Big Daddy

How to learn the law and hate Senator Tom Harman in 60 minutes

California State Senator Tom Harman campaigned for his office last year as the “conservative” candidate, rolling out the endorsements of a bogus taxpayer-rights group and a liberal Republican organization. He and his surrogates insisted his diaper tax-proposing ways were a thing of the past–a fad–perhaps a holdover inclination from his time on the City Council of the People’s Republic of Huntington Beach. They pulled off one of the biggest chain-yankings in Orange County political history. But after loose examination of his first set of legislative proposals as a senator, one has to hope the electorate doesn’t allow Tom Harman to run away from his record any longer. He is the 26th Democrat in the upper house of the state Legislature.

Another case in point: Harman’s Senate Bill 948.

This bill would require every member of a board of directors of the nearly 35,000 homeowners associations (HOA) in the state of California to complete a one-hour course on statutory and case law related to homeowners associations every three years. The required law courses can’t cost more than $25 and must be approved by the Department of Real Estate. Course participants may be reimbursed by their association. Developers are exempt from the course requirement.

There are so many things wrong about this bill, but let’s just start with the fact that this is yet another hasty regulatory half-measure that burdens the lives of Californians. Two years ago, Senator Denise Ducheny, D-San Diego, carried SB 137, which was supposed to direct the DRE and the Department of Consumer Affairs to create a free, online law course for HOA board members. No such course has been created. But instead of hounding the DRE and DCA to get on creating a course and patiently waiting to see how many responsible HOA board members seize the initiative and take it, Harman has got to get to forcing every one of them to take a course that will put California’s HOAs out of what could be countless hours and tens of millions of dollars. He couldn’t wait to regulate.

I recognize the value of a legal education as much as the next guy, but a one-hour, $25 course is a laughable response to the increasingly litigious environment of HOAs. If Harman were really interested in proper procedure and lawsuit abatement, why stop at a one-hour course? It’s so arbitrary. Why not require a juris doctorate for eligibility to serve on an HOA board? And why not throw in a course on parliamentary procedure to boot? Probably because no amount of education will eliminate lawsuits. We live in California. Lawsuits happen.

Like welfare, this is simply another redistributive policy proposed by another government-loving legislator. Money is being redistributed from homeowners to whomever gets their course approved by the DRE, for no good reason. As the California Alliance for Retired Americans asks in their opposition to SB 948, why has Harman–again–decided against encouraging HOA board members to avail themselves of the multitude of free legal courses on the subject? Why does he have to mandate this and kill those options? No one would continue to provide for free what they might easily sell. So, Tom Harman is making homeownership more difficult and more costly than it already is in California.

Because SB 948 creates another hurdle for HOA compliance with the law, noncompliance becomes more prevalent. The course Harman’s proposing might well be necessary to educate people about the law that makes it necessary. Failure to comply with the senator’s bill will only put all HOA board members at more risk of breaching fiduciary duties owed to their fellow homeowners and the state of California, duties they won’t have already been educated on (having not taken the course yet), and may increase insurance costs and decrease HOA participation. Harman’s bill could easily end up being self-defeating.

Senator Harman continues to fashion himself a “Republican”, a defender of liberty and personal responsibility. On April 9, he stood shoulder to shoulder with Republican colleagues and Americans for Tax Reform in an opportunistic pledge to Californians that tax increases were “off the table”. Unfortunately, no one asked to see if his fingers were crossed while taking the pledge. Maybe next year Harman can mandate a course that will help us sniff out his continued ideological insincerity.

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