The Major Bills Newsom Just Signed and Vetoed

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A Greek-style facade with pillars and a dome, with fir branches in the foreground.
The California State Capitol. (David Paul Morris/Getty Images)

Gov. Gavin Newsom approved a slew of new legislation in recent weeks, ahead of Sunday’s deadline. That hefty stack of bills — among the hundreds that crossed his desk — touches nearly every policy area, including housing, health, education and wildfire mitigation. The measures stand to affect millions of California residents.

The many noteworthy ones in the pile include legislation to boost identity theft protection at the state Employment Development Department, which may have paid out up to $31 billion in fraudulent unemployment claims since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. The governor also recently inked a bill adopting a universal vote-by-mail ballot system for all future elections, as well as a first-in-the-nation law aimed at protecting California workers in retail warehouses like those run by Amazon.

Newsom also has vetoed a number of bills, including one that would have, among other things, established visitation as a civil right to people who are incarcerated. Perhaps the biggest veto shocker so far this year has been his recent rejection of a bill that sought to increase pay rates during paid family leave.

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Below is a rundown of just some of the headline-grabbing legislation Newsom has recently signed.


Universal pre-K, dual-immersion language programs, college savings accounts, ethnic studies

On Tuesday, Newsom signed a trio of bills, part of a record-setting $124 billion investment in public schools. It includes about $2.7 billion to help create a universal pre-K program for 4-year-olds by 2025 and directs roughly $10 million to expand dual-immersion language programs. The package, a key part of Newsom's long-touted California Comeback Plan, also includes $1.9 billion to help create college savings accounts of up to $1,500 for some students, as well as $170 million in ongoing funding.

Transferring to state universities and affordable student housing

The following day, the governor also signed a $47.1 billion higher education package of bills, including one making it easier for community college students to transfer to the California State University and University of California systems. The legislation also includes $2 billion in funds to increase affordable housing for students.

Ethnic studies curriculum

Newsom on Friday signed the aptly numbered Assembly Bill 101, making a one-semester ethnic studies class a graduation requirement for all California public high school students, beginning with the class of 2030. Newsom unexpectedly vetoed an initial version of the bill last year, saying the model curriculum needed to be more inclusive. The bill was reintroduced in December after the curriculum had been thoroughly — and painstakingly — revised.


Reducing wait times for mental health appointments

On Friday, Newsom signed SB 221, a bill to require health insurers across the state to reduce wait times for mental health appointments to no more than 10 business days. While current state law requires insurers to provide initial mental health appointments in 10 days, there is no clear regulation around follow-up appointments, resulting in what state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, the bill’s author, called “obscene delays.”

Half of Californians say they have to wait too long to see a mental health provider when they need one, according to a survey by the California Health Care Foundation. At Kaiser Permanente specifically, 87% of therapists said weekly appointments were not available to patients who needed them, according to a survey by the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which represents Kaiser’s therapists and was the main sponsor of the bill. The bill passed both houses of the Legislature in a near-unanimous vote.

Read KQED's coverage of SB 221.

VETOED: Incentives for people to not use drugs

Newsom on Friday vetoed SB 110, a controversial bill which would have allowed Medi-Cal, the state's Medicaid program, to provide money or gift cards as incentives for people struggling with drug addiction to stay off drugs — with the goal of encouraging more treatment centers to offer them.

"We need to embrace this proven, effective approach to meth addiction, make it clearly legal and start reimbursing for it, so we can address this health epidemic," said state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, who sponsored the bill.

While suggesting he was open to the bill’s novel drug treatment approach, Newsom in his veto message said it was "premature," and called for further study.

Read KQED's coverage of SB 110.


Streamlining housing approvals

Newsom approved three major housing bills in September, including SB 8, introduced by state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, which extends through 2030 an existing law that expedites the approval process for housing projects and reduces fee increases on local housing applications.

The governor also signed SB 9, introduced by state Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, which allows the development of up to two duplexes without local reviews or hearings, in neighborhoods in most cities that are currently zoned for single-family homes.

Lastly, Newsom signed SB 10, introduced by state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, which offers cities the option to rezone certain land for the construction of as many as 10 units while bypassing an initial review under the California Environmental Quality Act.

Read more about these three laws from CalMatters.

Police reform

Newsom signed a slate of new police reform bills into law on Sept. 30, including creating higher education standards for officers, requiring officers to intervene if they see a colleague using excessive force, banning certain physical holds that cause asphyxiation and laying out a process that will decertify officers who are found guilty of serious policy or criminal violations. The bills include:

  • SB 2, authored by state Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, which lays out a process that will decertify officers who are found guilty of serious policy or criminal violations, including using excessive force, committing sexual assault, intimidating witnesses, making a false arrest or report or participating in a law enforcement gang. Other grounds include “demonstrating bias” based on race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation or mental disability, among other criteria.
  • SB 16, which expands state Sen. Nancy Skinner’s 2018 landmark police transparency law, SB 1421, or “The Right to Know Act,” which opened up three narrow categories of police records: investigations into deadly or serious use of force by police, investigations that found officers committed sexual assault on duty or told official lies. SB 16 opens up three more categories of records: investigations into officers who were found to have engaged in bias or discrimination, made unlawful arrests or searches, or used excessive or unreasonable force.
  • AB 89, authored by Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, which raises the minimum age of eligibility to become a cop from 18 to 21 and expands education requirements for officers.
  • AB 26, authored by Assemblymember Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, requires officers to intervene if they see a fellow officer using excessive force and protects them from retaliation if they report another officer for violating policy.

Read KQED's coverage of this slate of police reforms.

Climate change, drought, wildfires

Climate change

Newsom on Sept. 23 signed a major $15 billion climate change package, as part of the state's record-high budget. It directs $3.9 billion over the next three years to expand use of electric vehicles in the state, in accordance with Newsom's mandate that only zero-emission new passenger cars and trucks be sold in California by 2035. That pot includes funding for new consumer rebates, the production of thousands of buses and heavy-duty trucks, and incentives for Californians with lower incomes to trade in their gas cars.

California also will spend $3.7 billion to: prepare communities to deal with sea-level rise, fund energy-efficient homes, and invest in lower-income communities and communities of color, with the goal of improving air quality and reducing heat disparities.


The same package allots about $5.2 billion to immediate drought relief and water measures, including money for projects to boost water recycling, reduce flooding risks and clean up contaminated groundwater.


The package also earmarks about $1 billion in new spending for fire breaks, tree thinning and other measures meant to prevent fires from burning out of control.

And it includes $19 million for the state to work with tribes on prescribed burns — up from just $1 million last year — as well as training for firefighters. The state also plans to invest in micro-lumber mills and other businesses that reuse old wood from overgrown forests.

Less than a week later, Newsom signed AB 642, which requires the state to increase the workforce that can perform prescribed burns in an effort to eliminate fuels that have contributed to extremely destructive fires in the state. The bill, introduced by Assemblymember Laura Friedman, D-Glendale, also requires that Cal Fire create a cultural burning liaison position within the agency who will work with tribes and cultural practitioners to ensure the agency is respecting tribal sovereignty and enabling cultural fire traditions and practices to carry on.

“This speaks to the importance of communities, private landowners and private citizens in being part of the fire solutions," said Lenya Quinn-Davidson, a fire adviser with the University of California Cooperative Extension who helped draft the legislation. "And you know that the agencies can’t do it on their own anymore. We have to work together."

Read KQED's coverage of Native American fire techniques to manage forests.

Reporting from KQED's April Dembosky, Emily Hung, Sukey Lewis, Guy Marzorati and Danielle Venton was used in this post. Additional reporting from The Associated Press, CalMatters and NPR also was included.