Jerry Brown (D)
SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline)—Sounding more like a Libertarian than a Democrat, California Attorney General Jerry Brown on Wednesday said the state’s regulatory framework “burdens” businesses and the courts.
Speaking to Legal Newsline, Brown decried over-regulation and the abundance of laws on California’s books. In the interview, he said the state has reached a point when legislating, in some instances, has become counterproductive.
“The whole framework of law is crucial for the operations of business enterprises,” Brown said. “But when over prescriptive, it creates a huge and growing amount of overhead and it does seem that we’re reaching the point of counter-productivity.”
California’s legal climate ranks in the bottom 10 of states. The state was ranked 44th in an annual survey by Harris Interactive of states’ legal climates from the perspective of in-house corporate counsel around the nation.
Earlier Wednesday, Brown delivered a lengthy speech to the 7th Annual General Counsel West Coast Convention, where the Democrat told corporate legal officers that California’s vast amount of environmental and workplace laws and regulations creates unnecessary litigation.
“We are moving every year to add more and more legal prescription to our lives, to our organizations, to our businesses and how we all function,” Brown said, estimating that the state has about 30,000 more laws today than when he was a two-term governor from 1975 to 1983.
“We’re overlaid too much with too many rules,” Brown said. “The real challenge for lawyers and legislators and chief executives is to do no harm and to add to the system ways that give more elbow room, more flexibility, more discretion, more judgment.”
Then, he said, it wont be so easy to sue in the Golden State.
In late September, a report by two California State University Sacramento professors — Sanjay Varshney and Dennis Tootelian — found that small businesses are indeed hamstrung by far-reaching state regulations.
The study said the cost of state regulation on small businesses in California is nearly a half trillion dollars annually and costs the state 3.8 million jobs.
“The capacity to manage people in society by unending escalation of pervasive legal prescription is questionable,” Brown said.
Too often public officials notice a problem, Brown said, and want to do something about it immediately.
“If the ‘something’ is only more law, then I would oppose that,” Brown said, noting that with each new statute comes disputes, litigation and subsequent appeals.
Brown pointed to the California Environmental Quality Act of 1970, signed by Republican Gov. Ronald Reagan, as an example of how a law’s reach can grow exponentially over time, and lead to a range of lawsuits.
The law requires environmental and other impacts, such as historical and aesthetic ones, to be considered when projects are proposed.
“That provides for a broad range of possible problems,” Brown said. “Never did (Gov. Reagan) dream that he was setting up a very comprehensive land-use function inside the judiciary.”
Brown’s speech to the General Counsel Convention comes as he considers a run for his party’s gubernatorial nomination next year. So far, no Democrat has officially entered the race.
On his political views, Brown, 71, told conference attendees that his core philosophy about government is “seasoned.” Brown has served as California secretary of state, governor, and mayor of Oakland, Calif., from 1998 to 2006. He was nicknamed “Governor Moonbeam” for some of his progressive ideas while in the statehouse.
“I certainly would not want to say I have not learned anything, because I have,” Brown said. “I guess I’m more taken with managing things.”
Brown, a three-time U.S. presidential hopeful, has not formally entered the gubernatorial race, but has formed an exploratory committee, allowing him to raise money for a potential bid.
Running for the GOP nomination to succeed Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is: former EBay Chief Executive Meg Whitman, former U.S. Rep. Tom Campbell and state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner.
On the Republican gubernatorial candidates, Brown told Legal Newsline that they are all “smart” but cautioned them that leading the state is “different than running a business,” taking a jab at Whitman and Poizner, who before entering politics was a high tech entrepreneur.
Schwarzenegger is unable to seek reelection because of term limits. Brown was governor before the term limits law was enacted, thus allowing him to run again.
From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at firstname.lastname@example.org.