The Most Important New California Laws of 2016

Beer tasting may be coming to a farmers market near you.  (W.H. Dickinson/Flickr)

It was a big year, legislatively, in Sacramento: With the budget wrapped up in June, lawmakers passed hundreds of laws dealing with everything from climate change to workers rights. Here's KQED's annual roundup of highlights.

All of these bills take effect Jan. 1, unless we note otherwise.

Climate Change and the Environment

Addressing global warming loomed large in Sacramento, after Gov. Jerry Brown and Senate President pro tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), both made the issue their top priority in 2015. The state's drought also received some attention, though most of the rules around water use were handled administratively by the state's water board.

  • Senate Bill 350: De León's signature climate change legislation wasn't as ambitious as he'd hoped, after the oil industry killed a target of cutting in half gas consumption over the next 15 years. But it's still groundbreaking, mandating that 50 percent of California electricity come from renewable sources by 2030, and doubling energy efficiency requirements for existing buildings.
  • Assembly Bill 1288: Authored by Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), this bill seeks to bring different voices to the state's powerful Air Resources Board by expanding its membership to 14. The two new appointees will be named by the Legislature and must represent someone who works directly with the most polluted communities in the state.
  • Senate Bills 295 and 414 were introduced by Central Coast Democrat Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson after the Santa Barbara oil spill in May. The legislation will increase oil pipeline inspections and make oil spill cleanup quicker and more effective by requiring state officials to study new chemical dispersants and coordinate more cleanup drills with federal agencies.
  • To encourage water conservation, lawmakers passed both Assembly Bill 1 by Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown, D-San Bernardino, and Assembly Bill 1164 by Glendale Assemblyman Mike Gatto. AB1 prohibits localities from fining residents for letting their lawns turn brown; AB1164, which took effect in the summer, prohibits localities from forbidding drought-tolerant landscaping, including artificial turf.
  • Two groundbreaking environmental restrictions were also approved in 2015 but won't take effect immediately. Assembly Bill 96, by Atkins, will ban the import, selling or possession of ivory beginning July 1, 2016;  and Assembly Bill 888, by Santa Monica Democrat Richard Bloom, will ban the sale of personal products containing environmentally harmful plastic microbeads, come January 2020.

Criminal Justice


Even with Brown's veto of a number of criminal bills, the Legislature managed to pass dozens of laws addressing crime and law enforcement.

  • The governor signed several bills aimed at making police departments more accountable. Assembly Bill 953, by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), mandates a system for law enforcement to collect information on each stop they make, data that would have to be reported to the attorney general each year. The law also expands the state’s definition of profiling beyond race to include things such as gender, national origin, religion and sexual orientation. Another bill that grew from recent protests over police behavior is Senate Bill 411, by Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), which clarifies that the public is allowed to take video of a police officer. And Senate Bill 227, by Los Angeles Democrat Holly Mitchell, bars the use of grand juries in police shooting investigations.
  • Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) fought hard for Senate Bill 178, after seeing previous versions vetoed by Gov. Brown. The bill requires law enforcement to secure a court-ordered search warrant before inspecting electronic information stored on  electronic devices like computers or cellphones.
  • Lawmakers and the governor finally came together around comprehensive statewide medical marijuana regulations in 2015 -- nearly two decades after it became legal in California and a year ahead of the plant's potential full legalization by voters. Assembly Bills 243 and 266 and Senate Bill 643 create a new agency, the state Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation, under the Department of Consumer Affairs. The bureau, jokingly nicknamed "BUMMER," will be charged with licensing the entire medical marijuana supply chain, including the growing process, safety testing, transportation, distribution and sales.
  • Two new gun control laws will take effect in January: Senate Bill 707, by Sen. Lois Wolk (D-Davis), bars concealed weapons on school campuses, while Assembly Bill 1014, a 2013 measure by former Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), allows families and law enforcement to seek a court-ordered temporary restraining order to remove someone's firearms if they pose a threat.
  • Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) authored two measures aimed at making it easier for some people to secure release from behind bars. Senate Bill 261 requires the parole board to consider the release of many offenders in state prison who committed their crimes under the age of 23. Senate Bill 230 mandates that the parole board release prisoners once they are found suitable to leave prison.
  • Senate Bill 405 has already taken effect. Authored by Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Los Angeles), the measure lets people contest a traffic ticket without first paying the fine.

Health Care 

Vaccinations and assisted suicide dominated discussion at the Capitol, though lawmakers also tackled questions of insurance rules and passed one measure regulating electronic cigarettes, while killing a slew of other tobacco-related bills. (For more detail on new health laws, visit our State of Health blog.)

  • Senate Bill 277 ended California's personal belief exemption for vaccinations and makes the state's vaccine laws among the strictest in the nation. Beginning July 1, it requires parents to vaccinate their kids in order for them to attend school, unless they have a medical reason. Authored by Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), it was among the year's most hotly contested measures. With far less debate, lawmakers also approved Senate Bill 792, by Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia), which requires day care providers to be vaccinated.
  • Assembly Bill 216, by Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens), prohibits the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors, even if the device does not contain tobacco.
  • And Assembly Bill 960 by San Francisco Assemblyman David Chiu, a Democrat, makes it easier for people to donate sperm or eggs and for unmarried parents who use assisted reproduction to be recognized as legal guardians.

Workers Rights and Equality

Lawmakers and the governor couldn't agree on much around affordable housing, but they did back a number of bills expanding workers rights, particularly for women and parents -- including a groundbreaking gender pay bill.

  • Senate Bill 358 by Sen. Jackson has been framed as among the nation's strongest laws seeking to close the wage gap between men and women. It aims to do that by closing some loopholes that allowed employers to defend disparate wages for men and women -- namely specifying that women must be paid the same as their male colleagues “for substantially similar work," and allowing employees to challenge wage gaps that exist at different worksites. It seeks to give women more ability to figure out when disparities exist by barring retaliation against women who discuss their pay or ask about the salaries of colleagues.
  • Senate Bill 579, also by Jackson, expands family leave laws to allow parents to take time off work to respond to child-care emergencies or enroll kids in school or child care.
  • Assembly Bill 202 by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) -- a former Stanford cheerleader --  requires professional sports teams to treat their cheerleaders as full-time employees, not contractors. It grew out of disputes over pay for the entertainers for teams that included the Oakland Raiders, who settled a class-action wage theft lawsuit last year.

Foster Care

The plight of foster kids was in the news a lot in 2015, particularly after a San Jose Mercury News series documenting the shocking number of foster children on psychotropic medication. Several new laws seek to tackle that and other issues.

  • Senate Bill 238 by Sen. Mitchell gives child welfare social workers better oversight of mental health treatment for foster kids, including the prescription of psychotropic medications.
  • Senate Bill 731 by Sen. Leno aims to keep transgender foster kids safe by giving them the right to placements with families that support their gender identity.

Voting Rights

While some states have seen efforts to roll back their voting rights laws, California passed a major law to expand ballot box engagement as well as measures dealing with ballot initiatives and campaign finance.

  • Assembly Bill 1461, by Assemblywoman Gonzalez, is known as the "motor voter" law. Sponsored by Secretary of State Alex Padilla, it registers people to vote when they receive or renew their driver's license, unless they opt out.
  • Assembly Bill 990, by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla (D-Concord), requires clearer disclosure on campaign fliers so it's apparent who is paying for them. It took effect in October.
  • AB1100, by Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell), raises the filing fee for ballot measures from $200 to $2,000 to discourage abuse.

Everything else

  • Assembly Bill 40, by Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), bars the Golden Gate Bridge District and other state-owned bridges from charging tolls to pedestrians and bicyclists.
  • Assembly Bill 774, by Assemblyman Mark Levine (D-Marin), allows beer tastings at farmers markets.
  • Assembly Bill 1116by Assemblyman Gatto, protects Californians from television voice-recognition features that could surreptitiously record private conversations.
  • Assembly Bill 30, by Assemblyman Luis Alejo (D-Salinas), takes effect in 2017 and bars schools from using "Redskins" as their mascot.

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