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Beach access, utilities reform and cultural competency among new laws

 

New laws ranging from election and utilities reform to beach access and community food producers that were authored by state Assemblyman Rich Gordon and Sen. Jerry Hill will take effect by Jan. 1.

Gordon saw 25 of his 39 bills signed into law by California Gov. Jerry Brown, during the 2013-2014 legislative session, the highest number of bills signed this year among all members of the State Assembly, according to an announcement by his office. Hill authored 16 bills that the governor signed, 13 of which will take effect on New Year's Day.

Gordon's laws include:

AB 496: Expanding Cultural Competency Training for Health Care Providers -- Requires that health-care providers receive cultural-competency training on LGBT-specific issues as part of continuing medical education curriculum. The law is the first of its kind in the nation and will help ensure LGBT communities have access to quality health care.

AB 1678: Extending Utility Contracting to LGBT-Owned Businesses -- Extends existing law requiring public utilities, including electrical, gas, water, wireless telecommunications service providers and telephone corporations to implement a program that encourages business with enterprises owned by designated minorities, women, or disabled veterans to LGBT businesses. The bill ensures that LGBT-owned businesses, large and small, have equitable economic growth opportunities.

AB 1821: Creating a Medical Foster Home Pilot Program in California -- Gives the Veterans Administration authority to create a three-year Medical Foster Home Pilot Program in the state, giving veterans the option to choose to live and receive care in a private home. A Medical Foster Home is an alternative to institutionalization for often elderly and medically frail veterans. In addition, the bill intends for the State Auditor to evaluate the pilot program, providing state oversight to ensure that veterans are safe and protected under the pilot. The law builds on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Foster Home program to provide home-based care for veterans. Previous state regulations did not recognize the federal Medical Foster Home care model, and as a result, the Program had limited expansion in California.

AB 1937: Public Noticing for Gas Pipeline Excavation and Maintenance Work -- Requires gas corporations to provide timely public noticing of gas pipeline work to nearby schools and hospitals to ensure public safety. Before AB 1937 was signed into law, California had no mandated public noticing requirement for schools and hospitals located near pipeline testing and maintenance work, leaving the public unaware when this potentially dangerous work was being performed.

AB 1990: Supporting Community Food Producers -- Allows individuals, schools, and community gardens to sell their produce to the public, while creating additional health and safety protections for consumers. This legislation supports community food producers, protects consumers, and ensures that California continues to lead the way in supporting local agriculture.

AB 2231: Reforming and Reinstating the Senior Citizens and Disabled Citizens Property Tax Postponement Program -- Reinstates the Senior Citizens and Disabled Citizens Property-Tax Postponement Program. The program allows low-income homeowners over the age of 62 or qualified low-income disabled individuals to postpone their property-tax payments until they choose to sell the property. In exchange, the state places a lien on the property, which is payable with interest when the property is sold, generating revenue for the state.

AB 2516: Creating a Statewide Database for Sea-Level Rise Planning -- Establishes a centrally located, online sea-level rise planning database for the public, state, and local governments to use as a resource while working to combat the challenges of rising sea level. The statewide database will serve as a single source of information that portrays where California is in terms of preparing for, and adapting to sea-level rise. The passage of AB 2516 was complemented with a $2.5 million appropriation in the 2014-15 budget to help communities fund sea-level rise planning and implementation efforts. Climate change during the next century is projected to accelerate sea level. A 2012 report from the National Research Council found that the average sea-level rise projections for California are an additional 6 inches by 2030, 12 inches by 2050, and 36 inches by 2100, Gordon's office noted.

Gordon also authored AB 800, which went into effect on July 1, and provides the Fair Political Practices Commission with the ability to enforce the Political Reform Act. The measure bolsters the commission's ability to enforce campaign-finance disclosure by allowing commissioners to conduct discretionary audits of any campaign during an election, rather than having to wait until after the general election. The law has already been used by the commission in an investigation during this year's election, which resulted in a candidate being required to return campaign funds obtained in violation of the Political Reform Act.

Thirteen bills by Hill, who represents San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, take effect New Year's Day, providing greater consumer safeguards, improving oversight of utilities, regulation of waste from auto shredding and prohibitions against extortionate mug shot websites.

Brown signed 16 of Hill's bills into law in 2014. Three were urgency bills that took effect when the governor signed them. The 13 taking effect on Jan. 1 are:

SB 434: CPUC Commissioner Board Conflicts -- Prohibits current and future members of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) from sitting on governing boards of entities they create as commissioners.

SB 636: Due Process in CPUC Penalty Proceedings -- Preserves due process in CPUC penalty proceedings by allowing commission staff to serve in an advocacy role or in an advisory role, but not both concurrently. Last year, the commission's general counsel dismissed all the attorneys prosecuting Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E). The attorneys felt it illegal and unethical to advocate that PG&E should not be penalized. Since the general counsel advises the commissioners, it would be unethical for the general counsel to also direct the prosecution. While an ethical separation of roles is already the general practice at the CPUC, agency guidelines allow this practice to be waived whenever convenient.

SB 699: Electric Grid Security -- Requires the CPUC to adopt rules compelling utilities to protect the state's electric power grid from vandalism and attack. The legislation was unanimously approved by the Senate just two days after the second of two serious security breaches in as many years at PG&E's Metcalf power substation near San Jose. The security breach occurred despite PG&E's security improvements to the substation as a part of its three-year, $100 million program to increase security systemwide. The improvements were prompted by an attack on April 16, 2013, in which snipers knocked out 17 giant transformers at the Metcalf facility and slipped into an underground vault to cut telephone cables. The former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has called the attack "the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the grid that has ever occurred" in the U.S.

SB 900: CPUC Safety in Ratemaking -- Requires the CPUC to consider the safety performance of natural gas and electricity companies when setting customer rates and developing regulations. Because the commission has only recently begun to incorporate risk-management tools in its policymaking, it has yet to include safety considerations in the process. SB 900 ensures such efforts continue and are completed.

SB 915: Mills High School Advanced Placement Testing -- Clarifies rules for conducting advanced placement tests for college admission and placement and ensures that investigations and retesting occur in a timely fashion if exams are called into question. It was sponsored by parents and students from Mills High School who submitted the bill idea in the Senator's annual "Oughta Be a Law …" contest after the test scores of 286 Mills students on 641 advanced placement exams were invalidated in July 2013. The testing process had been challenged and the agency overseeing the exams deemed that "testing irregularities" occurred, even though an investigation turned up no evidence of cheating or other impropriety.

SB 968: Martins Beach Access -- Requires the State Lands Commission to enter into negotiations with Silicon Valley billionaire and Martins Beach property owner Vinod Khosla for one year, to acquire a right-of-way or easement for the creation of a public-access route to and along the shoreline, including the sandy beach, at Martins Beach. If the commission is unable to reach an agreement to acquire a right-of-way or easement or Khosla does not voluntarily provide public access by Jan. 1, 2016, the commission may acquire a right-of-way or easement, pursuant to Public Resources Code Section 6210.9 (eminent domain), for the creation of a public-access route to and along the shoreline.

SB 1027: Bars Web Mug Shot 'Extortion' -- Bars websites from posting arrest mug shots on the Internet and then charging hundreds, and if not thousands, of dollars to take the photos down. In more than half of the cases in California, an arrest does not lead to a charge or conviction, according to Hill's office.

SB 1064: NTSB Rail Safety Recommendations -- Requires the CPUC to respond to National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommendations for rail safety. The legislation mirrors Hill's AB 578 of 2012, which requires the CPUC to reply to NTSB recommendations for natural gas safety within 90 days and to vote on those recommendations and how they will be carried out.

SB 1249: Auto & Appliance Shredder Waste Regulation -- Requires the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) to regulate shredded automobile and metal appliance waste. Roughly 700,000 tons of this waste is disposed in the state's landfills each year. Seven fires have broken out at metal-recycling facilities in the Bay Area since 2007, including two at Sims Metal in Redwood City. The bill rescinds exemptions for facilities that deal with vehicle-shredder waste and requires DTSC to develop regulations to ensure that treatment, transport and disposal are conducted in a manner that protects public health and the environment. The legislation also provides for better DTSC oversight of the industry to prevent contamination, explosions and other risks to California communities.

SB 1311: Establishing Hospital Protocols for Antibiotic Use in Patients -- Requires general acute-care hospitals in California to establish antibiotic stewardship programs by July 1, 2015. The widespread use of antibiotics has increased resistance to infections and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevent (CDC) estimates that each year more than two million Americans are infected with, and 23,000 die from, antibiotic-resistant infections. Antibiotic stewardship programs can reduce antibiotic resistance by ensuring that antibiotics are used only when necessary, that the right antibiotic is chosen, and that antibiotics are administered correctly.

SB 1409: CPUC Safety Investigations -- Requires the CPUC to list in a report the gas and electric accident investigations the commission finalized in the previous year, as well as those pending completion. The bill also requires the commission to summarize these investigations in its annual report. Although the CPUC is required by law to investigate accidents involving electricity infrastructure that result in fatalities and serious injuries, the investigations typically take years to complete, and there is no accounting of completed investigations or those in progress, nor has the public been told of the nature of these accidents, according to Hill's office.

SB 1415: Bay Area Quality Management District Advisory Council -- Modernizes the Bay Area Air Quality Management District's (BAAQMD) Advisory Council. The bill reduces membership from 20 to seven, and it would also require the members of the Advisory Council to be skilled and experienced in the fields of air pollution, the health impacts of air pollution or climate change.

SB 1433: Modern Infrastructure Contracting -- Extends the sunset for the "design-build" contracting tool for transit operators for two years. "Design-build" is a contracting process that allows both the design of a project and its construction to be covered in a single contract -- a tool well-suited to large, complicated infrastructure projects. This two-year extension improves letting transit operators deliver critical capital projects like the BART extension or the electrification of Caltrain.

Hill's three urgency bills took effect when Brown signed them in September. Those bills are:

SB 445: Underground Storage Tank Cleanup -- Approved on Sept. 25. The law protects soil and groundwater from petroleum contamination by making several reforms to the state's underground storage tank cleanup fund, such as requiring single-wall gas station tanks to be replaced within 10 years. The bill also allows money from the fund to be used for surface and groundwater contamination cleanup and provide the State Water Board with more authority to crack down on fraud from claimants and consultants.

SB 611: Limousine Safety Inspections -- Approved on Sept. 30. Spurred by a tragic limousine fire that killed five women last year on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge, the bill expands safety protections to limousines that seat 10 or fewer people. The bill requires that modified limousines with a seating capacity of fewer than 10 passengers be equipped with two readily accessible and fully charged fire extinguishers and be inspected by the California Highway Patrol every 13 months.

SB 1430: San Francisco International Airport Unlicensed Commercial Transportation Operators -- Approved on Sept. 15. The law closes a procedural loophole and enables the San Mateo County District Attorney to prosecute unlicensed commercial transportation operators who illegally transport passengers to San Francisco International Airport.

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