Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday signed legislation aimed at speeding the dismissal of public school teachers for gross misconduct, a bill in reaction to a sex abuse case at Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles.
The measure was introduced after teacher Mark Berndt was arrested in 2012 and charged with 23 counts of lewd conduct. The Los Angeles Unified School District said red tape in the firing process was responsible for the district paying $40,000 to the teacher to drop his appeal of his firing.
Appeals of firings that now can take more than a year would be expedited under the new law.
A teacher accused of the most egregious misconduct, including sex abuse, child neglect and drug crimes, would be given 30 days after being fired to seek an independent hearing, which would then have to start within 60 days.
The hearing would be overseen by an administrative law judge, not a three-person panel, and the decision would be binding.
"We all agree that the current dismissal appeal process takes too long and costs too much money," said Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan (D-Alamo), who introduced AB 215. "The only ones who benefit are attorneys."
The measure was supported by the California Teachers Assn., but the Assn. of California School Administrators and Los Angeles schools Supt. John Deasy opposed the measure.
The administrators' group worried the tight deadlines could create obstacles to firing teachers and the definition of egregious conduct was too narrow, excluding crimes including armed robbery and aggravated assault, according to Naj Alikahn, a spokesman for the association.
"The bill is not everything that we wanted but it is a start," said Los Angeles school board member Tamar Galatzan.
The new law also allows evidence older than four years to be used in cases of alleged sexual misconduct.
"The governor signed AB 215 to improve the dismissal process in California," said Jim Evans, a Brown spokesman.
In all, the governor signed 17 bills into law Wednesday, with most taking effect Jan. 1.
Brown also approved a measure aimed at helping California's burgeoning private space industry by strengthening the liability waiver signed by spaceflight passengers. The new law builds on a limited liability measure approved in 2012 by the Legislature for commercial space ventures.
"Clarifying and strengthening the current waiver required by federal and state law is one small step in the right direction to support the commercial space industry," said Sen. Steve Knight (R-Palmdale), who introduced SB 415.
Other bills signed Wednesday would:
- Allow community college districts, through their governing boards, to contract for shuttle services on campuses paid for by a fee to all students if the action is approved by a majority of the students.
- Increase the maximum horsepower allowed for electric scooters and mopeds from two to four after makers of the machines said they needed more power for safety on hills to keep pace with automobile traffic.
- Permit the Los Angeles County Fair to conduct horse races at Los Alamitos Race Course.