Was California’s Teacher Sex Abuse Bill Defeated by Corrupt System?

The entire nation was shocked by the Mark Berndt sex abuse case earlier this year in Los Angeles. Berndt, a former elementary school teacher, was arrested and charged with 23 felony counts relating to the binding of young children and photographing them with cockroaches on their face and semen-filled spoons held at their mouths. Berndt pleaded not guilty and is currently being held on $23 million bail while awaiting trial.

Beyond the disturbing facts of the case itself, much of America was shocked by the realization that due process for the removal of teachers from their posts had become so convoluted that it was nearly impossible to simply fire Berndt. Instead, the district ended up paying him $40,000 to resign, as this was by far the most time- and cost-effective solution.

Kyung Lah from CNN reports that California state Senator Alex Padilla was outraged by this and consequently drafted a bill — SB 1530 — to allow schools to fire teachers in a more expedited manner if they are accused of the most heinous crimes.

“We were very specific to those serious and egregious crimes,” Padilla said of the bill. “Sex, drugs, violence involving students. These are no-brainers.”

Senate Bill 1530 enjoyed overwhelming support from senators but was met by opposition from the California Teachers Association. The CTA claimed the bill would erode essential legal protections and was unnecessary as the current system functioned appropriately.

After the bill passed the state Senate, it was considered by the California State Assembly Education Committee — where it failed to pass to the full Assembly by one vote. Four members, including Assembly member Wilmer Amina Carter, abstained.

“I think it’s spineless, and I think it’s gutless,” said former state Sen. Gloria Romero, who used to head the Education Committee.

“They go there to vote, not to remain silent when their name’s called. That, to me, is what’s disgusting,” said Romero, who now works to reform California’s educational system with Democrats for Education Reform.

Romero went on to say that the lawmakers concerned refused to vote to maintain their campaign contributions from California’s education unions. Lah says that according to Maplight, those members who voted ‘no’ or abstained were also the members who received the most campaign financing from teachers unions.

Daniel Newman, Maplight’s co-founder and president, says that this correlation between money and voting is far from unusual and highlights the corrupt nature of the money-dominated politics lawmaking system across the country.

“This pattern of contribution is very similar on bill after bill, on topic after topic, whether it affects unions, banks, corporations,” he said. “On average, the lawmakers vote with the side that tends to give them the most money.”

There may still be hope for reform, though. One of the abstainees, Das Williams, has expressed interest in working with Padilla to revive the measure in a way that less negatively impacts teachers’ rights.