As code enforcement officers continue to make the news for the dangerous situations that they are faced within the course of their work, there are two bills (SB101 and SB296) making their way through the legislative process that would serve to protect California’s code enforcement officers, and in turn, enable them to continue protecting and improving communities.
Threats and physical assault against code enforcement officers (CEOs) is not new, but officers have been seeing an increase in the frequency of these cases due, in part, to the COVID-19 pandemic and the enforcement of State, County and local regulations that come with mandatory closures and physical distancing requirements. And as most CEOs carry out their duties without much or any protection, legal or physical, they can be easy targets for enraged property owners and occupants. Both of the two bills being considered recognize the enhanced risk to these officers and seek to remedy it in different ways. In addition, both bills are supported and sponsored by the California Association of Code Enforcement Officers (CACEO).
Introduced by Senator Jim Nielsen, SB101 or the DMV Bill, would close a loophole in the existing law to prohibit the disclosure of a code enforcement officer’s home address (by request) in DMV records. Existing law already prohibits the disclosure of home addresses for certain public employees and officials, including city council members, social workers, and museum security officers to name a few. Certain CEOs are currently included as well, but only if they serve in a police department or enforce parking regulations. While some CEOs may fall within either category, a huge number are assigned to other departments, such as building, planning or public works, and may or may not enforce parking regulations. This arbitrary distinction divides CEOs into two classes through no design of their own: those who are protected and those who are not. This is a classic legal loophole that needs to be closed, especially as CEOs are tasked by lawmakers with enforcing an ever-expanding array of laws, including COVID regulations.
SB 101 would close this loophole. Should it pass, CEOs would be able to request that their home address be confidential in the DMV records. The bill would require that the person requesting the confidentiality of their information pay a fee in order to cover the costs of offering this service, meaning there is no cost to the DMV or State.
Though SB101 itself is a new bill, it follows years of efforts to close this loophole, sparked by a tragic incident that occurred nearly 30 years ago, when code enforcement officer Cynthia Volpe, her husband and mother were murdered inside her home after a slumlord procured her home address from DMV records. Since her death, various groups have been working to make the home addresses of CEOs confidential, however, inflated (or outright incorrect) cost estimates provided to the Appropriations Committees in both houses of the State legislature have doomed the bill in years past in a little-understood process called the “suspense file.” This is a legislative process to give extra consideration to bills with a financial impact on the State budget; however, it is questionable why a bill with an application fee to offset any costs would find itself in the suspension file in the first place. Thousands of CEOs across California and the Country are watching to see if this year the Legislature will finally protect all code enforcement officers it tasks with protecting communities.
SB101 was introduced on Dec. 29, 2020, and is currently set for hearing on March 9, 2021.
SB296, also known as the Code Enforcement Officer Safety Standards Bill, “declares that code enforcement officers are disproportionately at risk for threat, assault, injury, and even homicide due to the nature of their obligations,” and would require cities and counties to establish safety protocols specific to code enforcement officers and specific to the risks posed in their particular jurisdiction. Introduced by Senator Monique Limon, the bill would be among the first code enforcement officer-specific safety laws in the Country.
The bill aims to improve, or create where they do not otherwise exist, practices and procedures to protect city and county code enforcement officers. Recognizing that code enforcement officers face different threats and hazards in different jurisdictions around the State, the bill does not impose a one-size-fits-all approach. Rather, it requires each local agency to develop safety protocols specific to the issues code enforcement officers face in each specific jurisdiction. While generalized safety standards exist in most agencies, code enforcement officers deal with very different and broad sets of hazards and threats not faced by others in an agency. For example, on any given day, a code enforcement officer may be exposed to mold, bed bugs, lead hazards, occupants or owners with COVID or other contagious illnesses, or mentally-disturbed individuals or other code violators who respond violently to the officers enforcing various laws. Local agencies may find that the minimal costs of developing and implementing such safety protocols is not only much welcomed by their code enforcement officers, but also saves costs on insurance and safety-related claims.
SB296 was introduced on Feb. 3, 2021.
To learn more about these bills and other legislation that pertains to code enforcement officers in California, you can view CACEO’s Legislation of Interest page. If you have any questions about code enforcement in your jurisdiction, please contact us.