Senate Rejects Long-Term Fix to Save Local Journalism, Opts for Band-Aid Instead

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

On a partisan vote, the California State Senate on Sunday rejected an amendment from Senator Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) to Assembly Bill 323 (Rubio) that would have significantly helped community newspapers keep their doors open for the long-term. Instead, the Senate passed AB 323 that will only give newspapers another year of regulatory relief from the costly mandates of AB 5 (Gonzalez).

“It is unfortunate that the majority party rejected my amendment to help community newspapers for the long-term,” said Senator Bates. “Instead, we had to settle for a short-term band-aid to cover the economic wounds created by AB 5. While AB 323 is a step in the right direction, the fact remains that we need a permanent fix to save local journalism.”

AB 5, which took effect on January 1, 2020, requires most “independent contractors” to be reclassified as employees. In recognition of the role newspapers play in informing the people, the Legislature granted newspapers a one-year exemption to AB 5 for newspaper carriers that expires at the end of this year. Unless an extension or permanent fix is passed, news operations will be forced to make deep cuts to both print and digital community coverage and offerings in order to survive. Some will close their doors, leaving many communities with no local news source.

AB 323, which the Senate passed without Senator Bates’ amendment, will extend California newspapers’ exemption from AB 5 until January 1, 2022. Out of a spirit of bipartisanship, Senator Bates co-authored AB 323, but felt the bill could have gone further by permanently exempting newspapers from AB 5.

Senator Bates’ proposed amendment can be read here. The vote tally on the amendment can be found here. Please note that an “aye” vote on the sheet indicates a vote to “lay (the amendment) on (the) table,” which means rejecting Sen. Bates’ amendment to AB 323.

Earlier this year, Senator Bates authored Senate Bill 867 that would have created a permanent exemption for newspaper distributors and carriers from AB 5’s provisions. She also authored Senate Bill 868 that would have created a permanent AB 5 exemption for freelance journalists.

Due to the Legislature’s focus on addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, SB 867 and 868 were not taken up this year. Senator Bates plans on introducing similar legislation next year.

She also co-authored two other AB 5 relief bills (SB 806 Grove and SB 990 Moorlach) this year that were rejected on partisan votes in the Senate Labor Committee. SB 806 would have allowed any industry, profession, or business that had legally utilized independent contractor relationships prior to the Dynamex court decision and AB 5 to continue to do so. SB 990 would have delayed the implementation of AB 5 for all industries until January 1, 2022.