Capitol Alert

Bill prompted by Berkeley balcony collapse falters in Assembly

A worker measures the remaining wood of an apartment building balcony that collapsed, killing six college students and injuring several others, in Berkeley in June.
A worker measures the remaining wood of an apartment building balcony that collapsed, killing six college students and injuring several others, in Berkeley in June. The Associated Press

A bill that would increase regulatory oversight of California building contractors fell one vote short of advancing Tuesday after several Democrats abstained in the Assembly Business and Professions Committee.

Senate Bill 465 would have required that the state licensing board be notified when contractors are convicted of felonies or settle a significant claim involving negligence, fraud, incompetence or other serious professional wrongdoing.

The legislation emerged following a balcony collapse at an apartment building in Berkeley last month that killed six and injured seven. Officials found that the construction firm had paid more than $26 million in settlements in the previous three years, and licensing board members recently said that, had they known, it would have prompted an investigation into suspending or revoking the company’s contracting license.

The authors of SB 465, Democratic Sens. Jerry Hill of San Mateo and Loni Hancock of Berkeley, said it was a matter of “urgency” to protect the public, although the specifics on what disclosures would be prompted by the bill remained to be determined.

Opponents, including the California Building Industry Association, countered that settlements are often a means of avoiding even costlier litigation and provide no information on the merit of the claims. They argued that the bill could open them up to more frivolous lawsuits.

Seven Democrats voted to advance SB 465, which was facing a policy committee deadline this week, and continue discussions with the construction industry over suitable amendments. Three others withheld their votes, stating that they could not support the bill before the details had been worked out.

“I just hate feeling rushed into making a decision that I don’t know what the consequences of it might be,” said Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg. Assembly members Autumn Burke, D-Marina Del Rey, and Bill Dodd, D-Napa, also abstained.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

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