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Here’s what California lawmakers passed in 2023

The Calif. state Senate chamber is in session Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023.
Andrew Nixon
/
CapRadio
The Calif. state Senate chamber is in session Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023.

Updated Sept. 15, 8:08 a.m.

The California Legislature ended its 2023 session Thursday night, wrapping a nine-month period during which state lawmakers debated and passed hundreds of bills.

This session was the first for a wave of new lawmakers and saw changes in top leadership: A new Speaker, Robert Rivas (D-Hollister), took over in the Assembly and Senate Democrats voted to make Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) their leader next year.

“We have delivered results for the 40 million Californians we represent,” Rivas told members of the Assembly at the end of the night, citing bills to raise the minimum wage for more than a million workers and to require big companies to report their greenhouse gas emissions.

“But we still have work to do,” he said, listing fentanyl and housing affordability as top priorities for 2024.

Governor Gavin Newsom has until Oct. 14 to sign or veto the bills now piled up on his desk.

Here’s a look at some of the measures lawmakers debated this year:

Labor and workers' rights

Picketers carry signs on the picket line outside Universal Studios on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023, in Universal City, Calif. The actors strike comes more than two months after screenwriters began striking in their bid to get better pay and working condition.
Richard Shotwell
/
AP Photo
Picketers carry signs on the picket line outside Universal Studios on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023, in Universal City, Calif. The actors strike comes more than two months after screenwriters began striking in their bid to get better pay and working condition.

Organized labor groups saw several wins through eleventh-hour legislation and dealmaking.

Senate Bill 799introduced during the final weeks of the session — would extend unemployment benefits to workers who go on strike for more than two weeks. It comes as Hollywood strikes drag on and reports that film and television studio executives are in no rush to return to the bargaining table.

Lawmakers approved the legislation despite concerns that California’s unemployment fund is already more than $18 billion in debt. It’s unclear whether Newsom will sign the bill — he has also expressed concern about the state’s unemployment fund.

Lawmakers also approved higher minimum wages for workers in the fast food and health care industries.

Assembly Bill 1228 would require fast food chains with more than 60 locations nationwide to pay their California workers a minimum of $20 per hour. The bill represents a deal struck between labor groups and the restaurant industry and, if signed by the governor, will replace legislation approved last year that would have required an even higher industry minimum wage of $22 per hour.

Corporations including McDonalds, Chipotle and Starbucks spent millions to challenge the law. The agreement included in AB 1228 will cancel out an expensive referendum fight over pay and working conditions in fast food establishments.

The Legislature sent SB 525 to the Governor’s desk. The measure would provide annual, scheduled minimum wage increases for the state’s lowest-paid health care workers. Those who work in large health care facilities and dialysis clinics would reach a $25 per hour wage by 2026, while the rest of the health care workforce would be covered by 2028. A UC Berkeley study found that this move could affect at least 469,000 workers in the state, raising their pay by over $5.74, on average.

Hospitals and counties were against the bill, arguing that they need financial support, not a wage mandate.

A bill to increase the amount of paid sick leave from 3 to 5 days, SB 616, was passed by lawmakers. Supporters argued the pandemic showed the current minimum was not enough, especially since COVID-19 takes 5-10 days to clear from the system. Opponents argued the COVID pandemic restrictions hit small businesses hard, and they can’t afford to increase benefits for workers.

Lawmakers approved AB 1, which would allow their staffers to unionize beginning in 2026. AB 1 is the fifth attempt to achieve staff unionization in recent years and this is the first time such a measure has been approved by both houses and reached the Governor’s desk. Staffers say they hope a union will allow them to advocate for higher pay and better working conditions.

Climate and environment

A pair of bills aim to address transparency around corporate emissions. One bill, SB 253, requires companies in California making more than $1 billion annually to report their emissions. The other, SB 261, requires companies making more than $500 million annually to report financial risks related to climate change. Lawmakers approved both.

“Many corporations are already doing the right thing by measuring, reporting, and working to reduce their emissions, but we need stronger standards across the board to encourage good behavior,” Senator Scott Wiener, who authored SB 253, said in a statement.

AB 1167 targets orphan wells in California. If signed, it will prohibit well owners from transferring ownership of the well to someone else unless they file for a bond to fully cover site restoration, plugging and its abandonment. Advocates say the law would help prevent taxpayers from paying these costs.

SB 674 would have built on existing law requiring community air monitoring systems to be installed near petroleum refineries that meet certain requirements. The bill would have expanded on the areas in which these air monitoring systems must be installed, including areas around refineries that are transitioning to producing biofuels. It also would have required that data gathered by these systems be made more easily accessible to the public. The bill did not get the necessary votes to move to the governor’s desk by the Legislature’s deadline.

Another pair of bills would introduce two new species into the official list of California state symbols. SB 732 would make the pallid bat — which has golden fur and lives in the Sacramento Valley — California’s state bat, and AB 261 would make the California Golden Chanterelle, or Cantharellus californicus, California’s state mushroom. Both have been approved by lawmakers.

Elections

Lawmakers approved — and Newsom quickly signed — AB 421, which makes three major changes to California’s referendum process:

  • Top donors who funded the referendum’s qualification for the ballot now to be disclosed to voters in the state’s voter information guide.
  • It creates a process for referendum proponents to withdraw the measure from the ballot. 
  • It will alter ballot wording for referendum measures so that voters are asked to “Keep the law” or “Overturn the law” rather than “Yes” or “No.”

The bill had an urgency clause and is already in effect.

Sacramento’s freshman Senator Angelique Ashby authored and passed SB 314, which will establish an independent Citizen’s Redistricting Commission in Sacramento County. The commission would be tasked with establishing district boundaries for the county’s Board of Supervisors.

Lawmakers also approved ACA 1, which seeks to make it easier for local governments to impose taxes to fund certain housing and transportation projects. It would lower the voter threshold to approve special taxes and bonds from two-thirds to 55%. The measure will need voter approval on the November 2024 ballot before becoming law.

At the same time, the Legislature set up a 2024 ballot fight with business groups over whether to make it harder or easier to raise taxes.

They passed a measure in direct response to aballot initiative from a coalition of organizations — including the California Business Roundtable — that would require higher voter thresholds for local taxes and taxpayer sign-off on any new tax approved by lawmakers.

Legislative Democrats, worried about what that ballot measure’s success would mean for government revenues, approved ACA 13, which would require ballot measures aiming to raise the threshold for new taxes to pass by the same threshold. For instance, if a ballot measure is asking voters to approve a 66% threshold on new taxes, that measure would also have to win support from two-thirds of voters. Lawmakers initially wanted it to appear on the March primary ballot, but its author, Assembly member Chris Ward (D-San Diego) agreed to hold it until next November “to ensure the broadest representation of our democracy will have their voices heard on this Constitutional issue of fairness.”

Republican lawmakers voted against both constitutional amendments, arguing they would make it easier to raise taxes and undo taxpayer protections.

Constitutional amendments approved by state lawmakers go directly to voters and do not need a signature from the governor.

Health

A bill to ban certain controversial food additives was approved by lawmakers. AB 418 would prohibit the manufacture or distribution of foods containing the additives red dye No. 3, potassium bromate, brominated vegetable oil and propyl paraben in California — chemicals often found in processed candies, drinks and baked goods.

Assembly members Jesse Gabriel (D-Encino) and Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) said they chose these chemicals because of their links to cancer, behavioral health problems and harm to the reproductive system.

Lawmakers also approved legislation that would decriminalize certain plant and mushroom based psychedelics. SB 58 provides a framework for Californians over 21 years old to use psilocybin, psilocyn, dimethyltryptamine (DMT), and mescaline. Veterans were among the voices in support of the measure, saying that these psychedelics provide critical relief to those suffering certain health conditions, including PTSD. If Newsom signs SB 58, California will join Oregon and Colorado, which have adopted similar laws.

Mental health reform

Lawmakers signed off on a major overhaul of California’s Mental Health Services Act, which was first implemented in 2004 and is funded by a 1% tax on income over $1 million. The reforms would allow counties to provide treatment for substance abuse disorders and emphasize housing to stabilize patients. It would require county providers to spend roughly 30% of their budgets on housing or rent subsidies for their patients.

As part of the package, voters will have the opportunity to weigh in on a $6.4 billion bond to build infrastructure for 10,000 new behavioral health treatment slots across the state. Under AB 531, the bond will go before voters in March 2024.

“I just see this as a reasonable update — 20 years later — to how we spend our money, actually meeting the moment that we find ourselves in,” said Senator Susan Eggman (D-Stockton), who authored the reform bill, SB 326.

Newsom first proposed the reforms in March and is expected to sign the package.

“These measures represent a key part of the solution to our homelessness crisis, and improving mental health for kids and families,” Newsom said in a statement after the measures passed. “Now, it will be up to voters to ratify the most significant changes to California’s mental health system in more than 50 years.”

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, the original author of California's Mental Health Services Act, also supported the changes.

A separate measure, also authored by Eggman, will expand the use of involuntary commitment and conservatorships in California. The Stockton Democrat, a former social worker, argued SB 43 would allow first responders to get people living on the street with severe mental illnesses into treatment. It was supported by psychiatrists and groups including NAMI, but opposed by disability rights groups.

Abortion access and reproductive rights

Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the federal right to abortion last year, California lawmakers have pushed to make the state a more accessible place for people to visit for abortion care.

One bill sent to Newsom, AB 352, would make information in fertility and menstrual tracking apps subject to medical privacy laws, shielding that data from advertisers and other parties.

“When people track menstruation or fertility, that data is clearly health information; health information that can put people in other states at risk of jail time,” said the bill’s author, Democratic Assembly member Rebecca Bauer-Kahan of Orinda.

Lawmakers also approved two bills intended to protect California patients and physicians for seeking and providing care in states where abortion is criminalized. SB 345 would shield providers who prescribe an abortion or gender-affirming care in other states from legal action. SB 487 would prohibit insurers from penalizing a doctor who performs an abortion.

Another bill aims to expand access to abortion by allowing more medical staff to perform the procedure. The governor has already signed SB 385 by Senate Leader Toni Atkins (D–San Diego), which will allow physician assistants to receive training and perform first-trimester abortions via vacuum aspiration. It follows a similar bill Atkins authored last year allowing nurse practitioners to perform abortions.

Housing and homelessness

Known as the “Yes In God’s Backyard” bill, or YIGBY, SB 4 provides a streamlined process for churches, faith institutions and nonprofit colleges to build affordable housing on their land. The bill would open up approximately 171,000 acres of land to affordable housing, according to a recent report from UC Berkeley’s Terner Center. SB 4 was authored by housing advocate Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) who called the legislation “a game changer” for California’s affordable housing crisis. The bill received final approval from the State Senate on Sept. 11 and was sent to the Governor’s desk.

It's not just high rent that makes it expensive to live in California. It’s also the many upfront housing costs — like hefty security deposits required by landlords. AB 12 by Assembly member Matt Haney (D-San Francisco) would cap deposits at a maximum of one month’s rent.

Landlords who own two or fewer units would still be able to charge two months’ rent.

Under existing state law, landlords can ask for security deposits of up to two months’ rent for an unfurnished apartment and three months’ rent for a furnished apartment. The California Association of Realtors opposed the bill, arguing it would limit landlords’ ability to cover costly repairs and damage.

Lawmakers sent the bill to Newsom’s desk.

Fentanyl, child trafficking and the debate over criminal penalties

Throughout this year’s legislative session, Republican lawmakers tried unsuccessfully to raise penalties for crimes including fentanyl dealing and retail theft. But they did claim one victory on a bill to classify child trafficking as a serious felony.

Senator Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) successfully passed SB 14, which would make child trafficking subject to the state’s three-strikes law. That classification means people convicted of serious or violent crimes automatically get steep sentences if they re-offend.

The bill initially failed in the Assembly Public Safety Committee after some Democrats raised concerns that trafficking victims could be swept up in the criminal justice system. It ultimately moved forward when Newsom got involved. While it ended up passing both chambers unanimously, it helped reopen a debate about criminal penalties in California. Many Democrats say the state has a history of over-incarcerating people of color and oppose raising sentencing laws.

Lawmakers have also wrestled with how to deal with fentanyl-related deaths in California, which have ballooned — from 82 in 2012 to 5,961 in 2021.

They passed AB 33, an effort to establish a 27-person Fentanyl Addiction and Overdose Prevention Task Force. If signed by the governor, the task force would have about a year to collect data on the crisis, identify drivers of illegal activity, and assess and develop treatment and prevention models.

Republicans and a handful of moderate Democrats attempted to increase criminal penalties for drug dealers convicted of selling fentanyl, but those efforts were largely shot down. However, lawmakers did pass AB 701, which adds fentanyl to a list of substances, including cocaine and heroin, where dealers in possession of more than a kilogram could be hit with additional sentences. It’s meant to target large-scale drug traffickers.

Several bills failed that would have required the overdose reversal drug naloxone to be stocked in public schools, bars, hotels and public libraries.

One bill supported by criminal justice reform groups would have banned police from stopping motorists for single violations related to vehicle lights or license plates. SB 50 was ultimately unsuccessful but could be taken up again in 2024.

Guns

Lawmakers approved SB 2, which rewrites the state's concealed carry weapons laws to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year. It would raise the age requirement to get a concealed carry permit from 18 to 21 and ban concealed weapons in a number of public places including hospitals, bars, amusement parks, libraries and public transportation.

It already faces a legal challenge, though Newsom has not signed it. The governor signaled his support for the bill though, saying in a statement after it passed: “We’re using every tool we can to make our streets and neighborhoods safer from gun violence.”

Newsom is also considering AB 28, which would slap an 11% tax on firearm and ammunition purchases in California. The estimated $159 million in annual revenue from the tax would fund gun violence prevention programs, school safety and illegal firearm enforcement. Similar bills have failed in previous years over mixed support from Democrats.

Lawmakers approved a resolution, SJR 7, which officially launches a Newsom-backed effort to add new gun control measures — including universal background checks, an assault weapons ban, waiting periods and a minimum purchase age of 21 — to the U.S. Constitution. It would be a high bar: Thirty-four states would have to agree to call a convention of states to consider the amendments, which would require ratification from at least 38 states.

Even in the Democrat-dominated Legislature, the resolution failed to get unanimous support from members of Newsom’s party. Some, including Senator Scott Wiener, raised concerns that conservative states could attempt to hijack a constitutional convention to pass new amendments to limit the federal government’s authority or other right-wing priorities.

Education and youth

Students line up before the first day of school at John Sloat Elementary School in Sacramento, Calif., on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023.
Andrew Nixon
/
CapRadio
Students line up before the first day of school at John Sloat Elementary School in Sacramento, Calif., on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023.

The education and youth-related policy has tackled a variety of topics from book-banning and gender identity to mental health and access to the HPV vaccine.

Lawmakers sent Newsom AB 1078, which would crack down on school districts attempting to ban books. The bill gained traction after a school board in Temecula blocked teachers from using textbooks that referenced the late gay rights activist Harvey Milk. It would take effect immediately, if Newsom signs it.

Much like the dialogue around book-banning in schools, youth gender identity and expression is becoming increasingly politicized. The Rocklin Unified School Board in Placer County approved a controversial gender identity notification policy just last week — an action that can create hostile home environments for students whose parents do not affirm their identity.

In the same vein, AB 957, co-authored and passed by Assembly member Lori Wilson (D-Suisun City), specifies that judges consider a parent’s support of a child’s gender and sexual identity in custody cases. However, it does not require the judge to side with the affirming parent, or limit access to the non-affirming parent. The language in the bill leaves the meaning of “affirmation” vague as to promote the best overall outcome for the child.

“Family courts are required to consider a variety of factors when determining the best interest of the child for the purposes of custody and visitation, including the health, safety and welfare of the child, any history of abuse, and history of substance abuse,” Wilson said in a statement. “The Transgender, Gender-diverse, Intersex Youth Empowerment Act [AB 957] provides California the opportunity to take one step closer to building a safer, more dignified, and equitable world for youth and their families.”

In an effort to create educational equity, Assembly member Mike Gipson (D-Los Angeles) authored and passed AB 373, a bill which will give foster and unhoused youth priority access to intersession programs, or programs offered by local educational agencies on days without school.

Foster and unhoused youth are known to have some of the lowest educational outcomes. In California, only 56% of foster youth graduate from high school, 15% are suspended at least once a year, and 28% are chronically absent. In comparison, the average student graduation rate is 85%, just 4% are suspended, and 12% are chronically absent. This bill attempts to minimize academic disruptions.

AB 373 will not have any fiscal effect on California’s budget, but will provide vulnerable students with access to educational opportunities, like credit recovery classes, to ensure their success in school.

Not meeting academic expectations, being unhoused, or grappling with your gender identity can be a few of the reasons that students require mental health support on school campuses. Since 2017, anxiety and depression rates among youth jumped up by 70% in California. If signed into law, SB 509 seeks to change this by mandating mental health education and training for all certified staff, and for 40% of classified staff who work directly with students.

“In order to prepare school employees to help our students with mental health challenges, we must provide them with adequate mental health education and training,” said Sen. Anthony Portantino, one of the co-authors of the bill, in a statement.

Current legislation requires the California Department of Education to identify evidence-based mental health training programs, but does not require the training be provided to their staff.

For Assembly Member Cecilia Aguilar-Curry (D-Winters), general health is a pressing issue. She authored AB 659, which would have schools recommend to parents that their children be fully immunized against the human papillomavirus, or HPV, between the sixth and eighth grade.

It will also guarantee that the HPV vaccine is completely covered, regardless of health insurance status, by expanding coverage requirements for the HPV vaccine and expanding comprehensive clinical family planning services.

Aguilar-Curry said she introduced this bill in the hopes that young people would have the knowledge to prevent cancer early when the vaccine is most effective. However, this bill proved to be contentious, as many wrongly associate HPV with a sexually-transmitted infection.

Caste discrimination and repealing the anti-discrimination travel ban

Seven years after banning taxpayer-funded travel to states with laws that discriminate against LGBTQ people, lawmakers opted to repeal the ban in favor of what Senate leader Toni Atkins calls a more positive, inclusive approach.

SB 447 will allow state and public university employees to resume travel to 26 mostly Republican-led states and create a donation-funded marketing campaign to promote inclusiveness for the LGBTQ community. Newsom has already signed the bill, writing in a statement that it “helps California’s message of acceptance, equality and hope reach the places where it is most needed.”

Another bill approved by the Legislature would make California the first state in the nation to explicitly ban discrimination based on caste. SB 403 fiercely divided the state’s large South Asian communities, some of whom argued it is unnecessary and that making caste a protected class insinuates people of Indian descent discriminate against each other.

Litigation over caste-based discrimination is rare in California. In a 2020 lawsuit against the tech company Cisco, the state alleged managers discriminated against an employee of a lower caste, but those claims were later dropped.

Prisons

After approving a bill that would limit solitary confinement last year, the author pulled this year’s iteration. AB 280 would have defined solitary confinement in state prisons, county jails, and any other detention facilities, limited it to 15 days and banned it altogether for people who are young, old, pregnant or disabled.

Its author, Assembly member Chris Holden (D-Pasadena) said he pulled it because there were concerns from other lawmakers the bill was too similar to a previous version, which Newsom vetoed. He is also waiting on forthcoming regulations from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation that could change which incarcerated people are eligible for solitary confinement.

AB 280 is eligible to come back in 2024.

CapRadio's Laura Fitzgerald contributed to this report.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified when ACA 13 will appear on voters' ballots — it will be held in order to go before voters in November 2024. The story has since been updated.

Since 2015, Chris Nichols has worked as CapRadio’s PolitiFact California reporter where he fact-checks politicians in the Golden State both on-air and online. His work includes debunking social media misinformation and explaining complex statewide topics from California’s affordable housing and homelessness crises to election issues.
Nicole covers politics and government for CapRadio. Before moving to California, she won several awards, including a regional Edward R. Murrow Award, for her political reporting in her hometown of Salt Lake City. Besides public radio, Nicole is passionate about beautiful landscapes and breakfast burritos.
Manola Secaira is CapRadio’s environment and climate change reporter. Before that, she worked for Crosscut in Seattle as an Indigenous Affairs reporter.
I’m interested in how health care policy impacts Sacramento and California, who gets access to care and the issues facing health care providers.
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