In a year when the coronavirus pandemic upended every aspect of normal life, the impact in the California Capitol was also dramatic. Lawmakers took an unprecedented two-month pause in the spring, when Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a statewide order for people to stay home to prevent the spread of the virus. They returned to the Capitol in May, passed a state budget shrunken by the pandemic-induced recession, and began setting aside hundreds of bills that would no longer make the cut in this truncated year. Faced with less time to hold hearings and less money to spend on new initiatives, lawmakers chucked an estimated three-quarters of the bills introduced at the beginning of the year.

Abandoned or rejected along the way were bills requiring police to intervene if they see officers using excessive force, allow homeowners to request a forbearance on their mortgages during the pandemic, and launch a “Green New Deal” to fight climate change. 

But even with their reduced workload, lawmakers tackled numerous thorny issues, passing legislation that could impact life in California for years to come — to allow more workers to take paid family leave, make it easier to get mental health care, and ban flavored tobacco, among others. 

Now it’s up to the governor to decide if their ideas should become law. Below are some of the most interesting decisions he faces. Keep checking back for updates: We’ll be tracking their fate through the bill-signing period, which ends Sept. 30.

Laurel Rosenhall and CalMatters staff

Expanding paid family leave

Gov. Gavin Newsom with first partner, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, and their youngest son, Dutch, during the annual Christmas tree lighting at the Capitol on December 15, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

By Laurel Rosenhall

WHAT THE BILL WOULD DO

SB 1383 would ensure that more Californians can return to their jobs after taking paid family leave. It requires companies with at least five employees to guarantee workers their jobs back after they take leave to care for a new baby or sick loved one. Right now that guarantee exists only for people who work for larger companies, so this bill would extend family leave job protections to an additional roughly 6 million Californians.

WHO SUPPORTS IT? 

Newsom has credited his wife, feminist filmmaker Jennifer Siebel Newsom, and his chief of staff, Ann O’Leary, as key influences urging him to beef up paid family leave so that more people can take care of family needs and still hold onto their jobs.  Advocates for women, children, families and workers — including several powerful labor unions — are also pushing for the bill by Democratic state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson of Santa Barbara. 

WHO’S OPPOSED?

The California Chamber of Commerce and numerous other trade groups representing employers contend that the proposed job protections are too onerous on small businesses and could expose companies to more lawsuits from aggrieved workers. Republicans and moderate Democrats sided with them and largely voted against the bill as it moved through the Legislature. 

WHY IT MATTERS 

Though almost all workers pay into California’s paid family leave program through a 1% deduction on their paychecks, many workers don’t take the leave because they risk losing their jobs if they do. This bill aims to make it easier for workers to take time off that they’re essentially already paying for. It also amounts to a key piece of what Newsom calls his “parents’ agenda.” He has said he wants to eventually ensure that every baby born in California is cared for by a family member for the first six months of life. Expanding job protections during family leave is critical to that vision.

GOVERNOR’S CALL 

Newsom signed the bill on Sept. 17, along with this prepared statement: “Californians deserve to be able to take time off to care for themselves or a sick family member without fearing they’ll lose their job. The COVID-19 pandemic has only further revealed the need for a family leave policy that truly serves families and workers, especially those who keep our economy running. This bill will ensure almost all Californians can access the time off they need to keep themselves and their communities healthy.”

Avoiding an “eviction tsunami”

Jamie Burson looks out the window of her motel room in Farfield on August 4, 2020. Burson has been living between her car and motels since being evicted in April. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
Jamie Burson looks out the window of her motel room in Farfield on August 4, 2020. Burson has been living between her car and motels since being evicted in April. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

By Matt Levin

WHAT THE BILL WOULD DO

AB 3088 would give renters financially impacted by COVID-19 a reprieve from eviction until February 2021. In order to avoid being evicted in February, renters would have to come up with 25% of the rent they owe from September through January. Landlords could collect all missed rent payments — including the remaining 75% — in small claims court starting March 2021.

WHO SUPPORTS IT? 

Define “support”. Tenant groups wanted all evictions stopped, including cases unrelated to financial hardship from the virus. Landlords originally wanted some type of compensation for missed rent. But tenants, landlords and banking groups all signed off on the deal, calling it a necessity to prevent catastrophe. 

WHO’S OPPOSED?

See “support” section. 

WHY IT MATTERS

Housing experts warn California faces a looming eviction cliff. Nearly one million California renter households experienced a job loss since the pandemic struck, making them especially vulnerable to eviction. Small landlords suffering from missed rent payments are struggling to make mortgage payments, property taxes and other bills. Public health experts warn evictions could lead to unsafe, overcrowded housing situations where the coronavirus thrives. 

GOVERNOR’S CALL

Newsom, who had made a deal with lawmakers in the final days of the session, signed the bill into law about an hour after it cleared the Legislature on its final night.

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Policing the police

A protester stands off against police during a demonstration May 29, 2020, in downtown Oakland. Thousands took to the streets in solidarity with protesters in Minneapolis against the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police earlier in the week. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

By Laurel Rosenhall

WHAT THE BILLS WOULD DO

Lawmakers introduced several bills meant to hold police accountable for misconduct after a Minneapolis officer killed George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for more than eight minutes, setting off nationwide protests against racism and excessive force. The most controversial of those bills stalled in the Legislature — including a bill creating a system to revoke officers’ law enforcement certification in cases of misconduct, and a bill allowing more misconduct records to be available to the public — but these measures are now up to Newsom to decide:

  • AB 1506 requires the state Attorney General to investigate fatal police shootings of unarmed civilians.
  • AB 1196 would formally ban the use of chokeholds and neck restraints by law enforcement.

WHO SUPPORTS THEM? 

AB 1506 has support from public defenders and several district attorneys’ offices, while AB 1196 is backed by the American Civil Liberties Union and numerous other civil rights groups. 

WHO’S OPPOSED?

Law enforcement groups opposed early versions of AB 1196 but negotiated changes that made them go neutral. A civil rights group and a defense attorneys association oppose AB 1506. 

WHY IT MATTERS 

Many local law enforcement agencies have forbidden the use of chokeholds over the years, but this bill would ban the practice statewide. On the issue of investigating police shootings, this bill aims to address criticism that police too often are left to investigate their own colleagues. By getting the state involved, supporters hope investigations will be more independent. 

GOVERNOR’S CALL 

Expanding mental health parity

Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services 24-hour mental health crisis services on August 21, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

By Jocelyn Wiener

WHAT THE BILL WOULD DO

SB 855 would significantly expand the list of mental health conditions considered medically necessary under California’s state parity law. Currently, that law — which seeks to ensure equal levels of care for physical and mental health — covers only nine mental health conditions and does not include substance use disorder. The bill, by Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco, would require health plans to make decisions about what gets covered based on criteria developed by nonprofit clinical specialty associations, rather than permitting them to make those determinations themselves.

WHO SUPPORTS IT?

A large coalition of mental health advocacy groups, groups that advocate for low-income and disabled Californians, and associations of mental health professionals. They say commercial health insurers have often failed to provide coverage for mental health care equivalent to care provided for physical health — a situation leading some patients to drop private insurance to qualify for the taxpayer-funded public Medi-Cal system.

WHO’S OPPOSED?

The health insurance industry opposes the bill. Representatives say plans are already complying with state and federal parity laws, and that the bill would drive up health care costs.

WHY IT MATTERS

Mental health care is a growing concern for Californians — and the need for it has been heightened by the pandemic. A recent report from the CDC shows that, since the pandemic began, almost 63 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds nationally reported having symptoms of anxiety or depression in the past month, and more than a quarter said they had seriously considered suicide. Attempts to change the state’s 20-year-old parity law have failed on multiple occasions. If the governor signs this bill, supporters say it would make California the nation’s leader on mental health and addiction coverage.

GOVERNOR’S CALL

Creating a reparations committee

Hundreds gathered at Oscar Grant Plaza downtown Oakland on May 29, 2020 in solidarity with protesters in Minneapolis against the killing of George Floyd by police officers earlier this week. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
Hundreds gathered at Oscar Grant Plaza in downtown Oakland on May 29, 2020, in solidarity with protesters in Minneapolis against the killing of George Floyd by police officers earlier in the week. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

By Elizabeth Castillo

WHAT THE BILL WOULD DO

AB 3121 would establish a nine-member task force to inform Californians about slavery and recommend ways the state can provide reparations. The committee would submit its findings to the Legislature. The bill, by San Diego Assemblymember Shirley Weber, a Democrat, had been quietly weaving through the Legislature before protests nationwide erupted over the death of George Floyd.

WHO SUPPORTS IT?

Supporters include the Western Center on Law and Poverty, the American Civil Liberties Union of California, a large coalition of social justice groups and several politicians, including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and state Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara.

WHO’S OPPOSED?

Republican lawmakers largely voted against the proposal. Assemblymember Kevin Kiley, a Rocklin Republican, believes that “the federal level is a more appropriate place for this discussion to take place,” according to his chief of staff.  Some Republicans, including state Senators Ling Ling Chang of Diamond Bar and Brian Dahle of Bieber, voted in favor.  

WHY IT MATTERS

The task force would not have the power to implement reparations, but it would try to answer questions about who would pay and who would get paid. Descendants of people who were enslaved would get special consideration for payment. Five members would be appointed by the governor, while the Assembly speaker and the Senate’s president pro tempore would appoint two each. California joined the Union as a “free state,” but it enacted a fugitive slave law in the 1850s that allowed slaves as long as they were eventually moved back to the South.

GOVERNOR’S CALL

Banning flavored tobacco

Shelves full of flavored tobacco products including disposable e-cigarettes, pipe tobacco and shisha at a smoke shop in Berkeley. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

By Elizabeth Aguilera

WHAT THE BILL WOULD DO

SB 793 bans the sale of all flavored tobacco products – from cotton candy to mango to menthol. The bill by San Mateo Democratic Sen. Jerry Hill aims to reduce the number of kids vaping, smoking and using tobacco products. The prohibition includes pods for vape pens, tank-based systems, menthol cigarettes and chewing tobacco. It initially included cigars and hookah tobacco but those were later exempted.  The onus lies with retailers, who will be fined if they continue to sell these products.

WHO SUPPORTS IT?

A long list of health organizations, labor groups, cities, state officials and community groups. Allies include the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and CALPIRG.

WHO’S OPPOSED?

Tobacco companies and law enforcement groups, including the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association. Community advocates, such as Neighborhood Forward, also are opposed. They say the law would create an illegal market for the products and also unfairly targets smokers of color who prefer menthol cigarettes.

WHY IT MATTERS

Supporters say teenagers and young people are lured into tobacco use via flavored products. Banning these products, they believe, will decrease the use of tobacco among youngsters and keep them from becoming life-long tobacco users. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that as of last year, 1 in 10 middle-schoolers and a quarter of high-schoolers reported e-cigarette use within the previous month. In 2018, 49 percent of middle-schoolers and 67 percent of high-schoolers who used tobacco in the previous 30 days said they used a flavored product.

GOVERNOR’S CALL

On Aug. 28 — hours after the bill cleared the Legislature — Newsom signed it into law. He publicly signaled his move earlier in the day by saying he had been very clear about his “absolute condemnation of this tobacco industry that continues to find ways to target our youth. It will be a point of deep pride and personal privilege, as a father of four and as someone who has had many, many family members die at the hands of the tobacco industry, to sign that bill.” The law takes effect in January 2021.

Overseeing workplace COVID-19 outbreaks

A sign encouraging vineyard workers to practice social distancing is posted among the grapevines on May 6, 2020 in Oakville. Napa County does not collect data on workplace coronavirus outbreaks. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
A sign encouraging vineyard workers to practice social distancing is posted among the grapevines on May 6, 2020 in Oakville. Napa County does not collect data on workplace coronavirus outbreaks. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

By Jackie Botts

WHAT THE BILL WOULD DO

AB 685 would require employers to notify their employees of potential COVID-19 exposures in the workplace. It also requires they alert their local health department of outbreaks, defined as three or more positive cases within 14 days. Finally, it strengthens the power of Cal/OSHA, the state agency charged with regulating workplace safety, to enforce these rules and even to shut down any worksite deemed to be an “imminent hazard” to employees because of COVID risk.  

WHO SUPPORTS IT? 

The California Labor Federation, which represents over 1,200 unions in manufacturing, retail, construction and hospitality, among other industries. Other groups include workers’ rights advocates like California Rural Legal Assistance, the Latino Coalition for A Healthy California, and professional associations like California Professional Firefighters.

WHO’S OPPOSED?

The California Chamber of Commerce and a long list of industry lobbies representing agricultural, hospitality, and construction employers, among others. These include California Building Industry Association, the California Association of Winegrape Growers, California Hotel & Lodging Association, Western Growers Association, to name a few.

WHY IT MATTERS

Currently, the state simply advises employers to notify workers and their local health agency of suspected outbreaks. But massive outbreaks in workplaces — ranging from agricultural guest workers living in tightly-packed hotel rooms to chicken processing facilities to pistachio plants —  have revealed that employers frequently don’t follow those guidelines. Counties vary widely in whether and how they track employer outbreaks.

If signed into law, this would create an enforceable statewide standard for how employers handle outbreaks beginning Jan. 1, 2021. Even so, a number of its provisions were struck out in the last week to get the necessary votes: among them, a requirement that the state publicize all ongoing workplace outbreaks, a $10,000 penalty, and a presumption that employers were retaliating if they fired an employee who fell ill or asked for a COVID test, for example.

GOVERNOR’S CALL

The governor signed the bill on Sept. 17, saying it’s important to prioritize “our workforce, our workers, our front line essential workforce that we pay a lot of lip service to, but often we don’t back up.”

Creating a student loan bill of rights

UC Berkeley graduation 2010. Image via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

By Mikhail Zinshteyn

WHAT THE BILL WOULD DO

Its backers call it the strongest set of state consumer protections for student loan borrowers. AB 376, by Assemblymember Mark Stone, is a set of rules for student loan servicers — the companies that manage federal and private student loan debt. The long list includes rules like telling borrowers about programs that could lower their monthly payments and have their loans forgiven, alerting veterans to additional relief, and minimizing late fees for partial payments. Importantly, the bill opens up the loan servicers to lawsuits from consumers if the servicers don’t follow through on the bill’s expectations, which include retraining staff and greater transparency about the payment histories of borrowers. The bill also creates a state student loan ombudsman to track borrower complaints, assuming lawmakers and the governor approve a budget for that office’s staff.

WHO SUPPORTS IT?

More than 70 student-debt advocacy groups, unions and trade groups. Those include the California Federation of Teachers, California Dental Association, Consumer Reports and AARP. California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis also support it.

WHO’S OPPOSED?

Banking and loan servicing companies. The national trade group for student loan servicers say the bill exposes the companies to unwarranted lawsuits. The Consumer Bankers Association and California Bankers Association dislike that its members will have to follow the bill’s rules and want to be excluded from the regulations.

WHY IT MATTERS

Borrowers have long complained that loan servicers give bad or misleading advice, resulting in them having to pay more and longer for loans. This bill would change that.

GOVERNOR’S CALL

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Producing lower-cost generic drugs

A pharmacy tech fills prescriptions at La Clinica in Oakland on September 26, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
A pharmacy tech fills prescriptions at La Clinica in Oakland on September 26, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

By Ana B. Ibarra

WHAT THE BILL WOULD DO

Under SB 852, by Democratic Sen. Richard Pan of Sacramento, the state would contract with drug manufacturers to produce its own label of low-cost generic drugs for Californians. The state would have to prioritize the production of at least one form of insulin and medication for other chronic and high-cost conditions. The idea is to increase competition in the generics market and reduce drug prices. Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed this idea in January. 

WHO SUPPORTS IT? 

Advocacy groups like AARP California, Health Access California and labor groups. 

WHO’S IN OPPOSITION?

This bill faced no formal opposition. 

WHY IT MATTERS:

Nearly 1 in 4 Americans on medication say they have a hard time affording their prescriptions, according to a 2019 poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The stories of people who go without their medicine or ration their prescriptions because of cost are common. The price of insulin, for example, doubled from 2012 to 2016

GOVERNOR’S CALL

Expanding aid for emergency groceries

Much like CalFresh, seen here, recipients would get a prepaid card that can only be used to purchase groceries. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

By Jackie Botts

WHAT THE BILL WOULD DO

AB 826 would create a new disaster food assistance program that could be distributed immediately. Penned by Los Angeles Democratic Assemblymember Miguel Santiago, nonprofit organizations like food banks would distribute up to two $600 prepaid cards, which can only be used to purchase groceries. Anyone who already qualifies for the Federal Emergency Food Assistance Program, California’s Disaster Relief Assistance for Immigrants, or certain immigrant legal services is eligible. If signed into law, it’s up to the Legislature or governor to decide how much money to set aside for this, which will determine how many people can benefit.

WHO SUPPORTS IT? 

A coalition of immigrant and food security advocates, unions, and counties including California Immigrant Policy Center, the California Association of Food Banks, and the California Labor Federation.

WHO’S OPPOSED?

The bill faced no public opposition. 

WHY IT MATTERS

The cards would work a lot like CalFresh, California’s food stamp program. But unlike CalFresh, the program is available to undocumented Californians, who have also not been eligible for the federal stimulus check, state unemployment benefits, the federal $600 unemployment boost, or low-income tax refunds. Without financial assistance and facing high rates of job loss, undocumented families have faced urgent food insecurity. 

In April, California authorized the Disaster Relief Assistance for Immigrants, which provided $75 million in the form of $500 one-time, state-funded disaster relief assistance to about 155,000 undocumented adults — about 7% of California’s 2 million undocumented residents. The need was so great that a Los Angeles nonprofit distributing the funds received over 1 million calls on the first day, crashing phone lines.

GOVERNOR’S CALL

Tightening school finance rules

School buses line up outside of Garfield Elementary School in Oakland at the end of the day for pickup on September 6, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

By Ricardo Cano

WHAT THE BILL WOULD DO

AB 1835 would close a loophole in California’s school finance law, the Local Control Funding Formula, by requiring school districts to report any unspent dollars intended for students who are low-income, foster youth or English learners. Under the legislation, schools would be required to spend these earmarked supplemental and concentration dollars on disadvantaged students regardless of whether those funds roll over into the following school year.

WHO SUPPORTS IT?

A coalition of civil rights groups and some state lawmakers, including the bill’s author, Democratic Assemblymember Shirley Weber of San Diego, have long pushed the state to tweak the state’s 2013 school finance law that completely overhauled how schools get funded. Advocates have argued that while the new funding formula made necessary improvements to the state’s antiquated school funding laws, it lacks accountability and transparency over how schools spend funds meant for needy students.

WHO’S OPPOSED?

The California School Business Officials Association and some local districts oppose the bill, saying it would hamstring local leaders’ abilities to deal with school budget outlooks worsened by the pandemic.

WHY IT MATTERS

Under the formula, school districts receive extra per-pupil funding if they have higher concentrations of disadvantaged students. But for years, advocates and some lawmakers questioned whether schools were appropriately spending that extra money on services and staff meant to serve the intended student groups. Former Gov. Jerry Brown resisted changes to the funding formula after signing it into law, urging patience. But a critical 2019 state audit confirmed many of bill supporters’ suspicions and made several recommendations included in this legislation.

GOVERNOR’S CALL

Building diversity on corporate boards

Photo by Eli Sagor via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

By Elizabeth Castillo

WHAT THE BILL WOULD DO

AB 979 would require people from “underrepresented communities” to have at least one seat on corporate boards in California by the end of 2021. People who self-identify as Black, African American, Hispanic, Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American, Native Hawaiian, Alaska Native or gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender qualify as someone from an underrepresented community. The proposal was amended to include people who self-identify as LGBT. The bill, by Assembly members Chris Holden, a Pasadena Democrat, and Cristina Garcia, a Bell Gardens Democrat, was inspired by a similar 2018 law that mandated women in boardrooms. If enacted, it would be the first law nationwide to police the racial makeup of corporate boards. The requirements grow in 2022, when boards with four to nine people must have at least two members from an underrepresented community and boards with nine or more people must have at least three.

WHO SUPPORTS IT?

State Controller Betty Yee and State Treasurer Fiona Ma are supporters. Others include the American Civil Liberties Union of California, California’s Black and Hispanic Chambers of Commerce and other advocacy groups representing people of color.

WHO’S OPPOSED?

Keith Bishop, a listed opponent and a corporate law attorney, says the bill is unconstitutional. No major business groups, such as the California Chamber of Commerce, are listed as formal opponents.

WHY IT MATTERS

Nationwide 19.5% of board members of Fortune 100 companies are people of color, according to a 2018 report. The Latino Corporate Directors Association reported that 86% of California-based public companies have no Latinos on their boards even though 39% of the state’s residents are Latino. The state law mandating women on corporate boards has faced legal challenges, so if this bill becomes law, it will likely face similar objections.

GOVERNOR’S CALL

Erasing criminal justice fees

Students at Johanna Boss High School in Stockton graduate behind razor wire at the O.H. Close Youth Correctional Facility in Stockton. Photo by Charlotte West for CalMatters

By Jackie Botts

WHAT THE BILL WOULD DO

AB 1869 would stop counties from collecting administrative fees charged to adults in the criminal justice system, such as for booking and arrest, work release programs, home detention, electronic monitoring, and public defenders. This bill would take effect July 1, 2021, and sets aside $65 million annually for the next five years to backfill revenues counties will lose as a result of the change. It replaces a more ambitious proposal by Sen. Holly Mitchell, a Los Angeles Democrat, that sought to repeal all criminal administrative fees. 

SB 1290 would wipe away all debt owed by parents for the costs of their children’s incarceration in the juvenile justice system, such as daily stays in juvenile facilities or the cost of electronic monitoring bracelets. The bill by Mitchell and fellow Los Angeles Democrat Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, builds on Mitchell’s 2018 law that ended the practice of charging such fees in the juvenile justice system, but didn’t require counties to forgive fees that parents were charged before 2018.

WHO SUPPORTS IT?

A coalition of anti-poverty and criminal justice reform groups have supported both measures. 

WHO’S OPPOSED?

Both currently faced no public opposition. Lobbies for county governments previously opposed the bill to repeal adult criminal justice fees, but reversed course once they got assurance they’d get a backfill. 

WHY IT MATTERS

As Newsom has pledged to close California’s youth prison system and reform its adult justice system, criminal justice advocates have pushed for the end of these fees — which counties can collect by intercepting tax refunds, levying bank accounts, and garnishing wages — arguing they burden former inmates trying to re-enter society and disproportionately impact low-income communities of color. A handful of counties have recently eliminated the adult fees and cleared the juvenile fee debt as a way to relieve financial burdens for low-income residents.

GOVERNOR’S CALL

Newsom signed the bill on Sept. 18.

Creating a homelessness czar

A tent encampment in West Oakland. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
A tent encampment in West Oakland. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

By Matt Levin

WHAT THE BILL WOULD DO

AB 1845 would create a statewide Office to End Homelessness to centralize the state’s efforts to tackle one of its most vexing issues. Leading the new department would be the Secretary of Homelessness — AKA a “homelessness czar” — appointed by the governor. It would be the secretary’s job to try to streamline the more than 30 different state homelessness programs administered by 13 different state agencies, from the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to the Department of Social Services.

WHO SUPPORTS IT?

Local and statewide homelessness advocacy groups, major cities with large homeless populations like Oakland and Sacramento, and nonprofit housing developers.

WHO’S OPPOSED?

The bill faced no organized opposition, although a handful of Republican lawmakers voted against the proposal as it made its way through the Legislature. Gov. Newsom may not be a fan — after endorsing the idea of a “homelessness czar” on the campaign trail, his administration has backed off the idea. Newsom declared himself the “homelessness czar” earlier this year.

WHY IT MATTERS

On any given night, more than 150,000 Californians are homeless — a number that’s been trending in the wrong direction and will likely rise again this year. Before the pandemic struck, Newsom staked much of his governorship on making meaningful progress on homelessness, devoting his entire State of the State address in February to the issue. Voters are increasingly frustrated by a lack of visible results, especially after billions in state and local dollars have been spent on solutions.

GOVERNOR’S CALL

Extending tax credits to undocumented workers

Photo illustration by Thomas Hamilton III, U.S. Army

By Jackie Botts

WHAT THE BILL WOULD DO

AB 1876 would allow undocumented workers who file taxes to get California’s tax refund for low-income residents, starting next spring. Previously, only households in which every breadwinner had a Social Security number could claim the refund, known as the California Earned Income Tax Credit. This spring’s budget deal extended the credit to undocumented workers who file taxes with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) only if they had children under the age of 6. This bill would allow all California tax filers to claim the credit, regardless of their immigration status.

WHO SUPPORTS IT? 

Immigrant and social safety net advocates like the California Immigrant Policy Center, United Ways of California, and the Western Center on Law and Poverty have backed numerous bills and budget measures to include ITIN filers over the past few years.

WHO’S OPPOSED?

Though the bill faced no public opposition, past iterations of this proposal were opposed by the California Teachers Association, who worried that without a new funding mechanism, the money would be shifted away from public schools.

WHY IT MATTERS

Last year, the governor nearly doubled the state’s budget for CalEITC, calling it one of “the most significant anti-poverty initiatives” of the year. He expanded income eligibility for workers making up to $30,000 a year and created a $1,000 boost for households with children under age 6. But since the tax credit was established in 2015, immigrant advocates have complained that it leaves out undocumented immigrants. This deal represents one way the Legislature is trying to assist undocumented workers, who make up one in 10 California workers, but have been disproportionately affected by pandemic-driven job loss and largely left out of state and federal safety nets.

GOVERNOR’S CALL

The governor signed the bill on Sept. 18. “Undocumented front line workers leave their families every day to keep our economy running, but many are still struggling to make ends meet,” Newsom said, adding that the estimated 600,000 workers who will benefit “are taxpayers and should be treated like taxpayers.”

Improving campus sexual assault response

A woman walks toward Powell Library at UCLA on August 7, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

By Mikhail Zinshteyn

WHAT THE BILL WOULD DO

SB 493 by Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson would require colleges that receive state money in California — the UC, CSU and CCC systems and also private colleges whose students get state aid — to clarify how they address campus sexual assault allegations, in addition to training staff and making public the campus personnel responsible for investigating complaints. Jackson says it would create a common baseline for dealing with sexual assault prevention and investigations. The bill would take effect in 2022.

WHO SUPPORTS IT? 

The University of California, California State University,  Equal Rights Advocates (who co-sponsored the bill) and dozens of legal and advocacy groups all support the legislation. SB 493 underwent extensive changes between 2019 and 2020, which included removing a provision that would expose colleges to fines of up to $50,000 per violation.

WHO’S OPPOSED?

For the latest version of the bill, no one, but in 2019 the group Families Advocating for Campus Equality opposed the bill. FACE advocates for students who were accused of sexual assault.

WHY IT MATTERS 

Sexual assault is widespread on campuses, with one estimate saying that 20% of women experience it while in college. This bill would create a common set of accountability standards for public colleges and universities, and provisions for the welfare of sexual assault victims. 

GOVERNOR’S CALL

Expanding role of nurse practitioners

Nurse Practitioner Surani Hayre-Kwan, left, and NP student Kristina Crichton laugh during an office visit with long-time patient John Donaldson, a Guerneville resident who relies on Hayre-Kawn as his primary care physician to manage diabetes. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

By Ana. B. Ibarra

WHAT THE BILL WOULD DO

AB 890 would expand the role of nurse practitioners and allow them to practice independently in some settings, without a supervising physician. Assemblymember Jim Wood, a Democrat from Healdsburg, has pitched this bill as a way to help the state’s provider shortage.

WHO SUPPORTS IT?

Nurse practitioners have been trying to lift restrictions on their scope of practice for years. The nurses’ union as well as the state’s hospital association are among the bill’s supporters.

WHO’S OPPOSED?

California’s doctor lobby argues that this bill is a threat to patient safety and that it doesn’t necessarily guarantee growth in the provider workforce. 

WHY IT MATTERS: Nurse practitioners are highly trained nurses with a master’s degree,  who work largely in primary care, an area of great need in the state. By some projections, California would need about 8,200 more primary care doctors by 2030. 

GOVERNOR’S CALL

 

Exempting some contract workers

By Lauren Hepler

WHAT THE BILL WOULD DO

AB 2257 is a follow-up to last year’s hotly contested worker reclassification law AB 5, which was meant to extend employee benefits like health insurance and family leave to independent contractors, in particular those employed by gig companies like Uber and Lyft. But gig companies still haven’t complied, and workers in other industries — musicians, writers, business consultants and many others — have instead been up in arms about losing work after their contract jobs got caught up in the war over 21st century workers rights. This bill would amend the state labor code to exempt dozens of professional services fields from AB 5’s employee benefit requirements, including photographers, artists, writers, musicians, cartographers, translators and many others.

WHO SUPPORTS IT? 

A labor coalition similar to the one that passed AB 5 — AB 2257 was written by the same San Diego assembly member, Lorena Gonzalez — plus industry groups that have lobbied to have their industries exempted from stricter contract labor law.

WHO’S OPPOSED?

Companies, some contract workers and business lobbying groups that are still bound by AB 5’s stricter rules oppose the exemption bill and instead favor a complete repeal of the law. Among the opponents of AB 2257 are gig companies including Uber and Lyft, who are backing a $110 million Prop. 22 ballot measure campaign to pass their own exemption to AB 5.

WHY IT MATTERS

Surging unemployment during the coronavirus-induced recession has changed the conversation about the future of work in California. AB 5 was passed at the height of a tech boom that highlighted widening inequality in the state, when labor groups were emboldened to demand more from deep-pocketed tech companies largely operating outside regulations that apply to old-line industries. 

But at the same time that gig companies were ascending and corporations were converting full-time jobs to contract ones, professional creatives and consultants were opting for freelance work in record numbers. Contractors who had figured out a way to make it work said their livelihoods were jeopardized by AB 5’s strict requirements. Now, with millions of unemployed or under-employed Californians seeking out odd contract jobs to get by, the question is whether stronger labor laws will hold up to mounting economic anxiety — or at least how many industries will be able to wiggle their ways out through AB 2257 and other looming political battles.

GOVERNOR’S CALL

Newsom signed the bill into law on Sept. 4.

Regulating debt collectors

Image by Teddy James via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

By Nigel Duara

WHAT THE BILL WOULD DO

SB 908 would create the Debt Collection Licensing Act, which would license and regulate debt collectors, overseen by the Department of Business Oversight. The department would also license collections attorneys. The bill by Sen. Bob Wieckowski, a Fremont Democrat, builds on the 1977 national Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which sought to eliminate abusive debt collection practices, but required debtors to file lawsuits themselves. 

WHO SUPPORTS IT? 

Consumer advocacy organizations, nonprofits that work with debtors and both the California Association of Collectors and the Receivables Management Association International, two trade organizations representing debt collectors. 

WHO’S OPPOSED?

Banks and credit unions oppose the bill unless it’s amended to remove them from being regulated by the Department of Business Oversight. The bill doesn’t require them to be licensed as debt collectors, but they could be subject to enforcement for violating debt collection laws. The California Creditors Bar Association opposes the licensure of collections attorneys.   

WHY IT MATTERS 

California is one of 16 states that doesn’t regulate debt collectors. The pandemic and accompanying recession has increased household debt of many Californians. The bill, supported by the debt collection industry, would compel debt collectors to undergo a background check by the state Department of Justice. 

GOVERNOR’S CALL 

Ensuring workers’ compensation

Gladys Chavez takes a taco order through a plastic barrier at Mijo’s Taqueria in Capitola on May 7, 2020. Taqueria employees are requiring customers to wear masks and wipe down the iPad after every credit card transaction. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

By Barbara Feder Ostrov

WHAT THE BILLS WOULD DO 

Of four bills addressing workers’ compensation benefits for essential workers who contract COVID-19, one is going to the governor to decide. That bill, SB 1159, presumes that essential workers were infected on the job and qualify for workers’ compensation if they meet certain conditions, making it easier for them to obtain health care and financial benefits. Employers are allowed to contest the workers’ claims. The bill covers public safety and health care workers, and other workers during specified workplace outbreaks, infected with COVID-19 though 2022. 

WHO SUPPORTS IT? 

Labor unions have been the primary supporters of workers’ compensation protections, arguing that essential workers such as health care workers, first responders and public safety workers need special protection during the pandemic.

WHO’S OPPOSED?

Business and employer groups, municipalities, insurance companies, the California State Association of Counties and the California Coalition on Workers’ Compensation all opposed SB 1159, saying the costs would be too high and that it’s difficult to prove where an employee was infected.

WHY IT MATTERS 

Covid-19 has disproportionately harmed California’s essential workers, particularly low-income people and people of color.

GOVERNOR’S CALL

The governor signed the bill on Sept. 17. “Protecting workers is critical to slowing the spread of this virus,” Newsom said in a statement.

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