The Most Important New California Environmental and Health Laws of 2019

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One of the largest wind wind farms in the U.S., near Palm Springs, in 2016. California now begins on the long road to complying with a new law mandating that 100 percent of the state's electricity come from solar, wind and other emissions-free sources by 2045. (David McNew/AFP/Getty)

The California Legislature in 2018 cranked out 1,016 pieces of legislation that Gov. Brown signed into law. Number of bills vetoed? 201. (For those keeping track, note that Brown rejected bills at a much higher clip his second time around as governor.)

Here are some of the most important environmental and health changes coming in 2019:

SB 100: The long road to 100 percent clean energy

It was, in many ways, the defining environmental law of the year: a groundbreaking mandate for generating 100 percent of the state's electricity from solar, wind and other non-fossil sources by 2045. Now comes the hard part: actually doing it. Legislators have already passed a rash of environmental legislation to begin meeting these goals, including an increase in incentives for solar panels, more restrictions on hydrofluorocarbons, and an extension of the state's cap-and-trade system to 2030.

SB 901, et al: Wildfire mitigation

In September, Brown signed a package of bills in response to the massive wildfires of the last few years. The main bill, SB 901,  requires utilities to implement fire prevention plans and upgrade equipment. It also creates incentives for landowners to reduce excess fuel and remove dead trees, and sets aside $1 billion for forest management over the next five years. Controversially, the negotiated deal allows PG&E to pass on to consumers some of the cost it may incur if it's found liable for the 2017 fires. The two- dozen or so fire prevention bills Brown signed include rules making it easier for private landowners to conduct controlled burns, rules requiring garage door openers to have backup batteries in case of electrical outages, and a clarification that insurers must cover losses due to landslides and mudslides if those calamities resulted mainly from a separate, insured catastrophe like fire.

AB 1775and SB 834: No offshore drilling

Gov. Brown signed two bills to stem offshore drilling, in response to the Trump administration's push to open nearly the entire U.S. coastline to offshore oil leasing in federal waters. The companion bills prevent any new leases for construction of oil or gas infrastructure like pipelines or piers in state waters or tidal lands as of Jan. 1, which would ostensibly prevent any oil from coming ashore.

AB 1274: Smog check exemption 

Previously, cars six model-years old or newer could forego a smog-check. The new law extends that exemption to cars eight years old or newer. During the last two of those eight years,  the smog abatement fee will jump to $25 from $20.

AB 544: HOV stickers for zero-emission cars

This law extends the program that allows zero-emission cars to drive in carpool lanes. Here are the new rules:

  • Stickers issued before Jan. 1, 2017 expire on Jan. 1, 2019.
  • Stickers issued to new cars after Jan. 1, 2019 are valid for three full years and then until Jan. 1 of their fourth year.
  • Drivers issued stickers in 2017 and 2018 will be able to apply for a new sticker in 2019 that is valid until Jan. 1, 2022.

In addition, drivers that receive the state's Clean Vehicle Rebate, which can be several thousand dollars, won’t be eligible for HOV lane stickers unless their gross annual income falls below $150,000 for a single tax filer, $204,000 for a head of household and $300,000 for joint filers.

Here is the California Air Resources Board list of vehicles, going back to 1997, that are eligible for carpool stickers.

SB 606 and AB 1668: More efficient water use

These laws don't go into effect in 2019, but their passage in 2018 was an important part of Gov. Brown's push to make water conservation "a way of life." SB 606 and AB 1668 collectively require the state to establish new efficiency standards for water use by 2022 and mandate that local agencies devise drought and water-shortage plans. The bills also set indoor residential use at 55 gallons per person per day, incrementally reducing that number after Jan. 1, 2025. Basically, this year, you might want to start getting used to using less water and more water- efficient appliances.


AB 1884: No more plastic straws ... unless you really want one

It was a tough year for plastic straws. San Francisco banned them,  Starbucks announced a phaseout, and California passed a law removing them from full-service restaurants starting Jan. 1. However, dining establishments can still give you a plastic straw if you ask for one. (This is similar to the new rule that restaurants are not supposed to serve water unless you ask for it.) Businesses that don't comply will get two warnings and then can be fined $25 per day, up to $300 annually.

SB 1192: No soda or juice with kid meals

Restaurants will now have to remove soda and juice from kids' menus. The default options starting in 2019 will be water with no added sweetners or milk or a dairy-free milk substitute. If kids or their parents want juice or soda, they'll have to ask. (If you want to go full gadfly, ask for a plastic straw with that soda.) After a warning, restaurant violators can be fined $250, or $500 for a repeat offense.

AB 1976: Breastfeeding at work

California already requires employers to provide a reasonable amount of time to breastfeed and a place for lactation that isn't a toilet stall. AB 1976 now requires that area be outside the bathroom itself.  Temporary locations are acceptable, as long as they're private. Another bill, which would have legislated more specific requirements, was vetoed by Gov. Brown.

SB 179: Nonbinary gender option on official forms

The Gender Recognition Act was passed in 2017, allowing Caifornians to change the gender on their birth certificates to "nonbinary" instead of male or female. Now the rest of the law goes into effect. Starting Jan. 1, individuals can choose the nonbinary gender designation on driver's licenses or state IDs. People wanting to change their gender on those forms will also no longer have to provide a doctor's authorization. The law, of course, does not apply to federal forms, such as passports, or documents issued by other states. (For more on the law, check out the Transgender Law Center fact sheet.)

SB 1448: Informing patients about physician misconduct

After a number of instances in which doctors were allowed to continue practicing following sexual assault or misconduct, a movement ensued to arm the public with information about which physicians have been found culpable. Previously, patients could search an online database to see if their doctors were on probation, but that put the onus on the public. SB 1448 requires doctors to actively inform their patients if they've been disciplined by the regulatory board for the following: sexual misconduct involving a patient, drug abuse, criminal convictions involving harm to a patient, and inappropriate prescribing that resulted in patient harm. In July, the list of medical professionals required to proactively inform the public will expand to include surgeons, osteopaths, naturopathic doctors, chiropractors, podiatrists and acupuncturists.

Also of interest ...

We note: A law requiring vegan meals to be offered in prisons and hospitals; one phasing out drift gill-net fishing, which unintentionally snares marine mammals; and another that phases out certain flame retardants by 2020.

Jon Brooks contributed to this report.