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SACRAMENTO — Partisan squabbling over legislative deadlines could derail the push to reform the state’s unfair competition law. Democrats and Republicans are pointing fingers at each other over the now-troubled status of a handful of reform bills waiting to be heard by the Assembly Judiciary Committee. If the bills are not heard soon, they will become inactive until January. That would disappoint tort reformers and others closely watching the push to reform the law, Business & Professions Code � 17200. Although the reformers have pitched changes for several years, they have gained support this year after several plaintiffs firms came under investigation for allegedly abusing the law. Now the reformers, led by the Civil Justice Association of California, are aligned with defendants — mostly small business owners in Southern California — that have been sued by small business owners. If the bills die on technicalities, the tort reformers could retaliate by introducing a ballot initiative, something they’ve talked about for years. East Bay Assemblywoman Ellen Corbett, the Democratic chair of the Judiciary Committee, has said she wants to hear all the 17200 bills in one hearing, which she wants to hold May 13. But the deadline to hear some of those bills was last week. Assembly Republicans agreed to waive that deadline, but, in return, are requiring that Corbett’s committee hear the bills by Friday. Corbett said she doesn’t know why Republicans want to give her such a limited window to hear the bills, which she said were “complex” and required “a lot of deliberation.” Corbett’s office has been aware of the issue since at least December, when Assemblyman Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, announced he wanted to reform 17200. Peter DeMarco, press secretary for Republican Assembly leader Dave Cox of Sacramento, said the Friday deadline was the result of negotiations between party leaders and that it applied to all bills granted rule waivers. “Mrs. Corbett has demanded on repeated occasions that bills be heard according to her own personal schedule. It’s that type of gross arrogance that causes this house not to run in a manner that the people of California deserve,” DeMarco said. In response, Corbett said Judiciary hears a larger proportion of bills than other committees and often gets backed up in May. She said this year is no different, except for Republicans’ reluctance to grant the additional deadline waivers. “There’s no doubt that the remark by the Republican staffer is preposterous. I simply asked for the hearing to be held in the regular time and place that the hearings are always held and with adequate time. . . . That’s what the people of California deserve,” Corbett said. Corbett said she’s optimistic that she will be able to get Republicans to give her another waiver to allow her to proceed on May 13. DeMarco said another waiver would have to be negotiated by his boss and Speaker of the Assembly Herb Wesson. The haggling is over five bills: Correa’s bill, three by Republicans and one by Corbett, although the assemblywoman’s bill is still a “spot” measure and doesn’t have substantial language. “I’m not interested in putting my own bill at risk because of Republican problems with the waivers,” Corbett said. Sources on both sides of the debate said they are confused by the back-and-forth and believed that the hearing, which they wanted to attend, was on another day altogether. Bruce Brusavich, president of Consumer Attorneys of California, which is opposed to any significant reform, said last week he believed the committee hearing was going to be Tuesday. That’s the same day that about 150 attorneys will descend on the capitol for CAOC’s annual lobby day. Pro-reform groups, including coalitions representing auto shops targeted in the Southern California plaintiffs suits, had also heard that the Assembly committee would hear the 17200 proposals Tuesday. Corbett said she had never planned to hear the bills Tuesday and doesn’t know where people got that idea. The Senate Judiciary Committee, led by Sen. Martha Escutia, D-Montebello, operates under the same committee deadlines as Corbett’s committee. It also plans to request rule waivers so it can hear its 17200 bills after deadlines have passed, according to staff.

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