Irish Minister of State for the Diaspora Joe McHugh thanked those involved today in the passing of a new California law aimed at preventing tragedies such as the balcony collapse in Berkeley in June 2015 in which six Irish students were killed and seven more severely injured.
Minister McHugh was present as Senate Bill 465 was signed into law by Governor of California, Jerry Brown. The bill will require contractors to disclose to their regulator any convictions they’ve faced for poor workmanship and will also require state studies on the need to ensure balconies are safer in the future.
“I would like to express my sincere thanks to all those involved in the signing of this very important Bill, which is aimed at ensuring more robust building standards in an effort to ensure that the tragic balcony collapse which occurred last year will never happen again,” McHugh said.
“In particular, I deeply commend the selfless courage of the families of those injured or those who lost lives in the passionate pursuit of this outcome today.”
The push for improving building standards in California since the Berkeley tragedy has been led by Jackie Donohue, mother of Ashley Donohue, one of the young victims, who testified to a US State committee in support of the bill in July 2016 along with survivor Aoife Beary and her mother Angela.
Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan T.D. today commended their advocacy and the advocacy of others directly affected by the tragedy in succeeding to bring about change to the state’s building regulations.
"The adoption of this new law is a testament to the tireless advocacy of those directly affected by the horrific Berkeley balcony collapse which resulted in the deaths and injuries of a number of Irish students over a year ago,” Minister Flanagan said.
“This change to the law, which is aimed at preventing future accidents by improving standards, would not have been possible without the pressure which they brought to bear and the brave testimony which they gave in the course of the lengthy legislative process.
"Their tireless efforts and engagement - led by Jackie Donohoe and assisted by the Irish Consulate in San Francisco - made a vital difference in countering opposition and ensuring the unanimous support of both houses of the California State legislature.
The Minister also commended the work of Senators Jerry Hill and Lonnie Hancock who worked to bring in the new law, as well as the people of California who continue to support the families affected.
"The support and friendship which the families affected continue to receive from the people of California, especially its strong Irish community, is exceptional. It is my hope that where California leads in improved standards to protect lives, other states and countries will follow," he concluded.
Passed by California lawmakers in early September, SB 465 will require all California contractors to declare felonies related to their work to the Contractors State License Board within 90 days of conviction.
Previous state laws did not require contractors convicted of shoddy workmanship to declare it to the regulator meaning the construction company responsible for the Berkeley balcony--Segue Construction of Pleasanton--could work on this apartment complex in 2007 despite having previously paid million of dollars in settlements because of flaws in their work.
Despite initial claims that too many people had been on the balcony at the time of the collapse, dry rot was later found to be the cause of the fall, a result of the construction company's failure to properly seal the wood to protect against water damage. It was later revealed the firm had a history of construction defect cases and had previously paid $26.5 million in settlements.
The new bill will also require two separate studies, expected to report in January 2018. The first will decide whether contractors should be required to report any settlements or judgments related to faulty work while the second will address a possible need to update the building standards for balconies in California.