Thanks to State Senators Joel Anderson and Doug La Malfa for exposing one of the Legislature’s dirty little secrets. On February 17th, they wrote an op-ed for the Sacramento Bee titled, “Taxpayers Shouldn’t Foot Bill for Lawsuits Against the State,” in which they discussed SB 730 by State Senator Christine Kehoe, the Chairwoman for the Senate Appropriations Committee. This measure is one of the annual “settlement claims” bills that get little or no debate each year but cost millions of taxpayer dollars.
These bills do not even go through a policy committee and are whipped through the appropriations committees and the Senate and Assembly floors with little or no discussion. Senators Anderson and LaMalfa claim this is the case because there are sometimes big payoffs to special interests. These bills are an annual rite of passage, but lately the settlements have been getting more and more controversial. Quite frankly there should be more discussion about the cost of litigation and how it is impacting the state.
A long time ago former Attorney General Bill Lockyer stated at a Press Club event that at any given moment there are approximately 50,000 lawsuits against the State of California. On one level, I understand it and yet on another I find it outrageous. Our state is in a horrible financial crisis and our state Legislature is unwilling to pass legal reform. These endless settlements over lawsuits not only place an additional financial burden on the state, but they divert money away from the state that could be going to jobs and making our state more efficient.
The California Department of Transportation alone got hit for a $1.1 billion dollar settlement related to ADA access. It will require CalTrans to spend $1.1 billion towards ADA access over the next 30 years. This is just one example of the financial hit against the state when it comes to litigation. And it has nothing to do with whether the lawsuits are meritorious or not. State prisons each have one litigation coordinator to deal with all of the prisoner lawsuits being filed at their facilities.
These Settlement Claims bills just expose the state Legislature’s attitude towards litigation. As Senators Anderson and LaMalfa point out, one of these claims bills a few years ago contained a proposed financial settlement for a drunk driver who drove into a state building. Is that what taxpayers want their money being spent on? I do not think so. I think they would be outraged that the Legislature is quietly sliding this stuff through the system with little or no debate. CALA will continue to discuss the issue of settlement claims legislation so that taxpayers do not get ripped off. Thank you Senators Anderson and LaMalfa!