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1998 - As disbelief about El Niño was starting to set in, the first of a month-long succession of devastating storms hits [story]
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Some think California could be bolder when it comes to addressing income inequality and homelessness.
| Thursday, Dec 29, 2022
State Capitol
The California Capitol building in Sacramento. (William Dotinga/Courthouse News)


By Natalie Hanson

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — Heading into 2023, Californians will see historic new laws take effect that range from tackling climate change to protecting workers’ pay and women’s right to reproductive health care.

“California leads, and we do so by following our moral compass and staying true to our values,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement Dec. 9.

Reproductive health rights

The governor positioned California as a leader in advocating for women’s health and freedom to choose, adding the statewide constitutional amendment Proposition 1 to the ballot which the majority of voters approved. Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan’s bill Assembly Bill 1242 prohibits law enforcement and California corporations from cooperating with or providing information to out-of-state entities regarding a lawful abortion performed in California. It also prohibits law enforcement from knowingly arresting a person for aiding a lawful abortion in California.

Quita Tinsley Peterson, interim executive director of ACCESS Reproductive Justice in California, said AB 1242 and Proposition 1 ensure the work for reproductive rights can benefit not only state residents, but visitors seeking health care “in the face of such harsh criminalization of abortion and targeting of abortion access.”

“People have been really been paying attention to abortion access in the country this year because of the overturning of Roe v. Wade and as states across the country are starting to implement their abortion bans — and in some cases even worsen their bans,” Tinsley Peterson said.

The California Future of Abortion Council has released recommendations for the next legislative session and noted that as of November, 13 states had total abortion bans in effect — eight with pre-viability gestational limits and five with bans temporarily blocked by court challenges. The council and state Attorney General Rob Bonta say that about a third of people who can become pregnant live in a state where abortion is not legal or is severely restricted.

“It’s a very scary time in the U.S. around abortion access, but for Californians, I want folks to remember that advocates, organizations, reproductive leaders on the ground and providers have been working really hard to ensure that abortion access in California is solidified and expanded for folks living here and folks traveling here,” Peterson said. “Don’t get lost in the despair; here in California we’re doing everything we can to make sure folks have the care they want and need.”

Business and transparency 

Artists will have stronger protections over their work in California under Assembly Bill 2799, which restricts the use of creative content like song lyrics and music videos against artists by requiring judges in criminal proceedings to balance the probative value of creative content as evidence against the “substantial danger of undue prejudice.” The bill also requires a court to consider that undue prejudice includes the possibility that creative expression could be treated as evidence of a defendant’s propensity for violence, as well as the possibility that the evidence will inject racial bias into the proceedings.

Women purchasing necessities from razors to sanitary products will no longer pay more for goods marketed to them that are similar to others — known as “the pink tax.” Assembly Bill 1287 prohibits anyone from charging a different price for goods marketed to women.

The state’s sidewalk street vendors now have an easier route to obtain health permits with Senate Bill 972. Newsom said the bill not only increases community health and safety, it also helps vendors formally enter the economy to build their business and provide for their families.

With the passage of Senate Bill 1322, California now requires oil companies to post how much money they’re making off of residents on their websites.

And Senate Bill 1162 is designed to close the pay gap for many workers by expanding existing transparency laws, which mandate pay data reporting by employee gender, race and ethnicity.

“California has the strongest equal pay laws in the nation, but we’re not letting up on our work to ensure all women in our state are paid their due and treated equally in all spheres of life,” said Newsom. “These measures bring new transparency to tackle pay gaps, end discriminatory pricing of products based on gender and expand supports for survivors of abuse and assault.”

Assemblymember Cristina Garcia, a Democrat from Bell Gardens and chair of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus, said the Covid-19 pandemic spurred lawmakers to action.

“The reality is that these issues existed long before the pandemic, but the pandemic further exacerbated and highlighted the work we need to do to lift up all women, especially low-income women of color, and has given us a greater sense of urgency,” she said.

Education and diversity

Assembly Bill 1705 requires community colleges to enroll students in transfer-level math and English courses if the program they want to transfer into requires it. The new law aims to remove barriers to degree completion and help students meet academic and career goals.

Senate Bill 1183 looks to ensure that children in California from ages 0-5 will be able to sign up for free books in both English and Spanish from Dolly Parton’s “Imagination Library” program.

And California will begin celebrating new state holidays in honor of its diverse communities. In 2023, Lunar New Year, Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day and Juneteenth will be state holidays.

Is it enough?

Carl Luna, director at University of San Diego’s Institute for Civil Civic Engagement, said in an interview that while California made incremental changes in 2022 on homelessness, climate protection and income inequality, “there was nothing fundamentally earthshaking this year.”

“Newsom is staking himself out as a bit of a neo-Jerry Brown, blocking/tempering the more progressive/left inclinations of a state legislature dominated by Democrats, positioning himself as moderate pragmatist,” Luna said. “That precludes transformative/bold new actions.”

Luna pointed to wealthy countries in Europe and Asia making bolder moves to try to eliminate homelessness with a constitutional right to housing. He said California could start addressing income inequality by passing fundamental corporate reform, reining in Big Oil and corporations, requiring workers and communities to be represented on corporate boards, enforcing windfall profit laws and working with the feds to weaken monopolies “that call California home.”

“That, however, would require political risk-taking, in a California where senior elected officials are the advancement conveyor belt,” Luna said. “So look to 2023 to move the needle incrementally on critical issues as well, but look to after 2024 for anything truly status quo-shaking to emerge.”

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