Politics & Government

New year brings new California laws

Sacramento

Making resolutions, unwrapping new calendars and preparing to obey a stack of new laws: all regular January traditions in California, where the ever-busy Legislature sent Gov. Jerry Brown 1,074 measures in 2014.

Of the 930 that Brown signed, some were specific, district-focused bills or technical cleanup measures; others don’t kick in for a while. What follows is a selective list of the important or hard-fought measures that are now the law of the land.

IMMIGRANT LICENSES

AB 60 was actually signed in 2013, but immigrants in California illegally will be able to start receiving licenses on Friday, provided they obtain insurance and pass written and road tests. The California Department of Motor Vehicles has been busy throughout 2014 coming up with a license design, which the federal government initially rejected, and preparing for up to 1.4 million new customers.

CHICKENS AND EGGS

Thanks to 2008’s Proposition 2 and the followup AB 1437 (back in 2010), every egg laid or sold in California must come from a hen with enough space to stand up, turn around and stretch its wings. Despite the years-long gap between the laws passing and taking effect, questions persist about what exactly farmers must do.

IDENTIFYING CONTRACTORS

SB 556 is the latest iteration of an idea attempted multiple times before passing in 2014. It requires subcontractors working for public health and safety agencies – for example, emergency medical or fire services – to have their uniforms or vehicles clearly state they are contractors, provided they also want to use the logo of the agency they’re working for.

SUBCONTRACTING LIABILITY

Another bill taking aim at labor contractors is AB 1897. The measure’s union backers argue that corporations increasingly rely on contractors to lower costs and dodge accountability; under this law, large parent companies can face legal liability if their subcontractors fail to pay wages or provide workers’ compensation for injuries on the job.

MASSAGE PARLORS

Local officials and law enforcement traced an explosion in the number of massage parlors to a 2008 law giving a nonprofit authority to oversee the industry. AB 1147 restores local government’s ability to control massage parlors and limit their numbers via land-use rules.

FOOTBALL PRACTICE

With concern about head injuries in football mounting, AB 2127 seeks to protect young players by limiting high schools to two full-contact practices a week during the 2015 season and beyond.

EPINEPHRINE INJECTORS

SB 1266 seeks to guard against dangerous allergic reactions in schoolchildren by requiring every school in California to stock at least one epinephrine auto-injector. Teachers and other non-nurse school employees will be able to use them as long as they’ve received proper training.

INITIATIVE CHANGES

Departing Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, heralded as part of his legacy SB 1253’s changes to the citizen initiative process. The multifaceted measure extends the window to collect signatures, allows initiative proponents to withdraw measures, mandates a public review during which proponents can submit amendments and requires the Legislature to hold hearings on ballot measures.

BEACH ACCESS

SB 968 seeks to resolve a dispute over Martins Beach, a pristine slice of shore near Half Moon Bay whose access road has been blocked off by businessman Vinod Khosla. The bill gives the State Lands Commission a year to produce an agreement before opening up a path to the beach via eminent domain.

UNPAID INTERNS

They may not get compensated, but AB 1443 ensures unpaid interns still have some recourse if they are sexually harassed. The bill ensures interns have the power to sue over harassment despite not technically being classified as employees, something that had made legal action difficult.

AFFIRMATIVE CONSENT

SB 967 replaces the “no means no” standard with “yes means yes” when it comes to sexual encounters on college campuses. To remain eligible for public financial aid dollars, universities in California must revise their guidelines so students in orientation and the officials who adjudicate sexual assault cases learn that a partner failing to say “no” is not the same as consenting to sex.

SCHOOL DISCIPLINE

AB 420 limits how often schools can discipline students by invoking “willful defiance,” an offense that critics say is overly broad and falls disproportionately on students of color. Children in kindergarten through third grade cannot be suspended for willful defiance alone, and no student in any grade can be expelled for willful defiance alone.

OIL TRAINS

With more trains carrying crude oil rumbling through California, AB 380 uses the state’s limited authority to handle what is mainly a federal issue to prepare towns for the worst. The bill requires railroads to share more information about hazardous materials they’re carrying, to get spill response plans out to local first-responders and to set up a call center that first-responders can contact for information.

CRACK SENTENCING

In closing the gap between penalties for crack cocaine and powder cocaine, SB 1010 addresses a disparity critics have long assailed as being unjustified and racially charged. The sentencing guidelines for possessing crack with intent to sell will drop to the same rates as those applied to powder cocaine.

HOME FUNDRAISERS

SB 1441 banishes campaign fundraisers from registered lobbyists’ homes, responding to a record six-figure fine slapped on a lobbyist who regularly threw lavish events at his Sacramento home. Kevin Sloat’s $133,500 fine was the largest-ever penalty for violating California’s lobbying laws.

DOGS IN RESTAURANTS

AB 1965 permits restaurant patrons to bring their pooches to restaurant patios, provided the dogs are under control and the restaurant doesn’t object. While canines are increasingly common sights at eating establishments, they’re technically prohibited – this law removes that ban statewide while still allowing cities or counties to nix the practice.

YOUTH SEX CRIMES

Under SB 926, people who were sexually abused as minors can seek criminal charges against their former assailants until they are 40, up from the former cutoff of age 28. Brown vetoed a companion bill expanding the statute of limitations for civil actions related to childhood sex abuse.

AUDRIE’S LAW

SB 838 came in response to the suicide of 15-year-old Audrie Potts, who took her life after being sexually assaulted while unconscious and then humiliated when images of the crime circulated. This law says juveniles who sexually assault unconscious or disabled victims must enter rehabilitation programs – and their court cases are open to the public.

PREVAILING WAGE

Another law passed in 2013 but taking effect in 2015, SB 7 says that if a city’s charter exempts the city from paying a prevailing wage to workers on public projects, then that city cannot get state funding for those projects.

FURNITURE CHEMICALS

SB 1019 follows a 2013 administrative action saying furniture makers no longer have to use toxic flame-suppressing chemicals. While it is no longer a requirement that those chemicals are incorporated into furniture, this law goes a step further by mandating that pieces of upholstered furniture carry labels laying out whether they contain flame retardants.

FILM TAX CREDIT

Hoping to reverse film production’s slow exodus out of California, AB 1839 more than triples the state’s existing tax credit from $100 million a year in available incentives to $330 million a year. Los Angeles-area lawmakers joined with the film and television industry in making this bill a priority.

Call Jeremy B. White, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5543.

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