The Bay Area Council scored several legislative victories this week related to our focus policy work. We gave lead testimony before the Committee on Governance and Finance on SB 209, a bill by Sen. Ted Lieu that would block the collection of retroactive taxes from entrepreneurs and small business investors and reinstate the Qualified Small Business tax credit going forward. The bill cleared the committee on a 6-1 vote. The Bay Area Council has been at the front of this issue since it surfaced last year following unfortunate rulings by a state appeals court and the Franchise Tax Board. To join us in advocating for this bill and engaging in our other tax policy work, contact Policy Manager Emily Finkel.
Our work as part of a statewide coalition to reform CEQA gained traction this week when a bill authored by Sen. Steinberg passed out of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee. Thank you to Sen. Steinberg for his leadership on this issue. The Bay Area Council was among the groups testifying in favor of SB 731, and we will remain closely engaged in the coming debate over its final language. To engage in our CEQA reform work, contact Government Relations Vice President Matt Regan.
On the healthcare front, the Bay Area Council joined with a broad coalition of providers and health plans to testify in support of three bills authored by Sen. Ed Hernandez – SB 491, 492 and 493 – that seek to expand the scope of practice for non-physician medical providers, such as pharmacists, optometrists and nurse practitioners. All three bills made it out of the Senate Committee on Business, Professions and Economic Development in spite of stiff resistance from opponents.
On Wednesday, we joined members Safeway and SeeChange Health to provide lead testimony in opposition to SB 189, a proposal to limit the use of employer wellness incentive programs. While the bill made it out of committee, the author has taken significant amendments due to the pressure we have applied, and we are confident that we will either stop the bill or transform it into a reasonable measure we can support. We also testified, alongside Small Business Majority and Bay Area Council members Kaiser Permanente and Blue Shield, in favor of SB 161, which would limit the use of self-insurance by very small businesses. The trend toward purchasing stop-loss coverage is causing an exodus of employers with younger and healthier employees from traditional coverage, disrupting the market on which all small businesses rely. To engage in our healthcare policy work, contact Senior Policy Advisor Micah Weinberg.
The Bay Area Council’s Sacramento office wrapped up a very busy week today (May 3), coming off Monday’s annual Sacramento Day and a host of key legislative hearings. Over 40 Bay Area Council members turned out for an informative and productive series of meetings in the capitol that delved into many of our focus policy priorities. Member delegates enjoyed a candid and wide-ranging discussion with Governor Jerry Brown. We also met with Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, Natural Resources Secretary John Laird, state Controller John Chiang, California High Speed Rail Authority CEO Jeff Morales and a number of top legislative leaders. We capped off the day with a reception and dinner with 13 of the Bay Area Caucus legislators, where we honored Senator Mark DeSaulnier with the Bay Area Council’s first Regionalist of the Year award. Thank you to the Bay Area Council members, speakers and guests who participated and to our generous sponsors, T.Y. Lin and Visa, for making it our most successful Sacramento Day yet!
See photos from the day’s events.
Read the Sacramento Day policy briefing book.
California’s new health insurance marketplace — Covered California — last Wednesday took a big step forward when it launched the website where individuals, families and employers will go to get information and purchase health insurance. Pre-enrollment in the marketplace is scheduled to begin in October with coverage starting in January. The site includes an online calculator that enables consumers to estimate how much insurance plans will cost. The Bay Area Council has been deeply involved in the creation of this new health insurance purchasing pool, working to make it an ally of businesses in improving the value that we get for our medical spending. The progress in setting up this new marketplace, though, may be hampered by legislative action in the “special session for healthcare” currently ongoing in Sacramento. Health insurance plans have already submitted their bids to participate in the exchange and are working furiously with staff to meet the October 1 deadline for the start of open enrollment. The legislature, however, is reopening a number of issues that had previously been settled, including how many rating regions the state will have. It is critical that we clearly establish the new rules of the game as soon as possible so that businesses have the certainty they need to move forward with their planning. The Bay Area Council is working closely with Covered California to avoid costly delays. To engage in our healthcare policy work, contact Senior Policy Advisor Micah Weinberg.
Members of the Bay Area Council Water Committee were briefed last week by state Natural Resources Secretary John Laird on the latest details of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP). The discussion, led by Water Committee Chair Jim Levine, Managing Partner of Montezuma Wetlands LLC, at our Sacramento office, provided members an inside look at the scope, goals, and calendar of the state’s most ambitious habitat restoration and water conveyance project in a generation. However, BDCP alone won’t solve California’s water crisis, and there is continuing debate in Sacramento about reworking an $11.14 billion statewide bond measure that the Legislature had been approved for the 2014 ballot to help pay for it and other projects. Committee members also discussed how additional efficiency and reuse measures, along with improvements in groundwater and regional management structures represent a cost-effective way to add potentially millions of additional acre feet to the state’s overall supply. The Committee was also briefed on developing plans to restore thousands of acres of bay wetlands. To engage in our water policy work, contact Policy Manager Adrian Covert.
Legislation introduced by San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener won the unanimous endorsement of the Bay Area Council’s CEQA Reform Committee under the leadership of Chair Michael Covarrubias of TMG Partners at its first meeting of 2013 at the offices of Hanson Bridgett in San Francisco. Supervisor Wiener’s legislation seeks to codify and simplify CEQA appeals processes in San Francisco. The Committee also heard from Senator Mike Rubio’s Chief CEQA consultant, Karen Scarborough, about efforts to move CEQA legislation in Sacramento, and had a good discussion on coalition building efforts led by Jennifer Hernandez of Holland & Knight as part of the CEQA Working Group of which the Bay Area Council is a part.To engage in the Bay Area Council’s CEQA policy work, contact Policy Vice President Matt Regan.
Immigration reform was among the topics that House Speaker John Boehner discussed Thursday in San Francisco with a small group of business, political and business leaders, including Bay Area Council President and CEO Jim Wunderman. The Speaker told the group to look next week for the introduction of a bipartisan immigration reform bill. As the Bay Area Council prepares to lead a California trade delegation to China in April with Gov. Brown, Speaker Boehner expressed his strong support for expanding and enhancing U.S.-China economic cooperation. Boehner also discussed the challenges facing the Republican Party, healthcare reform and the ongoing debate over the U.S. debt ceiling. To engage with the Bay Area Council in our federal policy work, contact George Broder.
As news of the retroactive entrepreneur’s tax spreads across the state, the Bay Area Council is working with Gov. Jerry Brown’s office on the issue and is continuing its work with Assemblymember Bob Wieckowski to develop a legislative fix. As previously reported in the Flash, the Franchise Tax Board in response to a court ruling eliminated the Qualified Small Business (QSB) exclusion, which had allowed for a 50% tax reduction on the sale of stocks in a small business with under $50 million in assets and at least 80% of its payroll based in California. Worse, the action was made retroactive to 2008. The exclusion was one of the few benefits the state had to incentivize start-up founders to keep their growing businesses in California and to incentivize investors to fund those early-stage companies. We have enlisted the help of tax law experts and Bay Area Council members Deloitte and Manatt, Phelps & Phillips to provide input on options to reinstate the QSB and limit the impact on start-up founders, investors and employees. Our recent Tech Works study highlighted the importance of these businesses as a primary jobs-creation engine. The Bay Area Council is also now part of a coalition of start-up founders and tech groups raising the profile of this issue and working towards a solution. To support our work on QSB and to engage with us in our California tax policy work, contact Emily Finkel.
Good things may come to those who wait… but more often good things come to those who work hard and push year after year for change. That appears to be the case on immigration reform. The Bay Area Council has been pushing hard for years to produce sensible immigration reform that recognizes the huge unmet demand in the tech sector and other vital California industries for qualified workers. And in the past week there appeared to be considerable bi-partisan movement for a comprehensive approach to reforming federal immigration policy. Among the important reforms being discussed are:
- Nearly double the number of H-1B visas, with a “market-based” system that can provide further increases when warranted by economic and labor conditions.
- Unlimited number of green cards for foreign graduates of American universities who earn advanced STEM degrees.
- Allow temporary immigrants to more easily change jobs without jeopardizing their status.
These changes can’t come soon enough. While America’s top universities are brimming with foreign PhD students—generally the smartest and most motivated of their home countries—under our current immigration system we start to push them back out of the country as soon as they complete their education and are ready to make their most powerful scientific, technical, entrepreneurial, and economic contributions. The immigration system is similarly unwelcoming to seasoned professionals; rather than welcoming their contributions to American economic leadership, our immigration system encourages them to remain at home, or in a more welcoming foreign country that is receptive to their contributions. To engage with us in our immigration reform work, contact Michael Cunningham.
Momentum is gathering for modernizing the California Environmental Quality Act. The state’s landmark environmental protection law hasn’t been updated in 40 years and increasingly is being used as tool for costly litigation to block responsible community improvements that benefit the economy and environment. Governor Jerry Brown and state Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg have repeatedly called for CEQA modernization in 2013. The Bay Area Council is partnering with dozens of business, community and economic development groups from around the state to seek a legislative solution this year that will preserve this important law while updating it to better reflect the current and future priorities and needs of our state. This week, the CEQA Working Group launched a website that offers numerous and surprising real-world examples of the many ways in which CEQA has been abused over the years. Visit the website to add your name to the growing list of supporters and follow the CEQA Working Group on Twitter @FixCEQA. And on Monday, Feb. 4 at 7 p.m., Bay Area Council Vice President Matt Regan will join a discussion on radio station KALW’s City Visions program on CEQA modernization. We encourage you to call in with your questions and comments. To engage with us on CEQA modernization, contact Matt Regan.