State Governments

Gas-Powered Lawnmower Ban, Mandatory Gender-Neutral Toy Aisles Among California's Weirdest New Laws

But at least state lawmakers also passed some useful criminal justice bills and policing reforms.


No California legislative year is complete without the passage of some asinine bills that promote progressive hobbyhorses, and this latest one was no exception. By the deadline last weekend, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed 770 bills (and vetoed 66 bills)—including a few measures that no doubt spurred a few more Texas relocations.

Perhaps the worst one was a ban on the sale of new gas-powered lawn equipment beginning 2024, or whenever regulators determine it to be "feasible." This epitomized Democratic lawmakers' approach to global warming. They pass symbolic laws that won't improve the Earth's climate given that the nastiest emissions come from India and China, but mainly annoy Californians and drive up our cost of living.

Heck, the 2020 wildfires pumped more metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than leaf blowers and lawn mowers do over decades, but we have to "do something." My mower is on its last legs, so the something I'll do is come up with extra cash to replace it while I can—rather than wait to sneak one across the border from South Lake Tahoe.

Aside from the small-engine ban (and that weird law forcing large retailers to create gender-neutral toy sections), this wasn't that horrific of a legislative season. Actually, it was surprisingly good. The governor signed laws that improve governmental oversight and—try not to faint—roll back onerous land-use regulations. Sadly, "limited-government" Republicans mostly were on the wrong side of those reforms.

Regarding accountability, lawmakers finally put law-enforcement unions in their place by reminding them they work for us—and it does nothing to improve the safety of the public or officers to allow miscreants to have a badge. Policing obviously is a critical public service, but that makes it more imperative that the state remove from power those officers who lie, cheat and abuse the public.

Toward that end, Newsom signed into law Senate Bill 2, which creates a deliberative system for decertifying misbehaving officers. Until now, California was one of four states that lacked the same kind of process that's routine for doctors, attorneys, real-estate agents and contractors. As the old saying goes, bad apples spoil the entire bunch—and overly aggressive cops distort the entire culture within their departments.

Without a decertification process, abusive officers—and check out the news reporting on officers who were involved in disturbing misconduct, but continued to patrol our streets—would simply get jobs at other departments after they were fired. We don't want incompetent teachers in the classroom, and we shouldn't want numbskulls at police agencies, either.

The governor also signed several other police-reform and criminal-justice-related bills, including limits on sentencing enhancements that prosecutors use to scare defendants into copping pleas. Who knew that the California Legislature could do such useful and nuanced work? I'm scratching my head as I work through the cognitive dissonance.

In the latest signings, Newsom approved a bill that gives journalists access to closed-off protests—and forbids officers from arresting and harassing reporters who only are doing their job. Previously, the governor signed bills that require police agencies to disclose additional use-of-force records; require officers to immediately report potential incidents of excessive force; forbid the use of "kinetic energy projectiles" during protests; limit local agencies from acquiring military equipment; further restrict the use of chokeholds, and ban officers from joining law-enforcement gangs. What's not to like?

The law-and-order crowd depicts such measures as a "war on cops," but the use of over-the-top rhetoric is a tacit admission that these bills have few substantive flaws. The unions have long been in charge, with Democrats usually doing their bidding. The pendulum is swinging in the other direction, and we saw the largest advance of civil liberties in decades.

Regarding those land-use changes, I've previously expressed my view that Senate Bills 9 and 10, which mandate ministerial (rather than subjective) approval of duplexes in single-family neighborhoods and mid-rise condos along transit lines, respectively, represent an advancement in property rights and freedom. Owners now have more latitude with their property.

The laws also exempt those residential developments from the California Environmental Quality Act, which environmentalists use to delay and halt construction of every type of project. The Legislature should indeed reform CEQA for all projects and not just ones they favor, but it's better than nothing. These laws might even make a small dent in the housing crisis.

Sure, lawmakers spent money this year as if it fell from the sky. But the worst pandemic restrictions are gone (including the awful eviction moratorium), the most troublesome anti-charter bill was shelved, and the governor even vetoed a costly expansion of student aid.

Maybe Democrats punted on the craziest stuff—e.g., single-payer healthcare—mainly to keep Newsom off the hot seat during the recall, but they punted nonetheless. Go figure, but aside from an upcoming lawnmower purchase, I don't have much to complain about.

This column was first published in The Orange County Register.