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Legislative Accomplishments

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Children and Education
Civil Rights and Hate Crimes
Environment
Health
Labor and Working Families
Women's Issues


Children and Education

The safety and well-being of children has been a legislative priority for Senator Kuehl throughout her service in the Legislature.  As the former Chair of the Assembly Select Committee on California’s Women and Chair of the Senate Select Committee on School Safety, Senator Kuehl held hearings in the Capitol and in our various communities to address sexual harassment in the schools, gang violence, harassment against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students and violence in our schools, and issues associated with pregnant and parenting teens in the juvenile justice system. 

Senator Kuehl’s legislative work in the arena of education policy has largely focused on school safety issues.   She has authored laws strengthening civil rights protections for students, improving school safety planning, and strengthening rules for conducting hearings on sexual assault that took place on school grounds or at school-sponsored activities. Along with Senator Dede Alpert of San Diego, Senator Kuehl authored a law to provide funding for after-school programs for young adults in neighborhoods where they are at greatest risk for gang recruitment or school failure. 

Perhaps Senator Kuehl’s most notable contribution to the area of school safety is the California Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act of 2000.  This ground-breaking law, which garnered national attention during the five years it took to pass, added sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of prohibited bases for discrimination in publicly funded schools.  Research showed that anti-gay violence and harassment was wide-spread in our schools and poisoned the school climate.

Additionally, Senator Kuehl has authored laws to enhance services for pregnant and parenting teens in the foster care system and to ensure that foster parents have access to judicial hearings related to their foster children in order to present evidence that might help the court make a better decision to protect the safety of these foster children.  She authored a precedent-setting law to ensure that California students receive comprehensive bias-free sexual health education in order to reduce teen pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted infections.  Senator Kuehl’s sexual health education law is now a national model for comprehensive sexuality education.

Senator Kuehl has also authored legislation to streamline the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act, prevent public access to child sexual abuse photos, and require that all Child Protective Service workers are trained to recognize the indicators and effects of teen dating violence.  Senator Kuehl authored a law to make it easier for parents to ensure that the person they hire to care for their children does not have a criminal record or a history of child abuse and she, along with other members of the Legislative Women’s Caucus, blocked passage of the budget until additional funding was added for subsidized child care programs.  She also authored legislation to overhaul California’s child support services system and to make it more difficult for a batterer to be awarded custody of minor children.

Prior to serving in the Legislature, Senator Kuehl was Associate Dean of Students at UCLA and also served as Director of the Off-Campus Housing Office.  From 1982 to her election to the Assembly in 1994, Senator Kuehl was a Professor of Law at USC, UCLA, and Loyola Law Schools.  She taught classes on gender and law, education law, family law, civil rights, and employment discrimination.

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Civil Rights and Hate Crimes

One of the most significant areas of Senator Kuehl’s legislative accomplishment has been in the area of civil rights legislation.  She has authored numerous bills establishing and strengthening California’s protections against discrimination in employment, housing, education, public accommodations and government funded programs and activities.  Senator Kuehl has also made significant contributions to strengthening California’s efforts to prevent and respond to hate crimes.

Civil Rights

Senator Kuehl has strengthened California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act by extending protections against sexual harassment to contract workers, requiring workplace accommodation for pregnant employees and establishing personal liability for harassing co-workers.  She has also significantly increased protections for workers with disabilities by equalizing the protections for mental and physical disabilities, establishing clear guidelines and restrictions on employment related medical evaluations, and requiring employers to engage in a good faith interactive process when accommodation for a disability is requested.

In the area of public accommodation for persons with disabilities, Senator Kuehl addressed the widespread non-compliance with California’s disabled access laws by strengthening enforcement and education regarding those standards.   That legislation allows public prosecutors to pursue civil penalties against building owners who have failed to comply with California’s access laws and created a certificate program in the office of the State Architect for “disabled access specialists” in an effort to help building owners identify qualified advisors on access issues. 

Senator Kuehl has also significantly strengthened civil rights protections for students.  She authored legislation clarifying and strengthening the general protections against discrimination and harassment in the education code and later expanded those protections to cover discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity.  In response to constituent complaints about gender discrimination in school athletics, Senator Kuehl authored a law prohibiting discrimination in interscholastic athletics on the same bases that discrimination is prohibited in publicly funded schools.  She also ensured that parents and student athletes receive adequate notice of the available State and Federal civil rights remedies whenever discrimination is alleged. She also authored a law clarifying that the California State University must comply with existing legal protections for persons with disabilities.

Senator Kuehl also enhanced the enforcement of California’s general prohibition against discrimination in all state funded programs and activities by allowing individuals to sue the state in order to enforce the law. She also expanded the prohibition against discrimination in state funded programs and activities to include actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. 

Hate Crimes

Senator Kuehl has also made notable contributions to California’s protections against hate crime.  Senator Kuehl authored legislation strengthening the penalty enhancements for gender bias crimes by adding gender bias to sections in which it was missing in the hate crime statute and expanding the definition of gender to include gender-related identity, appearance or behavior.  She is also the author of a law requiring the School/Law Enforcement Partnership project to include hate crime prevention in their general crime prevention efforts.  That law additionally requires schools to include their hate crime reporting procedures and harassment and discrimination policies in their comprehensive school safety plan. 

Finally, Senator Kuehl is the author of a significant reform to California’s hate crime statutes, which clarifies and strengthens California’s hate crime laws regarding prosecution and sentencing, and increases law enforcement training requirements regarding hate crimes.  Among other provisions, this law creates a more easily understandable standard definition of a hate crime and clarifies that victims who are targeted for their association with a protected class are covered by the statute.  This law also adds mosques and temples to the list of religious institutions protected against hate motivated violence and ensures that witnesses that cooperate with the prosecution of a hate crime will not be turned over to federal immigration authorities simply because they are out of status.  The law also increases the training on special problems associated with identifying and responding to certain types of hate crimes such as disability and gender bias crimes and hate crimes committed against the homeless and the disabled.

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Environment

Senator Sheila Kuehl has made the preservation of California’s environment a top priority throughout her career as an elected official.  As an Assemblymember, Senator Kuehl championed our State Parks system and authored legislation to acquire 160 acres of property in the Santa Monica Mountains, famous for having belonged to director Frank Capra. 

Senator Kuehl has been a consistent leader in the successful fight to protect and acquire the Ahmanson Ranch property, Lechuza Beach, Lower Topanga Canyon, and the Soka campus (the former King Gillette Ranch) in the Santa Monica Mountains as well as wildlife corridor properties along the Backbone Trail.  She also authored laws strengthening the state's ability to monitor and respond to MTBE in drinking water and stormwater run-off.  Senator Kuehl chaied the Senate Natural Resources Committee for four years and the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee for two years and served throughout her years in the Senate on the Environmental Quality Committee. She has authored many pieces of environmental legislation that have been signed into law, including a bill to require that sources of water be firmly identified before development of more than 500 units may be constructed, as well as bills that provide economic incentives for recycling tires and construction waste products, support the clean-up of Santa Monica Bay by establishing the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission and legislation to conserve oak woodlands.  She is the author of bills reducing California’s water usage from the Colorado River, establishing fees for abandoned mine clean-ups, and establishing minimum streamflows on North Coast streams.  She has championed ocean conservation measures, increased pay for wardens of the Department of Fish and Game and improvements across the state in air quality.

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Health

Senator Kuehl’s health legislation reflects her long-standing commitment to universal access and quality in health care. She has authored bills to protect drinking water, simplify Medi-Cal eligibility, expand the use of telemedicine, which greatly assists patients and their medical providers in rural areas, increase newborn genetic testing, extend health insurance benefits for disabled individuals, address prison health issues, insure family planning services in the state budget, and expand access to primary preventative health and screening services for low income families.

She has tightened quality requirements for Health Maintenance Organizations (HMO’s) to make them more accountable for their actions. Her commitment to improving the quality of care provided by HMOs led her to join with other legislative members to finalize a comprehensive package of reform bills allowing health plans to be held legally responsible for the medical decisions they make in denying or delaying care to their beneficiaries.

Probably her best known accomplishment signed into law in the field of health care quality has been the establishment of nurse-to-patient staffing ratios. She first introduced the bill in 1997, and watched it fail in 1998. She reintroduced the bill and brought evidence to document a clear and direct relationship between the number of patients a nurse must care for and increased infections, higher mortality rates, increased illnesses, and increased errors. In 1999, the Legislature agreed that providing patients with appropriate access to nurses while hospitalized was a public health necessity and the bill was ultimately signed by Governor Davis.

Senator Kuehl's most daunting task in the health care arena is ensuring the passage and enactment of legislation that will provide affordable and accessible universal health care to all Californians. Under this legislation, consumers would have total freedom to choose their health care providers who would not be employees of the state but would remain as private practitioners. The bill designs a plan that involves no new spending on health care. Instead, health care would be paid for by federal, state and county monies already being spent on health care and by affordable insurance premiums that replace all premiums, deductibles, out-of-pocket payments and co-pays now paid by employers and consumers. The bill would save money by consolidating the functions of insurance companies into one comprehensive insurance plan, saving the state and consumers billions of dollars each year. The bill would provide other savings by using the state’s huge purchasing power to buy prescription drugs. Senator Kuehl first introduced this legislation in 2003. When it did not pass, she reintroduced the bill in 2005. In 2006, and again in 2008, the Legislature passed the legislation and sent it to Governor Schwarzenegger, who vetoed it. Senator Kuehl remains as determined to see this legislation enacted as she was with her nurse to patient ratio legislation, and will continue to work with the new author of the bill, as well as advocates, to ensure its passage and adoption.
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Labor and Working Families

Senator Kuehl was a member of the Senate Labor Committee and has authored numerous bills enhancing the rights of working Californians and helping them to balance family and work responsibilities.  Most notably, she was the author of the first Paid Family Leave law in the United States, which provides partial wage replacement to employees caring for a seriously ill family member through an expansion of California’s disability insurance system.

In addition, Senator Kuehl has extensively augmented the law protecting workers against discrimination in the workplace.  She has strengthened the Fair Employment and Housing Act by extending protections against sexual harassment to contract workers, requiring workplace accommodation for pregnant employees and establishing personal liability for harassing co-workers.  She has also significantly increased protections for workers with disabilities by equalizing the protections for mental and physical disabilities, establishing clear guidelines and restrictions on employment related medical evaluations, and requiring employers to engage in a good faith interactive process when accommodation for a disability is requested.

Senator Kuehl has authored several pieces of legislation protecting the rights of workers in all areas of organized work, as well as some related to the film and television industry, which is a significant employer in the district she represented for fourteen years.  Those laws have related to the privacy of employment records held by unions, strengthening the ability of unions to picket by requiring employers to make more of a showing of immediate danger to the court in order to get an injunction against the picket, the regulation of talent agencies, streamlining the permitting process for filming in coastal areas, and creating incentives to film in California. 

She has also authored several laws to strengthen protections for retired workers, including legislation allowing local community college districts to establish their own post-retirement health benefit coverage and legislation ensuring that registered domestic partners receive the same treatment under the CalPERS and CalSTRS retirement systems that they are entitled to receive through enhancements to the domestic partnership law.

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Women's Issues

Women’s issues have been a continuous and central focus of Senator Kuehl’s work in the Legislature.  She has authored legislation to create the nation’s first paid family leave program, establish the rights contained in Roe vs. Wade in California statute, overhaul California’s child support services system, make individuals who engage in sexual harassment of their co-workers personally liable under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) for their conduct, require workplace accommodation for pregnant employees under FEHA, and strengthen the provisions of California’s hate crimes statutes under which hate crimes based on gender are prosecuted. Senator Kuehl has also fought to protect funding for subsidized child care programs so that California's working families can obtain quality, affordable child care.

Senator Kuehl has been involved with the battered women’s movement for nearly three decades and is one of the nation’s leading legal authorities on the prevention and prosecution of domestic violence.  She has helped to write over 50 new laws to protect domestic violence victims over the course of her career as an advocate and a legislator.  These laws strengthen and streamline the domestic violence restraining order system, make it more difficult for a batterer to be awarded custody of minor children, forbid the issuance of mutual restraining orders unless there is evidence to support violent acts by the victim, enhance penalties for violations of family law restraining orders, increase funding for domestic violence shelter programs, raise awareness about teen dating violence, and protect victim confidentiality.

Senator Kuehl has been a leader in the state’s efforts to combat human trafficking, a crime that disproportionately victimizes women and girls.  She authored legislation to provide survivors of human trafficking with critical social and medical services while they wait for federal certification, establish the California Alliance to Combat Trafficking and Slavery (California ACTS) Task Force, and require the inclusion of human trafficking in law enforcement training curriculum.

Senator Kuehl also served on the Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families and as a member of the Legislative Women’s Caucus and the California Commission on the Status of Women.  Prior to serving in the Legislature, Senator Kuehl co-founded and was Managing Attorney of the California Women’s Law Center.  As a law professor, Senator Kuehl specialized in the area of Gender and Law.

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