On Sept. 30, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill written to curb illegal contracting in the pool and spa industry.

Assembly Bill 2770 by Bill Monning (D-Santa Cruz) and Bill Berryhill, (R-Ceres) would have established standards that trigger government agencies to  audit the wages, hours and working conditions of contracting companies, in an effort to crack down on unlicensed activity.  

The bill was originally written to apply to all contractors. But with the state’s current budget crunch, proponents predicted it would prove too costly to gain the approval of fiscally conservative legislators and the governor. To make the bill more palatable, it was narrowed to pertain only to the pool and spa industry.

Despite its smaller scope, Schwarzenegger declined to sign the legislation. Ironically, what advocates thought would make the bill more attractive actually prompted the veto: The governor said no law was needed because the named agencies can already do what was outlined in the bill.

But advocates said the law was needed to spur action. “By having a pilot program for a specific industry, it puts the pressure on them to perform,” said John Norwood, president/CEO of SPEC, legislative advocate for the California pool and spa industry.

Industry advocates are frustrated that they must try to convince the state to enforce contractor law. While conceding that money is tight and government employees are being furloughed, they also stated that agencies could recover significant revenue by clamping down on violators.

“They’re basically saying that as a government, they’ve got nothing for us,” said Mike Geremia, president of Sacramento-based Geremia Pools and chairman of SPEC. “But as an industry, we aren’t going to quit.”

Many industry members don’t consider the veto a complete loss. To help the bill get through committee, members of several industries worked together, including landscape, HVAC and plumbing professionals.

“There’s a huge groundswell, and they’re going to try to make a public media push so the average taxpayer finds out how much money is not being collected,” said Alan Smith, owner of Alan Smith Pool Plastering in City of Orange, Calif., who is largely credited with spearheading the bill.

There’s also talk of a large-scale hearing to educate legislators about the implications of illegal contracting.

“This issue touches law-abiding employers, workers and single moms who aren’t getting garnished wages. It affects homeowners and real estate,” Monning said.

Considering the alliances that have formed, Smith takes the veto in stride.

“I think one door shuts and another one’s open,” he said. “This is clearly on everybody’s radar.”