California Lawyers Association

California Laws: What’s New for 2021

Dozens of new laws went on the books as of January 1 that are of interest to California lawyers. Make sure you’re up to speed on all the changes. Here are some highlights. 

Criminal Justice Reform

A renewed focus on addressing systemic racial discrimination resulted in several bills aimed at criminal justice reform. 

AB 3070 prohibits parties from using a peremptory challenge to remove a prospective juror on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, or religious affiliation, or perceived membership in any of those groups. The law won’t go into effect until January 1, 2022, for criminal trials and January 1, 2026, for civil trials.

AB 2512 updates California’s death penalty statute to ensure that no person who meets the current scientific standard for intellectual disability will be sentenced to death. According to lead author Assemblymember Mark Stone (D-Monterey Bay), the new statute will “prohibit prosecutors from making race-based arguments to prevent findings of intellectual disability.”

AB 2542, also known as the California Racial Justice Act (CRJA), expands opportunities for defendants to challenge their conviction or sentence by demonstrating racial bias in their case. It will apply only to judgments issued on or after January 1, 2021.  

Legislation Related to COVID-19 

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic not only cut short the legislative session but also drove much of the legislative agenda. Here are some examples of legislation enacted in response to the public health crisis: 

AB 685 requires California employers to notify employees of potential exposure in the workplace. It also requires employers to notify local public health authorities of an outbreak of three or more cases within 14 days at the same worksite. 

AB 3088 provides opportunities for tenants to avoid eviction if they can’t pay rent related to a COVID-19 financial hardship. 

AB 3366 authorizes the chief justice to issue emergency orders allowing local courts to extend filing deadlines in light of a pandemic or other calamity creating a substantial risk to the health and welfare of court personnel or the public. Previously, such relief could only come at the request of a superior court presiding judge.

SB 1146 codifies emergency rules that have paved the way for remote depositions and electronic service of documents. 

SB 1159 codifies the governor’s executive order providing worker’s compensation protection to essential workers. The order creates a rebuttable presumption that an essential worker who contracts COVID-19 was infected on the job. 

SB 1196 expands the crime of price gouging to capture sellers who only began offering a product immediately after an emergency was declared.

SB 1383 expands the California Family Rights Act—which allows employees to use unpaid leave to care for a family member who has a serious health condition—to all employers with five or more employees.

Additional Resources

The Judicial Council of California has created a summary and index of all of the new laws of interest to the legal community on topics ranging from access to justice to court budgets. 

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