New California laws that go into effect in 2021

ByAlix Martichoux KGO logo
Friday, January 1, 2021
New CA laws going into effect in 2021
These new laws are taking effect in California in 2021. The new CA laws include coronavirus exposure notification, flavored tobacco, criminal justice reform, paid family leave, changes for inmate firefighters and diversifying corporate executive boards.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Between coronavirus, wildfires and an election, you may not have been keeping close track of the California legislature, which passed hundreds of bills in 2020. We've sifted through the records to find which new laws take effect in the new year.

Here a few of the new laws taking effect in 2021 in California:

Demilitarizing police uniforms

Law enforcement will no longer be allowed to wear uniforms that have camouflage or otherwise resemble military uniforms. (More info here.)

In case you need another reason not to text and drive

It's already the law that you can't get caught with your phone in your hand while driving, whether you're talking or texting, but now the punishment is getting a little stricter. Two convictions in 36 months will add a point to your record starting in July 2021. (More info here.)

Diversifying executive boards

A law that went into effect in 2019 already requires all publicly owned companies based in California to have at least one woman on the board. Now, by the end of 2021, any board with at least five members must also now have at least two women, and any board with six members has to have three women. Companies are also given another year to add even more diversity: boards with at least four members need to have two or more directors from underrepresented communities (meaning "an individual who self-identifies as Black, African American, Hispanic, Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American, Native Hawaiian, or Alaska Native, or who self-identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender"). (More info here.)

Hot car rules

In California, it's already against the law to leave a child under 6 in a car unattended. A new law protects people who try and break into the car to rescue the child from civil or criminal liability for property damage or trespassing. (More info here.)

Coronavirus exposure law

A law, which is in effect from 2021 to 2023, requires businesses to notify employees and the general public of a coronavirus exposure at the workplace within a day of exposure. (More info here.)

Minimum wage climbs up

Starting Jan. 1. California's minimum wage is $14 at companies with 26 or more employees and $13 at companies smaller than that. It's part of the phased increases that will eventually make the state's minimum wage $15. (More info here.)

A task force on reparations

A new law establishes a task force to study the history of slavery in the United States and how that legacy is still impacting slaves' descendants today. After researching and hearing witness testimony, the task force will recommend how reparations would be paid out in California and who would receive those payments, if such a program were implemented. (More info here.)

Opportunities for inmate firefighters

The new law allows people who worked on inmate fire crews while incarcerated to petition the court upon release to have their records cleared. That would make it easier for them to get a job after release, including as a professional firefighter. Those convicted of sex offenses and certain violent felonies are exempt. (More info here.)

Parolees' right to vote

Voters passed Proposition 17 in the November election, which restores felons' right to vote after the completion of their sentence.

Prop 19 rules take effect

Prop 19 also narrowly passed in the November election, which changes some of California's laws around property transfers. Starting in February, those who inherit property have to use it as their primary residence or have its tax value reassessed. Starting in April 2021, homeowners 55 or older or those who lost their home in a disaster will also be able to transfer their tax assessment to a more expensive home three times (instead of the currently allowed one time).

Family leave for more workers

Current law requires companies with 50 or more employees to offer 12 weeks of family leave. This law will greatly expand those protections by requiring companies with five or more employees to grant the same amount of family leave. (More info here.)

Youth criminal justice reforms

Several bills reforming how young people are treated within the justice system go into effect in 2021. Starting Jan. 1, AB 901 prevents kids who are acting out in school from being referred to probation programs or becoming a ward of the court. Instead, they'll be referred to community support services. Starting in July, the state will be phasing out juvenile prisons. Another law also makes it easier for minors in police custody to get legal counsel before being questioned.

More protections for student loan borrowers

Assembly Bill 376 implements a host of new protections for student loan borrowers and makes it harder for lenders to take advantage of people who may not know all their rights or how to navigate the wonky system. It goes into effect in July 2021. (More info here.)

Flavored tobacco ban (Delayed)

This law bans the sale of all flavored tobacco products in California. The goal, lawmakers say, is to make these products less appealing to children and teens. (More info here.) But just before the end of 2020, California state officials agreed to delay the ban after opponents led by tobacco companies said they filed enough signatures to put a new law to a statewide vote.