Governor Gavin Newsom signed several high-profile bills into law in September.
The most controversial legislation approved by the governor includes new laws on childhood vaccination and freelance employment.
Two new laws intended to close exemption loopholes in California’s vaccination policies for school-age children were the subject of months of protests and controversy. The bills were signed without fanfare, while protesters packed the hall outside the Governor’s office, demanding that he veto the legislation.
Even after the legislation was signed into law, opponents continued to protest.
SB 276 and SB 71 were both authored by Senator Richard Pan (D-Sacramento). One bill allows state officials to revoke a doctor’s ability to write medical exemptions for vaccines if that doctor has faced disciplinary action over exemptions in the past. The goal is to shut down doctors who write medical exemptions without medical cause.
California eliminated vaccine exemptions based on personal belief in 2015.
The second new law phases out most medical exemptions for most children. Exemptions will now be limited to life-threatening allergic reactions like anaphylaxis.
“This legislation provides new tools to better protect public health, and does so in a way that ensures parents, doctors, public health officials and school administrators all know the rules of the road moving forward,” Newsom said in a statement.
“The two bills are needed to keep children safe from preventable diseases,” Pan stated, adding that he has agreed to support additional legislation to give families of school-age children a medical exemption “grace period” that could extend for several years.
AB 5 wins the prize for being the bill with the potential to have the most unintended consequences.
The law is the result of the landmark “Dynamex” ruling made by the California Supreme Court in 2018 that made it more difficult for employers to classify workers as independent contractors instead of employees. The bill was designed for companies like Uber and Lyft, which allegedly use a “gig economy” model to avoid having to pay overtime and provide benefits the way they would if the people who worked for them were employees, not freelancers.
However, the bill is sending shockwaves through a wide range of other, unrelated industries, and lobbyists are scrambling for exemptions.
Labor unions backed the move to reclassify many freelancers as employees, but industries in the tech, medical, media and entertainment sectors that rely heavily on independent contractors have adamantly opposed the move.
Dozens of professions campaigned for and received exemptions from AB 5, successfully arguing that the freelancers set or negotiate their own rates, communicate directly with customers, and make at least twice the minimum wage. Exemptions include doctors, psychologists, dentists, podiatrists, insurance agents, stock brokers, lawyers, accountants, engineers, veterinarians, direct sellers, real estate agents, hairstylists and barbers, aestheticians, commercial fishermen, marketing professionals, travel agents, graphic designers, grant writers, and fine artists.
Some of those exemptions, however, are limited and many professions are expected to be hit hard by the new law.
An exemption permits writers, photographers, photojournalists and cartoonists to retain their freelance status provided they do not submit more than 35 articles or images per media outlet per year. That isn’t enough for most freelance journalists to live on.
Independent musicians are also left in limbo, and the entire music industry is expected to be affected, from engineers, producers and publicists, to pick-up musicians for orchestras and even gigging musicians who perform at events like weddings or on Friday nights at a local club.
The American Association of Independent Music wrote an open letter warning that the new law could crush the music industry in California.
“The informal creative process of the independent music creation does not lend itself to regulation,” the letter states. “Unless there is an exemption for the music industry, it will make every studio engineer, an employee for whoever is hiring them,” the letter stated.
Expect more exemption requests and possible court challenges as freelancers and the businesses that use their services struggle with the law.
AB 1482 law limits landlords from increasing rents more than 5 percent annually, in addition to increases based on inflation. It also required landlords to provide “just cause” before evicting tenants. The measure stops short of being rent control—it exempts rental units built within the last 15 years and most single-family house rentals, but the goal is to help slow the exponential increase in rental costs.
AB 178 exempts property owners who lost their homes in recent wildfires like the catastrophic Paradise and Woolsey fires, from meeting the state’s new solar energy requirements. The exemption is temporary—it lasts for three years—and is intended to help burnouts recover and rebuild faster.
AB 1197 exempts new Los Angeles shelter or homeless housing projects that are funded by bond money from having to comply with CEQA—the California Environmental Quality Act, while SB 621 gives development projects that repurpose existing hotels for housing an exemption from CEQA review, but only through 2025.
The goal is to enable developers to quickly build housing or convert existing buildings. Supporters counter that CEQA has been weaponized to keep homeless projects out of affluent communities. Critics have expressed concerns that the new law undermines CEQA, and may have the unintended consequence of encouraging developers to cut corners on environmental impacts.
AB 619 should also be of interest to the local community. It permits California concert and festival vendors to serve food and beverages in reusable containers.
SB 54, a new recycling pilot program establishes plastic waste reduction policies, and AB 1080, a bill aimed at reducing the use of single-use plastic bags, never made it to the Governor’s desk. Neither did AB 1788, which proposed new restrictions on anticoagulant rodenticides. None of these three bills were voted on during this session. Look for them to return after the state legislature opens a new session in January 2020.
Newsom has stated that he plans to veto SB 1, a proposed law that attempted to make an end run around the Trump Administration’s sweeping cutbacks to federal environmental protections by freezing those standards at pre-Trump levels.
AB 792, a bill to require plastic bottles be made of 50-percent recycled materials by 2030, and AB-1718, a surprisingly controversial bill to ban smoking in State parks and on state beaches are still awaiting either the Governor’s signature or veto.
Newsom has until October 13 to make a decision on the remaining bills. The new laws will go into effect on January 1, 2020.