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Legislation that would make California’s 1,200 court interpreters full-time state employees passed California’s Assembly Labor and Employment Committee easily Wednesday, despite a last-ditch effort by a court interpreter’s organization to kill the bill. Representatives from the California Court Interpreters Association, which claims more than 800 members statewide, launched its attack on SB 371 just one day prior to the heated hearing. The group did so after the bill’s author, Sen. Martha Escutia, D-Whittier, rejected a proposed CCIA amendment that would allow interpreters the option of remaining independent contractors. Under the bill, which passed 5-1, court interpreters now working on a per diem basis would become court employees eligible for health and pension benefits and would have the right to organize. While not opposing the general gist of the legislation, CCIA representative Arturo C�sarez said the bill was flawed because it would prohibit interpreters from working outside the profession, which is essential given that many interpreters, including C�sarez, who’s a firefighter, work more than one job. “Let’s keep it as a profession and not a job classification,” said C�sarez, who predicted that passage of the legislation would result in a significant drop in the number of interpreters at a time when the state is already short-handed. He also questioned where the courts would get the money to pay for new benefits and accused the Administrative Office of the Courts of submitting to political pressure by not opposing the bill. Upon being notified Monday night that Escutia wouldn’t amend her bill to allow for independent contractors, CCIA had just one day to rally opposition and lobby committee members. On Tuesday, more than 300 opponents of the bill called the office of committee Chairman Paul Koretz, D-West Hollywood, and nearly a dozen witnesses, including academics and court interpreters, testified against the bill Wednesday. But there was strong support for the bill from unions, with heavy lobbying by the California State Council of Service Employees, the Communication Workers of America, the California Federation of Interpreters and the Bay Area Court Interpreters Association. Escutia told the committee that her legislation is designed to provide basic workplace protections for an underrepresented group. Her bill “would make the judiciary more responsive to the new California,” she said. Escutia also made it clear that she wasn’t going to cave in to CCIA’s demands. In an e-mail message to CCIA, Escutia’s chief of staff, Suzanne Wierbinski, wrote: “Allowing every individual interpreter to decide whether to be an employee or an independent contractor is not in the best interest of the state and interpreters. It does not encourage the state courts to make a commitment to interpreters, or interpreters to make a commitment to working for the state courts, and it results in perpetuating the same problems that exist at present time.” The Judicial Council isn’t taking a position on the bill, according to Ray LeBov, the director of the Office of Governmental Affairs, though the council did have some concerns about the bill, including whether a ban on independent contractors would result in a net loss of interpreters. “Many interpreters who wish to remain independent contractors and work for the courts will not be able to do so; rather, they will be confronted with a choice regarding whether to work for the courts as employees or work somewhere else,” an AOC memorandum stated. Still, C�sarez lashed out at the council’s lack of assertiveness on the bill. “Escutia controls the purse strings,” he said of the AOC. “They are powerless to oppose [her].” “They need their construction funding to come through,” C�sarez added, referring to the $5 billion the judicial branch will need in the next 10 years for courthouse improvements. Asked about those statements, LeBov just shook his head. The bill now goes to the state Assembly Appropriations Committee.

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