It’s been a tough year, and we hope that Californians can get back on their feet in 2021. Unfortunately, many of the new laws that took effect on January 1 won’t be helping. To borrow from Kermit the frog — it’s not easy being Blue.
I’ve picked out a few of the laws that affect a broad swath of Californians. The laws below make California less inviting for businesses and do nothing to lower the cost of living for residents. But while there’s every reason to be depressed by the list, California’s small, but fierce free-market resistance movement had some big wins this year even when the odds were against us, including saving Prop. 209, Prop. 13, and hundreds of thousands of gig economy jobs. While the next months and years will be a challenge, we take heart that in 2020, many Californians and especially small businesses have come to see the dangers of the unrestrained power of big government. We welcome them to the fight!
Minimum Wage at $14 per hour
Beginning January 1, most employees in California must be paid a new minimum wage of $14 an hour. The law, signed in 2015 by Gov. Jerry Brown, started a wage hike every year until 2023, when the minimum wage would reach $15 an hour. Gov. Newsom could have suspended the wage hike given the pandemic’s impact on small businesses and workers. But he seems to have tossed out the lesson he learned as a business owner: a lower minimum wage allows small businesses to hire more workers. But there’s still time Governor! California suffers from one of the highest employment rates in the nation and holding the minimum wage steady for now would go a long way in getting people back to work.
Mom and Pop Businesses Forced to Offer Family Leave
In 2021, as few as 5-person businesses will have to hold open a job for up to three months for employees who become new parents or who want to care for a sick family member, raising the costs for businesses. “At a time when it’s tough for employers, it’s a shame this wasn’t put off for a year. This is going to be a shock to some employers,” said Lisa Ann Hilario, an employment law specialist with Spaulding, McCullough & Tansil in Santa Rosa. “This is just another example of something that’s well-meaning but may be a significant impact on employers. These are hard times.”
Affirmative Action Comes to Corporate Boards
California will be the first state to require racial quotas on corporate boards in 2021. At least one person from an “underrepresented community” must be on the board of publicly traded companies headquartered in California, or they will face fines of up to $300,000. The law is the latest salvo launched on the war on meritocracy being waged against so many of America’s institutions. Judicial Watch has already announced plans to challenge the law.
Softer on Crime
A host of new laws related to crime were passed in 2020. Most were aimed at weakening current laws. For example, certain fees for juvenile offenders and their families will be canceled. Moreover, this summer, California’s remaining juvenile prisons will be phased out. An Office of Youth and Community Restoration will instead send grants to counties to provide custody and supervision. Another new law caps probation to a maximum of one year for misdemeanor offenses and two years for felony offenses, with some exceptions. In discussing these new changes, Plumas county District Attorney David Hollister, wrote “… whether these ongoing changes reduce prison populations or make our state less safe, time will tell. What is clear is this is a remarkably challenging time to be a California law enforcement officer or prosecutor.”
Rowena Itchon is senior vice president of the Pacific Research Institute.