By Natasha Minsker
Last fall, the three ACLU affiliates in California launched our newly expanded Sacramento office: the ACLU of California Center for Advocacy & Policy. One year ago, we had a staff of four. Today, we have nine full-time and two part-time advocates. This tremendous increase in capacity translated into significant victories in the Legislature this year.
Our greatest accomplishments
- California now has the strongest digital privacy law in the country
Working with a broad coalition of privacy advocates and technology companies, we sponsored and passed SB 178, the California Electronic Privacy Act. The law requires police to get a warrant before accessing email, cell phone content, location tracking information and more. We expect this victory to help move forward the federal Electronic Privacy Act.
- California now has the strongest racial and identify profiling law in the country
Working with a coalition of community and faith based groups, we sponsored and passed AB 953, the Racial and Identity Profiling Act. The law strengthens and expands the definition of profiling and requires all law enforcement to report data on people who are stopped and searched. It is the first law in the country to require data collection on all pedestrian and vehicle stops. We also helped secure passage of a strong bill to require reporting on serious use of force by police, AB 71.
- California now has the strongest sex education law in the country
With our partners in reproductive justice and LGBT equality, we sponsored and passed AB 329, to require comprehensive, medically accurate sex education in public schools. The bill requires instruction to be sensitive to LGBT students, requires instruction on healthy relationships, and modernizes the content to address prevention of sexually transmitted infections.
- No more fake classes
We sponsored and successfully passed AB 1012 to end the practice of school administrations filling the schedules of students with “classes” that have no educational content, such multiple study halls. The ACLU of California also filed a legal challenge to this practice, Cruz v. State of California.
Other success this year include
- Protected the voting rights of people under conservatorship
The ACLU of California Voting Rights Project collaborated with the national ACLU’s Disability Rights Project to draft, sponsor and pass a bill to protect the voting rights of people under conservatorship. SB 589 will become a national model.
- Protected the rights of parenting teens
With California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, we sponsored and passed AB 302, to require schools to accommodate young moms who are breastfeeding.
- Helped prevent deportation for minor drug crimes
In order to complete drug diversion in California, a person must plead guilty and then, if he or she completes the program, the conviction is reversed. Under federal law, immigrants face deportation because of the guilty plea, even if they complete the program. Working with Drug Policy Alliance and several immigrants’ rights groups, we sponsored and passed AB 1352, to allow people to wipe the guilty pleas off their record and avoid deportation.
- Stopped Enhanced Drivers’ Licenses
SB 249 would have allowed “Enhanced Drivers’ Licenses” (EDLs). EDLs contain a tracking chip that can be read from a distance. This would allow police, and any anyone who builds a reader, to access personal information from 30 feet away. In addition, only U.S. citizens are eligible for these licenses. SB 249 would have allowed employers to require an EDL as a condition of employment, essentially giving employers a license to discriminate. We successfully persuaded the governor to veto the bill.
Our greatest disappointments
- Law enforcement lobby defeated asset forfeiture reform
Police can seize and permanently keep a person’s property based on nothing more than the suspicion of illegal activity. SB 443 would put an end to this practice and require a conviction before the property can be forfeited for good. After passing the Senate with only one vote against, the law enforcement lobby pulled out all the stops and SB 443 failed on the Assembly floor. But we haven’t given up: we will try again to end policing for profit in 2016.
- Drug diversion participants must still plead guilty
Although we succeeded in passing AB 1352 to address the problem of people who face deportation because they participated in drug diversion in the past, the governor vetoed AB 1351, which would have shifted drug diversion into a pre-guilty plea program for everyone going forward. We clearly have more work to do to educate the governor on smart drug policies.
- Body cameras remain unregulated
We started the year with a flurry of activity on the theme of body cameras and we were hopeful that we would pass a bill to require strong policies to protect privacy, while ensuring meaningful public access to the footage. Those hopes were dashed when the law enforcement lobby rallied to prevent any meaningful bill from passing. We will be back in 2016 to try again.
Overall, we had an incredibly successful year
Of the 66 bills we opposed this year, only 13 made it to the governor and only six were signed. Of the 16 sponsored bills we began the year with, seven were signed into law. We achieved some of our long-term goals for protecting and promoting civil rights and civil liberties in California, including passage of several bills that we had worked on for over ten years. We look forward to continuing to make California a national leader on civil rights and civil liberties next year.
Natasha Minsker is the Director of the ACLU of California Center for Advocacy & Policy.