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AB 5 author Lorena Gonzalez may relax rules for freelance writers, photographers

Lorena Gonzalez
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who wrote Assembly Bill 5, plans to introduce changes for musicians, fine artists and others in coming months.
(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The chief architect of California’s sweeping new employment classification law said Thursday that her office will push to amend it to roll back restrictions on freelance journalists and photographers.

Some freelance journalists said the new law, AB 5, severely restricted their ability to work. The law, which took effect Jan. 1, aims to rein in companies’ use of independent contractors to ensure more workers receive employment protections such as minimum wage, overtime pay and worker’s compensation insurance.

The law’s author, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, wrote in a series of tweets that she will introduce legislation to tweak and clarify the law and ease its implementation. Changes include removing the 35-article-per-year limit on freelance submissions before a journalist must be classified as a part- or full-time employee and clarifying that photographers and videographers can sell their work through platforms such as Getty and Shutterstock without being classified as employees.

Gonzalez, Assemblywoman Christy Smith and a dozen other legislators also requested $20 million to fund a grant program for small, nonprofit community arts programs to support them as they work to transition contractors into employees to comply with AB 5.

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“This additional funding for small, nonprofit arts organizations will ensure we can more quickly transition to an economy that treats all workers fairly and with dignity,” Gonzalez said in a press release.

Gonzalez introduced AB 1850 in early January as placeholder legislation to correct and clarify AB 5. Gonzalez, who has met with various critics of the law since its enactment, said she plans to introduce changes for musicians, fine artists, small businesses and others in coming months.

Freelancers worried that under AB 5’s restrictions publishers would stop working with them rather than convert them to employees, as advocates of the law intended. In December, two groups representing freelance writers and photographers filed a lawsuit in federal court in Los Angeles alleging that AB 5 unconstitutionally restricts free speech and the media.

The freelancers are just one of several groups that have pushed back against the new law. The California Trucking Assn. filed a lawsuit last year arguing that it hurt their ability to provide services. In December, U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez of San Diego granted a temporary exemption for independent truck drivers. Last month, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled the law does not apply to thousands of independent truck drivers because AB 5 is preempted by federal law.

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Gig economy companies such as Uber, Lyft and DoorDash have launched an expensive campaign against the legislation, arguing that treating workers as employees would hobble them in California, one of their biggest markets. The companies have submitted a California ballot measure proposal to exempt their businesses from the law.


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