California Legislature Sends Bills on Wildfires, Net Neutrality and More to Governor in Last Hours of Session

A view of the California State Capitol Feb. 19, 2009, in Sacramento. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

California lawmakers worked late into the evening passing bills before the clock struck midnight on Friday, officially ending their two-year session. They took on topics ranging from wildfire and gun regulations to sexual harassment, policing and the internet.

"We found innovative solutions to new problems like online privacy and net neutrality," said Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego. "We confronted age-old inequities like the persistent disadvantages faced by women, people of color, and those with disabilities."

Below are some highlights from the final day of the session:

Legislature Passes Major Reforms to Wildfire Law 

A massive, controversial bill aimed at tackling California's worsening wildfire problem — and at making sure Pacific Gas & Electric doesn't go bankrupt from lawsuits related to last year's North Bay fires — overwhelmingly passed the state legislature late Friday.

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California Lawmakers Tackle Ambitious Criminal Justice Reforms

Legislators bucked law enforcement groups and approved bills to open up police records — both personnel misconduct files and body camera footage — in a state that's been the most secretive in the nation; and again voted against police organizations to reform eyewitness procedures.

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California Could Create its Own Net Neutrality Rules

California is one step closer to creating its own net neutrality rules. SB 822 is heading to the governor's desk. The measure from state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco)  would mirror Obama-era federal protections that were repealed by the FCC under the Trump Administration. The state rules would prohibit internet providers from blocking, speeding up or slowing down internet traffic and charging more for faster service, among other things.

Wiener said this is the strongest such legislation in the country and will create a level playing field for everyone — including small businesses.

“When Donald Trump’s FCC decided to take a wrecking ball to net neutrality protections, we knew that California had to step in to ensure our residents have access to a free and open internet,” Wiener said.

More than half of the states have introduced measures aimed at creating their own net neutrality rules. Critics, like AT&T, say internet companies should be regulated by the federal government. It’s likely they will file a legal challenge should the measure by signed.

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Several Me Too Bills on Land on Governor’s Desk

Nearly a year after the Capitol was rocked by several sexual harassment scandals that lead to the resignation of several lawmakers, the Legislature has passed several bills meant to crack down on the problem.

Among them, SB 820 bans employers from requiring workers to sign non-disclosure agreements when settling cases of sexual harassment, discrimination or assault.

“By banning secret settlements California will effectively eliminate one of the main tools that perpetrators have used over the years to silence victims and deny them justice,” said Senator Connie Leyva (D-Chino), the bill’s author.

The Legislature also passed AB 3080 which bans employers from prohibiting workers from talking about instances of sexual harassment. It would also prohibit employers from requiring employees to agree to arbitration rather than pursuing cases through the judicial system.

SB 1343 would require any company with at least five employees to provide sexual harassment training.

Limits on Gun Ownership Advance

The Legislature continued to toughen up laws on the use of firearms. Two measures would expand the scope of people prohibited from owning firearms in the state.

AB 1968 would apply to anyone who has been taken into custody and admitted to a facility more than once within a year because they are at risk of harming themselves or others due to a mental illness.

Under the bill, anyone falling into this category would be prohibited from from owning a firearm in California "for the remainder of his or her life." However, they would be able to file an appeal to the ruling every five years.

A second measure, AB 3129, would prohibit people convicted of certain domestic violence misdemeanors from ever possessing a gun.

"Half of all female homicide victims are killed by intimate partners," said the bill's author, Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio (D-Baldwin Park). "We must do more to ensure the safety of our survivors of domestic violence."

SB 1100 raises the age to buy any firearm to 21.

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Streamlining Review Process for Potential Oakland A's Ballpark Site

AB 734 would streamline the process for reviewing lawsuits filed against a potential new Oakland A's ballpark at the Howard Terminal site near the Port of Oakland. It's one of two main sites the team is focusing its new stadium efforts on, the other being its current home at the Oakland Coliseum.

If Brown signs the bill, it would require any environmental lawsuits filed against the site as part of the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, review process, to be adjudicated within 270 days if possible. It was based on similar legislation approved in the past for new arena projects for the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings.

The Judicial Council of California, which would be responsible for implementing the expedited timeline, opposed the legislation, saying CEQA cases are already given preference in the court system and that doubling down on that preferential status would push other cases to the back of the line.

"This means that other cases, including cases that have statutorily mandated calendar preferences, such as juvenile cases, criminal cases, and civil cases in which a party is at risk of dying, will take longer to decide," the Council wrote in the first of five letters it sent to state lawmakers opposing the bill.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and A's president Dave Kaval were both at the State Capitol on Friday to do some last-minute lobbying for the bill, which passed unopposed in the state Senate and 66-4 in the Assembly.

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Pushing Back School Start Times

In one of the closer votes on Friday, lawmakers voted to bar middle and high schools from starting before 8:30 a.m. The bill, SB 328, passed 41-34 in the state Assembly and 23-14 in the state Senate.

Nearly 80 percent of California middle and high schools started earlier than 8:30 a.m. in 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If Brown signs the bill, schools will have at least until July 2021 to comply. It would not apply to rural schools or to extra periods offered before the start of a school day. It would not mandate changes to school day lengths.

Supporters point to science that shows later start times make kids healthier by letting them get more sleep and help them graduate.

"This is the single most cost-effective thing we can do to improve high school graduation rates," said Assemblyman Jay Obernolte, R-Hesperia.

Opponents say local school boards, not the state, should determine start times.

"When it comes to education, the farther away the decisions are made from the classroom, the worse those decisions are," said Assemblyman Jose Medina, D-Riverside.

This post contains reporting from the Associated Press.

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