The passing of laws raising oversight of building contractors in the US in light of the Berkeley balcony collapse which killed six students has come a step closer after a powerful committee gave them the go-ahead.
Democratic Party members of the California State Assembly’s Appropriations Committee passed the bill unanimously, while the Republicans on the committee abstained.
Senator Jerry Hill who formulated the legislation SB 465, paid tribute to one of the survivors of the tragedy, Aoife Beary, and her mother Angela, as well as Jackie Donohoe, mother of Irish- American student Ashley, who died in the collapse. The Bearys and Ms Donohoe gave emotional testimony to the Appropriations Committee earlier this week.
Mr Hill said: “I deeply appreciate the strength and courage of Aoife Beary and her mother, Angela, and of Jackie Donohoe, the mother of Ashley Donohoe, who testified to the Assembly Appropriations Committee about the importance of greater oversight of contractors and the safety of balconies.
“I’m grateful for the committee’s vote and look forward to consideration of SB 465 by the full assembly.”
His proposed legislation has been brought in light of the fact that, currently, state law in California does not require contractors to report defect settlement cases to its Contractors State License Board (CSLB).
He said that, after the Berkeley balcony collapse, it was soon discovered that the firm that built the complex had a history settling construction defect cases with payouts totaling $26.5m (€23.7m): “That was unknown to the Contractors State License Board [CSLB], which regulates contractors, because its licensees are not required to report such settlements.”
If the law is brought into effect it would require that, by January 1, 2018, CSLB would receive information from the Division of Occupational Safety and Health and from other state or local entities about actions against contractors. It would also introduce a 90-day reporting requirement to CSLB for contractors if convicted of any felony or any other crime substantially related to their qualifications, functions, and duties.
The legislation now goes to the full California State Assembly which must decide whether to pass it by August 31. After that it goes to the full US Senate for approval.
The Berkeley balcony collapse in June 2015 claimed the lives of Olivia Burke, Eoghan Culligan, Ashley Donohue, Lorcán Miller, Niccolai Schuster, and Eimear Walsh. Aoife Beary, Clodagh Cogley, Sean Fahey, Conor Flynn, Jack Halpin, Niall Murray, and Hannah Waters have all spent the past year recovering from injuries of varying severity.
The students were celebrating Aoife’s 21st birthday at an apartment in Berkeley’s Library Gardens complex when the outdoor balcony collapsed, dropping them from the fourth floor to the pavement below. Twelve of the 13 of those injured or killed in the accident were Irish students visiting the US on J1 working visas. Ashley Donohue was an Irish-American cousin of Olivia Burke.
At the Appropriations Committee hearing this week, Aoife Beary spoke of the pain and suffering she had gone through and still suffers. She questioned why the legislation even needed to be debated.
“People died. You should make sure that balconies are scrutinised in this state to prevent this happening again,” she said.
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