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New California Laws Try To Help Employees, Immigrants

SACRAMENTO (AP) — As California's economy recovers, the Democrats who control the state Legislature put a priority on assisting more vulnerable workers with some of the laws taking effect in the new year.

Low-income workers, immigrants in the country illegally, domestic caregivers and farm laborers will benefit from bills lawmakers passed in 2013. Also among the hundreds of new laws are ones that will give rights and protections to transgender students, same-sex couples, women seeking abortions, the homeless, prison inmates who committed their crimes as juveniles and celebrities with young children.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed 805 bills into law in 2013, while vetoing 96.

The Democratic leaders of the Assembly and Senate said one of their goals was to assist workers still reeling from the recession. They did so, often over the objections of Republicans who said the laws will harm the state's business climate.

Steve Smith, a spokesman for the California Labor Federation, called 2013 "a banner year for workers" in the state and said the benefits of the legislation would be felt immediately.

"California has really established itself as a national leader in terms of protecting the rights of workers, and that's exactly where we should be, in our view," he said.

In the most far-reaching move, minimum-wage earners will be paid $9 an hour starting July 1, the first of two dollar-an-hour boosts that will push the base wage to $10 by 2016, giving the state one of the nation's highest rates.

Other benefits and protections take effect Jan. 1.

Domestic workers now must be paid time-and-a-half if they work more than nine hours in a day or more than 45 hours in a week, although baby sitters are exempt from the mandate. California follows Hawaii and New York in offering certain protections to in-home caregivers.

Another law requires that workers in industries such as agriculture and landscaping get rest breaks during hot weather.

Immigrants in the country illegally receive several new rights and protections.

It is a crime for employers to report workers to immigration authorities in retaliation for work-related complaints and for anyone to extort money from those in the country illegally by threatening to report their legal status.

Local law enforcement agencies can no longer detain immigrants for deportation if they are arrested for a minor crime and otherwise are eligible to be released from custody. Law enforcement agencies also are prohibited from requiring immigration or citizenship papers before releasing crime reports and other public records.

Immigrants who are not U.S. citizens can assist voters casting a ballot, and lawyers who are in the country illegally can be licensed to practice law.

A law granting immigrants who are in the country illegally the right to a driver's license will take effect in 2015.

Other new laws add job protections for victims of domestic violence and other crimes. Employers cannot fire an employee who has been a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking, nor can they dismiss a worker who is the victim of certain crimes and takes time off for a court hearing.

The California Chamber of Commerce opposed the minimum wage increase, which it warned will drive up costs for all businesses and consumers. Other laws affecting workers add to the cumulative impact on employers, the chamber said.

"We already have some of the most onerous labor laws in the country," said Jennifer Barrera, a labor policy advocate with the chamber. "When you add the new laws, we are concerned about the increased burden on employers."

Professional athletes who spend most of their careers with teams based in other states were among the few workers to lose a job-related protection. They face restrictions in filing workers' compensation claims for cumulative trauma incurred during their professional careers.

On a major social issue, California went its own way in expanding abortion rights, while some other state legislatures work to limit access to abortions.

During the first trimester, nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives and physician assistants will be allowed to perform aspiration abortions, which involve inserting a tube and using suction to terminate a pregnancy. Legislators also made permanent an existing law that makes it illegal to damage or block access to abortion clinics.

At the same time, California becomes the fifth state to let judges declare that a child has more than two legal parents if it is in the child's best interest.

Among the most high-profile bills is one that allows transgender students to choose which restroom to use and whether to play on boys' or girls' sports teams, unless opponents are successful in putting the question before voters on the November ballot and stop the law from taking effect.

Another law will give transgender people an easier time changing their names and updating their birth certificates after July if they have sex-change operations.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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