State of California Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) has drafted several LGBT bills that are expected to be incorporated into law this week. (Courtesy photo of the Harvard Law School Association)

SACRAMENTO – After a legislative session marked by budget conflicts, COVID-19 disruptions, and the continued burden of nationwide forest fires, the California Assembly and Senate closed on Monday and sent several key bills to Governor Gavin Newsom for signature.

For Senator Scott Wiener and his colleagues from the LGBTQ Legislative Caucus, this was multiple successes, but also a controversial bill that delayed last year's session.

That bill, SB145, which ended what Wiener and co-sponsors of the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office and Equality California considered "blatant discrimination" against LGBTQ youth in relation to the California Sex Offender Register, went to both houses passed state legislation. It goes to Governor Newsom's desk now.

Currently, "intercourse" (i.e., vaginal intercourse) for voluntary but illegal sexual relations between a teenager aged 14-17 and a partner aged 10 does not require the abuser to be on the sex offender register is recorded. Rather, the judge can decide at his own discretion based on the facts of the matter whether the registration of sex offenders is justified or not.

This distinction in the law treats oral and anal sex as "worse" than penis-vaginal sex and is a relic from a time when all forms of intercourse except vaginal intercourse were illegal (antisodomy laws). Although California's anti-sodomy laws were repealed more than 40 years ago, this relic persists.

The law currently targets LGBTQ youth disproportionately by requiring the registration of sex offenders for forms of intercourse in which they are involved. For example, if an 18-year-old straight man has sexual intercourse between his penis and vagina with his 17-year-old girlfriend, he is guilty of a crime but does not have to automatically register as a sex offender. Instead, the judge will decide whether a registration is justified based on the facts. In contrast, if an 18-year-old gay man is having sex with his 17-year-old boyfriend, the judge must under all circumstances put him on the sex offender register.

If you add a young person to the sex offender register, it can destroy their life. According to longstanding California law, someone who is on the sex offender registry – even for minor offenses such as voluntary sex with a partner – must remain on the registry for life.

According to a change in the law (SB 384, 2017, which was also drafted by Senator Wiener), which comes into force on January 1, 2021, someone who has been convicted of a minor sex crime can apply for deletion from the register after 10 years .

SB 145 does not legalize any sex with minors and does not change the possible punishment for sex with minors. The bill only gives judges the ability to judge whether or not registration as a sex offender is required. SB 145 simply extends this discretion to other forms of transport. A judge retains the authority to put someone on the register if the conduct in question was predatory or otherwise outrageous. This change will treat heterosexual and LGBTQ youth equally, end discrimination against LGBTQ people, and ensure California stops stigmatizing certain sexual acts.

“We have to stop criminalizing LGBTQ youth. There is no logical reason to treat different sexual acts differently, and that distinction only exists among California because of an outrageously legally sanctioned homophobia from the past, ”Wiener said. "I hope Governor Newsom, a longtime ally of our community, will incorporate SB 145 into law," he added.

Rep. Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), chairman of the Assembly's powerful Committee on Resources, had withheld legislation during the previous session to address what she identified as concerns about the bill.

Equality California, a leading supporter of the law along with other stakeholders, was upset that Gonzalez appeared to be replacing her own judgment on that of law enforcement and LGBTQ and allied civil rights groups. Last year, their maneuver was supported and cheered on by anti-LGBTQ groups from the Christian Pro Family. "A California bill that could prevent homosexuals from having to register as sex offenders to have sex with consenting minors has been blocked," Christian Action Network reported on September 3, 2019.

The ensuing battle over the delay resulted in Wiener facing serious online harassment, including anti-Semitic slurs combined with multiple death threats allegedly from supporters of QAnon conspiracy theories.

"The passage of SB 145 ensures the equitable and fair application of California's Sex Offender Registration Act, regardless of sexual orientation," said Bradley McCartt, assistant district attorney for Los Angeles. “Adding someone to the sex offender register has lifelong consequences. The ability for judges and prosecutors to individually evaluate cases of voluntary sexual activity between young people will ensure justice for all Californians. "

Another major bill, SB 132, has also been passed by the state legislature and is now being moved to Newsom's desk for final approval. SB 132 requires that transgender, non-binary and intersex incarcerated individuals under the care of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) be classified according to their gender identity and placed on the basis of their stated health and safety needs (excluding special security or management concerns).

Currently, CDCR houses offenders based on their assigned sex at birth. As a result, many trans people are placed in facilities that are unsafe for them and do not confirm their gender.

Transgender people, especially transgender women, are at much higher risk of sexual victimization and other forms of assault or harassment in correctional facilities, especially when they are housed in facilities that do not match their gender identity. This often results in their being removed from the general population and placed in restricted access to housing such as solitary confinement, which provides limited or no access to services.

"This bill is a necessary and long overdue harm reduction measure that will enable our trans family to seek safer situations while in detention," said Shawn Meerkamper, senior attorney for the Transgender Law Center. "As our movements work to defuse the police force and abolish prisons, California is showing that our governments can and must take immediate interim action to increase agency and prevent some of the worst acts of violence from our imprisoned neighbors."

Also on the governor's desk for signature is SB 1255, written by Senator Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach) and the Senate Insurance Committee. The measure, also known as The Equal Insurance HIV Act, now. If the law is signed, SB1255 would end the unjust practice of insurance companies discriminating against HIV-positive people.

“I am very grateful for the support of my Senate and Congregation colleagues with this critical piece of legislation. In particular, I have to thank the chairman of the Senate Insurance Committee, Susan Rubio, for allowing me to continue this policy under her committee's collective law. I am also incredibly proud of the work and support of California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara and Equality California as sponsors of this important law, ”said Gonzalez. "This is a big step in ensuring that Californians living with HIV and their families alike have access to life and disability insurance."

A co-sponsor, California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara said, “With HIV positive people living longer and healthier lives than before, we must end discrimination when it comes to access to life and disability insurance, to themselves and their loved ones to protect. I thank Senator Lena Gonzalez for writing SB 1255, which finally gives people with HIV the same insurance rights as others. "

"No one should be denied the security of life or disability insurance because of their HIV status," said Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California. "Thanks to modern medicine, people living with HIV live happy and healthy lives – it's time our laws kept up with science."

Law SB 932, which requires California to collect Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) data for all communicable diseases, was passed 63-0 by the Assembly and 39-0 by the Senate. It will now be sent to Newsom's desk for final approval. It will be the first law in the nation to require health care providers to collect SOGI data for all reportable communicable diseases.

Senator Wiener penned SB 932 in early May in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as California was collecting race, age, and gender data related to cases of COVID-19, but not sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) data. The bill was then amended to extend SOGI data collection to all reportable communicable diseases. As the incidence of breathing problems (from smoking), HIV / AIDS, cancer and homelessness is higher in the LGBTQ community, LGBTQ people are likely to be more affected by COVID-19 and other communicable diseases. Additionally, LGBTQ people are more likely to work in the service industry and on the front lines.

In July, the governor's office announced it would begin collecting SOGI data for COVID-19 and all notifiable communicable diseases. Because the LGBTQ community has been overlooked by the country's national health infrastructure in the past, SB 932 will legally codify this policy. It will help LGBTQ people get the health resources and support they need.

"We are now one step closer to the fact that SB 932 is the first law in the US that obliges healthcare providers to collect data on sexual orientation and gender identity," said Wiener. “The congregation's unanimous support for this legislation shows the depth of support for LGBTQ health justice in California. We have come a long way since the 1980s and 1990s ignoring and marginalizing LGBTQ people in the face of the HIV / AIDS crisis. However, we still have a long way to go before the LGBTQ community is fully supported and cared for by our health infrastructure. SB 932 would be a breakthrough law to get us there. "

Also on Newsom's desk is AB 2218, The Transgender Wellness and Equity Fund. This bill aims to set up the Transgender Wellness and Equity Fund under the administration of the Office of Health Equity in the State Department of Public Health to fund, at the instigation of the legislature, grants to organizations that serve individuals who identify themselves as transgender, gender nonconforming or Intersex (TGI) to create or fund TGI-specific housing programs and partnerships with hospitals, health clinics, and other medical providers to provide TGI-focused health care as defined and related education programs to health care providers.

Existing law sets out methods of aligning government resources, decision-making, and programs to achieve specific goals related to health equality and the protection of vulnerable communities. The State Department of Public Health's Department of Public Health also needs to develop department-wide plans to address the gaps in health and access to care among the various racial and ethnic communities in the state, women, people with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning communities as stated.

"AB 2218 is pioneering legislation that will ensure that trans, gender, and intersex Californians get the healthcare they need," Wiener told the Los Angeles Blade on Monday. “We are living in the worst health crises of our time and TGI employees deserve equal access to health care. Governor Newsom is a strong ally of the LGBTQ community so I hope he will sign the bill. "

The Los Angeles Times noted Monday that lawmakers had sent Newsom a bill that would require greater diversity on the state's corporate boards. The lack of colored people on the panels is an obstacle to racial justice. The assembly approved a measure requiring public companies headquartered in California to have at least one director from an under-represented community by the end of 2021.

Legislature also passed an emergency bill to extend evictions by five months for Californians who have faced financial difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The measure was sent to Governor Gavin Newsom, who said he would sign it.

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