Justice Never Sleeps… and Neither Do We (Kind of)
By: Natasha Minsker
Updated October 3, 2018
California’s 2018 legislative session has ended, and we have some huge victories to celebrate! This year, California passed groundbreaking legislation to increase police accountability, provide quality sexual education to charter school students and keep innocent people out of prison, to name just a few.
These were hard fought battles that we couldn’t have won without the support of ACLU members, nor without the tireless work of our coalition partners and impacted community members.
We thank everyone who called, emailed or tweeted at their lawmakers and Governor Brown. These legislative victories are just a few examples of how, together, we can make meaningful and long-lasting change to ensure all Californians’ rights are respected, protected, and upheld.
SB 1421 (Skinner) Access to police misconduct and use of force records: This year, we will reclaim our right to know about cases of excessive use of force and serious and confirmed misconduct by police. It may come a surprise, but California is one of the most secretive states when it comes to police officer records. This must change. The public has a fundamental right to know about cases in which officers have been found guilty of committing sexual assault or dishonesty in criminal investigations. That includes confirmed instances of lying, planting evidence, or falsifying police reports during investigations. Equally important is access to records related to police shootings and other serious or deadly uses of force incidents. We give law enforcement officers tremendous power to stop, detain, arrest, and even use force on members of our communities. We, the people, have a fundamental right to know how police use – and abuse – these powers. The ACLU of CA is a proud co-sponsor of this bill.
Update: Victory! SB 1421 was signed into law by Governor Brown.
AB 748 (Ting) Access to police video recordings: Police body cameras have been adopted by many agencies throughout California with the goal of increasing civilian oversight at a time of a serious and growing concern that the United States has a persistent problem with police violence. While the release of body camera footage has the potential to reduce police abuses and hold officers accountable, many police departments currently refuse to ever release body camera footage. AB 748 will require that departments release video recordings within 45 days of a police shooting or other serious use of force incident. Having an open government that is accountable to the people it serves is not merely an ideal to strive for, it is a necessity to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our families and communities. Nowhere is that more apparent than in policing. With AB 748, we will be one step closer to fulfilling that goal. The ACLU of CA is a proud co-sponsor of this bill.
Update: Victory! AB 748 was signed into law by Governor Brown.
AB 931 (Weber): Lethal use of force by police: Police departments in California are some of the deadliest in the country. Police in Kern County, for example, have killed more people per capita than in any other county in the U.S. Last year, police in California killed 172 people. But many of these deaths could have been prevented if police were held to a higher standard that valued the preservation of life. Fortunately, Assemblymembers Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) and Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) introduced legislation to update California’s deadly use of force standard. Under AB 931, police would only be allowed to use deadly force if there were no reasonable alternatives available and if there was an imminent threat to the officer or another person’s safety. For years, communities have demanded accountability for police violence and brutality. AB 931 will save lives and get us one step close to that. The ACLU of CA is a proud co-sponsor of this bill.
Update: AB 931 was held in the Senate Rules Committee.
AB 3131 (Gloria): Police Militarization: Every year, billions of dollars’ worth of funding and military equipment flows from the federal government to state and local police departments. Local police have effectively been stockpiling wartime arsenals, with low-income people and people of color bearing the brunt of this militarization over the years. For example, over 600 police departments throughout the country have received MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicles—tanks built to withstand armor-piercing roadside bombs. In 2014, the ACLU studied over 800 incidents of paramilitary policing in the U.S. between 2011 and 2012—people of color were more likely to be impacted by them than white people. But our neighborhoods are not warzones, and police officers should not be treating us like wartime enemies. AB 3131 will restore transparency and accountability to the process by requiring that law enforcement agencies give the public notice before they acquire military equipment. The ACLU of CA is a proud co-sponsor of this bill.
Update: AB 3131 was vetoed by Governor Brown.
SB 1186 (Hill): Protect against secret surveillance by police: Californians deserve a voice and a seat at the table when it comes to law enforcement’s acquisition of surveillance technologies. Unfortunately, that is rarely the case in California. It’s time to bring transparency, oversight, and accountability for law enforcement’s use of technologies – such as drones, social media surveillance, and license plate readers – which allow police to track and even detain us as we go about our daily lives. SB 1186 restores power to local communities and makes sure our voices are heard by requiring public debate and a vote by local elected leaders prior to law enforcement’s acquisition or use of surveillance technology. The ACLU of CA is a proud co-sponsor of this bill.
Update: SB 1186 was held in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
SB 923 (Wiener): Eyewitness Identification Reform: Wrongful convictions are one of the most devastating blights plaguing our justice system – affecting those wrongly convicted and survivors who turn to our legal system seeking justice, as well as society, which relies on this system to ensure overall community safety. By establishing long-overdue best practices for eyewitness identification, SB 923 will help protect the integrity of our justice system and promote the safety and wellbeing of our communities. The ACLU of CA is a proud co-sponsor of this bill.
Update: Victory! SB 923 was signed into law by Governor Brown.
SB 1392 & SB 1393 (Mitchell): Sentencing Enhancements: California has some of the most severe sentence enhancements for prior convictions in the nation. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, “California has more than 100 separate code sections that enhance sentences” based on a person’s current offense and/or record of prior convictions. As of 2016, 79% of people under California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation custody had some kind of sentence enhancement attached to their base sentence; 25% had three or more enhancements stacked on. SB 1392 will repeal California’s one-year sentencing enhancement for each prior prison or felony jail term. The bill builds upon a growing bipartisan movement to end the use of expensive, ineffective, and draconian tough-on crime policies that have destroyed thousands of lives and families. SB 1393 will increase the fairness of our justice system. The bill restores the court’s discretion, in the interest of justice and at the time of sentencing, to strike the five-year sentence enhancements for prior serious felony convictions, when a person is charged with a serious felony. Right now, judges are forced to stack this enhancement on top of even longer enhancements for the exact same thing. Allowing judicial discretion is consistent with other sentence enhancement laws and retains existing sanctions for serious crimes. The ACLU of CA is a proud co-sponsor of these two bills.
Update: SB 1392 did not receive enough votes to get out of the Senate and failed.
Update: Victory! SB 1393 was signed into law by Governor Brown.
SB 10 (Hertzberg): Bail Reform
Update: The ACLU of California has withdrawn its sponsorship and support of SB 10. Our position is now opposed. You can read more about our position here.
SB 185 (Hertzberg): Establishing Affordable Ways to Pay Off Traffic Tickets: Since 2006, California suspended approximately 4.8 million driver’s licenses just because people couldn’t afford to pay traffic tickets. What started with a minor traffic violation – or even a jaywalking ticket – turned into hundreds of dollars of debt for many when the automatic, excessive fees were tacked on, and courts required payment in full without determining if people had the ability to pay. Without a license, many people lost their jobs or couldn’t work, and they risked arrest if they got behind the wheel, even if it was to drive their kids to school or drive a parent to the hospital. Due in part to racial bias in traffic stops, this problem disproportionately impacted people of color: in many Black and Latino communities, the rate of license suspensions for failure to pay was 3-6 times the state average. California finally put an end to this punitive practice by prohibiting license suspensions for a failure to pay in the 2017-18 state budget. SB 185 will build on this progress by establishing affordable ways for low-income individuals to pay off their traffic tickets to help end this vicious financial cycle. The ACLU of CA is a proud co-sponsor of this bill.
Update: SB 185 was held in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
AB 2601 (Weber): Sex Education in Charter Schools: In 2016, the California Healthy Youth Act took effect. The law makes sure California school districts provide students with integrated, comprehensive, accurate, and unbiased sexual health and HIV prevention education at least once in middle school and once in high school. However, charter schools were not included in the new law, although they are also public institutions. AB 2601 will extend these sexual health education and HIV prevention education requirements to charter schools. In doing so, the bill will promote equity by ensuring that charter school students are provided with the same effective, science-based sexual health education as other public school students; ensure consistency of baseline standards for sexual health education across all public schools, including charters; and allow charter schools curricular choice and significant flexibility as to the grades and classes in which sexual health education is taught. The ACLU of CA is a proud co-sponsor of this bill.
Update: Victory! AB 2601 was signed into law by Governor Brown.
SB 607 (Skinner): Student Discipline & Willful Defiance: All students have the right to a quality education regardless of who they are or what they look like. But a 2017 study by UCLA found that California students lost over 250,000 days of instruction because of disruption/defiance suspensions during just one school year. This disruption/defiance category is subjective and overly broad, leading to suspensions of students for minor misbehavior like dancing, breaking the dress code, or not paying attention in class. This catch-all category punishes students with disabilities and students of color at alarmingly disparate rates and must stop. SB 607 will eliminate the use of suspension for minor misbehavior covered under the “disruption or willful defiance” category for California K-8 students, with a sunset provision for grades 6-8. By passing this bill, California will take a significant step to protect students from discriminatory school climates and encourage schools to find alternatives to keep students in the classroom – where they belong. The ACLU of CA is a proud co-sponsor of this bill.
Update: SB 607 was vetoed by Governor Brown.
SB 1194 (Lara): Consumer Privacy & Trust: Over the past few months, news reports have revealed that several Motel 6 properties in Washington state and the Phoenix area reportedly handed over guests’ personal information to federal immigration agents without any reasonable suspicion, probable cause, or search warrants. According a lawsuit filed in Washington state, deportation agents would single out guests by their nationality and sometimes target guests who had “Latino-sounding” names. Private bus companies have also drawn criticism for providing these deportation agents with access to their passengers here in California. SB 1194 will protect Californians’ private data to make sure this deep invasion of privacy doesn’t happen in hotels, buses, and entertainment venues. The ACLU of CA is a proud co-sponsor of this bill.
Update: Victory! SB 1194 was signed into law by Governor Brown.
AB 2119 (Gloria): Transgender Foster Care Youth: Transgender and gender nonconforming (TGNC) youth are significantly overrepresented in California’s foster care system. Unfortunately, some personnel, caregivers, and providers harbor the same biases and misinformation that jeopardize these young people in their families and communities, subjecting them to unstable placements, fewer opportunities to achieve permanency, and lack of access to medically necessary care. Child welfare agencies are already required to assess the health and behavioral health needs of all young people in foster care, and to ensure they receive appropriate and timely care to address the needs identified by qualified professionals. AB 2119 will make clear that, to meet this obligation for TGNC youth, child welfare agencies must ensure access to clinicians who provide gender-affirming treatment, consistent with established standards of care. Gender-affirming treatment involves an individualized approach that permits TGNC youth and young adults to explore and understand their gender identity at their own pace. The ACLU of CA is a proud co-sponsor of this bill.
Update: Victory! AB 2119 was signed into law by Governor Brown.
But justice never sleeps, and neither do we (except during legislative recesses). That’s why, we’ll be back at it again next legislative session. Stay tuned for more!
Natasha Minsker if the Director of the ACLU of California Center for Advocacy & Policy.