What Laws Will Change California in 2020?

A glut of laws goes into effect in January, bringing massive changes for independent contractors and tenants in San Francisco and beyond.

The past year ushered in a new era for California, one where Governor Gavin Newsom seemed eager to boost progressive cred and distinguish himself from the predecessor he served under as lieutenant governor.

Newsom signed nearly 900 laws by the end of the legislative session, one that brought bills covering housing (both targeting production and tenant protections), wildfires, and workplace security. Here are the laws of note: 

AB 5: Independent contractors

As the face of the gig economy, Uber and Lyft appear to be the primary targets of Assembly Bill 5, which clarifies the differences between employees and independent contractors. But the bill highlighted just how many other industries rely on independent contractors, from wineries to lawyers.  

Which workers reap the intended benefits of this depends on how much companies are willing to risk consequences, or can front a fee that pales in comparison to how much they save on benefits. While Uber insists nothing will change and is hedging its bets on a ballot measure to undo AB 5’s impacts, media companies (for example) are outright cutting or scaling back ties with California writers. The impact of the law depends on how much the state and local district attorneys enforce the law.

AB 1482: Tenant protections

San Francisco is ahead of much of the state when it comes to protecting tenants but still benefits from Assemblymember David Chiu’s bill. Assembly Bill 1482 caps annual rent increases at 5 percent plus inflation — about 2 to 3 percent more than San Francisco’s cap — while establishing just cause evictions. Landlords of buildings at least 15 years old, though not single-family homes, soon won’t be able to evict tenants without a “just cause” like nonpayment, breaches in the lease, and criminal activity. 

While San Francisco might be tied on rent control, local legislation put forward by Supervisor Matt Haney and passed in December extends just cause evictions to the remaining tenants. Still, a repeal of rent control restrictions set by Costa-Hawkins remains politically dicey after voters and the legislature crushed efforts in the past year. 

AB 1482 locks in rent control for San Franciscans in buildings older than 1979 but leaves out the many tenants living in newer buildings. 

SB 167: Plan required for power shutoffs

PG&E power shutoffs are done out of caution to reduce the risk of sparking more devastating wildfires that have killed so many and caused billions of dollars in damages. Planned power outages, usually done when high winds and dry conditions increase fire risk, have been more frequent and caused a backlash of anger surrounding the attendant school closures, economic losses, food waste, and medical complications. Senate Bill 167 goes beyond the previous requirement that investor-owned utilities like PG&E provide advance notice to customers and emergency responders when possible. Now, the utilities must outline protocols for shutoffs in their annual wildfire mitigation plans.

This is paired with other laws surrounding the new reality of frequent fires to improve communication around shutoffs (SB 560), the ability for a third-party audit of a utility’s vegetation management (SB 247), and the establishment of a wildfire warning center (SB 209). 

SB 104: Public health care for undocumented immigrants

With the Affordable Care Act under President Barack Obama came expanded health options — but not for undocumented immigrants. They’re largely ineligible for such services due to their immigration status, which SB 104 seeks to rectify. If low-income undocumented immigrants between ages 19 and 25 years old meet other requirements to receive Medi-Cal, their legal status won’t be a barrier starting in July. 

This could have a ripple effect on San Francisco’s health care access program, Healthy SF. The program offers limited services within the city for low-income, uninsured residents yet roughly 13,000 people still use it. Immigration status isn’t tracked but Spanish speakers make up the vast majority of people enrolled and if more people enroll in Medi-Cal as a result of SB 104, some may come from Healthy SF.

Author’s note: SF Weekly wants to hear from people who have or continue to use Healthy SF, or otherwise have trouble getting coverage. To share your experience or ask questions about the data journalism project and El Tecolote partnership, email HealthySFproject@gmail.com.

AB 32: For-profit prisons

The prison industrial complex is losing a big client in California. Under Assembly Bill 32, the state must phase out contracts with private, for-profit prisons — including immigrant detention facilities. Before the bill, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation held contracts with GEO Group to run four prisons that hold up to 2,400 people but expire by 2023. 

In 2009, California struggled to grapple with an inmate cap imposed by federal judges but holds almost 115,000 in state custody today, according to the Los Angeles Times. Former Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a similar bill in 2017. 

SB 83: More paid family leave 

This law doesn’t take effect until July but extends paid family leave from six weeks to eight weeks. Workers who are new parents, either to children born or adopted within a year, or taking care of a family member with a serious illness will get a couple more weeks. 

Senate Bill 83 fits into a larger effort by Newsom and his wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, to accommodate California families. Earlier this year, Newsom unveiled a $213 billion state budget that included tax credits for families with children six or younger, expanded subsidized child care, and eliminated sales tax for diapers and menstrual products for five years

SB 188: Hair discrimination

Workers who don’t have an immediate need for paid family leave but face stigma for their natural hair will also see a bump in protections, as will public school students. Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act bans discrimination on the basis of natural hair, which includes braids, afros, twists, and locs. Afros are already protected under the umbrella of race by the 1964 Civil Rights Act but dress codes may police other natural hairstyles, punishing or deterring black applicants or workers.  

“In a society in which hair has historically been one of many determining factors of a person’s race, and whether they were a second class citizen, hair today remains a proxy for race,”  SB 188’s legislative text reads. “Therefore, hair discrimination targeting hairstyles associated with race is racial discrimination.”

Ida Mojadad is a news reporter for SF Weekly. You can reach her at imojadad@sfweekly.com or on Twitter at @idamoj. 

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