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As they do every year, the new laws signed by California’s governor in 2021 range from the important to the interesting to the downright strange. And while the COVID-19 pandemic slowed Sacramento somewhat — with the second-fewest number of bills approved since 1967, only after the record low in 2020 — a full 770 pieces of fresh legislation were ratified, most of which went into effect on New Year’s Day. Here are some highlights.

  • California was one of only four states without the ability to decertify law enforcement officers who committed serious misconduct, allowing individuals fired from one department to be quietly rehired by another. Now, the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training has the power to effectively kick offending officers out of the profession for good.
  • Police are now prohibited from firing rubber bullets and tear gas “indiscriminately into a crowd or group of persons” after a number of demonstrators were seriously injured during protests last summer following the murder of George Floyd. They are also not allowed to block journalists from covering demonstrations by intentionally interfering with or obstructing their newsgathering.
  • Health insurance companies must offer free COVID-19 testing to their subscribers and eliminate any hidden fees. They are also required to fully cover screening tests mandated by many employers and schools.
  • Department stores that sell kids’ toys must maintain a gender-neutral section of products. Stores that do not comply would face fines up to $500. Retailers had objected to an earlier version of the bill that included children’s clothing.
  • In a major win for pro-equity groups, all California public schools must now offer ethnic studies courses to their students and make them a requirement of graduation. A separate bill mandates mental health instruction in middle schools and high schools. Content will include mental wellness habits, signs and symptoms of common conditions, and how to seek help.

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  • Assembly Bill 928 streamlines the transfer process from community colleges to California State and University of California schools by creating a common set of general-education courses and placing all potential transfers on a “guaranteed path” to a Cal State campus unless they opt out.
  • California becomes the first state in the country to classify “stealthing” — the non-consensual removal of a condom during sex — as sexual battery.
  • In an extension of pandemic-era rules, California restaurants are allowed to continue selling to-go cocktails with food orders through 2026. They can also keep offering cocktails, beer, and wine in outdoor parklets for an additional year once pandemic emergency orders are lifted.
  • Beginning January 1, the state launched a pilot program that allows people to legally collect and eat roadkill, specifically deer, elk, pronghorn antelope, or wild pig, by securing a “wildlife salvage permit.”
  • Assembly Bill 1096 strikes the word “alien” from the state code and replaces it with the terms “noncitizen” or “immigrant.” Governor Gavin Newsom said the word “alien” has helped fuel a “divisive and hurtful narrative.”
  • The COVID-era executive order that sent mail-in ballots to every registered voter in California is here to stay, with mail-in voting extended to local elections as well. Individuals will still be able to vote in person if they choose.
  • A new animal welfare law sets the nation’s toughest living-space standards for breeding pigs. Fearing rising prices and job losses, critics have called for delaying enforcement until 2024 to give farmers enough time to comply.
  • Garment workers must now be paid hourly instead of by how many items they make. Separately, farmworkers must receive overtime after working more than eight hours in a day, and double pay after more than 12 hours.
  • As of July 1, electronic cigarettes will be subject to a new 12.5 percent sales tax. The proceeds will go toward public health and education programs. 

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