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Newsom nudged into signing farmworker union bill

The governor's final week to sign legislation also reflected an emphasis on producing housing and improving reproductive health care access.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — With days left to sign or veto hundreds of bills, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a slew Wednesday including ones aimed at protecting unionizing farmworkers, substantially increasing statewide housing production and bolstering access to reproductive health care.

Newsom signed legislation expanding union rights for farmworkers, after joining the United Farm Workers and the California Labor Federation in a letter on clarifying language to be passed during next year’s legislative session.

After Newsom threatened a veto, lawmakers revised Assembly Bill 2183 to create new ways for farmworkers to vote in a union election with options for mail-in ballots and authorization cards submitted to the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board.

“California’s farmworkers are the lifeblood of our state, and they have the fundamental right to unionize and advocate for themselves in the workplace,” said Newsom in a statement.

The supplemental agreement includes a cap on the number of card-check petitions over the next five years, and would be codified into law with a bill next year. Newsom's office said this work builds on recent action to support workers and advance workplace safety, after the governor signed legislation protecting wage and workplace standards for fast-food workers.

Housing

The governor also announced $1 billion in awards to 30 shovel-ready projects through the California Housing Accelerator, which is projected to add 2,755 new homes for Californians.

“California has made historic investments and taken unprecedented actions to tackle the state’s housing crisis over the past four years,” said Newsom in a statement. “But we recognize there’s more work to do — this package of smart, much-needed legislation will help us build new homes while rebuilding the middle class.”

Newsom highlighted Senate Bill 6 and Assembly Bill 2011, which have drawn high interest from housing researchers who say the state needs to remove barriers that keep affordable housing from being built. California Housing Partnership president and CEO Matt Schwartz said AB 2011 could help “correct” the state’s struggle to create ongoing funding sources for affordable housing. It’s designed to help bring qualifying multifamily projects onto retail, office and parking zoned land that meet specified affordable housing targets. Senate Bill 6 will also help build housing near existing or new transit corridors while generating new jobs. 

An apartment building under construction in the Angeleno Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles (joey zanotti / Flickr)

State Senator Anna Caballero, a Democrat from Salinas, said SB 6 could create two million housing units and give local governments an option to expedite development and prevent vacant properties. 

“SB 6 includes strong worker protections to ensure that homes built under SB6 pay workers fair wages and prioritizes the use of a skilled and trained workforce,” she said.

Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, a Democrat from Oakland, said highlighted the bill as a "turning point for California’s housing production needs."

"No longer will lack of land be an issue. No longer will there be a lack of incentive for workers to join the construction workforce. And, no longer will red tape and bureaucracy prohibit us from building housing in the right locations to address our climate crisis," Wicks said.

The California Housing Accelerator has received nearly $2 billion to support 57 projects and produce 5,071 units. The majority are for extremely low to very low-income households and unhoused residents. The state budget this year includes $3.3 billion for incentivising affordable housing production and homeownership.

Abortion

Newsom also signed 13 bills increasing abortion and reproductive health care access, citing his desire to counter some effects of the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade. Lawmakers passed many bills designed to increase services and protections to people seeking abortions. Some were already funded in the June budget, with $200 million for reproductive health services and outreach.

Assembly Bill 2223 will prohibit coroners from holding an inquest after a fetal death, such as in cases where drug use is suspected of causing a stillbirth, to prevent pregnancy loss from being considered a crime in California. Antiabortion groups targeted the bill, claiming it will make it difficult for law enforcement to investigate infant deaths.

Another bill looking to limit criminalization of abortion is Assembly Bill 1242 which prohibits state law enforcement agencies from helping with out-of-state abortion investigations. Sponsored by Attorney General Rob Bonta, the bill would prohibit arresting anyone for aiding or performing a lawful abortion in California – and require out-of-state law enforcement agencies seeking records from California to prove the investigation does not involve any crime related to an abortion that is legally sought in California. 

Senate Bill 1375 lets trained nurses perform first-xtrimester abortions without physician supervision, and Assembly Bill 2205 creates transparency requirements for health plans participating in Covered California to show the totals which insurers collect in abortion premiums and what is used on abortion services. 

“An alarming number of states continue to outlaw abortion and criminalize women, and it’s more important than ever to fight like hell for those who need these essential services,” Newsom said in a statement. 

Vetoes

Among the bills vetoed this week was Assembly Bill 1687, which would have adjusted a governor’s power to suspend statues so they could only suspend a regulation connected to an emergency while under a declared state of emergency or state of war.

Newsom called it “redundant and therefore unnecessary,” saying the Emergency Services Act already requires any suspension of regulations issued during times of emergency be directly related to mitigating that emergency. 

“By imposing duplicative obligations, this bill compromises the state's ability to swiftly respond to the needs of residents in times of crisis,” he said. “Additional redundant layers of justification, as required by this bill, would only invite frivolous lawsuits.”

What’s left

Newsom must decide whether to approve bills like Assembly Bill 1663, which proposes how older Californians or those with disabilities can make their own medical decisions and get protections from potential exploitations in the court conservatorship process. He is also still considering Assembly Bill 2632, which would limit how long inmates can be placed in solitary confinement.

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