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Monday, Sep 30 2013 11:03 PM

AB 566 limits flexibility of state's courts

By The Bakersfield Californian

In these days of backed-up courthouse calendars and ever-tightening Superior Court budgets, it's hard to imagine a more irresponsible and counterproductive bill than Assembly Bill 566. This legislation, brought forth by Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, would, for all intents and purposes, prevent the state's courts from hiring workers on a contractual basis -- no matter what the reason or how dire the need.

And yet the bill, sponsored by the California Court Reporters Association and the Service Employees International Union, somehow cleared the Legislature and now sits on the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown. OK, its passage wasn't really that much of a surprise: The Democratic-controlled Legislature is, if nothing else, a friend to organized labor. That's not always necessarily a bad thing. In this instance, it most assuredly is.

AB 566 severely limits the ability of state courts to fulfill their central mission: providing the public with reasonably expeditious, competent and complete judicial services. Those qualities are lacking enough as it is; AB 566 would make things much worse. Without the flexibility that contract employees provide, the state's courts will be forced into service cuts. And no one, least of all the public employees whose jobs, ironically, AB 566 puts at risk, would benefit from that.

But AB 566's damaging ramifications don't stop there. The bill, which authorizes the creation of a trial court employee personnel system with the singular authority to hire trial court personnel, would inhibit the state judiciary's ability to modernize. For example, contractors, not current union employees performing old-tech duties, will in most cases be better equipped to move the state's courts into the digital age. That transition will enable courts to run more smoothly, effectively and economically. Handcuffing them -- as any plaintiff who has had to wait, and then wait some more, can tell you -- is not acceptable. AB 566 handcuffs our courts. We urge Brown to veto it.

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