Bill in response to balcony collapse reaches California State Assembly floor

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A bill written in response to a balcony collapse in Berkeley last year requiring building contractors to report felony convictions against them will advance Friday to the California State Assembly floor.

The bill will also require state agencies to conduct research, which is to be presented in 2018, on whether the state needs to update building regulations for balconies and whether California should require contractors to report financial settlements. The bill passed the state Assembly Appropriations Committee on Thursday.

“We never want to see another family go through the same pain and suffering,” said Jackie Donohoe, mother of one of the women who died in the balcony collapse, at the Appropriations Committee hearing. “So many lives have been changed, that’s why it’s so important for this bill to pass.”

The bill was originally introduced shortly after the balcony collapse occurred last year and required contractors to report large financial settlements resulting from defects in construction. The bill was then updated in response to concerns that it was not specific enough.

Segue Construction Inc. — the company that built the apartment complex where the balcony collapsed — had multiple settlements totaling $26.5 million in the three years before the incident.

If the construction board had been aware of past issues with the balconies, the death of those six kids could have been prevented,” Donohoe said at the hearing.

According to a fact sheet by Senators Jerry Hill and Loni Hancock, who introduced the bill, the chief of enforcement of the Contractors State License Board, or CSLB, said the board would have taken action had it known about the lawsuits against the company and the reasons behind them.

The updated version of the bill also includes a provision requiring licensed contractors to report any felony conviction to the CSLB related to their “qualifications, functions, and duties” within 90 days.

The bill also requires two studies, one of which will be conducted by the CSLB. This study will determine whether requiring builders to report money paid out through arbitration and settlements would help the CSLB protect the public.

The second study will be conducted by a working group formed by the California Building Standards Commission, which works on building codes. The working group, composed of builders and legislators, will investigate whether existing building standards for balconies in high-rise residential buildings need to be updated.

The CSLB and California Building Standards Commission will then report back to the state Legislature in January 2018, after which the Legislature will determine if any action needs to be taken.

At the Assembly Appropriations Committee hearing Thursday, a group of builders registered their opposition to the bill, saying that the information-gathering requirements will “result in a waste of staff time and resources.”

The bill has until Aug. 31, the end of the legislative session, to pass the House and the Senate.

Contact Mira Chaplin at [email protected].