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Legislature Passes Save Local Journalism Act

 

BY BRIAN HEWS • August 31, 2020

Following a unanimous Senate vote yesterday, the California Assembly passed AB 323 by a 67-4 margin this afternoon  giving the newspaper industry one extra year before the state’s controversial Assembly Bill 5 forces changes to longstanding newspaper delivery practices.

The bill, authored by Assemblymember Blanca Rubio, D-Baldwin Park originally offered a two-year grace period.

Assembly Bill 5 passed last year and dictated how businesses classify workers as contractors or employees.

Recognizing the financial hit to the news industry, the Legislature gave news publishers a one-year exemption, to December 2020; at that point publishers would have been forced to classify newspaper carriers as employees.

The change to a delivery driver classification that has been in place for over 120 years will increase the cost of newspaper delivery by as much as 85%, likely unsustainable for small publishers that have been hit with advertising revenue declines due to the coronavirus crisis.

Small community and ethnic newspapers are especially vulnerable to economic fluctuations and catastrophic consequences, like closure. These small publishers are scrambling to stay afloat by cutting coverage, furloughing reporters and eliminating print publication on certain days of the week.

In a statement Rubio wrote, ““AB 323 provides a bridge for our local newspapers to continue informing readers and their communities. The First Amendment and our independent press are critical to the open exchange of diverse ideas and perspectives. My colleagues and I bring varied viewpoints to the Capitol, but as shown by the overwhelming bipartisan support for AB 323, we are united in our support for our local news outlets and the citizens they serve.”

The bill also mandates the Department of General Services to allocate state advertising, typically placed in the daily newspapers, to community newspapers.

AB 323 establishes a path for community and ethnic news outlets to reach underserved communities through state advertising and provides an additional year for ethnic, mid-size and daily newspapers to pursue alternate distribution models while preparing to comply with AB 5.

“We are living through times of unprecedented unrest and change, and the need has never been greater for specialized outlets that facilitate improved civic engagement and better cross-cultural communication,” said Regina Brown Wilson of California Black Media. “Assemblywoman Rubio’s leadership and the unwavering support of AB 323’s coauthors and supporters make it possible for our outlets to continue their mission and better inform our communities.”

AB 323 was championed by principal coauthors Assemblymember Grayson and Senators Caballero, Dodd, Hertzberg, and McGuire; and coauthored by Assemblymembers Aguiar-Curry, Bauer-Kahan, Chu, Cooley, Cunningham, Diep, Flora, Frazier, Friedman, Gallagher, Irwin, Kamlager, Kiley, Levine, Low, Mayes, Mullin, Obernolte, O’Donnell, Quirk-Silva, Ramos, Robert Rivas, and Smith, and Senators Allen, Archuleta, Bates, Chang, Galgiani, Glazer, Mitchell, Roth, Rubio, and Umberg.

“We are grateful to Assemblywoman Rubio, Senate and Assembly leadership, the bill’s coauthors, and every member of the Legislature for recognizing our financial predicament and working tirelessly to protect access to local news,” said Charles F. Champion, president and CEO of the California News Publishers Association. “Almost every recent survey shows that reliance on local news sources has grown over the last year. With the passage of AB 323, lawmakers have shown their faith in local news outlets as the most trusted resource for their communities, and we will continue to rise to fulfill this important need.”

“I am hopeful Governor Newsom will sign AB 323 into law because he values the importance of bringing news to our citizens in California,” added Assemblywoman Rubio.

RELATED: California Legislature Needs to Save Community Newspapers

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