Written By Christopher B. Dolan and Jeremy M. Jessup
This week’s question comes from Johanna in Truckee who asks: Every new year there are hordes of new laws that are enacted but I find it difficult to know what they are. Is there any way you can provide some highlights of California’s new laws?
Dear Johanna: Out with the old and in with the new, as the saying goes, and as you pointed out — and that includes a number of new laws that went into effect on January 1st here in California or are going to come into effect shortly. There were hundreds of bills that were signed into law and some that were voted on by the people. A number of these will not start until later this year, such as being prohibited from buying more than one semiautomatic rifle in a 30-day period. Some may begin even later, like a flavored-tobacco ban that was set to go into effect on the 1st, probably will not be adopted until some time in 2022.
Here are some of the laws that have gone or are going into effect for 2021:
Additional penalties for texting and driving
It’s already the law that you must use hands free devices while driving, whether you’re talking or texting. Now the punishment is getting stricter. Two convictions in 36 months will add a point to your record starting in July 2021.
Hot car rules
It’s already against the law to leave a child under 6 in a car unattended. Now those who try to help are protected from civil or criminal liability for property damage or trespassing if they break into the car to rescue the child.
Starting January 1s California’s minimum wage is $14 at companies with 26 or more employees and $13 at companies smaller than that. This is a $1 increase from last year’s hourly minimum. Some cities, like Palo Alto, Sonoma and Mountain View have already increased their minimum wages to $15 or more this year.
Expansion of paid family-leave benefits
Family-leave benefits for nearly six million residents have been expanded. In addition, Californians who work for an employer with at least five employees are included in job protection benefits. The new law also expands on the potential reasons for taking leave, making it possible for workers affected by COVID-19 to take time off to care for a parent, sibling or grandchild.
The Transgender Respect, Agency and Dignity Act allows incarcerated transgender, gender-nonconforming and intersex individuals to be housed and searched according to their gender identity.
Workplace COVID-19 protections
The new law requires employers to take specific actions, like written notifications to employees, within one business day of a potential exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. The notification must be written in English and another language, if applicable. This law does have a sunset provision, which is the end of 2023.
After a devastating fire season, when many inmate firefighters were released early because of the pandemic, prisoner firefighting crews served a crucial role; a new law will now allow nonviolent offenders to petition to get their records expunged and to use their training to gain employment as firefighters. Previously, inmates were precluded because of their criminal records from becoming firefighters upon release.
Parolees’ right to vote
Voters passed Proposition 17 in the November election, which restores felons’ right to vote after the completion of their sentence.
Youth criminal justice reforms
Starting in July, the state will be phasing out juvenile prisons. In addition, a new law prevents kids who are acting out in school from being referred to probation programs or becoming a ward of the court; instead, they’ll be referred to community support services. Finally, it will become easier for minors in police custody to get legal counsel before being questioned.
The three remaining state youth facilities will no longer accept newly convicted youth after July 2021. The state will be transferring the responsibility of the convicted youth back to the counties.
Student loan borrowers
Effective July 2021 will be Assembly Bill 376 which offers new protections for student loan borrowers and makes it harder for lenders to take advantage of people who may not know all their rights or how to navigate the system.
Demilitarizing police uniforms
Law enforcement will no longer be allowed to wear uniforms that have camouflage or otherwise resemble military uniforms. This law does not apply to members of various tactical response teams, such as SWAT, nor does it apply to the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Bans on certain police restraint tactics
AB 1196 eliminates the use of any chokehold or carotid restraint technique by law enforcement. The bill prohibits any state or local law enforcement agency, including campus police, from authorizing the use of a carotid restraint or chokehold. The bill defines a chokehold as any defensive tactic involving direct pressure applied to a person’s trachea. It also defines a, “carotid restraint,” as any restraint, hold, or other defensive tactic that applies pressure to the sides of a person’s neck, which involves a substantial risk of restricting blood flow, and that may render the person unconscious.