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July 2012

California Professional Design Legislation Update

Licensing and Regulation

SB 975, which was introduced January 2012 and is waiting on a Senate Vote, would add Section 101.2 to the Business and Professions Code (“BPC”). 

The BPC provides for the licensure and regulation of various professions and vocations by boards, bureaus, and commissions within the Department of Consumer Affairs (“DCA”).  Under current law, a city or county shall not prohibit a person authorized by one of these boards, bureaus, or commissions, as specified, to engage in a particular business from engaging in that business.  Thus, leaving regulations and licensing requirements to State authorities.  However, until SB 975, there has been no law delegating regulations and licensing requirements to any single Department or Agency of the State, to the exclusion of all others. 

In an attempt to reduce regulatory burden on DCA occupations and to avoid conflicting and diverse licensing requirements, SB 975 states that the DCA boards, bureaus, or commissions responsible for their respective fields shall have the “sole and exclusive” authority to license and regulate the practice of professions and vocations regulated by those boards, bureaus, or commissions.  For example, The California Architects Board will have the “sole and exclusive” authority to license and regulate the profession of Architecture.  SB 975 explicitly prohibits “licensing requirements” made by anyone other than DCA boards, bureaus, or commissions.  The law defines “licensing requirements” as (1) additional training or certification requirements, (2) continuing education requirements for renewal or continuation of licensure, or (3) additional experience or qualification requirements beyond those promulgated by the applicable board under the DCA.

As a practical application, currently, the State Water Resources Control Board, a branch of the California Environmental Protection Agency, requires an otherwise qualified engineer to attend a State Water Board-sponsored or approved Qualified Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan (“SWPPP”) training course if that engineer wants to create, revise, oversee or implement a SWPPP.  Under SB 975, such a requirement would be a prohibited “licensing requirement” which would contravene the authority delegated to the applicable DCA board, namely, The Board for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors.  

 Civil Settlements

AB 2570, which was introduced February 2012 and is waiting on a Senate Vote, would add Section 143.5 to the Business and Professions Code (“BPC”). 

In order to promote thorough regulation and to protect consumers, AB 2570 would prohibit any licensee under the Department of Consumer Affairs (“DCA”) (e.g. architect, engineer, etc.) from including a regulatory “gag clause” as a civil settlement provision.  A “gag clause,” in the context of AB 2570, is a provision in civil settlement agreement that requires a plaintiff to agree, as a condition of a malpractice or misconduct settlement with a licensee, to the inclusion of a provision prohibiting the plaintiff from contacting or cooperating with the DCA or requiring the plaintiff to withdraw a pending complaint before the DCA.  Under AB 2570, it does not matter whether the agreement is made before or after the commencement of the civil action.  A licensee who is a party to such an agreement will be subject to disciplinary action by their respective board, bureau, or program. 

In California, regulatory “gag clauses” are already prohibited by attorneys, physicians, and surgeons.  The prohibition of regulatory “gag clauses” should not be confused with “secret settlement” provisions, which are still legal.  The former prevent a plaintiff from contacting or cooperating with the regulatory agency while the latter make certain types of information in a settlement agreement confidential and precludes that information from being introduced as evidence in court.   

AB 2570 also provides for some protection to the licensee.  AB 2570 states that any board within the DCA that takes disciplinary action against the licensee based on a complaint that has been the subject of a civil action and that has been settled for monetary damages providing for full and final satisfaction of the parties may not require its licensee to pay additional sums to the benefit of any plaintiff in the civil action.  Therefore, although a licensee may not, pursuant to a settlement agreement, prevent a plaintiff from reporting the misconduct to the DCA, the licensee will not be required to pay additional fees to the plaintiff by reason of the reported complaint.


Kimberly A. Blake