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

Throughout her tenure, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a former labor leader, has written measures aimed at protecting vulnerable workers. That has made her arguably the California Chamber of Commerce’s biggest target in the state Legislature. CalChamber bills itself as “the largest, broad-based business advocate to government in California.”

This year, CalChamber placed three of Gonzalez’s bills on its annual Job-Killer List, the most by any individual lawmaker.

“California employers cannot be the safety net for struggling workers,” CalChamber CEO Allan Zaremberg said in a statement announcing the list. He said the Legislature’s focus should instead be on alleviating costs for businesses.

A spokesperson for the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce did not respond to questions about where the group stands on the three measures.

AB 995

Expanding paid sick leave was one of Gonzalez’s first and biggest accomplishments in the Legislature. Her 2014 measure required employers to provide paid sick leave, and prohibited retaliating against employees who use sick days. The California Chamber of Commerce opposed that measure as well.

AB 995 would expand paid sick leave requirements so that employees could take at least five days a year, without retaliation.

The Cal Chamber writes that AB 995 would impose new costs, and that “small employers throughout the state are already struggling” to meet existing requirements.

Gonzalez has argued that the bill would protect – not burden – small businesses.

“This is about the safety of our community and actually protecting small businesses. What we know is this: Workers who don’t have paid sick leave, especially undocumented workers who are very vulnerable, will go to work anyway if they’re not feeling well. They have to … And often this will create a workplace outbreak. It’ll affect customers. And when there is a workplace outbreak, that means higher costs for the businesses. They often have to shut down,” she said during a February news conference, KPBS reported.

AB 1003

If I were to steal $950 out of a business’s cash register or from someone’s pocket, I’d be prosecuted for theft. But if I withheld that money from an employee who’d earned it, not so much.

AB 1003 would make employers criminally liable for the intentional theft of wages over $950.

CalChamber writes that the bill would make existing “onerous, confusing and always changing wage and hour laws” even harder to navigate would “criminalize small employers, managers and supervisors, who in good faith, make a mistake in the application of the law.”

That drew a pointed response from Gonzalez.

“The California Chamber of Commerce just called intentionally stealing $950 from a worker a ‘good faith mistake.’ I didn’t think my view of them could get any lower. I was wrong,” she wrote on Twitter.

Meanwhile, the Little Hoover Commission, an independent state oversight group that often counts conservatives among its fans, endorsed AB 1003 this week. The measure would satisfy a recommendation the commission made in a 2015 report examining the underground economy, it wrote in a release.

AB 1074

Gonzalez has revived the effort to carve out special protections for hospitality workers who were laid off amid the coronavirus pandemic, after Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a similar measure by Assemblyman Ash Kalra last year.

The bill would require employers to rehire laid-off workers once positions open back up, and to offer those positions to those with the most seniority.

San Diego and other cities have imposed their own local versions of the measure.

San Diego City Council members Monica Montgomery Steppe and Raul Campillo have expressed support for Gonzalez’s bill.

The Chamber and others have taken issue with the fact that local efforts and Gonzalez’s bill target only certain employers. Cal Chamber wrote that AB 1074 would impose an “onerous and stringent process for specific employers” that would “delay rehiring and employers’ ability to reopen.”

Rick Bates, a research analyst for Unite Here Local 30, a union that backed San Diego’s ordinance, said it’s still too early to tell how effective the measure has been.

“We don’t know when this emergency is going to end, but we do know that without a worker recall ordinance firmly in place, tens of thousands of workers won’t have a path back to their jobs, even if the pandemic is resolved tomorrow,” he wrote in an email.  “As a region, if we’re going to be serious about recovering from the pandemic, we have to start with our impacted workers and their communities.”

Bill Would Bring Social Media Posts Under the Rape Shield

It’s been more than four decades since California passed what’s known as a “rape shield” law to protect alleged victims of sexual assault from having the way they dress or whom they’ve slept with introduced as evidence to discredit their testimony in a criminal trial. All 50 states now have similar laws on the books because the possibility of being humiliated on the stand was discouraging rape victims from coming forward.

But those laws didn’t anticipate Facebook or Twitter and all the ways social media photographs and comments can be misconstrued. Social media, by its nature, is performative, but that doesn’t mean a woman who posts a sexy photo on her Facebook page was “asking for it.”  Patrick Espinoza, chief of the Sex Crimes and Human Trafficking Division for the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, said his deputies regularly deal with defense attorneys who try to skirt rape shield laws and introduce social media material as evidence during cross-examination.

“Often times, when a sexual assault victim learns that the defense lawyer is mining her social media account for evidence to use against her in a sexual assault prosecution, trauma and anxiety to the victim is further increased,” Espinoza told Voice of San Diego.

Earlier this year, Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath introduced AB 341, which would add “any text, image, video, or picture, which depict sexual content, sexual history, nudity or partial nudity, intimate sexual activity, communications about sex, sexual fantasies, and other information that appeals to a prurient interest, unless it is related to the alleged offense” to evidence protected by California’s rape shield law. The bill was sponsored by San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephan.

AB 341 doesn’t bar a defendant from introducing social media material as evidence, but a judge first must find that the evidence is relevant — the same rule that applies to any evidence protected by the rape shield law.

So far, the bill has faced no opposition and was passed unanimously by the Assembly’s public safety committee earlier this week.

In a statement, Boerner Horvath said the law will protect the dignity of accusers.

“We already have laws on the books to help ensure victims seeking justice for their attackers won’t have their entire lives subjected to public scrutiny, and those protections should be extended to their social media activity as well.”

Kelly Davis

More Bills on the Move

Here’s a snapshot of bills by local lawmakers that moved forward this week.

  • Ryan’s Law, Sen. Ben Hueso’s measure to allow medical cannabis in hospitals, was approved by the full state Senate.
  • AB 48, Gonzalez’s bill to create standards guiding police use of non-lethal projectiles, passed the Assembly Public Safety Committee. The bill was inspired by last summer’s racial justice protests, during which many peaceful protestors were injured by rubber bullets, pepper balls, tear gas and other police weapons.
  • Gonzalez’s bill to address learning loss that’s taken place during the pandemic passed the Assembly Education Committee.
  • SB 584 by Sen. Brian Jones requires foster families to receive training on child labor trafficking. It was passed by the Senate Human Services Committee, and moves on to Senate Appropriations.

Big Week for Bonta and Bail

Two big developments in the world of criminal justice this week: Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Assemblyman Rob Bonta as his pick to become the state’s next attorney general. The role opened up when Xavier Becerra was confirmed as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Bonta has backed numerous police and criminal justice reform efforts, and co-wrote the law to end cash bail in California (it was overturned by voters in 2020).

(Disclosure: My husband works for the California Department of Justice.)

Speaking of bail …

Voters (and the many, many millions of dollars spent by the bail industry) may have overturned cash bail reform, but a new ruling by the state Supreme Court this week could radically reshape the role bail plays in the criminal justice system.

The justices determined it was unconstitutional to hold someone in jail solely because they cannot afford bail.

Still, there are a lot of details to be nailed down in future cases. As CalMatters wrote: “For now, defense lawyers will need to decide if they should be filing motions for bail reconsideration in existing cases. Prosecutors will need to figure out what this means for the bail amounts they request from judges. Courts will need to figure out processes for determining when a defendant can afford bail. And judges — who sometimes set exorbitant bail amounts, particularly in cases where the charges are serious — will need to figure out the constitutional limits on when they can order a defendant held without bail for public safety reasons, or out of fear they won’t come back to court.”

Golden State News

Maya Srikrishnan contributed to this report.

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

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