2014: The headlines

 

Here is a flashback of 2014 using terms that many Americans probably never heard prior to 2014: Ebola, ISIS, Boko Haram — or couldn’t point to on a map: Gaza, Israel, Syria, Ukraine, Java Sea, North Korea, Sochi, Malaysia.

The year 2014 saw the XXII Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, and the FIFA World Cup soccer match won by Germany. Malaysian Airlines passenger flight MH370 disappeared in March and no trace of the plane or its 12 crew members or 227 passengers has yet to be found.

Malaysian flight MH17 was shot down by a Ukrainian missile. Ferguson, Mo., was a town most had never heard of before 2014 when in August a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed black teenager. The shooting prompted protests, then when a grand jury decided not to indict the police officer, there was civil unrest in metropolitan areas across the country and a social media campaign: #BlackLivesMatter.

Celebrity deaths included Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Williams, and Joan Rivers. The Ice Bucket Challenge went viral on social media, raising awareness and research funds for ALS  (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis).

Immigration and, in particular, child immigration made headlines. The GM recalls placed a spotlight on vehicle safety and the responsibilities of auto manufacturers.

There were huge retail data breaches (Target, Home Depot, Marriott hotels). And the U.S. Secret Service has lots of explaining to do.

During the lackluster midterm elections, where the lowest percentage of voters possibly ever took the time to cast a ballot, Republicans gained control of the Senate. Stocks soared while the income gap continued to widen.

Oscar Pistorius had his day in court. And the U.S. and Cuba have patched up some of their differences.

* * *

The times they are a-changing. Thirty-six states and Washington, D.C., currently allow same-sex marriage. Pot is legal in four states. Maine and Connecticut’s legislatures passed GMO labeling bills, and similar legislation has been introduced in about 30 states

And on New Year’s Day, 2.4 million workers in 20 states received a pay raise as the minimum wage increased by up to $1 to an average of $8 per hour and a high of $9.15. More states will bump pay later this year. California is not included in this current tally. Currently, this state’s minimum wage is $9 per hour (effective July 1, 2014) and will increase to $10 per hour on January 1, 2016, however, San Francisco raised its minimum wage on January 1 to $11.05.

While all this was happening around the world and the nation, California Governor Jerry Brown was busy signing 930 bills into law and vetoing 143 others. Find out what affects you in this lengthy list:

 

Improved conditions for chickens— Proposition 2, passed overwhelmingly (63%) by California voters in 2008, sets minimum confinement conditions for farm animals. AB 1437, signed by Gov. Schwarzenegger in 2010, extends the measure so that all shelled eggs sold in the state must be produced by chickens who live in considerably more spacious conditions than is the industry standard. Earlier this year, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the law, brought by officials in six Midwestern and Southern states with a substantial egg industry who will no longer be able to import their product to California unless they, too, improve conditions for their chickens.

To help voters remember what they approved six years ago, here is the California Secretary of State’s summary of Proposition 2 from the Official Voter Information Guide:

—Requires that calves raised for veal, egg-laying hens, and pregnant pigs be confined only in ways that allow these animals to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs and turn around freely.

—Exceptions made for transportation, rodeos, fairs, 4-H programs, lawful slaughter, research and veterinary purposes.

—Provides misdemeanor penalties, including a fine not to exceed $1,000 and/or imprisonment in jail for up to 180 days.

 

Driver’s licenses for immigrants— Currently, the lines are out the door and around the block at most California DMV offices because, as of January 1, undocumented immigrants in California who do not have proper immigration documentation will be eligible to apply for driver’s licenses. The Department of Motor Vehicles expects 1.4 million immigrants to apply in the first few years, and law enforcement, community groups, and others are preparing for the surge.

 

Plastic bag ban— In July, California will become the first state in the nation to institute a plastic bag ban — or not. This law phases out use of single-use plastic bags at large grocery stores and supermarkets (such as Wal-Mart and Target) and, in 2016, at convenience stores and pharmacies. The law does not apply to bags used for fruits, vegetables or meats, or to shopping bags used at other retailers. It allows grocers to charge a fee of at least 10 cents for using paper bags.

In the meantime, however, the plastic bag industry quickly invested $3 million to gather signatures for a referendum asking voters to overturn the law. The industry has enough signatures to make that happen, so the measure will most likely appear on the November 2016 presidential election ballot. If the signatures are deemed valid, the new law will be put on hold, buying some time for the plastic bag industry as they will be able to keep selling their product for at least another 16 months.

 

State amphibian— The California red-legged frog (Rana draytonii), recognized by the federal government as a “threatened” species, becomes the official state amphibian.

 

Mandatory paid sick days— Taking effect July 1 and expected to impact more than 6.5 million employees, meaning about 40 percent of the workforce, employers must pay sick leave to any employee who works for at least 30 days within one year. It applies to full-time, part-time, temporary, migrant, and seasonal employees. Small businesses are not exempt. Employees accrue paid sick leave at one hour for every 30 hours of work. California is only the second state in the nation, after Connecticut, to require this benefit.

 

Community colleges— Fifteen community college districts across the state may now offer four-year degrees. This law’s goal is to boost job training and increase affordability and access to higher education.

 

Yes means yes— Colleges and universities must adopt a standard of clear consent for students engaging in sexual activity. “Affirmative consent” is required by both participants.

 

Smartphone kill switches— Designed as a deterrent against the rapidly expanding crime of cellphone theft, the law requires any smartphone manufactured and sold in California after July 1, 2015, to include a “technological solution” that would allow the owner to render the phone inoperable when not in his or her possession.

 

Fire fee break— Property owners in fire-prone areas receive a few breaks on paying the state’s annual $150 fire-prevention fee. It eliminates a requirement that the fee will increase each year based on inflation and lowers the 20 percent late payment penalty to 10 percent.

 

Abusive teachers— Makes it easier for school districts to fire teachers who sexually abuse students. The law was introduced as a result of an L.A,-area school board having a difficult time firing a teacher accused of sexual abuse because of the board’s dismissal policy. Among provisions that expedite the appeals process, the law allows testimony and evidence older than four years in cases of allege
d sexual offenses.

 

Student punishment eased— This law blocks school districts from suspending or expelling most students for “disrupting school activities or otherwise willfully defying the valid authority” of school personnel. The bill, which also specifies behaviors for which students can be expelled or suspended, sunsets in 2018.

 

Mandatory EpiPens— Schools are now required to stock epinephrine auto-injectors, or EpiPens, to be used by school nurses and trained volunteers on students suffering from an anaphylactic reaction (due to bee stings, peanuts, or other allergens).

 

Contact-sport restrictions for students— With the intent to reduce concussions and other brain injuries, AB 2127 limits middle school and high school students to 90 minutes of full-contact football drills twice per week. The law also bans full-contact practice during the off-season and requires the California Interscholastic Federation to create a protocol for an athlete who suffers a concussion.

 

“Revenge porn” protections— Extends the penalty for publicly distributing intimate photos of another person to include all images, not just those taken by someone else. More specifically, this means that selfies now count. The law targets anyone who distributes images of individuals who think those images will remain private, or when the distributor “knows or should know” that distribution will cause serious emotional distress.

Fracking— Oil and gas companies must report the amount of water used in drilling operations that involve hydraulic fracturing, or fracking — a procedure in which water mixed with sand and chemicals is injected into rock.

 

Immigration-related retaliation— Protections have been expanded for immigrant workers against employers who threaten to file a false report with state and federal agencies in retaliation for workers exercising a California labor right, such as making a complaint about unpaid wages, poor working conditions, or abuse on the job. For instance, slaughterhouse workers are a largely immigrant population and are about the lowest caste of workers in the U.S., but they have the highest rate of work-related injuries. These workers are reluctant to report unsafe working conditions, excessive animal cruelty, or other abuses because employers use the threat of deportation or termination to silence them.

Cocaine penalty reduction— Penalties have been reduced for people convicted of selling or possessing to sell crack cocaine, so that they are now the same as those for people convicted of crimes related to powdered cocaine.

Alcohol-tasting events— There are some new restrictions on who can provide instructional tasting events of wine or distilled spirits at on-sale retail premises and places. The law also allows students taking winemaking and brewery classes to taste their work.

 

Campaign finance disclosure enforcement— The California Fair Political Practices Commission has been granted the power to conduct discretionary campaign audits during elections rather than having to wait until after. The FPPC will also be able to go to court to compel campaign finance disclosures and, pre-election, the FPPC’s civil actions will be heard faster to ensure disclosures happen before Election Day.

 

Fines for assisted living homes— This law increases a hundredfold the top fine for violations of state regulations by assisted living facilities for the elderly: The fine is jumping from a mere $150 to $15,000. The law takes effect July 1 and was part of a package of bills signed by the governor that tighten state oversight of the 7,500 assisted living homes in California. It’s the most significant overhaul of the industry in almost 30 years.

 

Hospital fair pricing— Low-income Californians (less than 350 percent of poverty) will be eligible for a “reasonable payment plan” if they receive a hospital bill under this new law. Their payments would be capped at 10 percent of income after living expenses.

 

DNA— Imprisoned felons can get DNA tests of evidence if they show that such tests are relevant to their cases, replacing the current requirement of a demonstration that it would prove their innocence.

 

Home gardens— Landlords may not prevent residents of condominiums and apartments from growing their own fruits and vegetables in portable containers.

 

Pets at restaurants— Pets are now allowed in the outdoor seating area of restaurants. The new law overturns a prohibition on pets at restaurants and allows the practice at the discretion of the business.

 

Monitoring of potentially dangerous individuals— Law enforcement agencies are required to develop and implement written policies for conducting “welfare checks” of people who may be a danger to themselves or others. The law also requires those policies “to encourage” a search of the state’s gun registries to see if the individual might possess a firearm. This law is a response to the Isla Vista rampage that killed six U.C. Santa Barbara students in May 2014.

 

Confederate merchandise ban— The sale of the Confederate flag or merchandise inscribed with its image in banned in state government stores.  According to the L.A. Times, Assemblyman Isadore Hall III (D-Compton) introduced the bill  “after his mother, on a visit to the Capitol, saw a replica of Confederate money sold in the gift shop.”

Inmate sterilization ban— Prohibits sterilization for the purpose of birth control of inmates in state prisons or county jails.  Also prohibits “any means of sterilization,” except in life-threatening situations and when the patient consents. The law was passed as a response to an investigation by the Center for Investigative Reporting and a state audit that found some female prisoners had been sterilized illegally.

 

Groundwater management rules— Agencies in fast-depleting basins are required to draft sustainability plans. The law also allows for fines to be incurred during monitoring and enforcement. According to the AP, the law “does not go as far as other Western states…” The timetable for implementation of regulations on groundwater, California’s main source of water, is decades.

 

Ride-service insurance coverage— Drivers for ride-service companies, i.e., Uber and Lyft, must be insured during the time they have their app open but have yet to accept a call. The coverage during this period must be at least $50,000 per individual, $100,000 total per incident for bodily injury, and $30,000 for property damage. An additional $200,000 in excess coverage is required. The bill also calls on insurance companies to offer policies tailored specifically for ride-service drivers, something that does not currently exist and has led some drivers to keep their ride-service occupation a secret from their insurance company.

 

Ballot initiative reform— The California attorney general is required to initiate a 30-day public review process before approving a proposed initiative. The law also requires that the appropriate committees in the Legislature hold a joint public hearing on a measure after initiative proponents have collected just 25 percent of signatures needed to qualify it for the ballot. Currently, the Legislature weighs in only after the measure is certified.

 

Mail-in ballots— The incre
ased popularity of mail-in voting means it’s even more important that election officials receive those ballots within the time frame required by law for votes to count. This new law extends the deadline for receiving ballots by mail so that they will no longer have to be received by Election Day. The new window allows for ballots to be postmarked the day of the election, as long as they are received up to three days later.

 

Film and TV tax credit expansion— This law more than triples funding for the state’s film and television tax credit, increasing it from $100 million to $330 million per fiscal year. The law also expands eligibility to large-budget feature films and TV pilots, and eliminates the cap for studio and independent films. This is an effort to stem the tide of production companies taking their projects to other states and countries. Although this is the taxpayers’ money, the law is expected to spur job growth within the state by increasing incentives to stay and film in California.

 

Sexual abuse— Victims of sexual abuse now have more time to pursue criminal charges against offenders. The law raises the age ceiling from 28 to 40 for childhood sexual abuse victims to file criminal complaints.

 

New currencies— Digital currencies including bitcoin are legal for transactions in California. The system works without a central repository or single administrator and transactions are made with no middle men, in other words, no banks. There are no transaction fees and no need to give your real name. Bitcoin usage is becoming widespread as more merchants are beginning to accept them.

 

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