In Sacramento, LGBTQ bills largely focus on youth, health issues

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday April 5, 2023
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Assemblymember Evan Low, left, and Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins. Photos: Low, Tia Gemmell; Atkins, Twitter
Assemblymember Evan Low, left, and Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins. Photos: Low, Tia Gemmell; Atkins, Twitter

Issues related to health and transgender individuals, particularly youth, are the main focus of the LGBTQ bills making their way through the legislative process in Sacramento this year. A flurry of hearings about the legislation is expected in the coming weeks, as lawmakers race to meet their first deadline later this month to pass on the various bills with fiscal implications.

Many of the 18 LGBTQ bills the Bay Area Reporter is tracking this legislative session build on LGBTQ laws previously enacted by state lawmakers that focused on issues impacting public schools and foster youth. Several relate to protecting HIV prevention efforts.

Among the marquee LGBTQ bills this year are one's aimed at repealing state laws. Lawmakers are expected to adopt Assembly Constitutional Amendment 5 by gay Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Cupertino), which would place on the 2024 general election ballot a repeal of Proposition 8 that defines marriage in the California constitution as being between a man and a woman. Voters adopted it in 2008, and though a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2013 invalidated it, there is concern that the current conservative majority on the court could issue a new decision once again outlawing same-sex marriage as a federal right.

Another bill generating nationwide attention is state Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins' (D-San Diego) Senate Bill 447 called the BRIDGE Act, which stands for Building and Reinforcing Inclusive, Diverse, Gender-Supportive Equality. As the B.A.R. reported last week, it would scrap the state's ban on using taxpayer money for travel to 23 states that have passed anti-LGBTQ legislation over the past eight years.

In its place would be a marketing program in those states aimed at making their lawmakers and residents rethink their attacks on LGBTQ rights. Atkins' bill doesn't specify how much money would be allotted for the ad campaigns or where the funding would come from to pay for them.

Low, who authored the bill in 2015 that established the travel ban policy, has come out against doing away with it. He did express support for the "general concept" of Atkins' bill on Twitter last Wednesday following her public rollout of it.

"We shouldn't completely end California's state-funded travel ban without having an alternative action in combating discrimination," wrote Low, who had declined to take a position on SB 447 when asked about it by the B.A.R. last week. "We can't back down, especially as a record amount of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation is being introduced."

LGBTQ youth bills

A number of bills would further protect LGBTQ students, especially those who are transgender or gender-nonconforming. Under SB 857 by gay state Senator John Laird (D-Santa Cruz) the state's Superintendent of Public Instruction would be required to convene a task force on the needs of LGBTQ+ pupil needs by July 1, 2024.

According to the bill, the advisory body would be tasked with assisting in the implementation of supportive policies and initiatives to address LGBTQ+ pupil education. It would be required by January 1, 2026, to report on its findings and recommendations to the Legislature, the superintendent, and the governor.

Assemblymember Rick Zbur. Photo: Courtesy Rick Zbur  

Shortly after being sworn in last December freshman gay Assemblymember Rick Chavez Zbur (D-West Hollywood) introduced Assembly Bill 5, the Safe and Supportive Schools Act. It would mandate that teachers and credentialed staff at the state's 977 public school districts take an online LGBTQ cultural competency training course when it goes live in two years.

The California Department of Education is working with the Los Angeles County Office of Education and the San Joaquin Office of Education on developing the training. Late last year the state agency had told the B.A.R. it intends to debut the online training in conjunction with Pride Month in June 2024.

"LGBTQ+ students face unique challenges, and it's imperative to implement social and emotional supports that foster healthy development so they can achieve their full potential," Los Angeles County Superintendent of Schools Debra Duardo, Ph.D., stated in mid-March.

Under SB 760 by state Senator Josh Newman (D-Fullerton), all K-12 schools in California would be required to provide at least one accessible all-gender restroom for students "to use safely and comfortably during school hours." It is believed to be "first-of-its-kind" legislation, according to LGBTQ advocates.

Related legislation by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), AB 783, would require cities to notify all business license applicants that single-user restrooms in any business, place of public accommodation, or government agency must be identified as all-gender restrooms. Under a previous bill that took effect in 2017, the state has required establishments with single-occupancy restrooms to mark them as being gender-neutral.

Other bills aim to protect the privacy of transgender youth in California. AB 223 by gay Assemblymember Chris Ward (D-San Diego) would require the courts to seal any petition for a change of gender or sex identifier filed by a minor.

And AB 957 by Assemblymember Lori D. Wilson (D-Suisun City), dubbed the TGI (Transgender, Gender-Diverse, and Intersex) Youth Empowerment Act, would allow courts to consider a parent's affirmation of their child's gender identity when making decisions about visitation and custody. The bill would also require courts to strongly consider that affirming a child's gender identity is in the best interest of the child when one parent does not consent to a minor's legal name change to conform with the minor's gender identity.

"Family courts are required to consider a variety of factors when determining the best interest of the child for the purposes of custody and visitation, including the health, safety and welfare of the child, any history of abuse, and history of substance abuse. The TGI Youth Empowerment Act provides California the opportunity to take one step closer to building a safer, more dignified, and equitable world for TGI youth and their families," stated Wilson, who has an adult transgender son.

LGBTQ foster youth are the focus of SB 407 by gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco). As the B.A.R. recently reported, the legislation would require that the state's Department of Social Services specifically considers the needs of LGBTQ youth, who account for a third of foster youth, when doing at-home assessments. It also would specify that conduct that risks the health and safety of LGBTQ youth is a valid reason to deny a family the right to host a foster youth.

State Senator Caroline Menjivar. Photo: Courtesy Caroline Menjivar  

Several other bills relate to gender identity issues. SB 372 by lesbian state Senator Caroline Menjivar (D-San Fernando Valley) would ensure that the public records kept by the state's Department of Consumer Affairs don't use the deadnames or disclose the home addresses of licensed mental health professionals.

Meanwhile, AB 1163 by Assemblymember Luz Rivas (D-Arleta) would require various state agencies and departments to revise their public-use forms, by January 1, 2025, to be more inclusive of individuals who identify as transgender, gender nonconforming, or intersex. It would also require the impacted agencies and departments to collect data pertaining to the specific needs of the transgender, gender-nonconforming, or intersex community, including, but not limited to, information relating to medical care, mental health disparities, and population size.

Following up on his bill that established a state fund to pay for trans health care services, Assemblymember Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) is now seeking to create a similar one to assist formerly incarcerated trans and gender-nonconforming individuals. His AB 1487 would establish the Transgender, Gender Variant, and Intersex Wellness Reentry Fund, which upon appropriation by the Legislature would provide grants for reentry programming "specifically to support transgender, gender variant, and intersex people who have experienced carceral systems."

Bills protect LGBTQ health care
With lawmakers in other states restricting access to LGBTQ-supportive health care services, California lawmakers are moving to protect access to, and insurance coverage for, such programs in the Golden State. For example, Atkins is the author of SB 487, which would ensure that a health insurer, or health care service plan, couldn't penalize a licensed California health care provider who performs gender-affirming care services. (It also protects abortion providers.)

In a similar vein, AB 1432 by Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles) would close loopholes in existing law to ensure that health insurance policies provided to Californians by out-of-state employers with out-of-state insurance contracts include coverage for abortion and gender-affirming care. Menjivar's SB 729 would require health plans to provide coverage for fertility care, including treatment for infertility and in vitro fertilization, and ensure that LGBTQ+ people are not excluded from such coverage.

Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) has authored two bills this session to further protect paid leave provisions for LGBTQ people and others who need to care for their chosen family members, i.e. people they are not related to but have close bonds with and care for when they are sick. As the B.A.R. reported last week, her AB 518 would give workers the right to receive Paid Family Leave wage replacement benefits while on leave to assist their chosen family.

Her AB 524 would make it unlawful for employers to refuse to hire, fire, demote, or take other adverse employment action against workers because of their responsibilities to their biological or chosen family members. Since January California family leave provisions cover workers with chosen family due to the enactment of Wicks' AB 1041 that was passed by lawmakers last year.

Two bills aim to ensure people in California have access to PrEP in light of recent court decisions that have ruled health insurers don't need to cover the HIV prevention medicine. Zbur's AB 1645 would close loopholes and strengthen protections in existing law to ensure that California health insurers continue to provide free and complete coverage for preventive services like PrEP and testing for sexually transmitted infections.

Wiener's SB 339 would increase the amount of PrEP that pharmacists are authorized to provide without a doctor's prescription and require health plans to reimburse pharmacists for PrEP services. It builds on his first-in-the-nation legislation passed in 2019 that authorized people to acquire a limited amount of PrEP from a pharmacist without a doctor's prescription.

The Legislature's various policy committees have until April 28 to send bills with budgetary implications to the two chambers' fiscal committees to consider. Those review panels have until May 19 to send the bills for a floor vote in their chamber of origins.

The deadline for committees to report non-fiscal bills to floor votes in their house is May 5. Bills need to be voted on by their house of origin before June 3, while the final deadline to send bills to Governor Gavin Newsom to consider is September 14.

"The LGBTQ+ community is facing an onslaught of attacks by far-right extremists across the country with attempts to roll back civil rights that our community has fought tirelessly to achieve," stated Tony Hoang, executive director of statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization Equality California. "Here in California, we are standing up against hate and will continue leading the way to ensure LGBTQ+ Californians are protected, healthy, and can build a future that represents their values with a community that accepts and supports them. We are not allowing the ongoing attacks to set us back today — or ever."

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