The following is a spotlight on some of the new state laws that took effect Jan. 1, legislation that will reshape the landscape of business, education, health, safety and environmental laws in California.
• Social media privacy in the workplace: The privacy of employees’ and job applicants’ social-media accounts are now a bit more secure with the passage of AB 1844 in September. The new law forbids employers from asking for user names, passwords or other information to access employees’ or job applicants’ social-media accounts like Facebook or Twitter. While the law protects employees from being compelled to divulge such information, don’t start trashing the boss just yet. The legislation does not apply to passwords used to access employer-issued electronic devices and does not infringe on employers’ existing rights to investigate workplace misconduct.
• Home/commercial goodies: The California Homemade Food Act, or AB 1616, allows “low-risk” foods like baked goods, candies, jams or tortillas made in private homes to be sold commercially with limited regulatory oversight.
TRANSPORTATION, DRIVER SAFETY
• Registration fees: San Diego County motor-vehicle registration fees will increase from $1 to $2, adding a new source of revenue to help combat vehicle thefts under AB 1404. Boat owners, too, will see registration fees increase up to $10 to help fund a quagga and zebra-mussel infestation prevention program under AB 2443.
• Hands-free texting: AB 1536 permits drivers to text, email or read messages on a portable electronic device while driving — but only by use of hands-free voice-to-text technologies.
• DUI changes: Urine tests are no longer an option for drivers suspected of driving under the influence. With certain rare exceptions, blood tests — widely considered to be more accurate — are now mandatory under AB 2020.
• Meters: Drivers are permitted to park in spaces with broken parking meters for the time allotted without receiving a parking ticket as the result of SB 1388.
• Tolls: Low-emission and clean-fuel vehicles with valid clean-air vehicle stickers are exempt from toll charges otherwise imposed on single-occupant vehicles in high-occupancy toll lanes under AB 2405.
• Showing proof: The passage of AB 1708 permits drivers to use smart-phones to demonstrate proof of insurance.
• Anti-bullying campaign: To further protect students against cyber-bullying, state legislators passed AB 1732, which prohibits acts of electronic bullying acts like the impersonation of another student on a social network or Internet site, the pervasive harassment of an individual using a false profile or the creation of a “burn page” targeted toward an individual. Online bullying campaigns are punishable under state and school anti-bullying provisions.
HEALTH & SAFETY
• Risk-free reporting: Drug-overdose victims or bystanders wanting to report a drug-overdose incident may now summon medical help without fear of arrest under AB 472.
• Birth control: AB 2348 permits registered nurses to dispense birth-control contraceptives directly to a patient in primary-care clinics instead of requiring women to see a doctor.
• Mammogram coverage: AB 127 amends the health and safety code and the insurance code to require health-insurance policies to cover mammograms upon referral by healthcare practitioners.
• Recycling: SB 1219 extends an existing program that requires large-scale grocers in California to collect recycled plastic bags at their stores, including dry-cleaning bags, shrink wrap and bread bags.
• Respect for mourners: The deceased can now rest in peace, thanks to the passage of SB 661, which makes it a crime — punishable by a fine up to $1,000, imprisonment in a county jail for up to six months, or both — to disturb or interfere with a funeral service. Beginning one hour before and ending one hour after the conclusion of a service, protesters at funerals must keep a distance of at least 300 feet from the burial or memorial site to protect grieving families from added distress.
• Gay-conversion therapies (almost) banned: One of the more controversial laws topping this year’s list bans psychotherapists from performing sexual-orientation-change efforts or so called “gay-conversion therapies.” Such treatments are purported to convert gay, lesbian or bisexual minors into heterosexuals, but are currently tied up in lawsuits, delaying the implementation of this bill until the legal challenges are concluded. The bill, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law in late September, was challenged by the Liberty Counsel, which was granted an injunction on behalf of therapy patients, counselors and the National Association of Research and Therapy of Homosexuality. California’s ban would mark the first state to prohibit such practices.
• Clergy’s right to refuse performance of nuptials: Under the protection of SB 1140, clergy are permitted to refuse to perform marriage nuptials if the union violates the priest’s, pastor’s or rabbi’s religious beliefs, often involving same-sex marriages. The law — which was proposed in anticipation of the reversal of California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage — also protects religious assemblies from losing tax-exempt status should they refuse to solemnize such nuptials.
• Religious freedom in the workplace: Employees with expressed religious affiliations are further protected under AB 1964 from discrimination in the workplace based on their dress or grooming practices according to their religious observance requirements.
• Fewer restrictions: AB 2189 allows undocumented immigrants who qualify for a new federal work permit to be eligible to obtain a driver license.
For a full list of new laws that took effect Jan. 1 in California, visit www.leginfo.ca.gov/pdf/BillsEnactedReport2012.pdf.