CALIFORNIA — A new crop of bills are churning through the California Legislature, addressing everything from vaccination to insurrection to equal pay. Here are five proposed bills on hot-button issues.
1. Children as young as 12 could get vaccinated without the consent of their parents or guardians.
Senate Bill 866, introduced by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), is one of a slew of controversial bills crafted by the Vaccine Work Group, a group of legislators tasked with increasing vaccination rates and combatting COVID-19 misinformation.
SB 866, also known as the “Teens Choose Vaccines Act,” allows minors 12 and over to receive FDA-approved vaccines – for COVID-19 or other viruses – without the consent, or even knowledge, or their parents or guardians. Wiener said his bill builds upon existing state laws, which allow minors 12 and older to consent to HPV vaccines, birth control, abortions, and diagnosis/treatment for a number of infections and disorders.
“Even if a teenager desperately wants a vaccine – and even if not being vaccinated prevents a teen from participating in sports and music activities or from seeing friends – a parent can simply refuse to allow the teen to get vaccinated,” reads a news release from Wiener’s office. Several states, including South Carolina and Alabama, allow minors to be vaccinated without the consent of a parent or guardian, though ages vary.
A number of Republican legislators have voiced concerns about the bill. Assemblymember Randy Voepel (R-Idyllwild) told City News Service he feels there should be “informed choice” about whether or not a person gets vaccinated, “and certainly it shouldn’t be opened up to minors who are not considered old enough to drive or vote in many cases.” Sen. Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh (R-Beaumont) told CNS the bill was “an effort to dismantle the family unit.”
As of March 9, SB866 has been referred a second time to the California Senate Judiciary Committee. Another bill to require COVID-19 vaccinations for California schoolchildren has been shelved.
2. Anyone lacking supporting housing and mental health services could be entitled to them.
Senate Bill 1446, introduced by Sen. Henry Stern (D-Calabasas), is one of several pending bills seeking to expand mental health services, particularly for the unhoused. SB 1446 would guarantee mental health services, including inpatient and outpatient care, and “need based” supportive services (like access to treatment beds, social workers, mental health residential programs, etc.) to anyone lacking them, or “otherwise not living safely in the community.”
According to the bill, California is currently experiencing shortages in psychiatric beds, and mental health residential facilities, and the need for both of those is expected to grow in the coming years. The bill would require everyone who needs it to receive “housing that heals”: a mental health residential program leading to long-term supportive housing for individuals with severe and persistent mental illness, and offers a variety of therapeutic services and resources.
California Senate Republicans are also requesting a $10 billion investment in the state’s mental health crisis. On Monday, the Republicans sent a letter to Senate Budget Chairwoman Nancy Skinner and Assembly Budget Chairman Phil Ting proposing a new $10 billion “Mental Health Infrastructure Fund,” funded by the General Fund surplus. The fund would expand treatment beds in psychiatric facilities, and train more mental health professionals.
Legislators are divided on whether to compel the mentally ill into treatment if they refuse it. Bills from Sen. Brian Jones (R-Santee) and Assemblymember James Gallagher (R-Yuba City) would reduce barriers to placing individuals under conservatorships by expanding the definition of “gravely disabled.”
A proposal from Gov. Gavin Newsom would create “CARE Courts” that would connect anyone struggling with an untreated mental illness with a court-ordered CARE Plan for up to 24 months. Family, first responders, outreach workers, and others could initiate civil, rather than criminal, proceedings. Anyone who does not progress in the program could later be referred to a conservatorship.
SB 1446 has been re-referred to the Senate Committee on Health.
3. To reduce pay gaps, employers would have to be more detailed and transparent about their pay data.
Senate Bill 1162, introduced by Sen. Monique Limón (D-Goleta) would require employers to provide pay ranges in job postings, and advertise to employees all opportunities for pay raises. Employers would also have to maintain records of each job posting and wage rate history for every employee, which would be open for inspection by the Labor Commissioner. Currently, employers only need to provide pay scales upon “reasonable request.”
SB 1162 would also require employers with 100 or more employees to submit expanded pay data reports to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing that include: median and mean hourly rates for combinations of race, ethnicity and sex within several designated job categories. Employers would also be required to report the number of employees, categorized by race, ethnicity, and sex, whose annual earnings fall within each of the pay bands used by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment Statistics survey, as well as the total hours each employee worked, plus paid time off.
Third-party contractor workforces would also need to submit the same information.
While employers already have to report much of this information, the new bill would make the information public, and attach the company’s name to the data. The bill is meant to address, in part, wide-ranging pay disparities in California. The San Francisco Chronicle found that the annual gender pay gap in California totaled to $46 billion, while the race/ethnicity pay gap was $61 billion.
The bill would allow courts to impose fines of $100-200 per employee on any employer who does not file all the required paperwork.
SB 1162 was co-sponsored by the California Employment Lawyers Association and the National Employment Law Project, and has received support from a number of labor rights nonprofits, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The California Chamber of Commerce, however, listed the bill on its 2022 “Job Killer” list, saying that the bill “encourages litigation against employers based on the publication of broad, unreliable data” and “imposes administrative and record keeping requirements that are impossible to implement.”
The bill has gone before several senate committees, and is scheduled for another hearing on Tuesday.
4. California could put an amendment to tax extreme wealth before voters.
California has the most billionaires of any U.S. state, and the third highest of any state or country. Assemblymember Alex Lee (D-San Jose) wants to make sure they pay up. Assembly Bill 2289 would impose, starting Jan. 1, 2023, an annual tax rate of 1.5% on California residents with a net worth of over $1 billion. Starting Jan. 1, 2025, it would impose a 1% tax of net worths of $50 million or more. The tax would be taxed on the person’s entire wealth. A UC Berkeley and UC Davis joint study estimates that the new tax would generate $22.3 billion a year. Similar bills have been introduced and failed repeatedly in California, although Lee claimed in a news release that a poll shows 70% statewide support for a wealth tax on Californians worth $30 million or more.
It would need it: because AB 2289 exceeds the state’s tax limit, it would have to be put before voters as a constitutional amendment. Lee introduced a bill last year that did not make it to committee.
The proposed tax would also try to circumvent loopholes by taxing all wealth, whether it’s been recognized as income. That would try to stop the ultra-rich from avoiding income and capital gains taxes by not selling their stocks.
The bill would affect roughly 15,000 Californians. According to Lee’s office, the collective wealth of Californians increased more than $200 billion during the pandemic.
The bill has been referred to the Assembly Judiciary Committee and the Committee on Revenue and Tax.
5. Nonprofits found to support an “insurrection” would be stripped of their tax-exempt status.
Senate Bill 834, introduced by Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), is a first-in-the nation bill introduced in light of the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol. It would authorize the Attorney General to make a finding that a tax-exempt organization has “actively engaged in, or incited the active engagement in, actors or conspiracies defined as criminal under specified federal law.” The US Supreme Court has ruled in a case against Bob Jones University that the purpose of charitable organizations claiming tax-exempt status “may not be illegal or contrary to public policy."
The Attorney General would be required to notify the Franchise Tax Board, which would then revoke their tax-exempt status.
“Tax-exempt status is a privilege, not a right, and organizations that engage in or incite insurrection or conspiracy to commit insurrection – both of which are illegal – should not be given this special status to help them fundraise,” a statement from Sen. Wiener reads. “Moreover, non-California nonprofits should not be able to register to raise money in California if they are engaging in or inciting insurrection.”
Some nonprofits have raised alarm bells, worrying that the bill could result in suppression of free speech and politically motivated investigations. “While CalNonprofits opposes insurrection, we do have concerns about SB 834 (Wiener) in its current form,” CalNonprofits Public Policy Director Lucy Salcido Carter told the Nonprofit Times in an email. “We don’t want legitimate freedoms/activities by nonprofits to be curtailed. We recognize that Senator Wiener is aware of the challenges in defining which activities would be covered under this bill.”
SB 834 has been re-referred to the Committee on Public Safety.