The New Year brings new protections for California consumers, as six laws sponsored by Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara and the California Department of Insurance went into effect on Jan. 1, 2021.
“These new laws will help future wildfire survivors recover faster and defend the rights of domestic workers and small businesses in a state of emergency,” said Commissioner Lara. “I am grateful to the legislators who championed these important issues and appreciate Governor Newsom’s signature which continues California’s longstanding history of protecting our most vulnerable consumers.”
These new laws include:
• Senate Bill 872, authored by Senator Bill Dodd, removes barriers for future wildfire survivors to get critical insurance benefits and streamlines wildfire recovery processes for homeowners who suffer wildfire losses. The new law will require an advance payment for no less than four months of Additional Living Expenses (ALE) and no longer require an itemized inventory form for content claims, among other consumer protections. As of July 1, 2021, the law will expand ALE benefits, including for policyholders whose homes are rendered uninhabitable due to wildfire damage to essential infrastructure.
• Assembly Bill 2756, jointly authored by Assemblymembers Monique Limón and Richard Bloom, provides additional insurance for disaster survivors to rebuild and requires more transparency when a new policy is sold that does not cover losses from wildfire. In addition, this new law reduces the burden on disaster survivors when they rebuild their home.
• Assembly Bill 2658, authored by Assemblymember Autumn Burke, protects domestic workers from employer retaliation, including firing, if they refuse to work in hazardous conditions, including those caused by wildfires. It also prevents an employer from ordering an employee, including a household domestic service worker, to remain in or enter a mandatory evacuation zone as a result of wildfires or a local public health order, which would include circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Three other Department-sponsored bills took effect on Jan. 1:
• Senate Bill 1192, authored by Senator Steven Bradford, creates Department oversight of public safety workers’ benefits associations to ensure these associations provide financially sound insurance benefits and are transparent to their members.
• Assembly Bill 2049, authored by Assembly Member Ken Cooley, incorporates the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC)-approved revisions to the Credit for Reinsurance Model Regulation into California law, thus preventing federal preemption of California’s existing law regarding credit for reinsurance and retaining the state’s accreditation by the NAIC.
• Senate Bill 1255, jointly authored by Senator Lena Gonzalez and the Senate Insurance Committee, remedies several issues identified by the Department and stakeholders to clarify and clean-up various technical Insurance Code sections. This new law also includes the Equal HIV Insurance Act which, starting Jan. 1, 2023, will prohibit an insurance company from declining an application or enrollment request for coverage under a policy for life insurance or disability income insurance based solely on the applicant’s HIV status.
In addition to these and other consumer protection bills, Commissioner Lara strongly supported Senate Bill 855 authored by Senator Scott Wiener and Assembly Bill 979 jointly authored by Assemblymembers Chris Holden, David Chiu, and Cristina Garcia. SB 855 will now require health insurance companies to provide parity in coverage for mental health conditions, as well as substance use disorders, equal to coverage provided for other medical conditions. It will also require health insurance companies to adhere to the same standards of care that are followed by addiction and mental health care providers. Commissioner Lara issued a Notice to insurance companies to ensure they comply with the new law. Also effective Jan. 1, 2021, AB 979 will require public companies with a principal executive office in California to include members from historically underrepresented communities on their boards of directors or incur financial penalties levied by the California Secretary of State.