California housing, guns, criminal justice reform: Focus shifts to Gavin Newsom

SACRAMENTO — The California Legislature ended its first year under the tenure of Gov. Gavin Newsom last week. Now the focus shifts to the governor, who has until Oct. 13 to review hundreds of bills sitting on his desk and decide whether to sign or veto them.

Some of the proposals give Newsom an opportunity to start fulfilling campaign promises that included building 3.5 million new homes and ending private prisons in California. Here are key issues to keep an eye on:

Housing: This was a historic session for tenant advocates, who traditionally have not fared well at the Capitol.

Despite voters’ rejection of a rent-control initiative in November 2018, lawmakers pushed through a statewide rent cap and just-cause eviction rules.

Millions more renters would be protected from large rent increases and being ousted from their homes without a legitimate reason under AB1482, which was shepherded by Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco. Newsom, who helped negotiate a deal with landlord groups, is expected to sign the bill.

The Legislature also approved SB329, by Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, which would prohibit landlords from refusing to rent to low-income tenants because they use Section 8 vouchers.

Measures intended to boost construction amid the state’s severe housing shortage struggled, however. The bill that received the most attention — SB50 by Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, which would have rezoned transit corridors, job centers and wealthy suburbs for small to medium-size apartment buildings — was held early in the session.

Lawmakers did approve SB330 by Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, which would place a five-year moratorium on local policies that make it harder to build in cities without enough housing, such as putting caps on permits and adding fees, and streamline the approval process for projects.

They also passed a package of legislation to ease development of backyard cottages and other secondary homes, which advocates believe could lead to the construction of tens of thousands of units a year.

Two proposals on the governor’s desk could provide more money for affordable housing: Chiu’s AB1487 would allow Bay Area officials to place funding measures on a regional ballot. SB5 by Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, would give local governments authority to divert tax revenue to affordable housing projects and eventually authorize the state to reimburse cities up to $2 billion per year, a cost that could be a concern for Newsom.

Guns: The Legislature has tightened firearm regulations in recent years, and gun control moved to the forefront of the agenda again after a series of mass shootings this summer, including at the Gilroy Garlic Festival.

AB61 by Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, would expand California’s gun violence restraining order program, which authorizes a judge to remove the weapons of people deemed dangerous to themselves or others. Current law allows immediate family members and law enforcement officials to seek an order. Under the bill, employers, coworkers and school employees could also file a petition to a court.

A companion bill, AB12 by Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks (Ventura County), would extend the maximum length of a gun-violence restraining order to five years from one year.

AB879 by Assemblyman Mike Gipson, D-Carson (Los Angeles County), would require Californians who want to buy components for making a gun to do so through a licensed dealer starting in 2024. SB61 by Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge (Los Angeles County), would limit buyers to one semiautomatic center-fire rifle per month. The state already limits handgun sales.

Criminal justice: One of the biggest issues of the session was resolved in the spring when Newsom and legislative leaders brokered a compromise between civil liberties advocates and law enforcement groups to raise the legal standard for when police can open fire on a suspect. But lawmakers advanced plenty more policies that would affect California’s criminal justice system.

AB32 by Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, would phase out the use of private prisons by 2028. It was a campaign goal of Newsom’s, though the state’s prison system is barely under a court-mandated population cap.

Ting’s AB1215 would ban police for three years from using facial recognition technology in body cameras, which civil liberties groups argue is error-prone.

Wiener’s SB136 would eliminate an automatic one-year sentencing enhancement for each prior felony prison term that a defendant served, unless the term was for a violent sexual offense.

Skinner’s SB42 would require local jails to allow someone who is scheduled to be released after sundown to wait in a safe place until the morning or they can be picked up. Her SB310 would undo a law that banned anyone with a felony conviction from serving on a jury.

Employment: Sweeping legislation could reshape labor law, turning thousands of independent contractors into company employees with protections and benefits. Lawmakers approved AB5, the landmark gig-worker bill written by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego. It would reclassify gig workers such as Lyft and Uber ride-hailing drivers, along with many other independent contractors.

Newsom has said he will sign the bill, though he said he plans to continue negotiating with all sides.

Lawmakers also sent Newsom two sexual harassment-related proposals vetoed last year by then-Gov. Jerry Brown. AB9 by Assemblywoman Eloise Reyes, D-San Bernardino, would give employees three years rather than one to file a harassment or discrimination complaint with the state. AB51, also by Gonzalez, would ban mandatory arbitration agreements that prevent workers from suing their employers. It was one of the main bills that business groups worked to kill this session.

Environment: Legislators debated a slate of bills intended to confront concerns about disposable plastic products piling up in landfills and polluting waterways.

Several sweeping recycling measures died. But the Legislature passed Ting’s AB792, to give California one of the toughest recycling mandates for plastic bottles in the country. The measure would require beverage companies to use 50% recycled content in bottles by 2030.

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