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By Brian Hews
2014 appears to be a “banner year in the making” for investigative reporters and journalists throughout California, thanks to lawmakers in Sacramento who were able to navigate rough seas when it came to protecting the rights of members of the Fourth Estate.
Hews Media Group-Community Newspapers has combed the legislative files in Sacramento, and have complied a list of notable new laws that will directly impact journalists here.
In the wake of Associated Press reporters having its records seized from phone companies without its knowledge by the federal Department of Justice, a new law written by Democratic State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and signed by Governor Jerry Brown to strengthen the state’s shield law to protect reporters’ records held by a third party. In short, this new law signals a huge victory for serious investigative journalists up and down the state.
The Legislature also reversed course on suspending key provisions of the famous (or infamous) Ralph M. Brown Open Meeting Act and the California Public Records Act, and it placed a constitutional amendment on the June 2014 ballot for voters to weigh in on whether local governments have a constitutional duty to comply with both acts – and to pay the costs associated arising from that compliance.
Face it, several local city halls, school district, water boards and other public agencies have been besieged with “public record act requests” from media outlets like HMG-CN in order to get access to how government operates in all levels.
Here is a brief list of new laws enacted this year that might have an impact on your operations. Unless otherwise noted, all new laws go into effect on Jan. 1, 2014. The information was compiled by the California News Publisher Association and provided to its members.
Freedom of Information SB 558 (Lieu) Reporters’ Shield Law
The new law requires anyone that issues a subpoena in any court proceeding to a third party seeking the records of a journalist to first provide notice of the subpoena to the journalist and the publisher at least five days prior to issuing the subpoena.
The law provides an exception when there are circumstances that pose a clear and substantial threat to the integrity of the criminal investigation or present an imminent risk of death or serious bodily harm.
The law also modifies the existing exigent circumstance exception when a journalist is served with a subpoena requiring his or her appearance in any court proceeding. The exception would only apply in those circumstances that pose a clear and substantial threat to the integrity of the criminal investigation or present an imminent risk of death or serious bodily harm.
SCA 3 (Leno) Public Information This constitutional amendment places a measure on the June 2014 ballot to amend the California Constitution to require local agencies to comply with the California Public Records Act and the Brown Act. It would apply to any subsequent amendments that further the constitutional provisions on public access to public agency meetings and records. The amendment would also require local governments to pay the costs associated with compliance and exempts compliance with the CPRA and the Brown Act from state mandate claims.
AB 382 (Mullin) State and Local Government: Alternative Investments The Brown Act is amended to clarify that proprietary information relating to alternative investments, currently exempt from disclosure under the Public Records Act (PRA), is not subject to disclosure under the Brown Act.
AB 562 (Williams) Economic Development Subsidies: Review by Local Agencies This law requires local agencies to provide specified information to the public before approving any economic development subsidy of $100,000 or more.
SB 380 (Padilla) Communications: Service Interruptions The law will prohibit a governmental entity or service provider from interrupting a communications service unless authorized by a judicial order except in circumstances when the interruption occurs during extreme emergencies.
SB 553 (Yee) Local Government: Assessment: Elections Procedures Local agencies that conduct an election of property owners to approve a fee or increased charge will be required to treat the ballots as disclosable public records.
SB 606 (De León) Harassment: Child or Ward This law establishes mandatory criminal penalties as well as a derivative civil cause of action for harassment, which is defined as including the photographing, or attempting to photograph, a child without a parent’s consent, because of the parent’s employment status.
SB 751 (Yee) Meetings: Publication of Action Taken The Brown Act is amended to require a legislative body of a local agency to publicly report any action it takes and the vote or abstention on that action of every member who is present when the action is taken.
SB 255 (Cannella) Disorderly Conduct: Invasion of Privacy The new law provides that any person who photographs or records by any means the image of another identifiable person’s intimate body parts under circumstances where the parties agree or understand that the image shall remain private, and subsequently distributes that image with the intent to cause serious emotional distress, and the person depicted does suffer serious emotional distress, is guilty of a misdemeanor.
Public Notice AB 497 (Chesbro) Fish and Wildlife
This law reduces the number of regular meetings required of the Fish and Game Commission that are required to be noticed in a newspaper and would delete the requirement that the dissemination of meeting notices be achieved in a specified manner.
AB 593 (Quirk) Alcoholic beverages: Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control
An applicant for an on-sale or off-sale license will be exempted from an existing requirement to publish a notice of the application in a newspaper of general circulation in the city in which the premises are situated if the applicant is also required to provide notices of application for and transfer of licenses to area residents by mail.
Workplace Issues AB 10 (Alejo) Minimum wage: Annual Adjustment The state’s minimum wage increases on July 1, 2014, to $9 per hour and is further increased on Jan. 1, 2016, to $10 per hour.
AB 442 (Nazarian) Employees: Wages The labor commissioner is now authorized to collect liquidated damages from an employer who pays an employee less than the minimum wage.
SB 770 (Jackson) Unemployment Compensation: Disability Benefits: Paid Family Leave The new law, which takes effect July 1, 2014, will allow employees to receive up to six weeks of replacement pay if they take time off to care for a seriously ill child, spouse, parent, domestic partner, or to spend time with a new child, through the family temporary disability program.
The law also expands the existing program to provide, for the first time, replacement pay to employees caring for a seriously ill grandparent, grandchild, sibling or parent-in-law.
SB 288 (Lieu) Employment Protections: Time Off An employer will be prohibited from discharging or in any manner discriminating or retaliating against an employee who is a victim for taking time off from work to appear in court to be heard at any proceeding for certain specified offenses. The law defines a victim as any person who suffers direct or threatened physical, psychological or financial harm as a result of the commission or attempted commission of a crime or delinquent act.
SB 400 (Jackson) Employment Protections: Victims of Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault or Stalking The law expands existing protections provided to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault who take time off to obtain any relief (such as a temporary restraining order) to victims of stalking. It also prohibits an employer from discharging, retaliating or discriminating against an employee because of his or her known status as a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking and requires an employer to provide a reasonable accommodation for an employee who is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.
SB 462 (Monning) Employment: Compensation If an employer is the prevailing party in a court action, attorney’s fees and costs will be awarded to the employer only if the court finds that the employee brought the court action in bad faith.
SB 666 (Steinberg) Employment: Retaliation This law allows the state to revoke an employer’s business license if the employer threatens to report the immigration status of an employee or his or her family members because the employee makes a complaint about employment issues. The law doesn’t apply to employers who ask an employee to verify his or her employment eligibility through a Form I-9.
AB 556 (Salas) Fair Employment and Housing Act: Military Veterans The new law adds “military and veteran status” to the list of categories protected from employment discrimination under the Fair Employment and Housing Act.
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