By T.A. Hendrickson
State Senator Maria Elena Durazo, who represents Northeast Los Angeles, is the author of two closely watched bills now on the desk of Gov. Gavin Newsom – Senate Bill 951 and SB 731. The deadline for the bills to become law or be vetoed is Sept. 30.
SB 731 is about sealing conviction and arrest records for most former offenders who have done their time and stayed out of trouble for four years after completing their sentences.
SB 951 is about raising the payments under California law for state disability and paid family leave.
“We have not heard from the Governor’s office, [but] we remain hopeful that Governor Newsom will do the right thing and sign both SB 731 and SB 951,” said Durazo in a statement to the Boulevard Sentinel.
SB 731 would automatically seal conviction and arrest records for those who are not convicted of another felony for four years after completing their sentence, including any parole or probation. Records of arrests that don’t result in convictions also would be sealed.
Records would not be sealed for former offenders convicted of serious and violent felonies, such as murder, voluntary manslaughter, attempted murder, kidnapping, assault, arson, robbery and extortion, or those whose felonies have required sex-offender registration.
Sen. Durazo and the co-sponsors of SB 731 have pointed out that criminal records impose substantial long-term obstacles to employment, housing, education and other requisites of a productive life. This creates what Durazo has called a “permanent underclass” of former offenders who are essentially barred from meaningful social and economic participation.
A similar bill failed to make it out of the State Assembly last year; that bill would have sealed records two years after completing a sentence with no further conviction. SB 731 was amended to require the sealing of records after four years.
If it becomes law, 731 would take effect on July 1, 2023.
Under SB 951, payments to low-income families for state disability and paid family leave would increase from 70% of pay currently to 90% by 2025 for families earning roughly $57,000 a year or less. All other workers would see an increase from 60% of pay currently to 70% up to a maximum weekly benefit.
Backed by research and other evidence, Durazo and co-sponsors of SB 951 have argued that current replacement rates do not provide families with enough money to live on. As a result, workers forgo taking benefits they technically qualify for. Paid family leave, which provides partial pay for up to eight weeks to recover from a serious illness or to care for a newborn or a seriously ill family member, is especially underutilized.
“California was the first in the nation to create a paid family leave program but we have fallen behind other states that are already offering 90% to 95% wage replacement rates,” Durazo told the Sentinel, adding, “Even worse, if the Governor does not sign SB 731 into law, wage replacement rates will drop to 55%.”
Last year, Gov. Newsom vetoed a similar bill saying it would be too expensive for employers.
This year’s bill seeks to address that concern by phasing in the bolstered family leave payments and raising tax revenue to pay for them. The taxes would be raised by removing the $145,000 ceiling on wages subject to the 1.1% tax for State Disability.