It’s not often that bacon leads a roundup of new laws taking effect with the New Year in California, but, this year, that’s the headline-grabber.
It’s among a host of other legislation designed to safeguard employees, shield those seeking abortions, protect protesters from police, spare children from gender influence in-store displays, and further ease criminal penalties to reduce mass incarceration.
Several of the laws mark national “firsts”—first minimum wage to reach $15 an hour, first to protect warehouse workers from quotas, first to mandate hourly wages for garment workers, first to require the gender-neutral displays.
What about the bacon?
The sausage-making stems from a 2018 ballot measure where California voters set the nation’s toughest living space standards for breeding pigs starting Jan. 1.
Industry lawsuits opposing the initiative failed, but grocers and restauranteurs are now suing to force a 28-month delay. Critics including some lawmakers of both parties have called for putting off enforcement until 2024 for fear prices will rise and jobs will be lost.
California is allowing the continued sale of pork processed under the old rules, which proponents say should blunt any shortage and price surge.
$15 minimum wage
California becomes the first state to require a $15-an-hour minimum wage for businesses with more than 25 employees, though Washington, D.C., and many California cities in the Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay areas already reached that milestone.
The minimum for businesses with 25 or fewer employees bumps to $14 with the new year and will increase to $15 per hour on Jan. 1, 2023. From then on, the wage will rise annually based on inflation.
The increases were set in motion by a 2016 law. Similarly, Illinois and New Jersey are boosting their minimum wage by $1 each year until they hit $15 an hour in 2025.
Housing and homelessness
Gov. Gavin Newsom promised to double down on addressing California’s affordable housing and related homelessness problem after he handily defeated a recall election in September.
Days later, he approved two measures designed to sidestep local zoning ordinances. One allows local governments to rezone neighborhoods near mass transit for up to 10 housing units.
The second requires cities to approve up to four housing units on what was a single-family lot, over the objections of municipal leaders. Some cities were rushing to pass ordinances undercutting the law before it takes effect, while other opponents are gathering signatures for a ballot measure that would restore local control.
California becomes the first U.S. state to bar warehouse retailers like Amazon from firing workers for missing quotas that interfere with bathroom and rest breaks. It also becomes the first state to require the garment industry to pay workers by the hour.
It also now bars secret employment settlements involving discrimination based on race, religion, gender or sexual orientation, expanding on a 2018 law.
Among two-dozen new higher education laws are two that try to make it easier for students in community colleges to transfer into public universities. One streamlines an application process that students have described as a maze, while another requires community college classes to have the same course numbers as the comparable courses in four-year colleges to reduce confusion.
Recycling and waste
California is expanding on its existing law that allows restaurants to distribute single-use straws only upon request. Now take-out places can give consumers single-use condiment packages like ketchup and mustard and utensils like knives, forks and spoons only if asked.
It’s among numerous new laws designed to cut waste. One sets what advocates call the nation’s strictest standards for the “chasing arrows” recycling symbol. Another toughens regulations for what can be used in compost.
It requires local governments to provide organics recycling collection to all residents and businesses, and phases in a requirement for businesses and large food generators to donate unsold food to distribute to Californians in need.
Gender-neutral store displays
California becomes the first state to require large department stores—those with at least 500 employees—to display products like toys and toothbrushes in gender-neutral ways.
The requirement does not include clothes and does not ban traditional boys’ and girls’ sections. But it says large stores must also have a gender-neutral section displaying a “reasonable selection” of items “regardless of whether they have been traditionally marketed for either girls or for boys.”
Enforcement won’t start until Jan. 1, 2024.
Several laws that fizzled in 2020 despite national unrest over the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis officer were signed into law in 2021.
They include measures limiting police use of rubber bullets against protesters and providing a way to decertify troubled officers, though some of the certification process doesn’t take effect until January 2023.
Other new laws bar a type of restraint hold that has led to deaths and specify when officers have a duty to intervene to prevent or report excessive force. Another expands the list of police misconduct records that must be made public.
The state also is increasing the minimum age to become a police officer from 18 to 21 and requiring the state attorney general to investigate all fatal shootings by police of unarmed civilians, including those where there is a reasonable dispute over whether that civilian was armed.
Easing criminal penalties
California is taking additional steps to ease criminal penalties, building on a decade of efforts to reduce mass incarceration.
Among them, it is ending mandatory minimum prison or jail sentences for nonviolent drug offenses, thus giving judges more discretion to impose probation or other alternative sentences.
It is expanding on a 2019 law that limited the use of the felony murder rule, which previously allowed accomplices in felonies to be convicted of murder if someone died but now is restricted to people who intended to kill or directly participated.
And it is creating the presumption that those arrested on allegations of violating their probation be freed on their own recognizance unless a judge deems them to be a public safety or flight risk.
It is also limiting prison terms for those associated with street gangs, considering mitigating circumstances in applying sentencing enhancements, and retroactively removing other enhancements for repeat offenders and certain prior drug crimes.