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New California Laws Go Into Effect Friday

Above: The California capitol building.

Aired 12/31/15 on KPBS Midday Edition.

GUEST:

Dan Eaton, attorney, Seltzer Caplan McMahon Vitek

Transcript

California lawmakers approved a host of new laws this year that go into effect Jan. 1.

The laws target everything from wages, to privacy rights, to new rules for drivers.

Starting Friday, Californians will be prohibited from wearing earbuds or headphones in both ears while driving or riding a bike.

The DMV posted more of the new transportation laws on its website.

And registering to vote will get easier since drivers will automatically be registered when they obtain or renew their driver's license at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Legal analyst Dan Eaton, an attorney at Seltzer Caplan McMahon Vitek, joined KPBS Midday Edition Thursday to discuss some of the new laws of 2016.

Fair Pay Act

California will have an expanded equal pay law beginning in January. It prohibits employers for paying men and women differently for "substantially similar work."

The existing law only specifies pay must be the same for "equal work" - a definition courts have interpreted narrowly.

UC Davis Professor of Law Emerita Martha West says the law also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who discuss their salaries

“So the important part is that women need to find out what men are making in the work place," West said. "Women need to start talking to each other and talking to their colleagues at work to find out what everybody is making.”

Both Eaton and West said it will take several court cases to see how the law’s "substantially similar" language is interpreted.

"Equal never even met exactly equal. It didn't mean you had the exact same job with exact experience. The business community got that." Eaton said. "Whether this 'substantially similar work' will make much of a difference, we will have to look at what the courts do with this."

Fair Day’s Pay Act

The intent of this law is to crack down on employers who, for example, don’t give workers rest breaks or force employees to clock out early but keep working.

"Wage theft is rampant in California and throughout the country actually," said Lilia Garcia-Brower with the Maintenance Cooperation Trust Fund, an advocacy group that monitors conditions in the janitorial industry.

She pointed out the new California law gives the state more power to hold employers accountable when they lose wage claims but fail to pay their debt.

"So it gives the Labor Commission new tools, like liens, to go after those employers," Garcia-Brower said.

Garcia-Brower cites a UCLA study that shows more than 60 percent of the employers found guilty of wage theft shut down their company or changed their name.

"So then when the employee wins, and has that legally binding document that they’re owed that money, they’re unable to collect that," she said. "And that’s why we have such a low collections rate of 17 percent in California.”

Under the new law, companies found guilty will be banned from closing down and re-opening with a different name. And the Labor Commission will be able to place a lien on the property of an employer cited for wage theft.

Reproductive FACT Act

In the title of the bill, FACT stands for "freedom, accountability, comprehensive care and transparency." The law requires reproductive health care centers notify patients that the state offers free or low-cost contraception, prenatal care and abortions.

Religious-based "crisis pregnancy centers" are fighting the state on the new mandate but must comply until their cases are resolved. Licensed facilities that don't comply with the law can be fined $500 for the first offense and $1,000 for subsequent offenses.

Expanding the Unruh Civil Rights Act

Currently the Unruh Civil Rights Act bans discrimination based on several characteristics like sex, race and religion. New additional language outlaws discrimination based on citizenship, immigration status or primary language.

Jeannette Zanipatin is an attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF, which helped write the legislation.

“It protects all folks who are immigrants, folks who are perceived to be immigrants, folks who may not have been born in our country but are definitely part of our society,” she said.

In other words, a business can't tell someone who is speaking Spanish that they must leave the premises.

The bill only protects patrons inside a business; it doesn't offer further protections to employees working for a business.

Gun restrictions for mentally ill individuals

AB 1014 allows family members "to file an affidavit to get a restraining order that would allow law enforcement to take guns from someone who is at risk to do harm to themselves or others," said Eaton.

The law stems from a 2014 incident in which a man killed six people near UC Santa Barbara. Family of Elliot Rodger notified the Santa Barbara Sheriff's Department of their concerns about his mental health. Deputies conducted a welfare visit but did not consider Rodger a risk.

Under the new law, law enforcement could hold weapons for up to 21 days, with the possibility to renew the hold for up to a year.

"I suspect there may be some litigation under the Second Amendment about this one - that this interferes with the rights of law-abiding gun owners," Eaton said.

Rodger had legally purchased three semi-automatic guns.

New regulations for BB guns

SB 199 requires BB and airsoft guns sold in the state to include fluorescent markings to distinguish them from real firearms. It was authored by Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles).

In several high-profile cases, police have shot teenagers after mistaking the toy guns the teens were carrying for real ones. In one case, a 13-year-old Santa Rosa boy was shot seven times by Sonoma County sheriff’s deputies after they mistook the airsoft gun the teen was carrying for an AK-47.

Democratic lawmakers passed the law more than a year ago, with the goal of preventing future tragedies.

Gun control advocate Mike McLively, an attorney at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence in San Francisco, said the law is a step in the right direction.

“A lot of these BB guns and airsoft guns are made to look extremely realistic these days,” the gun control advocate said. “So, it’s hard for law enforcement to distinguish between a fake gun and the real thing.”

Dave Givens is a youth shooting sports trainer in Merced County. He says the law won’t have much of an effect on his industry.

“The manufacturers, in an attempt to market to the younger shooters, have already offered their guns in a variety of different colors, patterns and camouflage schemes and so forth. It’s already part of the culture,” Givens said.

Gun control advocates, however, say the law should help phase out the toy guns that still look like real firearms.

California Electronic Communications Privacy Act

This law requires a warrant for all digital records: personal emails, texts, photos and a users’ physical location.

"What this does is creates a very clear process for the government to get your private data. Whether that's off a cell phone or from your online service provider," said Dave Maass, an investigative researcher with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which supported the bill in the California State Legislature.

He said the law provides a balance between privacy and public safety.

"This actually has a benefit for law enforcement because every single corporation was running with a different policy, but now it's very clear what the process is and so that makes it easier for law enforcement to do their jobs," Maas said.

The law applies to devices and to all the tech corporations that store your data, from Apple to Twitter.

"But it also covers things like StingRays or IMCI captures, and these are devices that police use to track people by their cell phones, but in the process they collect information on hundreds, thousands of innocent people just to track one phone," Maas said.

There are exceptions to the warrant requirement: When an emergency involves danger of death or serious physical injury to any person.

And Eaton had this warning: "That is not going to preclude law enforcement from getting it from a recipient of messages who voluntarily discloses the information."

Craft Distiller’s Act

AB 1295 strikes a Prohibition-era law that prevented craft distillers from charging for tastings like brewers. They also couldn't sell product from their distillery. Now, they can sell up to three bottles per customer, and offer tastings and mixed cocktails onsite.

"The right to dry"

Californians everywhere will have a right to dry clothes on Jan. 1. A new law going into effect will prevent landlords, property managers or homeowners associations from banning clotheslines.

“It’s the simplest form of renewable energy available yet it has been banned in thousands and thousands of HOA’s and apartment associations, meaning that basically millions of Californians were prohibited from using clotheslines,” said Mindy Spatt with The Utility Reform Network, which sponsored the bill.

HOA’s and apartment associations restricted clotheslines because they were considered unsightly. The law does restrict clotheslines or drying racks to backyards. A tenant also must notify the landlord prior to hanging a clothesline.

Regulating flea market pet sales

California will soon begin regulating the sale of puppies, kittens and other animals at informal sales venues like flea markets and swap meets.

California requires pet stores to protect the health and safety of animals. “But these standards don’t apply to flea markets and to swap meets,” said Kate Dylewsky with Born Free USA, an animal welfare group based in Washington, DC.

The new law bans the sale of animals at swap meets and flea markets unless the local jurisdiction adopts minimum care standards.

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