Gavin Newsom approves the latest laws in California.

Gavin Newsom approves the latest laws in California.
Gov. Gavin Newsom is surrounded by lawmakers as he signs into law his oil profit penalty plan in Sacramento on March 28, 2023. Photo by (Miguel Gutierrez Jr./CalMatters)

Empowering California's Clean Energy Future: AB 1373

Assembly Bill 1373, spearheaded by Assemblymembers Eduardo Garcia and Phil Ting, alongside Senator Josh Becker, is a pivotal step towards establishing a sustainable energy landscape in California. The bill grants the state Department of Water Resources the authority to procure clean power, with a focus on offshore wind, geothermal, and long-duration storage, all under the careful guidance of the Public Utilities Commission. To bolster this initiative, the Legislature is directed to allocate $6 million for monitoring and research into potential impacts of floating offshore wind projects.

Support for AB 1373 comes from a coalition of environmental and clean energy groups, advocating that investing in emerging green-energy technologies will expedite California's journey towards meeting its renewable energy goals. Construction trades and unions also back the bill, emphasizing its potential to create much-needed jobs, particularly in areas facing economic challenges. The statewide association of port authorities is on board, recognizing the extensive expansion required to facilitate the new wind industry.

However, opposition arises from various energy producers, local utilities, and municipal entities, expressing concerns that the bill grants the Utilities Commission undue authority over local community choice power providers. Detractors argue that the state's entry into competitive energy markets may disrupt the status quo and potentially raise utility costs for consumers.

The significance of AB 1373 lies in its role as a catalyst for the floating offshore wind industry, still in its infancy in California. Facing high development costs and financial risks, wind companies holding offshore leases seek assurance from state officials that there will be a market for their renewable power. By positioning the state as a customer for this future power source, the bill aims to instill confidence among investors, spurring the development of these crucial projects. Governor Newsom's endorsement on October 7 signals a commitment to fostering a sustainable energy future for California.

Expanding Workers' Rights: SB 616

In a move to enhance workers' rights and address the evolving landscape of labor, Long Beach Democrat Lena Gonzalez championed Senate Bill 616. This legislation increases the number of paid sick days employers must provide to workers from three to five, effective from 2024 onwards. While proponents initially sought seven days, the bill, which also extends protections against retaliation to unionized workers, found support from advocacy groups for families, women, and numerous unions.

Advocates argue that SB 616 represents a common-sense change, ensuring that California workers do not have to compromise between their health and financial stability. The California Work & Family Coalition and the California Budget & Policy Center emphasize the need to align the state's sick leave policies with more generous standards observed in other states. However, opposition comes from trade associations representing various industries, including the California Grocers Association and California Hotel & Lodging Association. These groups, along with chamber of commerce organizations, contend that the bill may impose additional burdens on struggling businesses, particularly in the wake of the lingering impacts of the pandemic.

The absence of federal legislation mandating paid sick leave underscores the importance of state-level initiatives such as SB 616. The bill acknowledges the changing dynamics of the workforce, particularly in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, where access to paid sick days is crucial for the well-being of employees. Governor Newsom's approval on October 4 aligns with the state's commitment to supporting workers in maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Ensuring Electoral Integrity: AB 969

Assembly Bill 969 emerges as a response to recent challenges to electoral integrity, notably in Shasta County, where concerns over the county's contract termination with Dominion Voting Systems prompted the Board of Supervisors to opt for hand-counted votes. AB 969, authored by Democratic Assemblymember Gail Pellerin, aims to ban hand-counting of votes, except in specific circumstances, such as elections with 1,000 registered voters or fewer.

Supported by the Shasta County clerk and Assemblymember Pellerin, the bill addresses the imprecision and cost associated with hand counts. Opposition arises from Shasta County supervisors, notably Chairperson Patrick Henry Jones, who asserts that the bill infringes on the county's autonomy and limits its ability to ensure free and fair elections. Additionally, most legislative Republicans voted against the bill, highlighting partisan divides on the issue.

The importance of AB 969 lies in its role in safeguarding the electoral process from potential disruptions and external influences. By promoting the use of certified voting machines and establishing guidelines for hand counts, the bill seeks to ensure the integrity of California's elections. Governor Newsom's endorsement on October 4 signifies a commitment to maintaining a secure and reliable electoral system in the state.

Senate Bill 799, a response to the dynamic labor landscape in California, aimed to grant striking workers the ability to collect unemployment benefits after two weeks of striking. This legislation, authored by Senator Anthony Portantino, sought to provide financial support to workers engaged in strikes, recognizing the challenging economic conditions they face. However, the bill faced opposition from the California Chamber of Commerce, employer groups, and various industries, citing concerns about potential tax increases on all California employers.

The significance of SB 799 lies in its attempt to address the needs of the over 275,000 workers who engaged in strikes in California in the current year. Recognizing the rising cost of living in the state and the economic challenges exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the bill aimed to provide relief to workers while navigating the complexities of the state's unemployment system. Governor Newsom's decision to veto the bill on September 30 reflects concerns about the potential impact on California's outstanding federal debt and the need to avoid increased costs during a challenging economic period.

Historic Agreement for Fast Food Workers: AB 1228

Assembly Bill 1228 represents a historic agreement between labor groups and the fast food industry, setting a minimum wage of $20 per hour for fast food workers starting April 2024. The bill, carried by Assemblymember Chris Holden, also establishes a new fast food council in 2024 to set labor standards across the sector. The council, operational for five years, consists of representatives from labor, restaurant owners, fast food corporations, and the public, with the state's labor and business departments serving in an advisory role.

The deal hinges on the fast food industry withdrawing a referendum scheduled for November 2024 to repeal the new council. While the Service Employees International Union and the Fight for $15 campaign support the bill, two groups representing individual franchise owners oppose it, citing concerns about excluding them from negotiations and potentially burdening small businesses.

AB 1228 is a pivotal development in the two-year battle between labor groups and the fast food industry in California. It addresses the longstanding challenge of unionizing the fast food sector and provides a framework for setting labor standards in an industry that employs over 500,000 Californians. Governor Newsom's endorsement on September 28 signifies a landmark agreement that balances the interests of workers and business owners in this crucial sector.

Advancing Reproductive Rights: SB 385 and SB 487

Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins champions two bills, SB 385 and SB 487, aimed at fortifying California's abortion protection and access network. SB 385 allows trained physician assistants to conduct surgical abortions without direct supervision, expanding training options for these healthcare professionals. SB 487 prevents health insurers and the state from penalizing medical providers who have been sanctioned in other states for performing abortions or gender-affirming care, provided such procedures are legal in California.

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