On Monday, a bill that would exempt the newspaper industry from AB 5 for one year passed an Assembly floor vote 67-4, making the bill only a Governor’s signature away from becoming law.
AB 323 passes in the Assembly, awaits decision by Governor
Assembly Bill 323, authored by Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio (D-Baldwin Park), would give newspapers until January 2022 to come up with a freelancer-to-employee transition for positions such as distributors and paper carriers. The transition and projected lost revenues due to the declination of local newspaper revenue because of declining readership, COVID-19, and the economic downturn would be met by AB 323 also granting the Department of General Services giving preference to local news services in outreach advertising or marketing for any government organization.
In addition, recent amendments to the bill reduced the timeframe for newspapers to comply with AB 5 by a year, moving the deadline from January 1, 2023 to January 1, 2022, largely to garner further support from Democrats to approve the bill.
Assemblywoman Rubio and other supporters have backed the bill, also known as the Save Local Journalism Act, because of recent events hurting the local newspaper industry that highlighted a need for a better transition from freelancers to employees. Many have argued that AB 5 restrictions, which severely limit freelancers to only 35 articles a year and force companies to have more expensive employees rather than freelancers, would only hurt newspapers even more.
“AB 323 provides a bridge for our local newspapers to continue informing readers and their communities,” said Assemblywoman Rubio in a statement on Monday. “The First Amendment and our independent press are critical to the open exchange of diverse ideas and perspectives. My colleagues and I bring varied viewpoints to the Capitol, but as shown by the overwhelming bipartisan support for AB 323, we are united in our support for our local news outlets and the citizens they serve.
“I am hopeful Governor Newsom will sign AB 323 into law because he values the importance of bringing news to our citizens in California.”
While many lawmakers were initially concerned at restricting the recently enacted AB 5, the negative effects on journalists and recent amendments swayed many Democrats , turning AB 323 into a largely bipartisan bill. Before the nearly unanimous Assembly vote on Monday, the bill had passed 39-0 in the Senate the day before, joining previous unanimous votes in different Senate committees.
Newspapers praise passage of AB 323, experts say it could lead to Prop 22 passage
Besides lawmakers, many news organizations and local newspapers also celebrated the bills passage.
“We are grateful to Assemblywoman Rubio, Senate and Assembly leadership, the bill’s coauthors, and every member of the Legislature for recognizing our financial predicament and working tirelessly to protect access to local news,” noted California News Publishers Association CEO Charles F. Champion. “Almost every recent survey shows that reliance on local news sources has grown over the last year. With the passage of AB 323, lawmakers have shown their faith in local news outlets as the most trusted resource for their communities, and we will continue to rise to fulfill this important need.”
Many experts have said that the bill may signal a weakening AB 5, and that it could be a litmus test for Proposition 22, the ballot measure that will let voters decide the fate of AB 5 for rideshare drivers, in November.
“We’ve been seeing more and more parts of AB 5 fall apart all year, starting with the truckers in January,” explained Los Angeles-based pollster Enrique Ochoa to the Globe. “This is just the latest, even if it is temporary.
“Seeing how they are still passing AB 5 limiting legislation this close to election day shows that support is still low enough that Prop 22 will pass. Polls are showing that they are going to get that exemption, and the drivers were a cornerstone for [AB 5 author Assemblywoman Lorena] Gonzalez. If Newsom signs this, this is just more fodder for the pro-Prop 22 people.”
AB 323 is currently awaiting either a Governor signature or veto.