Politics & Government

First in the nation: These new California laws lead the way, from athlete pay to health care

Gov. Gavin Newsom this week announced he signed law that for the first time will allow college athletes to earn money from endorsements while they’re in school.

It’s not the only first-in-the nation law or policy signed by California’s first-year governor.

Newsom and the state’s Democrat-dominated Legislature pushed forward first-of-their-kind laws on the gig economy, fur trapping and more.

Here’s a look at some California first laws Newsom has already signed, and a couple that are on his desk.

Health care for undocumented adults

The $214.8 billion state budget Newsom signed broke new ground in providing health care to undocumented immigrants

That’s because the budget contained $98 million aimed at helping young undocumented people to get state-funded health insurance insurance.

The budget provision allows undocumented people under age 26 to enroll in Medi-Cal beginning in 2020. This marked an expansion of pre-existing coverage for undocumented people age 19 and younger.

While five other states and Washington, D.C., use state funds to cover income-eligible undocumented children, California becomes the first to expand that coverage to young adults.

At a news conference, Newsom said, “universal health care is a right regardless of immigration status.”

One person who isn’t a fan of the expanded coverage: President Donald Trump.

Trump said he would work to stop California from covering undocumented people, though he declined to specify how.

“You look at what they’re doing in California, how they’re treating people. They don’t treat their people as well as they treat illegal immigrants,” Trump said at a press conference.

New rights for gig workers

California’s new employment law makes it the first state in the country to attempt to force tech giants like Uber and Lyft to treat their gig workers like full-time employees.

The law, shaped by a 2018 California Supreme Court ruling, requires companies to reclassify many independent contractors as full-time employees, thereby granting them benefits such concessions as minimum wage, overtime pay, sick leave and unemployment and disability insurance.

The Legislature spent much of the year debating which professions to exempt from the law. Dozens of professions, from real estate agents to dog groomers, won exemptions that will workers continue to work as independent contractors.

Still, the law has Uber and Lyft concerned enough to pledge $30 million each for a proposed a ballot initiative that would amend state labor code to create a separate category for their workers.

New rules for police

California now has one of the toughest police use-of-force laws in the country, after Newsom signed Assembly Bill 392 into law.

That bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, was introduced as a result of a string of fatal police shootings of unarmed black men, including Stephon Clark of Sacramento.

Clark’s brother called the bill his legacy after Newsom signed it into law.

AB 392 requires police officers to use lethal force only when necessary, based on the totality of the circumstances during a given encounter. Previously, police were allowed to use deadly force when they felt it was reasonable to do so.

The combination of “necessary” use of force and a requirement that courts take an officer’s actions preceding that use of force into consideration makes AB 392 a first-in-the-nation bill, according to Weber’s office.

College athletes can make a buck

California college athletes will be the first in the nation to be allowed to make money, after Newsom signed a bill defying NCAA opposition.

The bill, called the “Fair Pay to Play Act,” allows student athletes to be compensated for their name, image and likeness and prohibits universities from revoking scholarships from students who get endorsement deals.

“This notion of ‘student-athlete,’ give me a break,” Newsom said in an interview on The Daily Show. “These guys are expected full-time to sacrifice themselves for athletics, but when they’re done, the next crew comes in and it’s just this cycle. At the end of the day, it perpetuates a cycle of inequality and a lack of equity. As it relates to the issue of sports, it’s time to rebalance things. ... I recognize the consequence of this decision because we could substantially change the NCAA as we know it.”

The bill was opposed by the NCAA, which said in a letter that the new law would give California student athletes an “unfair recruiting advantage.”

An end to fur trapping

Fur-trapping has a long history in the United States, and California became the first state government to outlaw it.

“Fur trapping is a cruel practice that has no place in 21st century California. The fact that the majority of California taxpayers overwhelmingly disapprove of this archaic practice and have been unknowingly subsidizing it for years is simply unacceptable,” bill sponsor Gonzalez said in prepare remarks.

In addition, Gov. Newsom is considering signing a bill that would make California the first state to ban the sale of fur products from undomesticated animals, such as foxes and mink.

These laws would also be first-in-the-nation if they are signed by Newsom:

Inmates could no longer have co-pays

A bill sitting on Newsom’s desk could make California the first state to bar jails from charging inmates co-pays for medical or dental care.

The first-in-the-nation bill was meant to ensure that inmates don’t decline health care because of financial worries.

While the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation suspended the practice of charging inmates co-pays last March, the bill makes it so that neither state prisons nor county jails may do so.

The California State Sheriffs’ Association opposed the bill.

Plastic recycling standards could get stricter

California’s plastic recycling standards could soon exceed not just the rest of America, but even that of the European Union.

Lawmakers have sent a bill to Gov. Newsom that would raise the minimum required content of recycled plastic for plastic bottles to 50 percent by 2030 — by contrast, the EU will require 30 percent of plastic bottles to be contain recycled content by 2030.

The bill imposes penalties for non-compliance but also grants the enforcing agency, CalRecycle, the authority to adjust those minimum content percentages during unfavorable market conditions.

The bill “bolsters demand for recycled plastic and ensures what has already been made does not contaminate our earth,” according to bill sponsor Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco.

California would be the first in the nation to adopt such standards, according to Ting’s office.

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Andrew Sheeler covers California’s unique political climate for McClatchy. He has covered crime and politics from Interior Alaska to North Dakota’s oil patch to the rugged coast of southern Oregon. He attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks.