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5 Things To Watch Down The Homestretch As California Lawmakers Return From Summer Recess

Flanked by lawmakers, Gov. Gavin Newsom discusses his decision to place a mor...

Credit: Associated Press

Above: Flanked by lawmakers, Gov. Gavin Newsom discusses his decision to place a moratorium on the death penalty during a news conference at the Capitol, March 13, 2019.

Lawmakers return to California’s Capitol Monday for a final five weeks of hashing out legislation with more than 1,000 bills awaiting action.

They’ve already passed several milestone bills this year, including ones on police use-of-force and wildfire liability. But they — and Gov. Gavin Newsom — still face some major battles, including one that pits teachers unions against charter schools and a labor-business fight over the very meaning of the word “employee.”

Here’s what we’re watching heading into the homestretch of the legislative session before they adjourn on Friday, Sept. 13.

1. Dynamex (AB 5)

The biggest fight during the legislative homestretch? A bill to change the definition of who is an employee in California. The proposal would codify a state Supreme Court case, known as the “Dynamex” ruling.

Democrats and labor unions are pushing for more companies in California to classify their workers as employees instead of contractors. That means offering benefits and guaranteeing a minimum wage — a costly prospect for industries that traditionally rely on contractors. This would impact major gig companies, like Uber and Lyft, but also sectors like trucking, agriculture and health care.

Industries are pushing for exemptions. Hair stylists, accountants and lawyers have already scored carveouts. But the bill’s author, Asm. Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), says she won’t support a carveout for large gig companies. That’s left them scrambling to find a compromise, with all eyes on a potential second bill emerging to pair with the one by Gonzalez..

2. Charter Schools (AB 1505, AB 1507)

After big victories in the races for governor and state schools chief in the 2018 election — and helping Democrats expand their legislative supermajorities — the California Teachers Association launched a sweeping effort this year to curb the growth of charter schools and increase oversight.

Some of those efforts died — including measures that would have limited the number of charter schools statewide. But others cleared their house of origin. One bill would shift oversight and authorization to local and county offices. Another measure would restrict charter schools’ operation to the geographic boundaries of its authorizing office.

While his predecessor vetoed efforts to increase charter school transparency, Newsom has signaled he is open to charter school reform. The CTA, whose newly elected board just fired its longtime executive director, is hoping it still has the clout — and enough sympathetic votes from Democratic lawmakers — to push these bills through a Legislature that in recent years has generally left the status quo in place between charters and unions.

3. Rent Cap (AB 1482)

A statewide effort to cap rent to combat the housing affordability crisis in California gained steam after Newsom signaled his support last week. AB 1482 by Asm. David Chiu (D-San Francisco) would limit rent increases at 7 percent over the next 3 years. It would also include tenant protections, such as requiring landlords to provide a reason for an eviction.

Earlier this year, the Assembly approved Chiu's bill only after he raised the cap from 5 to 7 percent to appease opponents, and a separate measure with the tenant protections stalled. Since then, Chiu has added the tenant protections to his bill, teeing up another battle against the influential California Realtors and Apartment associations.

4. Consumer Privacy (AB 25)

Ever since a single California voter conquered the trillion-dollar tech industry last year by convincing lawmakers and then-Gov. Jerry Brown to pass a sweeping consumer privacy law, avoiding a potential fight at the ballot box, tech and business groups have been fighting for what they call “clean-up legislation.” But privacy advocates fear it could water down the original deal.

Under the law, which will take effect in January, Californians will have the right to learn what companies like Facebook and Google know about them — and to stop the sharing or selling of their data. They’ll also be able to sue over data breaches if companies fail to adequately protect their data.

The law’s critics argue that unless it’s amended, it will affect far more than the tech giants — small businesses will face new costs and potential lawsuits. But civil liberties and privacy advocates are hoping to hold the line. Should any further technical fixes or poison pills emerge, they’ll likely be in AB 25, authored by the lawmakers who steered last year’s deal to fulfillment.

5. Environmental Waste (AB 1080, SB 54, AB 792 and AB 161)

Ever buy one item at a store and walk out with a receipt the length of an ancient scroll? Some lawmakers want to curb that practice. A bill in the Senate would prohibit many retailers from printing a paper receipt if a customer doesn’t want one. The goal is to cut down on unnecessary paper waste.

Another set of measures aims to reduce plastic waste. A pair of identical bills in the Assembly and Senate would require manufacturers to reduce waste from packaging and certain plastic products. Another proposal would require plastic bottle manufacturers to use more recycled materials in their products. These measures come on the heels of successful efforts in recent years to cut down on single-use plastic bags and straws in California.

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