California’s New Health Laws

Here’s an update on new health-related laws in California.


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Photo by U.S. Department of Labor

Some people may not notice anything different in 2020, save for needing to remember to change the 19 to 20 when writing the date. But others will be touched by at least one of California’s 870 new laws, effective this year. And some may be impacted in very personal ways, since several of the new laws affect health — physical, mental, emotional, dental. Some of the new laws started on Jan. 1; others will phase in later.

Working nursing moms get time, space: With Senate Bill 142, employers must now provide a private, clean space for nursing moms to pump milk, with running water and electrical outlets, plus as-needed breaks to do it. The space cannot be a bathroom or closet. The new law expands existing requirements. Smaller businesses may qualify for exemptions.

Mandatory health insurance and more help to do it: Californians, under SB 78, must now have health insurance or face tax penalties. This is essentially a state-level mandate replacing one that was enacted with the Affordable Care Act but abolished by the Trump Administration. But a cluster of related new laws are designed to make it easier to get insurance, including lower premiums for middle- and low-income people covered through Covered California, the state’s health insurance marketplace; a longer window for signing up for Covered California; and required mental health care for new mothers.

Undocumented young adults get health coverage: Medi-Cal coverage is now available to low-income Californians age 25 and younger, regardless of immigration status, with SB 104. This covers medical, dental, and eye care, expanding existing Medi-Cal guaranteed coverage for the children through age 19. California is the first state in the nation to take this step.

Claiming medical exemptions for required vaccines gets scrutiny:  Against claims that some doctors and parents abuse the state’s system for getting medical exemptions from required school vaccinations, intended when vaccinations pose serious health risks, a new law establishes a standardized system for issuing, tracking, and reviewing medical exemptions, thanks to SB 276 and SB 714. The law spells out who can issue exemptions and why. Doctors who issue five or more exemptions per year will be reviewed.

Gender appropriate health care for transgender youth: Transgender young people in the state’s foster care system will now get appropriate health care including coverage for mental health counseling, hormone therapy, and surgery with Assembly Bill 2119.

Longer window for domestic violence claims: The statue of limitations for felony domestic violence convictions was extended from three to five years with SB 273.

Hotel, motel human trafficking training: From cleaners to landscapers to desk clerks, the staff of California’s hotels and motels must be trained in identifying victims of human trafficking, with their bosses providing the training under SB 970.

Sexual harassment training: Any business with at least five employees must now provide sexual harassment training to all employees within six months of starting the job and every two years after, according to SB 1343.

Cutting medical co-pays for the incarcerated: City, county, and state jails can no longer charge inmates co-pays for medical visits or charge them for durable medical equipment or supplies under AB 45

Autism workers are now mandated child abuse reporters: Specialists working with people with autism are now added to the list of those required by state law to report child abuse or neglect, or face jail time or penalties. Mandated reporters, who include teachers and health care workers, must report knowledge or reasonable suspicion of abuse or neglect to law enforcement under AB 189.

Longer paid family leave: Employees needing time off to bond with a new baby or care for a family member are now eligible for up to eight weeks of paid family leave, compared to the prior maximum of six weeks. This law, which came from SG 83, covers employees paying into the State Disability Insurance program and goes into effect in July.

Tackling stigma with new language for people with mental illness: State legal language referring to people with mental illness must change terms such as “mental defects” or “mental disorder” to language considered less stigmatizing such as mental health disorder or mental illness. The language applies to various California legal codes and came out of AB 46.

Elevated worker lead levels trigger investigation: With AB 35, the State Department of Public Health must now report high lead levels in workers (20 micrograms per deciliter or more) within five days to the Division of Occupational Safety and Health for investigation. This investigation must be initiated within three days of getting the report and the findings made public.

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