Capitol Alert

A year after Berkeley balcony collapse, response bill inches ahead

A worker measures near the remaining wood of a Berkeley apartment building balcony that collapsed on June 16, 2015, killing six college students and injuring several others.
A worker measures near the remaining wood of a Berkeley apartment building balcony that collapsed on June 16, 2015, killing six college students and injuring several others. The Associated Press

Just days after the first anniversary of the balcony collapse at a Berkeley apartment building that killed six and injured seven, a bill to increase oversight of California building contractors advanced Tuesday from the Assembly committee where it stalled last July.

The amended Senate Bill 465 would still require contractors to notify the state licensing board when they are convicted of felonies or a crime related to their work. But it no longer includes a reporting requirement for significant settlements involving claims of negligence, fraud, incompetence or other serious professional wrongdoing. Instead, the board would be asked to conduct a study on whether receiving information about judgments against licensees and settlement payments they have made would assist in protecting the public.

Following the balcony collapse last June, officials found that the construction firm had paid more than $26 million in settlements in the previous three years. Licensing board members said had they known, they would have initiated an investigation into suspending or revoking the company’s contracting license.

SB 465, by Democratic Sens. Jerry Hill of San Mateo and Loni Hancock of Berkeley, passed out of the Assembly Business and Professions Committee on 12-0 vote, despite concerns from representatives of the construction industry and contractors that the study is overly broad. Their arguments last year that settlements are a means to avoid even costlier litigation and provide no information on the merits of the claims helped block the bill, which fell short by one vote.

The emotional hearing on Tuesday included testimony from Jackie Donohoe, the mother of one of the young women who died in the balcony collapse.

“I'll never get my daughter back,” she said, criticizing the construction industry for continuing to oppose the bill after it was amended to address their concerns. “We fail these kids by allowing this to happen.”

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

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