United States: Ready For Another Round? The California Legislature Reconvenes For Its 2015-2016 Regular Session

Last Updated: January 6 2015
Article by Christopher E. Cobey

The week of January 5 marks the practical beginning of California's new legislative session. 

The Final, Final Election Returns

With most ballots now being cast by mail/absentee, the former concept of Election Night has stretched from a period of hours to weeks.  Of the 100 state legislative seats on the ballot, the final results on the last race came with the official certification of the vote in early December.  An incumbent Democratic Assembly member (Raul Bocanegra) lost to another Democratic candidate (Patty Lopez) by a margin of six-tenths of one percent of the vote. 

The legislative lineup starting in 2015 has the state Senate with 25 Democrats, 14 Republicans, and one vacancy.  The Assembly will have 52 Democrats and 28 Republicans. 

The 2015-2016 Regular Session

Although the California Constitution calls for the Legislature to convene on December 1, 2014 to start the 2015-16 Regular Session, the Legislature did not reconvene until Monday, January 5, 2015. 

The following are key first quarter 2015 events and deadlines: 

  • Jan. 10: Budget bill must be submitted by Governor. 
  • Jan. 30: Last day to submit bill requests to the Office of Legislative Counsel. 
  • Feb. 27: Last day for bills to be introduced. 
  • Mar. 26: Spring Recess begins upon adjournment (Legislature reconvenes on April 6). 

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins and Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León were named the proposed chairs of their chambers' committees with jurisdiction over labor and employment issues.  Returning as chair of the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee will be Roger Hernández of West Covina.  It is assumed the chair of the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee will be freshman Senator Tony Mendoza of Artesia. 

Bills of Interest Introduced

As expected, one of the first bills introduced was one that would raise the minimum wage and automate future increases (SB 3).  Existing law requires that, on and after July 1, 2014, the minimum wage for all industries be at least $9 per hour. Existing law further increases the minimum wage, on and after January 1, 2016, to at least $10 per hour.  This newly introduced bill would increase the minimum wage, on and after January 1, 2016, to at least $11 per hour, on and after July 1, 2017, to at least $13 per hour. The bill would include automatic adjustments of the minimum wage, commencing January 1, 2019, to maintain employee purchasing power diminished by the rate of inflation during the previous year. The adjustment would be calculated using the California Consumer Price Index, as specified. The bill would prohibit the Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) from adjusting the minimum wage downward and from adjusting the minimum wage if the average percentage of inflation for the previous year was negative. The bill would require the IWC to publicize the automatically adjusted minimum wage. The bill would provide that its provisions not be construed to preclude the IWC from increasing the minimum wage to an amount greater than that provided by the formula, result in a reduction in the minimum wage, or preclude or supersede an increase of the minimum wage set any local government or tribal government that would be greater than the state minimum wage.  The bill would apply to all industries, including public and private employment. 

Another California Senate bill (SB 29) would make technical, non-substantive changes to the existing law requiring an employer to allow an employee to use his or her sick leave to care for an ill spouse, domestic partner, parent, or child, as defined.  

On the State Assembly side, AB 11 would revise the definition of an employee under the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014 to, as of July 1, 2016, include providers of in-home support services

AB 67 would enact the "Double Pay on the Holiday Act of 2015", a measure that would require an employer to pay at least two times the regular rate of pay to an employee for work on Thanksgiving or Christmas, and would expand the definition of a crime.  

Local initiatives

San Francisco once again took the lead in progressive workplace legislation by enacting the "Retail Workers Bill of Rights," comprising two ordinances (140880 and 141024). 

  • Ordinance 140880 regulates the operation of "formula retail establishments" (as defined in SF Planning Code §303.1), by, among other things, requiring employers to offer additional hours of work, when available, to current part-time employees, and requiring successor employer to retain employees for 90 days upon a change in control of the business. 
  • Ordinance 141024 requires formula retail establishments to provide employees with two weeks' notice of work schedules, notice of changes to work schedules, and compensation for schedule changes made on less than seven days' notice and unused on-call shifts, and provide part-time employees with the same starting rate of hourly pay, access to time off, and eligibility for promotions as that provided to full-time employees. 

The new ordinances will take effect in the summer of 2015.See San Francisco Ordinance Imposes New Burdens on 'Formula' Retail Employers for more information. 

In addition, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors adopted a living wage ordinance in December. A staff report prepared for the Board indicated that approximately 1,000 County contracts will be affected by the living wage ordinance, which requires hourly pay rates in excess of $19 per hour, depending on various factors.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Christopher E. Cobey
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