Regulator revamp plan raises concerns in California

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Contra Costa Times

Groups representing professionals as diverse as doctors, architects, accountants and exterminators expressed concern Thursday about Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s plan to eliminate the state boards and commissions that regulate their fields.

Calling the scores of boards “unnecessary,” the governor has proposed to fold many of them into larger state agencies while cutting the board members who oversee them. That has irked the professional associations, which fear the ramifications of state officials without specialty training having the final say over licensing, regulatory and enforcement matters that are now the domain of appointees drawn from the ranks of the professions.

“I think most professionals would be quite uneasy knowing that they are being regulated by civil servants who may or may not have an understanding of the profession they are regulating,” said Edward Abramson, a clinical psychologist in Lafayette and a spokesman for the Contra Costa Psychologists Association. The California Board of Psychology is among the entities slated for elimination.

Officials from the Alameda-Contra Costa Medical Association, the American Institute of Architects California Council, the Pest Control Operators of California and the California Society of CPAs all echoed Abramson’s comments in interviews Thursday.

Among other industry groups whose regulatory boards are targeted in the plan, officials with the California Physical Therapy Association and California Pharmacists Association both said they are waiting for more information about the restructuring proposal but they have good relationships with the current commissions.

Many of the boards and commissions in Schwarzenegger’s crosshairs grant and renew professional licenses and investigate consumer complaints. Thirty-six of those bodies exist under the State and Consumer Services Agency, which is overseen by Fred Aguiar, a secretary in Schwarzenegger’s cabinet.

“We believe it’s going to be a better service to the professionals that these boards presently regulate,” he said. “Today if the professional has an issue then they’ve got to wait until the board convenes and discusses their issue. (Now) we’re talking about a direct line of responsibility.”

The process for evaluating complaints “doesn’t change except for the bottom line,” Aguiar said, adding that decisions can still be appealed through the courts. State officials could also appoint professional advisory boards, he said, to help guide their decisions.

Donald Waters, assistant executive director of the Alameda-Contra Costa Medical Association, said that by the very nature of an advisory board there would be no guarantee its advice would be heeded. The medical profession is more comfortable with the current structure, he said, in which the Medical Board of California is overseen by a board comprised mostly of physicians.

“Sometimes the issues about competence are very complex and deal with standard-of-care issues and understanding of clinical issues that a lay person may not be in a position to address,” he said.

Consumers could also lose out if control shifts from independent boards to state agencies, said Harvey Logan, executive vice president of the Pest Control Operators of California.

“The board plays an extremely important role in dealing with the consumer to protect the consumer from, say, a poor inspection from a company,” Logan said.

Doug Heller, executive director of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, said the boards have benefited consumers and professionals by weeding out problem practitioners who reflect poorly on the industries.

“I’m sure the people who have been skirting the rules and regulations in these industries love this,” he said.

Bruce Allen, director of government relations for the California Society of CPAs, said his group was surprised to learn the governor wants to eliminate the state Board of Accountancy, especially because the staff of the California Performance Review had recommended keeping it.

Allen questioned the cost-saving rationale for eliminating the accountancy board. Like most similar bodies it pays for itself through fees and its board members do not draw salaries, only reimbursement for travel costs and per diem.

Aguiar acknowledged that none of the boards and commissions that would come under his agency have paid board members, despite Schwarzenegger’s suggestion in his State of the State speech Wednesday that more than 1,000 political appointees make $ 100,000 a year to attend two meetings a month.

The administration has no estimate for how much money the reorganization might save, Aguiar said. However, it expects to cut costs through streamlining, he said, while helping professionals by speeding the license granting and renewal processes.

Mark Christian, the director of legislative affairs for the American Institute of Architects California Council, said the plan raises another concern for the professions, one of protection from political interference.

“The boards serve as a buffer between the current politics of the capitol and how the professions are regulated,” he said.

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