State Assemblymember Das Williams saw yet another piece of his legislative handiwork get signed into reality by Governor Jerry Brown this past week, but this one, State Assembly Bill 438, was not without some vocal opposition. Spurring scathing op-eds and newspaper advertising campaigns throughout the state in direct opposition to it, the bill — in Williams’s words — forces California cities considering contracting out their public library system to private enterprise to first demonstrate that the deal makes absolute fiscal sense and that it doesn’t result in layoffs, reduced services, or the outsourcing of local jobs. “This doesn’t prohibit privatizing,” explained Williams. “It just makes a city prove first that [the privatization] is going to actually save them money.”
Williams’s opinion of his legislation, however, is anything but universal. “Most cities in California are against this,” summed up League of California Cities spokesperson David Mullinax. “It is a local government issue, and the state has no business in it.” Noting that his organization’s multiple efforts, along with private-library heavyweight LSSI (Library Systems and Services), to negotiate with Williams were flat-out rebuked, Mullinax opined that AB 438 could end up forcing cities to simply shutter libraries rather than “save” them via outsourcing. “This bill is all about protecting union jobs,” he continued. “It is all about the [Service Employees International Union] and protecting them at the expense of government services.” Even worse, said Mullinax, is the fact that this bill now provides a model for people looking to block government outsourcing to private companies.
For his part, Williams defended AB 438 this week — his tenth bill to become law during his rookie legislative season — by explaining that his motivation for developing the bill was simply to take care of his constituents in Ventura, which was actively, and controversially, considering privatizing its libraries. Admitting that SEIU certainly had come to him with concerns about handing over public libraries to private enterprise, Williams also explained that folks from CAUSE (Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy) and Friends of the Library approached him with their worry about the potential impacts of going private. “I was hearing from everybody what a terrible thing privatizing could be and, as we went along, I received a lot of encouragement from around the state,” said the former Santa Barbara city councilmember. As for accusations about not negotiating with opponents, Williams scoffed and pointed to the fact that the adopted bill did not include his originally proposed voter clause, which would have required a vote of the people before a city could go private, as evidence of his willingness to work with opposing views.