Domestic partners, unemployed among beneficiaries of new laws

By STEVE LAWRENCE Associated Press Writer
Wednesday January 02, 2002

SACRAMENTO (AP) — Domestic partners, the unemployed, nursing mothers, janitors, hat-loving students — even sheepherders — will have something extra to celebrate on New Year’s Day. 

They are among the beneficiaries of hundreds of new California laws that take effect Jan. 1. 

Gov. Gray Davis signed 948 bills in 2001 and the overwhelming majority of them become law with the arrival of the new year. 

There will be new laws to discourage gender price discrimination, protect spouses who sign prenuptial agreements, clean up polluted urban sites and provide telephone service to thousands of isolated Californians. 

There will also be statutes raising unemployment benefits, tying construction of large housing developments to the availability of water and allowing betting on horse races by telephone or Internet. 

Another new law will allow consumers to avoid most calls from telemarketers by getting on a do-not-call list the attorney general must have available by Jan. 1, 2003. 

Domestic partners will get more of the rights of married couples in the new year, including the ability to make health care decisions for an incapacitated partner, adopt a partner’s child and use sick leave to care for an ill partner. 

Domestic partners are same-sex couples or unmarried heterosexual couples who, at least in the case of one partner, are over age 62. 

Spouses who are pressured to sign prenuptial agreements will benefit from another new law. It will bar a court from upholding a premarital agreement unless the affected party was represented by an attorney or had waived that representation in writing. 

The law will also give a prospective spouse at least seven days to consider signing the agreement and will require that the rights the spouse is giving up must be spelled out in writing. 

California’s unemployment benefits, now lower than those offered by 45 other states, will begin a series of increases Jan. 1, with maximum payments reaching $450 a week in 2005. They’re now $230. 

Developers planning to build 500 or more homes will first have to show there is enough water available to supply the project. Another law will limit their ability to use 19th century plot maps to skirt current zoning restrictions. 

Other new laws will: 

— Require employers to make a reasonable effort to provide a time and adequate place for employees who are nursing to pump breast milk. 

— Allow janitors who work for companies with 25 or more employees to keep their jobs for at least 60 days when their employers lose janitorial contracts. 

— Allow students to wear sun-protective clothing, including hats, although school officials can ban gang garb. 

— Require minimum wage increases for sheepherders and make other improvements in their working conditions, including requiring meal and rest breaks whenever feasible. 

— Require tailors, hair salons and dry cleaners to post their prices, a step supporters say will discourage them from charging higher prices to women for virtually the same services they provide men. 

— Permit local governments to order landowners to clean up polluted parcels known as brown fields. 

— Create an annual $10 million grant program to provide telephone service to isolated, low-income communities. 

— Exempt undocumented immigrants who meet long-term California residency requirements from paying the higher fees charged out-of-state students at community colleges and the California State University. 

— Make it a misdemeanor to sell candy-flavored cigarettes known as bidis in businesses that allow access to minors. 

— Put restrictions on high-interest “predatory lending,” including requiring lenders to determine if a borrower has the ability to pay. 

— Create a presumption that state and local-government lifeguards who develop skin cancer are eligible for workers compensation benefits. 

— Require, with some exceptions, that all firearms made or sold in California come with a state-approved trigger lock to try to reduce the number of accidental shootings. Davis signed this bill in 1999 but it doesn’t take effect until 2002. 

— Allow fines of up to $100 for leaving a child under the age of six unattended in a motor vehicle. 

— Make it a crime to threaten people using or working in a clinic offering abortions. 

— Bar employers from requiring workers to speak only English unless an English-only policy is justified by a business necessity. 

— Prohibit employers from discriminating against employees and job applicants because of their lawful conduct outside the workplace. 

— Allow pharmacists to sell morning-after contraceptives without a doctor’s prescription. 

— Require local government housing plans to include facilities for the disabled. 

— Bar “political cyberfraud,” which includes intentionally diverting access to a political Web site by using a similar domain name. 

— Prohibit both cable and satellite television companies from selling information about a customer’s viewing habits unless the customer approves. 

— Require the state Department of Education to develop model policies that schools can use to combat schoolyard bullying. 

— Set up a state organ- and tissue-donor registry to keep track of people willing to donate organs when they die. 

— Prohibit insurers from canceling polices of churches, schools or nonprofit organizations that file claims to cover damages caused by hate crimes. 


On the Web: www.sen.ca.gov/sor