Justice v. Retribution: AB 3120 Could Bankrupt Schools, Non-profits

Senator John Moorlach
California State Senate, 37th District

Assembly Bill 3120 is aimed at the wrong target. I’m for justice, not retribution.

The bill by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, D-San Diego, would increase childhood assault victims’ ability to sue both perpetrators and employers for claims that already have passed the statute of limitations. Yes, crimes committed against children are egregious, and deserve to be addressed swiftly without hesitation or disregard. I share the sentiment of the author. Something must be done. 

Sexual misconduct allegations have prompted a series bills in the California Legislature, many of which I’ve supported. This legislation echoes a cry heard across the nation as the #MeToo movement exposed those who have abused positions of power to suppress the weak.

The need for justice is valid, but the vengeance unleashed when bills like this come into play negates the very issue it’s seeking to remedy. While trial attorneys may take 40-60 percent of the damages, schools and other non-profit organizations will be left with little to no resources to rebuild or repair.

That includes public schools, many of whose finances are in very bad shape. According to my analysis of California’s 940 K-12 school districts, about two thirds already suffer negative balance sheets. Even worse news will strike over the next year as, for the first time, their Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports must now include unfunded retiree medical liabilities.

For small school districts, one additional lost abuse lawsuit resulting from AB 3120 could lead to insolvency and the cancellation of those retiree benefits. Abuse victims also could receive reduced or no compensation from empty school treasuries.

Those districts that can make payouts will find it impossible to train or implement better procedures to ensure this doesn’t happen again as their budgets will be either completely drained, or greatly impacted from higher insurance premiums (if they can obtain insurance). We cannot even be certain the threat will be eliminated, as a considerable amount of time has passed and employees who perpetuated the abuse are most likely no longer to be present at the school.

We’ve seen this before. In 2002 the Legislature passed Senate Bill 1779 by state Sen. John Burton, D-San Francisco, opening up the statute of limitations retroactively for one year. Despite that, children continue to be abused and cover-ups still occur.

I’ve dedicated my public career to repairing the fiscal integrity of those municipalities I’ve served. In a time when schools are facing massive fiscal distress, I find it troubling the Legislature would even consider such a measure. This is a righteous cause, but it has the potential to devastate school districts and make obtaining insurance next to impossible.

California needs to focus on policies that prevent sexual misconduct so we don’t create more victims. This new legislation is a reactive approach to an issue that requires a proactive, preventative solution.

Update: A correction in the headline was corrected from “pensions” to “non-profits”

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