By T.A. Hendrickson
State Senator María Elena Durazo, who represents Northeast Los Angeles, notched two victories this week when Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law Senate Bill 731 and SB 951, two reform bills authored by Durazo.
SB 731 will automatically seal conviction and arrest records for those who have done their time and have not been convicted of another felony for four years after completing their sentences. Records of arrests that don’t result in convictions also would be sealed.
SB 951 will raise the payments to workers under California law for state disability and paid family leave.
A closer look at SB 731
In a statement issued after the signing of SB 731, Durazo thanked Newsom and “the advocates and colleagues who helped craft this sweeping reform that will allow millions of Californians with a prior conviction or arrest record to get back on their feet and have a chance at economic prosperity and family stability.”
Durazo noted the extent to which arrest and conviction records exclude former offenders from housing, employment and civic participation. “By eliminating these barriers, this law will provide an economic boost in California, including an estimated $20 billion yearly increase in our state’s gross domestic product that it currently misses out.”
The law, which takes effect on July 1, 2023, does not apply to 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. But even with those exceptions, most former offenders will qualify for relief under the new law.
A closer look at SB 951
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.
The new payment replacement rates bring California in line with what other progressive states pay their workers for disability and paid family leave. The bolstered payments will be paid for by removing the $145,000 ceiling on wages subject to the 1.1% tax for State Disability.
In a statement on the signing of SB 951, Durazo noted that the bill was a priority of the California Latino Legislative Caucus because the state’s current replacement rates make it basically impossible for Latina mothers to afford to take paid leave. By signing the bill, Gov. Newsom is “paving the way for lower-income families to have access to Paid Family Leave and State Disability Insurance, a program to which they have paid into their entire working life,” Durazo said.
Gov. Newsom said in a signing statement that SB 951 is “an important step to ensure more low-wage workers, many of them women and people of color, can access the time off they’ve earned while still providing for their family.” Newsom also said that the new law builds on other pro-labor actions he has taken, including legislation to expand paid leave to care for a newborn from six to eight weeks and grant more paid sick leave in response to Covid-19.
Durazo shepherded SB 731 and SB 951 through to the very end: They were signed by the governor on Thursday and Friday, respectively, as the Sept. 30 deadline to sign or veto the measures loomed.