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July 5, 2012

San Francisco area air quality and transportation officials could require some businesses to offer employee commuter benefits to boost the use of public transit, reduce traffic congestion, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and curb air pollution under new legislation that lawmakers passed on June 25.

Adopted by the California Assembly on a 52-22 vote, S.B. 1339 now heads to the governor, who has 12 days to sign or veto the measure. The Senate passed the bill May 7 on a 30-7 vote.

Gov. Jerry Brown (D) rejected a similar bill in August 2011, saying the measure would impose a new mandate on small businesses during a time of economic uncertainty. Brown also said local governments already had authority to adopt commuter ordinances.

In hopes of winning the governor’s support this time around, state Sen. Leland Yee (D) limited the geographical scope of the current bill so that it would apply only in the nine-county Bay area.

S.B. 1339 would clear the way for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and Metropolitan Transportation Commission to adopt a joint ordinance that would require employers with 50 or more workers to offer employees one of three types of commuter benefits.

Businesses would have to either offer employees the option of paying for public transit, vanpooling, or bicycling expenses with pre-tax dollars; subsidize the cost of transit passes and vanpools; or provide free shuttle services.

“About 40% of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions result from commuting,’’ Yee said in a written statement announcing passage of the bill. S.B. 1339 will help the state meet its climate and air quality goals, reduce workers’ commuting
costs, and cut employers’ payroll taxes, Yee said.

Tom Addison of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District called the bill a smart strategy to cleaning the air and reducing congestion.

“This bill not only has environmental benefits, but makes good economic sense,’’ Addison said.

S.B. 1339 has garnered support from environmental and public health advocates, including the Sierra Club and
American Lung Association.

“We’ll never have clean air in this state until we make it easier for people who want to take transit or ride a bike to work to do so,’’ Kathryn Phillips of Sierra Club California said in a written statement.

The California Taxpayers Association and California Manufacturers and Technology Association are opposed to S.B. 1339.