F. Castro / SFVS

Rogelio Herrera

Nicole Orellana is excited about 2020.

The community college student will not only finish her studies next May but — starting Jan.1 —  her salary as a department store worker will be increased.

Orellana earns the minimum wage, which will rise to $13 per hour in California for any business with more than 26 employees, and $12 per hour for merchants with fewer than 25 workers.

The increase is part of a series of new laws in California that will have a significant impact on peoples’ daily lives.

Orellana admits, however, being unsure how much impact the increase will actually have.

“One more dollar is going to help me a little bit, but once the cost of living goes up after a few months it’s like I haven’t received it,” says the 20-year-old. “[Then] it’s back to struggling again.”

Orellana is able to pay for her school, books and personal items on her own, and even manages to save a little by cutting back on some luxuries.

“I don’t have children or other responsibilities, but living on the minimum wage is difficult,” said Orellana, who on average works 37 hours per week, and is not entitled to any benefits.

She said she really struggles if her hours are cut back. “I really depend on having stable hours,” the Northridge resident said.

Still, the extra $1 per hour could give her some more breathing room at least for a couple of months.

Purchase Medical Insurance or Risk a Fine

While Orellana will see a couple more dollars in her check, Rogelio Herrera will see less in his pocket.

The 26-year-old, who works as a computer engineer, received a raise in 2019 but now must spend more of his income to pay for health insurance. Because of his age, he can no longer be included on his parent’s coverage.

Before his raise, Herrera paid $50 a month; now it will cost $140, through the health insurance marketplace Covered California. He opted for the so-called “Obamacare” because health insurance through his work is much higher.

Covered California officials have estimated that by the end of December, more people would register this year under their policies than in previous years. One reason would be the penalty starting in 2021 that will be charged to anyone who lacks health coverage in California during 2020.

The fine of $695 per person or $2,085 per family of four that would be charged when people file their taxes in 2021 was eliminated at the federal level, but has been approved by the state.

Herrera, who says he’s only gone to the hospital on one occasion in the last three years due to severe stomach pain (that turned out to be food poisoning), feels it’s unfair to be forced to pay for something he rarely uses.

“I’m trying to avoid the fine,” admits the Sylmar resident. “(Having health insurance) did help me a lot when I went to the emergency room, but I find it a little ridiculous that everyone was forced to have it.

“I hardly go to the doctor. (The emergency room visit) was an isolated event. It should be optional. They shouldn’t force you.”

Health Insurance for Young Immigrant Adults

Funds from the fines that Herrera wants to avoid would help subsidize SB 104, which will provide Medi-Cal to low income undocumented young adults up to age 26.

The measure extends the coverage that already existed for undocumented minors. It is estimated to cost Californians $98 million in the first year and would benefit between 90,000 to 138,000 people.

To qualify for coverage, an applicant must have an income no more than $17,200 per year or $35,000 for a family of four.

Independent Contractors Become Employees

Another measure that could affect many Californians is AB 5, which impacts independent contractors and freelancers including Uber and Lyft drivers, those who deliver food, and those who provide other services in the so-called “gig economy.”

The new law — which has been highly criticized by different sectors — states that if the employer controls the tasks of the independent contractor or the work the independent contractor performs is an essential part of the company, the worker becomes an employee. It is believed that the law would impact approximately a million people in the state. 

Some companies have already started to significantly reduce the hours and tasks of freelancers. Others, such as Lyft, have announced that the law would increase the cost and wait time for trips.

To date, Uber has refused to reclassify its workers as employees.

The measure also includes freelance writers for newspapers and other publications, limiting them to 35 pieces per year per client to continue as independent contractors.

Many newspapers have balked at the law because they consider the “35” number completely arbitrary and impossible to sustain daily or weekly publications. The American Society of Journalists and Authors and the National Press Photographers Association have filed lawsuits challenging the measure, which they claim is unconstitutional and impacts free speech and the media.

One way freelancers and independent contractors can get around this new law is to start their own businesses and pay their own taxes, like independent contractors have been doing previously.

Rent Control, Eviction Protections

What will not increase in California, beyond certain limits, is the cost of residential renting.

The legislature approved AB 1482, imposing state-level rent control and limiting rent increases to 5% per year plus inflation, but never beyond 10%.

The measure, which runs through 2030, does not apply to apartment buildings constructed in the last 15 years.

Sonia Lopez couldn’t be happier with this law. She and her family saw three rent increases in a year that raised the cost of their apartment from $1,200 to $1,638. Because of this, the family joined a “rent strike” with other tenants, filed a lawsuit against her landlord, and faced threats of eviction until the owner eventually reversed the last of the three rent increases.

“They were increasing rents however much they wanted,” says the North Hollywood resident who has lived in the same apartment for a decade. “The increases have been uncontrollable.”

AB 1482 also restricts the eviction of tenants like Lopez, who have lived in their apartments for at least 12 months, by now requiring owners to pay for their “relocation” or credit a month’s rent if they are evicted without cause, such as when a building owner demands tenants move out to remodel the property.

Tenants can still be evicted if they violate their lease.

“The owners are going to calm down with the laws that were signed,” Lopez says. “Let’s see if they respect them.”

Another new housing law — SB 329 — prohibits landlords from discriminating against tenants who use housing vouchers to pay for part or all their rent, such as those in Section 8.

Suspension of Unruly Students

State schools will need to find an alternative to suspending “unruly” or misbehaving students.

Starting Jan. 1, SB 419 makes suspension illegal through eighth grade. The measure applies to both traditional and charter schools.

When the law was introduced, it was noted that California students lost more than 150,000 days of instruction in the 2016-2017 school year because they were suspended after misbehaving.

Legalization of Street Vendors

As of Jan. 1, street vendors across the state —  who in many cases have been selling illegally and targeted by authorities — will have the chance to obtain permits. SB 946 allows local authorities to regulate any type of vending, including the time, place, and manner of street vending.

The city of Los Angeles approved an ordinance in 2019 creating  the process to obtain an annual permit, which will cost $291 if the street vendor applies through June 30, 2020, and $541 after. 

Vendors must get a sellers tax ID, and those who sell food must also get a Los Angeles County Health Department permit before applying for the actual street vending permit.

Other New Laws

— Beginning July 1, SB 83 extends the maximum duration of Paid Family Leave benefits from six to eight weeks for qualified individuals to bond with minor children within one year of the birth, or the placement of the child via foster care or adoption. SB 83 also provides benefits to care for a seriously ill child/spouse/parent/domestic partner or others specified by law.

— Under SB 188, California becomes the first state to prohibit school or work discrimination based on your natural hair type, regardless of color, texture or volume. Protected hair styles include braids and dreadlocks.

— SB-8 prohibits smoking or “vaping” on beaches or state parks. Doing so could mean a fine of up to $25.

— SB 313 prohibits elephants and any other animals other than a dog, cat, or horse to be in circuses that travel through California.