Every year, the California Legislature passes hundreds of bills, ranging from technical clarifications to funding proposals that keep the state running. How have they changed your world this time? Here are some of the new laws – the useful, the controversial, and the downright quirky – taking effect on Jan. 1, 2018.
A prospective employer will no longer be able to decide how much money to offer you by asking what you made at your last job. Under Assembly Bill 168, the salary history of job applicants can only be disclosed voluntarily. Supporters say the law could help women close the persistent gender pay gap. Assembly Bill 1008 aims to improve employment prospects for formerly incarcerated job seekers by banning the box on applications that asks about criminal conviction history. It builds on a 2013 law for public employment in California, expanding the policy to cover most private companies in the state as well. Employers will still be able to conduct a background check once a conditional offer has been made, but the law, which is part of a national ban-the-box movement, is meant to give former convicts a better opportunity to be considered on their merits before they are judged for past mistakes.
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Get ready for a new era of voting in California: Senate Bill 450, which passed in 2016, does away with neighborhood polling places and replaces them with elections conducted primarily by mail. It represents another effort to boost sagging voter participation. Under the system, which Sacramento is among the first counties to adopt, every registered voter will receive a mail ballot. Drop-off locations will be available up to four weeks before election day, and temporary regional “vote centers” will open 10 days ahead of time to register voters and accept ballots.
Californians enter 2018 with expanded protections to take time off from work. Under Senate Bill 63, nearly 2.8 million workers at small businesses with between 20 and 49 employees are now guaranteed up to 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave within the first year of their child’s birth, adoption or foster care placement. (Workers at larger businesses with at least 50 employees already received this benefit.) Assembly Bill 908 also boosts state compensation for workers taking paid leave to temporarily care for a family member, to 60 percent of their regular wages from 55 percent, and up to 70 percent for the lowest earners.
Fueled by widespread anger over soaring prescription drug prices, lawmakers went to battle with the pharmaceutical industry. Senate Bill 17 requires manufacturers to notify the state at least 60 days before dramatically increasing the price of most drugs. Health insurers will also have to report how much prescription drugs are contributing to the cost of their plans, including annual hikes to premiums. (In December, the pharmaceutical industry filed suit in federal court, challenging the law as a violation of interstate commerce and free speech protections.) Assembly Bill 265 also prohibits discount coupons for brand-name drugs, which can lower how much patients pay out-of-pocket. Critics contend the coupons build customer loyalty to more expensive medications, ultimately costing insurers more and potentially driving up premiums.
Eager to address California’s severe housing affordability crisis, legislators crafted more than a dozen new laws last session that aim to spur development. Some have broader implications for all residents, including Senate Bill 2, which adds a fee of $75 to $225 on real estate transactions. It is expected to generate up to $300 million annually for affordable housing projects, programs that assist homeless people and long-range development planning. If a community has not met its state-mandated housing needs, Senate Bill 35 allows developers to bypass the lengthy, and often expensive, review process for new projects. Assembly Bill 167 seeks to tamp down on “not in my backyard” backlash by making it harder for cities and counties to vote down proposed developments that fit within their long-range housing plans.
Senate Bill 54, arguably the most controversial new law of 2018, makes California a “sanctuary state.” A rebuke to President Donald Trump’s plans to ramp up deportations of undocumented immigrants, it limits the ability of state and local police to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement. Officers cannot inquire about someone’s immigration status or detain them on a hold request from the federal government, unless they have been convicted of one of more than 800 crimes. The legislative “resistance” to Trump continued with more policies to assist immigrants, including Assembly Bill 291, which prohibits landlords from reporting their undocumented renters; Senate Bill 257, which allows students whose parents are deported to continue attending California schools; and Assembly Bill 450, which bans employers from cooperating with or allowing immigration enforcement raids at their work sites without a court order.
California’s lowest earners are in for a raise: The minimum wage increases by 50 cents, to $11 per hour for workers at companies with at least 26 employees, and to $10.50 for those at smaller firms. It is part of an agreement reached nearly two years ago, Senate Bill 3, that will continue to hike the hourly wage annually until it reaches $15 in 2022 for large companies, and in 2023 for all workers.
Diaper changing stations
Parents across the state will have an easier time sharing diaper duty in the future. Assembly Bill 1127 requires state and local agencies, as well as public venues such as movie theaters, grocery stores, sports arenas and restaurants, to provide at least one diaper-changing station accessible to women and men. The law applies to new construction or significant renovations of facilities.
California is closing the chapter on a contentious era in education: Assembly Bill 830 eliminates the high school exit exam, which was instituted, beginning with the Class of 2006, to ensure that students demonstrated a minimum proficiency in English and math before graduating. Tens of thousands of students never passed the exam and consequently never received a diploma. A decade later, lawmakers suspended the requirement to rewrite the test; now, they are simply doing away with it instead. In an effort to keep poor female students attending class, schools will also provide free tampons and pads. Assembly Bill 10 requires middle and high schools where at least 40 percent of students meet the federal poverty threshold to stock half their campus restrooms with free menstrual products.
Democrats, nationally and in California, are pushing to address ballooning higher education costs by expanding the availability of financial aid – or eliminating tuition altogether. Assembly Bill 19 establishes the initial stage of a “free college” program here, waiving the first year of fees for any first-time student who enrolls full-time at one of California’s 114 community colleges. That promise, however, depends on the state setting aside enough money in its 2018-19 budget to cover the fee waivers.
California continues to ease the process for transgender people to get updated identification documents. Senate Bill 179 removes the requirement that they have undergone any treatment before applying with the state to change the gender on their birth certificate. It also adds a “nonbinary” option for those who do not identify as either male or female, which will be available on driver’s licenses as well starting in 2019.
California already has among the nation’s strictest gun control laws, and the Legislature continues to tighten them. Assembly Bill 424 eliminates a policy, implemented only last year, that gave school administrators authority to decide whether employees with concealed carry permits should be allowed to bring their firearms onto campus. Now they will be banned. Under Assembly Bill 785, someone convicted of a hate crime will lose their right to possess a gun for 10 years. And new restrictions on buying ammunition are beginning to take effect. While background checks will not be required until next year, customers must now purchase their ammunition through a licensed vendor. That means even if you order your ammunition online, you must ship it to a vendor and pick it up in person.
You are now permitted to do something you were probably doing anyway: cross the street when the red hand signal is flashing. Assembly Bill 390 eliminates the penalty for entering a crosswalk after a “Don’t Walk” symbol appears, as long as there is a countdown that indicates how much time is left for pedestrians to cross.
Voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2016 with Proposition 64, and now it is available for retail purchase. Adults 21 and older can buy up to an ounce of weed and up to 8 grams of cannabis concentrates, though only in cities, like Sacramento and Oakland, that have permitted stores.