new laws

A plethora of new laws have gone into affect in the new year, some with significant potential affects. Here are the highlights.

Workplace changes

Some of the biggest impacts will be felt in the workplace — whether that’s a formal office, or a home office. The minimum wage went up in 72 jurisdictions in California on Jan. 1. Statewide, employers with 26 or more employees will have to pay $13 an hour, while those with less than 26 will have to pay $12.

Some municipalities, like Santa Rosa and Petaluma ($15 for large businesses/$14 for small) and Sonoma ($13.50 for large/$12.50 for small), have local laws with a higher threshold than the state requirements. A total of 17 jurisdictions statewide will require a $15 an hour minimum wage in 2020.

Employees gain more protections in the work place, with longer deadlines to file discrimination, harassment or retaliation complaints with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (three years), and a requirement for sexual harassment training for businesses with five or more employees.

There are also new laws requiring nursing mothers be provided with “clean and safe lactation rooms,” — including access to a sink and refrigerator — somewhere in close proximity to the employee’s workspace and free from “intrusion.” Breastfeeding breaks must be offered to lactating mothers.

Another new law, known as the Crown Act, forbids schools and employers from enacting any dress codes, which would apply to braids, afros, twists and locks.

Finally, in July, paid family leave will be extended from six weeks to eight.

Many Californians rely on the “gig economy” but changing laws meant to help contractors, may in fact provide more difficulties. While the law provides minimum wage, health insurance and paid sick days, it also forcibly reclassifies some independent contractors as employees. There is significant concern within the freelancing community that gigs will be lost, as employers are forced to cut back on using freelancers so as not to run afoul of the new regulations.

Wildfire regulations

SB 209 creates a “wildfire warning center” or the Wildfire Forecast and Threat Intelligence Integration Center by the state Office of Emergency Services and Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. This new entity will collect and distribute data, as well as predict and prepare for wildfires utilizing a statewide network of information.

According to the text of the bill, the center will be “comprised of representatives from specified state and other entities” and be required to “serve as the state’s integrated central organizing hub for wildfire forecasting, weather information, and threat intelligence gathering, analysis, and dissemination and to coordinate wildfire threat intelligence and data sharing, as provided. The bill would also require the center to, among other things, develop a statewide wildfire forecast and threat intelligence strategy, as provided, and protect and safeguard sensitive information.”

With public safety power shutoffs (PSPS) now being “the new normal” another new law requires utilities like PG&E to create plans for easing the impacts of PSPS on those with disabilities who have special energy-use needs (such as oxygen or other medical equipment), and allow backup resources or financial assistance for resources to those customers.


A new rent increase cap meant to alleviate the housing crisis will limit rent increases to 5% each year, plus inflation until Jan. 1, 2030. The law also eliminates non-cause evictions for the purpose of raising the rent. It applies to all increases on or after March 15, but there are some restriction; the new law does not apply to housing built within the last 15 years, does not apply to single-family homes except those owned by corporations or real estate investment trusts and does not cover duplexes where the owner lives in one of the units.

Changes in the legal system

The big headline for legal changes in California is the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), billed as the nation’s toughest privacy law.

California residents now have the right to demand that companies disclose all data they have collected on them, and they are required to delete all the data if requested by the consumer.

A law going into effect Sept. 1, 2020, allows employers, co-workers and teachers to be added to the list of people who can petition a judge to confiscate someone’s weapons if they believe that person may be violent or dangerous.

The statue of limitations has changed for several laws, including the elimination of the statute for victims of childhood sexual abuse, and an increase from one to five years for victims of domestic violence.

There are also requirements for additional law enforcement training on de-escalation techniques and how to best protect a victim during the interview and investigation process.  

There have also been changes to the juvenile hall system, lowering the entrance age to 12 (anyone younger is released to their parent or legal guardian) and requiring adult detention for minors who commit murder, rape or great bodily harm.

Education reform

The big headline in education reform is the new law which will require slightly later start times in public schools, based on data about the developing human brain and its needs. Districts now have until the 2022-2023 school year to figure out how to implement an 8:30 a.m. start time for high schools and an 8 a.m. start time for middle schools.

However, the law does not apply to so-called “zero periods” (usually utilized for clubs or practices before the school day starts, and makes no changes to any bell schedules or the number of instructional minutes required of schools.

School boards now have the power to ban smartphones and other devices, with the exception of emergencies or medical need. And the DREAM Loan Program has been expanded to allow Dreamers enrolled in programs for a profession or graduate degree at a public university to apply for state-funded grants.

Finally, it is now illegal for public schools in California to suspend students in first through fifth grade for “willfully defying” teachers or administrators, and from 2021 through 2025, the law will be temporarily extended to children in sixth through eighth as well.

Changes for gun owners

Gun owners will face a host of new rules, including barring those prohibited from buying a firearm in another state, from purchasing one in California and fees to all firearms purchases that will add up to $31.19 to help pay for firearms-related regulatory and enforcement activities.

In addition, current gun owners are subject to harsher punishments if they don’t safeguard their weapons appropriately, thanks to a new criminal storage law. If a gun owner has one of their guns taken out of their home by a minor or other “prohibited person” (such as someone already banned from legally possessing firearms) or keeping a loaded firearm in a home with a child if the child can “likely gain access” to the firearm, they can be charged with crime and prevented from owning firearms for 10 years.

Bits and Pieces

Cosmetics tested on animals can no longer be sold or manufactured here, and exotic animals can no longer perform in circuses. Animal adoption fees are now waived for veterans.

Smoking, and the tossing cigarettes or cigars, is now banned at all state beaches and parks, and carries a $25 fine.

Domestic partnerships can now be either heterosexual or homosexual couples, and immigration status is no longer a consideration for low-income adults ages 19 to 25 to receive Medicaid coverage.

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