California legislature adopts variety of new laws

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The state Legislature was very busy during 2016. Nearly 1,000 bills were passed and Gov. Jerry Brown signed about 900 into law.

Among the bills that did not receive legislative approval was Assembly Bill 385, which would have allowed state voters to decide whether to retain Daylight Saving Time. On Aug. 30, the bill failed to receive a majority vote for the third time. Assemblyman Kansen Chu (D – San Jose), who authored the bill, may resubmit in the 2017 Assembly session.

Bills that did pass the Legislature addressed a gamut of subjects; for example, bankruptcy, barbering, collectibles, California seeds, craft beer, education, healing arts, public utility commission, taxes, water projects and much more.

Some of the bills Brown did sign are summarized below:

Election reform

Senate Bill 450 offers counties the opportunity to move to an all mail-in-ballot election system. Starting Jan. 1, 2018, 14 (Calaveras, Inyo, Madera, Napa, Nevada, Orange, Sacramento, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Shasta, Sierra, Sutter and Tuolumne) of the state’s 52 counties are authorized to conduct any election as an all-mail ballot election.

The secretary of state will evaluate the conduct of these elections and report to the Legislature. After Jan. 1, 2020, any county may conduct any election as an all-mailed ballot election.

Registered voters would automatically be sent a ballot 28 days before the election. Voters could return their ballot by mail, take it to a drop-off location or cast it in person at any vote center in their county.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla said after the bill’s passage, “Why limit voting to one location on a single Tuesday?”

“Our current system of limiting voters to casting their ballot at a single location on a single day has failed, as our voter turnout rates have continued to decline toward record lows.” Sen. Ben Allen, one of the bill’s sponsors, said, “People lead increasingly complicated lives; we should provide them with maximum flexibility when it comes to voting.”

Counties would be required to have one vote center for every 10,000 registered voters on election day. Starting 10 days before the election and through the Friday before election day, there must be one vote center for every 50,000 registered voters.

For this year’s presidential election, the secretary of state reported last week that more than 1 million people registered to vote in Riverside County — the fourth largest number of registered voters in the state.

Private retirement

For workers without a retirement savings account, SB 1234 authorizes a procedure for them to build retirement savings.

Under the new law, workers who do not have a workplace retirement plan will automatically contribute 3 percent of wages to a new retirement account, the California Secure Choice Retirement Savings Trust. Workers can change their contribution levels at any time, or choose not to participate.

In 2012, the Legislature asked for a study to evaluate this type of program and SB 1234 is based on that work.

Use of cell phones while driving

State law already prohibits using a cell phone while driving, either to write, send or read a text-based message. Phones allowing for voice operation are exempt. This bill would prohibit a person from driving a motor vehicle while holding and operating a handheld wireless telephone or a wireless electronic communication device, as defined.

The exception is granted if a device is mounted on a vehicle’s windshield in the same manner a portable Global Positioning System, and only a single swipe or tap of the driver’s finger is necessary to activate it.

Four-year college degrees

Brown has nudged the state college and university systems to encourage more students to complete degree requirements within four years. Today, many take five and six years to graduate.

SB 412 guarantees priority registration and academic advising to students who pledge to take 30 units per year.

According to the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Steven M. Glazer (D - Orinda), “Many students at the California State University system want to finish in four years, but they need help in charting the path. This bill directs resources to students who likely need the most help and will boost their chances of getting a bachelor’s degree in four years.”

Alcohol and beauty salons or barber shops

These establishments may now serve beer or wine without a license as part of a beauty salon or barber shop service if no extra charge or fee for the beer or wine is required.

Breathalyzers

Following a pilot program, the state may now require installing an ignition interlock device in cars of individuals convicted of driving under the influence. The device will prevent the car from starting if the driver’s blood alcohol content is above the legal limit.

The new law enables the pilot program to run for another two years; starting Jan. 1, 2019, the pilot expands statewide.

The device costs between $60 and $80 per month, and installation costs between $70 and $150.

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