“Dumpster fire” had an outside chance of becoming Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year in 2016. It was the year beloved celebrities including Carrie Fisher, Prince and David Bowie died; a year when fake news trumped fact (and “post-truth” won out as Oxford’s word of the year); a year of prolonged bloodshed across the Middle East, and a corresponding refugee crisis.
Against that backdrop – and one of gridlock in Washington, D.C. – there was progress, and California lawmakers were productive. Gov. Jerry Brown signed 818 bills into law, including more than 40 by Central Coast lawmakers. And two days after President-elect Trump won the election, Brown issued a statement indicating his intention to keep the state on track to tackle climate change, even if the federal government does not.
“With the deep divisions in our country, it is incumbent on all of us – especially the new leadership in Washington – to take steps that heal those divisions, not deepen them,” Brown said. “In California, we will do our part to find common ground whenever possible. But as Californians, we will also stay true to our basic principles. We will protect the precious rights of our people and continue to confront the existential threat of our time – devastating climate change.”
Here’s a look at a selection of this year’s new laws, which took effect that same day, authored by local electeds. (That includes former Assemblyman Luis Alejo, who termed out and on Jan. 10 will be sworn in as a Monterey County supervisor. Anna Caballero, D-Salinas, will replace him in Sacramento.)
Just don’t read this list from on your smartphone behind the wheel – AB 1785 makes it illegal to “hold and operate a handheld wireless telephone” while you’re driving, even if you’re asking Siri to do all the work.
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AB 2251, the Student Loan Servicing Act (authored by Assemblyman Mark Stone, D-Scotts Valley), is the first state law of its kind that creates a new kind of accountability for student loan servicers. With an estimated 40 million Americans owing $1.2 trillion in student debt nationwide, Stone thought it was time to begin at least collecting basic data about loan servicers, the firms that handle billing and collections. “Student loan debt is a national crisis,” the bill states.
This law will be implemented over an 18-month period and take full effect in July 2018. It will require servicing firms with a net worth of $250,000 or more to get a state license, and that application process will obligate them to provide information about their repayment options, how much debt they hold and how many students they serve. The law will also enforce basic communication rules, requiring servicers to provide information on repayment options on their websites and respond to borrowers’ questions within 30 days.
It’s not the comprehensive student loan bill of rights Stone originally envisioned, but he says it’s a way to start getting a handle on an otherwise opaque industry: “We’ll get a better sense of what this industry looks like, and a better sense of what to do about it,” he says.
SB 1065 (by State Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel) builds on the existing Elder and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act to move elder abuse cases through the courts faster. The current appellate process can take more than three years; SB 1065, which takes effect July 1, requires appeals to be heard within 100 days.
AB 2380 (by Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Salinas) was inspired by an alleged double child murder in Salinas, in which Tami Huntsman is accused of torturing and killing two children, 7 – and 3-year-old Shaun and Delylah Tara, who were in her care. The bill requires courts to give incarcerated parents more information about guardianship of their minor children while they serve time, including background checks on prospective guardians and power of attorney for minors.
SB 1098 (by State Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres) boosts the target participation rate for Denti-Cal, California’s youth dental care program, from 40 percent to 60 percent. The new law requires that the State Department of Health Care Services issue a report on its progress toward increased enrollment to the Legislature by Oct. 1.
SB 831 (authored by the Senate Committee on Budget and Fiscal Review, with support from all four Central Coast lawmakers) allocates $10 million for the Salinas Valley interlake tunnel project. The tunnel would connect lakes San Antonio and Nacimiento, providing additional water storage. The total project cost is estimated to be $78.2 million.
SB 968 (by Monning, whose district includes San Luis Obispo County) requires the California Public Utilities Commission to submit a report detailing the economic impacts of Pacific Gas & Electric’s planned closure of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. PG&E pays about $22 million in property taxes, an amount that could drop to zero by 2025 when the plant closes.
AB 2792 (co-authored by Alejo) requires local jails to enter into written agreements with a County Board of Supervisors or City Council before allowing federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to have access to inmates.
AB 2492 (by Alejo) makes modifications to an earlier Alejo bill that creates new agencies called Community Revitalization and Investment Authorities – something like Redevelopment Agencies 2.0, since California’s redevelopment agencies dissolved in 2012. The new authorities (CRIAs) will be able to issue bonds, acquire property through eminent domain and build affordable housing to serve disadvantaged communities. This law establishes a formula for defining which communities they can serve: The annual median household income must be less than 80 percent of the median income at a statewide, countywide or citywide level.
AB 1847 (by Stone) builds on his 2015 law that created a state version of the earned income tax credit for poor working families. The new law requires employers to notify employees of possible eligibility for the EITC in an effort to increase the number of families who claim the California credit on their state tax returns.
SB 1363 (by Monning) requires the Ocean Protection Council and State Coastal Conservancy to establish a program designed to mitigate ocean acidification, an effect of climate change. The program will identify optimal areas for eelgrass restoration projects.