Banning the ‘R’ word, flowers galore, space travel beckons

There’s only certainty with death and taxes, it’s often said.


Now state regulations can be added to the list, thanks one of the more than 873 new laws signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, most set to take effect Jan. 1.


As usual, this year’s crop of fresh statutes is desperate. Many will neither gain the notice of nor affect many of California’s 38 million citizens.


But a goodly number affect businesses, employees, drivers and consumers not the least of which preventing bosses – or potential bosses – from demanding passwords to example personal social media accounts, like Facebook and Twitter.


As to regulations, it certainly is already a certainty that California will pass regulations to flesh out the explicit meaning of 2013’s new batch of laws – just like the volumes of existing state laws.


What starts to be consistent as of January 1 is the dates those regulations, which can run hundreds of densely worded pages, take effect.


Instead of batches of regulations from various state agencies taking effect 30 days after being filed with the Secretary of State’s office, they will now take effect at quarterly dates under SB 1099 by Sen. Rod Wright, a Los Angeles Democrat.


In 2011, 103 state entities introduced 491 new regulations, each on their own timeline, according to the Office of Administrative Law, whose charge is to review those regulations for clarity and content.


“It is difficult, if not impossible, for a small business with minimal staff to keep track of the regulatory process involving multiple departments and agencies,” said Wright, quoted in the Senate Floor analysis of his bill.


“Often this has the effect of guaranteeing that many businesses will be out of compliance with some of the new rules.”


Under Wright’s bill, non-emergency regulations will take effect January 1 if filed between September 1 and November 30. Or April 1 if filed between December 1 and February 29. July 1 if filed between March 1 and May 31. And October 1 if the regulation is filed on June 1 through August 31.Same timeline for repeal of any regulations.


“This will prevent employers from being hit with fines for violating new rules that they were unaware of,” says the National Federation of Independent Business, a sponsor of the legislation. “The average small business pays $47 per hour, or close to $2,000 per week, in regulatory/paperwork reporting requirements.”


Another change welcomed by both small and large businesses is the Department of Finance initiating an “economic impact” analysis of proposed state regulations.


The requirement was approved in 2011’s SB 617 but the department must complete creating its regulations for determining the potential price tag of regulations put forward by other state agencies by November 2013.


Exempted from review are those regulations the agencies say will have $50 million or less in potential economic impact.


Other certainties for business and individual Californians alike: State taxes are increasing.


Voter approval of Proposition 30 in November boosts the statewide sales tax by one-quarter cent through December 2016. But in many counties the new state rate of 7.5 percent is a base upon which are added locally approved taxes for public safety or street and highway improvements.


For example, Sacramento County will have a sales tax rate of 8 percent while the rate will be 9 percent for Los Angeles County.


State income taxes are also climbing for the state’s highest earners.


Actually, the rates have already increased – Proposition 30 applies retroactively to the beginning of the 2012 tax year.  So money earned prior to passage of the new law November 30 will be taxed at the higher rate.


The state’s 243,373 single filers with more than $250,000 in taxable earnings and joint filers with more than $500,000 in taxable income will pay up to 3 percent more than the state’s current maximum of 9.3 percent, depending on how much they make.


Using the joint filers, income between $500,000 and $600,000 would be taxed at 12.3 percent. Income from $600,000 to $1 million would be taxed at 11.3 percent and income above $1 million would be taxed at 12.3 percent. Higher rates stay in place through the 2018 tax year.


The Franchise Tax Board reports less than 34,000 Californians with income of $1 million or more in 2009, the last tax year for which statistics are available.


Brown has already banked on the money to balance the budget for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2013.


Two other workplace related laws –  AB 2386 by former Assemblyman Michael Allen, a Santa Rosa Democrat, and AB 1964 by Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, a Davis Democrat  — expand state discrimination protections to, respectively, include breastfeeding and wearing garb dictated by religious tenets, such as turbans or scarves.


Prohibiting employers from demanding access to social media accounts of an employee or job applicant was a rare area of agreement for labor unions and employers.


The measure won legislative support from the California Labor Federation and the California Chamber of Commerce, which saw the bill as clarifying a murky aspect of employee law.


“Social media is a developing area of the law,” said Jennifer Barrera, a lobbyist for the state chamber. “The boundaries on what you can and cannot investigate haven’t really been made clear.”


Brown said the measure – AB 1844 by Assemblywoman Nora Campos, a San Jose Democrat — protects “all Californians from unwarranted invasions of their personal social media accounts.”


Use of social media in the workplace intersects with a number of hot-button issues including free speech, harassment, discrimination and hiring.


Although numerous privacy and discrimination protections exist for California employees, state law has been silent on the appropriate use of information contained on social media sites.


In September, the National Labor Relations Board restricted employers from broadly censoring posts by employees on Facebook and other social media sites even if critical of the employer.


Employees in union and non-union businesses who discuss improving work conditions or increasing pay are already protected from retaliation under the National Labor Relations Act. For more on the new law, click here to go to California’s Capitol.


According to supporters, a major overhaul of the state’s byzantine workers’ compensation insurance system will benefit both injured workers and employers.


Benefits are scheduled to increase by some $860 million for injured workers while expenses borne by employers are predicted to fall by $1 billion, say backers, which includes the California Chamber of Commerce.


The new law — SB 863 by Sen. Kevin De Leon, a Los Angeles Democrat — boosts payments to permanently but partially injured workers by $740 million, an average increase of roughly 30 percent.


Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat, premised his on earmarking another $120 million for injured workers who can’t return to their previous occupations.


“(This bill) will substantially change the way workers’ compensation law is practiced,” writes LexisNexis in a preliminary assessment of the new law.


“Prudent practitioners are encouraged to study the … package carefully and in detail, as it contains a multitude (of) provisions that can be used to greatly benefit their client’s interests, whether defense or applicant.


“In addition, it is hoped that the new legislation will increase the effective and efficient administration of the workers’ compensation system as a whole.”


Workers compensation legislation over the past 25 years, while promising “reform,” has not delivered it.


Consumers now will be able to:     

— Present proof of insurance in electronic form. AB 1708 by Assemblyman Mike Gatto, a Burbank Democrat, allows auto insurers to issue proof of insurance in electronic form, if a policyholder requests it. Law enforcement officials are also told under the bill that the electronic insurance document is just as valid as a paper version. Gatto’s bill also says that a peace officer can’t examine other content on a “mobile electronic device” other than the proof of insurance.


–More easily buy flowers from local florists. After four attempts in 13 years, the California State Floral Association succeeded in preventing call centers, potentially located hundreds or thousands of miles away, from using a local city or neighborhood in their name and duping consumers into believing they are patronizing a “local” florist. AB 1581 by Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, a Fremont Democrat, requires florists using a local phone number or a local name must include their address – in print, electronic and Internet advertising.

Twenty-eight other states have similar truth-in-floral-advertising laws including Arizona, Washington and New Jersey. Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed legislation last year to require such location disclosure. A website created by local florists, Florist Detective, offers tips on how to avoid inadvertently buying from floral telemarketers.


–Travel more into outer space. The nascent commercial space industry said it couldn’t take off without protection from liability lawsuits. Now they have it. AB 2243 by Assemblyman Steve Knight, an Antelope Valley Republican, says spaceflight companies would still be liable for injuries caused by gross negligence or ignoring a dangerous condition. But passengers would read an d assign a “warning” about the inherent dangers of space flight not unlike the warnings required for inside-the-stratosphere activities like rock-climbing, scuba diving, zip-lining, para-sailing, hang-gliding and horseback riding. Reading and signing the warning precludes a passenger – or their family  – from suing.


Create cottage food businesses in their homes. The California Homemade Food Act, AB 1616, allows commercial food business to operate out of home kitchens – with some restrictions. Sales of a  “cottage food” business are limited to “non-potentially hazardous foods,” which are foods that are unlikely to grow harmful bacteria or other toxic microorganisms at room temperature. For example, dried fruit, pasta and baking mixes are OK. So are baked goods like bread, cookies, pastries or tortillas. But those with custard or meat fillings are out. Some jams and preserves are acceptable; others aren’t.


Cottage food operations can have no more than $35,000 in annual gross sales. The maximum climbs to $50,000 in 2015. Registration with the county health department is required. So is a permit, which, depending on the county is, expected to range from $200 to $400 annually.


Buy license plates from California’s past. With a minimum of 7,500 paid applications — $50 up front and $40 to renew – car enthusiasts can get a black plate with yellow lettering, a yellow plate with black lettering or the more recent blue plate with yellow lettering from the Department of Motor Vehicles.   The California Legacy License Plate program “seeks to mirror the retro trend in the auto industry where companies have produced autos that pay homage to vehicle designs of the past,” according to Burbank Democratic Assemblyman Mike Gatto, the author of the measure, AB 1658. The 7,500-application minimum must be reached by January 1, 2015.


–Share the road with driverless cars. Sort of. While a law allowing driverless cars on state streets takes effect January 1 — SB 1298 by Sen. Alex Padilla, Los Angeles Democrat — don’t expect them to add to existing congestion. Google, the sponsor of Padilla’s bill, has a fleet of a dozen self-driving vehicles, mainly Toyota Priuses, that have has logged more than 300,000 miles of self-driving without an accident, the company says. These “autonomous” cars use computers and sensors to operate independently but drivers can override the autopilot at any time. Because the technology is so new, no regulations exist covering the operation of such vehicles. The new law orders the Department of Motor Vehicles to write some by Jan. 1, 2015. A licensed driver would still need to be behind the wheel of any autonomous vehicle, the law insists.


Also taking effect January 1:


A ban on hunters using dogs to pursue bears and bobcats. Supports said it was cruel and unsporting to release dogs with radio devices to chase and corner the bear or bobcat whereupon the hunter dispatches the animal. The 675 bears bagged in 2010 by hunters using dogs would likely echo the arguments of the measure’s sponsors. The Department of Fish and Game says 1,500 bears were killed in 2010.


Hunters opposed the measure – SB 1221 by Sen. Ted Lieu, a Torrance Democrat — saying the use of dogs was humane because the bear or bobcat is killed quickly and necessary to prevent a sharp increase in the state’s bear population increase sharply. California joins 14 other states including Oregon and Washington, in banning the practice.


Striking the “R-Word” from state statutes.  “Mentally retarded’ is supposed to be eliminated from all California laws and replaced with “intellectual disability.” But, because of state fiscal pressures, “mentally retarded’ will continue to appear in California’s code books, the phrase will just be “construed” to mean “intellectually disabled.”


Known as the Shriver “R-Word” Act for the family’s decades of work with the intellectually disabled, beginning with the late Eunice Shriver and the Special Olympics, the measure — AB 2370 by Assemblyman Allan Mansoor, a Costa Mesa Republican– says that “intellectually disabled” should replace mentally retarded” only “in the course of other necessary revisions or amendments” to state law.


In the meantime – again to save money – the bill says: “As used in a state regulation, state publication, or other writing, the terms “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded person” have the same meaning as the terms “intellectual disability” and “person with an intellectual disability,” unless the context or an explicit provision of federal or state law clearly requires a different meaning.”


President Obama signed S. 2781 in October 2010, which requires the federal government to replace the term “mental retardation” with “intellectual disability” in federal education, health, and labor laws..


California is one of 43 states that have either passed or introduced legislation to ban the “R-word.”


–Possible erection of a Ronald Reagan statute in the state Capitol.  The statue’s design, placement and upkeep must be paid for by the Ronald Reagan Centennial Capitol Foundation, created in 2011 to help celebrate the actor-turned-politician’s 100th birthday.


“A bronze statue of Jimmy Carter greets visitors in Atlanta, Georgia; John F. Kennedy in Boston, Dwight Eisenhower in Topeka and Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois,” said the bill’s author Assemblyman Curt Hagman, a Chino hills Republican in a statement.


“There have been 44 United States presidents, and precisely one of them has lived in Sacramento and governed the state of California. The 40th president of the United States deserves to be honored with a statue in the Golden State’s Capitol.”


A bronze statue of the former president graces Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington D.C. Another statue of Reagan in Newport Beach was vandalized in 2011.


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