Beyond Bruin Walk: Exploring the potential impacts of six new California laws
(Emily Dembinski/Illustrations director)
2021 is in full swing, and with the new year comes 372 new laws for Californians.
Below are six bills that cover issues ranging from policing to ethnic studies – and what to keep in mind for each.
Reparations task force
2020 stripped away a feeble facade of social progress to reveal just how pervasive racial violence is. California responded to a national call for change with Assembly Bill 3121. A radical step forward in the fight for reparations, AB 3121 establishes a nine-member task force of legislators, academics and civil leaders to analyze slavery and its legacy in the U.S. On the surface, this sounds like another bureaucratic move to mollify activists; however, it has the potential to make waves if executed correctly. Chief among the task force’s responsibilities is to compile a list of recommendations on how California can provide reparations to Black Americans – an important task for what may be a multitrillion dollar policy that only one in five Americans support. Though critics claim reparations are shortsighted, AB 3121 addresses that issue. The task force must investigate how existing policies oppress Black Americans and suggest tangible ways California can tackle these injustices. To be fair, this isn’t the be-all and end-all to racial injustice. But with an eye on the past and another on the future, the reparations task force gives legislators the opportunity to find ways they can meaningfully address systemic racism. Now, they just have to heed its recommendations.
Military-style police uniforms
For those who took part in protests last year or watched the countless videos that circulated on social media, crowds facing off against law enforcement clad in military-style uniforms was a distressingly common sight. The purpose of this uniform is bald-faced intimidation, and it impeded protesters’ ability to hold law enforcement accountable by making it difficult to identify officers’ affiliation. Senate Bill 480 fixes this issue by making it illegal for law enforcement to wear a uniform that closely resembles that of the military or state militia, marking a crucial first step toward preventing atrocious intimidation tactics. It will also hopefully increase the ability of protesters to hold officers accountable for their actions.
911 call hate crime
A national movement on racial equality has laid bare systems of toxicity. Notable among these cultural shortcomings is the traditional lack of accountability for white Americans who make discriminatory 911 phone calls on people of color for engaging in harmless everyday activities. However, a new California law imposes fines and even jail time for those who make these discriminatory calls, an important step toward addressing the blatant prejudice motivating these baseless emergency calls. This law is necessary for addressing the systemic racism present in our society, and makes strides toward removing the undue threat that follows people of color while they engage in their everyday lives.
Private insurance companies’ coverage of mental health
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a serious challenge to the nation’s mental health, with as much as 40% of U.S. adults reporting mental health challenges or substance use since the start of the pandemic. A new bundle of policies, signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom in September, provides more help to Californians in this dire time by requiring private insurers to cover all mental health conditions and substance use disorders. The former law, in contrast, only required insurers to cover certain conditions that were listed in outdated mental health diagnostic handbooks. To be sure, the law is important in providing Californians with the help they need and deserve, but California needs to engage in the proper monitoring activities to ensure that mental health coverage is being fulfilled under new state law.
Firefighting and people who were formerly incarcerated
Firefighting is a difficult profession to join for people with a criminal record, even for those who battled wildfires when they were in prison. Assembly Bill 2147 hopes to change that. Signed into law by Newsom in September, AB 2147 allows formerly incarcerated individuals who fought fires as part of the state’s Conservation Camp Program to ask the courts to dismiss their conviction or accusations lodged against them. This would allow them to become certified as emergency medical technicians, a hiring requirement for most county-operated firefighting departments that existing law makes difficult for those with a criminal record. The effects of this bill are large – before the pandemic, more than 3,000 inmates participated in the program for between $2.90 and $5.12 a day. Life after imprisonment is challenging and there’s no reason why those who dedicated hours to protect their communities shouldn’t be rewarded.
California claims it’s a stalwart of progressivism. It’s good to see legislators act on those promises. This momentum should be used to reform a criminal justice system that remains deeply unfair.
California State University ethnic studies requirement
California State University students graduating in and beyond the 2024-2025 school year will now have to take an ethnic studies class. Assembly Bill 1460 requires students at CSU campuses to enroll in at least one three-unit class on Native American, Asian American, African American or Latino/a American studies before they graduate. While this is certainly a monumental step toward providing comprehensive education to California’s students, it’s not the most effective. As some CSU faculty brought up in an interview with The Bruin, historically marginalized groups such as Jewish, Armenian and LGBTQ+ communities are missing from the bill’s text. His intentions are good, but if Newsom really wants to educate the state’s students, he should make ethnic studies a requirement for high schoolers as well.