By Founding Partners Barry A. Bradley, Esq. & Thomas P. Gmelich, Esq.
In addition to our now famous Proposition 64 — passed by voters legalizing pot for recreational use — California Governor Jerry Brown signed 859 new laws that will likely affect you or amuse you. Whether you travel to the Golden State, do business here, or actually live here, you might want to be familiar with our new laws. Here are just a few highlights. . .
No Child Left Behind. . . On School Buses
Can bus drivers be so mindless? Apparently so. After a special needs student died in Whittier, California from being left in a sweltering bus parked with its windows closed, state lawmakers passed Senate Bill (“SB”) 1072. This law will require school buses, youth buses and child care motor vehicles to be equipped by the 2018-19 school year with alert systems that force drivers to manually disarm or scan an alarm at the rear of the bus before exiting the bus.
The bill also requires school districts to improve the training of drivers to avoid students being left on buses alone. (Wow, think they need it?)
Hiring – Just Don’t Ask!
Two new laws impose strict restrictions on employers in California during the hiring process.
Salary History: As part of the Equal Pay Act, AB 168 now prohibits employers from asking a job applicant about their job salary history, compensation or benefits. The idea is to prevent historical salary discrepancies between men and women in the workforce from continuing, and thus close the gender pay gap. Salary information can only be disclosed voluntarily by the applicant. In addition, if an applicant asks what the job pays, employers are required to provide the job scales for the position.
Ban The Box: In another paradigm shift for employers, AB 1008 aims to improve employment prospects for formerly incarcerated job seekers by banning the box on applications that asks about criminal conviction history. Employers are prohibited from asking about convictions prior to determining that the applicant is otherwise qualified for the job. After a conditional offer, the employer can only consider specific criminal history, and also must allow a denied applicant the right to provide additional information to rebut the hiring decision.
LESSON: Change your hiring practices, change your job applications! Violations could result in steep penalties and fines under the State’s Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA), which subject an employer to damages including wage loss resulting from the violation, interest and an additional equal amount as liquidated damages, plus attorney fees and costs. Fines of up to $10,000 or imprisonment are also possible. California’s laws are among the staunchest in the country to ensure equal pay.
Job Leave to Bond With Baby Expands to Smaller Businesses
SB 63 expands employee protections to take time off from work for new parents that were previously reserved for large businesses. Now, workers at small businesses with between 20 and 49 employees are also guaranteed up to 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave within the first year of their child’s birth, adoption or foster care placement. (Companies with fewer than 20 employees are exempt from this Leave Law.)
No Joking About Toking
If you didn’t know, voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2016 with Proposition 64, and now it is available for retail purchase. (Seriously, if you didn’t know this, you either live in a cave or you hate reading or watching t.v.) 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 licensed stores. Hundreds of retail stores are expected to pop up over the next year. It is estimated that state revenue from cannabis sales will exceed beer sales by the end of 2019.
Also, just like open alcohol containers and consumption is illegal in a car, SB 65 bars drivers and passengers from smoking or consuming marijuana products while in a vehicle. Drivers who violate the law will acquire negligent driver points added to their record, and passengers will pay a fine up to $70 per violation.
Another Minimum Wage Bump
Effective January 1 st, California’s lowest earners’ pay has increased. The minimum wage is increased 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. This is a continuation of SB 3 passed two years ago, that will continue to raise the minimum hourly wage annually until it reaches $15 in 2022 for large companies, and in 2023 for all workers.
Immigration Laws Affecting Employers:
California is now the center for a hotbed of laws addressing immigration. Here are just a couple.
Sanctuary State: Probably one of the most controversial new laws of 2018, SB 54 makes California a “sanctuary state.” In an apparent response to President Donald Trump’s plans to increase deportations of undocumented immigrants, this law limits the ability of state and local law enforcement to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement. Specifically, 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 specified crimes.
This bill has been blasted by U.S. Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions, stating that it will inhibit enforcement of the federal immigration laws. In contrast, the state government is looking to shield an estimated 2.3 million immigrants living illegally in California from profiling and immediate deportation. The state has been threatened with federal subsidy cuts, and it looks as if this is just the beginning of what will likely become a drawn out controversy.
Worksite Immigration Enforcement: In related legislation, AB 450 now prohibits employers from cooperating with or allowing immigration enforcement raids at their work sites without a court order or warrant. It further prohibits employers from providing employee records to immigration agents unless there is a subpoena or judicial warrant. The bill also requires business owners to give their employees 72 hours’ notice of federal immigration inspections of employee records.
Keeping Social Media in Check
In response to a vicious, sudden, and unprovoked attack outside of a fast food restaurant that was recorded on a cell phone and uploaded to Facebook, the California legislature passed AB 1542 , known as ”Jordan’s Law.” The law states that anyone who “willfully recorded a video” of a violent attack that was streamed on a site such as Facebook could receive additional punishment in a California court of law. It is hoped that this law will deter social media motivated attacks. That is, violent crimes where the perpetrator commits the crime for the purpose of videotaping and distributing it on social media to gain attention and notoriety.
California now leads the nation in transgender rights with the passage of the Gender Recognition Act, strongly supported by the LGBTQ community. SB 179 makes it easier for transgender people to get official state identification documents updated with the gender to which they identify. Applicants will no longer be required to have a sworn statement from a physician approving the gender transition in order for the legal document to reflect a different gender. The bill removes the requirement that they have undergone any treatment before applying with the state to change the gender on their birth certificate. Further, for those who do not identify as either male or female, it also adds a “non-binary” option, which will be available on driver’s licenses and other state ID starting in 2019.
Animal Rights and Protections
There were several bills that affect what we eat and how we treat our animals. Here are just a couple:
Rescue Animal Sales: AB 485, known as the Pet Rescue and Adoption Act bans pet stores from selling dogs, cats and rabbits unless they are rescue animals. The purpose of the law is to prevent California pet stores from selling animals bred in puppy mills and other mass-breeding operations, and to reduce the millions of dollars spent euthanizing animals each year. Stores face a $500 fine for each violation.
Healthy Cows: California is the first state in the nation to prohibit giving healthy farm animals antibiotics without a veterinarian’s prescription – a law designed to stop the spread of infections that are resistant to antibiotics. The drugs are used to fatten-up the livestock with no medical necessity associated to their use. Unnecessary use of antibiotics has been tied to the emerging of antibiotic-resistant infections, which sicken more than 2 million Americans each year and lead to some 23,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Antibiotics can of course still be used when medically necessary to fight infections, just as with people.) Livestock producers use about 70% of the antibiotics sold in the nation.
And finally. . .
Meet “Auggie” – California’s Official Dinosaur:
It took 66 million years, but this 26 feet tall and 11 feet long Vegetarian, Augustynolophus morrisi, is now the latest official state symbol. (Yes, you may recall the legislature declared denim to be the official state fabric last year.) Auggie is “a unique dinosaur that has only been found in California,” according to AB 1540 . Scientists believed it roamed the Earth at the same time as the better-known Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops. Not much is known about the dinosaur other than that, like other duck-billed species, it was a plant eater. (Auggie clearly chose a healthy lifestyle!)