Calif. Lawmakers Form First Tech Caucus

     SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – Members of California’s new technology and innovation caucus said Wednesday their aim is to create new jobs by expanding technology education in public schools and not be a “rubber-stamp” for Silicon Valley.
     The newly formed and bipartisan California Legislative Technology and Innovation Caucus said it hopes to take advantage of the growing “sharing” economy and spread technology jobs across the Golden State.
     Assemblyman Ian Calderon, D-Whittier, reiterated that the caucus won’t give the green light to emerging companies like Uber and TaskRabbit, but will instead create a legislative forum to protect consumers and promote education.
     “Our caucus is committed to supporting policies that strike a balance between keeping the tech economy strong while maintaining the public’s trust in the industry and protecting all Californians,” Calderon said during a press conference at the state Capitol.
     Economists estimate the technology industry makes up over 10 percent of California’s economy while providing five million jobs annually. The state dug itself out of a massive recession thanks in part to the success of California-based companies like Uber and Airbnb.
     While the sharing or “gig” economy has become as staple of California’s business model, lawmakers have been tasked with finding ways to protect workers and consumers without stunting economic progress. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, is currently pushing a proposal that would allow gig-economy workers, officially independent contractors, to unionize and bargain for wages and benefits.
     Meanwhile in San Francisco, a class of Uber drivers are fighting to be classified as employees in Federal Court. A ruling in the drivers’ favor could shatter the business model of the estimated $60 billion company and set a precedent in other states.
     When asked about issues concerning gig-economy workers, such as wages and working conditions, caucus members said they are actively working with labor unions and tech companies to create new solutions.
     “These are major issues affecting not just the state of California, but that are going to affect the world,” Calderon said. “We need to come together and have a conversation among legislators.”
     Rep. Evan Low, D-Silicon Valley, declined to comment on proposed ridesharing legislation, saying that the 24-member caucus has not officially met but will discuss the bills in future meetings.
     A major focus of the caucus will be brainstorming ways to create and divvy funding to public schools. Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, said the caucus needs to make sure technology education is built into K-14 curriculum in order to provide a pipeline of eligible candidates for the industry.
     Bonilla said the caucus will also be supporting her proposal, Assembly Bill 1592, to allow tech companies to test autonomous cars in California. The bill creates a pilot program to test cars without steering wheels, pedals or drivers at speeds of less than 35 miles per hour.
     “We need to make sure that our companies that are at the forefront of the autonomous vehicle innovation are able to get their testing done here in California,” Bonilla said of her bill.

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