The state legislature has given Californians a number of good reasons to ring in the new year. Starting Jan. 1, Golden State residents will have more tools to avoid toxic chemicals, predatory loans and unwanted data collection and manipulation. California will also have more options to hold companies accountable for failing to adequately protect consumers and more choices for registering and voting in elections. Over the past three years, CALPIRG advocated for all these changes in the legislative process and, together with our allies, we prevailed despite staunch industry opposition in many cases. Here’s a digest of some of the game-changing new laws, supported by CALPIRG, going into effect on New Year’s Day.
Public health protections:
California’s ban on toxic flame retardants in consumer products, AB 2998 authored by Assemblymember Richard Bloom in 2018, goes into effect. For the last 45 years, sofas, mattresses and children’s pajamas have been manufactured with a large dousing of flame retardant chemicals. Unfortunately, many of the chemicals used to make these flame retardants have been shown to lead to endocrine disruption, infertility and reduced IQ, among other harmful health impacts. In addition, these toxins have proved ineffective at preventing fires. Infants and firefighters have especially high exposure risks, which is why the California Firefighters Association joined with environmental health advocates to advocate for the bill’s passage.
The Clean Product Right to Know Act of 2017, SB 258 authored by Senator Ricardo Lara, will begin requiring cleaning product manufacturers to disclose their ingredients on Internet websites. This will allow consumers to have access to more information on avoiding potentially dangerous chemicals. Examples of online ingredient labels can already be found here (click on the Smart Label link), and here. Starting in 2021, the ingredient list will also have to be on physical product labels.
Consumer financial protections:
California law already capped interest rates on so-called payday loans below $2,500, as well as larger loans above $10,000. Unfortunately, some lenders created new financial products that require people to borrow a minimum of $2,500 in order to qualify, and then charged triple-digit interest rates, trapping vulnerable borrowers into a cycle of debt. A new law, AB 539, authored by Assemblymember Monique Limón, caps interest rates on loans between $2,500 and $10,000.
Consumer privacy protections:
The California Consumer Privacy Act, AB 375 authored by Assemblymember Ed Chau, which passed in 2018, goes into effect. The most visible change for consumers will be a “Do Not Sell” button on websites that allows consumers to opt out of the sale of their data. Starting Jan. 1, consumers are also more likely to be compensated for the loss of their personal information in a data breach. The new law requires companies to pay damages to consumers if they fail to encrypt or redact data, fail to take reasonable security measures to protect our information, and a breach occurs.
Two new laws, SB 327, authored by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, and AB 1906, authored by Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin, were both signed into law in 2018 but go into effect Jan. 1. They require Internet-connected devices to have reasonable security features to protect the device and its contents from unauthorized access or use. This is essential with the recent explosion of Internet-connected devices and products -- from toasters to children’s toys -- on the marketplace. With this Internet connection come real privacy risks. Many of these devices collect and store information about our daily habits, and some devices also record sound and can even video us in our homes.
Voting and election changes:
All polling sites will have an option for Election Day voter registration, thanks to SB 72, which was authored by Sen. Tom Umberg. In addition, under the Voters Choice Act (SB 450 authored by Sen. Ben Allen), there are ten new counties shifting to the Voters Choice model for running elections: Amador, Butte, Calaveras, El Dorado, Fresno, Los Angeles, Mariposa, Orange, Santa Clara and Tuolumne. CALPIRG supported both of these election reforms, which will particularly benefit newly eligible voters by giving them more days to register and more secure ways to vote either by mail or in person at voting centers.