California LGBTQ bills advance

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Thursday May 25, 2023
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California lawmakers have advanced many LGBTQ-related bills ahead of a June 3 deadline for passing out of their house of origin. Photo: From Twitter
California lawmakers have advanced many LGBTQ-related bills ahead of a June 3 deadline for passing out of their house of origin. Photo: From Twitter

More than a dozen LGBTQ-related bills have already passed out of their house of origin in the California Legislature, with several more waiting for floor votes prior to the June 3 deadline for lawmakers in the two chambers to pass them.

One bill already moving on that has garnered national attention this session would scrap the state's ban on using taxpayer money for travel to 23 states that have passed anti-LGBTQ legislation over the last eight years. San Francisco officials already have repealed their city's similar travel restriction policy.

State Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins. Photo: Courtesy Atkins' office  

Arguing such travel bans have not had the desired effect of stopping attacks in other states on LGBTQ rights, and instead hamper California officials and leaders from making the case for such issues via out-of-state travel, lesbian state Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego) introduced this year Senate Bill 447.

It is called the BRIDGE Act, using an acronym for Building and Reinforcing Inclusive, Diverse, Gender-Supportive Equality. It would repeal the travel ban policy and replace it with a marketing program supportive of LGBTQ rights in conservative-led states. Atkins' bill doesn't allocate any funding, though, for such ad campaigns.

The Senate passed SB 447 31-8 on May 24. It now heads to the Assembly, where the initial author in 2015 of the travel ban policy, gay Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Cupertino), has expressed qualified support for Atkins' legislation.

Atkins hailed its moving forward by noting "hundreds of discriminatory, anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced this year alone — it's unprecedented, and my heart hurts for all of the folks in other states where this is happening. The folks who feel alone and isolated. This bill is about reaching out to them with messages of support and understanding, and at the same time, helping open hearts and minds so that acceptance, instead of animosity, wins the day."

Many of the 21 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.

Education-related bills
Another closely watched bill is Assembly Bill 5, the Safe and Supportive Schools Act, authored by gay Assemblymember Rick Chavez Zbur (D-West Hollywood). It would mandate that teachers and credentialed staff who serve public school pupils in grades seven to 12 take an online training course in LGBTQ cultural competency when it goes live in two years.

As the Bay Area Reporter's online Political Notes column reported in early May, Zbur amended the bill so it mandates one hour of training annually for middle and high school teachers and certified staff. Initially, the bill had called for the covered school employees to do four hours of LGBTQ cultural competency training every three years.

A bill that called for creating the training became law in 2019, but the necessary funding for it wasn't allocated until 2021. The California Department of Education had said last year it would debut during Pride Month in 2024, but it has since sought an extension until June 30, 2025 "due to delays in establishing the necessary contracts," according to a legislative analysis done on Zbur's bill.

The Office of Legislative Counsel keyed the bill "as a possible state-mandated local program," though it is unclear what the cost to implement it would be if AB 5 becomes law. One of the state's major unions has made its passage a top priority this year and hailed its advancing out of the state Assembly by a 64-4 vote May 22, which California celebrates as Harvey Milk Day in honor of the late gay San Francisco supervisor.

"AB 5 is a key plank in SEIU members' justice agenda this year because we believe every child deserves the right to learn while feeling safe and accepted," stated Max Arias, Service Employees International Union Local 99 executive director and member of the executive board of SEIU California.

Another bill aimed at protecting LGBTQ students, especially those who are transgender or gender-nonconforming, is Senate Bill 857 by gay state Senator John Laird (D-Santa Cruz). It would require the state's superintendent of public instruction 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.

As the B.A.R. has reported, a report card on LGBTQ school issues now twice issued by the Equality California Institute, most recently in 2022, has found lackluster results among the state's public school districts. Laird partnered with the California Association of Student Councils on SB 857 with an eye toward seeing better results on the report cards, which should be released by EQCA every two years.

The Senate passed the bill by a 35-0 vote May 15.

"SB 857 is an important opportunity to empower the growing community of LGBTQ+ students, ensure the enforcement and implementation of existing laws, and work to address the real needs of all California students," stated the student council group.

Assemblymember Corey Jackson, Ph.D. Photo: Courtesy Jackson's office  

The Assembly voted 62-16 Tuesday, May 30, to advance AB 1078 by gay Assemblymember Corey Jackson, Ph.D., (D-Riverside) that would ensure school districts in California are using instructional materials inclusive of the role and contributions made by Latino Americans, LGBTQ+ Americans, and members of other religions and socioeconomic groups to the "total development" of the state and the country. It comes amid school districts and state lawmakers across the country banning books and school curriculums that touch on topics about race, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

"We must strive to create a more equitable and inclusive education system for all students. This bill will ensure that students in California receive a comprehensive education that celebrates the diversity of our state and promotes a sense of belonging in the classroom," stated Jackson.

Youth bills
After what his office described as "an emotional exchange on the Senate floor" May 24, gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) saw his SB 407 pass by a 30-9 vote. The bill directs the state's Department of Social Services to amend the foster care vetting process to ensure LGBTQ foster youth, who account for more than 30% of all youth in the foster care system, are not placed in hostile foster homes.

Conservative groups like the California Family Council have attacked the bill as an attempt to "weed out" Christians from being foster parents unless they "promise to affirm, encourage, and praise the chosen gender identity and sexual orientation of a foster child, no matter how young, and be able to cooperate in the medical transitioning of that child with drugs and surgeries."

Advocates for SB 407 counter that LGBTQ youth need to be protected from abuse in the state-funded foster care system, particularly at a time when LGBTQ youth are confronted with vitriol on social media platforms stemming from other state legislatures rolling back their rights.

"While red states are stoking fear about LGBTQ youth to justify rolling back civil rights, California is expanding protections for our most vulnerable children," stated Wiener. "In California we believe that every child deserves to feel safe and affirmed at home, regardless of their identity. It's imperative that we support this value in the state-funded foster care system, where LGBTQ youth are over-represented."

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. It passed out of the Assembly 63-0 back in March and is awaiting a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Also before the Senate committee is AB 957 by Assemblymember Lori D. Wilson (D-Suisun City), dubbed the TGI (Transgender, Gender-Diverse, and Intersex) Youth Empowerment Act. It 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. It passed out of the Assembly 51-13 at the end of March.

"As the mother of a trans child, it is jarring to know that TGI youth are at a higher risk of depression, mental health crises, self-harm and suicide than their cisgender peers," stated Wilson.

Gender identity bills
Along with lesbian Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes (D-Corona), Wilson is also pushing for passage this year AB 760, which sailed out of the Assembly May 8 on a 58-0 vote. It would require the California State University system by the 2024—25 academic year to have campus systems that are "fully capable" of allowing current students, staff, or faculty to declare an affirmed name, gender, or both name and gender identification.

It also would require the state universities to update certain records with such information at the request of an individual. A bill adopted in 2021 prohibited California public universities from deadnaming trans and nonbinary students — that is using their former names they were given based on the sex they were assigned at birth — on their diplomas and academic records.

As the B.A.R. has previously reported, the University of California system had released in late 2020 a new policy on gender identity that all of its campuses must implement by the end of this year. AB 760 would "request" that the UC schools enact the same policies as the bill would require of the CSU campuses.

Still awaiting a final vote in the Senate is SB 760 by state Senator Josh Newman (D-Fullerton), which would require all K-12 schools in California 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, and passed out of the Senate Appropriations Committee on a 5-1 vote May 18.

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.

It passed out of the Assembly 64-9 in late April. The Senate Governance and Finance Committee will now take it up.

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. It passed out of the Senate 33-4 on May 22.

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. It is awaiting a final vote in the Assembly.

Also yet to pass out of the Assembly is AB 1487 by Assemblymember Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles). It aims to establish the Transgender, Gender Variant, and Intersex Wellness Reentry Fund to provide grants for reentry programming "specifically to support transgender, gender variant, and intersex people who have experienced carceral systems."

It includes no funding, though the bill's backers would like to secure at least $5 million for it. It mirrors the state fund Santiago pushed to create that pays for trans health care services several years ago, which Newsom appropriated $13 million for in 2021.

Bills tackling LGBTQ health care issues
California lawmakers are also moving forward several bills supportive of LGBTQ health care services. For example, Atkins' SB 487 would ensure that a health insurer, or health care service plan, doesn't penalize a licensed California health care provider who performs gender-affirming care services.

It also protects abortion providers. The Senate passed it May 24 on a 31-8 vote.

"With patients coming to California for abortions and medical care that is restricted or limited in other states, providers are currently putting themselves at risk by performing those services both here, and when they travel to other states to make abortion care accessible," stated Atkins. "The least we can do is ensure they are protected and able to provide this care in California, where it is legal."

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.

Carrillo's bill was sent to the Senate May 18 on a 61-13 vote. The Senate passed Menjivar's legislation 30-3 on May 24.

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. Her AB 518 by would give workers the right to receive Paid Family Leave wage replacement benefits while on leave to assist their chosen family.

Wicks' 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.

The Assembly has yet to take up both of Wick's bills.

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 PrEP from a pharmacist without a doctor's prescription.

The Senate passed SB 339 40-0 May 22. The Assembly has yet to take up Zbur's bill.

Prop 8 repeal
Lawmakers have yet to vote on Low's Assembly Constitutional Amendment 5 that 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. The "zombie" Prop 8 language remains in the state constitution and this amendment, should voters pass it next year, would remove it.

The deadline for legislators to send bills to Governor Gavin Newsom to consider is September 14. With California facing a budget shortfall of anywhere from $31.5 billion, per the governor's office, to is $34.5 billion, according to the Legislative Analyst's Office, it remains to be seen if the LGBTQ bills with fiscal costs will survive Newsom's veto pen this fall should they make it to his desk.

For instance, Menjivar's fertility care bill SB 729 is estimated to cost in the "low millions" to enact. Rivas' AB 1163 is pegged to cost between $3 and $5 million for state agencies to update the forms they use, while Wicks' paid leave bill AB 518 is estimated to need $3.7 million to launch its provisions then fall down to about $900,000 annually to for state agencies to oversee.

UPDATED 5/25/23 and 5/31/23 with votes on additional bills.

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