Courtesy Dan Moran,, January 1, 2019

Happy New Year, California.

One thousand sixteen aspects of California life evidently needed fixing in 2018. That’s the number of bills Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law last year. Most take effect today. Many are narrow, affecting interests that pushed for them. Some are sweeping, such as those that dealt with wildfire and climate change. A few directly affect you, though, and we’ve made them the focus of the first New Laws edition of WhatMatters.

Eat, drink

  • Restaurants will provide drinking straws only at customers’ request.
  • Kids’ meals must include water or unflavored milk as the default, though they’ll sell you a sugary drink on request.
  • Sidewalk food vendors have new statewide protections but must follow local rules.
  • Selling homemade food is legal with a permit, with certain exceptions. For example, no raw oyster sales.
  • You can buy up to 2.25 liters of booze from craft distilleries, and the definition of what qualifies as a craft distillery will expand.

Equality, in various forms

  • Publicly traded corporations based in California must have at least one woman on their boards of directors by the end of 2019; expect a lawsuit over this law.
  • Employers cannot require employees to sign liability releases to keep their jobs. Secret settlements in sexual harassment, discrimination and assault cases are prohibited.
  • Employers with five or more employees must provide two hours of sexual harassment training to supervisors.
  • Employers must provide a separate room that is not a bathroom for lactating mothers to pump or breastfeed. It can be temporary, but it must be private, enclosed and shaded, especially on agricultural work sites.
  • Motorists can list their gender as nonbinary on their driver’s licenses.

Low-wage workers

  • California’s minimum wage rises by $1 to $12 for companies with 26 or more employees and 50 cents to $11 for smaller businesses, thanks to an earlier law. In time, the wage will hit $15.
  • Farm workers will receive overtime pay, if they put in more than 9 1/2 hours in a day or 55 hours in a week at larger operations, under a 2016 law. By 2022, they’ll get OT for working more than eight hours in a day or 40 hours in a week.

Getting from here to there

  • People convicted of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol will need to use ignition interlock devices to prevent them from starting their vehicles if they have imbibed.
  • Helmets won’t be required for adults over 18 riding motorized scooters.
  • Kids cited for riding bikes or skateboards without a helmet can avoid fines of up to $200 by presenting proof that they have a helmet.
  • You can be exempt from smog checks on cars up to eight years old, up from six years, though you’ll have to pay an annual $25 smog abatement fee.
  • Judges can no longer suspend licenses of young drivers just because they are habitual truants.
  • Driver’s license tests will include questions about how to safely transport loose items in pickup trucks.
  • Low-emission vehicles with white or green decals no longer have access to high-occupancy vehicle lanes, though they can apply for red decals.
  • New garage doors installed as of this summer must have a backup battery that can lift the door in the event of a power outage.
  • Surfing is California’s official sport.


  • College students receiving state financial aid must now be notified that their grants will only last for four years, and in order to graduate in that time, they need to take 15 units per semester.
  • Developers will get preferences if they build off-campus apartments and set aside one-fifth of the beds for low-income students. Students can use their financial aid documents to qualify for the below-market units.
  • California’s public schools are prohibited from physically restraining or secluding a student as a form of punishment, except as last resort for safety.
  • Schools must work with first responders to develop a comprehensive school safety plan and train teachers and staff in active shooter threats and other disasters and emergencies.


  • People convicted of certain domestic violence misdemeanors can no longer possess firearms.
  • You must be 21 to buy a rifle or shotgun unless you’re in law enforcement, the military or have a hunting license, in which case the age limit is 18.
  • You must undergo eight hours of training in order to have a permit to carry a concealed firearm.

Law and order

  • An accomplice to a killing cannot be charged with felony murder, except in certain circumstances.
  • California has a minimum age12 years old—at which most children can be tried in court for a crime. Children under 16 will no longer be tried in adult courts.
  • State officials can’t refuse a professional license to someone who has a low-level or nonviolent criminal record.
  • The state must help Californians clear marijuana-related convictions from their criminal records.
  • It’s now illegal to use a “bot” to seek to influence voting or trick people into thinking a real person is peddling a product.


  • New rules will dictate how divorcing couples determine who gets the family pet.
  • First responders who encounter distressed dogs or cats can provide emergency medical assistance without fear of liability.
  • Pet stores selling dogs, cats or rabbits will have to get them from rescue shelters, not breeders, or face penalties up to $500.
  • Hamsters, potbellied pigs, lizards, snakes and turtles, will have to be kept at shelters for the same period of time and given the same care as cats and dogs.
  • Pet ferrets remain illegal, though that’s because of longstanding regulation.
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