New California laws for 2014 cover a diverse territory, including but not limited to immigration reform, cycling safety, gun access, abortion, domestic workers' rights, fracking regulations and minimum-wage legislation.
Guns have been on everyone's mind this year, especially with a steady stream of shooting tragedies, most recently at a Colorado high school. Gov. Jerry Brown caved to NRA lobbying and vetoed seven gun-related bills, including one that would have outlawed semiautomatic rifles with detachable magazines, and another that would have required Oakland residents to register their guns with the city or meet strict new licensing rules. However, Brown did sign a bill that makes California the first state to ban lead hunting ammunition; environmentalists say the lead bullets act as poison for birds, including the California condor. Other new gun laws signed by Brown include a requirement for people purchasing rifles and shotguns to first pass a written safety test; also, AB 1131 lengthens the time from six months to five years during which a person who threatens violence is prohibited from purchasing a firearm.
Cyclists can celebrate the passing of the Three Feet for Safety Act, which requires drivers to provide a three-foot buffer zone when passing a cyclist going in the same direction. It goes into effect mid-2014. Drivers who intentionally drive too close to cyclists will face fines starting at $35.
After four years of organizing and speaking truth to power in Sacramento, not to mention a tough defeat in 2012, domestic workers finally tasted victory with the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. The bill extends overtime protections to workers who spend a significant amount of time caring for children, the elderly or people with disabilities. This predominantly Latina and female workforce will also be guaranteed state minimum wage.
Speaking of minimum wage, as McDonald's and Walmart workers agitate for a living wage across the nation, on July 1 California will implement a statewide minimum wage hike from $8 to $9 an hour. On Jan. 1, 2016, that number will increase to $10. The California Chamber of Commerce called the bill a "job killer," but tell that to the family of four trying to survive on the fruits of $8 an hour.
This year, across the United States, 68 abortion restrictions became law. California was the only state to actually protect abortion rights in 2014. Assembly Bill 154, authored by Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, allows certified nurse-midwives and specially trained nurse practitioners and physician assistants to perform first-trimester abortion by aspiration (the most common abortion procedure). A study in the American Journal of Public Health found these procedures to be clinically equivalent to procedures performed by a doctor.
Currently, women in many rural areas of the state must travel long distances to obtain abortions at unfamiliar clinics; with the new law, it will be easier for women to access the procedure in their home communities. Also, AB 980 requires the California Building Standards Commission to repeal regulations and sections of the building standards code that treat primary-care clinics differently if they perform abortions.
Environmentalists have criticized the governor's moderate stance on the controversial practice of fracking. Rather than placing a moratorium on the use of hydraulic fracturing to release oil and gas, Brown instead signed a bill that requires the testing of groundwater around fracking sites. Property owners near sites can now get their drinking water independently tested at the well operator's expense. In addition, oil and gas producers must report where they source their fracking water. (Critics say the measure allows too much leeway for companies to edge around the California Environmental Quality Act, which requires an EIR before the fracking of a well can begin.)
As federal immigration reform languishes in congressional gridlock, the governor signed into law the third iteration of the Trust Act, which prohibits local law-enforcement officials from holding undocumented immigrants arrested for low-level crimes past their release eligibility and then handing them over to federal immigration authorities. The law doesn't apply to anyone who has committed a serious or violent offense or have prior convictions for sex crimes, child abuse or drug trafficking.
Another law will allow undocumented immigrants to receive California driver's licenses. Threatening to report the immigration status of an individual or their family is now considered a form of extortion, thanks to AB 524, a measure authored by Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-San Francisco. In a statement, Brown said, "While Washington waffles on immigration, California's forging ahead. I'm not waiting."