Cheering for the “Redskins” is officially a thing of the past in California as of Jan. 1. Passed back in 2015, Assembly Bill 30 gave public schools until 2017 to ditch a mascot now widely denounced as racist and insensitive to Native Americans. The four remaining California high schools using the mascot have complied: two of those schools now cheer for the “Tribe,” one roots on the “Reds” and one has ditched a mascot altogether.
After years of trying to erase a welfare rule they said punishes poor people, Democrats finally succeeded in repealing a policy known as the “maximum family grant” that bars women who get pregnant while on welfare from drawing additional benefits. As of Jan. 1, women in that situation can apply for benefits to cover the new child. They can also apply to cover children who are still minors and were previously excluded.
Increases in the minimum wage will kick in gradually over the next few years, realizing a deal to eventually boost the pay floor to a nation-leading $15 an hour. As of Jan. 1, California’s minimum wage goes to $10.50 an hour for businesses with 26 or more employees.
As part of a package fortifying California’s already-tough gun laws, Senate Bill 880 and Assembly Bill 1135 sought to ban guns that circumvent a previously passed assault weapon law with reloading devices called “bullet buttons.” California bars purchasing, semi-automatic, centerfire rifles or semi-automatic pistols that lack a fixed magazine and have one of a number of features that include a protruding pistol grip or a folding or telescoping stock. If you already own one, you’ll need to register it with the California Department of Justice.
Sellers of sex may be getting some leniency, but the opposite will be true for people who sexually assault a defenseless victim. The jail sentence a Stanford student received in June for assaulting a passed-out woman (he was released in September), fomented outrage and led to Assembly Bill 2888, which mandates a prison term for sexually assaulting people who are unconscious.
Another bill reflecting headline-grabbing sexual assault cases, Senate Bill 813 brought accusers of disgraced entertainer Bill Cosby to hearings in Sacramento. It eliminates the statute of limitations for rape cases, allowing prosecutors to bring charges no matter how much time has passed since the crime. The bill will cover new offenses but can’t be applied retroactively. That means old rapes still must be prosecuted either within 10 years or, if the victim was a minor, by her 40th birthday, with some exemptions for child sex crimes or DNA evidence.
One swipe or one tap: that’s all the phone interaction you get while driving thanks to Assembly Bill 1785, which limits motorists to simple actions on mounted phones. Existing California law had already banned texting or making calls while behind the wheel unless a phone is hands-free. Assembly Bill 1785 tries to maintain the prohibition on distracted driving while allowing people to use GPS
The littlest Californians will also be affected by a new road safety law. Assembly Bill 53, passed back in 2015, requires that kids under the age of two be fastened into rear-facing child safety seats. There’s an exception for children who weigh at least 40 pounds or are at least 40 inches tall. Children under the age of eight will need to ride in the backseat.
As public disgust with the role of money in politics mounts, more people have promoted the idea of publicly financed elections, in which candidates get public dollars rather than relying entirely on private donations. Until recently, that wouldn’t have worked in much of California, since a voter-passed initiative forbade public financing in many cities and counties. Senate Bill 1107 undoes that prohibition, allowing more local governments to set up public financing. In early December, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association filed suit to block the law.
Sweeping changes to how Californians vote are coming thanks to Senate Bill 450. Many of the bill’s provisions won’t kick in for a while, but one change that takes effect on Jan. 1 should make casting a ballot easier. Voters can now return mail ballots at any county elections office in the state, not just in the county that issued the ballot.
Another effort to facilitate voting, Assembly Bill 1436, passed back in 2012 but takes effect on Jan. 1. It allows people to register to vote on Election Day, with county elections headquarters serving as registration hubs starting two weeks before Election Day. Technically it allows for “conditional voter registration,” which means the ballots aren’t counted until officials verify the voter is eligible and hasn’t cast a ballot elsewhere. Current law cuts off registration 15 days before Election Day.
Conceived in response to an Indiana law allowing businesses to cite religious freedom as a legal defense, which prompted concerns about turning away gay or transgender customers, Assembly Bill 1887 says state agencies cannot require employees to travel to states with laws on the books permitting “discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender.” It also bars employees for getting reimbursed for travel to those states. Currently, the bill will only affect travel to North Carolina, Tennessee and Mississippi. Indiana isn’t covered because its law came before a June 2015 cutoff written into AB 1887.
Liberal Democrats and libertarian Republicans found common cause on Senate Bill 443, which limits law enforcement seizing private property under a tactic known as “asset forfeiture.” State law enforcement or local cops will need a conviction to hold onto a share of property seized during federal investigations, unless the forfeited property is $40,000 or more in cash. In state cases, they’ll need a conviction to keep less than $40,000 worth of cash or property like homes and vehicles.
As Californians convicted of low-level felonies increasingly serve their sentences outside of prison, Assembly Bill 2466 declares that such offenders have a right to vote. How that’s implemented is up to the counties, who are typically responsible for people serving their sentences either in jails or under post-release supervision.
Have you ever passed a dog locked in a car on a sweltering day and thought, “I wish I could do something”? Well, now you can. Assembly Bill 797 allows good Samaritans to liberate animals who are showing signs of distress, provided they can’t find the owner. They also must first contact law enforcement and wait for the authorities to show up.
Date rape drugs
Law enforcement groups frustrated by Proposition 47, which downgraded drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor, pushed for Senate Bill 1182. The bill allows prosecutors to pursue felony charges for people who possess drugs like ketamine, GHB and flunitrazepam and can be proven to have the intent to commit sexual assault. Attempted sexual assault was already a crime, which was a factor in Brown vetoing a near-identical bill last year out of reluctance to create new crimes that could create “increasing complexity without commensurate benefit.” This time, Brown let the bill become law without his signature.
Of all the surprising political stories of 2016, the ballot selfie battle was one of the least expected. Who knew there was so much desire for people to take photos of how they voted? As it turns out, enough for the ACLU to file a lawsuit. In any event, in future elections you can snap pics of your filled-out ballot and post it wherever you like, free from government harassment, thanks to Assembly Bill 1494.
Boycott, divestment and sanctions
Originally, Assembly Bill 2844 was conceived as a rebuke of the “boycott, divestment and sanctions” movement that manifests resistance to Israeli policy by refusing to do business with the country. Warning of thinly veiled anti-Semitism, Jewish lawmakers pushed to bar California from giving contracts to businesses that boycott Israel; a later version would have made the California Attorney General list those businesses online. The iteration that was signed into law has bidders for state contracts self-certify that they aren’t running afoul of anti-discrimination laws.
Aimed at dying Californians who are running out of time and options, Assembly Bill 1668 allows drug manufacturers to make available treatments that haven’t gone through the full Food and Drug Administration approval process. Patients would need to have exhausted other options, including trying to get into clinical trials, and get the okay from two different physicians. Even then, drug companies could decline.