You probably remember Proposition F (the anti-Airbnb law that lost) and Proposition A (the $310 million affordable housing bond that won) from San Francisco’s November ballot. But you might not be aware of the 10 new state laws that take effect January 1. In what has become an annual Gazette tradition, we welcome the new year with a primer on some of the more interesting recent legislative acts coming out of Sacramento.
AID IN DYING
The controversial End of Life Options Act authorizes terminally ill adults—with the involvement of at least two physicians and after following several procedural safeguards—to avail themselves of a pharmaceutical cocktail that will peacefully end their lives. After contentious debate and ultimate passage in the Legislature, many questioned whether Gov. Jerry Brown—a former Jesuit scholar—would sign the act into law. He did, but the emotional resonance of the debate will not soon fade. Unless overturned by referendum, death with dignity will finally be an option for the terminally ill in California beginning in 2016.
NEW MEDICAL MARIJUANA REGULATIONS
While we’re on the subject of “easing pain,” there are nearly 20 marijuana legalization ballot initiatives vying to qualify for the November 2016 ballot. Before the recreational use of marijuana becomes the leading marijuana-related issue, the state enacted three laws that together comprise the California Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act. It creates a statewide regulatory agency that will issue licenses covering all economic operations within the medical marijuana economy. This legalizes commercial cannabis activity, changing what are now nonprofit cooperatives into for-profit businesses. Cultivation will be regulated by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, and will be subject to environmental regulations. Importantly, MMRSA protects the ability of local jurisdictions to enact land use and other restrictions to regulate marijuana cultivation, sales and use. This extensive overhaul brings the medical marijuana industry under a comprehensive regulatory scheme, replacing the current patchwork quilt of laws.
Bullies beware: Forwarding cyberbullying text messages or social media posts is now grounds for suspension or expulsion from school. Previous rulings permitted principals to suspend or expel students who created and transmitted electronic messages for the purposes of bullying. The new law extends the penalty of suspension or expulsion to those who transmit electronic bullying, even if they did not originate the message. While the law should help protect many students who are victims of cyberbullying, Donald Trump’s Twitter account remains unregulated.
California’s new Fair Pay Act has been described as “the nation’s strongest equal pay law.” This legislation permits women and men to seek pay equal to their opposite-gender counterparts who do similar work. But aggrieved workers will no longer need to prove that their differently-paid peers do exactly the same job in order to establish pay disparities.
TRANSGENDER EQUAL BENEFITS
Again leading the nation in the expansion of civil rights, California has enacted a law that prohibits the state from entering into contracts worth more than $100,000 with any company that fails to offer equal benefits to all employees, regardless of their gender identity. Equal benefit laws began in San Francisco in the mid-1990s, and have been considered a key component in the expansion of LGBT employee and insurance benefits for same-sex couples.
MOTOR VOTER REGISTRATION
Elections and voting have garnered headlines across the nation since Bush v. Gore first highlighted the difference a few votes can make. California now seeks to expand access to the polls by automatically registering all Californians over 18 acquiring a driver’s license, unless they specifically decline. This “motor voter” scheme seeks to address California’s plummeting voter turnout rates. Whether registering voters will affect turnout remains to be seen, but at least some DMV visitors will get an extra prize for their long wait in line: a free ticket to the democratic process!
CHEERLEADING AS A SPORT
After years of being treated as a supplemental activity, cheerleading is finally being recognized as a sport. In addition to helping underwrite the cost of travel to competitions, the new law implements safety standards and practices that will be overseen by regulatory bodies. Almost two-thirds of catastrophic sports-related injuries to female high school athletes are due to cheerleading. This could be a life-saver for those young women. As a yell-leader in college, I say “Bring It On!”
GOODBYE EXIT EXAM
In 1999, California instituted an exit exam that all students were required to pass in order to receive their high school diploma. The test was first administered in 2006, but has been the subject of mounting criticism since then. This year the state finally flunked it. The test will no longer be administered, and students who failed can retroactively receive their diploma if the test was the only impediment to their graduation.
CHEWING TOBACCO GETS THE ‘BRONX CHEER’
Recent years have seen the regulatory spotlight shine on smoking and electronic cigarettes, while chewing tobacco has escaped the limelight. Following the tragic death of baseball legend Tony Gywnn, however, the Legislature sprang into action to prohibit the use of chewing tobacco in professional baseball in California. Starting in December 2016, the seemingly ubiquitous images of full cheeks in major- and minor-league baseball will be no more. It remains to be seen which state official will be charged with removing the chewing tobacco from behind Madison Bumgarner’s lip.
LEGALIZING ‘BEER BIKES’
If you’re overwhelmed by all this groundbreaking legislation, this year’s crop of laws also legalized those increasingly popular “beer bikes.” These four-wheeled, car-sized bicycles are pedaled by groups of up to 15 partiers, and will now be regulated as pedicabs to allow them to transport your next bachelor or bachelorette party from one drinking establishment to the next.
Happy New Year to all our readers!
Brad Hertz is an attorney and partner at the Sutton Law Firm, which specializes in political and election law in the Bay Area and throughout the state. Thank you to colleague Nick Sanders for his valuable assistance with this article.