FILE - California State Capitol (copy)

The California State Capitol Building in Sacramento.

After an obstacle-filled 2020 legislative session that saw California Gov. Gavin Newsom sign only 372 bills into law, 2021 featured a more typical pace, with Newsom placing his signature on 770 pieces of new legislation and vetoing 45 bills. 

The marquee laws out of the 2021 session included an unprecedented expansion of property owners’ rights to build and address the state’s housing crisis, transparency of production quotas in company warehouses, tighter accountability on the garment industry, greater public access to police records in cases of excessive use of force, and making permanent the pandemic-era policy of sending mail-in ballots to every registered voter. 

All four state legislators representing parts of Monterey County were busy as well, authoring 79 bills, 29 of which received the governor’s signature. Sen. Anna Caballero, D-Salinas, went 8 for 23; Sen. John Laird, D-Santa Cruz, went 10 for 17; Assemblymember Mark Stone, D-Scotts Valley went 6 for 13 while Assemblymember Robert Rivas, D-Hollister, went 5 for 26. Only one bill from the four was vetoed by the governor: AB 616 by Stone, which would have allowed farmworkers to pick their collective bargaining representative through a ballot card election by mail or hand-delivering their ballot to the Agricultural Labors Relations Board.  

Most of the approved bills authored by Sacramento’s Monterey County delegation go into effect this year. Here are some highlights. 

 

SB 395 (Caballero)

This bill imposes a 12.5-percent excise tax on retail vaping products, finally bringing vaping under the same tax umbrella as tobacco in California. “Excise tax” means the tax will be paid by retailers selling the products, which typically means an increased cost on the consumer. Excise taxes are levied on commodities such as fuel, tobacco and alcohol. 

According to a State Senate analysis of the bill, the tax aims to reduce vaping among the younger population and will be used to fund certain safety net programs and grants for students in disadvantaged communities who are pursuing education in the health field to combat negative effects of tobacco use. 

 

SB 258 (Laird)

Californians over 60 years old living with HIV will now be considered as a group having the “greatest social need,” which includes them as a priority population for aging program funding and services from the state and federal governments. 

Previously, groups with the greatest social need included those experiencing hindering social or cultural isolation related to race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. Now, older Californians living with HIV join these prioritized groups. 

 

AB 73 (Rivas)

With passage of this bill, farmworkers are now considered “essential workers” and will have access to state stockpiles of personal protective equipment during pandemic or other health emergencies. A major part of this bill adds wildfire smoke as an emergency that triggers access to the PPE stockpile and requires that farmworkers receive wildfire smoke safety training in all languages necessary.  

 

AB 260 (Stone)

Stone’s bill reinforces the system for guardianship and foster care cases when a child who experiences parental abuse or neglect becomes a ward of the state. Previously, some children would be diverted to a proceeding where guardianship with a family member is figured out in court, instead of going through the foster care system and having their cases thoroughly reviewed by juvenile court. These cases are considered “hidden foster care” cases, in which the child does not receive the social services or the protection of the foster care system. Stone’s bill ensures that the juvenile court, the legal hand in foster care, reviews all cases before they are diverted to a guardianship proceeding. 

 

SB 619 (Laird)

New composting legislation goes into effect this year, requiring residents and businesses to divert food scraps from their garbage bins to designated composting bins. The legislation, passed in 2016, turns food scraps into fertilizer, which has been shown to significantly reduce the amount of methane emitted while food scraps decompose. 

The bill requires a major behavior shift reinforced by penalties for noncompliance. Laird’s bill offers some empathy for cities and counties having difficulty making the change by allowing jurisdictions facing penalties to submit a notice of intent to comply with the state’s waste management agency. If approved, penalties will be waived for 2022. Penalties that begin in 2023 can be waived if the jurisdiction submits a corrective action plan. 

 

AB 1144 (Rivas)

Those who participate in the cottage food industry, such as makers of homemade jams or tortillas, have been limited to making up to $50,000 per year before they are considered a larger operation. Purveyors are also restricted from using the mail or third-party delivery services to deliver food items, restricting sales strictly to in-person commerce. Rivas’ bill addresses both these limits, allowing cottage food industry participants to make up to $150,000 per year and allowing operators to send products through the mail or other delivery services, effectively stretching the cottage food industry’s market to the entire state. 

 

SB 347 (Caballero)

If you’re feeling generous while doing your state income taxes, Caballero’s bill creates a Community Tree Fund, which will collect voluntary contributions to bring trees to communities across the state that are either disadvantaged or lack the ability to coordinate an urban tree program. California already has 19 funds that accept voluntary contributions during tax season. The top five voluntary funds generate between $3 million to $7 million per year. However, the bill requires the tree fund to generate at least $250,000 per year to remain on the voluntary fund list. 

 

SB 323 (Caballero)

Any challenges to water rate increases must now be levied within 120 days of a water agency adopting the new rate. This statute-of-limitations mandate shields water agencies from the lawsuits such as a classs action effort in 2020, which listed 81 water agencies across California as defendants for passing on to ratepayers the cost of supplying water for fighting wildfires. Some of the rate increases dated back to 2016. Such legal action places unpredictable financial burdens on local water utilities.

 

SB 456 (Laird)

California’s Wildfire and Forest Resilience Action Plan gets some teeth, as Laird’s bill requires the implementation and an increased pace and scale of wildfire resilience actions, such as a instituting a prescribed burn plan.

Christopher Neely covers a mixed beat that includes the environment, water politics, and Monterey County's Board of Supervisors. He began at the Weekly in 2021 after five years on the City Hall beat in Austin, TX.

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