Personal drones remain free to fly the CA sky

DronePublic and private interests have combined in California to discourage statewide legislation regulating the use of personal drones, putting the prospect of new rules on ice indefinitely.

Gov. Jerry Brown went out of his way to sink prior legislation that would have applied a layer of state law to California drone operators. “But not every governmental authority feels that it has enough power to deal with drones,” as the San Francisco Chronicle noted. “An increasing number of California cities, worried about the safety and privacy of their citizens, have passed laws restricting drone use. The result is a patchwork, and one that might be thoroughly cleared up with state legislation. But this year, it seems highly unlikely that legislation will even make it to the governor’s desk.”

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Supporters of the rules Brown vetoed had hoped to find a way forward. But this year, “the pushback to new rules is coming not from the governor but through the lobbying efforts of a budding industry that hopes to influence policy at the state Capitol and nationwide,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

“As drones multiply in number and category, cities and states want to set boundaries. But drone manufacturers and associations this legislative session boosted their politicking, successfully beating back several bills they said would create a patchwork of laws that vary by state and hinder innovation.”

Although each bill initially passed, both were killed off in committee. “Senate Bill 868 failed on a vote in the Assembly Privacy and Consumer Protection Committee, while Assembly Bill 1820 was voted down by the Senate Judiciary Committee,” as the Electronic Freedom Foundation, which opposed the legislation, enthused. With consumer interest in drones growing and going mainstream — the gadgets can now readily be acquired online or in big box stores like Target or Best Buy — lobbyists would appear to have public opinion on their side, at least until the volume of drones in the skies reaches a considerably greater size.

Fire focus

The impact of drone law on the Golden State has come under greater scrutiny this summer as a grueling fire season has dangerously attracted amateur operators. As CNBC recently reported, “Firefighters battling the Sand Fire in Southern California had to shut down aerial firefighting operations for about 30 minutes after an unauthorized drone entered airspace that the FAA put under temporary restriction due to the active wildfire.” To the frustration of firefighters nationwide, wildfire intrusion incidents involving drones have “more than doubled from 2014 to 2015,” the network noted, citing the U.S. Department of the Interior.

To address the problem, the federal government has taken the first step toward a comprehensive new approach. The Interior Department recently rolled out a “national system intended to prevent hobby drones from interfering with planes and helicopters fighting wildfires,” the Associated Press noted, with a pilot project offering a “smartphone app and real-time wildfire information to create virtual boundaries, or geofences, that drones can’t cross.”

The Interior Department partnered on the project with drone navigation data companies AirMap and Skyward and the leading manufacturer of civilian drones, DJI, opening up its Integrated Reporting Wildland-Fire Information database. Through the new program, “information contained in the database is immediately pushed to drone pilots through apps on their smartphones, with the smartphones themselves typically used to navigate in combination with the drone’s GPS,” according to the AP.

A California edge

In fact, the onset of new federal regulations around drone usage has helped strengthen California’s lead in drone technology and performance. As the California Council on Science and Technology recently observed, “The new rules on commercial drone usage allow farmers to use drones to help more precisely monitor water usage, allowing more efficient use of water.” In the interest of pushing similar functions ahead, the Tesla Foundation has partnered with the San Bernardino International Airport to launch a national center for commercial drone research, the National Commercial Drone Research Center, the CCST reported.

This piece was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

New smoking age to take effect in California

As reported by the Associated Press:

Andrew Rodriguez was 15 years old when he smoked his first cigarette. He knows how addictive smoking can be and hopes a new California law raising the smoking age will discourage young people from taking up the habit.

“I think it’s better,” said the 21-year-old chef-in-training from Los Angeles. “I just hope they don’t raise the drinking age.”

Beginning Thursday, smokers have to be at least 21 to buy tobacco products in California. The nation’s most populous state joins Hawaii and more than 100 municipalities in raising the legal smoking age from 18 to 21. Anyone who sells or gives tobacco to people under 21 could be found guilty of a misdemeanor crime.

Huthyfa Ali, a convenience store clerk near downtown Los Angeles, doesn’t expect the new rule to affect business since he doesn’t serve many teenage customers. Ali applauded the effort to deter minors from using tobacco products, but noted that determined youngsters tend to find a way around the law.

“Sometimes they send other people to buy for them. Maybe some people will be too scared to ask” under the new law, he said.

The push to raise the minimum smoking age in California stalled for months over …

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New Overtime Rules Burden CA Small Businesses

Money

The Department of Labor’s new overtime rules come at a jarring time for California businesses which have seen recent changes in California laws to increase both the minimum wage and mandated leave. Small business employers can’t catch a breath before a new mandate comes down affecting their employees and ultimately their bottom line.

The Department of Labor’s new rule allows workers earning $47,476 annually time-an-a-half for every hour they work beyond 40 hours. The previous annual salary threshold for requiring time-an-a-half pay was $23,660.

National Federation of Independent Business California State Executive Director Tom Scott said in a release responding to the new rule, “We see this as particularly troubling here in California where the cost of doing business is already prohibitively high. Small businesses are still grappling with the news of a $15 minimum wage; now they have to go through each salary exempt position and decide which employees they have to shift to hourly workers. This will adversely affect workplace morale as many will view this adjustment as a demotion.”

However, there is a way for employees of all stripes to get a pay increase without affecting a businesses bottom line. Unfortunately, because of the increased burdens California businesses face more businesses are looking at this benefit for their employees: Move to a state with no income tax.

If an employee receives the same wage in, say, Texas or Nevada, which have no income taxes, more money stays in the employees’ pocket. It’s like a pay raise without the companies increasing payroll.

Too many California businesses are doing the math because of the constant attack on their bottom line.

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

California drought rules eased significantly

As reported by the San Jose Mercury News:

This summer’s drought rules in California are going to be a whole lot looser than last summer’s.

In a major shift, the administration of Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday announced plans to drop all statewide mandatory water conservation targets it had imposed on urban areas last June.

The new rules, which are expected to be approved May 18 by the State Water Resources Control Board, would instead allow more than 400 cities, water districts and private companies to each set their own water conservation targets, as long as they report them to state officials.

Water agencies, particularly in Southern California and around Sacramento, had complained bitterly about the statewide rules, saying that …

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CA Democrats Want to Unionize and Regulate Models

modelsMarin County Democrat Assemblyman Marc Levine is moving forward legislation aimed at unionizing models and having the Labor Commission regulate their bodies.

Despite strong objections from state theatrical talent and modeling agencies, Levine sponsored Assembly Bill 2539, referred to as “Promoting Healthy Images,” which recently passed out of Committee on Labor and Employment on a five-to-two vote and is headed to the State Assembly floor.

Although Levine claims his legislation is part of the “struggle” to protect women’s health, the real struggle he is focused on is the “struggle” to rescue the collapsing union movement. Levine’s legislation is aimed at converting models from independent contractors into employees of modeling agencies licensed by the California Labor Commission.

California, with 2.4 million union members out of a population of 38.8 million, has the largest number of unionized workforce members in the United States, and the second largest unionized percentage of the workforce at 16.3 percent, second only to New York at 24.6 percent.

When 36.1 percent of California’s workforce was unionized fifty years ago, there were almost no government union members. But the state’s public sector union membership now equals 1.3 million, while private sector union membership has fallen to just 1.1 million.

According to the “On Labor blog,” which represents “workers, unions, and their politics,” there is a “current crisis in the traditional union movement” that can only be turned around with “new and contested forms of worker organization that are filling the labor union gap.”

That “contested form of worker organization” is the effort to unionize so called “gig economy,” which has been revolutionizing employer/employee relationships by shifting what has traditionally been considered full-time work into a series of short-term engagements filled by legally contracted individuals as “free agents.”

Unions have been the main supporters of class-action litigation in northern California, O’Connor v. Uber, that seeks to eliminate Uber Technologies Inc.’s contract arbitration agreements, with the goal of unionizing 240,000 Uber drivers.

Models have always been part of this “on demand economy,” because their “work” is structured into small projects of limited duration. Although only about one percent of U.S. adults are engaged in “gig jobs,” a study by tax experts at Intuit suggests that with employee benefit costs exceeding 46 percent of wages, and workplace litigation spiking, gig employment will rise to 40 percent of employment.

At the committee hearing, Assemblyman Levine paraded through a group of ex-models who told horror stories about the use laxatives and diuretics; binging and purging; exercising to exhaustion; eating only one rice cake per day; or swallow cotton balls soaked in orange juice to fill their stomachs and stop their hunger pains.

Levine argued that fashion models face widespread and dangerous occupational demands to maintain extreme and unhealthy thinness. He stated, “We want to make sure we are able to protect people in the workplace and make sure, quite frankly, that the images that young people see are healthy images.”

Opponents of the proposed legislation include a number of modeling agencies and the Association of Talent Agents. The group argues that their member agencies are already committed to promoting the health and well-being of all artists, but that the bill “creates major disruption and legal confusion for state licensed talent agencies, doesn’t resolve the real issue, and is unworkable.”

Originally published by Breitbart.com

Thoughtless Bureaucrats and Driverless Cars

google car2California’s Legislature set out in 2012 “to encourage the current and future development, testing and operation of autonomous vehicles on the public roads of the state” — but now, the state is poised effectively to ban such cars from the roads and highways. The Department of Motor Vehicles held a public workshop in Sacramento in late January and another in Los Angeles in early February to discuss draft regulations for autonomous vehicles. Though the rules won’t be finalized before the end of the year, the news so far isn’t good — for the cars. Under the cover of “consumer protection,” the DMV proposes to limit the rollout of autonomous technology by, among other things, barring its commercial use, precluding truly autonomous operation, and prohibiting private sale and ownership of self-driving cars.

The DMV is best known for ensuring that 16-year-olds are minimally competent behind the wheel of traditional motor vehicles; it has no particular expertise in evaluating the appropriateness of vehicle-safety requirements. But that hasn’t stopped the department from imposing an excess of caution on the approval of autonomous-vehicle technology. The idea of cars or trucks operating without steering wheels or human drivers is exciting to entrepreneurs and commuters. Google’s autonomous car would have no steering wheel, or even pedals. A delivery service such as Google Express would likely roll out without drivers. Uber is researching how to replace drivers as well. Shipping and logistics companies also envision a future when goods move from harbors to warehouses in autonomous trucks. More than a dozen disabled activists appeared at the hearing in Los Angeles to urge the DMV to allow purely autonomous vehicles, saying they would be a boon for people, such as the blind, who are incapable of driving right now. But the idea is terrifying to bureaucrats and regulators. The DMV’s smothering — and costly — approach will likely become state policy, squelching such innovations.

Keeping driverless cars off the streets is one thing; why ban their sale entirely? DMV chief information officer Bernard Soriano said last month that because the proposed rules would place a three-year limit on the use of approved vehicles, buyers likely wouldn’t receive much benefit over such a short period of ownership. Furthermore, the DMV believes that by prohibiting sales, the rules would protect early adopters of the technology from being stuck with vehicles that are later deemed unsafe by the department. Finally, the DMV maintains that leased vehicles, which remain under the ownership of the vehicle manufacturer, will be easier to collect data from.

The first of the rationales is the most compelling, but only compared with the others. With only three years before retirement, a purchased vehicle’s value — much of it traditionally recouped in its resale — would be destroyed by these regulations. The rule would shift a greater financial burden onto manufacturers and all but guarantee that the only people able to afford early vehicles, even by leasing them, will be wealthy. If anything, the three-year sunset requirement is itself a constructive ban on ownership, which makes the DMV’s second rationale irrelevant. If a small, wealthy segment of the population is aware of the state’s strictures and doesn’t mind temporarily possessing a vehicle that’s doomed by law, it can certainly afford the risk. The state’s supposed desire to protect these people from loss seems at once unnecessary and disingenuous.

The DMV’s third and final rationale — compliance with reporting requirements—is even more poorly conceived. As with every vehicle sold today, the manufacturer, for better or worse, controls the technology used and the data it produces. When you buy or lease a car, you sign a contract that says so explicitly. So the DMV would have access to any safety data it likes, regardless of whether the “owner” is the manufacturer or the end user.

Without question, prohibiting private sale and ownership of self-driving cars and trucks would destroy value and raise costs. Google has already threatened to take its autonomous vehicle business elsewhere. Given that outcome, the DMV’s justifications simply don’t hold up. So why would the DMV push prohibition with such gusto? Why would the state pursue policies to discourage the adoption of vehicles that, by virtually all accounts, would be orders of magnitude safer than traditionally operated vehicles? And, how does a department charged with enacting the will of the legislature land so far afield of the legislature’s stated goal of creating a legal framework that promotes autonomous vehicles? Very simply, lawmakers deferred too much authority to a bureaucracy, and California’s motorists will pay the price.

Unintended Consequences of Uber Boom

There’s been a lot of chatter in California these days about Uber, Lyft and so-called “transportation network companies,” or TNCs – and why not?  After all, these evolving services were “born” in the Golden State, which has earned renown as a beacon and world leader of innovation and technology. Consumers, the media and many politicians have focused their attention on this popular phenomenon as it moves as rapidly as its driver-owned fleet.

UberBut, looking closer at the issue, this baby boomer can’t help but cite a few choice words from a Crosby, Stills and Nash hit: “Traveling twice the speed of sound, it’s easy to get burned.”  What many leaders are now rightly taking into consideration are the unintended consequences of these TNCs – a safe and competitive landscape for consumers, the marketplace and our highways.

Thankfully, many leaders in the State Capitol are realizing that we need to know more about the Ubers of the world – what they do, how they operate, how they are regulated, and what this means for the future. In recent weeks, a joint legislative hearing was convened to focus on just that, and the facts speak for themselves. There was general unanimity that these new technologies are a good thing if done right, but too many uncertainties remain. Will this new service lead to less traffic or more? Does it exclude certain California consumers while favoring others? What are the views and perspectives of both driver and passenger? How seamless is the background check process for all drivers? Many unknowns persist all-around. In fact, the lobbyist for one TNC wasn’t even aware of the rough number of cars they have on the highway.

Much of the emphasis during this hearing and otherwise has been on the fallout this new “app” service has had on other people-moving services, notably taxis and limousines, but there has been little, if any, public discussion about its impact on another major contributor to jobs, the economy and our communities: California’s same-day delivery industry.

These are the mostly mom-and-pop family businesses that deliver vital goods and products like blood, medical supplies, rare construction parts and legal documents to local customer’s door-to-door, business-to-business, in real time. To be clear, the owners of these businesses are not “anti-TNC”, and they realize they must keep up with the times to be competitive. As times change, so must they and their business models to court the customer with best-in-class pricing, cutting-edge technologies and quality customer service. And the majority of these companies are, in fact, doing just that.

We believe in a free and competitive marketplace. That’s not our concern. What is problematic is that the delivery industry, many that have been in existence for 20, 30, 40 years or more and operating on razor-thin margins, are required to comply with specific motorist regulations and requirements while these TNCs are not being subjected to the same level of enforcement and accountability.

The current law requires that delivery companies must possess a Motor Carrier Permit through the DMV to move goods for hire. TNCs are not being held to the same standard and are, in fact, moving products from Point A to Point B with no permit and ignoring the law.

Delivery companies must obtain adequate insurance to ensure that the general public is protected. TNCs aren’t held to that same standard. Not only is this unfair, it puts the lives of millions in our communities at risk.

As our legislative leaders debrief from this recent hearing and consider next steps, we urge them to consider policy that will bring accountability and safety for all of us:

  • A better-defined Motor Carrier Permit that spells out guidelines for transporting both goods and people
  • Reasonable insurance requirements for drivers and companies in the transportation community
  • Improved accountability and uniformity for background checks and fingerprinting for all related personnel to maximize safety for consumers, employees and others on the highways and roads
  • And better clarification and simplification of the definition of “independent contractor” versus “employee”.

The goal here is to identify changes and a proposal that all motorist stakeholders – delivery companies, TNCs, taxi services, livery services and others – have had a role in shaping and support.

Our small business members believe in running the race – after all, they do it every day when they open the doors of their business – but our leaders in Sacramento need to foster an environment that allows all of us to compete on a level – and safe – playing field.

Executive Director, California Delivery Association.

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Aloe Vera Added to Prop. 65 List

Aloe VeraThere are two very different types of actors in the realm of making our economy tick. Entrepreneurs wake of every day trying to think of new ways to innovate, to expand, and thus create new jobs. Then there are the regulators in Sacramento who wake up every day thinking of new, creative ways to add burdens and barriers to operating your business in California and beyond. Their latest regulatory red alert: Aloe vera.

You read that correctly: Aloe vera. In December of last year, the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) published its intent to list Aloe vera, whole leave extract to the Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer. Despite the widely accepted extensive health benefits of Aloe vera, an unelected regulator in Sacramento can now tell you and all consumers it will cause cancer, even if no cases of cancer from Aloe vera exposure exist.

The problem is that the 800+ chemicals listed in Proposition 65 are not devised to protect consumers, but rather serve as a cash cow for private trial lawyers to sue small business and reap the hefty settlement payout. Since 1986, nearly 20,000 lawsuits have been filed, adding up to over half a billion dollars in settlement payments by business owners.

Unfortunately, the most profitable thing regulators give to trial lawyers at the expense of job creators is confusion. Recent Proposition 65 proposed regulatory revisions create compliance difficulties, increase frivolous litigation, and add consumer confusion.

Included in these proposed revisions are additional Prop 65 labeling requirements on the immediate container or wrapper of products containing at least one of the twelve chemicals listed by OEHHA. However, the chemical(s) only need to be listed if it exists at a “level that requires a warning.” Which products need a Prop 65 warning label and which do not? A lawyer only needs to know the chemical exists to take legal action; the costly burden to prove it exists at a safe level falls on the business owner.

Beyond package labels and chemical lists, new proposed regulations seek to further specify even the acceptable font size for Prop 65 warning signs. Most business owners would not know that the font on a Prop 65 warning must be “no smaller than one half the largest type size used for other consumer information.” The average small business coffee shop owner is likely unaware that he or she may be at serious risk for a frivolous lawsuit because of a minor font size error.

Confused yet? The bottom line is that these regulations exist to cause confusion, and the latest addition of aloe vera to the list of chemicals known to the state to cause cancer only further confuses both consumers and small businesses. Every time a chemical is added to the Prop. 65 list, it simply creates one more avenue for trial lawyers to sue.

If our regulators and legislators in Sacramento spent half as much effort thinking of ways to support small business as they do devising new creative ways to regulate them, perhaps California would not be ranked dead last for its business climate by CEO Magazine ten years in a row, nor would we be listed as the #1 Judicial Hellhole by the American Tort Reform Foundation.

Small businesses reflect the lifeblood of every community across California and the nation. Each day, entrepreneurs struggle to thrive in spite of additional mandates and regulations—now small businesses can add aloe vera to their list of things to worry about. Let’s instead focus on policies that support small business, not regulations that add to the cost of doing business in California.

CA Executive Director, National Federation of Independent Business.

For more than 70 years, the National Federation of Independent Business has been the Voice of Small Business, taking the message from Main Street to the halls of Congress and all 50 state legislatures. NFIB has 350,000 dues-paying members nationally, with over 22,000 in California. NFIB annually surveys its members on state and federal issues vital to their survival as America’s economic engine and biggest creator of jobs. To learn more visit www.NFIB.com/california.

Scientist Debunks Claim That E-Cigs Are As Dangerous As Tobacco

e-cigaretteA study making headlines across the world claiming two e-cigarette products “damaged cells in ways that could lead to cancer,” is under fire from a leading public health expert.

Conducted by a research team at the University of California, San Diego, the study investigated how e-cigarettes may contribute to the development and progression of a cancer known as head and neck squamous cell carcinoma.

The research team “created an extract from the vapor of two popular brands of e-cigarettes and used it to treat human cells in Petri dishes. Compared with untreated cells, the treated cells were more likely to show DNA damage and die.”

What was the result?

“The exposed cells showed several forms of damage, including DNA strand breaks. The familiar double helix that makes up DNA has two long strands of molecules that intertwine. When one or both of these strands break apart and the cellular repair process doesn’t work right, the stage is set for cancer.”

One of the study’s authors even went on to claim “they [e-cigarettes] are no better than smoking regular cigarettes.” Combined with a hyperbolic press release, the study has triggered a wave of headlines claiming vaping is just as dangerous as smoking.

But Dr. Michael Siegel, a professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at Boston University School of Public Health, with 25 years of experience in the field of tobacco control has dissected the most sensational claims of both the researchers and headline writers.

In a statement sent to The Daily Caller News Foundation, Siegel said, “this study confirms previous findings that e-cigarette vapor can cause damage to epithelial cell lines in culture, and that the damage caused by e-cigarette vapor is much lower than that caused by tobacco smoke. However, it cannot be concluded from this cell culture study that e-cigarette vapor actually has toxic or carcinogenic effects in humans who use these products.”

“In particular, the dose at which e-cigarette vapor was found to have an adverse effect was much higher than the actual dose that a vapor receives. Nevertheless, one of the co-authors concluded publicly that based on these results, e-cigarette use is no less hazardous than cigarette smoking.”

Siegel added that “not only is this conclusion baseless, but it is damaging to the public’s health. It undermines decades of public education about the severe hazards of cigarette smoking. To declare that smoking is no more hazardous than using e-cigarettes, a non-tobacco-containing product is a false and irresponsible claim.”

One of Siegel’s chief concerns about the misrepresentation of e-cigarettes is many ex-smokers who took up vaping may switch back to regular cigarettes if they believe there is no difference between the two. “This will cause actual human health damage, not merely damage to some cells in a laboratory culture,” says Siegel.

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Originally published by the Daily Caller News Foundation

Leaking Gas Well Lacked Working Safety Valve

As reported by the Los Angeles Times:

A leaking natural gas well that has displaced thousands of residents in Porter Ranch lacked a working safety valve, sparking new questions about how the facility was maintained.

Attorneys for residents suing Southern California Gas Co. said the company failed to replace the safety valve when it was removed in 1979.

The safety valve may not have prevented the leak, but it would have stopped the continued release of fumes pouring into the community, attorney Brian Panish said in an interview Sunday.

SoCal Gas spokeswoman Melissa Bailey confirmed in an email to The Times that the well did not have …

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