In the midst of all the top hats, party horns and confetti that helped ring in the New Year, hundreds of new state laws also went into effect in California when the world welcomed 2020.
The Legislature’s largely-liberal viewpoint is made apparent in the nearly 1,200 new laws Gov. Gavin Newsom signed in 2019, ranging from monthly limits on gun purchases to increased pay for low-wage jobs.
AB 5 will change the way that freelancers and people in the so-called “gig economy” are paid moving forward. The bill, which reclassified what constitutes an “independent contractor” as a way to try and bolster benefits for employees, is expected to adversely affect truck drivers, freelance journalists and contributors, and ride share drivers. The legality of the bill is under question as freelance journalists have filed suit to try and block the law from taking effect after it was announced by a national online news service that they would not renew contracts with freelancers from California because the state requires them to be paid minimum wage as well as be given benefits and perks typically reserved for employees. Rideshare giant Uber has said that they refuse to implement the changes and was part of an effort to defeat the bill through lobbying. Despite the controversy, the law went into effect on Jan. 1.
The state’s gun laws — already some of the country’s strictest — will see more restrictive additions in 2020, with most expanding already-existing regulations. One new law that goes into effect Jan. 1 prohibits Californians under the age of 21 from purchasing a semi-automatic rifle, and starting in 2021, all California residents will be limited to buying one of the rifles per month. In addition, a person banned from having a gun in another state can no longer legally have one in their possession in California come 2020.
In 2019, those under the age of 21 were prohibited from purchasing long gun, like rifles and shotguns, unless they are active law enforcement, military or have their hunting license. The stipulation also applies to the new semi-automatic rifle law. Bilson’s Sport Shop employee Larry Adams shared in 2018 that sales to those between 18 and 21 accounted for about 30 percent of the shop’s total firearm revenue. Adams added that prohibiting those under the age of 21 from purchasing any type of gun seemed ironic.
“I don’t understand how you can join the military, get a gun and get killed overseas, but you can’t own that same firearm in your own country,” Adams said in 2018.
Two additional gun laws will go into effect Sept. 1, 2020 — one prohibiting those with a gun-violence restraining order from buying a firearm for up to five years, and another that allows an employer, coworker, employee or teacher to seek a gun-violence restraining order from a court, allowing police to remove firearms from a person making threats.
Changes are coming to California healthcare, too. Doctors will now fill out a new, standardized form created by state health officials for parents who want a medical exemption from vaccinations for their children. Doctors will now have to use that form, and existing exemptions must be submitted to the state in 2021. The state will review the actions of any doctor who has written five or more exemptions after Jan. 1, 2020.
According to the California Health & Human Services Agency, a change in the state’s vaccination laws is needed because some schools are beginning to fall below the 95 percent vaccination rate, thereby jeopardizing herd immunity — the level of immunity that will prevent the spread of an infectious disease in a population — as a result of a growing number of students with medical exemptions. Exemptions which meet the standard of medical care will continue, while those which do not may be revoked.
Californians will also now be required to have health insurance, similar to the “individual mandate” implemented under the federal Affordable Care Act. Penalties for those who do not enroll in a healthcare plan won’t go into effect until taxes are filed in 2021.
Under the first law of its kind in the U.S., some undocumented young adults will be eligible to receive health insurance through the state’s Medicaid program. Previously only undocumented immigrant children could apply, but now California will offer government subsidized health benefits for undocumented immigrants under the age of 26. Signed by Newsom over the summer, the bill is expected to cost nearly $100 million a year and cover an additional 90,000 people.
New housing protections and regulations will also go into effect this year, including a limit on annual rent increases by five percent. Landlords will also be required to provide a “just cause” when evicting tenants who have been renting for a year or more. Local governments will also be prohibited from down-zoning thanks to a new law that will either place a moratorium on development or lower the number of housing units permitted. This will speed up the permitting process for development and will sunset after five years.
“About a third of California renters pay more than half of their income to rent and are one emergency away from losing their housing,” Gov. Newsom said when signing the bills. “One essential tool to combating this crisis is protecting renters from price-gouging and evictions. The bills signed into law today are among the strongest in the nation to protect tenants and support working families.”
Homeowners will soon find it easier to build Accessory Dwelling Units, more commonly known as in-law units or granny flats, thanks to legislation that removes standards on lot coverage and gets rid of requirements on minimum lot size.
In education, a new law will overhaul how the state authorizes its charter schools. The legislation will allow school districts to consider the impact to the community and the neighborhood schools when reviewing applications for charter schools, and also requires their teachers to be credentialed. In addition, public and charter schools will now be banned from suspending students in grades four through eight for disruptive behavior. Previously, only students in grades one through three were protected from suspension for such behavior.
Animals will receive new protections in California in 2020 as well, with the first law of its kind in the country prohibiting the sale and production of new fur products going into effect this year. Also, circus acts are now banned from using wild animals like bears, elephants, tigers and monkeys in their shows.
“California is a leader when it comes to animal welfare, and today that leadership includes banning the sale of fur,” Newsom said in a statement. “But we are doing more than that. We are making a statement to the world that beautiful wild animals like bears and tigers have no place on trapeze wires or jumping through flames.”
Reporter Jason Campbell contributed to this story.