Slew of CA LGBTQ bills survive first chamber votes

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Friday May 24, 2024
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State Senators Scott Wiener, left, and Caroline Menjivar saw important LGBTQ-related bills pass out of their legislative house of origin. Photos: Courtesy the subjects
State Senators Scott Wiener, left, and Caroline Menjivar saw important LGBTQ-related bills pass out of their legislative house of origin. Photos: Courtesy the subjects

A slew of LGBTQ bills is moving through the legislative process after California legislators adopted them out of their chamber of origin by the May 24 deadline. Committees in the Assembly and state Senate will now be taking them up over the coming weeks.

As has been the case in recent legislative sessions, health concerns and the rights of transgender individuals are the focus of a bulk of the bills. The 15 bills the Bay Area Reporter is tracking now must be sent to Governor Gavin Newsom's desk by August 31, otherwise the legislation will be spiked for the year.

A top priority for passage by LGBTQ advocates and lawmakers is Senate Bill 957 authored by gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco). As the B.A.R. first reported in January, the legislation aims to ensure that officials in the California Department of Public Health are meeting their requirements to ask about sexual orientation and gender identity demographics, known as SOGI data for short.

It is in response to a scathing 2023 report from California's state auditor that found the statewide health department's SOGI data collection efforts were woefully inadequate. If enacted, SB 957 would require that state health officials implement all of the recommendations in the audit.

Senators passed it May 21 on a 31-8 vote with one abstention. Wiener expressed delight at seeing the bill move on and pledged to push it through the Assembly.

"SB 957 will help us finally quantify health disparities faced by the LGBTQ community, a critical first step to eliminating health disparities," stated Wiener.

The California LGBTQ Health & Human Services Network, one of the bill's co-sponsors, also hailed its surviving Senate review.

"The collection of SOGI data is essential in advancing health equity across all demographics," stated Astin Williams, the statewide network's program coordinator. "SOGI data is vital for crafting effective policies, ensuring fair resource distribution, and combating discrimination. This legislation would enhance CDPH and its programs, as well as local health jurisdictions, improve conditions, and amplify the visibility and representation of LGBTQ+ communities, paving the way for a more inclusive and just society."

A nine-person Statewide LGBTQ+ Commission would be formed under Assembly Bill 3031 by Assemblymembers Alex Lee (D-San Jose), who is bisexual, and Evan Low (D-Cupertino), who is gay. The Assembly passed it May 22 on a 62-0 vote with 18 abstentions.

"This bill establishes a statewide LGBTQ+ Commission to shine a light on the unique challenges LGBTQ+ people face and make recommendations to improve the lives of LGBTQ+ Californians," noted statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization Equality California in a post on X hailing the bill advancing to the Senate.

May 21, on a 31-8 vote with one abstention, the Senate passed SB 959 by lesbian state Senator Caroline Menjivar (D-San Fernando Valley) that would create a resources website for transgender, gender diverse, and intersex (TGI) people and their families. It is aimed at combating misinformation and providing accurate information about access to trans-inclusive health care, existing legal protections for patients and health care providers, and other available support services for TGI individuals.

AB 1899 by lesbian Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes (D-Corona) would require jury questionnaires used by state courts to ask prospective jurors about their preferred names and pronouns. It would also require that questions about jurors' familial or personal relationships are phrased in a gender-neutral manner.

It passed out of the Assembly May 20 on a 60-8 vote with 12 abstentions.

Another bill related to legal matters is AB 1979 authored by gay Assemblymember Chris Ward (D-San Diego) that is known as the Doxing Victims Recourse Act. Doxing is the release of an individual's private information online, such as their home address and phone number.

It is a tool utilized by online trolls against their critics, with transgender individuals often becoming doxing victims when they speak out against transphobic legislation or policies.

The bill would allow a victim to pursue civil action to receive restitution for the harms endured as a result of being doxed. It passed out of the Assembly May 22 on a 61-1 vote with 18 abstentions.

Under SB 1491 by lesbian state Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) the California Student Aid Commission would have to provide, beginning with the 2026—27 school year, written notice to college students who receive state financial aid if their postsecondary educational institution has an exemption from either the Equity in Higher Education Act or Title IX on file with the commission.

Often religious-based colleges will seek exemptions in order not to comply with providing protections covered by the rules to LGBTQ students on their campuses. The state commission currently is only required to post which schools have exemptions online.

For state-run colleges and universities, they would need to designate a confidential point of contact on their campus for lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, pansexual, transgender, gender-nonconforming, intersex and two-spirit faculty, staff, and students. The bill was amended to remove having the Legislative Analyst's Office audit the state's community colleges and four-year colleges and universities with respect to the quality of life for their LGBTQ students, faculty and staff.

SB 1491 passed out of the Senate on May 21 by a 31-8 vote with one abstention.

LGBTQ health bills receive broad backing

Gay Assemblymember Rick Chavez Zbur (D-Hollywood) authored AB 2258 to codify long-standing federal guidance that health plans and insurers must cover services that are integral to providing recommended preventive care — including anesthesia and polyp removal during a colonoscopy; and placement, management, and removal of long-acting reversible contraceptives. They would also need to provide without cost sharing ancillary and support services for PrEP, the HIV prevention medication, including screening for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

Newsom vetoed a similar bill by Zbur last year. Nonetheless, the Assembly on May 23 passed AB 2258 on a 62-0 vote with 18 abstentions.

Another bill Newsom vetoed last year over its estimated $4 million price tag to implement is now back before the Legislature. Menjivar's SB 954, known as the Youth Health Equity + Safety (YHES) Act, would expand public school students' access to condoms.

It passed out of the Senate May 22 on a 29-9 vote with two abstentions.

"SB 954 is a crucial step in destigmatizing the conversation about condoms and sexual health at schools," stated Sue Oh, a student leader at Generation Up, in a post on X by bill co-sponsor Essential Access Health. "Providing free condoms at schools will generate an atmosphere of non-judgment and security, and a feeling among students that our schools care for our well-being and can be a place where we can go when we need help and information."

Zbur's AB 2477 updating state law to clarify that young adults can accumulate cash savings while in foster care passed out of the Assembly April 25 on a 75-0 vote with five abstentions.

Eggman's SB 1333 would require state and local health department employees and contractors to annually sign confidentiality agreements prior to accessing confidential HIV-related public health records. Currently, they just sign it once then the state or local health department is to yearly review the agreements.

The bill also authorizes disclosure to other local, state, or federal public health agencies or to medical researchers when confidential information is necessary for the coordination of, linkage to, or reengagement in care for the person. The Senate passed it May 23 on a 37-0 vote with three abstentions.

Eggman authored it to address issues that came up during the recent mpox outbreak, where state confidentiality laws prevented health providers from noting in patient records if someone who contracted mpox was also HIV-positive, thus potentially impacting the care the person needed. It has also been an issue with people living with HIV who have other comorbidities, such as other STIs or tuberculosis.

AB 3161 by Assemblymember Mia Bonta (D-Alameda) requires hospitals, as of January 1, 2026, to analyze patient safety events by sociodemographic factors, like race, ethnicity, language, sexual orientation, and disability status. Known as the Equity in Health Care Act: Ensuring Safety and Accountability, the bill aims to bring to light the disparities in health that communities of color and LGBTQ communities are facing.

Additionally, AB 3161 requires hospital safety plans to include a process for addressing racism and discrimination and its impacts on patient health and safety. It passed out of the Assembly May 21 on a 70-0 vote with 10 abstentions.

"California's health care system is failing its most vulnerable populations. Lack of clear pathways for justice and accountability leaves marginalized communities at risk of enduring trauma and losing trust in the system," noted the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, a backer of the bill.

With housing stability tied to a person's health outcomes, Zbur's AB 2498 aims to prevent a wide range of individuals, from former foster youth, older adults, and adults with disabilities to people unemployed or who were recently incarcerated, from losing their housing. Known as the California Housing Security Act, the bill would provide rent subsidies to the various rent-burdened populations and is co-authored by Assemblymember Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fullerton).

It passed out of the Assembly May 21 on a 58-8 vote with 14 abstentions.

"Proud to announce that the California Housing Security Act, jointly authored with @QuirkSilvaCA, has passed the Assembly and advances to the Senate! To solve homelessness, we must empower our most housing-insecure Californians to remain in their homes," wrote Zbur in a post on X.

As the B.A.R. earlier reported, four other LGBTQ-related bills will also be taken up in the coming weeks. They aim to ban the forced outing of transgender public school students; expedite the medical licensure of gender-affirming care providers; ensure LGBTQ people are covered by governmental emergency or natural disaster plans; and add World AIDS Day to the list of observances officially recognized by gubernatorial proclamations.

Trio of bills not moving forward

AB 2007, which would have established the Unicorn Homes Transitional Housing for Homeless LGBTQ+ Youth Program in up to five selected counties, was held in committee in mid-May. It called for training LGBTQ+ affirming households willing to host LGBTQ+ identifying youth experiencing homelessness due to being rejected by their family.

Authored by Assemblymember Tasha Boerner (D-Encinitas), Ward and Zbur were co-authors, along with gay Assemblymember Corey A. Jackson, Ph.D., (D-Perris). It faced tough odds due to the state facing a budget deficit, as Newsom last year had vetoed Boerner's AB 589 that called for establishing such a housing program in Sacramento and San Diego counties because of fiscal concerns.

Another two bills put on hold last year ended up not moving forward this year. AB 518 by Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Berkeley) would have extended paid family leave to cover a worker's chosen family, the term LGBTQ people and others use for individuals they care for and rely on who are not their biological family or spouse.

Menjivar's SB 729 would have required large group health plans to provide coverage for fertility and infertility care, including IVF. It also would have updated the definition of infertility to be inclusive of LGBTQ+ family planning experiences.

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