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Legislative Update: Jan. 17, 2020 - State Lawmakers Back In Session



Legislation to Suspend Renewable Power Targets and Boost Forest Management Introduced

Assemblymember James Gallagher (R-Nicolaus) has introduced a duo of bills to address issues with mitigation of ongoing wildfires to direct climate monies for fire prevention and address California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) targets and sources.

Assembly Bill 1941 would indefinitely suspend California’s renewable electricity targets, and include a hydroelectric generating facility and a nuclear electric generating facility into the definition of “eligible renewable energy resource.” Assembly Bill 1942 seeks to transfer $330 million from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF) to the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) for the healthy forest and fire prevention programs and projects which will improve forest health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions caused by uncontrolled wildfires.

The 2019-20 Budget appropriated $165 million from the state's sale of greenhouse gas permits to CAL FIRE. At least $5 million of the increase proposed in AB 1942 is to be made available to the California Conservation Corps.

Assemblymember Gallagher has noted that, of the two measures, AB 1942 has a greater chance of passage. However, Gallagher also claimed RPS has "already done its job" in decarbonizing much of the electricity sector, and California needs to focus on updating its fire-sparking grid. The power line that caused the Camp Fire, the deadliest and most destructive fire in state history, was 98 years old.

With AB 1941, the decision to restart RPS would be left to the Public Utilities Commission, which would determine when there is an adequate level of safety surrounding electric infrastructure. The measure would also allow large-scale hydropower and nuclear power, both ineligible for RPS, to qualify for the program once the renewables target is reinstated. Reported by Politico, Gallagher is open to conversations on both the RPS timeline and the safety metrics.


Bill Holding PG&E Accountable for Power Blackouts Passes Senate Energy Committee

Senator Scott Wiener’s (D-San Francisco) legislation to hold PG&E and other utility companies accountable for mass blackouts and their impacts passed out of the Senate Energy, Utilities & Communications Committee by a vote of 10-1. Senate Bill 378 will hold PG&E and other utility companies responsible for the damage of the mass power blackouts it levied on the state last fall, in part by requiring utilities to compensate those impacted by the blackouts.

PG&E’s equipment has been the cause of past wildfires. As it works on fixing this equipment, PG&E has implemented plans to engage power shutoffs to mitigate future instances of wildfire. Although intending to take a “surgical” approach to the blackouts, PG&E power shut-offs have been widespread when being implemented, which in turn has rendered lifesaving medical equipment, such as respirators and refrigerated medication useless, and food spoiled without proper refrigeration. Additionally, emergency response and coordination efforts were delayed as communication for the responders and public-at-large was restricted.

SB 378 is part of a larger package of legislation that Senator Wiener is introducing to hold PG&E accountable for the consequences of its behavior. He plans to introduce a bill later this legislative session to turn PG&E into a public utility.

In addition to requiring compensation for victims of the blackouts, SB 378 also mandates better data collection on utility equipment risks and create clear, consistent standards for reporting about the impacts of planned blackouts. It will also help limit blackouts to only those that are absolutely necessary, by leveling hourly fees on utilities for not providing power. The bill also seeks to ensure customers cannot be billed during planned blackouts, and prevent utilities using ratepayer funds to oppose new energy choices.


Assemblymember Introduces Bill to Address Increase of Auto Burglaries in California

Assembly member Tyler Diep (R-Huntington Beach), Assemblywoman Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-Orinda) and Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) have introduced legislation to address the rising number of car break-ins throughout California. Assembly Bill 1921 will make it easier to prosecute auto-burglary by eliminating the need to prove that a vehicle’s doors were locked when the theft occurred.

Since 2013, there has been a steady increase in auto burglaries in California. There have been numerous reports, from all over the state, showcasing the problem of auto break-ins. A neighborhood in Fairfield was hit with 28 car break-ins in one night. In the Los Angeles area, perpetrators are targeting unsuspecting tourists in broad daylight. In San Francisco, people are putting signs in their cars claiming there isn’t anything of value inside.

AB 1921 will specify that “auto-burglary” is the forcible entry of a vehicle with intent to commit theft. The forcible entry of a vehicle will be defined as damaging the exterior of a vehicle or the use of a tool or device to manipulate the locks. The bill is co-authored by a bipartisan coalition of Senators and Assembly members from around California.


Legislative Analyst Releases Budget Overview

The Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) on Monday published their annual budget overview. This is a regular release after the release of the Governor’s Proposed Budget each January.

The LAO estimates the Governor had a $5.9 billion surplus to allocate to discretionary purposes in 2020-21. The Governor proposes to allocate most of the surplus toward one-time purposes, including maintaining a positive year-end balance in the state’s discretionary reserve. Under the administration’s estimates, total reserves would reach $20.5 billion at the end of 2020-21—this represents a $1.7 billion increase from the 2019-20 enacted level.

California continues to enjoy a healthy fiscal situation. Despite its positive near-term picture, the budget’s multiyear outlook is subject to considerable uncertainty. In addition to describing the condition of the budget under the Governor’s proposal, this report discusses tools the Legislature can use to mitigate against these heightened risks.

This report is available using the following link: https://lao.ca.gov/Publications/Detail/4135 


Legislative Update

There were a few more issues that trickled in this week as members continued to introduce measures for the second year of the 2019-2020 Session. Here are notable bills you should be aware of.

Energy & Utilities 

AB 1923 (Salas D) Residential structures: natural gas shutoff devices. This bill would require the Public Utilities Commission, commencing with the next triennial edition of the California Building Standards Code adopted after January 1, 2021, to adopt, approve, codify, and publish mandatory building standards that require the installation of a seismic gas shutoff device, as defined, in any newly constructed, rehabilitated, renovated, or reconstructed residential structure. 

SB 862 (Dodd D) Planned power outage: public safety. Current law defines the terms “state of emergency” and “local emergency” to mean a duly proclaimed existence of conditions of disaster or of extreme peril to the safety of persons and property within the state caused by, among other things, fire, storm, or riot. This bill would additionally include a planned deenergization event, as defined, within those conditions constituting a state of emergency and a local emergency.

Labor & Employment

AB 1925 (Obernolte R) Worker status: independent contractors: small businesses. Current law exempts specified occupations and business relationships from the application of the Dynamex case and these provisions. Current law instead provides that these exempt relationships are governed by the test adopted in S. G. Borello & Sons, Inc. v. Department of Industrial Relations (1989) 48 Cal.3d 341. This bill would expand the above-described exemptions to also include small businesses, defined as 100 or fewer employees, and gross receipts of $15M or less over three years. 

AB 1928 (Kiley R) Employment standards: independent contractors and employees. This bill would repeal those existing provisions implemented by AB 5 (2019) to establish the “ABC test” in law and instead require a determination of whether a person is an employee or an independent contractor to be based on the specific multi-factor test set forth in Borello, including whether the person to whom service is rendered has the right to control the manner and means of accomplishing the result desired, and other identified factors. 

SB 850 (Leyva D) Work hours: scheduling. This bill would require an employer, which includes a grocery store establishment, restaurant, or retail store establishment, to provide its employees with a work schedule at least 7 calendar days prior to the first shift on that work schedule, except as specified. The bill would require an employer, except as specified, to pay its employees modification pay for each previously scheduled shift that the employer cancels or moves to another date or time, for any previously unscheduled shift that the employer requires an employee to work, or for each on-call shift for which an employee is required to be available but is not called in to work that shift. The bill would require an employer to post a poster containing specified information regarding an employee’s right to receive modification pay and would require the Labor Commissioner to create the poster and make it available.

Insurance

AB 1024 (Frazier) Inspector Licensure Act. This bill would enact the Home Inspection Licensure Act to: prohibit a person from acting or holding themselves out as a home inspector unless that person has an active license, enforced by Department of Consumer Affairs, punishable by imprisonment and/or fine; require an applicant for a license to submit specified personal information, proof of completion of a prelicensing education course from an approved provider, and payment of an unspecified application fee; require license issued to be valid for 2 years; require the department to approve a provider of professional home inspection educational courses that meets certain requirements, and the authority to remove that approval if provider has failed to comply; would prohibit commencement of a legal action for breach of duty arising from a home inspection report more than 2 years from the date of the inspection; would require a home inspector, before beginning a home inspection, to provide to the client, and to obtain the client’s signature on, an inspection agreement containing specified information. 

AB 1931 (Voepel R) Department of Insurance: licensee privacy. This bill would prohibit the Department of Insurance from including a licensee’s contact information on the California Home Insurance Finder, the low-cost automobile insurance list, the department’s internet website, or any other publicly available list if the licensee provides proof to the department that the licensee has been granted a protective or restraining order issued by a civil or criminal court. The bill would also require the department to delete a licensee’s contact information from those resources upon receiving proof that the licensee has been granted a protective or restraining order issued by a civil or criminal court. 

Health 

SB 854 (Beall D) Health care coverage: Substance use disorders. This bill would require health care service plans and health insurers that provide prescription drug benefits for the treatment of substance use disorders to place prescription medications approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on the lowest cost-sharing tier of the plan or insurer’s prescription drug formulary. The bill would impose various prohibitions on those plans and insurers, including a prohibition on prior authorization requirements on, or any step therapy requirements before authorizing coverage for, a prescription medication approved by the FDA for the treatment of substance use disorders.

SB 855 (Wiener D) Health coverage: mental health or substance abuse disorders. Existing law requires mental health care benefits to include, among other things, outpatient services, inpatient hospital services, partial hospital services, and prescription drugs, if the plan contract or policy includes coverage for prescription drugs. This bill would revise and recast those provisions, and would instead require a health care service plan contract or health insurance policy issued, amended, or renewed on or after January 1, 2021, that provides hospital, medical, or surgical coverage to provide coverage for the diagnosis and medically necessary treatment of mental health and substance use disorders, as defined, under the same terms and conditions applied to other medical conditions.

Environmental

AB 1919 (Bauer-Kahan D) Pesticides: enforcement actions: civil penalty: judicial review. Current law provides that every person who violates a provision of law or any regulation relating to pesticides is guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be punished by specified fines or by up to 6 months imprisonment, or both. In lieu of seeking prosecution for a misdemeanor, current law authorizes the Director of Pesticide Regulation to prosecute a violation civilly, as specified. This bill would provide that, if the director determines that violations of those specified provisions occurring on or after January 1, 2021, have been committed in multiple jurisdictions, involve a priority investigation involving human or environmental health effects, as defined, or are not appropriate to be enforced by a county agricultural commissioner for specified reasons, the director may levy a civil penalty of up to $25,000 for each violation in accordance with specified procedural and other requirements, or may refer any of those violations to the proper enforcement agency, including the district attorney of the county in which the violations occurred or the Attorney General.