California Legislature to decide on key proposed laws by end of week

Police use of force, housing, worker rights, data privacy, and healthcare rates among considerations

THE California Legislature has until Friday, May 31, to decide whether to pass or reject bills that originated in either the Assembly and Senate. Closely watched are bills having to do with addressing the state’s housing issues, use of force by police, and data privacy when it comes to home smart speakers.

Bills that get past Friday’s deadline will then be up for consideration in the opposing chamber. Surviving bills will be voted on before lawmakers adjourn in the fall.

Below are some areas that may be affected the proposed bills.

Use-of-force by police

Under current law, state police are only allowed to use lethal force if their fear of being in danger is “reasonable.” But law enforcement groups and civil rights advocates have agreed on a new standard that would make lethal force excusable if such force is “necessary to defend against an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to the other officer or to another person.”

The bill, AB 392, was introduced by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber shortly after last year’s police shooting of Stephon Clark. She described the policy as one that “will save lives and change the culture of policing in California.”

Housing

Closely being watched are bills that could affect California’s housing crisis, which has resulted in the state having the nation’s highest poverty rate.

To be voted upon this week is AB 1482, which after recently made amendments, would cap rent increases for certain tenants. Also up for a vote is AB 1481, which looks to prohibit landlords from evicting tenants without just cause, and includes a ten-year sunset date and six-month vesting period.

“Just as our anti-rent gouging bill gives renters stability, we are providing landlords stability as well by including a sunset date in the bill,” said Assemblyman David Chiu who announced the amendments last week.

He added, “We also want to be sure that this legislation does not deter housing production so we will be exempting new housing units up to ten years old. These bills are tempered proposals that will protect tenants while still allowing landlords to effectively operate their business.”

Data privacy and smart speakers

Called the “Anti-Eavesdropping Act” or “Smart Speaker Privacy Act,” AB 1395, would make it so that makers of smart home speakers like Google, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook would need affirmative permission from users to store and use recordings.

Companies found to be in violation would be subject to a fine of $2,500 per connected device.

In a statement introducing the bill in January, Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham said: “Recent revelations about how certain companies have staff that listen in to private conversations via connected smart speakers further shows why this bill is necessary to protect privacy in the home.”

Bloomberg reported in April that thousands of Amazon workers were listening and reviewing audio clips of its users in order to improve and review its technology.

To Bloomberg, an Amazon spokesman said in a statement that the company only annotates “an extremely small sample of Alexa voice recordings in order [to] improve the customer experience.” The spokesman assured that employees do not have direct access to personal information that may identify users.

In response to the proposed bill, Google told tech publication Geek: “We believe that the combination of strong and balanced regulations, with products that are designed with privacy in mind, will help provide individuals with confidence that they’re in control of their personal information.”

Worker rights for independent contractors

With “gig workers” such as Uber and Lyft drivers becoming more a part of the state’s workforce, one bill is looking to make sure workers rights and benefits extend to such workers of the gig economy.

AB 5, introduced by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, shoots off from a California Supreme Court decision made last year that capped the ability of companies to claim workers as independent contractors instead of employees. The bill would “codify” the decision’s results and clarify who in California would be considered an employee or “independent.”

Healthcare rates and surprise emergency bills

Also introduced by Chiu along with Senator Scott Wiener, AB 1611 looks to tackle the issue of “surprise billing” that often hits patients in emergency care.

The bill would prohibit hospitals from charging patients for rates above their regular co-pay or deductible charges.

“If you’re incapacitated or undergoing a life-threatening condition, you don’t have the ability or time to decide what hospital to go to,” said Chiu. “After a trip to the emergency room, the only thing you should be focused on is getting better, not a bill for tens of thousands of dollars.”

Also related to healthcare is AB 731, introduced by Assemblyman Ash Kalra, which would require large group insurance plans not regulated by the state to be regulated in the same way small-group plans are. 

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