Monday, January 18, 2021

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Mixed bag of new laws to take effect in 2021 

 New Year’s Day will usher in a host of new laws in California, many affecting employers, including a new law that requires employers to notify their workers if a COVID exposure occurs in the workplace. 

Other new laws tweak existing legislation, such as the Ralph M. Brown Act, which will require local elected officials to lay off the “like” button when they engage on social media on matters under their jurisdiction. 

Also going into effect on Friday is an increase to the minimum wage from $13 to $14 an hour for employers of 26 or more employees, and from $12 to $13 for employers with 25 or fewer employees. 

In regards to COVID-19, Assembly Bill 685 requires all private and public employers who learn of a possible coronavirus exposure to provide written notice to their employees (and employees of subcontractors) within 24 hours that they have shared a worksite with a potentially infected person. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed AB 685 into law on Sept. 17, 2020. It becomes effective on Friday and expires on Jan. 1, 2023.

Employers will also be required to provide employees who may have been exposed to coronavirus with information regarding COVID-19 related benefits available under federal, state, and local laws, such as workers compensation benefits, COVID-19-related leaves, company sick leave, state-mandated leave, and supplemental sick leave. Employers must also notify all employees of the disinfection and safety plan that the employer plans to implement and complete in accordance with the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control.

Another new law going into effect on Jan. 1 relates to social media posts by officials of any legislative body required to adhere to the Ralph M. Brown Act. 

AB 992, which was signed into law in October, seeks to give public officials greater guidance if they post on social media sites about agency-related matters, but also has stricter requirements on what constitutes a serial communication (meeting). 

The Brown Act is a 1960s era anti-corruption transparency law that provides legislative bodies to have properly noticed and open meetings to discuss and transact business. It also prohibits a quorum of the legislative body from directly communicating with each other on anything under their jurisdiction, or through serial communication using an intermediary or through the use of electronic devices. 

While most local government agencies, including the City of Colusa, the City of Williams, the Colusa County Board of Supervisors have government-sponsored social media platforms, only a quorum of Colusa City Council members have repeatedly communicated on matters under their jurisdiction, mostly related to the city’s new economic development activities, which is a violation of the Brown Act. 

AB 992 seeks to clarify that officials subject to Brown Act requirements will be allowed to communicate on social meeting platforms to answer questions, provide information to the public, or solicit information from the public regarding a matter within the legislative body’s subject matter jurisdiction. But those communications are only allowed if members of the same body do not use a social media platform to discuss official business among themselves, comment, or share posts made by another member. 

City Manager Jesse Cain said he plans to call for a workshop of the City Council to discuss the Brown Act, and specifically AB 992. 

Notably, AB 992 will be more strict going forward about social media contact than it is about in-person contact. 

Currently, two people from the same legislative body can talk face to face or comment on the same social media post relating to agency business. As of Friday, two members will still be able to meet face-to-face, but AB 992 will prohibit a member of a legislative body from responding “directly to any communication on an internet-based social media platform,” regarding any agency matter, if the communication is “made, posted, or shared by any other members of the same legislative body,” including commenting through the use of an emoji on the agency’s platforms if shared by another official. The Brown Act applies only to public agency business, not social matters, such as liking another member’s family photos or funny animal videos. Social media platforms include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Reddit and blogs. 

Another new law that goes into effect on Friday is an exemption from criminal or civil liability if a person rescues an unattended child from inside a locked vehicle by breaking a window or other means. According to AB 2717, there are a series of conditions though, including that a person must prove they called 911; they had a “good faith” belief that the child inside was in imminent danger; and they had determined the vehicle was locked and breaking in was the only option to rescue the child. 

A host of other laws going into effect include the restoration of voting rights for parolees; confidentiality protections for juveniles that have had run-ins with the law; more mandated child abuse reporters; the ban on chokeholds and carotid holds by police officers; further diversification of corporate boards; and a new law aimed at providing firefighting opportunities to former inmates, who, because of their convictions, are barred from or have difficulty finding work as firefighters after their incarceration. 

Also a 2010 law signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenneger aimed at phasing out heavy metals in brake pads means the 2021 Chevy Camaro cannot be sold in California, due to it having more than 5 percent copper material in their brake pads. 

A driving law that goes into effect Jan. 1 is an extension of the “Move Over, Slow Down” law currency in place on freeways to apply also to local streets, roads, and highways. Drivers approaching a stationary emergency vehicle displaying emergency lights, including tow trucks and Caltrans vehicles, must now move to another lane when possible, or slow to a reasonable speed.  

Some new laws will go into effect on July 1, including the phasing out of juvenile prisons under Senate Bill 823. 

Also beginning on July 1, violating the hands-free law for cell phone use while driving for a second time within 36 months of a prior conviction for the same offense will result in a point being added to a driver’s record.

Susan Meeker
Susan Meeker
Susan Meeker is the Editor and Reporter for the Pioneer Review. She started her position with the Pioneer Review in January 2017 as the Advertising Manager. Susan specializes in local crime, government reporting. She also loves covering the various topics and events in our county. You can send her a message at susan@colusacountynews.net

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