For new 2013 laws, click here. The laws below became active in 2012.
Here's our compendium of laws that take effect on January 1. Some of these you'll no doubt enjoy reading about more than you will complying with; others provide tangible benefits.
From our education reporter Ana Tintocalis...
Transitional Kindergarten gets underway
One of the more intriguing education bills to go into effect is SB 1381, also known as the Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010. The legislation was sponsored by Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto).
The law requires children to be five years old by Sept 1 of any given year in order to enter kindergarten. Kids that don’t fall into that age requirement will attend a new grade – called Transitional Kindergarten. The state’s 700 districts with elementary schools have the next three years to ramp up these programs.
LGBT History in the classroom
AB 48, sponsored by Mark Leno (D-SF), requires California public schools to include lessons on the LGBT community and their historic contributions. Teachers are also required to include lessons about Native Americans, Asian Pacific Islanders and people with disabilities. No word yet, however, on specific curricula teachers must follow.
The DREAM Act is realized
AB 130 is the first half of the controversial California DREAM Act of 2011. College students who are undocumented immigrants in California will now be able to qualify for privately funded financial aid.
The second part of the law, granting undocumented immigrants access to state financial aid, will go into effect in 2013.
Getting Ready for the Common Core Standards
AB 124, AB 250, SB 140 are a series of wonky bills that collectively reflect California’s effort to develop a national set of academic standards called the Common Core Standards, which schools across the country have been told to adopt.
The bills will allow California, one of 45 states helping to craft the new standards, to develop curricula around them, as well as develop instructional materials and ensure they also apply to students who speak English as a second language.
From our health care reporter, Sarah Varney...
When it comes to health care, 2011 was the year of great contradictions. Under continuing pressure to cut budgets, California slashed funding for programs that serve the elderly, the disabled and the poor. At the same time, the state adopted a slew of new statutes to help implement changes in federal health care law.
Medical Loss Ratio requirement
A new state law will require insurers that offer individual and small group coverage to spend at least 80 percent of premiums on actual medical care. Starting January 1, insurers who don’t meet that standard will have to send rebates to policyholders.
This requirement is actually part of the federal government's Affordable Care Act, signed into law in 2010. Many states, like California, which support implementation of that law have passed their own legislation to mirror it. Some states are putting some of the provisions in place earlier than the federal law mandates or are codifying them in case Congress or the Supreme Court nullify part or all of the Affordable Care Act.
On the legislative agenda for 2012, state lawmakers will tackle more changes in health insurance regulations needed to get ready for the opening of an online insurance shopping site called the Exchange, also mandated by the federal health law.
New health benefits
Under a law taking effect in July, consumers will see several new health benefits. For families with autistic children, health insurers will have to cover a type of commonly prescribed but costly behavioral therapy. And women who work at smaller companies -- with five or more employees -- will now be able to continue their health insurance coverage while on pregnancy leave.
Other laws of note
From KQED News staff...
Foster benefits extended to age 21
A new law could help the state's older teenagers in foster care. Under California's old system, when a foster child turned 18, that was it, they'd be out of their foster home and done with state benefits, reports Capital Public Radio's Ben Adler. Democratic Assemblyman Jim Bell's 2010 measure changes that starting Jan 1.
"Twenty-one is a more appropriate age for emancipation of foster youth," Bell says. "In other words, when somebody's 18, they're too young and vulnerable to be let out without any kind of support system."
The law phases in the expansion of benefits to a foster child's nineteenth birthday in 2012, twentieth the following year, and twenty-first the year after that. Bell says federal funds could make the program revenue-neutral for the state.
Impounding cars of unlicensed drivers prohibited
DUI checkpoints pop up all the time, especially around New Year's. But those checkpoints face new restrictions in 2012.
In years past, it wasn't just drunk drivers who saw their cars or trucks taken at sobriety checkpoints alongside the road, KQED's John Myers reports. Some lost their vehicles because they didn't have a driver's license. Latino rights activists argued that in many cases it was mostly undocumented immigrants who had their cars impounded and faced large fines by local governments.
Efforts to change the system were vetoed in years past, but this fall Governor Jerry Brown signed the law, which goes into effect Jan 1. The law stipulates that when a driver's sole offense is not having a license, his or her car cannot be impounded. The driver will still have to pay a fine but one much smaller than under the old law.
Liquor purchases in self-checkout outlawed
That quick trip to the grocery store may take a little longer in the new year if it involves selling alcohol.
A new law concerning those popular self-checkout lanes is pretty simple, reports John Myers. If you're going to buy beer, wine or alcohol, you'll have to check out at a supermarket the old-fashioned way -- with a clerk.
Governor Jerry Brown signed the ban on alcoholic purchases at self-checkout lanes after a long debate in the legislature over its merits. Opponents argued the change was a clever way to keep grocery workers on the job, one pushed by the union that represents many of them. But supporters argued that keeping booze out of the self-checkout will stop underage teens from buying it without showing an ID.
The bill's author, San Francisco Assemblymember Fiona Ma, said the inconvenience for legal drinkers will be minor and worth it.
Minors restricted from buying drugs with cough suppressant dextromethorphan
Parents in need of cough and cold medicine won't be able to send their kids to fetch it in 2012, under a new state law meant to keep teens from abusing a particular substance.
The bill restricts people 18 and under from buying drugs containing the cough suppressant dextromethorphan. Dr. Ilene Anderson, senior toxicologist with the California Poison Control System, says just one bottle of cough syrup has enough of the ingredient to cause an out-of-body high.
"It can cause much agitation and dysphoria, or a very bad high where teenagers are scared and upset, confused and disoriented," she said. Some drugs containing dextromethorphan are Coricidin, Robitussin and Nyquil.
And more laws...
- New California law requires car seats for kids 8 years old and younger (SJ Mercury News)
- Drug Users in California to Have Better Access To Clean Needles (Capital Public Radio)
- New law imposes stricter standards for natural gas providers in California (SF Examiner)
- 75-watt bulb standard takes effect Sunday in California (Sacramento Bee)
- New laws on California employment (Kathleen Pender, SF Chronicle)
- Gay Rights Groups Score Major Legislative Victories (Bay Citizen)
- California: new laws on shark fins, gas pipelines (SF Chronicle)
- New laws come with price tags (SF Examiner)