New 2021 California Laws to Know

From COVID Protections to Police Reform, Legislation Addresses Short-Term Crises and Long-Term Problems

Inmate firefighters can now petition the court to have their records expunged, allowing them to become professional firefighters. | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

Many of the 372 California laws that Governor Gavin Newsom signed in 2020 reflect the pressing issues of the day ― wildfires, police reform, COVID-19, jobs. Others are aimed at tackling the state’s longer-term problems ― climate change, systemic racism, health care, housing. Here we highlight the most important of these new laws, including those that will have major impacts on Santa Barbara County and its residents.

COVID-19

  • Private and public employers are now required to notify workers within one business day if they may have been exposed to the coronavirus. They must also provide them information about worker’s compensation, paid sick leave, and anti-retaliation policies. The law will remain in effect until 2023.
  • The state’s Department of Financial Protection and Innovation was endowed with a broad set of new powers to shield residents from pandemic-spawned fraud. Rules against price gouging also now cover sellers who only begin offering a product after an emergency is declared, a change inspired by the pandemic when people bought supplies in bulk and then sold them at grossly inflated prices.
  • Nursing facilities must report COVID-19 deaths to public health authorities within 24 hours. Hospitals must maintain at least three months’ worth of personal protective equipment (PPE) for their employees.

BUSINESS

  • California’s minimum wage has increased to $14 for large companies and $13 for smaller ones. A law signed by Governor Jerry Brown in 2016 requires the state’s mandatory minimum wage to grow incrementally every year until it reaches $15 in 2022.
  • Like their bigger counterparts, small businesses (those with as few as five employees) must now provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for family and medical needs. The law also expands on accepted reasons for taking leave to protect workers caring for a family member sick with COVID-19.
  • Large farms (those with 26 or more employees) must pay their workers overtime after they’ve worked 8.5 hours in a single day or 45 hours in a week.
  • Certain professionals, including musicians, writers, landscape architects, and others, are now exempt from AB 5, a law signed last year that reclassified many independent contractors as employees.

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ENVIRONMENT

  • Inmate firefighters ― who during the last fire season made up a third of all frontline firefighters ― can now petition the court to have their records expunged. This will allow them to become professional firefighters. (Those convicted of sex offenses and certain violent felonies are exempt.)
  • A 2010 law signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger stipulated that by 2021, vehicle manufacturers cannot make brake pads that contain more than 5 percent copper material. As a result, Chevy is no longer able to sell 2021 Camaro models in California.

HEALTH

  • When approving a medical exemption for children to skip one or more vaccines they would otherwise need to attend school, private doctors are required to submit their exemption in electronic form to state public health officials.
  • Senate Bill 855 requires health-care plans to cover medically necessary treatment for all recognized mental-health and substance-abuse disorders. Previously, insurers were only required to cover treatments for nine specified mental-health disorders.
  • The state’s Health and Human Services Agency has been directed to enter partnerships with private companies to produce and distribute affordable generic prescription drugs.
  • Cleaning product manufacturers, including air fresheners and surface cleaners, must list all ingredients on their labels.

POLICE REFORM

  • The California Attorney General’s Office must now investigate every case where local police fatally shoot an unarmed person.
  • Counties have been given the authority to create a civilian oversight board to independently oversee the work of a Sheriff’s Department and, if needed, to issue subpoenas.
  • Assembly Bill 1196 prohibits law enforcement officers from using chokeholds and carotid holds. 

SOCIAL & RACIAL JUSTICE

  • The California Racial Justice Act increases opportunities for accused individuals to challenge their charge or conviction by demonstrating that racial bias played a role in their case.
  • With the passage of Proposition 17 in the most recent election, individuals on parole are now eligible to vote.
  • Assembly Bill 3121 tasks the state with creating a nine-member commission that will study the possibility of paying reparations for slavery.
  • The Transgender Respect, Agency, and Dignity Act allows incarcerated transgender, gender-nonconforming, and intersex individuals to be searched and housed according to their gender identity.
  • In response to the “Karen” effect, fines can be assessed to anyone who makes a 9-1-1 call to threaten or harass someone based on their race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation.
  • By the end of 2021, publicly held corporations are required to include at least one director from underrepresented communities on their boards.

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