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News: Legislative Updates

SEAOC Builds Toward Next Legislative Session

Wednesday, September 28, 2016  

By Don Schinske, SEAOC Executive Director

It's fall in an even-number year, which means legislators are home campaigning and conversations in the Capitol with legislative staff, committee consultants and lobbying colleagues are longer and more rangy, and less immediately transactional. Smart organizations use the time to pursue loose ends, build relations, and create conditions for future success.

For example: In my Inbox is an invitation for SEAOC to brief a particular Assembly office on "code plus" engineering and the limitations of the state's building code. The meeting is unlikely to yield quick magic; it'll be just a couple of sharp SEAOC folks introducing some complicated, unfamiliar ideas to a single Capitol office. But it's exactly the means through which policy change happens, and the means through which technical organizations establish their clout and reputations in "the Building."

Although changes to policy often happen in fits and starts, the underlying process is typically cumulative and non-linear. To be effective, organizations must be prepared and steadily engaged. It has to know its own wants, and of course how the process works. But it also needs to know who everybody else is and what they want. You meet with people, you build trust, and you work together where your interests align. Again, it's not magic. But there's no shortcutting this cultivation of relationships, the sharing of confidences, and the willingness to expend shoe-leather.

This year, SEAOC was pleased to work closely with our colleagues at ACEC-CA, AIACC and ASLA California (the landscape architects) on SB 885 (Wolk), the ACEC-sponsored bill to reform "duty-to-defend provisions" in design professional contracting. We – our group in the Capitol and the grassroots phone calls and letters from our respective memberships – managed to push the bill out of the Senate into the Assembly, where it stalled in committee. Granted, we didn't get as far as wanted. But we secured an important condition for success, which is a strong show of support from one of the two legislative chambers. That's an elevated platform from which to build. In addition, the level of misinformation that circulated about SB 885 suggests there is ample room to gain further support, once the issues are explained again (and often again) to legislators. Stay tuned for plans on duty-to-defend reform for next year.

In addition, SEAOC plans to continue advancing its "significant structures" proposal to limit the design of complex and important structures to licensed SEs. At the moment, the path to success is not straightforward, and we have some work to do in convincing other organizations to embrace it. Even so, it is worthy calling card for SEAOC, as it firmly pegs our reputation to the drive for higher standards. We are planning meetings later in the fall with legislative offices, at a time when legislators are planning their legislative agendas for the next session.

If you are interested in learning more about or participating with SEAOC's Legislative Committee, please contact

A final note: SEAOC this year was pleased to advise the author's office on AB 1783 (Dodd), a bill following upon the 2014 Napa earthquake that requires seismic-safety inspection of non-structural contents of K-12 public schools. At various points, the bill needed paring and tuning in order to advance. SEAOC ­­– chiefly Legislative Chair Ryan Kersting – strove to ensure that the technical aspects of the bill were consistent and workable, in addition to testifying in support of the bill in legislative committees. At presstime, Governor Brown had yet to take action on AB 1783.