California is arguably America’s best example of the perils and pitfalls of big government. Like clockwork, the state makes national headlines for imposing increasingly restrictive measures on both individuals and businesses.
Despite the state’s longstanding policy of intervention—and its failure to produce lasting results—its lawmakers continue to expand the size and scope of government.
The latest show of big government hysteria in the Golden State is the enactment of more than 1,000 laws at the start of 2019. Outgoing Governor Jerry Brown signed 1,016 bills in 2018, and while some aim to lessen the intrusiveness of government in California, many continue to extend the arm of government further into people’s lives.
You Get a Law, and You Get a Law, and You Get a Law...
Some of the laws now in effect drew national attention when they were first signed. They include the state’s ban on plastic straws in restaurants unless a customer requests them, the requirement that restaurants list only milk, water, and other low-calorie beverages on children’s menus, and a new mandate that publicly traded companies have at least one woman on their board. (The law’s definition of a “woman” appears to include anatomical males who identify as female. According to the text of the bill: “‘Female’ means an individual who self-identifies her gender as a woman, without regard to the individual’s designated sex at birth.”)
Another new law makes it illegal to misgender LGBTQ nursing home residents.
Further, California, which already enjoys the top rank in the country from the pro-gun control Giffords Law Center, enacted even more firearms restrictions. Despite the rash of headline-grabbing shootings that have occurred in the state, citizens and lawmakers alike favor tighter gun policy. Some of the new laws include raising the minimum age to own a rifle or shotgun to 21 (matching the existing age requirement on handguns), imposing a lifetime ban on most individuals convicted of certain misdemeanor domestic violence, and prohibiting firearm ownership for those treated in "designated facilities" for mental health issues more than once in a one-year period. Lawmakers are pushing for even more measures, relaunching their failed attempt to limit Californians to one gun purchase or transfer per month. Former Governor Jerry Brown rejected this legislation, but the state’s new governor, Gavin Newsom, may be more willing to support it.
In a separate realm, in addition to a number of laws targeting sexual harassment in the workplace, the same legislature passed legislation to protect Capitol workers and lobbyists who report sexual misconduct. However, they stopped short of requiring records of these incidents to be made available to the public. Another new law makes it illegal to misgender LGBTQ nursing home residents.
Since January 1, California government has also imposed new regulations intended to curb climate change and wildfires, including a mandate that utilities generate 60 percent of their energy—up from 50 percent—from renewable sources by 2030.
Retail stores are banned from selling dogs, cats, and rabbits unless they come from shelters.
The state minimum wage rose to $12 for companies with more than 26 employees and $11 for smaller businesses (pursuant to a law passed in 2016).
Even pets are tangled up in newly enacted legislation. Retail stores are banned from selling dogs, cats, and rabbits unless they come from shelters, and in a quintessential California move, pets can now be included in divorce court custody proceedings.
It's Not All Bad, but Mostly It Is
To be fair, some laws have lessened the scope of government in residents’ daily lives. In one example, street vending is now subject to fewer regulations from local authorities. In another, the public now has access to internal police investigation records and footage of police-involved shootings, a move that fosters government transparency.
Despite this progress, California lawmakers’ penchant for passing intrusive legislation shows no signs of waning. Even the state’s legalization of cannabis in 2018 was hindered by the government’s excessive taxation, regulation, and bureaucracy, leading to a much smaller economic boom than other states have enjoyed upon ending prohibition.
Despite lawmakers’ good intentions, as FEE noted this week:
- California spends about $98.5 billion annually on welfare—the most in the US—but has the highest poverty rate in America.
- California has the highest income tax rate in the US, at 13.3 percent, but the fourth greatest income inequality of the 50 states.
- California has one of the most regulated housing markets in America, yet it has the highest homeless population in America and ranks 49th (per capita) in housing supply.
Considering the Democrats regained their supermajority in the legislature in the 2018 election, the ever-increasing expansion of the state’s government is almost certain to continue.