All the new laws coming online in 2021

By Heather Bailey, Staff Writer, Sonoma West Times & News, January 6, 2021


The list of new laws passed in 2020, to take effect in 2021, is 56 pages long and covers every category and provision imaginable. Here are a few highlights from those pages.

If you want to take a peek at the entire list, go to and select the “Bill Enacted Report for 2020” to download the PDF file.


COVID exposure notification to workers

Employees must now be informed within one day if COVID-19 exposure has occurred in their workplace. Assembly Bill 685 requires written notice to employees (and subcontractors) that they have shared a worksite with a potentially effected person. Once an employee has been identified and contacted, they must also be given information regarding paid sick leave, workmen’s compensation and any other relevant policies.

There are other tweaks and additions to existing law, related to including COVID exposures under OSHA’s jurisdiction, however they are all set to expire in 2023, clearly with the hope that it will no longer be an issue by then.

Food service workers freed to wash as needed

You’d think that anyone touching people’s food would have discretion over their hand washing, but that apparently hasn’t been the case, as AB 1867 gives those food service workers the right to leave their workstation every 30 minutes, or more frequently as needed, to wash their hands.

Additional care for mental health issues

A law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in September increases the number of mental health conditions deemed “medically necessary” and thus must be covered by insurance companies. Also included in the law is substance abuse coverage.


New bans on certain types of police holds

AB 1196 will prohibit the use of chokeholds and carotid holds during suspect apprehension and subdual. However, in most agencies within Sonoma County, those holds were already prohibited so it is unlikely to constitute an enormous change locally.

Inmate firefighters get their chance

California’s wildfire season gets longer and longer and so too does its reliance on inmate firefighters to help contain the flames. AB 2147 seeks to correct a longtime issue for these individuals by closing a loophole that often prevented them from finding work as firefighters after their release.

With public support for changing the law high after several terrible fire seasons, the new law gives inmate firefighters the opportunity to have their felonies expunged following the conclusion of the California Conservation Camp program. In essence, they will no longer be required to reveal that they are convicted felons on job applications.

However, perpetrators of serious, violent crimes, such as rape and murder are automatically disqualified from the program.

Addition to the list of mandated reporters

Human resources (HR) workers have now joined the list of so-called mandatory reporters, that is, persons who are required to contact law enforcement if abuse of a minor is suspected. However, the new law only applies to HR workers who work at companies that have at least five employees and also employ minors. State-mandated training will now be required for those who now fall under this law.

Restoration of voting rights to parolees

The change comes due to the passage of Prop. 17 in the November election, and allows those on parole the right to vote.

Additional protections for juveniles

There are several new laws meant to assist juveniles who have tangled with the law.

The first deals with the phasing out and closure of the youth prison system in California as of July 2021, long plagued with problems. Senate Bill 823 will require youths who were previously in state facilities to be kept closer to home, local to their family and community.

The second closes a confidentiality gap that didn’t have juvenile records sealed as tight as many are led to believe. Juveniles who had a run in with the justice system, but are no longer under its jurisdiction, will have their records completely closed to the public.

State oversight of officer-involved shooting deaths

AB 1506 is comprised of two parts, only one of which goes into effect in 2021. The first and 2021 portion “provides that a state prosecutor shall conduct an investigation of any officer-involved shooting that resulted in the death of an unarmed civilian, as specified,” according to the text of the bill and also directs that state prosecutor that “if criminal charges against the involved officer are found to be warranted, initiate and prosecute a criminal action against the officer.”

The second part must be accomplished by July 1, 2023 and it requires the attorney general of California to “operate a Police Practices Division within the Department of Justice (DOJ), to, upon request of a local law enforcement agency, review the use of deadly force policies of that law enforcement agency.”

Training to spot human trafficking

According to the summary of AB 2034, “existing law requires specified businesses and other establishments, including, among others, airports, intercity passenger rail or light rail stations, bus stations and truck stops, to post a notice, as developed by the Department of Justice, that contains information relating to slavery and human trafficking, including information regarding specified nonprofit organizations that a person can call for services or support in the elimination of slavery and human trafficking. Existing law makes a business or establishment that fails to comply with the requirements of these provisions liable for a civil penalty of $500 for a first offense, and $1,000 for each subsequent offense.”

The new law which went into effect on Jan. 1 adds that “businesses or other establishments that operate an intercity passenger rail, light rail, or bus station to provide training to new and existing employees who may interact with, or come into contact with, a victim of human trafficking or who are likely to receive, in the course of their employment, a report from another employee about suspected human trafficking, in recognizing the signs of human trafficking and how to report those signs to the appropriate law enforcement agency, as specified. Because the bill would require local government agencies to perform additional duties, it would impose a state-mandated local program.”

The state would reimburse local agencies for those training costs.


Minimum wage increase

Minimum wage has been creeping up in California due to a concerted effort to create a living wage, and on Jan. 1 it will go up to $14 an hour for businesses with 26 or more employees and $13 an hour for business with 25 or less employees. Different municipalities and regions have their own minimum wages requirements, which must be at least matching the state standard, but can be higher.

More diverse corporate boards now required

While there are already laws on the books that require publicly held companies headquartered in California to have at least one female director, an addition has been added — to be completed by Dec. 31 2021 — that would require at least one director on each board be from an “underrepresented community” which the legislation defines as a person or persons who “can self-identifies as  Black, African American, Hispanic, Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American, Native Hawaiian or Alaska Native or gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.”

California Family Rights Act expansion

Up until now, the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) only applied to businesses with at least 50 employees, but starting in 2021 it is being altered to include any business with five or more employees.

The CFRA gives employees who have been with a company for at least one year access to 12 weeks of job-protected leave for health issues, caring for ill family members or maternity/paternity leave.

Financial help for workers in arbitration

SB 1384 expands existing law to allow labor commissioners to offer representation to claimants (workers) who have been compelled into arbitration and are financially unable to represent themselves.


Slavery reparations task force

AB 3121 creates a commission to study potentially paying reparations for slavery, however it does not create any mandate or requirement for such payment to happen. The commission must adjourn its first meeting by June 1, and the members will be appointed by Newsom, the leader of the State Senate and the speaker of the State Assembly. The commission will study the issue and create proposals.

California Racial Justice Act

This act has been bandied about previously, but the facts which have come to light in the past year regarding racial bias in the criminal justice system, have finally brought it to fruition. The act prevents state prosecutors from using “discriminating means” to get a conviction and it also allows suspects to receive a new sentence or trial if they can show racial bias in their case.


Rescue kids in cars without liability

You can now rescue a child trapped alone in a car without being criminally or civilly liable for any damage done. However, there are a few benchmarks you must hit in order to take advantage of AB 2717. You must prove you called 911, took time to determine the vehicle was locked with no way in and that you believed the child inside was in imminent danger.

Removing heavy metals from brakes

In 2010 then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill to phase out heavy metals in brake pads and 2021 is the year the law takes it next step forward. According to the law, by 2021 vehicle manufacturers cannot make brake pads with more than 5% copper.

According to a report in Car and Driver, Chevrolet will not be selling its Camaro SS, 1LE, and ZL1 in California and Washington (which has the same law and timeline) in 2021 as their Brembo brakes do not conform to the new standard. However, the company will be replacing the brakes this year, and have new models available in California in 2022.

According to Car and Driver, “The copper from the brake pads, it was found, turns to dust and finds its way into waterways. Once it’s there, it becomes toxic to many water-dwelling creatures, including fish, plants, and amphibians. The copper is used in the brake pads because it’s able to quickly and effectively dissipate heat and allow for smooth braking.

Ethnic studies at CSU

Despite pushback from the CSU system, starting in 2021 all schools in the California State University (CSU) system will have an ethnic studies graduation requirement. Check out this story from our friends at CalMatters to understand more about the controversy.

Reining in HOAs

An update to the Davis-Sterling Act, which controls bodies such as Homeowners Associations (HOAs), has prevented them from preventing homeowners from renting or leasing out their homes in HOA or other planned developments.

No more retail sales of cats, dogs and rabbits

AB 2152 prohibits pet stores from “adopting out, selling, or offering for sale a dog, cat or rabbit,” but it does allow them to provide space to “a public animal control agency or shelter, or an animal rescue group, to showcase adoptable animals provided the animal displayed for adoption is both sterilized and adoptable for total fees not to exceed $500,” according to the text of the bill.

In addition, it authorizes “civil penalties and injunctive relief for a violation of these provisions, as specified. The bill would also repeal other requirements, including, among others, the requirement for a pet store to maintain sufficient records to document the origin of each dog, cat, or rabbit the pet store sells or provides space for adoption.”

No more flavored tobacco

SB 793 the sale of flavored tobacco products or a tobacco product flavor enhancers. Retailers or individuals found in violation are subject to a fine of $250 for each violation. It does not preempt or prohibit the adoption and implementation of local ordinances that impose greater restrictions on the access to tobacco products than the restrictions imposed by the bill. The intention is to help curb the alarming trend of youth tobacco use, primarily due to vaping and the flavored cartridges.

This article was produced by Sonoma West Times & News, the hometown newspaper of Sebastopol and west county since 1889. See more news at