What would make legislation in California truly ‘family friendly?’

Every year California politicians push bills advertised as “family friendly.” This label is certainly useful to gain sympathy for a proposal. It’s akin to labeling a bill “The Protect Puppies Act.” Who could possibly object to that except heartless cretins?

Last year a number of bills were advanced as “family friendly” including Senate Bill 63 by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara. Known as the “baby bonding” bill, it is now illegal for an employer of 20 or more employees to refuse to allow an eligible employee to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected parental leave to bond with a new child within one year of the child’s birth, adoption or foster-care placement. It also mandates that an employer maintain and pay for the employee’s continued group health coverage during the duration of the leave. Prior to the passage of this bill, parental leave was mandated only for companies with 50 or more employees.

Another “family friendly” bill that became law last year was Assembly Bill 1127, from Assemblyman Ian Calderon, D-Whittier. It requires that diaper-changing stations be available to dads as well as moms at sporting arenas, auditoriums, libraries, passenger terminals, shopping malls, large restaurants and other places.

It is difficult not to be sympathetic to legislation which, at least on the surface, appears to make life easier for parents. But does the family-friendliness of such proposals cloud the judgment of our policy leaders as to the potential downside? California already has a horrible reputation as being anti-business. Indeed, for more than a decade CEO Magazine has ranked California dead last among states as a place to do business.

It’s no secret that, even with a resurgent economy, California continues to bleed jobs. Its share of the growth in the national labor force is a fraction of what it should be, given our population. The trend line of citizens moving out of California — known as “net domestic outmigration” — is well documented.

So here’s the critical question: Is it “family friendly” to have parents lose their jobs because of California’s virulent anti-business environment? Mandates on businesses are a significant contributor to that environment, which also includes high taxes, incentives for frivolous lawsuits and excessive regulations.

California’s political elites seem to ignore the fact that all government mandates on the private sector come with a cost. Some businesses, especially large corporations, can absorb those costs with relative ease. But for many small businesses, even the most sympathetic mandate can put a squeeze on their bottom line.

These matters are best left for the free market. Because employees and customers appreciate “family-friendly” policies, they will be drawn to those businesses that adopt them. Private-sector establishments that don’t accommodate the reasonable needs of their workforce risk unfavorable publicity and may struggle to recruit and retain employees.

It’s possible to support family-friendly policies while also opposing a government mandate for those policies. In business as in families, one size doesn’t fit all.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. This column appeared in the Orange County Register.