Calif. governor signs far-reaching laws on net neutrality, criminal justice, and environment
Gov. Jerry Brown reviews a measure with his wife, Anne Gust Brown, second from left, as staff members Camille Wagner, left, and Graciela Castillo-Krings, right, look on at his Capitol office, Sunday, Sept. 30, in Sacramento. Sunday was the last day for Brown to approve or veto bills passed by the legislature. | Rich Pedroncelli / AP

OAKLAND—By Sept. 30—the deadline to decide the fate of bills California’s legislature passed this year—Gov. Jerry Brown—who is nearing the end of his final term as governor—had signed over 1,000 bills into law, including groundbreaking legislation on net neutrality, criminal justice issues, and environmental protection.

One that drew instant national attention—including an immediate lawsuit by the Trump administration—was Senate Bill 822, by state Sen. Scott Weiner, D-San Francisco, and Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles.

Noting that the internet “is at the heart of 21st century life” including the economy, public safety, and health systems, Weiner called the measure “the strongest net neutrality standards in the nation.”

SB 822 aims to reinstate for California the Obama-era internet protections the Federal Communications Commission has scuttled since Trump took office. Among its provisions: internet providers must provide equal access to all websites and can’t block or slow some web sites or speed up others in return for payments.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions slapped back within hours of Brown’s signing, calling the measure “an extreme and illegal state law attempting to frustrate federal policy,” and declaring that under the Constitution the federal government—not the states—regulates interstate commerce. The federal government is now suing the state to block the measure.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra responded on Twitter that the state “will not allow a handful of power brokers to dictate sources for information or the speed at which web sites load.”

Becerra told the Sacramento Bee in an interview, “all of us should have unrestricted access to information and we should not have that information throttled, one way or the other, simply because there are a few robber barons who get to control the flow of that information.”

Among measures affecting the criminal justice system is SB 1421, introduced by Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, which would open to the public investigations of officer shootings and other major uses of force, confirmed cases of sexual assault or making false statements while on duty.

The American Civil Liberties Union was one of several organizations sponsoring the bill. The ACLU said that despite California’s reputation as a beacon of progressive values, in recent decades it has been “actually one of the most secretive states” concerning police use of force and serious and confirmed misconduct by police.

A related measure, Assembly Bill 748, introduced by Assemblymember Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, will require police departments to release video and audio recordings of serious use of force by officers within 45 days unless their release would harm an ongoing investigation. California’s rules will now be some of the most transparent in the country.

The ACLU’s director of police practices, Peter Bibring, said in a statement, “There is no doubt these two bills will significantly transform policing in California and help address the current crisis in policing which has led to the deaths of far too many people—largely in black and brown communities.”

SB 1437, also introduced by Sen. Skinner, states that only someone who helped commit or plan a murder can be charged with murder. Instead, individuals must be charged appropriately for the crime they actually commit. Under previous California law, even someone who was unaware a killing did or could take place could be charged with murder and sentenced as severely as the person who actually committed the murder.

Because the law is retroactive, some 800 people incarcerated for felony murder will now be able to request a resentencing hearing.

After the signing, Skinner said previous law had “irrationally treated people who did not commit murder the same as those who did. SB 1437 makes clear there is a distinction, reserving the harshest punishment to those who directly participate in the death.”

Among other states with similar laws: Arkansas, Kentucky, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Michigan.

Two years ago, California voters approved a ballot measure legalizing adult recreational use of marijuana. With the  passage and signing of AB 1793, introduced by Assemblymember Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, hundreds of thousands of Californians with past convictions for marijuana crimes can now petition to have felonies reduced to misdemeanors, and to have misdemeanors removed altogether. The state Department of Justice must also work to identify all Californians who could benefit from the law and inform local district attorneys who handled those cases.

Three other bills—SB 1100, AB 1968, and AB 3129—would ban sale of guns of any type to those under 21, bar gun ownership for five years by people who have been placed on an involuntary psychiatric hold for risk of hurting themselves or others, and ban guns for people cited for specific domestic violence misdemeanors.

Under SB 1152, introduced by Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, hospitals can no longer “dump” homeless patients they discharge into unsafe conditions, but instead, must now make sure they are discharged into a safe and appropriate situation. The bill comes after several media stories were published about patients who suffered devastating consequences after they were discharged into unsafe conditions.

Organizations sponsoring the measure included the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network. CPEHN’s state policy director, Kimberly Chen, called the measure “a clear, thoughtful step toward making sure all homeless patients are discharged with dignity, have the opportunity to heal, and are connected with support and services.”

On the environmental front, just before hosting the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco last month, the governor signed a ground-breaking bill, SB 100, that requires all retail electricity in the state to be carbon-free by 2045.

“California is committed to doing whatever is necessary to meet the existential threat of climate change,” Brown said at the signing, adding that reaching that goal will neither be easy nor immediate, “but it must be done.” And de León, the bill’s author, declared, “Regardless of who occupies the White House, California will always lead on climate change.”

As he signed the bill, Brown issued an executive order directing the state to achieve carbon neutrality—removing as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as is put in—also by 2045, and to achieve negative emissions after that.


Marilyn Bechtel
Marilyn Bechtel

Marilyn Bechtel writes from the San Francisco Bay Area. She joined the PW staff in 1986 and currently participates as a volunteer. Marilyn Bechtel escribe desde el Área de la Bahía de San Francisco. Se unió al personal de PW en 1986 y actualmente participa como voluntaria.