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Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez holds a press conference at Waterfront Park with supporters of AB 5. / Photo by Megan Wood

A bill to clean up and further revise AB 5, the wildly controversial labor law limiting the use of independent contractors, cleared its first legislative hurdle this week.

AB 1850 would further exempt musicians, journalists, photographers and several other types of workers from the provisions of AB 5, so long as they meet certain requirements.

It also bolsters AB 5 by granting local district attorneys the power to enforce the law. AB 5 allowed city attorneys the power to sue to enforce worker classification, something San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott has exercised to sue Instacart, and Uber and Lyft.

The bill passed the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee, and next heads to the Assembly Appropriations Committee, which Lorena Gonzalez chairs.

The hearing made clear that it’s not just the current bill that’s being weighed – it’s AB 5 itself, which is already law but remains under attack from Republican legislators and workers who believe it limits their ability to make a living.

The first two people to testify on behalf of the measure, for example, were not musicians or journalists or workers covered by the new language in AB 1850. Both were workers who said they have benefited from AB 5.

Josephine Biclar of the Pilipino Workers Center said she works as an in-home caregiver who was hired as an independent contractor. She said she was paid $110 a day despite being on the clock for 24 hours. When she requested more money, she was rebuffed.

“Because of being improperly classified as an independent contractor, I experienced income inequality and even wage theft,” she said.

A woman who drives for Uber and Lyft testified that without employment protections like health care and reimbursements for expenses, “it’s as if our lives and our families don’t matter.”

The women’s experiences “highlight why it’s so important that while we continue to make reasonable clarifications to existing law through AB 1850 for true business entities, we must ensure that any changes do not jeopardize the critical protections misclassified workers just secured through AB 5,” Gonzalez said in the hearing.

The California Chamber of Commerce said it would be willing to support the bill only if it is amended to include a stronger exemption for business-to-business transactions.

“Any business should be able to contract with another lawful business to provide services, despite whether the services provided are within the ‘usual course of business’ or the service benefits the company’s customers/clients,” the group said in a statement, according to the committee’s analysis.

Sara Libby

Gonzalez Bill Would Take San Diego Development Boost Statewide

Gonzalez says a San Diego law meant to spur low-income homebuilding is clearly working, so she’s trying to extend it across the state.

Her bill, AB 2345, would strengthen the state’s so-called density bonus law, which lets developers build more homes on a given property in exchange for building some homes reserved for low-income residents. It passed the Assembly’s housing committee this week on a unanimous vote.

In 2016, San Diego’s City Council passed its own law that was something of a density bonus on steroids. The state allows developers to build 35 percent more homes than local restrictions dictate, as long as they set aside 10 percent of those homes for people with low incomes. San Diego goosed those percentages. Here, developers can build 50 percent more homes, as long as 15 percent are set aside for low-income families.

Circulate San Diego, a nonprofit advocacy group for housing and transportation and a sponsor of the bill, released a report coinciding with this week’s committee hearing that declared San Diego’s “affordable housing bonus program” an unqualified success.

Compared with the 12 years in which the state’s density bonus law alone was in place, San Diego saw a nearly 500 percent increase in developers using its amped-up version in its first 20 months in place, Circulate’s report found. That created a 550 percent increase in homes reserved for low-income people, and a 350 percent overall increase in new homes of all types.

“In fact, if trends continue the enhanced program is projected to outperform the previous program in just four years,” Gonzalez said at Wednesday’s committee hearing. “Communities from across California can take a page from what was learned in San Diego.”

AB 2345 provides the same increases to density bonus law across the state – but they’re provided on a sliding scale, with the amount developers can exceed local restrictions increasing as they provide more homes reserved for very low-income residents. It also lowers the number of parking spaces that housing projects that use the program need to provide.

The American Planning Association, a trade organization and lobbying group for urban planners, opposes the bill as it’s currently written, arguing it doesn’t provide enough low-income units in exchange for the amount of new housing density it would let developers build.

Assemblyman Todd Gloria, who voted for San Diego’s program in 2016 when he was on the City Council and is now running for mayor, voted in favor of Gonzalez’s bill on Wednesday. He said Circulate’s report is important because it shows the new homes produced in San Diego are significant.

“You can see the tangible product,” he said. “San Diego can’t solve the state’s housing crisis, that’s why this bill is necessary. If implemented statewide, it will clearly grow housing generally, but especially low-income housing.”

— Andrew Keatts

Atkins Shelves Sea-Level Rise Bill

A bill intended to provide $100 million in grants to coastal California governments planning for catastrophic sea level rise is dead in the water this legislative session.

Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins is setting SB 1100 aside, citing the COVID-19 pandemic, she said in a statement. But Atkins said she is “fully committed” to reintroducing the bill next legislative session, which begins Jan. 1, 2021.

“In the meantime, I will continue to work with scientists, researchers, advocates and anyone with an interest in sea-level rise to offer solutions to this serious issue,” Atkins’ statement reads.

Atkins has urged all members of the Senate to narrow their bill packages because of the impact the virus has had on the legislative calendar.

SB 1100 would have required California’s Coastal Commission to include sea level rise in its coastal planning and policies. It also would have spurred collaboration between California’s environmental protection and natural resources agencies to oversee a $100 million annual fund that supports local governments’ plans for sea level rise.

The ocean around San Diego is rising 32 percent higher than the global average, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The city could see up to a foot more water by 2030, up to about 3 feet more by 2050, and by 2100, over 10 feet under the worst-case scenario.

San Diego got a grant from the Coastal Commission to calculate the estimated $335 million in damages sea level rise could cause to property on state lands. But it didn’t make that calculation on a subsequent study looking at all city property.

  • Though Atkins is putting some bills on hold, she also announced this week she’ll carry two bills meant to spur more housing production in the wake of the (second) death of SB 50, a controversial measure meant to encourage more dense development near transit. SB 995 would streamline the CEQA process for housing projects that include a certain amount of affordable housing; SB 1120 would streamline the process for a homeowner to create a duplex or fourplex on residential property.

— MacKenzie Elmer

Bill to Close Poway Shooting Loophole Moves Forward

A bill written in the aftermath of the Poway synagogue shooting cleared the Senate Public Safety Committee, its first hurdle, this week. If signed into law, SB 914 would prevent people under the age of 21 from purchasing certain firearms without first getting the proper permission from the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Last year, a San Diego gun store sold a rifle to the accused 19-year-old Poway shooter thinking he had a valid hunting license, as required by state law. But according to prosecutors, the shooter had merely completed a hunting education course online when he purchased the rifle in April 2019; the license didn’t go into effect until July 2019.

Written by Sen. Anthony Portantino, a Democrat from the Los Angeles area, SB 914 attempts to clear up this confusion by requiring gun shops to visually inspect a person’s hunting license and the California Department of Justice to verify that the same license is good during the 10-day waiting period.

Portantino wrote another bill last year that prohibited Californians under the age of 21 from purchasing AR-15s and other semi-automatic center-fire rifles, regardless of their hunting license status (although it did make an exception for members of military and law enforcement). SB 914 applies to other types of rifles, primarily ones with a bolt action.

“California leads the country in combating gun violence but there is more we can do,” Portantino said in a statement.

— Jesse Marx

More Bills

More bills we’re keeping an eye on that cleared legislative hurdles this week:

  • SB 878 by Sen. Brian Jones, which would require programs within the Department of Consumer Affairs that issue a license to display application processing time frames on the program’s website, passed the Senate Business and Professions Committee.
  • AB 2992 by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber expands employment leave protections for certain crime victims and their family members. It passed the Assembly’s Labor and Employment Committee.
  • AB 3056 by Gonzalez addresses warehouse distribution workers and would prevent time used going to the restroom, using a hand-washing station, drinking water, reporting a Labor Code violation or taking a legally mandated break from being counted toward the time required to complete a quota. The bill itself doesn’t mention Amazon, but a press release from Gonzalez’s office touting the bill’s passage through the Labor and Employment Committee makes clear that is who the bill targets. Meanwhile, at least five workers in an Amazon warehouse facility in Fresno have tested positive for COVID-19, the Fresno Bee reports.

Golden State News

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