Newsom signs fee-free public banking law backed by 'Fight for 15'

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom, D, signed a bill into law Monday that takes the next steps toward a proposed fee-free, zero-penalty banking option provided by the state.

The legislation, known as A.B. 1177, the "California Public Banking Option Act" or "CalAccount," sets up a commission to explore the feasibility of the state government setting up a public banking system offering "unbanked" and "underbanked" Californians account options without the fear of overdraft or other fees.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, D. (AP Photo/Nic Coury) (AP Photo/Nic Coury)

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The Los Angeles chapter of "Fight for $15," the national group pushing for a $15 minimum wage across the U.S., hailed Newsom's signing of the measure on Twitter, calling it a victory.

Fight for $15 LA wrote, "After fast-food workers, elected officials, union members, and community allies rallied and organized the past year, [Gov. Newsom] has officially signed #AB1177, creating a pathway to a fee-free public banking program for ALL Californians!"

The CalAccount website advocating for a public banking option in California argues that a state-run, fee-free bank would "close the racial wealth and financial services gap."

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Legislation has been introduced several times in California proposing a government bank in the past, but has failed each time it was introduced. The bill Newsom signed into law on Monday, in contrast, does not set up a public bank but rather sets up a commission to study the viability of such a program.

That came has somewhat of a relief to the Western Bankers Association, which has long opposed a public banking option.

"While we were pleased to see the bill change quite significantly from its introduction to be essentially a study bill, we remained opposed to the measure," a WBA spokesperson told FOX Business. "We remain opposed to the concept of public banks, and hope that elected officials will take note of the risks associated with establishing a public bank."

The spokesperson continued, "Every public bank feasibility study conducted to date in California (from city officials in LA and San Francisco) has shown public banks to be financially risky to taxpayers." They added, "Despite voter rejection and public opinion showing limited support for the concept of public banks, advocates continue to push an unpopular and unnecessary concept."

In reaction to CalAccount legislation introduced earlier this year in its original form, the California Banker Association pointed to California's mishandling of unemployment claims during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 – and the tens of billions of dollars that was stolen from taxpayers due to lack of oversight – as a reason for questioning the state's ability to implement such a program effectively at all.

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"We would be remiss to ignore current news headlines regarding the $30 billion liability California is poised to assume due to issues related to antiquated technology and [Employment Development Department] fraud," the CBA said in a statement at the time. "But somehow we should support the idea of the state getting into the very complex business of banking? Additionally, advocates have been silent on what happened if a state or municipal run public bank is no longer sustainable and suffers loses? Will the taxpayers also have to pick up this tab?"

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