With California swimming in $24 billion of red ink, many of the peoples' elected representatives are seeking to raise scores of fees and taxes to close the gap. So, after voting to raise the highest income tax in America even higher, the highest state sales tax rate in America even higher, almost doubling the car tax, and cutting the child tax credit by $200, Sacramento Democrats now want to charge children $100 a year to work in Hollywood.
A 10-year-old California law makes parents of children desiring to work in the entertainment field gather information from one part of government to present to another part of government to obtain a permission slip to work. Now, this paper shuffle adds little to nothing of value - no added safety for children or oversight of employers. But, rather than terminate this self-perpetuating paperwork drill, Democrats what to charge for it - taxing minors who want to work before they even work an hour.
This Kafkaesque scenario is almost reality in the form of Assembly Bill 402 (AB 402)
in Sacramento. As summarized by the Assembly Republican Caucus bill analysis, AB 402, "Requires a fee of $50 to be submitted at the time a minor applies for an Entertainment Work Permit in order to offset the costs of administering the Entertainment Work Permit program." In other words, AB 402 is the ultimate in self-sustaining bureaucracy. You need government permission to work and the government will only give you permission if you pay for it.
The stated purpose of the bill, curiously supported by the Screen Actors Guild, is to increase protections for children working in the entertainment industry. The main intended protection is to ensure compliance with the Coogan Act, a 1999 law designed to set aside a portion of a minor's earnings until age 18.
The problem with existing practice is that the California State Industrial Relations Division of Labor Standards and Enforcement (DLSE) doesn't perform any follow up for the Entertainment Work Permits they issue to children. In fact, until last year, Entertainment Work Permits didn't even have a tracking number on them. This meant they could easily be spoofed by parents not wanting to go through the effort of coordinating with their child's school to obtain a proof of school attendance, adequate grades, and health records then schlepping down to the local Division of Labor Standards and Enforcement office to get an Entertainment Work Permit. Now that Entertainment Work Permits have serial numbers, it is not at all clear that the numbers really mean anything as there is no way to tie into a database anyway (and why should they when about 12 percent of all the Social Security numbers reported by employers to California tax agencies are false or stolen).
AB 402 might make sense if the government was spending a lot of money to actually follow up "for the children," but the whole Entertainment Work Permit program only costs $1.1 million a year while the proposed fee would raise $3 million a year.
Fortunately, the studios and talent managers appear to have matters well in hand. My own daughters have worked as extras for the past year. Our family's experience shows the industry to be highly conscientious. Further, the studios hire and have credentialed teachers on site to ensure that minors doing "background work" are diligently doing school work between shooting scenes.
Lisa Santillan runs STUDIO KIDS Management
and specializes in advising and guiding talent for studios who need it. Ms. Santillan observes, "The Labor Board rarely verifies grades, proper schools, (or) date of birth" while, she notes, it often takes eight weeks to receive a response from the bureaucracy.
Ms. Santillan opposes AB 402 for a number of reasons. She says the proposed fee for an Entertainment Work Permit would imply that the Labor Board was guaranteeing work as if they were an employment agency, when, in fact, the fee guarantees nothing of the sort. She also notes that many families applying for work permits are lower income and single parent households. Ms. Santillan's commonsense suggestion for the California Legislature, "...the work permit should be abolished completely" as it has "...never proven to be a positive enforced document." She concludes by saying, "I do not believe charging a fee is the answer to our economy's financial crisis through attacking the workingman or, in this case, minor child." Ms. Santillan also points out that a typical background extra works only a couple times in a six month period, if that, and makes only $130.00 day. Take away Social Security, disability, FICA, Agent fee, 15% into the Coogan account, gas, clothing, and now the proposed $50.00 fee for work permit and there won't be much leftover.
Short of abolishing the Entertainment Work Permit, Republicans have suggested an alternative solution would be to obtain the permits through the studio teachers who already maintain the paperwork. The minor could still be required to bring their school verification form to the prospective employer, with the studio teacher verifying their grades, attendance and health, to comply with existing law. Ms. Santillan would rather see the permits processed through the minor's own public or private schools as is the case for other types of employment.
AB 402 passed out of the Assembly Appropriations Committee on May 28 on a 12-5 vote, with all Democrats voting for the tax on child actors and all Republicans voting against it. It comes up for a vote in the full Assembly in the first week of June.
[Ed. note: This piece was updated late Monday morning with additional information.]