Robust Year for Civil Liberties in California
The ACLU of California made significant progress toward protecting the civil liberties of all Californians through the State Legislature in 2013.
This year the ACLU played a central role in getting to the Governor’s desk sixteen bills, dealing with a wide range of civil liberties issues including privacy, criminal justice and drug law reform, immigrant rights, and LGBT rights. We are pleased to report that the Governor signed twelve of those bills, most of which will become law on January 1, 2014. (See full list below.)
Of particular importance is AB 4 (Ammiano), the TRUST Act, which restores community relationships with police by making it clear that local jails should not hold people on immigration-based detention requests when they pose no threat to public safety; and AB 154 (Atkins), which expands access to early abortion care for women across the state while many states across the nation are restricting access to the legal procedure.
“In my twenty-five years leading the ACLU’s office in Sacramento, I have seen legislative years come and go, but this year stands as one of the most robust in advancing our civil liberties,” said Francisco Lobaco, legislative director for the ACLU of California. The ACLU of California is a collaboration of the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, the ACLU of Southern California, and the ACLU of Northern California.
The governor also signed several other bills to enact critical civil liberties protections, including those limiting indefinite military detention (AB 351), requiring videotaping of some interrogations of juveniles (SB 569), and instituting some due process in gang databases (SB 458). He also signed ACLU-backed bills that protect the privacy of health records (SB 138), require public schools to respect students’ gender identity (AB 1266), and facilitate compensation of the wrongfully convicted (SB 618).
Sadly, the governor’s vetoes included three critical ACLU priorities for this year: SB 467 (Leno), which would have updated California privacy law so that our private email and online documents would finally have the same warrant protection as letters in our house and files on our computer; SB 744 (Lara), which would have prevented school districts from forcing students to be transferred to non-mainstream schools after actions for which they could have been expelled, placing a disparate impact on students of color; and SB 649 (Leno), which would have allowed counties to reduce the wasteful and counterproductive incarceration of people for low-level drug possession by revising the penalty to either a misdemeanor or a felony, instead of an automatic felony as it is now. In his SB 649 veto statement, however, the governor promised to “examine in detail California’s criminal justice system, including the current sentencing structure.”
“We have a lot to celebrate this year, and a lot more work to do,” said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, senior policy advocate for the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties. “In 2014, we’ll work to implement the protections that we won this year and will continue to fight for equal protection under the law for all people. In particular, the governor has signaled an historic opportunity for criminal justice reform and we are committed to keeping the pressure on Sacramento to follow through.”
Following is a brief run-down of the ACLU of California priority legislation passed by the state legislature and signed by the governor in 2013.
CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM
- SB 618 (Leno). Facilitates the process for exonerees to recover compensation through the California Victims Compensation and Government Claims Board for time spent wrongfully in jail. Since 2000, when the compensation law was enacted, only 11 exonerees have received any funds from the state, even though 132 people have been exonerated.
- SB 569 (Lieu). Requires law enforcement to videotape all juvenile interrogations where the charge is homicide. Such taping will help reduce the likelihood of false confessions.
- SB 458 (Wright). Requires that before a law enforcement agency designates a person as a gang member, associate, or affiliate in a shared gang database, the agency must notify the person or his/her parent or guardian and explain why the designation is being considered.
- AB 351 (Donnelly). Prohibits any state agency or personnel from aiding an agency of the Armed Forces in any investigation, prosecution, or detention that could lead to a person’s indefinite military detention.
- SB 380 (Padilla). Requires law enforcement to get a warrant before interfering or shutting down communication services in the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system absent an emergency situation involving immediate danger of death or danger to public safety and there is insufficient time to obtain a court order.
- AB 4 (Ammiano). Set clear statewide limits on when local law enforcement will respond to federal immigration requests. “While the federal government has repeatedly promised to stop the unjust detentions and deportations, and to keep families together, this year, California took a major step in that direction,” said Norma Chavez-Peterson, executive director of the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties. “We hope that the passage of this legislation highlights California’s belief that we can do better than the harmful collaboration between local law enforcement and immigration enforcement imposed on police and sheriffs throughout the country through the Secure Communities program.”
- AB 154 (Atkins). Expands access to early abortion for women in California. The law authorizes trained nurse practitioners, certified nurse-midwives, and physician assistants to provide safe, early abortion care across the state. The law addresses a serious shortage in the state, where more than half of the counties do not have an accessible abortion provider. It also allows women to receive care in their own communities from providers they already know and trust.
- SB 138 (Hernandez). Starting on January 1, 2015, ensures that billing and other insurance documents for sensitive medical services from insurance and health care providers remain confidential for dependents up to the age of 26 unless they opt out, and for those over 26 if they opt-in.
- AB 651 (Bradford). Allows people with low-level felony convictions who are sentenced under the new Realignment laws to petition for expungement after completing their sentences and remaining crime free for up to two years. (A similar remedy already exists for people sentenced to felony probation; this law merely extends that remedy to those convicted under the new Realignment laws.)
- AB 218 (Dickinson). Starting on July 1, 2014, bars state and local government agencies from asking job applicants about criminal convictions until the agency determines that the applicant meets minimum qualifications for the job. This removes unnecessary and unfair barriers to employment that keep ex-offenders locked out of the job market.
- AB 1266 (Ammiano). Ensures that transgender students have the chance to fully participate in all school activities, sports teams, programs, and facilities that match their gender identity. California law already prohibits discrimination, but transgender students have still been discriminated against and unfairly excluded.