Bustamante’s appointment part of a plot to dismantle the FEHC


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It turns out that Santa Ana Councilman Carlos Bustamante’s nomination by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to the California Fair Employment & Housing Commission (FEHC) is part of a gambit by Schwarzenegger to destroy the FEHC.

A post in the California Progress Report brought this to light:

Next Tuesday, September 18 at the Federal Building in San Francisco there will be a hearing before the California Fair Employment and Housing Commission (FEHC), the very same body that the Schwarzenegger Administration’s is proposing to virtually dismantle, on the administration’s plans.

Rosario Marin, a Schwarzenegger Cabinet Member and the Secretary of the State and Consumer Services Agency which is responsible for civil rights enforcement, and whose agency includes the FEHC is apparently committed to making these changes without having consulted the legislature and despite concerns from legislators. But she needs the consent of the members of the Fair Employment of Housing Commission. This should make for an interesting hearing, since the Governor appoints all of the members of the Commission and three of it’s members terms of office expire this month. No pressure there, eh? This should be an interesting one to watch.

Marin was confirmed by the California Senate on January 17, 2007 in her current position.

The Fair Employment and Housing Commission is charged by law with promoting and enforcing the civil rights of Californians–to be free from unlawful discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations, and to be free from hate violence and threats of violence.

State Senate President Pro Temp Don Perata responded with a letter that read in part:

We are deeply concerned about the State and Consumer Services Agency’s imminent proposal to divest the Fair Employment and Housing Commission (FEHC) of its administrative law judges (ALJs), transfer the Commission’s hearing functions to the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH), and move what little is left of the FEHC staff to Sacramento – all before October 22 (within 60 days of the budget’s passage) and without review or approval by the Legislature.

We think such a decision would be a significant setback to civil rights enforcement in the State of California and contrary to the express intent of the Legislature. Although we understand that the Agency asserts that such a policy change would be revenue neutral, these changes would result in significant shifts within the FEHC budget. In order to fully vet the proposal, we believe the Administration should first obtain approval through the regular policy and budget process before implementing the position reduction and shift to contracting.

A few months later, the California Progress Report revealed that:

The California Fair Employment and Housing Commission (FEHC), the state’s civil rights enforcement agency, has quietly gone back on the pledge made at its last public meeting to seek an opinion from the California Attorney General’s office over the legality of whether they have the authority to fire their own attorneys and approve a move by the Schwarzenegger Administration to reorganize the Commission and move it to Sacramento from San Francisco.

So, what’s the plan? The Governor can appoint Commissioners who will go along with what his administration wants here and ride roughshod over the legislature, the policies in place since 1992, and without the benefit of a formal opinion from the Attorney General. And he can appoint these commissioners who will be able to act before the legislature reconvenes in January and before the Senate which has to confirm any appointees–and could reject them–can act on their appointments. Gubernatorial appointments to the FEHC can serve up to one year without Senate approval but if they fail confirmation by the Senate are removed.

State Senator Sheila Kuhl wrote a response to the moves to destroy the FEHC, which explained why these moves are bad for civil rights enforcement:

A little history……in 1992, with the support of Pete Wilson’s administration, the Legislature specifically authorized the Commission to hire its own ALJs. This was done because the OAH, which had been hearing cases and which Secretary Marin and the Schwarzenegger administration want to put back in charge, had proven to be both uneconomical and inexpedient, not to mention highly ineffective, because the legal staff of the Fair Employment and Housing Commission had been required to revise and rewrite over 90% of all OAH decisions in this area as incorrect on both the law and Commission policy. At the time the Legislature found it shocking that hearing officers knew so little about the area and wrote such ill-informed opinions. One decision would have overruled the Commission’s own regulations. Another allowed an employer to ban all women from his workplace.

One last piece of the puzzle. The dismantling of the FEHC is being conducted in part by Latino members of the Republican Party, in particular members of the so-called “Hispanic 100,” a group of rich Latino Republicans who specialize in kissing up to Schwarzenegger. One of them, attorney John Cruz, was selected last year by Schwarzenegger to be his Appointments Secretary. That opened up the floodgates for the Hispanic 100. So did the appointment of Rosario Marin to head up the State Consumer Services Agency.

So Bustamante’s nomination was not a minor thing at all. It is part of the Schwarzenegger administration’s continued efforts to undermine enforcement of civil rights legislation in California. I cannot think of a better guy for the Governor to pick, if he was trying to find a complete idiot, for the FEHC, than Bustamante. There is no doubt that Bustamante will do whatever Schwarzenegger tells him to, even if his own people end up victimized in the process.

UPDATE:

The L.A. Times reported today that Schwarzenegger’s proposed budget cuts are once again going after the FEHC. Clearly the Governor does not care to enforce civil rights, particularly with regard to housing. Here are a few excerpts from the Times article:

“The cuts could hamper state government’s ability to investigate complaints of housing and employment discrimination. The state Fair Employment and Housing Department — the largest civil rights agency in the country — said in its budget documents that the $1.9-million cut it would sustain “will result in a backlog of discrimination cases.”

The department estimated that some 740 cases would take so long to investigate that California would violate federal timeliness requirements, costing the state between $100,000 and half a million dollars in aid from Washington.


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