Tag Archives: California

California Bill AB5 Turns Contract Workers into Employees



California’s Assembly Bill 5 (AB5) will reclassify many contract workers in California into full employees with benefits. It doesn’t cover all types of contract workers, and is anticipated to affect companies like Uber and Lyft the most.

The New York Times reported that AB5 passed the California State Senate in a 29 to 11 vote. California’s Governor, Gavin Newsom, endorsed the bill this month and is expected to sign it. If signed, the measure will go into effect on January 1, 2020. State Senator Maria Elena Durazo (Democrat – Los Angeles) authored the bill.

The bill redefines “employee” using an existing law that includes an “ABC” test to establish whether a worker is an independent contractor or an employee. It says a worker is an employee if the worker’s tasks are performed under a company’s control; those tasks are central to that company’s business; and the worker does not have an independent enterprise in that trade.

Those who are considered employees under this bill will have access to basic protections such as a minimum wage, unemployment insurance, and perhaps access to health insurance coverage.

Personally, I am an independent contract worker – not an employee. None of the work I do for a living could be considered “central to that company’s business”. That said, people who are part of the gig economy and who drive for companies who produce ride-hailing apps, could be considered employees. They are doing the work that is central to the the business of Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash.

According to The New York Times, Uber and Lyft have “repeatedly warned that they will have to start scheduling drivers in advance if they are employees, reducing drivers’ ability to work when and where they want”. But, this is nonsense. There is absolutely nothing in AB5 that requires companies to “schedule drivers in advance”. It is possible that Uber and/or Lyft will retaliate by raising the prices for rides – but this will ultimately backfire because public transit is always going to be less expensive.

There are lists of professions who are exempt from AB5. Those professions include: doctors, dentists, psychologists, insurance agents, stockbrokers, lawyers, accountants, engineers, direct sellers, real estate agents, hairstylists, commercial fisherman, travel agents, and graphic designers.


California Law Bans Bots from Pretending to be Real People



California has passed a law that went into effect on July 1, 2019. It amends part of the state’s existing Business and Professions Code. The purpose of the amendment is to require bots to make it clear that they are not a human.

The “Bots: disclosure” amendment includes the following:

It shall be unlawful for any person to use a bot to communicate with or interact with another person in California online, with the intent to mislead the other person about its artificial identity for the purpose of knowingly deceiving the person about the content of the communication in order to incentivize a purchase or sale of goods or services in a commercial transaction or to influence a vote in an election. A person using a bot shall not be liable under this section if the person discloses that it is a bot.

A “bot” is defined as: “an automated online account where all or substantially all of the actions or posts of that account are not the result of a person.”

A “person” is defined as: “a natural person, corporation, limited liability company, partnership, joint venture, association, estate, trust, government, governmental subdivision or agency, or other legal entity or any combination thereof.”

According to The New Yorker “Violators could face fines under the statutes related to unfair competition.” The article points out that California is “testing society’s resolve to get our (virtual) house in order after more than two decades of a runaway Internet.”

The legislation is a California state law. This means that the person behind a bot will have to disclose itself as a bot if it communicates with people who live in California. That said, those who are running bots will, by default, likely have to disclose that they are a bot to everyone on social media in order to avoid being fined by California’s law.


California’s Net Neutrality Bill is Now a Law



California Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 882. This means that California has enacted the strongest net neutrality protections in the United States. The law will go into effect next year. It is a big win for consumers in California.

As you may have expected, the U.S. Justice Department has decided to sue the state of California, claiming that its net neutrality law is “extreme and illegal” and something about states not being allowed to regulate interstate commerce.

Personally, I don’t think the U.S. Justice Department has a case. California has enacted stronger auto emission standards than many other states – and the auto industry has complied. California is among other states that require health insurance providers to cover the preventative health benefits that are part of the Affordable Care Act – and the health care industries are still in the Marketplace. There’s no good reason why internet providers should be allowed to trump state’s rights.

The other reason I think the U.S. Justice Department doesn’t have a case is because of the shenanigans that happened when the FCC had a comment period about their repeal of net neutrality rules. As many as 2 million fake comments appeared, some of which stole the identities of real Americans. Some people found that their deceased relatives had magically posted anti-net neutrality comments from beyond the grave.

It is illogical to assume that a situation that started off with lies and shenanigans could result in a winning court case.

Image from Pixabay


California Legislature Passed a Strong Net Neutrality Bill



The California Legislature has passed SB 822, a strong internet neutrality bill. The vote was 27 -12. Next, the bill goes to Governor Jerry Brown.

SB 822 would restore the net neutrality rules that were enacted federally under former President Barack Obama. Those rules were repealed by the Federal Communications Commission in December of 2017.

In May of 2018, the United States Senate overturned the FCC’s repeal of the net neutrality rules by using the Congressional Review Act. But, for net neutrality to be reinstated federally, the House of Representatives would also have to use the Congressional Review Act to overturn the FCCs repeal of net neutrality – and then President Trump would have to sign it into law.

In my opinion, this is why some state legislatures are passing their own net neutrality bills. It seems to me that states can enact net neutrality legislation faster than the federal government will.

California also has a unique reason to pass a strong net neutrality bill. The Los Angeles Times reported that the Santa Clara County Fire Department’s command vehicle faced email delays and challenges updating web-based documents with critical information about deployment during the Mendocino Complex fire.

Their internet provider was Verizon Wireless, who (according to the Los Angeles Times) “throttled down the department’s connection to 1/200 or less than previous speeds because the agency had exceeded its data plan limit.” Verizon says the situation was a “customer support mistake” and has nothing to do with net neutrality.

I live in California, and am hoping that this bill becomes law. Net neutrality is especially important for people who have chronic illnesses and/or disabilities (myself included) who are unable to work a typical job. Many of us are able to earn some income online because we can fit that work around our health issues and doctor appointments.

SB 822 (if signed into law) will prohibit internet service providers from:

  • Blocking lawful content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices, subject to reasonable network management.
  • Engaging in zero-rating in exchange for consideration, monetary or otherwise, from a third party.
  • Zero-rating some internet content, applications, services, or devices in a category – but not the entire category.
  • Unreasonably interfering with, or unreasonably disadvantaging, either an end user’s ability to select, access, and use broadband internet access service or the lawful internet content, applications, service, or devices of the end user’s choice, or an edge provider’s ability to make lawful content, applications, services, or devices available to end users.

College Students Build 1,215 MPG Vehicle



Cal Poly logoI know that “local news” isn’t exactly what Geek News Central fans are after. But when I saw this particular item, I couldn’t pass it by without mentioning it here. I live in the city of San Luis Obispo (SLO) on California’s Central Coast. SLO is home to California Polytechnic State University, Cal Poly for short. The university fosters a “learning by doing” mentality that helps students build skills in everything from agricultural sciences to aerospace engineering. One group of Cal Poly students earned some notoriety recently when they competed in a vehicle design competition where they built a prototype capable of getting 1,215 miles per gallon of fuel.

The team of students competed in the 10th Annual Shell Eco-Marathon Americas. The event describes itself as:

In 2016, Shell Eco-marathon Americas celebrated its 10th edition with 124 teams from seven different countries in Detroit, USA. In April 2017, the competition comes back to the Motor City with the energy efficiency driving challenge.

The Cal Poly team’s prototype vehicle design came in third overall, and placed the highest among teams from the United States (two Canadian teams placed ahead of them). The vehicle is a single-person, very sleek, aerodynamic, low-riding three-wheeler. It’s definitely not street legal but that’s not really the point. The Eco-Marathon is meant to challenge participants to build vehicles that are as fuel efficient as possible.

The Cal Poly group’s prototype vehicle was designed in the same spirit as Solar Impulse. It’s not so much something you can use today for getting around. But it shows there is real potential for energy-efficient forms of travel.


Startup Sleepbus Offers Comfortable, Affordable Overnight Rides From L.A. to San Francisco



Sleepbus LogoI live on California’s Central Coast, just about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. You’d think being in a location like this would make it easy to get to either of these urban centers. Unfortunately, that just isn’t true. The process is somewhat manageable by car, but that’s not always an option. There’s a local bus service that does limited shuttle service to L.A. Institutions like Greyhound and Amtrak are available but they can be costly and slow. Many solutions have been proposed to try and make transiting across California easier, with the most recent being a bullet-train style rail system that may never see the light of day. Fortunately, there is a new startup taking this challenge head on.

Sleepbus is a new company that carries passengers between San Francisco and L.A. Sleepbus gets its name from the overnight timeframe the bus operates. The Sleepbus coach comes with sleeping berths for passengers, as well as onboard Wi-Fi, snacks, and assorted beverages. A Sleepbus ticket currently costs $48 but is expected to go up to $65 in the near future.

Sleebus is such a smart idea, it almost seems like a no-brainer. Make it affordable and convenient to travel between two of the Golden State’s biggest cities. Hopefully, Sleepbus will be a great success and add a stop or two between L.A. and San Francisco. Even tho I’d only need to ride for half of a typical Sleepbus trip, I’d gladly pay the full fair for such an easy way to travel.


San Francisco’s Alamo Square Declared “No-Tech” Zone?



Alamo Square signSan Francisco is often described as an “interesting” place. For decades, it was home to hippies, beatniks, and other counter-culture holdouts. In more recent times, the City By The Bay has seen an influx of tech-industry workers, causing the city to gentrify at a rapid pace.

It’s hard to say if a recent set of “No-Tech” signs around San Francisco’s Alamo Square were posted by merry pranksters, social commentators, or just some people who’d like everyone to stop looking at their iPhones for a minute. Earlier this week, these signs that depict a tablet/smartphone surrounded by a familiar circle-slash popped up around Alamo Park. The signs command, “No cell phones, tablets, laptops or smart devices are permitted,” and warn that violating this edict could result in a $300 fine. They’re very official looking but the signs weren’t placed there by the city.

So far, no one has come forward to claim ownership of the signs. And despite their rather sturdy-looking installations, the signs have already been taken down.

Original image by Andy Melton on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons license.