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Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez and Sen. Brian Jones / Photos by Megan Wood and Jamie Scott Lytle

After months of angry complaints from freelancers, Republicans mobilizing against her and multiple lawsuits, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez this week gave a preview of changes she plans to make to AB 5, the landmark law she passed last year limiting when employers can designate workers as independent contractors.

The biggest change: She’s agreed to drop the cap requiring businesses to make any freelancer a part-time or full-time employee if they produce 35 articles or more in a year.

She also plans to clarify that an existing exemption in the bill – one allowing businesses to provide services to other businesses – can also apply to individual freelancers.

Freelance journalists aren’t the only ones who could see the rules change: “We are still pushing hard on industry and worker representatives to reach agreement on language regarding musicians. We plan to address the unique situation regarding musicians in the next round of amendments by March. We are working hard on musicians issues!” Gonzalez tweeted.

Musicians have become another group vocally opposing the new law.

Sen. Brian Jones this week unveiled his own measure that would specifically exempt “A person providing services as a musician or music industry professional, except where a collective bargaining agreement applies” from AB 5.

“Musicians and music industry professionals are clearly freelance occupations, yet under AB 5 for each ‘gig’ a musician or producer books, the hirer must add them to their payroll as an employee and start paying fees such as unemployment insurance,” Jones said in a statement.

On Friday, Jones announced a separate measure exempting translators and interpreters from AB 5. Other Republican lawmakers have written a host of bills exempting other groups or undoing AB 5 entirely.

The actual bill language for Gonzalez’s new measure updating AB 5 isn’t public yet, but she promised to unveil more details soon.

Meanwhile, Gonzalez and Assemblywoman Christy Smith submitted a letter to the Assembly Committee on Budget, asking for a one-time $20 million budget allocation to the California Arts Council “for the administration of a grants program serving small community non-profit arts organizations that make a good-faith effort to comply with AB 5.”

Bill Seeks to Close Loophole That Helped Accused Poway Shooter Buy a Gun

The 19-year-old man accused of tearing through a Poway synagogue last year, killing a woman and injuring others, should not have been in possession of a semi-automatic rifle. California limits the sale of an AR-15 to adults who are 21 and older — but makes an exception for registered hunters.

Court records show that John Earnest, the man accused of carrying out the rampage, had completed a hunting education course online by the time he purchased a rifle in April 2019, but authorities have said his hunting license wasn’t yet in effect. The state’s Fish and Game Code defines a “valid” hunting license as beginning July 1 of the year it’s been issued.

To ensure there’s no confusion over this point in the future, state Sen. Anthony Portantino, a Democrat from the Los Angeles area, introduced a bill Monday requiring the California Department of Justice to verify a hunting license during the 10-day waiting period. If state officials cannot, they’re obligated to immediately notify the dealer and cancel the sale.

The dealer, in the meantime, is supposed to “visually inspect” the person’s hunting license and write down the dates it goes into effect.

“Sadly, no one can undo the tragedy that occurred in Poway,” Portantino said in a press release. “I pray for the families and hope the lessons learned can be used proactively for a better and safer place for our Californians to worship and for families to raise their children in safety.”

Another law that took effect on Jan. 1 — SB 61, which was also written by Portantino — prohibits the sale of semi-automatic center fire rifles, including AR-15s, to anyone under 21 who’s not in the military or law enforcement. That means SB 914 applies to other types of long rifles, basically those with bolt action.

It has the support of San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan, said a spokesman for her office.

In an interview with the Associated Press this week, Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California, questioned whether the state DOJ would be able to quickly and accurately verify hunting licenses because of all the other things the agency does. Last summer, the state began requiring ammo buyers to undergo a background check to screen out felons, domestic abusers and others.

Michael Schwartz, executive director of the San Diego County Gun Owners group, told VOSD he considered the original law limiting firearm ownership to 21-year-olds unconstitutional. (Several gun groups are suing to stop it.) He also defended the dealer in the Earnest case, arguing that the state hadn’t been clear on when a hunting license was actually in effect.

A search of local and state court records suggests the dealer has not been charged with a crime.

Jesse Marx

Waldron’s SANDAG Bill Dies, But She Promises a New Version

Assemblywoman Marie Waldron’s attempt to boost North County leaders in their effort to ensure highway projects get built over transit projects has died for now.

As the regional transit agency SANDAG confronts a massive funding shortfall with its TransNet program, it’s become clear there’s not enough money left to fund all the projects promised to voters. The agency’s director, Hasan Ikhrata, has said he’ll prioritize transit projects over the highway expansion projects remaining on the list, to the great ire of politicians in North County.

Just before the end of last year’s legislative session, Waldron wrote a bill that would have created major hurdles to changing the funding allocation for TransNet by requiring multiple public forums and a special election requiring two-thirds of voters approve proposed changes.

But that bill faced an early deadline to pass through the Legislature by the end of January, which it didn’t meet.

Waldron’s spokesman said she is in the process of writing another bill to address the issue.

“With the diverse geography of San Diego County, what works in the cities is different than what’s needed in North and East County. Asm. Waldron believes any SANDAG spending plan needs to work for all taxpayers, not just those in urban areas with political power,” Waldron’s spokesman Jim Stanley wrote in an email. “We are encouraged by the conversations we’ve had over the last few months and are looking forward to working with other lawmakers to craft a bill that respects the promises made to voters and acknowledges the reality that many commuters travel by car because they need to, not because they want to.”

Golden State News

Sara Libby

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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