Immigrant-, worker-friendly laws now in effect in California
SAN FRANCISCO — Nearly a thousand new laws took effect in California at the start of 2015, many of them friendly to workers and undocumented immigrants.
Governor Jerry Brown had signed 930 bills passed by the legislature last year even as he vetoed 143 others.
Some of these laws have to wait for some months to take effect, an example of which is the July 1 implementation of the plastic bag prohibition that may yet go through a referendum, as it faces stiff opposition from affected quarters.
The same is true with the paid-sick leave measure.
Easily among the more popular new edicts in the state are those that increase the minimum wages of workers in various California cities. Throughout the state, the current minimum wage is at $9.00; this increases by $1 next year, setting the minimum to $10.00.
The city with the highest wage is Oakland, which raised its citywide wage to $12.25 beginning March 2, apart from setting an increase every January based on cost-of-living adjustments.
Similarly, San Francisco passed its own wage hike, starting with a raise to $11.05 on January 1, increasing to $12.25 effective May 2015, $13.00 effective July 2016, $14.00 effective July 2017, and finally, $15.00 effective July 2018.
Other cities and their corresponding minimum wages are:
- Richmond: $9.60 with an increase to $11.52 in 2016, $12.30 in 2017, and $13 in 2018, with exceptions based on employer
- San Diego: $9.75 (increase to $10.50, January 1, 2016, $11.50 January 1, 2017)
- San Jose: $10.30
Eureka rejected the measure for a wage increase.
The immigrant community, on the other hand, welcomes AB60, passed in 2013, that allows undocumented immigrants to obtain a California driver’s license after presentation of valid proof of identity (usually passport and birth certificate, if not the California ID itself) and proof of California residency (employment and school certificates and utility bills).
Starting Jan. 2, the Department of Motor Vehicles anticipates an increase of up to 1.4 million more applications to take written and actual driving tests from immigrants. Proponents have said that the state stands to gain from this law as more trained, tested and insured drivers are expected to make California roads a lot safer.
In relation to this new law, AB 1660 also takes effect, prohibiting discrimination under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) based on driver’s license for undocumented workers. The law also disallows an employer from requiring the presentation of a driver’s license by anyone, unless the license itself is required by the employer or the job position, and that requirement is permitted by law.
AB 1660, however, still guarantees an employer’s rights or obligations to obtain information required under federal law to determine identity and authorization to work, although any information obtained by an employer shall be treated as private and confidential and exempt from disclosure.
Another law in favor of undocumented immigrants or students states that those who overstayed their visas will have access to the same loan opportunities as other students at the California State University and University of California systems, while another new California law will help children who arrived illegally without their parents by providing $3 million in legal aid to help the children as they go through the legal system.
On the issue of identification cards, the passage of AB 2308 makes it possible for eligible inmates to be issued identification cards, and eventually driver’s licenses, upon their release, including those with prior California driver’s licenses or identification cards. This law also seeks to reduce recidivism by the issuance of the license and other services to provide better transition.
On the labor front, employers are now jointly liable with labor contractors under AB 1897 for violations in entering into a contract for labor or services if the employer or employment entity knows that the contract does not include sufficient funds for the contractors to comply with applicable laws or regulations. It therefore requires any employer to share liability with a labor contractor for the payment of wages.
On the other hand, AB 2617 limits the use of arbitration agreements in resolution of conflicts especially if certain legal rights of employees are waived. In effect, employers are no longer allowed to require new hires to sign agreements that they will use arbitration rather than litigation or filing complaints with government agencies in the event of an employment dispute.
On the issue of human trafficking, AB 1585 now protects victims of human trafficking against prosecution and conviction of “forced illegal acts,” such as prostitution, and possible punishment if they can prove that they were human trafficking and solicitation victims themselves in the commission of the acts they are accused of.
In support of this measure against human trafficking, AB 1610 extends protection to human trafficking victims who may become witnesses themelves. The bill introduced by Filipino American Assemblymember Rob Bonta and sponsored by the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office requires a thorough examination of the victim to iron out any possible biases, intimidation, or threats that may play a role in dissuading the witness from testifying.
Other measures passed and are now in effect include:
- SB 505 that would enable law enforcement agencies to search the state’s database of gun purchases before conducting routine welfare checks on people
- SB 1255 that expands the state’s “revenge porn” law, making it illegal to distribute nude photos of someone even if they were taken by the subject
- AB 1147 that allows local governments to revoke the license of any massage parlor that violates the law, discouraging them further to operate as fronts for prostitution.
- SB 967, requiring colleges and universities in California to adopt policies against sexual assault, such that silence or a lack of resistance can no longer be deemed consent; it now has to be clear that both parties have explicitly expressed or shown that they consented to any sexual act.
- Smart phones made after July 1 and sold in California should have preinstalled anti-theft technology that allows the owner to temporarily or permanently render the phone inoperable if stolen or lost.
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