Bill revising K-12 seismic standards clears key committee, other actions

Legislation to ensure California school buildings meet seismic safety standards - and that documentation certifying compliance is processed in a timely manner - passed out of the Senate Education Committee on Thursday.

SB 1271, authored by Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, convenes a task force to create new building standards and recommend updates to the state's 1933 seismic safety law, the Field Act, to make it more effective.

The bill makes clear its intent to prohibit occupancy of uncertified buildings and to implement penalties for school districts that do not provide all required documentation.

Corbett, also chairwoman of the Senate disaster preparedness committee, drafted the bill in the wake of a 2010 state audit that found significant flaws in the state's oversight of public school construction.

The audit concluded the Division of State Architect failed to provide final certification on thousands of completed projects, raising questions about potential safety issues.

In introducing her bill, Corbett told committee members that seismic regulatory compliance and certification of school facilities is critical in a state that experiences 37,300 earthquakes each year.

We must maintain a dogged determination to meeting seismic safety standards," Corbett said in a statement issued later. "This bill redoubles our efforts to protect California's school children and ensure they spend their days in seismically safe facilities."

The six-member work group' established by the bill would be composed of representatives from the offices of the State Auditor, State Architect, Emergency Services and Department of Education.

There was testimony that the bill be amended to add independent engineers and architects to the workgroup, which must adopt new standards and submit recommendations to the Legislature by Jan. 1, 2014.

The bill also may be amended to state that the newly-created workgroup not duplicate work already undertaken by the Department of State Architect to address issues raised in the audit.

According to language in SB 1271, the Division of the State Architect already has begun implementing various changes and activities in response to the audit.

The Division reports that the 16,400 projects revealed by the audit to have been closed without certification have now been reviewed, and that there remain 73 projects with "potential" life/safety issues.

All districts with uncertified projects will be notified of the status of their projects by the end of June, according to the State Architect.

Finally, the DSA reports it has implemented processes to better evaluate uncertified projects, and to facilitate communication with school districts and other stakeholders.

In other legislation that won passage out of policy committees Wednesday:

AB 1746, by Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, would prohibit electrolyte replacement beverages - largely marketed as sports drinks - from being sold to middle or high school students during school hours.

SB 1088 by Sen. Curren Price, D-Los Angeles, would prohibit a school from denying enrollment or readmission to a pupil solely on the basis that he or she has had contact with the juvenile justice system.

AB 1790 by Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills, would require districts to provide a digital copy of an adopted instructional material if the pupil owns an electronic reader device.

AB 1594 by Assemblyman Mike Eng, D-Monterey Park, would require charter schools to provide each qualified, needy pupil with one nutritionally adequate free or reduced-price meal as defined under the federal child nutrition program regulations, each school day.

AB 1857 by Assemblyman Paul Fong, D-Mountain View, would authorize school districts to provide education programs that promote healthy relationships and prevent teen dating violence.

AB 1880 by Assemblyman Ricardo Lara, D-South Gate, would require middle schools and high schools to establish and implement a policy to prevent and respond to dating abuse, and requires annual notification of parents and guardians of the dating abuse policy. more