Editors -- This news release updates throughout. New content includes links to the bills introduced Friday and further resources.
Senator Hill Authors Bills to Crack Down on Drivers Buzzed on Drugs and Alcohol,
Require Regular Inspections of Apartment Balconies, and Increase the Number of
Community Colleges Offering 4-Year Degrees
SACRAMENTO – State Senator Jerry Hill introduced legislation Friday to take drivers impaired from combined use of alcohol and drugs off the road, make apartment balconies safer, and allow more community colleges to offer four-year degrees.
The measures are part of a package of more than half a dozen bills introduced by Senator Hill this week to meet California’s deadline for new legislation on Friday.
"The goal is to improve Californians’ quality of life by making our roads safer, by preventing another tragic construction failure like the one in Berkeley that took the lives of six college students, and by providing more opportunities for people to pursue their professional dreams with a baccalaureate degree,” said Senator Hill, D-San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties.
The senator’s bills introduced on Friday include legislation to reform the cap placed on rainy day funds saved by schools, and to enable an open space district on the Peninsula and two health care districts to use the money-saving, design-build process to construct projects that would provide affordable senior housing, hospice care and other services.
Earlier this week, Senator Hill introduced Senate Bill 464 to increase security at gun stores in response to a series of break-ins last year in which burglars used vehicles as battering rams. He also introduced SB 493 to reduce fines for right-on-red traffic violations. Both bills stemmed from constituents’ ideas submitted as part of Senator Hill’s “Oughta Be a Law…Or Not” contest.
Here is a summary of the major bills introduced on Friday:
Drug- and Alcohol-Impaired Drivers
Senate Bill 698 is aimed at drivers who are impaired from a combined use of alcohol and any drug, including marijuana.
The bill makes it illegal for anyone to drive with a blood alcohol level of .04 percent to .07 percent while also being under the influence of drugs, which would include testing positive for a THC level of 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood or more. Drivers found to meet or exceed the thresholds would be cited for an infraction, required to enroll in a drug treatment program and, starting in 2019, also participate in the statewide ignition interlock program.
Drivers under the influence of drugs, or drugs and alcohol, are now killing more people than drivers who have only been drinking. In 2013, 892 people were killed by drivers under the influence of drugs or drugs and alcohol, versus 807 people who were killed by alcohol-impaired drivers, according to the DMV.
“Buzzed driving is impaired driving, and buzzed motorists don’t belong on the road,” said Senator Hill.
A study published by the journal Human Pharmacology in 2000 found that “low doses of THC moderately impair driving performance when given alone but severely impair driving performance in combination with a low dose of alcohol.”
Inspections of Balconies and Other Elevated Exterior Building Features
SB 721 requires that existing apartments and condominiums with balconies, outside stairs or stairwells, and other exterior features that are more than 6 feet off the ground and are built to accommodate people, are inspected at least once every five years.
The legislation allows building owners to hire a licensed individual or company to conduct the inspections. The inspection report and proof that recommendations were fulfilled must be filed with local building authorities or appropriate local jurisdictions.
The bill is the latest in a series of efforts to step up oversight of contractors following the 2015 collapse of an apartment balcony in Berkeley that killed six students and severely injured seven others. The tragedy triggered international scrutiny of California’s construction industry and the regulation of contractors. All but one of those killed or sent to hospitals were visiting young people from Ireland, and the firm that built the apartment complex was found to have a history of construction defect legal settlements that amounted to millions.
Last September, Governor Brown signed Senator Hill’s SB 465, which required the California Building Standards Commission to consider updating codes and inspections for balconies in new construction. In December, the commission issued new rules to require that contractors obtain an inspector’s sign-off on newly constructed balconies before they are sealed to ensure proper ventilation and quality of construction.
Current law does not require local governments to inspect apartment and multi-unit residential structures for maintenance and safety. That’s left to each city to decide. The City of Berkeley adopted stricter inspection rules in 2015 in response to the balcony tragedy, and SB 721 is partially modeled on those requirements.
“No one should have to question whether the balcony of their condo or an apartment they are visiting was properly constructed and is safe,” said Senator Hill.
Four-Year Programs at Community Colleges
SB 769 doubles the size of the state’s pilot program for community colleges that offer baccalaureate degrees in certain professional fields.
Fifteen community college districts are currently permitted to offer such degrees under a pilot program that resulted from legislation authored three years ago by then-Senator Marty Block, D-San Diego, and Senator Hill. That bill, SB 850 (2014), also limited the degree program to one per participating district, set a 2023 sunset date for the pilot, and precluded community colleges from offering programs that duplicated those at nearby four-year institutions.
SB 769 enables an additional 15 community college districts to participate, eliminates the sunset date, lifts the one-program-per-district limit, and bars the participating districts from offering a four-year degree program in a certain discipline if there is a California State University or University of California campus within 100 miles that offers the same degree.
“California urgently needs more graduates with four-year degrees to the meet the state’s workforce demands,” said Senator Hill. “This bill increases the opportunities for more students to earn the four-year degrees that lead to the jobs that fuel California’s economy.”
Reserve Cap Reform for School Districts
SB 751 modifies the limit – known as the reserve cap – that is placed on how much school districts can save as “rainy day” money. The bill reforms the reserve cap by:
- Setting a hard cap of 17 percent for unassigned balances in school districts’ General Fund and their Special Reserve Fund for expenses other than capital outlay projects. The 17 percent represents the minimum amount of reserves that the Government Finance Officers Association recommends local governments to maintain.
- Modifying the law so it applies only to unassigned balances in districts’ General Fund and Special Reserve Fund for Other Than Capital Outlay. This change is intended to ensure that the cap does not affect money set aside by school districts for such things as emergencies; or for future large purchases such as technology, instructional materials, school buses and the like; or for future obligations such as construction projects, retiree benefits, or self-insurance.
- Requiring school district boards to set policy on fund balances with a provision requiring districts to annually report on fund balances to their school boards of education – a move that also increases transparency about reserve levels and why they exist.
- Exempting small school districts (those with fewer than 2,501 average daily attendance) and basic aid districts from the cap. Small districts need higher reserves so that they can contend with sudden changes in cash flow and expenditures, such as a loss of enrollment or unexpected increased needs for mandated programs. Basic aid districts receive no state aid and receive local property tax revenues only twice each year to cover 12 months of expenses.
SB 793 would save taxpayer dollars by allowing three special districts to use the design-build process on upcoming construction projects. The design-build process involves hiring a single contractor to design and construct a building project – functions often performed by two or more separately contracted entities. Design-build often leads to overall savings and earlier project completion.
The bill affects the Peninsula Health Care District, the Beach Cities Health District in Southern California, and the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. Counties, cities, schools and many other government entities are already authorized to use the design-build process, but many special districts have not been granted authority.
The Peninsula and Beach Cities districts are embarking on construction projects to provide senior housing, supportive services for developmentally challenged adults, hospice care, and services for developmentally challenged children. The legislation would enable the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District to use the design-build process for construction projects ranging from visitor centers and other facilities to repairs on district holdings, including water well improvements, and habitat restoration.
News Release on Senator Hill’s Gun Store Safety and Right-on-Red Fine Reduction Bills Introduced February 16:
List of Major 2017 Legislation Introduced by Senator Hill Since December 2016
Study: “Marijuana, Alcohol and Actual Driving Performance”:
Media Contact: Leslie Guevarra, 415-298-3404, email@example.com