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Though it technically has nothing to do with balancing California’s state books, the Private Attorneys General Act — known to some as the “Sue Your Boss” law — has become ensnared in the budget talks. The law, written by California State Sen. Joseph Dunn and passed in the waning hours of last fall’s legislative session, lets employees bring civil suits and recover civil penalties for violations of the state’s Labor Code. Opponents of the measure, including the state Chamber of Commerce, have called the measure a “job killer,” and members of the Republican leadership are now holding out for its repeal as a condition of passing this year’s spending plan. Democratic leaders have said they would not repeal the measure, although a separate Dunn-sponsored bill, SB 1809, would revise the law so that technical violations — an employer’s failure to post rules in the workplace, for example — wouldn’t give rise to a cause of action. “It ain’t going to be repealed — case closed,” California state Senate President pro tem John Burton told reporters at a press conference Monday. “I will neither agree to an actual repeal or a de facto appeal,” Dunn said. California State Senate Republican Leader Dick Ackerman, R-Irvine, described last year’s passage of SB 796 as “one of those last-minute slam jobs.” He said the move to repeal the bill gathered steam last week when budget negotiations derailed over local government spending. Ackerman theorized that interest in the repeal of Dunn’s bill got a shot in the arm from publicity surrounding Prop 64, a California initiative that seeks to make it more difficult to bring suits under the state’s unfair competition law. The California Chamber of Commerce has also publicized figures saying that its own review shows that the “cost of doing business in California” exceeds $336 million for just nine companies sued as a result of SB 796. “There have been real lawsuits filed against real companies for real money,” said Ackerman. “That kind of turned it into a high priority.” James Sturdevant, the president of the Consumer Attorneys of California, said his group did not “support, didn’t sponsor and didn’t testify” on behalf of SB 796 when it passed. Nevertheless, he chided the Republican leadership for using budget negotiations as a battleground for discussions about repealing the bill. “Thrown into the hopper are real legislative and public policy issues which ought to have a regular process to be debated and heard and considered,” said Sturdevant. Labor lawyers around the state of California say they are seeing provisions of the bill used with increasing frequency since it went into effect at the beginning of the year. “It’s going to be used a lot, and it’s going to be used in some really bizarre ways,” said Tony Skogen, managing partner of Littler Mendelson’s Los Angeles office. “Every class action wage-and-hour lawsuit filed now will have a cause of action pursued under [SB 796].” “We have not brought any cases, but we’re certainly thinking about it with any wage-and-hour cases that come up,” said Alan Exelrod, an employee-side labor lawyer at San Francisco’s Rudy, Exelrod & Zieff. Dunn, a Garden Grove Democrat and plaintiffs lawyer who is one of three declared candidates for attorney general in 2006, said supporters of the SB 796 repeal might also be hoping that the “Sue Your Boss” label will hurt him at the polls. “It may well be an attempt to involve me in an effort they think will derail my efforts in ’06, said Dunn. “I have no idea what those efforts will do to my desires in the ’06 election cycle.”

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