Monday 20 November 2017

California passes new laws following Berkeley tragedy

Mourners attend a candlelight vigil for the six Irish students who died in Berkeley Photo: AP Photo/Beck Diefenbach
Mourners attend a candlelight vigil for the six Irish students who died in Berkeley Photo: AP Photo/Beck Diefenbach
Denise Calnan

Denise Calnan

The California Senate has passed a new law for the construction industry following the devastating Berkeley balcony collapse last year.

The bill, which passed in the senate early yesterday with a unanimous vote of 37-0, aims to address the accountability gaps revealed by the Berkeley tragedy and will "bring more oversight to the construction contractors' industry".

The balcony collapse of June 2015 resulted in the deaths of six students and severe injuries to seven others.

Irish students Eimear Walsh, Olivia Burke, Niccolai Schuster, Lorcán Miller, Eoghan Culligan, all aged 21, and Irish-American Ashley Donohoe (22) all lost their lives.

A statement released by the California Government read: "The tragedy reverberated across the Irish community in the United States and abroad as all but one of the students who were killed and injured were visiting from Ireland.

"The sixth fatality was a 22-year-old Irish American student from Rohnert Park, California."

The bill, which was put forward by Senator Jerry Hill and Senator Loni Hancock, will now be reviewed by Governor Jerry Brown. The governor has until September 30 to act on the Senate Bill.

Senator Hill said that the bill "ensures that the state agencies tasked with overseeing the construction industry are taking appropriate steps to identify bad actors and improve building standards".

According to the senator, the legislation requires contractors "convicted of felonies or crimes related to their work" to report that information to the Contractors State License Board (CSLB).

The bill also requires the CSLB to determine whether receiving construction defect settlement information would be useful for them to fulfil their mission of protecting the public.

Finally, it requires the Building Standards Commission to look at improving its safety requirements for balconies and other outdoor structures.

The senate's statement continued: "Shock over the tragedy that struck during a birthday party became outrage when it was discovered that the builder of the apartment complex had a history of construction defect settlements with payouts totalling $26.5m."

At the moment, state law does not require contractors to report defect settlement cases to their licensing board, even though such disclosures are routine for doctors, engineers and architects.

Earlier this month, survivor Aoife Beary was praised by Senator Jerry Hill for sharing her story at the California State Senate. He said there "wasn't a dry eye in the room" as the young woman told her story.

Ms Beary said: "My life has been changed forever. I cannot believe that you are even debating this bill. People died.

"You should make sure that balconies are scrutinised in this state to prevent this happening again."

Irish Independent

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