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California businesses, workers win big in latest bill-signing spree

Governor Gavin Newsom touted efforts to invest in improving the state's economic outlook while keeping an eye on its eye-popping, record-breaking budget through next year.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — In the final days to sign or veto legislation, California Governor Gavin Newsom has OK’d bills to address economic reinvigoration, homelessness, environmental disasters and victims' rights while rejecting some he said would strain the state’s budget.

Newsom has until Friday evening to finish with the Legislature’s slate of bills, having made a significant dent in the pile this week to remove major barriers for housing construction and increase the voting rights of farmworkers.

Businesses and workers

Facing high pressure to respond to statewide economic impacts amid inflation and supply chain struggles, Newsom touted several bills signed Thursday as actions to support workers and economic growth and boost small businesses and entrepreneurship. 

Patrons eat their meals outdoors at a city-owned patio area "Public Parklet" after ordering to go food at Simmzy's restaurant in Manhattan Beach, Calif. in 2020.  (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

The seven pieces of legislation enhance state agencies' abilities to include small and underserved businesses in state contracting.

Assembly BIll 2019 requires the state’s small business liaison to develop an "economic equity first" action plan to ensure that small businesses are benefiting from current procurement processes. By January 2024, the action plan must be working to reach business organizations and enterprises owned by women, minorities and members of the LGBTQ community — and detail activities to support those businesses' participation.

Senate Bill 1407, the California Employee Ownership Act, is designed to reduce barriers for businesses that want to move to worker-led models, including employee stock ownership plans or worker cooperatives. It establishes a state Employee Ownership Hub to connect stakeholders and increase awareness of resources for employee ownership.

Newsom also said signing Senate Bill 1116 demonstrates support for the performing arts industry, among those hardest hit during the pandemic. 

“Without community arts organizations, many of our small and disadvantaged communities may not have access to the arts,” Newsom said in a statement. He said this program increases ongoing grant opportunities for venues, nonprofits and cultural institutions already incorporated in the 2021 budget. 

“These new laws build on our efforts to create a more inclusive economy with renewed opportunity for innovation and growth for the country’s largest small business community,” he said.

But the governor vetoed a bill late Wednesday to give unemployment relief to about 140,000 undocumented workers, paying them up to $300 a week for 20 week. Newsom said Assembly Bill 2847 was too expensive, costing at least $200 million and then $20 million each year to maintain.

Crime victims and rehabilitation

Also Wednesday, the governor signed Senate Bill 916 to give sexual assault victims more rights over their rape kits. 

The bill gives a victim of sexual assault the right to access the Department of Justice's database portal involving their own forensic evidence kit and its status, and to get information on the testing of evidence and DNA in state and federal databases. It prohibits a court from imprisoning or holding a victim of sexual assault or domestic violence in contempt if they refuse to testify about the crime. 

SB 916 expands rights of sexual assault victims alongside Senate Bill 1228 — which Newsom has not yet signed — which seeks to protect victims' privacy by prohibiting DNA profiles collected from them from being used for any purpose other than to identify a perpetrator in an assault. That bill was written following accusations that San Francisco police used a victim’s kit to later incriminate her for an unrelated crime, which sparked a lawsuit against the city.

Newsom also signed Senate Bill 877 to create the Electronic Violent Death Reporting System and collect and post data on violent deaths. It authorizes law enforcement agencies to report data on all violent deaths from investigative reports and laboratory toxicology reports.

But the governor vetoed a bill to increase reviews of rehabilitation rates. Assembly Bill 731 would have required each county sheriff to compile and send extensive data to the Board of State and Community Corrections about educational and rehabilitative programs in the county jail, and report success rates in reducing recidivism.

Homelessness

Senate Bill 1083, signed Wednesday, will beginning next year require county human services agencies to refer recipients of family cash assistance benefits under the CalWORKS program to perinatal home visiting services administered by county public health agencies, human services agencies or home visiting providers.

Counties will also require participation in a homelessness avoidance case plan only if people have first been offered a housing navigation caseworker. And by July 2024, the state would also consider a family homeless if they receive any notice that could lead to an eviction.

A beachfront residential building is reflected on a broken mirror leaning against a section of the homeless encampment in Venice, California. (Martin Macias Jr./Courthouse News)

However, Newsom vetoed Assembly Bill 2817, which would have created the House California Challenge Program requiring $1 billion in grants each year for five years for rental assistance and other services for Californians experiencing homelessness.

Handling environmental disasters

Newsom approved Assembly Bill 2083 on Wednesday, which protects ratepayers from paying for damage from fires caused by utility companies like PG&E. Electrical or gas corporations will be prohibited from recovering costs by imposing rates to cover any fine the corporation pays in a settlement agreement resolving a criminal or civil investigation — except when it is determined that those costs were “just.”

But he vetoed Senate Bill 1136, which would have expanded the environmental review process for California Air Resources Board regulations that require reducing emissions of greenhouse gasses, air pollutants or toxic air contaminants. 

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