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Saturday, January 2, 2016

New laws to have wide-ranging impact on life in California

By John Wildermuth
More renewable power, equal pay for women, and restrictions on police searches of cell phones, computers and electronic data highlight a list of new California laws for the new year.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed 808 bills in 2015, more than 120 fewer than in 2014. While most of the new laws take effect on New Year’s Day, 92 were passed as urgency measures, which means they became law as soon as they were signed.
For example, SB405 by state Sen. Robert Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, allowing drivers to avoid paying traffic fines and penalties before they get a court hearing, already is law.
The renewable power and gender pay-gap bills were both huge wins for the governor. While intense lobbying by the oil industry forced Brown to dump his plan for cutting the state’s oil use in half from the final bill, SB350 by state Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, calls for the state to get half its electricity from such renewable sources as solar and wind power by 2030.
The new Fair Pay Act, SB358 by state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, closes loopholes in current antidiscrimination rules to make it easier to challenge employers paying women different rates from men for similar work. It also makes it illegal for employers to bar workers from talking about their pay or their co-workers’ pay if the purpose is to determine wage fairness.
California also enacted what is believed to be the nation’s widest-ranging electronic privacy law. SB178, by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, requires that, except in emergency situations, police must get a search warrant before going through someone’s e-mails, text messages, GPS data and other electronic information.
“It brings the state’s statutes into the 21st century by recognizing that we communicate with each other digitally,” Leno said when the bill was signed in October.
Other measures that took effect Friday include:
Highway lane use: Current law requiring slow-moving vehicles to let traffic pass now also requires bicycles to use the next available turnout when five or more vehicles are behind them.
Driving under the influence: Drivers in four California counties, including Alameda, will remain part of a pilot project requiring those convicted of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol to install an ignition-interlock device on their cars. The existing program now will expire on July 1, 2017.
Officer-involved shootings: All California law enforcement agencies now must collect information on incidents where a police officer or civilian is shot or when use of force by an officer or civilian results in serious injury or death. The information must be sent to the state Department of Justice by the end of each year.
Gun-violence restraining order: People who fear a family member could hurt themselves or others can apply for a court’s gun-violence restraining order to limit, for up to one year, that individual’s access to firearms.
Medical marijuana rules: Provides a statewide licensing and regulatory framework for all parts of the medical marijuana industry, including cultivation, manufacture, transportation, storage, distribution and sale. Specific rules will be set by the state departments of Consumer Affairs, Food and Agriculture, and Public Health.
Bike bridge tolls: Pedestrians and cyclists will not be required to pay sidewalk tolls on the Golden Gate Bridge and any state-owned toll bridge. The ban expires in 2021.
Ivory sales ban: Expands the state’s existing ban on the sale of elephant ivory to include almost all elephant ivory or parts, including those obtained before 1977, which previously could be legally sold. Owners of items made of ivory, elephant parts or rhino horns now have until July 1 to sell them, with fines of up to $50,000 for sales after that.
Initiative fees: Filing fees for state initiatives are increased to $2,000, up from the current $200, in an effort to curb what have been called frivolous measures designed more to make a political or social statement than to actually be put on the ballot.
Motor-voter registration: California adults who apply for or renew a driver’s license will automatically be registered to vote, although they will be allowed to opt out if they don’t want to be registered.
Campus gun ban: People legally licensed to carry concealed weapons will not be allowed to bring their guns onto school or college campuses without permission from campus authorities.
Family leave rules: Expands existing law allowing parents, guardians and grandparents to take time off for a child’s school activities to include step-parents, foster parents and those who stand in for parents. It also broadens the current kin-care law to include grandparents, grandchildren and siblings.
Earbuds and headsets: Makes it illegal to wear headsets, earbuds or earphones inserted in or covering both ears while operating a motor vehicle or bicycle.
No more aliens: Modernizes existing law by removing the term “alien” from the California Labor Code as a definition for an immigrant.
Religious accommodation: Bars employers from retaliating or discriminating against employees who ask for accommodation for their disabilities or religious beliefs, regardless of whether the accommodation was ultimately granted.
Cheerleader pay: Cheerleaders for professional sports teams now will be treated as employees of the team, making them subject to state minimum-wage and work rules.

Other important bills signed by the governor have not yet taken effect. One of 2015’s most controversial measures, SB277 by state Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, which requires almost every elementary and high school student to be vaccinated, regardless of the family’s personal beliefs, won’t become law until July 1. Likewise, a ban on using the term “Redskins” for school or athletic team names, mascots or nicknames, was signed in 2015, but won’t take effect until Jan. 1, 2017.