Dan Walters: Teacher misconduct bill gets another chance in California Legislature

dwalters@sacbee.comDecember 10, 2012 

Dan Walters

When the Legislature reconvened last week and legislative leaders offered glowing accounts of what they had done in 2012 and lofty promises of future feats, no one mentioned Senate Bill 1530 – for good reason.

Its demise in the Assembly Education Committee was one of the year's tawdrier events.

Prompted by the arrest of a Southern California teacher accused of lewd conduct, the bill by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, was aimed at making it easier to fire teachers for gross misconduct, such as sexual abuse.

Legislative approval would have seemed to be a slam dunk. After all, who wants to keep sexually abusive teachers in the classroom?

The bill sailed through the Senate, but when it reached the Assembly Education Committee, just one Democrat, Julia Brownley, voted for it, along with four Republicans.

Two Democrats, Tom Ammiano of San Francisco and Joan Buchanan of Alamo, voted against it, while four other Democrats refused to vote – a non- action with the same effect as a "no" vote.

The bill needed seven votes to clear the committee but garnered just five, and thus succumbed.

Why? The state's very powerful teacher unions, including the California Teachers Association, opposed the bill, arguing that it would erode due process rights of teachers and implying that protecting them was more important than dumping abusive teachers.

Brownley went on to win a congressional seat. Ammiano and Buchanan won re-election in districts so strongly Democratic than nothing would have blocked their victories. That was true, too, of one of the non-voting Democrats, Santa Barbara's Das Williams.

Two others, Wilmer Amina Carter of Rialto and Mike Eng of Monterey Park, were serving their last terms in the Assembly under term limits, thus insulated from any voter backlash, although Carter may run for the state Senate in a special election next year.

Then there's the fourth non-voter, Betsy Butler of Santa Monica, who also ran for re-election in a very strong Democratic district, but who had the misfortune to face fellow Democrat Richard Bloom, thanks to the top-two primary system.

Bloom made Butler's non-vote on SB 1530 a big issue and apparently a decisive one, since she lost her seat by just 245 votes.

Padilla reintroduced his bill last week, citing a new state audit of the convoluted procedures to fire a teacher for cause.

"The state auditor confirms that the dismissal process established in state law is inconsistent, too lengthy, too costly and delays the timely resolution of child-abuse cases," Padilla said in announcing his new bill, Senate Bill 10.

Given what happened to Butler, it will be very interesting to see how SB 10 fares in a new Assembly, almost half of whose members are first-termers.

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