On Thursday, a new bill that would exempt freelance journalists from the independent contractor redefining AB 5 law was introduced in the California Senate.
Senate Bill 868, authored by Senator Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel), would also end the post AB 5 rule of limiting freelance journalists to 35 articles a year per publication. SB 868 would resume the practice of allowing freelance journalists of writing an unlimited number of articles a year and would not force media companies to give employment to those who write over the article limit.
AB 5’s article limits played a major part in the recent firing of hundreds of California journalists, ranging from large layoffs at Vox Media and College Humor, to smaller local newspapers that have needed to hire more port time writers to “pick up the slack” left open by more freelancer limits under the AB 5 law.
Many journalist, newspaper, and other media groups have already come out in support of the new bill, with some noting that “It isn’t too late to reverse AB 5 and let people keep their jobs.”
“Assembly Bill 5 took a sledgehammer approach to an employment problem that required a scalpel, which consequently hammered many Californians who truly wish to remain their own bosses,” said Senator Bates. “The Legislature can begin to fix some of AB 5’s flaws by helping California’s newspapers and journalists continue to operate normally as they have in our state. Passing my legislation will help preserve quality journalism in many communities.”
Freelance journalists have been especially ecstatic with the bills introduction.
“We thought we were screwed,” said Monika Walters, a freelance journalist for 3 online magazines in California and New York. “They were literally taking away our ‘work when you want, where you want’ lifestyle which we have come to rely on. Not to mention a lot of our work.”
“Now we have a shot.”
No opponents have come out against the bill yet, but AB 5 author and fervent defender, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) will more than likely be against the bill. While she has defended the bill since it was signed by Governor Gavin Newsom last year, Gonzalez has come out on record as stating that the 35 article limit was ‘arbitrary’, a position that may be hard to defend when the bill comes up for debate and voting later in the year.
In addition to SB 868, SB 867 was also introduced as a sister bill. SB 867 aims to exempt newspaper distributors and carriers from AB 5 for a year and would give companies a year of relief to figure out how to operate and distribute under the new law.
Author Senator Bates intends SB 867 more for smaller, independent newspapers who currently have financial strain and need the extra year to find a way to work while also remaining profitable.
SB 867 and SB 868 are currently being referred to Senate committees where they will be voted on in the coming months.