Newsom nixes trio of bills covering LGBTQ health concerns

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Monday October 9, 2023
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Governor Gavin Newsom has nixed bills covering LGBTQ health concerns. Photo: From X
Governor Gavin Newsom has nixed bills covering LGBTQ health concerns. Photo: From X

Governor Gavin Newsom over the weekend nixed three pieces of legislation aimed at addressing health concerns facing LGBTQ individuals. It brings the number of LGBTQ-related bills he has vetoed this legislative session to four.

One of the vetoed bills would have provided protections for California workers who need time off to care for their biological or chosen family members. It marked the second time this year that bills addressing workers whose households include members who are not familial relatives had hit roadblocks in becoming law.

The pair of bills were both authored by Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) and had drawn strong support from LGBTQ rights advocates and groups promoting gender justice policies. Chosen family members of workers are people they are not legally related to but have close bonds with and care for when they are sick.

The 2023 legislative proposals built off of Wicks' Assembly Bill 1041 that was passed by lawmakers last year and led to the state's family leave provisions covering workers with chosen family as of January 1. Many LGBTQ individuals consider their close friends or acquaintances to be their chosen family due to being estranged from their biological family members.

This year, Wicks had introduced AB 518 to give workers the right to receive Paid Family Leave wage replacement benefits while on leave to assist their chosen family. The bill had passed out of the Assembly in late May but failed to move out of the Senate's Appropriations Committee in September.

The Legislature did pass Wicks' AB 524 that 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. It would have made "family caregiver status" a protected characteristic under the state's Fair Employment and Housing Act.

But Newsom vetoed the bill October 8. In a veto message his office released Sunday, Newsom criticized the language of AB 524 for being ambiguous and not clearly defining what acts against employees covered by it would constitute unlawful discrimination by their employers.

He was also critical of a lack of specification in the bill for what would be deemed lawful denials of "special accommodations" for the impacted employees. Thus, Newsom argued, the bill would be difficult to implement and could result in employers facing "costly litigation," he wrote.

"During my tenure as governor I have consistently advanced policies to help parents and families, including expanding paid family leave and increasing the state's investment in child care," noted Newsom in his veto message. "While I appreciate the intent of this bill, I am concerned about the large burden it will place on employers, particularly small businesses, especially given the ambiguous nature of the language."

In doing so, Newsom sided with business interests like the California Chamber of Commerce. It had named AB 524 one of its 2023 "job killer" bills it was tracking this year.

While Wicks praised Newsom for signing another of her bills, AB 1394, that allows survivors of child sexual exploitation to sue social media platforms, she had yet to comment about his vetoing AB 524 as of Monday afternoon.

It was the fourth bill related to LGBTQ issues that Newsom has vetoed this year. As the B.A.R. previously reported, in late September he spiked legislation that would have required state judges to take into account parental support for their transgender children during custody disputes.

On October 7, Newsom vetoed two other LGBTQ-related bills. AB 1432 by Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles) would have closed 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. Newsom reiterated concerns about the "well intentioned" bill leading to litigation.

"I commend the author for working to provide additional assurances that California residents can access abortion services and gender affirming care," wrote Newsom in his veto message to lawmakers. "It is a priority of my administration to ensure that abortion and gender-affirming care are safe, legal, and accessible. However, it is not evident that out-of-state health insurance plans serving Californians do not already cover this care."

Also on Saturday Newsom vetoed AB 1645 authored by gay Assemblymember Rick Chavez Zbur (D-Santa Monica/West Hollywood). It would have closed loopholes and strengthened protections in existing law to ensure that California health insurers continue to provide free and complete coverage for preventive services like PrEP, an effective medicine for ensuring people remain HIV negative, and testing for sexually transmitted infections.

HIV advocates have raised concerns about access to such preventative health services because of a federal lawsuit conservative business owners have filed seeking to cite their religious beliefs as a reason for not covering PrEP and other sexual health services in the health insurance policies they offer to employees. But Newsom raised several concerns with Zbur's bill, including its impact on costs.

While he noted his appreciation for the freshman lawmaker's efforts to increase access to various preventative health care services, Newsom wrote in his veto message that "components of this proposal depart from structures in federal and state law, such as the existing policies for reimbursement to non-contracted providers."

He added, "because this bill exceeds the cost-sharing provisions under the Affordable Care Act, it would result in increased costs to health plans passed on to consumers through premiums."

Zbur nor Carillo have yet to issue comments regarding the gubernatorial vetoes of their bills.

LGBTQ bills become law

As of October 9, Newsom has signed into law 14 bills that either provide protections for LGBTQ Californians or address their health needs. Most recently, he signed Senate Bill 487 by outgoing lesbian Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) ensuring 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 was one of nine bills Newsom signed September 27 that provide stronger protections for providers delivering abortion care, expand the health care workforce, and protect patient reproductive health care information. Another was AB 571 by Assemblymember Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach) that prohibits an insurer from refusing to provide malpractice insurance to a provider on the basis of them offering abortion, contraception, or gender-affirming care that is lawful in California but unlawful in another state.

A third, AB 352 by Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-Orinda), enhances privacy protections for electronic medical records related to abortion, gender-affirming care, pregnancy loss, and other sensitive services, closing a major loophole in privacy protections for people traveling to California for abortion and gender-affirming care. The legislative moves in Sacramento come as lawmakers in other states target abortion providers and physicians who treat transgender children, as well as their parents.

"Radical politicians continue their all out assault on women's health care with dangerous and deadly consequences," stated Newsom. "The right to an abortion is enshrined in California's constitution. We will continue to protect women and health care workers who are seeking and providing basic care."

In a thread on X (formerly Twitter) Bauer-Kahan wrote, "No one should have to choose between seeing their doctor and being arrested. With AB 352, patients won't have to make that horrible choice."

Newsom has until Saturday, October 14, to sign or veto the two remaining LGBTQ-related bills before him that the B.A.R. has been tracking this year. Both concern the needs of transgender individuals.

Under AB 1163 by Assemblymember Luz Rivas (D-Arleta) various state agencies and departments would have until July 1, 2026, to revise their public-use forms so they are more inclusive of individuals who identify as transgender, gender nonconforming, or intersex. They would also need to collect data pertaining to the specific needs of such individuals, such as their medical care and mental health disparities, as well as the population size of the various communities.

AB 1487 by Assemblymember Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) would 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." If Newsom signs the bill creating it then the fund would need to have money allocated to it in future state budgets.

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