May 2013 E-Newsletter

May 23, 2013

PROTECTING THE YOUNG AND OLD

A key component of two of my key bills this year is about protecting our most vulnerable people - children, the elderly and those with disabilities - from being exploited. The ideas for the bills, SB 156 and SB 326, originated from our community.

Last year, an investigation conducted by the local newspaper revealed how a gap in the law could be exploited and used to clean out the bank accounts of some conserved adults, typically the elderly or people with disabilities who are unable to manage their financial affairs.

Because of the law's lack of clarity, conserved people who are overcharged by unscrupulous estate managers face a dilemma when they go to court to dispute questionable costs: They must pay the conservator's legal defense fees - known as "fees on fees" -- even if a judge ultimately finds the conservator had filed unjustified or exorbitant bills.

This loophole places Californian elderly and disabled adults in the untenable position of choosing to accept the overcharges because it would cost much more to challenge them in court, win or lose.

The end result: estates are being drained despite the meticulous planning of parents who wanted to keep their vulnerable sons and daughters financially secure long after their deaths.

To stop the potential for estates to be raided, I introduced SB 156 to balance the scales of justice by creating a "loser pays" process in which both sides risk paying their opponent's legal fees if they lose. If SB 156 becomes law, it will deter overbilling and simultaneously reduce the number of contested fee disputes in probate court.

The bill also codifies a judge's authority to decide if any fees or none at all should be paid by the loser to the prevailing party. Existing law has been open to differing interpretations of whether a judge has the power to curb fees on fees.

Another bill, SB 326, came from a meeting I had with a group of families whose children are enrolled at St. Francis Cabrini School. They were concerned that a convicted child molester obtained written permission from a high-level school official for the local diocese to participate as an unsupervised volunteer at a parish festival with children in attendance. The letter providing the convicted pedophile with approval to be on the grounds is permitted under the law.

I agree with the parents' contention that no school officials should be allowed to unilaterally allow a pedophile onto a campus without notifying authorities.

SB 326 mandates several steps school administrators must take before granting permission to a registered sex offender to be on school grounds. The steps include contacting the registering law enforcement agency to determine the registrant's risk assessment score, potential for re-offending as well as obtaining the facts relating to the conviction and, if available, the police and pre-sentencing reports.

If the law enforcement authority concludes the registrant still poses a moderate to high risk for re-offending and the school still wants to grant the registered offender access, the school's officials must notify parents of this decision.


PRESERVING JUSTICE

Over the past two years, several survivors of childhood sexual abuse have spoken to me about their fight to obtain a measure of justice against the people who hurt them. They told me how California's antiquated statute of limitations actually protected perpetrators and denied victims their opportunity to seek damages against abusers.

Their stories led me to introduce Senate Bill 131 to lengthen the time allowed under the statute of limitations for survivors of child molestation to sue their abusers.

Some of them told me they were unable to pay for much-needed therapy to cope with the continuing psychological trauma inflicted by their perpetrators. They also pointed out the trauma from childhood abuse often surfaces well beyond the existing statute of limitations' ceiling. Under current law, victims have a three-year window to file a lawsuit against their perpetrator after establishing a causal connection between their trauma and the sexual abuse they suffered as children. The lawsuit, however, must be filed by age 26.

SB 131 gives victims a five-year window to file a lawsuit after the date of discovery by a mental health professional that their psychological trauma is linked to their childhood sexual abuse. The bill also extends the statute of limitations to age 43 to sue for damages.

In addition, SB 131 stipulates that if the abuse occurred in the course of the perpetrator's employment, a victim has until age 31 to bring a lawsuit against the employer.

If passed, SB 131 will give adult survivors their day in court against the people who harmed them.


MENTAL HEALTH TREATMENT SAVES TAX DOLLARS

On May 31, I will be convening a special Senate Select Committee on Mental Health hearing in Los Angeles to investigate how improving access to mental health and substance abuse treatment for parolees and at-risk groups can result in lower incarceration and recidivism rates.

Experts will present strategies for committee members to consider. Also scheduled to appear are Danny Trejo, who overcame addiction and a prison term to become a successful film actor, and Sheriff Lee Baca, who operates the largest mental health facility in the nation -- the Los Angeles County jail.

Mental illness plays a significant role in California's high recidivism rate, which hovers near 70 percent. About one third of the inmate population -- 33,000 prisoners -- suffers from mental illness.

The state's inability to adequately treat inmates with mental illnesses is one of the main reasons why our prisons are now under a federal court mandate to reduce the prison population and improve medical treatments. The costs of our prisons are high for taxpayers. According to a 2009 report by the Legislative Analyst's Office, the state spends about $50,000 annually to house a single inmate.


GOSS ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

Our elementary schools need your support . . . and elbow grease.

Join other active volunteers to help restore the shine at Goss Elementary School. From the playground, to the cafeteria, to the classrooms there are opportunities for you to paint, clean and redecorate to enhance the environment and create a warm and welcoming school.

United Way Silicon Valley Day of Action
Friday, June 2, 8:30am-12:00pm
Goss Elementary School
2475 Van Winkle Lane, San Jose

Click here for more information.