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Senator Brian Dahle. (Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

Senate Republicans Attempt To Move Forward School COVID-19 Liability Issue

‘It’s been a game of chicken for a month, and the GOP has had enough of those games’

By Evan Symon, August 12, 2020 7:42 pm

Senator Brian Dahle. (Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

On Wednesday, GOP Senators led by Senator Brian Dahle (R-Bieber), asked for a motion to dismiss a bill that would limit schools of any COVID-19 related liability.

An attempt at withdrawing AB 1384

Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

Assembly Bill 1384, authored by Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell (D-Long Beach), has been in a state of flux since being reintroduced in late June. The bill, which originally made it harder for parents and guardians to sue school systems for any COVID-19 outbreaks if they fulfilled all California Department of Public Health COVID-19-related health and safety requirements, has been amended numerous times throughout July and August. Legislators have argued over the wording of the bill, amending it to focus on state COVID-19 guidelines being enforced and further limiting how parents and guardians could sue pertaining to COVID-19 outbreaks, only leaving in cases of illness and death and taking out reasons such as emotional distress, economic loss, and civil liberty violations.

Senate Republicans are asking for the bill to be shelved to discuss whether schools should have had liability protection during the outbreak in the first place. As schools don’t have liability insurance, any successful legal action against them would come directly from the school district itself, putting the budget, jobs, and programs in danger.

“They’re doing this not to remove liability protection from schools, but to help raise the issue of why they didn’t have this before,” explained former school district legal advisor Sarah Thompson-Berry. “They don’t want schools to be stuck with a pile of lawsuits from parents if they did everything possible.”

“The GOP is only asking for a motion to withdraw the bill to have Democrats, many of whom didn’t want to have a discussion over liabilities in the first place, finally have a discussion over this and bring out why they didn’t want schools to automatically have liability protection. AB 1384 is stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee and has been for over a month because Democrats don’t want the question of liability out in the open.”

“It basically boils down to some legislators wanting to show that there are consequences for allowing in-person schooling during a pandemic. It’s been a game of chicken for a month, and the GOP has had enough of those games and want to bring this front and center with everyone’s reasons for legging this out being recorded.”

Republicans point to schools need of not being liable for COVID-19 related issues

GOP Senators, in favor of AB 1384 and the motion to withdraw the bill, added on to what Thompson-Berry said.

Senator Andreas Borgeas. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

“Schools, primarily in rural areas, don’t have the infrastructure to provide distance learning, which hurts students’ ability to learn,” stated Senator Dahle. “Many of the schools throughout my district are grappling with opening for in-person instruction, and one of the sticking points is liability insurance. Assembly Bill 1384 would provide schools with that protection, but it is currently stuck in the Senate Judiciary Committee. That needs to change.”

Senator Andreas Borgeas (R-Fresno) also agreed.

“When schools reopen they should do so without the cloud of lawsuits looming overhead,” added Senator Borgeas. “Legal protections for schools and businesses should be legislatively created for the duration of the state of emergency so long as they are in compliance with state and local health rules.”

AB 1384 has been held up in the Senate Judiciary Committee since being amended from it’s previous business and professions code language in June. A decision on dismissal and school liability discussion is expected soon.

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