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November 25, 2020
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New year, new laws, legislation authored by Assembly member Marc Berman to take effect on January 1, 2020

December 20, 2019

Assembly member Marc Berman (D-Menlo Park) authored 16 bills this year that were signed into law. The legislation addresses a variety of issues, including gun violence prevention, deep fakes, sexual assault survivors, elections, poverty, the environment, education, transportation, consumer protection and business.

Gun violence prevention

Assembly Bill 521 tasks the UC Davis Firearm Violence Research Center (Center) with establishing first in-the-nation gun violence prevention education and training programs for medical and mental health providers. In addition to authoring the measure, Assembly member Berman secured a one-time $3.85 million appropriation in the state budget for the Center to research, develop, disseminate, and evaluate the programs. Through the course of regular patient care, physicians have opportunities to assess patients for risk, provide evidence-based counseling, and intervene when necessary. Regrettably, many medical professionals cite lack of knowledge regarding when and how to discuss firearms with their patients as a principal barrier to action. This new initiative follows the emergence of the #ThisIsOurLane movement in 2018, in which doctors shared their experiences treating victims of gun violence on Twitter in response to a tweet from the NRA telling them to stay in their lane.

Deep fakes

Assembly Bill 602 requires consent to be obtained prior to depicting a person in digitally produced sexually explicit material (i.e. a deep fake), allows that consent to be rescinded within three business days unless certain conditions are met, and creates civil remedies. An exposé in The Washington Post explained how deep fake technology is disproportionally being used to harass and humiliate women by scraping photos of women from the internet and manipulating them into nonconsensual porn. Filmmakers can also abuse the technology during post-production of mainstream content by depicting an actor in the nude or engaging in sexual activity.

Assembly Bill 730 prohibits a person, committee, or other entity, within 60 days of an election, from distributing, with actual malice, materially deceptive audio or visual media (i.e. a deep fake) of a candidate with the intent to injure the candidate’s reputation or deceive a voter into voting for or against the candidate. Deep fakes are a powerful and dangerous new technology with the potential to sow misinformation and discord among an already hyper-partisan electorate. Earlier this year, a manipulated video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi demonstrated that even videos modified using rudimentary editing tools can be harmful. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace notes that deep fakes have the potential to incite violence, alter election outcomes, and undermine diplomacy.

Sexual assault survivors

Assembly Bill 538 improves the availability, efficiency, and quality of medical evidentiary examinations (“rape kits”) for sexual assault survivors. After enduring a sexual assault, timely access to trauma-informed and evidence-based care is necessary to prevent adverse health outcomes and for the proper collection of evidence. Unfortunately, California has a shortage of trained forensic examiners, with only 49 exam teams serving all 58 counties. 

Elections

Assembly Bill 504 streamlines and clarifies the process for keeping the state’s voter registration database up to date. It also allows voters to keep their voter registration active by logging in to the Secretary of State’s “My Voter Status” website. This provision does not take effect until the Secretary of State updates the VoteCal database so that county elections officials are notified when a voter confirms their address on the “My Voter Status” site. 

Assembly Bill 566 requires elections officials to regularly update the Secretary of State on the remaining number of unprocessed ballots during an official canvass period. As Californians continue to embrace voting-by-mail and transition to vote center voting, the number of ballots that need processing during the official canvass period will continue to grow. Current law does not require counties to provide regular updates to the Secretary of State on the number of ballots still to be processed following an election.

Assembly Bill 623 enhances the voting experience by providing elections administrators more flexibility to design ballot layouts that are user friendly and compatible with new voting systems. Specifically, the new law requires the Secretary of State to establish a ballot design committee and work with county elections officials and ballot design experts to make recommendations for better ballot design and format. The law was inspired by a constituent from the 24th Assembly District who, when discussing an upcoming election with Assembly member Berman, was under the impression he could only vote for one city council candidate, not the three votes that were permitted.

Assembly Bill 693 allows Californians who register to vote on Election Day to cast a regular (non-provisional) ballot if the county elections official uses VoteCal to confirm the voter’s eligibility, verify that the voter has not already voted in that election, and confirm that the voter is not included on another county’s roster. The county elections official is also required to update the VoteCal record to indicate that the voter has voted in the county. VoteCal, which was established in 2016, allows a county elections official to access and update the statewide voter registration database in real time. By allowing county elections officials to offer non-provisional ballots to eligible voters that meet the above requirements, the new law will improve voter confidence and reduce wait times to vote.

Assembly Bill 1707 allows voters to use a cell phone or tablet at a polling place, provided that the use of the device does not violate other provisions of existing law such as photographing or recording a voter entering or exiting a polling place with the intent of dissuading another person from voting. Doing so will allow for voters to access the state voter information guide online or retrieve information or notes about how they planned to vote. In addition, many counties are taking steps to modernize the voting experience. For example, Los Angeles County is rolling out Voting Solutions for All People (VSAP). One of the innovations to be incorporated within VSAP is the ability for voters to load sample ballots from their cell phones or tablets onto the new voting terminals. 

Poverty

Assembly Bill 494 maximizes food benefits for low-income families by simplifying how they verify their housing costs. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), known as CalFresh in California, provides monthly food benefits for qualified, low-income households to purchase food. CalFresh serves over four million Californians and plays a crucial role in reducing the short and long-term impacts of poverty.

Environment

Assembly Bill 782 allows a public agency to fund and acquire property to preserve open space, habitat, or historical resources without first going through a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review. The new law builds upon existing CEQA guidelines, in which transfers of land ownership to preserve existing natural conditions and historical resources are exempt. In doing so, the law removes barriers such as cost, time, and legal challenges that could prevent the acquisition from ever occurring.

Education

Assembly Bill 988 helps address the special education teacher shortage by streamlining the credentialing process for out-of-state teachers to teach in California. Specifically, the new law allows out-of-state special education teachers to use two years of teaching experience in California, earned while holding a Preliminary credential, to demonstrate the teaching experience requirement needed to obtain a Clear (full) credential. The teaching experience requirement has been a barrier that discourages trained and qualified out-of-state special education teachers from teaching in California, exacerbating the already alarming teacher shortage.

Transportation

Assembly Bill 1671 allows for the California Department of Transportation to continue on-road testing of Driver Assisted Truck Platooning (DATP) technologies by extending the current sunset to January 1, 2024. DATP allows trucks to safely follow each other with less than 100 feet of following distance by syncing acceleration and braking, which is known as platooning. DATP technologies can enhance safety, improve traffic flow stability, reduce congestion, and lower fuel consumption considerably. The new law continues California’s tradition of leading in innovative technologies that focus on driver safety and reducing emissions.

Consumer protection/business

Assembly Bill 1065 indefinitely extends the ability of insurers to offer consumers the option of electronic transactions for their insurance needs, which provides enhanced consumer choice, faster delivery, a paperless environmentally friendly option, and portability. In the aftermath of a disaster, the ability for consumers and insurers to conduct transactions electronically can accelerate the recovery process. 

Assembly Bill 1146 ensures that nothing in California’s landmark consumer privacy law – the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 – would prevent the sharing of vehicle information for the purpose of enabling repairs covered by a warranty or a manufacturer’s recall. This clarification will ensure that consumers receive important and timely vehicle safety information and retain the ability to have their vehicle repaired.

Assembly Bill 1564 requires a business that operates exclusively online and has a direct relationship with a consumer whom it collects personal information from to provide an email address for consumers to exercise their rights under the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 (CCPA). The new law strikes a balance between the need for greater flexibility for exclusively online businesses and protecting hard-earned privacy protections for consumers. Providing an email address is consistent with how consumers engage with businesses online and enables these businesses to work within best practices to verify and respond to CCPA requests. Given the potential legal liability for improper disclosures of personal information, documentation of a consumer’s request, the verification process, and the information provided in response is critically important.