MOORLACH UPDATE — SB 1142 and SB 1273 — April 16, 2016

The Mercury News recently had an excellent article on the subject of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). It so clearly laid out the abuses currently impacting business owners from legal extortion efforts that we sent out an "In Case You Missed It (ICYMI)" e-mail to let our subscribers know (see http://district37.cssrc.us/content/icymi-serial-ada-lawsuit-filer-striking-bay-area).

The Mercury News has done a follow up article. It is the first piece below and was also provided in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, the Marin Independent Journal, and the
Milpitas Post.

SB 1142 will go before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where I serve as Vice Chair, on April 26. The number of individual business owners that I have talked to also share the angst found in the article. This lawsuit abuse must be stopped (see MOORLACH UPDATE — SB 1142 and WSJH — April 8, 2016 april 8, 2016 john moorlach).

The second piece is from EdSource and provides a glimpse of what my Thursdays look like. I serve on the Budget and Fiscal Review Committee Subcommittee One on Education, where I also serve as Vice Chair (see http://sbud.senate.ca.gov/subcommittee1). It meets right after the close of the Senate Floor Session on Thursday mornings. It is one of the reasons I customarily take late flights back to the District on Thursdays, as the meetings can be lengthy. This week’s meeting is the topic of the article. As you can see, I do ask questions.

And the final piece is our press release concerning SB 1273, which was approved by the Senate Health Committee Wednesday, with eight of the nine members in support and one laying off until further clarification of a concern (see MOORLACH UPDATE — SB 1273 — March 3, 2016 march 3, 2016 john moorlach and the related links). It now heads to the Senate Floor.

The Voice of OC was kind enough to provide our press release on the great news. I want to thank everyone who came to the Committee meeting and spoke in support of the bill. The length of the line of supporters nearly had me in tears. I am very passionate about this bill and have been very honored with the many who have co-authored, including Sen. Robert Hertzberg (D – Van Nuys), and those who have written letters in support. Thank you!

Legislation aims to curb serial ADA lawsuits

By Matthias Gafni

SAN JOSE — State and federal lawmakers have launched several pieces of legislation aimed squarely at people they believe are manipulating well-intentioned discrimination laws to pad their own bank accounts.

Legislators from across the state reached out to this newspaper after an article on Scott Johnson, a disabled attorney who has sued thousands of small businesses across Northern California, often over minor violations such as signs posted in the wrong color or doors with slightly too much resistance. Two state bills are snaking their way through Sacramento, while two pieces of federal legislation are also in the works.

They all look to create a window of opportunity for business owners to make minor fixes before being sued and having to pay minimum damages of $4,000 per violation, as well as attorney fees for themselves and the plaintiff.

Last month, U.S. Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, introduced the COMPLI Act, which would allow businesses 90 days after notification of violation to reach compliance. The bill also targets "high-frequency litigants," such as Johnson.

"I have heard from numerous local businesses who were forced to shut down, lay off employees, pay out large settlements, or change locations because of repeated lawsuits and threats of lawsuits that leave these businesses with little to no financial resources or time to fix the problem and become compliant," McNerney said.

Dennis and Shawn Wuollet own one of those affected businesses. The father and son have served up quick, fresh Mexican food favorites at Taco Bravo in Campbell for 45 years. But they have been sued not once, but twice, by Johnson in the past two years and worry they may have to shut down entirely.

"It’s a scam, and we got caught up in the scam," said Dennis Wuollet, a 70-year-old Campbell resident. "It ruined my life, it did. It ruined my life."

In 2014, Johnson sued the Wuollets’ second Taco Bravo on Snell Avenue in San Jose for various violations. The owner of the building and the Wuollets paid a $30,000 settlement, and Wuollet said the payout left him unable to afford the fixes, so he closed the restaurant, laying off about 15 workers.

"It’s been two years, and now I’m just catching up to my bills. … It cost so much money to open up a second store," Dennis Wuollet said.

And now, at the original Taco Bravo at 1950 South Bascom Ave. in Campbell, Johnson has sued him a second time, along with the neighboring Wienerschnitzel. The two restaurants share parking spaces, and Wuollet is hoping his store is not the main target.

"I just think he’s suing us again because he got money from us before," Wuollet said. "I’m still hoping it’s not true. If it is true, it’ll wipe me out. I’ll just go home and quit."

Neither Johnson nor his attorney returned requests for comment.

On Wednesday, the California Assembly Appropriations Committee approved Senate Bill 269, which would provide businesses relief from ADA predatory lawsuits.

"The ADA serves the right purpose — to increase and ensure access for all Americans," said Assemblywoman Catharine Baker, R-San Ramon, said in an email. "But it’s a shame when people take laws intended to protect the vulnerable and turn them into their own personal piggy bank."

State Senate Bill 1142 and SB 1406 also would address the issue.

"Rather than discouraging people from bringing claims under these disability access laws, allowing for a time to cure weeds out serial attorneys and plaintiffs who are only bringing these claims for a quick payout," said state Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, who introduced SB 1142, in an email. "There is no point to these standards if a business is sued out of existence if it could not abide by them."

California has 40 percent of the nation’s ADA lawsuits but only 12 percent of the country’s disabled population, according to U.S. Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, who has co-sponsored the ACCESS Act of 2015, which also seeks protections for business owners.

U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin, who has businesses in his district that have been sued by the serial litigants, has been following the issue.

"While the ADA has been and continues to be a vital tool in achieving equal access for the disability community, we must be careful the protections it offers are not abused," he said in a statement. "I appreciate that Congressmen Calvert and McNerney have introduced legislation to address what they see as problems with the ADA, and I look forward to working with them to ensure that we can limit abuse but still maintain the ability of the disabled to achieve equality under the law."

After Ajay Dhillon, of Pleasanton, was sued at some of his Long John Silver restaurants in the Sacramento area by Johnson, he sold them in 2011 and moved his business to Texas, he said.

David Shaffer, who operates his own insurance agency in Walnut Creek, said that when he tore his Achilles tendon last month and was on crutches for weeks, it changed his perspective on disabled access.

"If business owners are found to be in violation, they should be required to experience what it’s like to be disabled and reflect on what it’s like to get around their businesses," he said. "I don’t think people are sensitive to what it’s like to being disabled."

For Taco Bravo’s Shawn Wuollet, 48, he said new laws need to give businesses the opportunity to make such fixes.

"It’s just gonna continue happening unless something is done," he said. "People will keep going out of business, people will keep losing their jobs."

Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.

EARLY LEARNING

Legislators reject Brown’s early education plan, boosting advocates

By Jeremy Hay

An influential state Assembly subcommittee this week voted unanimously to reject Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to restructure the state’s early childhood learning programs, encouraging early education advocates who object to the plan and giving them a boost as they move forward through the budget process.

Brown has proposed consolidating state childcare, preschool, transitional kindergarten, and quality control spending into a single $1.6 billion block grant. Advocates object to the plan because they say it would essentially cap spending and limit access to early learning programs, as well as possibly eliminating the transitional kindergarten program the state created in 2010. It also fails to address issues of quality and a shortage of childcare and preschool slots, they say.

“I’m certain it would not expand access,” Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, chairman of the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance, said of Brown’s proposal. He spoke Tuesday before the vote at the subcommittee’s budget hearing, one of two held this week on early education spending. “Until we fully fund the system here in California… it’s not the time to do something like this.”

Advocates and providers have outlined a proposal similar to one made by the Legislative Women’s Caucus. The advocates asked for $800 million to increase reimbursements paid to providers, add 10,000 preschool slots, increase spending on quality control measures and update the income eligibility limits to reflect the state’s current median income and current costs of childcare and preschool. The women’s caucus additionally asked for 25,000 new childcare slots. While the subcommittee’s rejection of the governor’s plan hardly means he will relinquish it, the move puts the advocates on good footing as they lobby for a spending plan more to their liking.

“The signals were that there’s clearly a lot of support for early childhood ed within the Legislature,” said Mark Baldassare, president of the Public Policy Institute of California, a nonprofit research organization. “It means that there’s something to build on there.”

Scott Moore, executive director of Kidango, a nonprofit preschool provider, said that now “what’s important is to define what it is that we want to do … and what are the policy changes we need to make to accomplish that. So it’s not just rejecting the governor’s proposal but coming up with alternatives.”

Some advocates said they plan to focus on delivering facts to make their case for more funding and other changes intended to increase access for families, such as changing outdated reimbursement rates that affect childcare and preschool quality and income limits that make it easy for families to lose eligibility for services.

“They don’t want the editorials, they don’t necessarily want the more heartfelt stories; they really want that hard data. We’re going to provide a tremendous amount of data,” said Nina Buthee, executive director of the California Child Development Administrators Association.

The state Senate subcommittee on education began its discussion about early education spending on Thursday. It did not vote on Brown’s proposal, but pointedly questioned administration staff about it.

Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, asked whether Brown’s proposal had been a “trial balloon” that the administration might now walk back given the “significant pushback.”

Advocates said that inquiry was encouraging.

“It was good that he picked up on the sentiment from the field (of early educators) that the timeline the governor has proposed is unrealistic and the dialogue about this restructuring needs to happen over a multi-year period,” said Elsa Jacobsen, senior policy analyst at Los Angeles Universal Preschool, an advocacy group for preschool quality and access issues.

Advocates have urged Brown – who has offered no new early education funding – to pull his proposal from the budget process, saying it would be a major policy change that shouldn’t be rushed through a budget negotiation.

“It feels like blowing up the system rather than shoring it up,” said Catherine Goins, assistant superintendent for early education and administration with the Placer County Office of Education, speaking before the Senate subcommittee.

At the Assembly subcommittee, Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, said, “We need to pull this proposal back and really study this. This needs to have some comprehensive policy overview; we shouldn’t just tuck it in a budget and let it fly.”

Jessica Holmes, a budget analyst at California’s Department of Finance, said that the intent was to streamline and create a “single, equitable system of care.” Brown’s budget described his approach as a way to make the early childhood care and education system more efficient and to improve access for low-income families.

But Sherri Springer, secretary of Californians for Quality Early Learning, an organization of private childcare providers, said Brown’s proposal would hurt her members because it would direct childcare funding to school districts to run their own programs. That could upend the current system where services are delivered by a mix of private, nonprofit and public providers, which meets the public’s diverse needs, she said.

“When we as a field talk about streamlining, it’s streamlining our administrative burden so we can spend more time with the children than paperwork,” Springer said. “What I see them talking about is kind of one-system-fits-all.”

Holmes said the administration has acknowledged and responded to the feedback it has received about Brown’s proposal, but also signaled it will keep a firm hand on its wallet.

Replying to Moorlach, she said, “We are not blind” to the concerns that have greeted Brown’s proposal, and that the administration has reassured providers and advocates that “we are looking at at least a one-year transition.”

But, she said, “We will also take into account where we are fiscally, which is always a concern.”

Early education spending discussions – and the subcommittees’ recommendations – now move to the full Assembly and Senate budget committees.

Moore, of Kidango, hopes progress this year can echo smaller steps of recent years such as restoring preschool slots cut during the recession and implementing transitional kindergarten and new quality control measures.

“We can continue to make incremental change, while keeping our eye on the long-term reforms that we would all like to see,” he said. “I don’t think Gov. Brown is likely to support those kinds of major new investments we would like to see; he certainly has not to date signaled that.”

Bill Making Mental Health Funds More Flexible Clears Committee With Bipartisan Support

The following is a press release from an organization unaffiliated with Voice of OC. The views expressed here are not those of Voice of OC.
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: David Mansdoerfer
Thursday, April 14, 2016 (714) 662-6050
David.Mansdoerfer

Bill Making Mental Health Funds More Flexible Clears Committee with Bipartisan Support

Senate Bill 1273 Grants Greater Flexibility in Use of Mental Health Services Act Funds

(Sacramento) – Yesterday, the Senate Health Committee approved legislation by Senator Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) – Senate Bill 1273 – that gives county personnel greater flexibility over the use of Mental Health Services Act funds for outpatient crisis stabilization services. The bill is co-authored by Senator Robert Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys), Senator Jean Fuller (R-Bakersfield) and other legislators.

"With SB 1273, we have a chance to provide another tool in the toolbox for counties on how they can approach the mental health crisis we are facing,"Moorlach said. "Our police departments, often the first responders to people in mental health crisis, will have additional options on how to handle each patient. And, our emergency rooms will be less over-burdened."

At present, Orange County only has ten beds for emergency mental health crisis situations with its 3.1 million residents. This simple clarification in state law provides not only Orange County, but other counties, the flexibility to better fund outpatient care, as well as help ensure that patients in mental crisis can receive prompt, therapeutic care at proper facilities, rather than the hospital emergency room.

"I am honored to have so many health care providers in support, as well as the endorsement of former Senator Darrell Steinberg – the author of Proposition 63, the Mental Health Services Act and founder of the Steinberg Institute, as he understands the necessity," Moorlach said.

SB 1273, which received strong bipartisan support, goes next to the Senate Floor. The bill is supported by the Steinberg Institute, County Behavioral Health Directors Association of California, California Psychiatric Association, American College of Emergency Physicians-California Chapter, California Emergency Nurses Association, St. Joseph Hoag Health System, St. Joseph Hospital, Hoag Memorial Presbyterian, St. Jude Medical Center, Tenet Health, Orange County Medical Association, California State Association of Counties, Urban Counties of California, County of Orange, City of Newport Beach, League of California Cities-Orange County, California State Sheriff’s Association, Orange County Sheriff’s Department, Orange County Police Chiefs and Sheriffs Association and others.

For more information on SB 1273, CLICK HERE.

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