2021 California Legislative Roundup

Caroline Griffith, EcoNews Journalist

In 2021, California lawmakers sent 836 bills to Governor Gavin Newsom for approval. Of those, he approved 770 and vetoed 66. Here is a run-down of some of the bills that environmentalists should take note of.

CA State Capitol. Source: Andre M, Wikipedia CC

Bills the Governor Signed
AB 1177 Supported by 250 racial and economic justice groups, climate justice organizations, labor unions and elected officials, AB 1177 is a first-in-the-nation law paving the way for universal free banking access to all Californians through the creation of a California Public Bank. This will not only provide services to the unbanked, who are disproportionately people of color and low-income people, but it will do so outside of the Wall Street banking system, which is heavily invested in fossil-fuels and resource extraction.

SB 343 Bans the use of misleading recycling labels (sorry to break it to you, but not everything with those three arrows on it is actually recyclable) by requiring products to meet certain benchmarks in order to be advertised or labeled as recyclable.
AB 1276 Prohibits restaurants and food service businesses from providing single-use “foodware accessories” unless requested by the customer. This is exactly what the NEC has been advocating with our “Reduce Single-Use” pledge and will eliminate the countless, unwanted single-use plastics that are handed out every day.

AB 642 Requires state fire agencies to partner with tribes and cultural fire practitioners to increase prescribed burning. This bill establishes a Cultural Burning Liaison and directs the State Fire Marshal to consult with agencies, tribes and conservation groups to develop a proposal to establish a prescribed fire training center. This bill moves in the direction of righting a historical wrong, i.e the prohibition on tribal burning that was enshrined in the state law in 1850 with the Act for the Government and Protection of Indians, and develops a streamlined process to certify members of Native American tribes with cultural burning experience as burn bosses to recognize and account for that experience.

SB 332 As reported in the June 2021 issue of EcoNews, this legislation would provide legal and liability coverage to entities doing controlled or cultural burns should those burns get away from them. Paired with AB 642, this bill makes it easier for agencies and individuals to perform prescribed burns to reduce wildfire risk and to bring the forests back into balance.

AB 69 Authorizes the Great Redwood Trail Agency, the government agency which will take over the dilapidated North Coast Railroad line and transform it into a world-class trail from the Bay Area to Humboldt Bay. See page 5 to read about the proposed threat that could derail this effort.

SB 98 Prohibits law enforcement from “intentionally assaulting, interfering with, or obstructing” journalists covering protests or demonstrations and offers legal protections to journalists who are detained by police. Authored by our very own Sen. Mike McGuire, this bill will protect the freedom of the press at protests, whether they are anti-logging, anti-fossil fuel or pro-racial justice.

AB 101 Makes ethnic studies a requirement for graduation from California high schools. Increasing cultural awareness will not only help students to learn more about the full picture of our country’s, our state’s, and even their own, history, but it can also inform how other subjects, such as science and literature, are taught. Opening students’, and teachers’, eyes to different experiences and cultural knowledge benefits us in countless ways, especially during this time when we are coming to realize that we need to profoundly change the way we are living on this planet.

SB 2 Gives the State Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training the power to decertify an officer for wrongdoing, addressing the troubling standard of officers who are fired for misconduct in one jurisdiction simply moving to another jurisdiction and joining the police force. This bill also creates a mostly-citizen review board to look into misconduct and make recommendations to the commission.

AB 48 limits police use of rubber bullets and other less lethal weapons at protests and demonstrations, again protecting our first amendment right to publicly air our grievances with the government.

SB 9 Changes single-family zoning by allowing homeowners to build two houses or a duplex on lots previously zoned for single family dwellings. Its companion, SB 10, allows local governments to rezone single-family parcels to allow as many as 10 units near public transit hubs and within urban areas. These bills will not only help to address the housing crisis, but also encourage in-fill building to avoid sprawl.

And Some He Didn’t
AB 1238 Would have ended penalties for mid-block crossings, also known as jaywalking. Proponents say this would have addressed historic injustices and made cities more walkable. According to data from the California Racial and Identity Profiling Act (RIPA), in 2018-2020, Black people in California were stopped for jaywalking four-and-a-half times more than their White counterparts.

AB 1456 Would have expanded eligibility for the statewide Cal Grant to more than 100,000 community college students and 40,000 four-year college students. More college-educated people with less debt could translate into more people who are able to give time to climate and environmental activism, rather than slaving away to service student debt.

AB 616 Would have allowed vote by mail in farmworker union elections, removing a barrier to organizing for some of the most exploited workers in our nation. Historically, farmworker unions have fought alongside environmentalists against pesticide use.
For more information on California legislation, visit calmatters.org/newsletters/whatmatters/2021/10/new-california-laws/