New California laws address virus, fires, law enforcement

Angeles National Forest, CA, Tuesday, September 22, 2020 - Blue Ridge Hot Shots crew members from Arizona join forces with California firefighters from Northern and Southern California on a backfire operation North of Mt. Wilson on Angeles Crest High

 What a strange legislative year it was.

The coronavirus pandemic forced California state lawmakers to twice shut down their sessions for weeks at a time — the first unexpected work stoppage in 158 years. Masked lawmakers tried to limit the number of bills they considered, but still ran out of time on the final night, partly because quarantined Republican senators had to vote remotely.

Yet they still managed to pass hundreds of bills, 372 of which were signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom. Most take effect with the new year.

Among them:


As the pandemic set in, so did nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Police killings of primarily Black and Latino men gave urgency to bills that previously stalled and prompted new efforts at law enforcement accountability, some of which failed in the session’s waning hours.

One new law requires the state attorney general to investigate any time police kill an unarmed civilian, while a second gives county supervisors greater oversight of county sheriffs.

Evaluations of peace officers must include assessing bias against race or ethnicity, gender, nationality, religion, disability, or sexual orientation.

Police can’t use carotid restraints or chokeholds.

Youths up to age 17 can’t be questioned by police or waive their rights until they have a chance to consult with an attorney.

Suspects may be entitled to new trials or sentences if they can show their case was tainted by racial bias. And juries will be picked from all tax filers, a broader pool than the current lists of registered voters and licensed drivers.

Governments can’t use software to track a person or object without first getting a warrant.

Former inmate firefighters can quickly apply to have their criminal records expunged after their release, which gives them a shot at becoming professional firefighters or seeking employment in other licensed professions.


Record wildfires have scarred California’s landscape, spurring a drive for more protections.

Homeowners in fire-prone areas must further reduce vegetation within 100 feet of structures, including eliminating vegetation immediately adjacent to structures, though the rule can’t be enforced until the state develops regulations and lawmakers provide money for beefed-up inspections.

The Governor’s Office of Emergency Services must take into account the needs of the elderly, children, those with language barriers or physical or mental disabilities when updating the State Emergency Plan.

Insurers must prominently notify policyholders if their offer to renew a policy reduces coverage, such as eliminating fire protection, and get it acknowledged in writing.

Emergency vehicles can use a distinctive "Hi-Lo" warning sound to notify the public of an immediate need to evacuate an area in an emergency under a law that took effect in September.

Employers can’t force domestic workers to work during an evacuation, whether the danger is from fire or the coronavirus.


Employers must quickly notify workers of potential coronavirus exposure.

Hospitals must maintain a three-month supply of personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves and supply it to endangered employees. The state itself must also build a stockpile under a separate law.

Several coronavirus laws already took effect. They include one presuming for the purposes of workers’ compensation that the virus was contracted on the job unless employers prove otherwise. Another requires Cal/OSHA to provide agricultural workers and employers, in English and Spanish, the best ways to prevent coronavirus infections. Food facility employees must be allowed to wash their hands every 30 minutes and additionally as needed.

Good Samaritans who rescue children under age 6 from overheating in unattended vehicles can’t be held civilly or criminally liable if they first call emergency workers before breaking in.

Insurance companies can’t deny life or disability income insurance solely because an applicant has HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

A new law bans the sale of most flavored tobacco products, but the industry says it has enough signatures to block the measure until voters weigh in, which may take until 2022. California officials are delaying the effective date until county clerks decide if a sufficient number are valid.


California-based companies must have at least one board director by the end of 2021 who is a racial or sexual minority. By 2022, that bumps to two such directors for smaller boards and to three for boards with nine or more directors. It follows a similar California-first requirement for female board directors.

Companies with 100 or more employees must provide the state information on employees’ race, ethnicity and gender in various job categories, information that could help the state identify pay disparities.

Leaves of absence under the California Family Rights Act expand to include all companies with five or more employees, instead of the previous limit of 50 or more employees.

Employers can’t discriminate or retaliate against workers who take time off for medical care, court proceedings or for other reasons if they are victims of a crime including sexual assault, domestic violence or stalking.

Businesses can’t avoid paying back wages just by adopting a new name under a law that says they’re liable if have the same owners, facilities or workforce.

Employees have a year, instead of six months, to file discrimination or retaliation complaints with the California Labor Commissioner.

A bill that already took effect exempts about two-dozen more professions from California’s landmark labor law designed to treat more people like employees instead of contractors. The law was primarily aimed at ride-hailing giants Uber and Lyft, which won a reprieve on the November ballot.

The minimum wage rises to $14 an hour under another existing law that will bring it to $15 an hour for all employees by 2023. Employers with 25 or fewer workers must pay $13 an hour.