From Police Reform to Pandemic Relief, a Roundup of Important Bills Headed to Governor Newsom’s Desk

California lawmakers passed a bundle of last-minute bills before the legislative session closed on Monday night
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The final day of the California legislature session typically brings a flurry of last-minute votes–and, while things operated a little differently this year, with some members voting remotely and “taking the floor” via Zoom, the under-the-buzzer rush remained the same.

Online legislating wasn’t without its issues, though. Republican lawmakers were put under quarantine last week, after one Republican State Senator tested positive for COVID-19 and confirmed he had been in close contact with several of his caucus-mates while potentially infectious, and they then in turn had been in contact with others. Democratic legislators continued attending sessions in person, creating some friction. On Monday, Republicans accused the majority of instituting limits on speeches and, at one point, even muting their Zoom microphones.

Eventually both sides reached a compromise about how to move forward with debates which, as Capitol Radio reports, lasted until nearly the end of the night, when votes were coming in just as the clock was clicking over from midnight on the 31st to the wee hours of September 1. Republicans briefly objected that it was no longer the deadline day, but the Senate ultimately continued passing bills up until 1 a.m.

By the time the lawmakers logged off for the night, they had passed around 100 individual bills, many of which (though not all) are now headed to Governor Newsom for a signature. Here are a few of the big items that moved forward.


Employment 

AB 2257 – Update to AB 5 Freelance Law
When California’s “gig worker law” passed last year, some professionals complained that it was overly broad and failed to account for the differences between independent workers in various industries. AB 2257 offers a significant update to that law, exempting a wide swath of workers including journalists, real estate agents, and artists from reclassification.

Health Care

SB 855 – Require Insurers to Cover Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment
Considered one of the strongest mental health parity laws in the country, SB 855 would expand mandates that health insurance cover treatments for addictions and mental health conditions, and revises the grounds on which an insurance company is allowed to deny claims for those treatments.

Pandemic Relief 

AB 3088 – Pandemic Eviction Freeze
A hotly watched–and contested–bill, AB 3088 extends the existing freeze on evictions of individuals who cannot pay rent due to financial hardships directly linked to COVID-19. Under AB 3088, tenant protections will now last through January 31, 2021, though with some updates. Now tenants will be required to submit documents swearing their inability to pay rent is pandemic related under penalty of perjury, and will have to pay at least 25 percent of their pre-pandemic rent each month starting on September 2. Evictions for reasons other than non-payment of rent can resume as usual; mom-and-pop landlords will receive some new foreclosure protections of their own. Governor Newsom signed the bill into law on Monday night.

SB 1447 – Small Business Tax Credit
This bill offers tax credits of up to $100,000 to qualified small businesses in the state that hire new workers amid the pandemic. For each new full-time worker, the business could receive a credit of up to $1,000. California legislature members who back the bill say they designed it to offer support to local companies that were not able to secure PPP funds.

SB 275 – Establish PPE Stockpiles
Intended to make sure essential workers can access personal protective equipment like masks when they need them, including establishing state and private stockpiles. It would mandate that the State Department of Public Health and Office of Emergency Services create and manage a PPD stockpile that could outfit essential workers for 90 days in the event of a future health emergency. In the future, it would also require health care employers to build up their own 45-day stockpiles.

Police Reform & Criminal Justice

AB 1506 – State Investigations of Police Shootings
Long in the works, this bill, championed by Democratic Assemblyman Kevin McCarty aims to provide additional confidence and transparency in investigations of shootings of civilians by law enforcement. It allows local authorities to hand management of the investigations to the state, rather than relying on the officer’s colleagues and local district attorneys to do the job.

AB 1196 – Choke Hold Ban
Under AB 1196, all law enforcement agencies in California must update their use of force standards to prohibit the use of choke holds or what is known as carotid restraint on suspects. The California legislature voted to ban the use of “any defensive tactic in which pressure is applied to the sides of a person’s neck that involves a substantial risk of restricting blood flow.”

AB 1299  – Employment Records for Problem Cops
This bill from the California legislature requires all law enforcement agencies in the state to report to the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training when an offer is fired or leaves the force amid any “complaint, charge, or investigation of a serious nature.” That would be noted in the officer’s permanent record and be made available if another agency wanted to hire that officer in the future.

AB 2147  – Expunge Records for Nonviolent Offenders Who Volunteer to Fight Wildfires
California’s response to the ever-growing threat of wildfires has relied heavily on inmates being pressed into service as volunteer firefighters, though many who take on the dangerous work receive little compensation and aren’t even allowed to seek employment as firefighters after completing their sentence because they still carry a criminal record. AB 2147 offers a path to having convictions expunged for certain crimes, if the convicted person participates in firefighting service while incarcerated.


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