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California's New Laws Starting Jan. 1, 2021

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The scales of justice. (Tingey Injury Law Firm/Unsplash)
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Every year hundreds of new California laws take effect Jan. 1. Many of them won't have much effect on your daily life. Here's a closer look at some that might in 2021.

Note: Thank you to our friends at Capital Public Radio for putting together this overview.

You also can watch a video playlist of explainers below courtesy of CalMatters, or click to jump to a section summarizing bills by category. Some bills that appear in the videos are not listed below, and vice versa.


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HEALTH

HEALTH

SB 793: Flavored tobacco ban

A broad ban on sales of flavored tobacco products, from vape cartridges to menthol cigarettes. This bill was passed in response to a nationwide outbreak of lung injuries linked to e-cigarettes and cannabis vape products in 2019.

WHY THIS MATTERS

This bill was passed in response to a nationwide outbreak of lung injuries linked to e-cigarettes and cannabis vape products. The law will not take effect on Jan. 1 as planned, since opponents of SB 793 launched a referendum to overturn it. Counties have until Jan. 21 to verify signatures in the referendum effort. If the referendum qualifies for the ballot, voters will decide whether to ban the products in November 2022.

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WHO BACKED IT?

Introduced by Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo). Passed in 2020.

Read the bill >

HEALTH

SB 855: Equal insurance coverage for mental health

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This bill requires health plans to cover medically necessary treatment for all recognized mental health and substance abuse disorders. As it stands, Californian insurers are only required to cover treatments for nine specified mental health disorders.

WHY THIS MATTERS

California advocates say people can't easily access affordable, preventive behavioral health care -- leading them to seek treatment only when they reach a crisis point. The measure marks a step forward in the fight for health care parity, or treating mental health services in the same way as physical health services.

WHO BACKED IT?

Introduced by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco). Passed in 2020.

Read the bill >

HEALTH

SB 1237:Nurse-midwives practice without physician

Starting Jan. 1, certified nurse-midwives will be able to practice independently in California, without physician supervision.

WHY THIS MATTERS

The measure makes it easier for these practitioners to furnish medication, attend to low-risk deliveries and provide immediate care to newborns. Finding an obstetrician can be a challenge in many rural areas of California. Supporters of the new law say it will increase delivery options and access to pregnancy care, and could help lower the rates of infant and maternal mortality in the state, which are especially high among Black mothers and babies.

WHO BACKED IT?

Introduced by Sen. Bill Dodd (D-Napa). Passed in 2020.

Read the bill >

HEALTH

SB 852: Generic prescription drugs

Requires the California Health and Human Services Agency to enter partnerships to produce and distribute affordable generic prescription drugs.

WHY THIS MATTERS

This law paves the way for the state of California to start manufacturing its own generic prescription medications, including at least one form of insulin. This means Californians will get access to cheaper versions of some prescription medications as prices have continued to rise and access has become more difficult for many.

WHO BACKED IT?

Introduced by Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento). Passed in 2020.

Read the bill >

HEALTH

AB 2276: Testing for lead exposure in kids

The law imposes additional requirements on health care providers and the Department of Public Health to ensure that children who are most at risk of lead poisoning are tested for lead exposure.

WHY THIS MATTERS

This law will require providers to prioritize protective lead screening services for Medi-Cal children. This means the state can now clearly sanction managed care plans that don't comply with lead testing requirements. The Department of Public Health will also need to update its funding formula for local lead prevention programs at the local level. This will help account for all children exposed to lead in the state.

WHO BACKED IT?

Introduced by Asm. Eloise Reyes (D-San Bernardino). Passed in 2020.

Read the bill >

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WORKPLACE

WORKPLACE

SB 1383: Expanded family leave

Gives workers at small businesses job protection if they take time to care for a family member, and expands the types of situations that are eligible for protected leave, including domestic partners, grandparents, grandchildren, siblings and parents-in-law.

WHY THIS MATTERS

This would expand job protections to businesses that employ five or more people, making millions more Californians eligible. It comes as many people, especially women, are leaving the labor force to care for family members during the pandemic. The bill's author says while all workers pay into the system, many don't take leave for fear of losing their jobs.

WHO BACKED IT?

Introduced by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara). Passed in 2020.

Read the bill >

WORKPLACE

AB 2257: Worker classification exemptions

Exempts certain professions -- such as musicians, writers, landscape architects and a host of other professional services from AB 5, a law signed last year that required the reclassification of many contractors to employees.

WHY THIS MATTERS

Effective Sept. 4, 2020. The bill provides some relief from AB 5 but there are still restrictions. Those who work in the music recording industry, for example -- like directors, producers, song writers and sound engineers - gained broad exemptions. But the restrictions lifted for live music performers are more limited. That's left some worried that theaters and clubs won't be able to hire as many performers once people can again safely gather for live shows.

WHO BACKED IT?

Introduced by Asm. Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego). Passed in 2020.

Read the bill >

WORKPLACE

AB 2992: Workplace protections for crime victims

Expands the ban on employers taking action against employees who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking or other crimes that cause physical or mental injury when they take time off for judicial proceedings or to seek medical attention or related relief.

WHY THIS MATTERS

This law will make it easier for more victims of crime and abuse to take time off of work to seek various forms of relief without worry of retaliation, discrimination or termination from their employers. It expands these protections to victims of crimes that caused a physical or mental injury, or a threat of physical injury, whether or not someone has been arrested, prosecuted, or convicted in the case.

WHO BACKED IT?

Introduced by Asm. Shirley Weber (D-San Diego). Passed in 2020. Read the bill >

WORKPLACE

AB 979: Corporations: boards of directors: underrepresented communities.

This law requires publicly-held corporations whose principal executive office is in the state of California to include at least one director from underrepresented communities on its board by the end of 2021.

WHY THIS MATTERS

This bill would require all publicly-held companies headquartered in California to have at least one person of a minority background or underrepresented community on their board of directors. California has 674 publicly-held companies, and yet according to a report by the Latino Corporate Directors Association, 36.8% of these companies do not have any ethnic diversity on their board. For example, though Latinos make up nearly 40% of the state's population, only 2% of the state's board seats were held by a Latino/a. This bill would require companies to add at least one board director who is African American, Latinx, Asian American, Native American, Pacific Islander or who identifies as LGBTQ before Dec. 31, 2021. The bill would also require this number to increase to at lease three members for boards of nine or more people before Dec. 31, 2022. Fines of $100,000 to $300,000 could be issued for companies not complying.

WHO BACKED IT?

Introduced by Asm. Chris Holden (D-Pasadena). Passed in 2020.

Read the bill >

WORKPLACE

SB 973: Employer pay gap data

Requires companies with 100 or more employees to report pay data by gender, race and ethnicity annually.

WHY THIS MATTERS

This law is intended to help determine if women and people of color are being discriminated against in how they are paid by a company. Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, the bill's author, has said this is an important step toward closing the pay gap.

WHO BACKED IT?

Introduced by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara). Passed in 2020.

Read the bill >

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LAW ENFORCEMENT

LAW ENFORCEMENT

AB 1185: County oversight of sheriff's offices

Would allow counties to implement sheriff's review boards or an inspector general to oversee the department and launch investigations.

WHY THIS MATTERS

If counties take advantage of the law, it could create more oversight of sheriff's offices. The review board or inspector general position can be established by the county's board of supervisors or through a county-wide vote. The review board be comprised of residents. This legislation directly responds to tensions in Sacramento County between the sheriff and the inspector general. The review boards

WHO BACKED IT?

Introduced by Asm. Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento). Passed in 2020.

Read the bill >

LAW ENFORCEMENT

AB 1506: State investigation of police shootings

Would require state-led investigations into police shootings of unarmed civilians and, starting in 2023, would require the state Department of Justice to review use of force policies upon request of local law enforcement agencies.

WHY THIS MATTERS

State prosecutors in California will investigate all police shootings that result in the death of an unarmed civilian. Supporters say it will standardize investigations, which are generally handled by local law enforcement, and create more transparency. State investigators will be required to publish a public report for every investigation conducted.

WHO BACKED IT?

Introduced by Asm. Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento). Passed in 2020.

Read the bill >

LAW ENFORCEMENT

AB 1076: Automatically clearing criminal records

Under this law, the state will automatically clear records for arrests that did not result in conviction after the statute of limitations has passed, and those around probation and jail once the sentence is completed. It applies to individuals ​arrested or convicted after Jan. 1, 2021.

WHY THIS MATTERS

Currently, a person who is eligible to clear their record must petition the court. According to the bill's author, only 20% of those eligible do so. Meanwhile, nearly 90% of employers, 80% of landlords, and 60% of colleges screen applicants' criminal records. This will automatically expunge those records, and potentially make it easier for people to access those opportunities. Around 8 million Californians have criminal records.

WHO BACKED IT?

Introduced by Asm. Phil Ting (D-San Francisco). Passed in 2019.

Read the bill >

Back to top


COVID-19

COVID-19

AB 685: COVID-19 workplace rules

Requires employers to notify workers of potential worksite COVID-19 exposures, report outbreaks to public health departments and gives Cal/OSHA more teeth to enforce pandemic safety violations in the workplace.

WHY THIS MATTERS

The new law requires written notification of potential COVID-19 exposures in the workplace. Labor attorney Caroline Donelan says employers have an ethical duty to keep their workers safe, and many have already been doing this, but now they have a legal obligation to do so as well. The law also requires companies to report outbreaks -- defined as three or more cases at a jobsite -- to their local public health department. The last thing AB 685 does is give Cal/OSHA the authority to shut down work sites that aren't following these new coronavirus rules. But Donelan says the agency is already overwhelmed, and how much it actually uses that power remains to be seen.

WHO BACKED IT?

Introduced by Asm. Eloise Reyes (D-San Bernardino). Passed in 2020.

Read the bill >

COVID-19

SB 1159: COVID-19 workers' compensation

Creates a disputable presumption that death or illness related to COVID-19 is an occupational injury eligible for workers' compensation benefits.

WHY THIS MATTERS

This bill makes it easier for employees who contract COVID-19 on the job to receive workers' compensation for their illness or death. This is in place for employees who suffer illness or death from COVID-19 between July 6, 2020 and Jan. 1, 2023. While some Californians have been able to work from home during the pandemic, millions of "essential workers" have remained on the job. As of Dec. 27, there were 67,320 confirmed positive cases and 250 deaths in health care workers alone statewide.

WHO BACKED IT?

Introduced by Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo). Passed in 2020.

Read the bill >

Back to top


EDUCATION

EDUCATION

AB 376: Protections for student loan borrowers.

Creates a Student Loan Borrower Bill of Rights, which sets minimum standards for student loan companies and a Student Loan Ombudsman to advocate for borrowers. It also enacts special protections for military families, teachers, other public service workers, borrowers who have disabilities and older Americans.

WHY THIS MATTERS

Most provisions go into effect on July 1, 2021. The law aims to end abusive practices by the student loan industry. Borrowers would receive greater protection from predatory student loan servicing companies, which can steer students toward more expensive loans, lead to serving errors and fees that add to a borrower's debt. Supporters of the bill say the protections would especially help Black, Latino and first-generation college students who disproportionately rely on loans.

WHO BACKED IT?

Introduced by Asm. Mark Stone (D-Monterey Bay). Passed in 2020.

Read the bill >


ENVIRONMENT

ENVIRONMENT

SB 346: Limit on copper in brake pads

California enacted a law in 2010 requiring brake pads to have less than 5% copper content in them by 2021.

WHY THIS MATTERS

This rule was created because of the toxicity of copper when it enters waterways. In 2010, California made a law which said that by the start of 2021, brake pads sold couldn't have more than 5% copper by weight. By 2025, that reduces to 0.5% copper by weight. Because of this rule Chevrolet won't be able to sell high performance 2021 Camaros in the state due to the copper content in its Brembo brakes, which exceeds 5%.

WHO BACKED IT?

Introduced by Sen. Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego). Passed in 2010.

Read the bill >

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This story was originally published on the website of Capital Public Radio.

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