The Independent normally doesn’t take stances on legislation. These are not normal times.
The California legislature passed two bills on Monday that are critical to the survival of local newspapers — AB 2257 and AB 323. We thank our state representatives Assemblymember Cottie-Petrie Norris (D-Laguna Beach) and Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) for voting to pass both of these bills. We hope Gov. Gavin Newsom signs them.
AB 2257 exempts freelance writers, photojournalists, editors, and cartoonists that have been employed by newspapers and news websites for years from the onerous state regulations of independent contractors. Last year, legislators passed AB 5 granting exemptions to dozens of professions while setting an arbitrary cap of 35 assignments per company per year for writers and photographers.
The bill’s supporters said they codified the California Supreme Court decision in Dynamex Operations West v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County. It’s noteworthy to mention the 35-assignment cap was the result of good-faith negotiations with the California Newspaper Publishers Association, not a court decision.
We believe AB 5 made life harder for freelancers who report essential local news. The reality is that the national decline in print advertising revenue has forced newspapers to layoff or not replace journalists who decide to exit the industry. Instead, many newspapers rely on freelancers to fill in the gaps once occupied by full-time employees. Without them, many important stories would go unreported or underreported.
After meeting with freelance writers earlier this year, AB 5 author Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) introduced AB 2257 to extend the same exemption to journalists as offered to other professionals. The Independent thanks her for this.
Unfortunately, Gonzalez has taken a hardline against AB 323, introduced by Blanca Rubio (D- Baldwin Park) that will delay a requirement that newspaper distribution companies hire independent contractors, the individuals who throw newspapers on readers’ driveways, until Jan. 1, 2022. While we’re grateful that legislators recognized the hardship of asking publishers to shoulder additional distribution costs during a pandemic, more action is needed to prevent subscription price hikes or putting newspapers out of business.
Sen. Pat Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) suggested an amendment that would have permanently solved this problem by exempting newspaper distributors and carriers from AB 5 but it was rejected by Democrats in the State Senate. This is beyond disappointing.
We appreciate Gonzalez’s efforts to improve working conditions for newspaper carriers across California. This effort shouldn’t come at the expense of informing the public and preventing journalists from earning a living.
Steve Zepezauer, CEO of Firebrand Media
Daniel Langhorne, Managing Editor of The Laguna Beach Independent