It was a busy month in Sacramento, as lawmakers worked to get lingering legislation from last year out of their respective houses before the Jan. 31 deadline and set the agenda for the session ahead.
With several key issues affecting the state — wildfires, the housing crisis, criminal justice, carbon footprints — and a Democratic supermajority presiding over the state legislature, many of the progressive initiatives taking aim at California problems and priorities could become laws by next year.
Here are some of the bills to keep an eye on as the session progresses:.
AB 1909: An end to virginity testing
In December of last year, rapper T.I. Blithely told the “Ladies Like Us” podcast that he takes his 18-year-old daughter to the doctor every year — to get her virginity checked. The revelation sparked national outrage and questions over whether the practice is abusive.
The episode, hosted by Nazanin Mandi and Nadia Moham, has since been taken down. But it was enough to spur state lawmakers into action. New York Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages, a Democrat, was first out the gate, introducing legislation in her state seeking to ban virginity testing. California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a Democrat, followed with Assembly Bill 1909 that also seeks to prohibit the practice.
Defining virginity as “a social and cultural construct,” Gonzalez cast the test as medically unsound and a dangerous and false idea.
“So-called ‘virginity testing’ is a form of violence and harassment against young girls and women,” Gonzalez said in a statement. “There is no medical reason for this examination. It’s time for California to listen to calls from the international community and ban this traumatizing, sexist and unnecessary practice.”.
If the bill becomes law, violators would be subject to professional misconduct penalties.
AB 1839: A California Green New Deal
Inspired by the federal proposal introduced by New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez last year, AB 1839 would allow California lawmakers to create their own Green New Deal for the state.
Led by Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, five Democratic legislators introduced the bill on Jan. 6, citing the need for an ambitious plan to address climate change while also tackling other issues in the state — including the housing and homelessness crisis — over the next 10 years.
So far, the plan is scant on specifics including how goals will be met or how much the state will pay to meet those goals. What’s clear, though, is that it will require the governor to create and fill a new seven-member “California Green New Deal Council” and that this group will submit a report by 2022.
But Bonta promised that, by the end of the session, there will be concrete objectives and outlines on how to achieve the goals. He said he expects the legislation to be similar in focus to the federal one but built for California, and that his “big, ambitious bill” will be “expensive but necessary.”.
SB 867: Labor law exemptions
Senate Bill 867 responds to California’s controversial new labor law implemented this year, specifically as it applies to the publishing industry.
AB 5 seeks to crack down on employee misclassification with a codified three-pronged rule (created by the California Supreme Court) to determine whether businesses can hire independent contractors. Contracted workers aren’t covered by labor law protections, including minimum wage, workers compensation, and required sick days. They are also a lot cheaper to hire. Advocates of AB 5 champion its efforts to ensure all of California’s workers have protection, while critics condemn its sweeping approach and contend that it will cut opportunities and end freelance flexibility.
AB 5 takes aim at the gig economy, especially tech titans Lyft, Uber and DoorDash, that built business models around contracted workers. But other industries have been impacted by the bill — and many aren’t happy about it.
Newspaper publishers, in particular, were fiercely opposed, both because the law limits how often freelancers can contribute to publications, and also could force papers to hire the people who distribute their papers. The newspaper industry fought hard for exemptions to AB 5 until the very end of last year’s session and bought themselves an additional year to iron out how they will bring carriers on board.
If SB 867 passes, they won’t have to worry — the Republican-backed bill seeks to upend the labor law and grant permanent exemptions to publishers. A buddy-bill, SB 868, would exempt freelance content creators. Both were introduced by Sen. Patricia Bates, R-Laguna Niguel.
More:Late-night win for California newspapers: Lawmakers OK 1-year exemption to AB 5 for carriers.
“Assembly Bill 5 took a sledgehammer approach to an employment problem that required a scalpel, which consequently hammered many Californians who truly wish to remain their own bosses,” Bates said in a statement. “Passing my legislation will help preserve quality journalism in many communities.”.
The bill is backed by all 10 Republican senators but will likely face a strong fight if it moves, especially in the Assembly where AB 5’s author, Assemblywoman Gonzalez, presides as chair of the Appropriations Committee. Many senators and assemblymembers who voted in the 11th hour to pass the one-year exemption for newspaper carriers vowed they would not agree to extend the time.
AB 1904: Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy
Introduced by Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath, D-Encinitas, AB 1904 would require all health care plans to include coverage for post-pregnancy pelvic floor physical therapy starting on January 2021. California law already requires coverage for maternity benefits, but post-partum care isn’t always offered. Experts around the world are beginning to recommend pelvic floor physical therapy become standard, especially for women recovering from childbirth.
According to a 2018 study published by the Israel Medical Association, pregnancy and childbirth can damage the pelvic floor causing incontinence (both kinds), chronic pain, and even organ prolapse. Some of these issues don’t manifest until later on, but can often be prevented with the right care.
In some European countries, the practice is already considered standard. In France, for example, women are prescribed 10-20 sessions of pelvic physical rehab and it’s all covered by the country’s health plan.
SB 50: Upzoning voted down
Ok, ok. This isn’t exactly a bill to watch because it died in the Senate on Jan. 23, three votes shy of advancing to the state Assembly. The controversial housing bill that sought to give the state more jurisdiction over local zoning in an effort to ramp up housing density in California cities was battled over for more than a year and deeply divided both lawmakers and stakeholders.
Advocates saw it as a way to add new units near public transportation to simultaneously increase housing production and curb long commute times.
Critics were concerned it would lead to gentrification and limit local control of zoning.
More:California’s polarizing housing bill SB 50 has died in the state Senate.
It’s on the list because the legislators vowed that the fight hasn’t finished, and promised a new-and-improved housing bill by the end of the year. During a debate on the Senate floor that lasted more than two hours, senators for and against the bill agreed that something must be done — and it’s got to be done soon — to address California’s severe housing shortage.
“Yesterday was rough. We had a path to pass #SB50 but the votes didn’t go as anticipated, given the brass knuckle politics at play,” SB 50’s author, Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, wrote on Twitter on Friday. “It’s disappointing but a temporary setback. We’ll be back & fast. Because we must. Because we’re in crisis & have no choice but to take bold action”.
Gov. Gavin Newsom, who made ambitious campaign promises, has also called for a bill to be on his desk by the end of the year.
“California’s housing affordability crisis demands our state pass a historic housing production bill,” Newsom said in a statement after the bill was defeated.
Wiener has already filed two new housing bills –SB 902 and SB 899 — since his bill died.
Gabrielle Canon covers California for USA Today and Gannett. You can reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @GabrielleCanon.