Review of Senate Bill 963
The wholly revised SB 963 introduced by Senator Mark Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles) and amended in Assembly on June 25 eliminates the sunset review process that all licensing boards have had to endure since written into law in 1994. This bill creates in its place the Office of the Consumer Advocate (OCA) within the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA). This Office will provide ongoing and continuous review of all boards, and a periodic thorough review only when requested by a member of the Legislature or the chief of the Office. Any request for review requires a detailed description of perceived deficiencies, and public hearings are held by a legislative committee to address the concerns.
Some of the Bill’s Major Provisions Include:
1) The sunset review process, which, some argue, diverts attention, time, and resources of the Executive Officer and staff away from their core functions, will be eliminated.
2) Ongoing and continuous review is defined as a requirement for boards to file quarterly reports to the Office of the Consumer Advocate detailing the board’s performance measures and data relating to those measures.
3) The proposed review process maintains government transparency by requiring public hearings to address complaints by the Legislature or the chief of the OCA. Complaints must be justified in writing by detailing specific perceived deficiencies, and filed with a standing policy committee of the Legislature. This standing committee then determines if sufficient justification exists to warrant public hearings to address the alleged deficiencies. This bill describes specific expectations of all boards, so the boards know how performance will be measured.
4) Board operational information will be required to be placed on the board’s web site. This information includes: enforcement action and settlements; meeting minutes (within 10 days of the meeting); quarterly performance reports filed with the Office of the Consumer Advocate; annual reports from each board member and Executive Officer describing the extent to which they achieved goals and objectives for that year, and any goals and objectives they have for the following year. Most of the required information the BGG already has on their web site.
5) The Office of the Consumer Advocate will be required to provide annual reports to the chair of the Legislature detailing the number of personnel years assigned to the OCA, the total dollars expended the prior year, the estimated total dollars spent in the current year, the total dollars proposed for appropriation the following year, and workload standards and measures of the OCA.
6) Unless it would reduce a board’s ability to comply with its duties prescribed by law, each board will be required to use the DCA for administrative and ministerial functions and services, including personnel services, information technology, administration of call centers, and the administration of exams.
7) The DCA’s existing “information technology system” will be replaced by January 1, 2010, and will be paid for by the boards on a pro rata share basis. “The charge shall be an administrative expense that may be levied in advance against the funds of any of the boards…”
8) Operating costs of the Office of the Consumer Advocate will be funded by an annual charge to each board “on a pro rata share basis an amount that is sufficient, as determined by the chief” of the OCA.
9) Following a thorough review as described in item 3, above, “if a board is found deficient, each incumbent member of the board shall be removed from office without a hearing within 10 business days of receipt of the committee’s deficiency report by the Joint Committee on Rules, and successor board members shall be appointed within that timeframe…”
10) “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, all appointments of an executive officer…shall be subject to the approval of the director [of the DCA] and confirmation of the Senate.”
These are just some of the provisions of SB 963, and items 6-10 should have sent up little red flags.
The intent of item 6, above, is to reduce costs by offering economies of scale. I suggest that this provision would result in decreasing the efficiency and response time of the BGG and hamper their day-to-day operations.
What does “information technology system” mean? There is no cost cap in this bill, and as we all know, when it comes to technology expenditures the sky’s the limit. With no cap and no specific detailed cost analysis this is a very dangerous provision.
As with replacing the DCA’s computers and software [just a guess], there is no cap or detailed cost analysis for the funding of the Office of the Consumer Advocate. The BGG’s budget is already tight. Where is this money going to come from? Increased license fees? License fees are intended to support the Board’s functions (Business and Professions Code §7887). Appropriation of these funds for DCA and OCA functions does not seem appropriate.
Why are all board members removed if the board is found to be deficient? What if not all are responsible? What if the entire board had been mislead by the executive officer (see AEG SoCal and Sacramento Section newsletters from the beginning of 2005 through the end of 2006)?
If the board’s executive officer, appointed by the board in conformance with B&P Code §7815.5, must be approved by the director of the DCA and confirmed by the Senate, that position becomes a political appointment rather than a technical one.
Despite the creation of a new Office within the DCA and an inevitable increase in bureaucracy, this bill provides for increased transparency in board, OCA, and DCA processes. Financial and performance accountability requirements allow the public to know how their money is being spent. Nearly all of the performance requirements detailed in this bill the Board for Geologists and Geophysicists is already doing, or has begun to achieve under the leadership of Rick Rempel, the board’s current Executive Officer. By maintaining these performance standards, only the quarterly performance reporting will be required, and the more thorough review process described in the bill may never need to be undertaken.
However, there are several provisions in this bill that require further clarification. Hopefully, forthcoming revisions will clarify these concerns in a way that AEG can support.
Overall this is a good bill, providing many benefits over the current system; and if the financial aspects are clarified and are reasonable, then this bill will be worth supporting.
The above discussion is based on my interpretation of SB 963; and others will have differing opinions. The bill contains many other specifics that I did not report, and I encourage you to read the bill for yourself (or at least the Legislative Council’s Digest at the beginning).
The full text of SB 963 is available at: http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/bilinfo.html. It’s 61 pages long, but only pages 1 through the middle of 19 contain the meat of the bill. The remaining pages essentially delete existing sunset and other non-essential language for all boards.