California briefs | Gov. Newsom picks late senator’s replacement, continues sending mixed messages to labor

the california state capitol building under a blue clear sky

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Gavin Newsom made some major decisions over the weekend with far-reaching implications for both the state and country.

Newsom appoints replacement for late Senator Dianne Feinstein

Newsom has appointed Laphonza Butler, president of Emily’s List, to complete the late Senator Dianne Feinstein’s term in the United States Senate through 2024.

Butler, who is currently a Maryland resident, has been president of Emily’s List, a nonprofit helping women in politics, for about two years, before which she served as the public policy and campaigns director at Airbnb. Butler worked with the Service Employees International Union Local 2015 for about a decade before transitioning to SCRB Strategies, now known as Bearstar Strategies, a political consulting firm, in 2019. She has served in key roles in the political campaigns for Vice President Kamala Harris and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“An advocate for women and girls, a second-generation fighter for working people, and a trusted adviser to Vice President Harris, Laphonza Butler represents the best of California, and she’ll represent us proudly in the United States Senate,” Newsom said in a statement.

Feinstein died on Friday, Sept. 29. In the days that followed, members of the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Progressive Caucus were calling for Newsom to appoint Rep. Barbara Lee (D-District 12), who is currently running for the seat against fellow House members Rep. Katie Porter (D-District 47) and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-District 30).

Assemblymember Ortega’s workplace readiness bill becomes law

California high school students will receive comprehensive education on their workplace rights and protections, thanks to a new law authored by Assemblymember Liz Ortega (D-District 20).

Assembly Bill 800, signed by Newsom on Saturday, Sept. 30, establishes a Workplace Readiness Week in all public high schools. This initiative aims to empower students with knowledge about their workplace rights, regulations for young workers and guidance on union participation. Assemblymember Ortega said in a press release that educating young individuals about their work rights is not only crucial but could potentially save lives.

“I am so proud to announce the passage of this first-of-its-kind law requiring schools to teach our kids about their workplace rights,” Ortega said in a statement. “We are seeing headlines about children abused at workplaces across the country―wage theft, violations of labor law, and even serious life-changing injuries. As Republicans in other states are working hard to put our children in harm’s way, California is giving kids the tools to stand up for themselves.”

Tenants across the state now have more protection against landlords

On Saturday, Sept. 30, Gov. Newsom signed Senate Bill 567, which brings significant changes to tenant protections and rental property regulations. Effective April 1, 2024, the bill establishes stricter requirements for landlords seeking to terminate a rental agreement where the tenant has done nothing wrong.

Under the new law, if a landlord or their family members intend to occupy the property, it must be their primary residence for a minimum of 12 continuous months. Where the owner withdraws the property from the rental market, all rental units at the property must be taken off the market. If an owner displaces a tenant because of substantial remodeling or demolition, they must provide written notice to the tenant outlining details of the intended changes, expected duration of repairs, or demolition date and copies of required permits.

If property owners try to end a rental agreement in a way that breaks these rules, they might have to pay tenants up to three times the amount decided by a civil court as compensation for the harm caused. Similarly, if owners demand rent payments in excess of what the state allows ― no more than 5% plus the percentage change in the cost of living, or 10%, whichever is lower, within any 12-month period ―they may face legal action, potentially resulting in the landlord having to pay back up to three times the amount paid by the tenant.

Key labor bills get the axe

On Saturday, Sept. 30, the governor vetoed Senate Bill 799, which would have extended unemployment insurance benefits to striking workers, citing financial reasons, and SB 686, which would have extended health and safety protections to domestic workers, citing enforcement-related reasons.

In his veto letter, Newsom explained that if SB 686 became law, people who employ domestic workers in their homes would have had to follow all the same health and safety rules as big businesses, such as having an injury prevention plan in place and an eyewash station if a worker is going to use bleach, by Jan. 1, 2025. In terms of granting unemployment to striking workers, Newsom wrote that the state’s unemployment financing structure, which hasn’t been updated since 1984, is set up in such a way that if benefits were expanded to more workers, the state could end up owing the federal unemployment insurance program around $20 billion by the end of the year.

“I have deep appreciation and respect for workers who fight for their rights and come together in collective action,” Newsom wrote. “I look forward to building on the progress we have made over the past five years to improve conditions for all workers in California.”

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