6 New Progressive Laws on the Books
Senator Scott Wiener, October 5th 2020
This legislative session was nothing short of extraordinary — and I mean that in the literal sense. With COVID-19 wreaking havoc on our normal processes and shortening our session, we were forced to cut down on the amount of legislation we pursued.
That being said, amidst the unpredictability of the last 7 months, I’m proud to say that I sent six important progressive reforms to the Governor’s desk, all of which he signed into law.
In total, since I took office four years ago, 42 bills I’ve authored have been signed into law.
These new laws are wide-ranging and deal with many pressing issues facing our state. They’ll help ensure LGTBQ people are not invisible in our healthcare system. They’ll dramatically expand access to mental health and addiction treatment. They’ll allow us to jumpstart sustainable transportation projects — like protected bike lanes, bus-only lanes, and pedestrian safety improvements — to get our economy and the environment back on track. They’ll reform our jury system to make juries more racially diverse. And that’s just a few of them.
I’m proud of these new laws, and I’m proud to be part of this community. It’s a true privilege to represent the people of San Francisco and Northern San Mateo County, and to have your support in enacting some of the most progressive new laws in history. I don’t take it lightly that we are one of the most forward-thinking places in the country, and that as your Senator I have an obligation to move the ball forward on important progressive priorities.
Here’s a summary of what we got done, with the help of our amazing bill sponsors and supporters:
Mental Health and Addiction Care
SB 855 makes California a national leader in mental health and addiction treatment coverage. It’s part of a growing movement to reverse the stigmatization of mental illness and addiction. This new law is even more important in light of the COVID-19 crisis, given the significant mental health and addiction challenges that increased isolation, illness, job loss, and grief pose to people everywhere — many of whom have never struggled with mental illness or addiction before. And a new study predicts that COVID-19 could cause up to 154,000 “deaths of despair.”
SB 855 dramatically expands access to mental health and addiction care by requiring insurance companies to cover all medically necessary care, not just crisis care. Currently, insurance companies all too often deny coverage for mental health care before someone is in crisis. But we need to help people before they’re in crisis, and SB 855 will make that possible for millions of Californians.
Climate and Transportation
SB 288 will help get our economy and our response to climate change back on track. This new law jumpstarts and speeds up sustainable transportation projects like light rail and bus lanes, safe streets infrastructure like protected bike lanes and pedestrian safety projects, innovative conversion of streets to pedestrian use, and electric bus charging stations. It does so by adding these projects to the list of environmental sustainable projects exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act or CEQA. Unfortunately, people sometimes obstruct environmentally sustainable projects by abusing the CEQA process. SB 288 will significantly cut down on those abuses and ensure these climate-friendly projects can be approved much more quickly. SB 288 is also an economic recovery law that makes it easier to roll out public infrastructure investments more quickly to create jobs.
SB 592 is an important reform to ensure that our juries are more racially diverse. Our country is in the midst of a long overdue reckoning around race and policing. It’s an incredibly important shift, but policing is only the first step in our broken criminal justice system. Another piece that needs significant reform is our jury system. Juries are supposed to reflect the diversity of our community — “a jury of one’s peers” — but, in reality, California juries are whiter and wealthier than the community as a whole. SB 592 addresses this major problem by significantly expanding the jury pool from which juries are drawn. Currently, juries are selected using voter rolls and DMV rolls, but those lists are not demographically representative. SB 592 will add the full taxpayer database to the existing databases that are used, which will make the jury pool much more representative of the community.
In the weeks and months following the racist police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and most recently in response to the Kenosha, Wisconsin shooting of Jacob Blake, Californians have responded with renewed calls to examine and overhaul our criminal justice system: from policing, to our legal system, to mass incarceration. SB 592 is an important piece of the puzzle to remake our criminal justice system to be fairer and less racially and socioeconomically biased.
LGBTQ Civil Rights and Health Justice
SB 932 mandates that the state, counties, and healthcare providers collect data about the sexual orientation and gender identity of people who undergo testing or treatment for COVID-19 and other communicable diseases. From the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, California has collected data on race, age, and gender with respect to cases of COVID. That data has been essential, for example, showing us that older people are more susceptible to the virus, that Black communities are experiencing outrageous death rates, and that Latinx communities are experiencing outrageous infection rates.
Despite the high value of this data in identifying and addressing health disparities, California, like other states, was not collecting data on COVID’s impacts on the LGBTQ community, because we did not even include this demographic question when people answer questions about age, race, and gender. We know that the LGBTQ community has risk factors for COVID, including higher rates of respiratory issues (from smoking), HIV/AIDS, cancer, and homelessness. Additionally, LGBTQ people are more likely to work in the service industry and in front-line jobs. Yet, almost no LGBTQ health data was being collected.
To address this unacceptable situation, I introduced SB 932 with the backing of our Legislative LGBTQ Caucus, which I have the honor of chairing. SB 932 puts an end to this invisibility — the fight for LGBTQ equality being a fight against invisibility and erasure.
SB 132 allows transgender people in prison to be housed where they are safest — for example, by their gender identity. Currently, incarcerated transgender, nonbinary, and intersex individuals are automatically housed in prison according to sex assigned at birth, which can lead to severe risk of violence and harassment. This law represents a seismic shift in how transgender people in prison will be treated.
SB 132 was sponsored by an amazing coalition of advocates inside and outside of prison fighting for civil rights and equality for trans people, including: TransLatin@ Coalition, TGI Justice Project, Equality California, ACLU of California, Lambda Legal, Medina Orthwein LLP, and Transgender Law Center.
SB 145 ends severe discrimination against LGBTQ young people on California’s sex offender registry. Under longstanding California law, if an adult has voluntary penile-vaginal intercourse with a minor aged 14–17 and is no more than 10 years older than the minor, the offense is not automatically registrable. A judge has discretion whether or not to place the defendant on the sex offender registry. By contrast, if the sexual act is oral sex, anal sex or digital penetration, the court must place the defendant on the sex offender registry regardless of the facts of the case and even in cases where the prosecutor and judge do not want to place the defendant on the registry.
This irrational and discriminatory distinction — which forces LGBTQ young people onto the sex offender registry in situations where straight young people can be kept off — exists because when the registry was created in 1944, when California’s anti-sodomy law banned all sex other than vaginal intercourse. While the anti-sodomy law was repealed in the 1970s, the sex offender registry was never updated to reflect the legalization of gay sex.
SB 145 ends this discrimination by treating all forms of intercourse exactly the same way that the law has treated vaginal intercourse for the past 76 years: the judge and DA will have discretion based on the facts of the case whether to place the defendant on the sex offender registry. SB 145 does not legalize any behavior or change any punishments. It simply aligns all forms of intercourse for this age range in terms of who has to go onto the sex offender registry. SB 145 received broad support from law enforcement, civil rights organizations, rape crisis centers, and advocates for children.
Unfortunately, SB 145 has been the subject of an alt-right misinformation campaign from conspiracy theory QAnon supporters, falsely claiming that SB 145 somehow legalized sex with underage people (it does no such thing). This misinformation campaign was promoted by Donald Trump Jr., Senator Ted Cruz, and Rush Limbaugh, resulting in more than a thousand death threats against me. You can read a fact check about this new law here.
It’s been a challenging legislative session. We didn’t get everything done that we needed to as a Legislature, but I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished with the help of wonderful advocates (and with all of you) to bring important progressive change to our state. Much work lies ahead — and we’re already preparing for next year — but we made some significant strides this year.
I want to hear from you: what are your priorities? What are your legislative ideas? You can email firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know.
Again, thank you for the trust you’ve placed in me as your Senator. I work hard every day to earn your confidence.