Gov. Newsom Signs, Vetoes Bills on Voting and Family Leave

By John Seiler
John Seiler
John Seiler
John Seiler is a veteran California opinion writer. He has written editorials for The Orange County Register for almost 30 years. He is a U.S. Army veteran and former press secretary to California State Sen. John Moorlach. He blogs at
October 5, 2021 Updated: October 5, 2021


Every year the California legislature passes and the governor signs around 700 to 1,000 bills. A few are necessary for the operation of the state or repealing previous bad legislation. But most bills are unneeded and clog an already sclerotic system, making life more difficult for nearly 40 million Californians.

Here are four notable bills, two recently vetoed and two recently signed. Three are about voting, which is always controversial.

Let’s start with the two vetoes.

AB 123

Assembly Bill 123 is by Assembly Member Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego). She’s the author of some of the worst legislation of recent years, such as Assembly Bill 5 from 2019, which severely regulated gig workers. It was partly repealed in 2020 by AB 2257 and Proposition 22.

AB 123 would have increased payments to those receiving disability insurance and paid family leave. As Newsom wrote in his veto message, “This bill would create significant new costs not included in the 2021 Budget Act and would result in higher disability contributions paid by employees. I look forward to continued partnership with the Legislature to ensure that workers have true access to programs providing family leave.”

He also noted, “In 2019, I signed SB 83 … which extended the maximum duration of paid family leave benefits from 6 to 8 weeks and AB 406 … which required [paid family leave] applications to be provided in multiple languages.”

Companies still are trying to recover from COVID-19 and don’t need higher expenses. What’s really needed is a complete overhaul of both the disability system and the workers compensation system.

AB 616: Agricultural Worker Elections

Assembly Bill 616 is by Assembly Member Mark Stone (D-Monterey Bay). It followed in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this year in Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid. The decision essentially banned allowing agricultural-worker unions to access workers for organizing, unless “just compensation” is paid for using the property.

Partly to address that decision, AB 616 would have allowed agriculture workers to vote by home in a “ballot card election.”

In his veto message, Newsom said, “This bill contains various inconsistencies and procedural issues related to the collection and review of ballot cards. Significant changes to California’s well-defined agricultural labor laws must be carefully crafted to ensure that both agricultural workers’ intent to be represented and the right to collectively bargain is protected, and the state can faithfully enforce those fundamental rights.”

AB 37: Vote by Mail Made Permanent

Assembly Bill 37 is by Assemblyman Marc Berman (D-Menlo Park), and was signed by Newsom on Sept. 27. It made permanent the COVID-19 expedient of sending ballots to all registered voters.

Ironically given his veto of AB 616, allowing mail-in ballots for agricultural worker elections, Newsom still signed AB 37.

“As states across our country continue to enact undemocratic voter suppression laws, California is increasing voter access, expanding voting options and bolstering elections integrity and transparency,” he explained. “Last year we took unprecedented steps to ensure all voters had the opportunity to cast a ballot during the pandemic and today we are making those measures permanent after record-breaking participation in the 2020 presidential election.”

Ironically, although Newsom decried other states for “voter suppression laws,” such as asking for an ID to vote, he is increasing COVID-19 vaccination mandates, such as requiring students to show a vaccination ID card.

The Election Integrity Project of California objected, saying, “AB 37 mandates acceptance of mail-in ballots up to seven days after the Election Day deadline,” up from three days. “Vote by mail voters have at least three weeks to fill out and mail a ballot, and post their ballot as early as necessary for timely arrival. Introducing an additional four days for ‘timely arrival’ is a gift to would-be bad actors and a threat to election integrity.”

And: “EIPC’s main objection to AB 37 lies in the continued disarray of VoteCal, the statewide voter database.”

AB 796: Motor Voter

Assembly Bill 796 also is by Berman. In the summary by the ACLU, which supported it, the bill “would improve and refine the California New Motor Voter (NMV) program to ensure its continued success and effectiveness.”

This is the infamous motor-voter program, which offers to sign a person up to vote when one applies for or renews a driver’s license.

Except the NMV has been a disaster. The Sacramento Bee reported in October 2018, “The DMV reported last month that it made 23,000 voter registration errors resulting from technicians toggling between multiple screens and having registration information improperly merged. In May, the Los Angeles Times reported that a software error affected 77,000 voter records generated at the DMV.”

Then-Secretary of State Alex Padilla promised reforms. Nothing came of it.

A real reform was proposed by Sen. Pat Bates (R-Laguna Niguel). Senate Bill 57 would have changed the Motor Voter system to an opt-in system. That is, instead of every DMV license applicant automatically being given the option of registering to vote, he or she would have been given that opportunity after first requesting it. SB 57 was turned down by the Democratic majority on the Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee.

This became a big issue for then-Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa), back when I served as his press secretary. He wrote in an op-ed:

“Although the DMV is a troubled department, Padilla must take ownership of Motor Voter’s problems. He sponsored the bill establishing the program in 2015, Assembly Bill 1461 by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez-Fletcher, a San Diego Democrat. …

“Expanding access is worse than worthless without voting integrity. This is not a partisan issue. It’s about protecting the righteousness of our election system, which is a sacred responsibility in a democracy and one that rests with the Secretary of State. …

“In hearings on the bill, Padilla actually testified twice that AB 1461 would make the registration process more secure. Asked how much confidence he had in the DMV’s record-keeping systems, Padilla replied: ‘I don’t assume the incompetence of the DMV.’

“Apparently, he never has spent hours in a DMV line, as many Californians have done.”

Moorlach wasn’t listened to, either.

In May, CBSLA reported, “4 More People Indicted In Widening Federal Investigation Into California DMV Corruption.”

Padilla? This year Newsom promoted him to the U.S. Senate.

John Seiler
John Seiler is a veteran California opinion writer. He has written editorials for The Orange County Register for almost 30 years. He is a U.S. Army veteran and former press secretary to California State Sen. John Moorlach. He blogs at