June 28, 2013

Bill aimed at Wal-Mart, others fails in California Assembly as Democratic caucus splits

Assembly Democrats' supermajority faltered Thursday in rejecting legislation to penalize large businesses for employees on Medi-Cal rolls.

Assembly Democrats' supermajority faltered Thursday in rejecting legislation to penalize large businesses for employees on Medi-Cal rolls.

Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles, was granted reconsideration after his Assembly Bill 880 failed on three roll-call votes.

The action means that Gomez is entitled to take his bill up again, but prospects are dim because Democrats will lose their supermajority Sunday as Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield joins the Los Angeles City Council.

The final tally Thursday was 46-27, eight votes shy of the two-thirds margin needed for passage. The vote was closely watched statewide as a test of moderate Democrats' willingness to buck their more liberal colleagues.

Three Assembly Democrats voted against AB 880: Cheryl Brown of San Bernardino, Tom Daly of Anaheim, and Adam Gray of Merced. Five others did not vote: Henry T. Perea of Fresno, Raul Bocanegra of Pacoima, Steve Fox of Lancaster, Rudy Salas of Bakersfield and Al Muratsuchi of Torrance. The bill had an urgency clause requiring two-thirds approval.

Gomez touted his bill as a way to ensure that large employers meet their responsibility to subsidize workers' health care and as a way to generate revenue for Medi-Cal, which provides medical coverage to the poor.

"Do we allow the largest and most profitable companies to shirk their responsibility?" Gomez asked.

But Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, said that health insurance is an individual responsibility.

"We're bringing the force of government to bear on companies that have done nothing wrong," he said.

AB 880 is sponsored by the California Labor Federation and the United Food and Commercial Workers, which claim it would close a loophole allowing the state's largest businesses – 500 employees or more – to avoid their responsibility to subsidize employees' insurance under next year's federal health care overhaul.

Federal law will penalize businesses if employees who work 30 hours a week are forced to buy health insurance from a new state exchange next year because they are not covered by an employer plan.

No penalty is provided if compensation is low enough to push employees onto Medi-Cal rolls, meaning income of up to $32,500 for a family of four. AB 880 would charge large companies about $4,400 for each worker on Medi-Cal who works at least 12 hours a week. Implementation would be delayed until 2015.

Business groups contend that Gomez's bill would be a drag on the economy and discourage the hiring of part-time workers.

Organized labor has accused Wal-Mart of practices targeted by AB 880. The giant retailer said its wages and benefits "meet or exceed those offered by most competitors and our health care offerings go beyond the eligibility and affordability requirements of the Affordable Care Act."

Call Jim Sanders, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5538. Follow him on Twitter @jwsanders55.

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