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New Laws with New Protections Ring in the New Year 

click to enlarge Gov. Gavin Newsom after signing the controversial Assembly Bill 5, with the legislation's author Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez (right).

The Office of the Governor

Gov. Gavin Newsom after signing the controversial Assembly Bill 5, with the legislation's author Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez (right).

With the new year come new laws and 2020 has a bevy of changes going into effect on everything from California's minimum wage and the classification of independent contractors to protections for nursing mothers and a ban on smoking at state parks and beaches.

Here's a glance at a few of the ones that may impact you in the first year of a new decade.

Minimum Wage Increase: California residents are getting another boost in 2020, with the minimum pay level going to $13 an hour for businesses with 26 or more employees and to $12 for those with fewer. That still leaves many workers below the $14.61 an hour estimated for a single person to make ends meet at a standard quality of life in California, according to Massachusetts Institute of Technology's living wage calculator. For a working couple with two children, that number increases to $19.48 each. The state's incremental increases will continue each year until the minimum wage hits $15 in 2023 for all businesses.

Limitations on Contractors: For many businesses and workers, traversing the so-called gig economy is going to become a little more complicated. Under Assembly Bill 5, certain independent contractors — including ride-hailing drivers for Uber or Lyft, as well as freelance photographers and journalists — are reclassified as employees under certain circumstances, meaning they qualify for minimum wage, paid sick days and other benefits. The law has drawn the ire of some companies and contractors alike, with a group of freelance writers filing a lawsuit.

Buzzkill on Roadkill: Remember all that excitement about Senate Bill 395 providing the opportunity to whip up dinner from the roadkill you found on the way home? Well, not so fast. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is here to remind residents of the Golden State that the new law simply "authorizes development of a program for what the bill describes as 'salvageable wild game meat.'" But, a recent CDFW release notes, "Such a program is not yet in place, contrary to many news articles and social media traffic."

Limits on Lighting Up: No butts about it, taking a drag off a cigarette or vape pen at a state park or beach is going to be a no-go come January under Senate Bill 8. The new law also enacts a fine for littering those same areas with said banned tobacco products, which account for a vast amount of trash discarded along our coastline.

Bad Bosses Beware: Employees with complaints of retaliation, discrimination or harassment will have extra time to make their claims in 2020 under Assembly Bill 9, with three years to report instead of the previous one-year limit.

A Private Place: New mothers will have additional protections in the new year, with Senate Bill 142 requiring workplaces to have a room or other clean area in which they can privately pump their milk. And, no, bathrooms are not OK.

Vax Review: The state is taking a further plunge into the highly divisive subject of vaccinations with Senate Bill 276, which begins to take effect in January. This law allows for the development of a form that must be filled out when a doctor gives a medical exemption. Those physicians with five or more will be subject to review.

Renter Protections: This year, renters will have more rights against evictions and sudden rent hikes under Assembly Bill 1482. This law prevents landlords from raising rents by more than 5 percent a year plus inflation. There are also provisions that limit the circumstances for evicting a tenant, especially one who has lived somewhere for more than a year.

Respecting Hair: It's saddening to know this law was needed but come 2020, folks with natural hairstyles who have long been discriminated against — remember the New Jersey teen wrestler who was forced to cut his dreds? — are now protected in the workplace and at school under Senate Bill 188. When the New Year arrives, California will become the first in the nation to do so.

Expanded Training: Once just the milieu of management, sexual harassment training requirements will now be extended to anyone who works at a business that has five or more employees.

Family First: When a new baby arrives or a family member faces serious medical issues, workers will now be able to take up to eight weeks of paid leave starting in July, up two weeks from the previously allowed allotment, under Senate Bill 83 but still far behind much of the world.

School Rules: Starting in 2020, schools will no longer be able to use suspension as a means of punishing unruly or disruptive behavior for students in kindergarten through eighth grade under Senate Bill 419. Statistics show these type of actions are disproportionally used against children of color, foster children and children with learning disabilities. This law begins in July.

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Kimberly Wear

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Kimberly Wear is the assistant editor of the North Coast Journal.

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