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New Year, Nearly 1,000 New Laws

The start of each new year means the start of many, many new California laws.

In California, the new calendar year also means a fleet of new laws and regulations that go into effect. 2023 is no exception.

This past year, the state Legislature passed nearly 1,000 bills that Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law. Many of these won’t necessarily intersect with your everyday existence. But many of them — from a bump in the minimum wage to changes for cyclists — likely will affect your community, businesses, or family.

This year, we focus on 10 new laws that could impact your world.

Expanding access to abortions

A new law will give qualified nurse practitioners and certified nurse midwives the ability to perform first-trimester abortions in California without the supervision of a physician.

The law, Senate Bill 1375, authored by Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, builds on two existing laws:

  • Assembly Bill 890, which passed in 2020, allows nurse practitioners to practice independently.
  • Atkins’ own AB 154, which passed in 2013 and permitted nurse practitioners to conduct first-trimester abortions under a doctor’s supervision.

Atkins says the new measure clarifies those laws and allows for more trained nurse practitioners in high-need areas to perform surgical, or aspiration abortions, whereby suction is used to remove the contents of the uterus.

A 2017 study by the advocacy and policy organization the Guttmacher Institute found that more than 40% of counties in California don’t have a clinic that provides abortions.

“California's facing a potentially catastrophic shortage of providers, especially in communities of color and rural areas, a problem that is only expected to get worse in the next decade,” Atkins said. “As women from restrictive states come to California, closing our provider gap is more important than ever.”

In November, California voters approved Prop. 1, a ballot measure that codified abortion as a constitutional right in the state.

Fast food pay raises

Fast-food workers in California were hoping for higher wages in the new year after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed landmark legislation back on Labor Day.

But now, the law could be put on hold. It all depends on what happens in the coming days.

AB 257, or the FAST Recovery Act, would create a first-of-its-kind fast-food council to set rules for chains with 100 or more restaurants nationally.

The 10-person council is made up of four worker representatives, four employers, one person from the governor’s office and one from the Department of Industrial Relations.

Together, they’ll set the minimum wage for fast-food workers with an upper limit of $22 an hour.

The first step to create the council required collecting 10,000 signatures of approval from fast-food employees, which the state chapter of the Service Employees International Union says was accomplished with nearly twice the required number.

Tia Koonse is the legal and policy research manager at the UCLA Labor Center and says pay is just one part of the plan.

“AB 257 would address working conditions that have been long-standing issues in the fast-food industry,” Koonse said. “So, safety, harassment, violence, retaliation, wage theft. That’s certainly not the experience of all fast-food workers, but a significant and sizable amount; more than other industries.”

But, opponents of the law want to stop it before it starts.

A coalition called Save Local Restaurants, whose biggest funders are In-N-Out Burger, Chipotle, and Starbucks (among others), has submitted more than 1 million signatures to put the issue on the ballot in 2024.

Only 623,212 verified signatures are needed to qualify the initiative and put the law on hold until voters weigh in.

SEIU, the state’s largest union, says the restaurant coalition’s signature-gathering effort was purposely misleading to voters and says it has video to prove it, which the LA Times reviewed.

New penalties for hate crimes at schools

AB 2282, which takes effect on the first of the year, increases penalties for people who use hateful symbols as part of hate crimes — swastikas, nooses, desecrated crosses — and expands restricted locations to include K-12 schools and colleges.

The bill was introduced in March by Democratic Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan and 17 co-authors from every legislative ethnic caucus. It passed the Senate 39-0.

“It really was a coming together of individuals standing up against this hate,” Bauer-Kahan said.

She says the bill was, in part, prompted by discrepancies in the existing law, as well as by the uptick in hate crimes and nooses in school settings.

“A noose and a swastika and a burning cross were treated differently, both where they could legally be placed and how they were treated as a penalty. They all needed to be treated equally,” Bauer-Kahan said. “We expanded it to schools because we decided that was a sensitive space where we don't want, especially our young people, to be terrorized.”

The Sacramento Police Department reported 112 bias-related incidents for the first six months of 2022. Among the cases filed, one was of Dr. Elysse Versher, vice principal at West Campus High School, who was subjected to anti-Black hate crimes on school grounds earlier this year.

“I think, especially in high school, the threat of a legal consequence will mitigate behavior,” Versher said. “It's a tool to educate. To say, ‘You cannot write the N-word on the wall at school. You cannot racially target and terrorize people.’”

The Anti-Defamation League was part of the coalition that drafted the bill.

“We want to fight back against acts of intimidation, but we also have to be mindful of the First Amendment and the right to free speech,” said the ADL's regional director, Seth Brysk. “And we really do believe that this bill strikes that right balance.”

The new law does not criminalize displays or placement of the swastika associated with Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.

Minimum wage bump

On Jan. 1, the minimum wage in California will increase to $15.50 an hour.

The minimum wage has been gradually increasing under a 2016 law that brought workers’ hourly minimum pay from $10 to $15. While larger companies hit the $15 per hour minimum wage in Jan. 2022, smaller businesses had an extra year to meet the requirement.

The extra 50-cent boost in 2023 is because the law includes a provision requiring the minimum wage to increase with inflation. The Department of Finance certified in July that a 7.9% year-over-year increase in the Consumer Price Index would require the minimum wage to increase to $15.50 in 2023 for small and large businesses.

“The intention here is that the minimum wage continues to rise with the cost of inflation,” said David Huerta, president of SEIU-United Service Workers West. “We think 50 cents helps working people in an inflationary economy to at least keep up. But at the same time, we know $15 is barely enough at this point in time.”

Some cities and counties have a higher minimum wage than what is required by the state. The UC Berkeley Labor Center maintains a list.

Clean slates for some convicted people

People in California who have served time in prison will soon have a chance to appeal to have their criminal records sealed.

SB 731 will allow people who have served time on or after Jan. 1, 2005, to automatically have their records expunged as long as they haven’t been convicted of another felony in the past four years. Those with violent or serious felonies in their backgrounds won’t get their records automatically sealed, but will be able to petition a court to have them sealed. Sex offenders will not be eligible.

The bill was authored by Democratic Sen. Maria Elena Durazo. Supporters of the new law say serving prison time can change the trajectory of a person’s life permanently and unfairly.

In California, many landlords, employers, and colleges and universities ask to conduct a background check, and a criminal record can make it harder for an applicant to secure housing and a job.

Jay Jordan, CEO of the Alliance for Safety and Justice, a nonprofit that supported SB 731, said the barriers ex-convicts face in life after prison are referred to as “collateral consequences.”

“If people who have served their time, who did everything the system said they needed to do, are not given a second chance, that’s not democracy, that’s not justice, that’s just pure punitive,” Jordan said. “It’s harming not only themselves, but their families, the economy, their community.”

There has been some research in the past that points to the racial equity component of “clean slate” laws like this one. A 2022 study from the Institute for Health Policy Studies at UC San Francisco showed that white ex-convicts were more likely to benefit from clean slate laws than Black people, for example. But this research was done on such laws that put more restrictions on who was eligible to apply. Advocates say they are hopeful that SB 731 is expansive enough to avoid racial disparities like this.

Oil, gas, and neighborhoods

A law requiring a 1,200 foot space between oil and gas wells and community areas will go into effect on Jan. 1.

Environmental groups have rallied behind the idea of SB 1137 for years, saying a buffer, or “setback zone,” will keep communities farther from the impacts of leaking wells and pollution.

But just after the bill was signed into law in September, a referendum effort fueled by oil and gas companies was launched to undo it.

Members of the California Independent Petroleum Association spent millions on signature-gathering efforts to get the referendum on the ballot. A Dec. 13 statement from CIPA said the signatures were submitted to the state for verification.

Kobi Naseck, coalition coordinator for environmental group VISION, says even if the referendum effort is successful, that doesn’t necessarily mean the end for these protections. He says Newsom and state agencies have the power to keep protections in place, regardless.

“There's nothing stopping CalGEM, which is the agency responsible for permitting in California, to just stop permitting within the setback zone,” Naseck said. “All eyes are on the Newsom administration, in terms of being able to secure these protections in the next two years, should the referendum make it to the ballot.”

California’s secretary of state is responsible for reviewing the signatures and certifying that a referendum qualifies for the ballot. That office will likely conclude its review of the submitted signatures sometime in January.

Ending the ‘school-to-prison pipeline’

One new law would task the California Department of Education with developing evidence-based best practices for restorative justice.

The law, authored by Democratic Assembly member Dr. Akilah Weber, is an effort to disrupt the so-called “school-to-prison” pipeline, which refers to the disproportionate use of discipline at school against students of color — particularly Black students — that puts them into the criminal justice system.

Weber, a physician, said implementing restorative justice practices in schools is a manner of focusing on social determinants of health.

“We need to start implementing some things that work so that all students in California can be successful in having very strong academic foundations … instead of taking a child and disciplining them and kicking them out of their learning environment either temporarily or permanently,” she said.

Restorative justice practices focus on mediation and community-building, asking students to take responsibility for harm they’ve caused. It also makes efforts to repair while centering the needs of those who have been harmed.

In Sacramento County, two school districts have started to experiment with restorative justice practices: Natomas and Sacramento City.

That’s in the wake of a 2020 report showing the latter district has one of the highest suspension rates for Black students, mainly boys, in California. The report recommended the district utilize restorative justice as a suspension alternative, to “build communities and ‘restore’ relationships between all affected parties after an incident has occurred.”

This coming legislative session, Weber hopes to introduce a new bill that would mandate all California schools to utilize the list of practices developed by the state’s education department, to ensure all students, regardless of where their school is located, are able to benefit.

Rules to protect bicyclists

AB 1909 makes four changes to laws affecting bicyclists. Advocates say the bill will make biking safer.

Three of the changes become effective on Jan. 1. The bill will require drivers to change lanes before passing a cyclist if a lane is available.

Jared Sanchez is a senior policy advocate at the California Bicycle Coalition, a nonprofit also known as CalBike. He said the change improves upon the existing 3-foot law when passing a biker.

“There's a lot of near-misses and a lot of accidents that happen from ... clipping cyclists when you pass too close,” Sanchez said. “Hopefully this will increase the use of bikes and make it safer for folks on the road.”

The bill also prohibits cities from requiring bicycle licenses. The third change removes a statewide ban on Class 3 electric bikes — which are the fastest available — from certain facilities, although local governments can still ban them from equestrian, hiking, and recreational trails.

A fourth part of the bill doesn’t go into effect until 2024. Deb Banks, executive director of the Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates, said it will allow bikers to cross the street at pedestrian signals instead of only at green traffic lights.

“That means [cyclists] get a little bit of a head start to get through the intersection, which are the most dangerous places for [them],” Banks said.

Understanding the ‘prison-to-streets’ problem

California will be required to collect data each year on how many people are exiting prison into unstable housing — or outright homelessness — under a new law that goes into effect Jan. 1.

Researchers have found a strong link between leaving prison and entering homelessness, but have struggled to find data.

SB 903 authored by now-retired Sen. Bob Hertzberg attempts to measure this “prison-to-streets” pipeline.

One reason current data is unreliable is that inmates often tell parole boards they have housing, even if they don’t, according to Chris Martin, policy director with Housing California, a nonprofit that supported the law.

“If the answer is no, they then do not get paroled,” Martin explained. “They get kept in prison.”

He said housing discrimination against former inmates “is rampant throughout our state” and pushes many to the streets.

“When you apply for housing, you have to say whether you have a criminal record or not. And if you reply ‘yes,’ you’re not going to get that unit,” Martin said.

The new law requires the California Rehabilitation Oversight Board, part of the Office of the Inspector General, to issue annual reports to the governor and Legislature. Those reports must include, among other findings, “data indicating the number of parolees who are experiencing homelessness, and the number of those parolees experiencing homelessness who have previously been identified as having serious mental health needs,” according to the text of the law.

Martin said he hopes the new law will spark plans for how the state can house people exiting prisons, not just while they’re on parole, but permanently.

“Hopefully we can see this data inform some kind of strategies and ideas around where we go from here,” he said.

Land for affordable housing

The Affordable Housing and High Road Jobs Act identifies areas zoned for parking, retail, or office buildings where land could be used for housing. It allows for housing on that land and exempts such projects from local approval processes and the California Environmental Quality Act.

Those exemptions could both speed up the process and lower the cost of building homes. Urban Footprint’s analysis estimates that 108,000 acres of land would be newly open for home construction, with the potential for between 1.5 and 2.5 million homes, 200,000 to 300,000 of which would not require a government subsidy.

That analysis also says a side benefit of the law, AB 2011, will be a decrease in vehicle miles traveled and tailpipe emissions, as there will be housing adjacent to work and shopping.

Democratic Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, who drafted the act, says it “marks a turning point for California’s housing production needs — no longer will lack of land be an issue. No longer will there be a lack of incentive for workers to join the construction workforce. And, no longer will red tape and bureaucracy prohibit us from building housing in the right locations to address our climate crisis.”

The law goes into effect on Jan. 1.

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