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Legislators Send CA Governor 7 LGBT Bills

by Matthew S. Bajko

State Senator Scott Wiener
State Senator Scott Wiener  

State lawmakers sent Governor Jerry Brown seven LGBT-related bills this session that, if signed into law, will change how California oversees identification documents for transgender or gender non-conforming people, penalizes people who are HIV-positive, and tracks registered sex offenders.

The number of state agencies required to collect LGBT demographic information will expand and LGBT seniors living in assisted care facilities will have greater rights under legislation that lawmakers adopted by the September 15 deadline.

LGBT advocates are optimistic that Brown will sign all of the legislation into law in the coming weeks. He has until October 15 to do so.

"Overall, we are ecstatic because our priority bills all got through," said Rick Zbur, executive director of the statewide LGBT advocacy organization Equality California, which worked with lawmakers to advance its sponsored legislation. "The five bills that were the most challenging all were passed by both houses of the Legislature."

The most controversial of the quintet was Senate Bill 695, which creates a three-tiered system for California's Sex Offender Registry with registration periods of upward of 10 years, 20 years, or life. It had been shelved by the Assembly Appropriations Committee but was revived by its lead author, gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), through a process known as gut-and-amend and was one of the last bills of the session to be passed early Saturday morning.

The bill, which Brown expressed support for, will allow those on the registry who were targeted and arrested by police under former statutes that criminalized homosexual sex between adults, such as stings using undercover cops in public parks or at highway rest areas, to petition to be removed from it. High-risk offenders will remain on the registry for life, while others will be able to petition to be removed after either 10 or 20 years without reoffending, depending on their offense.

"This bill was written by law enforcement and supported by rape crisis advocates because they know we need a sex offender registry system that actually works to protect people from those who pose a significant risk of committing sexual violence," stated Wiener.

Senators Joel Anderson (R-Alpine), Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), and Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) co-authored the bill. California is one of only four states that require lifetime registration for all convicted sex offenders. The state's current list of more than 100,000 people is so expansive that it is of little use to law enforcement, argued advocates of the legislation.

"Our current registry system is broken and burdensome for law enforcement to use, and wastes resources by requiring law enforcement to monitor low-level offenders who pose little to no risk of committing any crime," stated Wiener.

Initially, gay state Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) had authored the bill but later switched with Wiener to focus on other legislation, such as his tabled single-payer health care bill he co-authored with lesbian state Senator Toni Atkins (D-San Diego). A special legislative committee is looking at how to pay for such a policy, and that bill should be taken up again next year.

Another bill co-authored by Wiener that sparked controversy this year was SB 239, which would modernize the state's HIV criminalization laws adopted during the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. It requires proof that transmission of HIV did occur in order for a person to be prosecuted for intentionally transmitting the virus to a sex partner.

Under current law, HIV-positive persons may be prosecuted for engaging in unprotected sexual intercourse with the specific intent to transmit HIV even if no actual transmission of the virus occurs. If convicted, they could be sentenced to up to eight years in prison.

Gay Assemblyman Todd Gloria (D-San Diego) co-authored the bill, which was backed by a number of legal groups and AIDS agencies.

"Fundamentally, the heart of this bill is that being sick is a health issue not a criminal issue and treating people with a health condition as criminals doesn't make them healthy, doesn't reduce the spread of infectious diseases, it just pushes people into the shadows and makes matters worse," said Wiener.

Two bills aim to ease the state's name change procedures for transgender, intersex, and non-binary individuals. Atkins and Wiener co-authored SB 179 - the Gender Recognition Act of 2017 - so that people can choose "non-binary" as the gender on their birth certificates and other documents.

And SB 310, the Name and Dignity Act authored by Atkins, makes it easier for transgender people incarcerated in state prisons or county jails to change their legal name or gender marker. It also requires corrections officials to use the new name of a person who obtains a name change and to list their prior name only as an alias.

"Many of us have an ID that matches our gender presentation, and so showing it is hassle-free," stated Atkins. "But for Californians who have an ID that does not match their gender presentation, showing it at airports, in shops, or to law enforcement can be extremely stressful and lead to harassment or a delay in completing a transaction."

SB 219 - the Seniors Long Term Care Bill of Rights - protects LGBT seniors from being discriminated against in long-term care facilities in the state. Wiener modeled the bill after a similar policy that San Francisco officials adopted several years ago.

After sailing through the state Senate in the spring, the bill drew false attacks when it was taken up in the Assembly. Conservative groups erroneously claimed workers at the facilities would be jailed for not using residents' preferred pronouns or names.

"After struggling to come out at a time when same-sex conduct was still criminalized and fighting the first and most difficult battles for LGBTQ civil rights, discrimination in long-term care is forcing many LGBTQ seniors back into the closet," stated Zbur. "SB 219 would help protect LGBTQ seniors when they're at their most vulnerable, and help ensure that care facilities provide culturally-competent care."

Under AB 677 by Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco), the number of state agencies required to ask about sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) on their forms and surveys will increase to 10. State agencies that deal with education and employment issues will be required to start collecting SOGI data by July 1, 2019.

As the B.A.R. detailed in a three-part series this summer, a previous bill passed by Chiu requires four state agencies, mainly dealing with health services, to begin collecting SOGI data by July 1, 2018.

"Good information will move us closer to full equality," stated Chiu.

The final bill passed this year is AB 1556 by Assemblyman Mark Stone (D-Monterey Bay), which updates the state's Fair Employment and Housing Act to use gender inclusive language, such as "person" or "employee" instead of "he" or "she."


Other Bills Pulled This Year

Four LGBT-related bills were pulled this year for various reasons.

A pair of bills focused on how law enforcement agencies handle hate crimes were shelved due to having costs attached to implement them. Chiu's AB 800 would have established a statewide, toll-free hotline and an online form to report hate crimes, while AB 1161, authored by Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), would have required local law enforcement agencies to update their policies on hate crimes and provide guidance to strengthen those policies. Both may be revived next year.

Gay Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell) will take up his AB 888 in January during the second half of the current two-year legislative session. It would require private colleges and universities receiving Cal Grant funding to annually report how many LGBT students they have disciplined or expelled because they are LGBT or have engaged in LGBT community or advocacy activities.

And Wiener scrapped his SB 221 after health officials came up with an administrative policy to cover the medical treatment needed to correct for HIV-associated lipodystrophy, which creates abnormal accumulations of fat in a person's body, especially in the neck or upper back.

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