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Key bills head to Newsom in final weeks of session

Bills passed by lawmakers Thursday include requirements for Covid testing in schools and standards for clearing old criminal records.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — With two weeks left in the 2022 legislative session, California lawmakers sent a flurry of bills to Governor Gavin Newsom's desk Thursday — all survivors of “suspense day” in both houses’ appropriations committees this past week.

The Assembly passed Senate Bill 1479, which would require the California Department of Public Health to coordinate Covid-19 testing programs at schools to help keep them open as the pandemic grinds on. The bill would also allow the department to expand contagious or communicable disease testing guidance and other public health mitigation efforts to include pre kindergarten and child care centers.

The bill passed 43-16 after Assemblymember Kevin Kiley — a Republican from Sacramento who ran to replace Newsom in the 2021 failed recall effort — attacked it. 

“This state has had the most onerous testing regimen in any state in the country and we have caused inestimable harm to our students as a result,” Kiley said. 

The Assembly also sent Senate Bill 1228 to Newsom's desk. The bill will protect sexual assault victims’ privacy by prohibiting DNA profiles from survivors from being used for any purpose other than to identify a perpetrator in an assault. The bill would bar local law enforcement agencies from searching the DNA of a survivor, or those from among a survivor’s contacts, to incriminate them in unrelated crimes. 

Written by state Senator Scott Wiener, a Democrat from San Francisco, SB 1228 took shape after the discovery that the San Francisco Police Department crime lab was retaining DNA collected from sexual assault survivors in its database and searching that database to incriminate survivors in unrelated crimes. Then-District Attorney Chesa Boudin reported the practice this past February, after DNA from a survivor’s rape kit was used six years later to incriminate them in a property crime. The local database containing victims’ DNA includes samples from child victims

One of the broadest attempts to sunset criminal records also passed the Assembly. Senate Bill 731 looks to automatically seal conviction and arrest records for ex-offenders not convicted of any felony for four years after finishing the terms of a sentence, probation or mandatory supervision. 

Lawmakers amended the bill to make this relief available to a defendant who has been convicted of a felony, as long as that conviction does not require registration as a sex offender. It would prohibit disclosing information about a conviction for possessing controlled substances that is more than five years old, and when relief has been granted.

Proponents say about 8 million Californians have a criminal or arrest record, which can trigger nearly 5,000 legal restrictions in the state. Seven reform organizations sponsored the bill, while groups that opposed argued Californians already have paths to clear records of lower-level offenses.

The state Senate also passed bills aimed at protecting medical patients and clear criminal records.

Assembly Bill 1636 would deny licenses for physicians with records of a formal discipline for assaulting a patient, and revoke licenses of providers convicted of sexual offenses in another state.

The bill came after an investigation by the Los Angeles Times found that since 2013, the Medical Board of California reinstated 10 licenses to individuals disciplined for sexual misconduct. The California Medical Association sponsored the bill to broaden current language and deny applicants who have been registered as a sex offender in any state.

“This bill makes it clear physicians who assault patients, regardless of when it occurred, are not fit to practice,” said state Senator Richard Pan, a Democrat from Sacramento, who carried the bill. 

The state Senate also passed Assembly Bill 1706, designed to speed up the process of dismissing and sealing cannabis convictions. It came out of another LA Timess investigation finding that despite the 2018 law ordering cannabis-related felonies, misdemeanors and convictions to be expunged, many Californians still had them on their records as of 2021. 

This bill would require courts to issue an order recalling or dismissing a sentence or conviction no later than March 1, 2023. Courts would then be required to update records and notify the state Department of Justice, which would be required to update criminal databases on or before July 1, 2023.

Lawmakers will resume moving through bills in floor sessions Monday. 

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