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I'm Just a Bill: Local legislators introduce protections for sexual assault victims, rape kit processing

Several California Senate and Assembly bills traveled through the State Legislature and became law Jan. 1. In recent weeks, the Town Crier has highlighted new legislation and its ramifications, categorized by topic. Part 1 centered on housing, part 2 addressed workplace standards and in part 3 this week, the focus is on sexual assault.

In the last legislative cycle, State Sen. Jerry Hill and Assemblyman Marc Berman – who both represent Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Mountain View – authored bills that address reporting sexual misconduct by medical professionals and the handling of rape kits, respectively.

SB 425

Hill’s Senate Bill 425 requires hospitals and all other health facilities to report allegations of patient sexual abuse and other sexual misconduct by medical staff to the appropriate state licensing authorities within 15 days of receiving a written complaint from a patient.

Existing law made the failure of reporting within the time window punishable by civil fine; Hill’s law requires an investigation into the circumstances of the written complaint. Fines have the potential to reach up to $100,000 per violation.

In addition, SB 425, the Medical Practice Act, establishes the Medical Board of California for the licensure, regulation and discipline of physicians and surgeons. The bill requires the board to disclose a probationary certificate and the operative statement of issues to inquiring members of the public, as well as to post it on the board’s website for 10 years from issuance.

In a statement, Hill said his motivation for authoring the bill was to “close legal loopholes that allowed subjects of repeated sexual abuse and misconduct complaints to work at health facilities for years – without licensing boards being aware of the problem.”

He specifically cited a newspaper article about several unresolved complaints of alleged sexual misconduct by USC’s former gynecologist, Dr. George Tyndall, who worked at the university for nearly 30 years, as the impetus for SB 425. Tyndall, who surrendered his medical license last September, was charged by Los Angeles prosecutors. More than 800 women have filed lawsuits in state and federal court alleging abuse.

AB 538

Assembly Bill 538 aims to “improve the availability, efficiency and quality of medical evidentiary examinations,” or rape kits, according to author Berman.

Existing law states that victims must complete a set of forms as part of the streamlined reporting process, and AB 538 makes those forms available online and via hard copy. The state requires that a qualified health-care professional conduct the invasive testing; AB 538 specifies that the professional must be a currently licensed nurse practitioner or a physician assistant who is working in consultation with a physician and surgeon and who conducts examinations or provides treatment in a general acute-care hospital or in a physician and surgeon’s office.

AB 538, co-authored by Assemblyman Evan Low, a Democrat who represents parts of the South Bay, specifies the exact location at which such practitioners or assistants must train – the California Clinical Forensic Medical Training Center – and requires extra training in categories such as child sexual abuse and intimate partner violence.

In a roundup of bills he authored in 2019, Berman cited the state’s shortage of trained forensic examiners as another reason for introducing AB 538. He estimated that only 49 exam teams serve California’s 58 counties. This echoes the numbers provided by Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President Cindy Chavez, who made the county’s ongoing backlog of untested rape kits the driving factor for reducing the allotted window to complete them to 30 days in 2018.

To read the rest of the story, visit losaltosonline.com.

The bill drew bipartisan support. In his first year in the Assembly in 2016, Berman jointly authored the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights (AB 1312). In 2018, he authored AB 1619, which extends the statute of limitations for the recovery of civil damages related to a childhood sexual assault.

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