Duty to Defend reform stalls for the year

By Don Schinske, SEAOC Executive Director

Despite intense lobbying from a coalition of design professional organizations, SB 885 (Wolk), the ACEC-sponsored bill to prohibit duty-to-defend clauses in project contracts, failed to get heard in its Assembly policy committee by a July 1 deadline. The bill will now move no further before the legislative session closes Aug. 31. 

SB 885 aimed to provide relief to design professionals from uninsurable contract obligations to cover other parties’ defense costs, an obligation that applies even when a professional has no fault in a dispute.  In recent months, SEAOC representatives – working ACEC along with AIACC and CC/ASLA – met dozens of times with legislators and staff, both in the district and the Capitol. In addition, more than 100 SEAOC members contacted their legislators by phone or letter to urge their support. The fact that SB 885 made out of Senate committee, off the Senate Floor, and over to the Assembly is testament to the how effective our grassroots efforts can work, as well as how productively SEAOC can advocate in coordination with allied organizations. 

In the end, the chair of the Assembly Judiciary Committee, Assemblyman Mark Stone (D-Monterey Bay), unfortunately concluded that a more appropriate remedy would be to explore development of an appropriate insurance product. That solution – which likely could have removed the fierce opposition from hundreds of cities, counties and local districts – seemed unworkable for several reasons from the supporters’ perspective. ACEC and our coalition plan to use the time before the start of the 2017 session to find ways around the impasse. 

SEAOC continues to engage on a couple of other bills this session.  SEAOC Legislative Chair Ryan Kersting testified June 22 in the Senate Education Committee in support of AB 1783 (Dodd), a bill requiring seismic-safety inspections of non-structural contents in public schools.  SEAOC’s main role on the bill has been to provide technical assistance, and we continue to offer amendments to make the language clearer and easier to implement. 

SEAOC also continues to support SB 1085 (Roth), a BPELSG-sponsored bill requiring that engineers take a non-punitive, online refresher test on the state practice rules at time of renewal.

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