California State Assembly room

The room of the California State Assembly in Sacramento.

Multiple new laws are on the books and took effect Friday, though others are set to begin later in the year. The laws run a range, from ongoing developments set to change annually, such as the rise in the state minimum wage, while others were passed this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The most impactful new laws to the Mother Lode are likely related to criminal justice reform, COVID-19 and a range of new lifestyle regulations. 

 

COVID-19

Perhaps the most important COVID-19 regulation set to begin this year requires employers to provide written notifications to employees within 24 hours, or one business day, of any potential exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. AB 685 notes employers could face fines for violations of the rules. 

Employers are also required to report outbreaks, or three or more cases, to their local public health department and CAL/OSHA will have expanded authority to enforce compliance. The law is in effect until 2023.

Workers who contract COVID-19 will also be eligible for expanded injury compensation benefits. The law applies to workers who die or contract the virus and are ill. The bill is in place for workers who contracted COVID-19 between July 6 last year and Jan.1, 2023 

In addition, a state consumer financial protection law gives the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation more enforcement powers to root out pandemic-inspired scams, among other authorities. The increased enforcement powers were passed after a range of scams promising COVID-19 cures or stimulus check fraud. 

 

Criminal justice reform

Non-violent offenders will now have the ability to get their records expunged and use fire training during incarceration to find employment as firefighters following their release. 

Inmate firefighting has received a more detailed evaluation in recent years due to the rising severity of California wildfires and the use of inmate crews to fight on the front lines of raging fires while only being paid $1 an hour. 

Inmates previously could not become firefighters after release due to their criminal records. 

A fire camp in Tuolumne County which was a part of the state prison in Jamestown, Baseline Conservation Camp, was closed and depopulated late last year. 

Proposition 17, which passed in the fall, will restore voting rights for former felons on parole and released from prison. 

Assembly Bill 1185 allows various county boards of supervisors in the state to establish oversight boards or inspector generals on the elected county sheriff. The law is intended to provide more local oversight to sheriff's offices and can be established either by the board or a countywide vote.

The California Racial Justice Act gives defendants an opportunity to challenge charges or convictions if they can prove racial bias in their case. The law applies to individuals and the use of racial language by court officials or if there is a disproportionate charging or conviction rate for a certain race with a specific crime. 

Assembly Bill 1196 restricts the use of neck restraints and chokeholds that can cut off airflow or blood blow. The law was passed as a response to the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man killed in Minneapolis earlier in the year by a police officer who was kneeling on his neck. The law also establishes that the state attorney general must investigate any deaths of unarmed citizens by law enforcement.

 

Guns, property taxes, flavored tobacco and minimum wage

Senate Bill 61 was one of the most sweeping gun control laws passed in the last year and will restrict Californians from buying more than one semi-automatic rifle per month, as well as raise the minimum age to purchase a high-powered rifle to 21. 

The month-restriction takes effect on July 1, 2021, and the age requirement on Jan. 1.

Proposition 19, which passed in the fall, changes property tax rules for homeowners in the state. It limits the tax benefits of transferring property between family members, but also allows people over the age of 55 or others with damaged homes to transfer the primary residence's tax property base to a replacement residence.   

A flavored-tobacco ban that was set to go into effect at the start of the year was challenged and is occurring signatures for a proposition ballot proposal that is seeking to overturn the law in 2022.

Minimum wage is increasing to $14 an hour, which is a $1 increase from last year's minimum. The hourly wage increase is set to increase to $15 by 2022, at which point the incremental increases will stop.

 

Traffic laws

The California Highway Patrol highlights a slate of new traffic safety laws that take effect in 2021, which include greater penalties for safety regulations and child safety. Beginning on July 1, 2021, violating the hands-free law for cell phone use by a driver for the second time within 36 months of a prior conviction of the same offense will result in a point being added to a driver's record. If enough points accrue on a license record, the license can be restricted or rescinded.

Assembly Bill 2717 will exempt a person from civil or criminal liability for damaging or trespassing on a vehicle when rescuing a child younger than 6 years old who is in danger from heat, cold, lack of ventilation or other dangers.  

In addition, "Move Over, Slow Down" rules for approaching emergency vehicles, which previously only applied to freeways, will now apply to tow truck and Caltrans vehicles and also on local streets, roads and highways. 

Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at gricapito@uniondemocrat.net or (209) 588-4526.