Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Mike Gatto’s Bill to Protect Local Governments from Dog Park Liability Passes Assembly

By  - MyBurbank.com - May 20, 2013

Assemblyman Mike Gatto’s (D-Los Angeles) bill to help local governments create dog parks for their residents passed the Assembly Floor today with a bipartisan vote of 75-0. The idea for the bill came from Glendale City Councilmember Laura Friedman, who told Gatto that liability concerns were preventing cities from opening more dog parks.

“When Glendale was considering opening a dog park, one of the biggest concerns was protecting the City from liability,” said Friedman. “I approached Assemblyman Gatto in the fall and am glad to see real action to address this problem for Glendale and other cities.”

Gatto’s AB 265 limits the liability that cities and counties face when operating dog parks and protects them from litigants who claim, for example, that they were unaware of the potential dangers of such parks. While some laws and legal rulings already limit the liability of cities and counties with regards to parks and public spaces, such limitations have never been codified with specific regard to dog parks, causing many local governments to feel uncertain about their potential financial liability.

Burbank City Councilman Jess Talamantes explained the importance of AB 265 for decision makers. “As a Councilman, I must be responsible with the city’s public finances and ensure that Burbank is protected from liability. Assemblyman Gatto’s bill provides greater certainty that Burbank’s potential future investment in a dog park will not come back to bite us.”

AB 265’s Republican Co-author, Assemblyman Brian Maienschein (R-San Diego), who served for eight years on the San Diego City Council, expressed similar sentiments, saying “this bill would have made my life significantly easier when I was on the San Diego City Council and trying to site a dog park.”

“Dog parks help build safer and stronger communities by providing a public space for neighbors to interact while training and socializing their dogs,” said Assemblyman Gatto. “We should not allow liability concerns to be a major barrier to creating these valuable spaces, especially in small- and medium-sized cities that cannot afford to self-insure.”

Jennifer Fearing of The Humane Society of the United States echoed the social importance of dog parks, especially for animal lovers with physical ailments. “Dog parks enable senior citizens and people with disabilities, who cannot always walk their dogs, a safe alternative,” said Fearing. “The Humane Society is glad for an opportunity to support a bill with the noble goal of nurturing the human-animal bond.”

There is precedent for the state stepping in to limit liability for the public good, especially for the use of public resources that come with some inherent danger. In 1997, the state imposed limited liability under certain circumstances for cities that open skate parks. State lawmakers reasoned that more recreation opportunities were needed, but that skateboarding is inherently dangerous, and should be done at the users’ risk and without massive liability for cities and their taxpayers.

“By offering our communities more certainty on this issue, I believe we can help make more dogs parks available in our neighborhoods, improving the lives of dog lovers and our canine companions,” said Gatto.

The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.

You can read this article and more at MyBurbank.com by clicking the link below http://myburbank.com/05/sections/politics-news/mike-gattos-bill-to-protect-local-governments-from-dog-park-liability-passes-assembly/

Mike Gatto is the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee of the California State Assembly.  He represents the cities of Burbank, Glendale, La Cañada Flintridge, the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Los Feliz, Silver Lake, Atwater Village, and portions of the Hollywood Hills and East Hollywood.  www.asm.ca.gov/gatto 

Legal Newsline: Californians call for Prop. 65 reforms

An very well researched article in Legal Newsline about AB 227 and my efforts to prevent Prop. 65 abuse and "shakedown" lawsuits against small businesses.

SACRAMENTO (Legal Newsline) – As California Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, learned more about Proposition 65 and its impact on small businesses, he heard several stories that struck him as clear abuses of the law.
Restaurant and bar owners were being sued for failing to warn customers that beer could cause cancer. Coffee shop owners were forced to put up signs about the health risks associated with coffee beans. Another business owner who did display a warning sign was sued anyway because the sign was an inch too small.
“They had to pay a $5,000 settlement,” Gatto said. “It’s things like that, where people were taking the intent of a really terrific law and trying to stretch it to apply in a way that was just improper.”
In recent years, Prop. 65, the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, has become one of many controversial topics that surface during debates over California’s litigious environment. Political and community leaders laud the original purpose of the law, enacted by voters in 1986 to protect residents from chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects and other reproductive harm.
But like Gatto, many of these leaders also recognize the law could further damage California’s economy. The state identifies nearly 800 chemicals that could be harmful and requires business owners to warn consumers about potential exposure to each one of them. Business owners who fail to comply face fines of $2,500 a day.
Prop. 65 also includes a private right of action, meaning that private plaintiffs and their attorneys – whether or not they have been harmed – can sue business owners who don’t display proper warning signs. In many cases, business owners agree to settle these cases rather than deal with costly litigation.
According to the Office of the Attorney General, there were 338 Prop. 65 settlements in California in 2011. Business owners paid $16.29 million to settle these cases. Nearly $11.94 million went to attorney fees and costs.
These statistics represent a significant increase from the previous year. The Office of the Attorney General shows that there were 187 Prop. 65 settlements in California in 2010. Business owners paid out $13.62 million in settlements, with $7.81 million directed to attorney fees and costs.
Prop. 65 alcohol warning sign in Los Angeles.
In Gatto’s talks with small business owners, he learned that since 2012, nearly two dozen more brick-and-mortar businesses in southern California were threatened with Prop. 65 lawsuits for failing to post warning signs, or signs of the right size, for beer, wine or chemicals that result while cooking food.
Gatto introduced AB 227 in February as a way to eliminate what he calls “shake-down” lawsuits. The new bill gives small business owners who receive notice of a signage violation 14 days to reach compliance. It also requires them to pay a smaller $500 civil penalty.
“One of the goals with Prop. 65 was certainly to make sure warnings were put up,” Gatto said. “You could look at my bill as somewhat as a ‘fix-it’ ticket … We want to encourage compliance. We want to make sure that the public is fully informed. This is just an opportunity for businesses to get into compliance without facing very, very expensive lawsuits.”
The Assembly Judiciary Committee passed AB 227 by a bipartisan, 10-vote in late April. The Appropriations Committee, currently chaired by Gatto, will now consider the bill.
Legal reform advocacy groups like Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse and the Civil Justice Association of California agree that lawyers who file lawsuits for the primary purpose of extracting settlements from small businesses are abusing Prop. 65. They support Gatto’s bill, contending that the state should refocus on its primary goal of protecting the public.
Tom Scott, executive director of CALA, a nonpartisan grassroots organization based in Sacramento, compares Prop. 65 lawsuits to Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuits, which have also plagued California.
“It took a long time for ADA lawsuits to really become an issue,” Scott said. “I think part of it was because businesses didn’t want to come forward and talk about it. They settled the lawsuit, and then, ‘I’m done. I just want to get on with it.’ Prop. 65 is sort of where ADA was eight years ago.”
From Scott’s perspective, AB 227 will be successful since Republicans and Democrats can both appreciate its ability to improve their state’s economy.
“There’s no reason why legal reform can’t be bipartisan,” he said. “The fact that a Democrat from Los Angeles is carrying this bill is great. To amend an initiative, you need a two-thirds vote, so the Democrats have to be players in this legal reform fight.”
The Center for Environmental Health, despite initial opposition, also plans to support AB 227. CEH helped initiate hundreds of Prop. 65 legal agreements with dozens of major companies, including Target, Macy’s and Disney, that forced them to eliminate harmful chemicals from their products.
But now, Charles Margulis, CEH’s communications director, points out that the organization recognizes the importance of protecting both consumers and small business owners.
“We worked together with the Assemblyman to narrow down the concerns, which we share, around protecting small businesses that shouldn’t be burdened by lawsuits that are really intended for major companies that put millions of people at risk,” he said. 
Last week, California Gov. Jerry Brown also answered the call to address problems with Prop. 65. He announced that the California Environmental Protection Agency, legislature and other stakeholders will consider measures that could strengthen and reform the law. These measures will build on current legislative efforts, including Gatto’s proposed AB 227.
“Proposition 65 is a good law that’s helped many people, but it’s being abused by unscrupulous lawyers,” Brown said in his announcement. “This is an effort to improve the law so it can do what it was intended to do – protect Californians from harmful chemicals.”
According to the Office of the Governor, nearly 2,000 complaints were filed in the past six years by “citizen enforcers” who wanted to push businesses into settlements that provided little or no public health or environmental benefits.
Brown has proposed a package of potential Prop. 65 reforms, including capping or limiting attorney fees in Prop. 65 cases, allowing the state to adjust warning levels for certain chemicals and requiring more useful exposure information for consumers.

You can read this article and more at Legal Newsline by clicking the link below http://legalnewsline.com/issues/tort-reform/241570-californians-call-for-prop-65-reforms

Mike Gatto is the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee of the California State Assembly.  He represents the cities of Burbank, Glendale, La Cañada Flintridge, the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Los Feliz, Silver Lake, Atwater Village, and portions of the Hollywood Hills and East Hollywood.  www.asm.ca.gov/gatto 

WATCH IT HERE: ABC7 - Bill would Prohibit Tickets at Broken Parking Meters

Great piece from KGO-TV (ABC7) Los Angeles on AB 61, my bill prohibit local governments from ticketing vehicles parked at a broken or malfunctioning parking meter.  A special thank you to Nanette Miranda for finding such great examples of the everyday victims of malfunctioning meters.

Mike Gatto is the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee of the California State Assembly.  He represents the cities of Burbank, Glendale, La Cañada-Flintridge, the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Los Feliz, Silver Lake, Atwater Village, and portions of the Hollywood Hills and East Hollywood.  www.asm.ca.gov/gatto 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Local Student Reporter Honored by Assemblymember Mike Gatto

Ivanhoe Elementary 4th grader, Charlotte Gilmore, was recently honored by California Assemblymember Mike Gatto (43rd District) for her reporting and writing on school events for the Los Feliz Ledger.
Gilmore received a certificate from Gatto that reads: “California Legislature Assembly Certificate of Recognition Presented to: Charlotte Gilmore. Ivanhoe Elementary School.  Congratulations on having your writing piece “Our New Principal and More News” published in the Los Feliz Ledger. Your hard work, determination, and efforts are truly commendable and will open many doors in your future.  I wish you many more years of academic success.”
This article originally appeared in the Los Feliz Ledger.  You can read this article and more in the Los Feliz Ledger by clicking HERE

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Brown, Cal EPA back reforms to cut 'shakedown' lawsuits filed under Prop. 65

Article from KPCC - California Public Radio on some new allies in the movement to reform Prop 65 and protect small businesses from frivilous litigation.

Molly Peterson | 

A sign posted at a Sacramento apartment complex warns of harmful chemicals on the premises, as required by Prop. 65.
Gov. Jerry Brown has directed the state’s Environmental Protection Agency to work towards reforming Proposition 65, a law passed a quarter-century ago that aims to protect Californians from harmful chemicals.
California EPA Secretary Matt Rodriquez says the reforms will combat “shakedown” lawsuits. Proposition 65 enables private lawyers to bring claims against businesses that knowingly expose the public to toxic chemicals identified under state law.  Lawyers have filed such claims more than 2000 times since 2008; critics say in some cases the suits are motivated by a desire to make a quick buck, rather than address a public health threat. 
According to Rodriquez, the governor might want to impose a cap on lawyer’s fees in such cases. The governor’s office says state officials, lawmakers, and business interests also will discuss requiring more proof from plaintiffs before lawsuits can go forward, as well as limits on how much money businesses found liable would pay into a settlement fund in lieu of penalties.
The governor’s announcement was welcomed by tort reform groups, including the nonpartisan Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.
Voters approved Prop. 65 in 1986. Any changes would require the support of two-thirds of the state’s Legislature, and would need to align with the intent of the original proposition to pass legal muster.
Rodriquez says state officials will seek support from likeminded lawmakers, such as state Assemblyman Mike Gatto. Gatto, who represents Burbank, Glendale, La Crescenta, parts of the San Fernando Valley, and Los Feliz, has sponsored a Prop 65 reform bill that would limit a business’s exposure to fines if it corrects problems promptly. Gatto says his interest in the issue was spurred by a constituent, a small business owner troubled by the way the law works now. 
Neither Rodriquez nor the governor has identified lawmakers who support this newly-announced package of reforms. State Senator Ted Lieu tweeted a commendation to the governor for proposing to reform “a great law that has been terribly abused."

This article originally appeared on SCPR.org, the website of Southern California Public Radio.  You can read this article and more at Southern California Public Radio by clicking HERE