TURNING OFF NOTIFICATIONS: A first-in-the-nation proposal to keep children safe online flew through the California Legislature, winning a decisive final floor vote this afternoon on the Assembly floor: 60-0.
It’s a state bill with national implications, laying out design and data privacy standards for any online platform or application that is regularly accessed by children under 18.
The standards are modeled after U.K. rules that took effect last year and pushed tech giants to adjust their approach to child users. Their reactions give California an idea of what to expect: Instagram and Tiktok both stopped direct messaging between kids and adults who do not follow them. The Google Play Store stopped allowing kids to see and download apps rated adult-only. Youtube turned off autoplay for child users.
Internet spaces notoriously have blurred state and national borders. The bill’s main author, Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) said at a news conference today outside the state Capitol that the bill’s standards could reach well beyond California, even if other states don’t follow its lead. It’s possible, for example, that tech companies would find it easier to adopt the bill’s standards universally, not just for children logging on in California.
Online children’s safety advocates have touted the bill as a much needed intervention to protect children’s mental and physical health. Dalia Hashad, Online Safety Director of Parents Together, spoke at the news conference. Hashad described the bill as “a prayer answered” for parents who struggle to protect their kids from dangerous internet spaces.
Tech industry opponents worked for months, unsuccessfully, to narrow the bill’s scope, most recently asking for the bill to only apply to children under 16. Next, lobbyists are likely to take their qualms to Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is now wedged between online safety advocates and California’s powerful tech companies.
Another tech bill was also highlighted at today’s news conference. AB 587 from Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel (D-Encino) would require social media companies to publicly disclose their content moderation policies. The debate on children’s internet safety now moves from the chamber floor to Newsom’s office.
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THC TESTING: Cannabis is legal in California, but employees and job applicants can still be fired or denied employment for using it off the job. That may soon change. A bill prohibiting employers from testing workers and applicants for traces of nonpyschoactive cannabis cleared the state Legislature Tuesday. If Newsom signs Assemblymember Bill Quirk’s (D-Hayward) AB 2188, California would become the seventh state to offer such protections to recreational users, and the 22nd to shield medical users.
Jobs requiring a federal background test, or a drug test under federal or state law, would be exempt from the ban, as would trade and construction operations. For supporters, it’s a common-sense change: Employees shouldn’t be punished for using a legal substance during their free time, especially since they can test positive for doing so weeks after use. But business interests have fought the bill, warning they could face lawsuits if they punish employees for legitimate causes, such as on-the-job pot use.
REACTOR RENEWAL: Newsom made several changes to his proposal to delay the retirement of California’s last nuclear power plant as he worked to bring skeptical state lawmakers on board with the idea. The provisions are mainly designed to prevent Pacific Gas & Electric from profiting off the extension of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant and to protect ratepayers — changes that ultimately won over the Public Advocates Office. But environmental, anti-nuclear and rooftop solar groups are still fighting the proposal, asking for more investment in solar and wind energy instead. Rounding up the necessary votes before midnight Wednesday, especially in the Assembly where Democrats circulated a counter proposal last week, is bound to be a challenge: For SB 846 to take effect immediately, in time for an essential federal funding deadline, it will need two-thirds approval in both chambers. — Camille von Kaenel
FIRST GRADE, BUT FIRST: California is as close as ever to requiring kindergarten attendance, after a bill to do so cleared the Legislature late last night. But such a mandate hinges on a decisive, unknown variable: Newsom. It’s now up to him to sign or veto state Sen. Susan Rubio’s (D-Chino Hills) SB 70, and he hasn’t publicly said which way he’s leaning. The governor’s Department of Finance does oppose the bill for its price tag — between $194 million and $268 million annually — though the costs wouldn’t kick in until the mandate pushes more students into schools, at the start of the 2024-25 school year.
We’ve seen this movie before. A similar proposal reached then-Gov. Jerry Brown in 2014, but he vetoed it, citing its erosion of parental choice. If this year’s push ends differently, it will determine whether the 5 percent of students who skip straight to first grade each year (at least by a pre-pandemic count), can no longer do so. And it would lead California to join 19 other states and Washington D.C. in requiring kindergarten attendance, notching a win for school district and teachers union backers.
— “UCLA professors allegedly charged certain students extra fees. They want to hide the scheme,” by the Los Angeles Times’ Alexis Timko: “Spots in UCLA’s prestigious, highly selective orthodontics program are at a premium, with only a handful earmarked for international students. Annual tuition for those students approaches six figures.”
“After investigating the allegations, a law firm commissioned by UCLA issued a report that concluded the professors targeted Middle Eastern students believing their wealthy government sponsors ‘could — and would — pay for it.’”
— “Judge lets Oakland noncitizen voting measure stay on ballot,” by the Mercury News’ John Woolfolk: “Critics had sued Oakland over a measure the City Council approved in June that would greenlight a city charter amendment allowing noncitizen voting in school elections, citing a judge’s ruling that a similar San Francisco law is unconstitutional. San Francisco is appealing that ruling.”
“Judge Michael Markman said after a hearing Tuesday morning that it would be ‘extraordinarily rare for a trial court to step in at the pre-election stage’ and remove a measure from the ballot when the constitutionality of ballot measures is typically decided after rather than before they are passed.”
Compiled by Sakura Cannestra.
KEEPING IT HOT — “Maps show key S.F. Bay Area cities likely to break 100 degrees this week,” by the San Francisco Chronicle’s Gerry Díaz and Jack Lee.
— “California budget deal sends $25 million to address homelessness on American River Parkway,” by the Sacramento Bee’s Lindsey Holden.
— “L.A. County urges doctors to watch out for polio after New York paralysis case,” by the Los Angeles Times’ Rong-Gong Lin II and Luke Money.