Commentary

California's 35-Story Limit For Freelancers Is Punitive

California's recently approved gig-work law aims to help contractors get full-time jobs, but seems awfully punitive for freelance writers.

Gov. Gavin Newsom this month signed into law a controversial 6,700-word bill that restricts how companies use independent contractors.

The bill was mostly aimed at well financed "gig economy" giants like Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and PostMates, whose combined workforce in the state is estimated to include 400,000 full- and part-timers. Those companies have deep pockets to mount a spirited campaign to exempt themselves from the law.

As for publishers, the law prevents them from assigning more than 35 stories a year to a single freelance writer. Doing so would be considered a crime, exposing the publisher to all kinds of legal headaches.

The new law is overreaching and harmful to people who prefer the flexibility that comes with being a freelancer.

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While I'd like to see publishers hire zillions of full-time writers, editors, photographers, illustrators and designers, this new law is unlikely to trigger a massive hiring spree among publishers in the state.

Instead, those media outlets will look out of state, assign work to other California residents who haven't hit the 35-project cap or slash their entire freelance budgets to avoid the hassle of record-keeping.

That would put me out of business as a freelancer, and I hope my home state of New York doesn't pass similar laws.

I wrote 1,300 stories -- including hundreds of briefs that include my analysis of news events -- in the past year for a handful of publishers. It would be impossible to generate the same income by distributing my work among three dozen companies that have state-mandated story caps.

While I'm open to full-time offers, freelancing has given me more flexibility to write about a wider variety of topics, time-shift my schedule and volunteer more time for community projects.

I'll be curious to see whether California's law really does lead to job growth at publishers, but I doubt it.

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