With the start of every new year, California rolls out a series of new laws that have been passed by the Legislature and approved by the Governor. While the Legislature covered items from condoms (it is now a crime to remove a condom without verbal consent) to condiments (it is illegal to hand out disposable condiments unless customers ask for them), 2021 was a slow year. Only behind 2020, last year represented the second fewest laws passed since 1967. As reported in the Los Angeles Times on December 30, 2021, Governor Gavin Newsom reviewed 836 bills and vetoed 66 of them. The Los Angeles Times article highlighted 43 such bills. Below is an overview of just a few.
COVID-19: Health insurance companies must offer free COVID-19 testing. Protesters at vaccination clinics must keep a distance from any patients and cannot videotape, photograph, or otherwise record patients or providers within 100 feet of its entrance. California restaurants will be allowed to sell to-go cocktails with food orders and may continue outdoor dining options where alcohol is served.
Housing: To address the shortage of housing, now homeowners can build four housing units on single-family lots. In addition, homeowners will find it easier to rezone properties near mass transit operations to allow up to 10 housing units.
Crimes: Judges can now reduce criminals’ sentences to probation instead of incarceration for more crimes related to possession of certain drugs and have the discretion to reduce prison time for gang-related crimes. Spousal rape is no longer considered different than any other rape. There are no longer any limits on sexual assault or harassment charges while serving in the military. Starting in July, the police have a greater ability to seize untraceable ghost guns.
Policing: There are greater restrictions on police techniques that involve a serious risk of positional asphyxia. Officers must immediately report incidents of excessive force that they witness and are subject to new requirements to intervene in those incidents. Officers can more easily be removed for excessive force.
Workplace: California’s minimum wage is $15 per hour except for businesses with 25 or fewer workers, which must raise their minimum wage to $14 per hour. In contrast, Arizona’s minimum wage will increase from $12.15 an hour to $12.80 an hour. Farmworkers for large employers must receive overtime pay for more than eight hours of work in one day and double pay for more than 12 hours of work in one day. Starting on September 1, state unemployment officials must give notice prior to rejecting an application for unemployment benefits.
Voting: Eligible voters will receive a ballot in the mail for all statewide elections regardless of whether they signed up for absentee voting. Voters can still vote in person by showing up at a voting location and surrendering the mailed ballot. Relatedly, New York City approved allowing 800,000 legal non-citizens to vote in local elections.