California’s long tradition of advancing nation-leading legislation continues into the new year, with laws reining in the gig economy, boosting online privacy and discouraging shootings by police, among other potential trend-setters.
The laws have sent businesses including Uber, Lyft and Google scrambling, not to mention President Donald Trump.
The state dominated by Democrats has delighted in tweaking the Republican president on immigration and other issues, though legislation requiring Trump to reveal his tax returns backfired when the California Supreme Court unanimously ruled it unconstitutional.
Hundreds of new laws take effect with the start of the new year, including measures stemming from the devastating wildfires that have swept the state. Others address animal rights, criminal justice, businesses and health care. Among them:
California is making it harder for many industries to treat workers like contractors instead of employees who are entitled to minimum wage and other benefits such as workers compensation. The Legislature carved out certain exemptions after the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of workers at the delivery company Dynamex in 2018.
The California Trucking Association and two associations representing freelance journalists and photographers have already sued on behalf of their members. The ride-sharing company Uber has said it will defend its current model from legal challenges. And Uber, Lyft and DoorDash have said they’ll spend $30 million to overturn the law at the ballot box in 2020 if they don’t win concessions from lawmakers.
The nation’s most sweeping data privacy law takes effect with the new year. The law passed in 2018 requires companies to tell consumers what data they collect about them, why it was collected and who sees it. Consumers can refuse to let companies sell that data, and companies are barred from selling data from children younger than 16 without consent.
Facebook and other technology and internet giants have been heavily criticized for sharing, selling or targeting personal information that customers thought was private. The San Francisco developer who pushed for the law, Alastair Mactaggart, is now advancing a 2020 ballot measure to protect the law by creating a new state agency to enforce the privacy protections and requiring greater protections for users under age 16 to opt in.
Two new laws together give California one of the nation’s most comprehensive approaches to deterring shootings by police. One changes the legal standard for when police can use deadly force, while the companion law increases officers’ training on how to handle confrontations.
California’s old standard was based on the doctrine of “reasonable fear,” meaning they were unlikely to face charges for even questionable uses of lethal force if prosecutors or jurors believed officers had a reason to fear for their safety. The new law allows police to use deadly force only when “necessary” to defend against an imminent threat of death or serious injury to officers or bystanders. But it doesn’t define necessary.
California becomes the first state to bar workplace and school discrimination against black people for wearing hairstyles such as braids, twists and locks. The new law says hairstyles are associated with race and therefore protected against discrimination.
Federal courts have historically ruled that unlike characteristics such as race, hair can be changed, so there are no grounds for discrimination complaints based on hairstyle. The California law says “race” also includes “traits historically associated with race.”
The issue came to wide public attention a year ago when a black high school wrestler in New Jersey was told by a referee that he had to cut off his dreadlocks if he wanted to compete.
State public health officials have new tools to crack down on doctors who write fraudulent medical exemptions for schoolchildren’s vaccinations, after the most emotionally charged legislative debate of the year repeatedly drew hundreds of supporters and opponents to the Capitol.
Officials can investigate doctors who grant more than five medical exemptions in a year and schools with vaccination rates under 95%, the threshold that experts say means a population is resistant to a disease like measles.
It includes a phase-out period for existing medical exemptions similar to one allowed when California eliminated personal belief vaccine exemptions in 2015. For instance, a kindergartner with an exemption can retain it through sixth grade, while a seventh-grader can be exempted through high school.
Landlords will be barred from raising yearly rent prices by more than 5% plus the cost of inflation under a new law that drew supporters who said they can no longer afford the state’s soaring housing costs. Landlords also won’t be allowed to evict someone without a reason or refuse to rent to someone solely because they have a federal Section 8 housing voucher.
Gov. Gavin Newsom called it the “strongest package in America,” though the restriction follows Oregon’s slightly higher statewide rent cap. A previous law still bans local governments from adopting their own rent control policies, though opponents want to overturn that restriction with a 2020 ballot measure.
Child Sex Assault
California is joining several other states in giving adults who were sexually assaulted as children more time to sue, a measure expected to trigger multitudes of new lawsuits against the Catholic church, Boy Scouts of America and other organizations.
The law gives victims of childhood sex abuse until age 40 to sue, up from the current age 26. It alternately gives adults five years to sue after discovering they suffered psychological or other damages from a sexual assault, whichever is later. And it gives victims three years to file past claims that missed earlier deadlines.
— In a step to curb greenhouse gas emissions, California becomes the first state to require new homes to install solar panels, which the California Energy Commission says could add about $9,500 to the cost of a new home. But another new law exempts homeowners forced to rebuild because of a wildfire or other natural disaster.
— The state is temporarily suspending its lengthy environmental review process for areas affected by the 2018 Camp Fire wildfire in a bid to speed up reconstruction of housing after the state’s most destructive wildfire displaced more than 50,000 people. But the law does not include the city of Chico because the mayor and most of the city council opposed it.
— State entities can waive or reduce governmental licensing fees for businesses experiencing hardship and displacement after wildfires and other emergencies.
— Caregivers can face enhanced civil penalties if they abandon the elderly in disasters such as wildfires. The law responds to the abandonment of seniors at two Santa Rosa assisted living centers during wildfires in 2017.
— California becomes the first state to ban commercial or recreational fur trapping. It remains legal to trap animals for other purposes, including pest control and public health.
— It is also the first state to bar cosmetic companies from selling products in California if they were tested on animals.
— California becomes the third state, behind Hawaii and New Jersey, to ban most animals from circuses, including bears, tigers, elephants and monkeys. The law exempts rodeos and does not apply to domesticated dogs, cats and horses.
— It’s illegal to hunt, trap or kill bobcats in California until 2025, when the state can begin issuing limited licenses as part of a bobcat management plan.
— California’s ban on importing and selling alligator or crocodile products takes effect, though the state of Louisiana is suing to block the prohibition.
— California becomes the latest state to allow for the eventual use of road-killed deer, elk, pronghorn antelope and wild pigs. But wildlife wardens warn it’s still illegal to collect roadkill because a state permitting and tracking program is not yet in place.
— It’s illegal to smoke or dispose of cigar and cigarette waste in California state parks and beaches. The law covers traditional cigarettes and electric smoking devices, but smoking will still be allowed in parking lots. Supporters say it will provide a healthier environment for people, fish and wildlife.
— California is the first state to bar health and dental co-pays for all inmates. California has one of nine state prison systems that already banned the charges, but the American Civil Liberties Union says California is the first to also abolish the practice in county jails.
— Police are barred for three years from using facial recognition software in body-worn cameras in a move that follows New Hampshire and Oregon.
— Victims of violent crime have seven years, up from three, to seek compensation.
— Law enforcement agencies must submit rape kits for testing within 20 days.
— The statute of limitations for domestic violence felony crimes increases from three years to five.
— Most of those with felony convictions can serve on juries.
— The state removes two mandatory sentences: a mandatory minimum for certain drug crimes, and an automatic one-year enhancement for each prior felony jail or prison term. Officials estimate the latter change could affect about 10,000 current inmates.
— Inmates convicted of a sexually violent offense must undergo a risk assessment before their parole hearing.
— Most children under age 12 must be released to their parents instead of prosecuted if they come to the attention of law enforcement.
— Those under 21 can no longer buy center-fire, semiautomatic firearms, the type of rifle used in shootings this year at a Poway synagogue and a Gilroy food festival. Sales of those rifles will be limited to one a month for adults starting July 1.
— New Year’s Day is the deadline for publicly held California corporations to add at least one woman to their boards of directors, though the mandate is being challenged in court.
— Employers are prohibited from using “no re-hire” clauses for workers settling a sexual harassment, discrimination or other employment dispute. Supporters say the clauses punish victims, while perpetrators may remain employed.
— California’s minimum wage increases to $13 an hour for employers with more than 26 employees, and to $12 for employers with 26 or fewer workers. Annual dollar-a-year increases continue until all employers reach $15 an hour in 2023.
— Employers are barred from forcing workers to enter into arbitration agreements as a condition of employment. Proponents say waiving rights including the ability to sue can leave employees more vulnerable to harassment and discrimination.
— California is capping interest rates for consumer loans between $2,500 and $9,999 at 36 percentage points above the main interest rate set by the Federal Reserve. Consumer advocacy groups say some loan companies charge interest rates as high as 225%.
— Local governments can form their own banks to handle taxpayer money, which supporters say could be used for things like affordable housing and infrastructure. The California Bankers Association fears they could be unfair competition for community banks.
— Colleges must disclose whether they provide preferential treatment to students related to donors or alumni under a law aiming to provide more equity in college admissions following a nationwide admissions scandal.
— California begins taxing people who refuse to buy health insurance. A family of four would pay at least $2,000. The projected $300 million to $400 million in tax proceeds will go to giving middle-income people discounts on their monthly health insurance premiums.
— California will provide health insurance for low-income immigrants ages 25 and younger living in the U.S. illegally. It’s expected to cost $98 million and cover about 100,000 people. California already provides health insurance for children living in the U.S. illegally.
— Adults enrolled in the Medicaid program will have insurance coverage for eyeglasses, restoring a benefit cut during the Great Recession. Children are already eligible for the benefit.
— School districts must update former students’ diplomas, GEDs or transcripts upon request to reflect the graduates’ chosen names and genders. The law is intended to particularly help transgender graduates or those whose student records don’t match their legal name.
— Heterosexual couples can register as domestic partners as an alternative to marriage. California’s 20-year-old domestic partnerships law previously applied only to same-sex couples, who at the time could not marry.