Ridley-Thomas bill would remake CA regulatory boards

Senator Mark Ridley-Thomas, D-Los Angeles, wants to send the sunset review process off into the sunset. But his legislation to revamp the way professional boards operate in California is getting pushback from the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA), as well as from professional groups who fear the bill might politicize regulatory boards.

Ridley-Thomas introduced SB 963 in February of last year, shortly after the opening of session. But the bill has been heavily amended in recent weeks. As currently drafted, the bill would eliminate the sunset review process for over three dozen professional boards, including those governing doctors, accountants, architects and veterinarians. It would also create a new process under which boards that aren’t fulfilling their mission could have their entire membership replaced.

“The Legislature put the sunset provision in law for a reason,” said Russ Heimerich, chief of public affairs at the DCA, which has taken an “oppose unless amended” position on the bill. “We’re a little reluctant to see that changed the way that this bill proposes to change it.”

Professional boards facing a sunset date have been routinely renewed by the Legislature. Under the old system, if a board passed its sunset date without being extended, it reverted to the lesser status of a bureau under the DCA. This is exactly what happened to the Dental Board of California. Last year, Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, carried a bill that would have moved the sunset date for the board from July 1 of this year to the same date in 2011. SB 523 also contained a provision that would have created the Dental Hygiene Committee of California, a related body that would have governed dental hygienists in the state.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has been on record opposing the creation of new professional boards and committees. True to his word, he vetoed SB 523. On July 1, the Dental Board become a Bureau under DCA.

“He had to veto the whole thing,” the DCA’s Heimerich said. “It wasn’t that the wanted to see the board sunset. It was because he didn’t want to see that committee created.”

At least two professional groups have sent official letters opposing SB 963 this month. Bruce Allen, director of government relations for the California Society of Certified Public Accountants (CSCPA), sent an oppose letter on July 7 to the Assembly Appropriations Committee, where SB 963 currently sits. His main objection is to provisions in the bill that would make the governor’s appointments of executive directors of each board subject to approval by the Senate and by the director of the DCA.

“Who does the director work for?” Allen asked. “The appointment of the executive director is politicized. They’re going to try to get people appointed to those positions who share their point of view.”

On July 1, the American Council of Engineering Companies of California (ACEC CA) sent an oppose letter directly to Ridley-Thomas. The group’s executive director, Paul Meyer, said they object to the strict rules about “ex parte” communication written into the bill. In order to comply, Meyer said, professional board members would literally have to record, transcribe and make available conversation they have with others in their profession—such as their colleagues and friends. Other communications provisions would force professions to make settlement data available, something he said would act like bait for trial lawyers and make it harder to settle small scale or frivolous cases out of court.

“The way the bill is written now, literally everything would have to go in the public record,” Meyer said. “Suddenly, everything would become a legal document. It would just stifle communication, isolate the board from the public and licensees, and make enforcement of the law extremely cumbersome.”  

“There have been concerns raised by some of the professions, but recent amendments being proposed may address some of those concerns, especially those dealing with the ex parte communications requirement,” Ridley-Thomas said.

Last Friday, Ridley-Thomas staff began circulating a 34-page revision to the bill. It clarified many of the communications rules, among other changes. This came a week after an information meeting held by a pair of Senate Consultants; about three dozen concerned staffers and members from numerous professional boards showed up.

According to Senate staff who have been working on the bill, SB 963 is seeking to replicate a process used to successfully reconstitute the California State Athletic Commission. The Athletic Commission was allowed to lapse in 2006 after problems were discovered with their recordkeeping and with issuing new rules for Mixed Martial Arts bouts. It was reconstituted with new board members in January 2007 via SB 247, carried by Senator Perata.

But Ridley-Thomas pointed to another troubled board as helping inspire the bill. The Board of Chiropractic Examiners has been a focus on several pieces of legislation since disputes between staff and board made their way into the media in March of last year.
“A good example for why this bill is needed is the Chiropractic Board,” Ridley-Thomas said. “It took a lot of time and effort of the standing committees to deal with the problems of this board. Communications between members of those of the profession were inappropriate and sometimes in violation of the Bagley-Keene act. If disclosure of ex parte communications were required, some of these problems would possibly not have occurred.”

Both Meyer and Allen said they also object to how quickly the bill is moving and changing near the close of session. Meyer noted the bill was already heavily amended on June 25 and again on July 1. He said he was worried that all these late session changes were an attempt to slip through changes without the full committee review process. While legislative rules would normally demand that a heavily amended bill revisit some committees and even go back to its or origin, this doesn’t’ always happen late in a session.
“It did pass the last house [Senate] last year, but it didn’t look anything like this,” Meyer said.

“Typically at the end of session there’s motions to suspend the rules and take a bill up on the floor.”

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