Starting in July, penalties in California will increase for people cited for texting while driving. (Shutterstock)

Starting in July, penalties in California will increase for people cited for texting while driving. (Shutterstock)

A look at some of California’s new laws

Changes affect wages, criminal justice, workplace protections and more


By Christopher B. Dolan and Jeremy M. Jessup

This week’s question comes from Johanna in Truckee who asks: Every new year there are hordes of new laws that are enacted but I find it difficult to know what they are. Is there any way you can provide some highlights of California’s new laws?

Dear Johanna: Out with the old and in with the new, as the saying goes, and as you pointed out, that includes new laws that went into effect on Jan. 1 in California or will be in effect shortly. Hundreds of bills were signed into law; some were voted on by the people. A number will not start until later this year, such as being prohibited from buying more than one semiautomatic rifle in a 30-day period. Some may begin even later, like a flavored-tobacco ban that was set to go into effect on Jan. 1 but probably will not be adopted until sometime in 2022. The following are among 2021’s new laws:

Additional penalties for texting and driving

It’s already the law that you must use hands free devices while driving, whether you’re talking or texting. Now the punishment is getting stricter. Two convictions in 36 months will add a point to your record starting in July 2021.

Hot car rules

It’s already against the law to leave a child under 6 in a car unattended. Now, those who try to help are protected from civil or criminal liability for property damage or trespassing if they break into the car to rescue the child.

Minimum wage

As of January, California’s minimum wage is $14 at companies with 26 or more employees and $13 at companies smaller than that. It is a $1 increase from 2020’s hourly minimum. Some cities, like Palo Alto, Sonoma and Mountain View, already increased their minimum wages to $15 or more.

Expansion of paid family-leave benefits

Family-leave benefits for nearly 6 million residents have been expanded. In addition, Californians who work for an employer with at least five employees are included in job protection benefits. The new law also expands on the potential reasons for taking leave, making it possible for workers affected by COVID-19 to take time off to care for a parent, sibling or grandchild.

Transgender protections

The Transgender Respect, Agency and Dignity Act allows incarcerated transgender, gender-nonconforming and intersex individuals to be housed and searched according to their gender identity.

Workplace COVID-19 protections

The new law requires employers to take specific actions, such as written notifications to employees, within one business day of a potential exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. The notification must be written in English and another language, if applicable. This law does have a sunset provision, which is the end of 2023.

Inmate firefighters

After a devastating fire season, when many inmate firefighters were released early because of the pandemic, prisoner firefighting crews served a crucial role; a new law will now allow nonviolent offenders to petition to get their records expunged and to use their training to gain employment as firefighters. Previously, inmates were precluded because of their criminal records from becoming firefighters upon release.

Parolees’ right to vote

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

Youth criminal justice reforms

Starting in July, the state will be phasing out juvenile prisons. In addition, a new law 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. Finally, it will become easier for minors in police custody to get legal counsel before being questioned.

The three remaining state youth facilities will no longer accept newly convicted youth after July 2021. The state will be transferring the responsibility of the convicted youth back to the counties.

Student loan borrowers

Effective July 2021 will be Assembly Bill 376,which offers 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 system.

Demilitarizing police uniforms

Law enforcement will no longer be allowed to wear uniforms that have camouflage or otherwise resemble military uniforms. This law does not apply to members of various tactical response teams, such as SWAT, nor does it apply to the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Bans on certain police restraint tactics

Assembly Bill 1196 eliminates the use of any chokehold or carotid restraint technique by law enforcement. The bill prohibits any state or local law enforcement agency, including campus police, from authorizing the use of a carotid restraint or chokehold. The bill defines a chokehold as any defensive tactic involving direct pressure applied to a person’s trachea. It also defines a “carotid restraint” as any restraint, hold, or other defensive tactic that applies pressure to the sides of a person’s neck, which involves a substantial risk of restricting blood flow, and that may render the person unconscious.

Christopher B. Dolan is the owner of the Dolan Law Firm, PC. Jeremy M. Jessup is a senior trial attorney based in our San Francisco office. Email questions and topics for future articles to: We serve clients across the San Francisco Bay Area and California from our offices in San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles. Our work is no recovery, or also referred to as contingency-based. That means we collect no fee unless we obtain money for your damages and injuries.


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