Your One-Party Government at Work

legislatureHere’s what one-party government looks like in California: the voters make decisions at the ballot box and the majority party elected officials shrug and move forward to overturn those decisions not fearing a rebuke when up for re-election.

We’ve seen such moves twice in the last week initially on the death penalty then on rent control.

First, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a moratorium on the death penalty despite voters defeating a measure to abolish the death penalty and, in fact, supporting a measure to speed up of the death penalty process.

Newsom figures in blue state California there will be no threat from Republicans when he runs for re-election.

No sooner had Newsom signed his executive order, a dozen legislators filed a proposed constitutional amendment to abolish the death penalty all together. Do any of them fear voters would take away their seats and give it to a Republican?

Doubtful that this one issue would flip a seat from blue to red. Perhaps there are one or two (sort-of) competitive districts that a single vote on the death penalty could have an impact but Democratic majorities are large enough and leadership has enough votes to give those one or two representatives in those districts a pass if the majority wants to push the amendment onto the ballot.

Repealing the Costa-Hawkins bill that restricts cities’ ability to create or expand rent control was defeated handily last November when it appeared on the ballot as Proposition 10. Less than six months later Democratic legislators to encourage and promote rent control and renter protections have introduced a slew of bills. Most notably among them is Assemblyman Richard Bloom’s AB 36 that would alter Costa-Hawkins and expand rent control opportunities for local governments.

One would think that the voice of the people on a measure debated and voted upon so recently would carry weight with legislators. But, apparently not when one party is so dominate that there is little consequence to face at the ballot box when they run for re-election.

The governor and legislators hope their actions will give the voters a second chance at considering these matters. No doubt, there are cases when particular issues came back to voters and the voters collectively expressed second thoughts, but that usually occurs over a longer period of time.

In the case of rent control, legislators are looking for answers to the state’s housing crisis, which is understandable. But in pure political terms, challenging a decisive vote of the people so soon can more comfortably be attempted when one-party rule dominates the state politics. That is the point here.

With the Republican brand damaged in this state, Democratic elected officials feel unrestrained in challenging the voters’ judgment.

ditor and co-publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

How Many Bills Will Governor Newsom Sign?

Bills and legislationFebruary 22 was the deadline for the introduction of bills for consideration during the 2019 California Legislative Session. A total of 2,576 bills were introduced by the deadline. There are about 1,800 Assembly Bills and over 775 Senate Bills that were introduced. This is a higher number than has been introduced in more than half a dozen years.

So, how many of these bills will reach Governor Newsom’s Desk and how many will he sign? So far, two budget/appropriations bills have reached his desk and both were signed earlier this month.

We obviously will not know the answer to this question until the final bill is acted upon in mid-October; but, if history is a guide, we would expect over 1,000 measures to be signed this year, with about half of those that were introduced to reach the Governor’s Desk for final action.

There were 1,217 bills that reached Governor Brown’s Desk in 2018 out of 2,225 bills introduced (694 Senate Bills and 1,531 Assembly Bills). 55% of the bills introduced made it to the Governor’s Desk last year with 45% of the bills introduced getting signed into law and 9% of the bills introduced getting vetoed.

During the last eight years that Governor Brown served in office, he received a low of 870 bills (his first year in office) to a high of 1,217 (his last year in office). His veto rate was a low of 10.7% (his third year in office) to a high of 16.5% (his last year in office).

I’ll venture a guess. If history is a guide, I am going to speculate that roughly half of this year’s bills reach Governor Newsom’s Desk (1,285), and that he vetoes about 12% of them (155) and signs about 88% of them (1,130). We’ll check back after September 13!

Chris Micheli is a Principal with the Sacramento governmental relations firm of Aprea & Micheli, Inc.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

California Legislature Shouldn’t Tax Innovation

TaxesWhen it comes to innovation and job creation, let’s keep the gold in the Golden State.

The role of private equity in funding the growth of many bread-and-butter, consumer-based firms that call California home – companies such as Peet’s Coffee and El Pollo Loco – is in serious jeopardy due to the possible re-emergence of faulty legislation in 2019.

Last year in the Legislature there was a proposal (Assembly Bill 2731), borne of understandable but misguided frustration over federal tax policy, that would have pushed the private funds financial services industry to other states. Fortunately, that proposal did not advance. Lest California lawmakers think again about cutting off an economic engine in a self-destructive over-reaction, the idea should be permanently shelved.

California is the earth’s epicenter for innovation, attracting entrepreneurs and talent from across our state and around the globe.  It’s blessed with world-class universities, robust markets, and it’s been a pace-setter in emerging industries. All of this is made possible by one essential element – access to capital.

Data from 2016 shows that the Bay Area is the number one market in the nation for venture capital, generating an impressive $23 billion in investment; more than three times that of New York sitting at number two.

A proposal like AB 2731 would put a chokehold on venture capital in the state by creating a 17 percent add-on income tax on the private funds financial services industry. The tax would apply to so-called “carried interest income” earnings – but interestingly enough only in the financial services sector, not in other sectors such as real estate, oil and gas development in which such earnings are also common.

An economic impact analysis of the proposal conducted by a professor at USC’s Marshall School of Business understandably concluded that the tax would be “so impactful that the industry will likely move out of state.”

The consequences of such a flight from California would be devastating. The industry directly employs more than 100,000 workers and pays a combined $2 billion a year in state and local taxes.

The American Investment Council estimates that private equity companies invested $66 billion in 583 California companies in 2017 alone. Those companies combined provided more than 400,000 jobs. In addition, an estimated 5,200 California-based companies now with more than 250,000 workers relied on venture capital funding to get off the ground.

To push back against federal tax policy by even considering a large, state-only tax increase on an industry that fuels economic growth and job production is destructive folly. Jobs would be lost, economic growth would be diminished and there would be a net loss in state and local tax revenue as a result of industry flight from California.  This proposal failed last year, and should not be reconsidered this year.  There is never a good time for a bad idea.

resident & CEO, Silicon Valley Leadership Group

This column previously appeared in the Sacramento Bee

Do We Have a Right to Shelter?

Tent of homeless person on 6th Street Bridge with Los Angeles skyline in the background. California, USA. (Photo By: Education Images/UIG via Getty Images)

Does everyone by virtue of their existence have a right to shelter? It’s a question the California legislature will consider in 2019.

Earlier this month, Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, introduced Senate Bill 48. This Right to Shelter Bill “aims to ensure that homeless individuals and families throughout California have reasonable access to shelter, including navigation centers,” according to Wiener’s office. This “right” includes:

  • “A safe place to sleep and keep one’s belongings.
  • “An ability to access shelter without having to sign up on a daily basis.
  • “An ability to remain with one’s partner.
  • “An ability to access services necessary to stabilize one’s life and transition into supportive housing or permanent housing, including mental health, addiction treatment, and other services.”

When Wiener declares that “California’s housing crisis, along with our mental health and addiction challenges, are driving people into homelessness, and we must act,” we can’t disagree. But shelter is a right? On that we cannot agree.

In the case of SB 48, the “right to shelter” is fabricated out of the loss of others’ rights. Funding for shelter is provided only when others’ right to their property — their money — is violated. Obligating some to pay for others’ “rights” corrupts the proper understanding of what a right truly is. It assigns a burden to society that it did not ask for.

Rather than establishing a heretofore hidden right, the bill actually introduces a mandate, which is defined as “an official instruction or command.” Rights cannot be commanded into existence, nor can commands be interpreted as rights. A more fitting name for Wiener’s legislation would be the “Demand to Provide Shelter” Bill.

None of this means we’re indifferent to the homeless. Humans need housing. But issuing mandates isn’t going to solve the homeless problem, particularly in California, where the housing crisis has forced thousands to go without suitable shelter.

The best policymakers can do is get out of the way. That, however, requires them to take an active role. Government has been the primary author of the housing crisis, and its network of hurdles must be undone. Replace the California Environmental Quality Act with law that reasonably protects the environment but doesn’t create conditions that discourage home building. Forbid rent control laws in every corner of the state. Streamline and shorten the building permit process, and reduce, and waive when possible, permit fees. Lift local regulations that inhibit construction. Overhaul local zoning laws that block housing expansion.

In the best of all cases, policymakers would tear down every barrier they have erected. Eliminating even one of the hurdles mentioned above will do far more for the homeless than passing laws intended to create rights for them.

Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.

Welcome Back Legislators. Now Stop Making So Many Laws

legislatureToday’s column is easy to write because I’m actually pulling up a column I think is worth repeating when welcoming legislators back to the capital. Don’t drown us with so many new laws. In fact, spend some time getting rid of old ones.

No one can possibly keep up with all the bills that actually become laws each year. Any idea how many new laws the California legislature put on the books over the past 52 years?

If you guessed under 60,000 you would be wrong.

According to an October release from the Senate Office of Research, 62,858 new laws have been added to the rolls since 1967. That averages over 1,208 laws a year under the governorships of Ronald Reagan, Jerry Brown, George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson, Gray Davis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown, again.

Actually, the trend in lawmaking is going in the right direction—although it certainly has not gone far enough. Under governors Reagan, Brown (1.0) and Deukmejian, well over a thousand bills were signed into law each year. You have to go to the first year of Governor Wilson’s second term before you find less than a 1,000 bills enrolled, and it was close—982.

There was a stretch of 15 consecutive years when the 1,000 law mark was not breached from Gray Davis’s last year 2003, through the Schwarzenegger years, and the first seven years of Jerry Brown. However, this last year, Brown’s final one in office, 1,016 laws were enrolled breaking the streak.

But seriously, do the people of California really need so many laws to guide their lives?

Yet, woe be it to the business or citizen that ignores any of those laws. Especially with predatory attorneys lurking, looking for opportunity.

In many instances, new laws come with regulations and paperwork attached, which rob the affected parties, often businesses, of time to fill out the paperwork and keep up with the changing regulations while trying to run a business.

Here’s a suggestion this newly elected legislative class can do with its time. Eliminate some of the many laws on the books and focus on your non-lawmaking duties of managing the government efficiently an effectively.

Start with the DMV.

(Hat tip to Chris Micheli of Aprea & Micheli for directing me to the Senate Office of Research document.)

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Hints of California’s Democratic Agenda to Come

CapitolIt’s just the beginning.

California lawmakers kicked off a new two-year session Monday, a day full of pomp and ceremony and not a lot of substance. But a few eager legislators began putting bills across the desk, giving an early indication of some key policy fights that will shape 2019.

Some of the early legislation reflects policy priorities Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom championed on the campaign trail — calling for more housing, health care and early childhood education. (Newsom will be sworn in on Jan. 7.) Other bills amount to a take-two for lawmakers who saw their policies stall out or get vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

It’s too soon to say how these proposals will fare—a long road of compromises often separates a bill’s introduction from the gubernatorial signature that turns it into a law. But here are a few themes emerging in this first day of legislative action:

Disaster

California’s recent wildfires are clearly a preoccupation. Both chambers opened with a moment of silence for victims of the Camp and Woolsey fires. In one of the more gripping moments of the morning, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon listed, name by name, the many California counties that, just at the moment, are recovering from climate-driven natural disasters, and what Gov. Jerry Brown termed “the new abnormal” figured heavily into his and Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins’ opening remarks.

On Monday, Democratic Assemblyman Jim Wood, who represents fire-scarred Santa Rosa—and who, as a forensic dentist, has been helping to identify remains in the Camp Fire — introduced legislation to hasten, broaden, subsidize and better codify local fire preparedness. As last session’s hard-fought wildfire bill demonstrated, though, the costs and liabilities associated with wildfires can politically be a hard sell.

Critics of Pacific Gas & Electric, whose equipment has been linked to many of last year’s fires, have been adamant in their demand that the state not give the massive utility a bailout. Assemblyman Chris Holden, a Pasadena Democrat, had planned to introduce language on Monday that would have expanded last year’s wildfire bill to give PG&E relief for potential liability for the Camp Fire, which killed at least 85 people, but over the weekend, Holden said he would wait.

Housing

Lawmakers introduced several bills aimed at alleviating the state’s housing crisis on the first day of the legislative session, including twin efforts to revive a controversial funding source for affordable housing.

Assemblymember David Chiu, Democrat from San Francisco, reintroduced a bill that would revive and reform redevelopment agencies across the state. Eliminated by Gov. Brown in 2011 to close the state’s yawning budget deficit, redevelopment agencies provided about $1 billion annually for the construction and preservation of low-income housing. Loathed by Brown, tax funds raised by these agencies were frequently used for questionable purposes.

Two of Chiu’s colleagues in the state senate unveiled their own version of “Redevelopment 2.0” on Monday. Senator Jim. Beall, Democrat from San Jose, and Sen. Mike McGuire, Democrat from Marin, announced they will be introducing a series of bills in the coming weeks to ease the state’s housing crisis, although the specifics of their redevelopment bill or other pieces of legislation were not yet made public. On the campaign trail, Gov.-elect Newsom made restoring redevelopment funding a cornerstone of his housing plan.

Lawmakers introduced a handful of other housing bills, including efforts to increase emergency funding to renters on the brink of homelessness and a major expansion of tax credits to low-income housing developers. But the biggest housing bill of the session will likely be announced tomorrow.

Sen. Scott Wiener, Democrat from San Francisco, plans to reintroduce his controversial bill that would allow taller, denser buildings around public transit, a measure that was widely admired and summarily trounced last year.

Preschool

If there is a sure bet this legislative session, the expansion of early childhood education is as close as it comes.

Stymied for years by Gov. Brown, who was wary of putting the state on the financial hook for an obligation as long-term and expensive as, say, universal preschool, Democrats have come to the table well-armed. Earlier this year, a Stanford-led team of academicians issued a massive study recommending that California spend much more on pre-K education. And Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom, who has four young children, has been touting early childhood education for years.

On Monday, Democratic Assemblyman Kevin McCarty of Sacramento was first out of the gate, with a package of bills worth nearly $2 billion that would add about 84,000 full-day preschool slots, mostly for students living in poverty; put a $500 million bond on the 2020 ballot for the construction of new preschool facilities; and increase reimbursement rates for private childcare and preschool providers that contract with the state.

The legislation effectively would increase the pool of eligibility for subsidized preschool to include more 3- year-olds and all 4-year-olds living in school attendance areas where at least 70 percent of kids are on free or reduced lunch, a poverty indicator. One of the bills also would raise preschool learning standards to align them better with K-12 curriculum. “

Take Two

Or three. For the last two years legislative Democrats have proposed expanding government-funded health care to undocumented adults, the largest segment of Californians who lack access to insurance. Doing that is expensive, and the proposals failed to make it into the final budget Brown signed in 2017 and again this year.

Now Democratic Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula of Fresno and Sen. Ricardo Lara are trying again, introducing bills on Monday to expand Medi-Cal to cover adults over age 19 who are in the United States illegally.

Also getting another go are some high-profile bills Brown vetoed last year, including one inspired by the #MeToo movement to stop sexual harassment. Assembly Bill 9 by Democratic Assemblywomen Eloise Gomez Reyes and Laura Friedman would give victims more time to file a claim—extending the deadline from one year to three years after an incident.

Brown vetoed the same policy this year, saying the one-year deadline “ensures that unwelcome behavior is promptly reported and halted.” Supporters counter that more time gives workers who are unfamiliar with the legal system enough time to hold predators accountable.

Brown also vetoed legislation to require colleges to provide abortion pills at campus health clinics, saying “the services required by this bill are widely available off campus,” and that students, on average, only have to travel a few miles to get it. Newsom quickly told reportershe would have signed the bill, so it was little surprise Monday when Democratic Sen. Connie Leyva came out with a second go in the form of Senate Bill 24.

Gig Economy

A major source of angst or ebullience—depending on your view—at the end of the last session was a state court decision that threw a monkey wrench into a legal pillar of the gig economy.

The so-called “Dynamex ruling” makes it harder for employers to classify workers as independent contractors. Cheered by organized labor, it impacted workers from Uber drivers to businesses to emergency room doctors, and sent Chamber of Commerce lobbyists scrambling for relief, or at least clarification.

On Monday, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, a San Diego Democrat and labor ally, said she will introduce a bill to put a statutory bulwark around the ruling. Business interests, meanwhile, are hoping to soften the blow. Touching on competing goods from across the political spectrum—jobs, tech, small business, fair pay—this is one of those vexing issues that could challenge even a super-duper-mega-majority.

CALmatters’ Ricardo Cano and Matt Levin contributed to this report.

 

This article was originally published by CalMatters.org

HJTA’s 2018 scorecard identifies taxpayer allies, foes

Report CardIn 2018, perhaps scared off by the specter of an upcoming election and the recall of state Sen. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton, the California Legislature approved no new taxes for only the second time in the last six years. This was a radical departure from a year earlier, when three new taxes were approved.

However, that’s not to say that the Legislature didn’t try. New taxes on a host of items, including guns, fireworks, water and a sales tax on services were introduced without success. Next year, with tax-and-spend politicians holding a commanding two-thirds supermajority in both houses of the Legislature, the pressure to cave on new taxes will be even greater.

Considering what the future may hold, it is easy for taxpayers to question whether legislators will ever be held accountable. However, a useful tool to assist taxpayers is the annual legislative Report Card published by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. Introduced back in 2007, the purpose of the report card is to document how lawmakers have voted on those issues most important to taxpayers.

Lawmakers tend to hide behind statements, sometimes of questionable truth, to justify their votes. The report card sets aside motives, back-room deal negotiations and party affiliations to focus on the one question that matters: did legislators stand up for the interests of taxpayers? While politicians may waver in their allegiance, the numbers don’t lie.

To read the entire column, please click here.

California Taxpayers Give Thanks But Worry About the Future

taxesIn this season of Thanksgiving, taxpayers in California have reason to pause when asked for what they are thankful. Considering the costly plans of the newly elected Legislature and governor, taxpayers may be most grateful for the fact that the state hasn’t yet built a wall encircling the state to keep them from leaving.

After 2017, when lawmakers enacted new taxes including a $5.2 billion annual tax hike on gasoline, diesel and vehicle registration, as well as a new tax on recorded documents, 2018 saw every effort by the Legislature to increase taxes defeated by advocates for taxpayers.

We are grateful that the first-ever tax on drinking water was defeated.

We are grateful that the tax on fireworks was defeated, and that the effort to revive the “snack tax” was not successful.

We are grateful that the proposal to put a sales tax on services was shelved.

We are grateful that nearly a million voters signed petitions to repeal the gas and car tax. Of course, the bad news is that the gas tax repeal was given a new title by Attorney General Xavier Becerra that removed the words “gas tax repeal” from the ballot, deceiving voters.

To read the entire column, please click here.

California’s Legislators Lack Private Sector Experience

CapitolBack in the days of adding machines and manual ledgers, final election results in California were usually done by midnight on election day. Sometimes there would be a few precincts counting ballots into the wee hours of the morning, and you wouldn’t know a result till the next day. Fast forward to 2018, and the age of global interconnectedness, with instantaneous algorithmic management of everything from power grids to Facebook feeds, yet here in California the complete results of the 2018 midterms won’t be available until December 7th. Go figure.

While California’s ability to count ballots runs contrary to the otherwise dazzling march of progress, by now we have enough information to offer a pretty good look at California’s state Legislature for 2019-20. The Democratic supermajority has been re-established. With 28 confirmed seats in the Senate, and 56 in the Assembly, the Democrats hold 70 percent of the seats in both houses. Even if Republicans achieved the unlikely capture of all four Assembly seats that remain too close to call, nothing would change. Overall, so far there are 84 Democratic legislators, and only 32 Republicans.

How Many State Legislators Have Private Sector Experience?

Three election cycles ago, a California Policy Center analysis compared the biographies of California’s state legislators, asking how Republicans and Democrats differ in terms of what they did before they became politicians. To repeat this exercise, 2018 election results were obtained from the California Secretary of States “District Races” page for the Senate and the Assembly. For incumbents who were re-elected, biographies were obtained from the Senate and Assembly websites. For newcomers, a trip to Wikipedia, Ballotpedia, or their campaign websites was sufficient.

When one considers the professional background of California’s politicians, a clear pattern emerges. And while compiling this data requires some degree of subjective interpretation, no reasonable interpretation would fail to reveal dramatic differences in experience between Democrats and Republicans.

California State Legislature, 2019-2020 Membership
Business vs. Government Background

As seen on the above table, in California’s 2019-20 state senate, 79 percent of the Democrats have no private sector experience. On the other hand, 58 percent of the Republicans had no public sector experience prior to running for elected office, although most of them ran for local offices prior to running for state senate. The same story applies with California’s state assembly, where 73 percent of the Democrats have no private sector experience, and 55% of the Republicans have at least some private sector experience.

Before continuing, it’s interesting from this perspective to compare this 2019-20 state legislature to the 2013-2014 state legislature. Back then the proportions were generally the same, but there were almost no Democrats – only five in both houses – compared to 14 of them today. Conversely, back in 2013 there were 25 Republicans who had an exclusively business background prior to holding elected office, compared to only 15 today. Over the same period, the number of Republicans with only public sector experience prior to holding office has more than doubled, from four back in 2013 to 11 today. Overall there are now even fewer Republicans – down from a paltry 36/120 six years ago to a vanishing 32/120 today.

California State Legislature, 2013-2014 Membership
Business vs. Government Background

What might explain this tepid drift to the center, at least in terms of more Republican state legislators with public sector experience, and more Democratic state legislators with private sector experience?

One explanation could be the open primary, which makes it less likely an extreme candidate will survive the general election. Another could be the decision made around 2010 by California’s beleaguered business community to start supporting pro-business Democrats. Finally, as Republicans in California fade further into irrelevance, the alliances and allegiances formed in public sector work offer Republican candidates with that background a better chance of electoral success.

Public Sector Unions Pick Public Sector Careerists to Run for Public Office

Back in the 1950’s and 1960’s there were plenty of pro-business Democrats, so called “Pat Brown” Democrats, who worked with Gov. Brown Sr. to build freeways, bridges, power plants, and the finest system of water storage and conveyance the world had ever seen. Those same Democrats cooperated with Republican Governor Reagan a few years later to build the finest public university system in the world. The opportunities available to California’s middle class were unrivaled. What happened to these Democrats?

The problems began in the 1970’s when public sector unions were allowed to form. Steadily acquiring political power through automatic dues deductions, they used taxpayer’s money to lobby for the interests of government workers instead of the interests of the people they serve. Increasingly, business-backed candidates started losing races to candidates backed by government unions. Almost invariably, unions backed Democratic candidates. The more powerful these union-backed candidates became, the more laws they enacted to further consolidate their power. Today government union rule in California is absolute.

The tragedy of unionized government is not merely that they have taken over California’s state legislature and nearly every city, county and school board in the state in order to pursue their membership’s interest above the public interest. It is that most elected officials no longer understand business. These union anointed elected officials come from government agencies, union bureaucracies, nonprofits, activism, and public education. Most of California’s legislators have never had to balance a budget, make a payroll, or convince a customer to voluntarily purchase a product so they could earn a precarious profit in a competitive market.

California’s lawmakers, to the extent they are elected with the support of public sector unions and to the extent they lack business experience, not only face a conflict of interests every time they have to deal with a reform that threatens the power of the unions. They are also less qualified to understand the financial and operational realities that apply in any  efficiently ran, productive organization, large or small. They are in over their heads.

To exemplify this, consider how California’s democrats are crowing over a $6 billion budget surplus. Compare that $6 billion surplus to the nearly half-trillion in bond debt that California’s state and local governments have piled up, including another $23 billion on Nov. 6th. Compare that $6 billion surplus to, by most reasonable estimates, the more than half-trillion in unfunded retirement benefits that are going to blow sky high in the next market downturn.

Hint. A trillion is a thousand billion.

New Law to Prevent Fake News Will Cause Harm

Fake NewsRecently passed legislation in California that targets online bots purports to address the fake news problem and the undue influence of advertising. It accomplishes none of that. The legislation will, however, allow government officials to target ordinary behavior by companies, candidates and political organizations that is not conventionally considered “bot” activity.

The new law, which goes into effect in 2019, makes it illegal for anyone to use a bot to communicate with anyone in California online without disclosing that they are in fact using a bot. Though the law applies only to bots used to influence people’s purchases or votes, the law’s definition of “bot” is severely overbroad.

The law defines “bot” as “an automated online account where all or substantially all of the actions or posts of that account are not the result of a person.” Yet in our highly-automated world, this language can include innumerable activities that the legislation’s authors may not consider “bot” activity.

People who work in digital fields like social media, for instance, often use automated processes to complete simple, repetitive tasks that would otherwise take up valuable time. Many social media managers use a feature native to website platforms and media management tools that tweets new website posts automatically, as soon as they are posted on a company’s website. Organizations strapped for time and resources find this feature particularly helpful. If those posts are commercial or electoral in nature and do not state that they are bot-driven, it is possible that they would violate the law.

What about online store automated chats? These chats mimic the behaviors of customer support staff and exist to help guide users through purchases. Since customer service issues can often be solved without a single human interaction, these “bots” are far more cost-efficient than hiring additional employees. While many automated chat windows inform users they are not human so that users are not confused, some do not. Automated chats that do not disclose this information may violate California’s new law.

In the political realm, an increasing number of campaigns and committees have taken to texting supporters in much the same way they send emails. The goals of these texts vary from fundraising pushes to reminding people to vote, and the messages often include names like “Nancy Pelosi” or “Tom Cotton” to make them appear as though they originated from a big-named sender. While these texts are often approved by the person named, they are not written by the signed sender and their distribution is automated. Need a text identify itself as bot-sent under these circumstances? Under the new law, the answer is likely yes.

While all of these methods can be used nefariously, they are simply tools that can be used to achieve innocent ends. One can send an automated email to sell fraudulent goods or to sell a legitimate product. An automated campaign tweet can attempt to rally support or spread false news. Because the law as written casts such a wide net, it may be used to capture people who use bots for benign purposes.

Moreover, this law would not target the heart of the issues it purportedly addresses — fake news and fraudulent advertising. Fake news requires a human hand in the generation process because the stories are designed for shock value, often in a way that ties in current events, and thus may not be covered by the law. The concern with advertising bots relates to an incident where Russian bots tricked marketers into buying millions of dollars of video ads that never ended up acquiring real views. Yet it is unclear whether the law would substantially impede this sort of activity. In this instance, the bots did not interact with users but merely mimicked web surfers and gave the videos “views.” The law does not apply to bots that do not communicate with real people.

At best, the law will sit and collect dust. At worst, it will sweep many online stores, political committees and candidates into the justice system abyss. In practice, as with many vague laws, officials will likely apply them only to disfavored companies and groups.

Even if the law ends up requiring accounts that do spread fake news and false advertisements to be labeled as “bots,” the law will also apply to many legitimate publications and companies. This means that both legitimate and illicit automated systems will all have the “bot” label. And if everyone online is a bot, then nobody is a bot.

igital media manager and a fellow at the R Street Institute, a free-market think tank in Washington, D.C.