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California lawmakers fill governor’s plate with restaurant-related bills

If signed, state will be first to restrict service of single-use plastic straws

California may become the first state to prohibit full-service restaurants from serving single-use plastic straws with beverages, except on request.

The legislation is one of a host of restaurant- and employer-related bills passed and sent to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk last week as the state legislative session draws to a close Aug. 31.

In addition to the potential plastic straw ban, California may also prohibit employers from requiring workers to sign arbitration or nondisclosure agreements. It may also dictate what drinks can be the default option in kids’ meals, and legislation could also require employers to keep certain records of sexual harassment complaints.

Brown has until Sept. 30 to sign or veto bills from this session. Here’s a look at legislation heading to Brown’s desk that is likely to impact restaurants and employers in the industry:

Plastic straws: Assembly bill 1884 was introduced earlier this year by state Rep. Ian Calderon (D-Whittier), who pointed to data from the California Coastal Commission which recorded 835,425 plastic straws picked up between 1988 and 2014 during organized beach cleanups. That doesn’t include straws found inland or along the state’s lakes or other waterways. 

Under the bill, full-service restaurants may not provide a single-use plastic straw to consumers unless requested. Restaurant operators face the threat of a fine or potential jail time for violating the ban. 

“It’s critical that we reduce the negative effects of plastic pollution,” said Calderon in a statement. “By removing the default behavior of providing straws with every drink, consumers have an opportunity to make a deliberate, small change that will lessen the harmful impacts of single-use plastic straws in our environment. It’s a small but significant step forward.”

Kids’ meals: Senate Bill 1192 would require restaurants that sell kids’ meals that include a beverage to make the default offering water, or unflavored milk or nondairy milk alternative. Under the bill, restaurants can still serve soda, juice or other beverages if requested by customers. The goal is to address obesity and resulting illnesses by cutting back on the number of sugary drinks kids consume. 

Arbitration agreements: Assembly Bill 3080 would prohibit employers from requiring workers to sign arbitration agreements for claims tied to sexual harassment, workplace discrimination and wage-and-hour issues. An issue that grew out of the #MeToo movement, the bill would prevent employers from requiring workers to agree to go to arbitration with sexual harassment and discrimination complaints, rather than the court system. Advocates of the #MeToo movement argue that such agreements have allowed bad behavior to go unpunished because workers are restricted from speaking out.

The bill in California could put the state at odds with federal law. Earlier this year, a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court supported the ability of employers to require workers to consent to arbitration, including having workers agree to not join collective-action lawsuits against their employers.

Nondisclosure agreements: Similarly, Assembly Bill 820 would prohibit employers from requiring workers to sign nondisclosure agreements as part of a settlement. The goal is to prevent secret settlements that could protect serial offenders in potential sexual harassment or discrimination cases.

Sexual harassment records: Assembly Bill 1867 would require employers of 50 or more to maintain internal records of employee complaints involving sexual harassment for a minimum of five years after the last day of employment of the complainant or any alleged harasser named in the complaint, whichever is later.

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected]

Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout

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