Assembly Bill 5 by former labor leader Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), has significantly limited Californians’ ability to work as independent contractors and freelancers, and randomly limits freelance writers and photographers to 35 submissions annually per media outlet.
AB 323 – the “Save Local Journalism Act”
Assembly Bill 323, authored by Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio (D-Baldwin Park), would focus specifically on local journalism and newspapers. Under the bill, a one-year exemption given to newspapers to allow more time to come up with a successful freelancer to employee transition for distributors and paper carriers working under a publisher would be extended by two years. The new deadline to comply with AB 5 would be January 1, 2023.
The Department of General Services would also give local news services preference in outreach advertising or marketing for any government organization under AB 323.
Supporters have said that small newspapers have been hit especially hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic downturn, with AB 5 restrictions only causing more harm to papers by having to hire all workers as employees. This would mean that many jobs would be lost, especially those at the distribution level such as paper carriers, as well as the elimination of some areas the papers would normally be delivered to.
Those in favor of AB 323, also known as the “Save Local Journalism Act,” have also said that papers would have more time to figure out transitions and perhaps wait out the elimination of AB 5. Local papers would also see revenues increase due to increased state-level governmental advertising, helping short-term with a recession drop in profits and long-term in giving papers more money to work with in deciding AB 5 changes to newspapers. It would also help with keeping people informed during very ‘unsure’ times.
“Many newspapers in California are failing,” said Assemblywoman Rubio. “The demise of newspapers will mean many lost jobs and will leave many communities without local journalism. If they don’t have these newspapers, I imagine that they are not going to transition to Google to get their news.”
Widespread support, little opposition for AB 323
Those in the newspaper industry have also widely supported the bill.
“Local newspapers provide vital local information,” explained Sam Gooley, a layout advisor for many small papers on the West Coast, to the Globe. “Just this morning I was helping a paper in Oregon provide a list of COVID-19 testing centers in a large rural area but presented it in a way that would be noticed but not alarmist. Bigger outlets and the news on TV are all big and flashy, but smaller outlets give a lot of substance to local issues and goings-on that are rarely covered by larger outlets, even those supposedly covering those areas.”
“AB 323 in California is trying to ensure that, and that these papers survive the crisis the nation is going through right now, as well as keeping as many jobs as possible.”
“I know all about AB 5 in California, and I can say that everyone seems to like this bill. Everyone wants to see local news survive, and for people against AB 5 they get the added bonus of having it being knocked back down for a few years in the industry. And if AB 5 goes away by then, which it might, local newspapers come out even better because of those government advertising dollars, money already budgeted for. It’s a win-win for virtually everyone.”
There has been little opposition to AB 323 since it was heavily amended in April, with every vote in the legislature unanimous. Reports since then adding to the direness of the industry, such as one report showing how small newspaper revenues have dropped by around 50% since the start of the pandemic, have been cited as a factor in keeping lawmakers firmly on the side of the newspaper industry.
In the legislature, there has also been a renewed focus on passing the bill by the end of the session due to many other bills that aimed to exempt journalists from AB 5 stalling or being voted down.
AB 1850, a bill written by AB 5 author Assemblywoman Gonzalez to exempt journalists from AB 5, and remove the 35 article limit for freelance journalists, has been stalled in the Senate since June. Another exemption and article limit removing bill, SB 868, hasn’t even made it to a committee vote since being introduced.
AB 323 is expected to have a Senate vote next week and is widely expected to be passed and signed by Governor Gavin Newsom by the deadline on the 31st.