to place an initiative on the ballot, now companies (and groups) enlist armies of paid signature gatherers who are armed with misinformation.  Inspired by a price upon each signature, these paid gunslingers seldom understand the initiative they are promoting in front of the grocery store, and have been known to use misleading statements or tactics to gather as many signatures as possible.

“If you wouldn’t trust some stranger to come into your home and rearrange your personal life,” says Gray, “then why would you give them your signature and approval to change the laws which impact your daily life?”

In the end, these political efforts inundate voters with confusing radio and television ads about initiatives, confusing ballot summaries and arguments, and rely upon votes for the lesser of two (or more) evils without an adequate understanding of what people are really voting on.  It is not surprising that many voters simply tune out and vote blindly, hoping that it will all work out somehow.

Critics of the initiative process would have us believe we are better off voting against every single initiative, but that doesn’t work either.  They argue you don’t have to vote for initiatives, and that an overwhelming majority of all reform initiatives could be defeated and California would be none the worse for it.  Using their own style of sound byte rhetoric, they tell voters “If they pitch it, switch it,” meaning switch the channel if initiative promoters pitch you their one-liners.

In a risky and stark contradiction to the ‘just vote’ mantra touted by elected officials and special interest groups, whether or not the voter truly understand what the are voting on, others urge voters to instead stop to consider the source of the information and reform effort (initiative or otherwise).

Aren’t the people who are telling citizens to ‘just vote’ the same experts (on both sides) who during their own campaigns use emotionally manipulative rhetoric to persuade voters into making emotional votes – instead of basing their votes upon a discussion upon the facts?

Rather than taking any extreme approach, as a seasoned advocacy firm that has been involved with decades worth of public policy discussions and lawmaking, Capital Alliance continues to support the notion that an educated and informed voter is always the best kind of voter.

If you don’t know about something, then don’t vote upon it until you can assess the facts.

Find out the facts for yourself.  If you cannot, then find someone you trust to explain the facts.  You are always welcomed to contact Capital Alliance for an unbiased statement of what the reform effort does, what proponents are claiming, and what opponents are claiming.  Visit us online at

In closing, here are some things to keep in mind as you come across reform efforts.  While there are few rules in politics, here are three important ones that should be kept in the forefront of every voter’s mind:
1) if the draft language of a proposed law comes back and the common person can understand it, then it is sent back for a re-write;
2) the passage of almost any law is about the transfer of wealth from one group to another; and,
3) always follow the money, and think about who stands to benefit from the (new) law.

We hope to have your active participation in each election, but only after your careful consideration of whatever you vote upon.  With California facing a $25.4 billion budget shortfall, and small businesses suffering, and our economy is in flux, we can no longer afford to determine our future through uncertain swipe of a pen at the voting polls.

Know before you vote!  Ask Capital Alliance.

Capital Alliance is a full-service advocacy and public relations firm in Sacramento that promotes the well-being of California small businesses in the areas of economic development, water, green energy, public safety, agriculture, health care, education, and transportation.

Capital Alliance neither represents any candidate, political party, nor any entities associated with ballot initiatives.  As a free public service, Capital Alliance offers objective information to voters for the purpose of improving public awareness and increasing voter participation.

Find us on the web at or write to us at:
Capital Alliance
1029 K Street, Suite 25
Sacramento, CA  95814

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State-funded mandates on Governor’s budget chopping block

January 14, 2011

In a move that promises to shake-up state agencies and strain local government budgets,

matt gray lobbyist advocate capital alliance california capitol senate assembly governor

Matt Gray, Lobbyist for Capital Alliance, a California State Strategic Advocacy and Public Relations Firm

this week Governor Jerry Brown proposed deep cuts to public services, and drastic realignments in local oversight through his newly released state budget.

While the crux of the budget proposal focuses upon ways to preserve public employee labor union jobs, and raising co-pays for social services recipients, the Governor’s budget proposal signals at least a temporary suspension of most mandated reimbursements to local governments, excepting public safety and property tax related services.

The California Constitution requires the Legislature to reimburse local governments for any specialized services which are required of them through the passage of new laws by lawmakers in Sacramento.  While the strategy to suspend reimbursement has been used by previous governors during tough budget times, Governor Brown takes it a step further by calling for the Legislature to review and possibly modify all existing mandates in a Special Session to cope with this next year’s budget demands.

California’s mandates upon local government cost taxpayers hundreds of millions annually, and range from ways of disclosing public meetings, to animal adoption, and a barrage of public education standards and procedures.  The Governor’s estimates place the savings at nearly one-quarter of a billion dollars.

“After years of previous governors putting off the inevitable budget landslide,” says Matt Gray, a state lobbyist for Capital Alliance, “this Governor is taking many of California’s financial liabilities head-on and seems willing to make some tough choices.”

But what is ominously missing from the Governor’s budget is how to address the state’s largest fiscal liability, its 33 prisons and nearly 300,000 inmates and parolees.  Critics of the system point to reduced rehabilitation programs, a growing annual budget of nearly $9 million, and more than 70% failure rate whereby released offenders soon return to prison through a cycle of new crimes, petty parole violations, and caseload mismanagement.

The Governor did, however, advocate for increasing correctional officer salaries and funding overtime opportunities.

Reimbursements to local government have come under fire as numerous audits performed by the California State Controller’s office point to millions in improper billing to the state.  In many cases the improper reimbursements received dwarf the legitimate mandate claims.  One report shows that pet adoption practices run contrary to intended policies, as animal shelter receive more reimbursements for euthanizing animals than they do for getting them adopted. 

Out of concern for suspending mandates for disclosure of public meeting information, State Senator Leland Yee (D, San Francisco), has introduced a Constitutional Amendment to require disclosures even if local governments are not reimbursed. 

“Californians have a fundamental right to know what their government is doing,” said Yee, referencing recent developments of corruption by the City of Bell.  “Our open meeting laws are too important to be made optional every time the state runs short of money.”

The Legislature has until June 15, 2011, to respond to the Governor’s Budget with its own final modifications.  The recent passage of Proposition 25 by voters in the November 2010 General Election changed the two-thirds vote requirement to pass a budget to a simple majority of lawmakers’ votes.  No longer reliant upon securing any republican support for the budget, proposing and passing a balanced budget is entirely up to democratic lawmakers.

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