The 2019-20 legislative session came to an unceremonious end on August 31. Between the difficulties of holding legislative meetings with COVID-19 restrictions and political infighting, the end of the session devolved into bickering between the parties and between the leaders of the Senate and Assembly. The end result was a failure to act on some pretty important issues. Affordable housing bills and legislation on police reform all died because the politicos couldn’t be civil with each other. Regardless, some very important measures managed to eek by in the final hours of the session.
Probably the biggest COVID-19 response bill this year is AB 685 (Reyes). It mandates a very specific regimen of reporting on the diagnosis of the disease. It requires employers to notify employees, the union, the department of public health, and CalOSHA if a worker tests positive. It also gives CalOSHA new citation and fine authority and allows the agency to more easily shut a worksite down.
If workers get sick, they may be able to take advantage of SB 1159 (Hill), which creates a presumption and rules around workers’ comp claims for COVID-19. Law enforcement, firefighters, and healthcare workers will get a presumption that they got sick on the job if they get diagnosed and all other workers get the presumption if there is an outbreak in the workplace. An outbreak is defined as four workers in worksites of under 100 employees and four percent of workers in worksites with more than 100 employees. This took much of the session to negotiate and will provide much-needed benefits to sick workers and their families.
Other important bills that went to the Governor’s desk include:
SB 275 (Pan), which would establish a PPE stockpile for healthcare and other essential workers.
AB 3216 (Kalra), which would grant recall and retention rights to industries particularly hard hit by the pandemic.
AB 1687 (Assembly Budget Committee), would codify and extend the 80 extra hours of sick leave for food service workers that the Governor’s Executive Order granted in the early days of the pandemic. The bill would also extend this sick leave to other essential workers.
AB 2017 (Mullin), a Teamster co-sponsored bill, clarifies that it is the employee that chooses whether sick leave taken is personal sick time or “kin care” to take care of a sick relative.
While many important policy changes fell to our current circumstances, many important bills passed, like the ones mentioned above; they are crafted to protect workers and their interests and will hopefully be signed by the Governor. Whatever the outcome, we will be back next year pushing for more.