Throughout this year, I assisted in drafting and amending Senate Bill 1149, entitled the “Public Right to Know Act.” Our local electeds, Sen. Scott Wilk and Assemblywoman Suzette Valladares, voted “No” on this bill. They should be ashamed.
The idea behind SB1149 was simple: When a dangerous and defective product (a car, e.g.) is causing serious injuries and/or death because it is defective, the public has the right to know. Evidence related to the defective nature of the product cannot be hidden away in secret settlements and secrecy agreements.
Take, for example, Essure. It was a defective birth control device — a metal coil that would frequently and defectively migrate through women’s bodies. It caused horrific injuries to tens of thousands of women. Some women were left with severe autoimmune disorders. For some, the metal coil broke into tiny, unremovable pieces, leaving women unable to have sex for the remainder of their lives and causing unimaginable pain. Many were left with pierced organs, causing permanent injuries.
Both the courts and the company that developed the device learned what was happening as early as 2003. Up until 2018, the public was kept in the dark by way of confidentiality agreements and secret settlements.
One woman who was permanently injured by Essure in 2018 asked this critical question: “If the courts knew this was happening over a decade ago — if our system was aware that this product was causing catastrophic injury — why didn’t I get to know that? Why did our system keep that from me?”
In 2018, once the public learned of it by way of investigative journalism, the product was finally taken off the market. Because sunshine is the best disinfectant.
Here’s how dystopian our current system is: When companies find out their product is causing death and injury, consultants will forecast the cost of recalling the product vs. the cost of paying off families after their loved ones are injured and killed. The consultants will then recommend the cheaper option: Pay people off as they are injured and killed.
This is all currently legal. It’s all too common. And it’s reprehensible.
I ran for state Senate in 2020, hoping to one day champion this legislation. I lost a close election to Sen. Wilk in 2020, but I wanted to do what I could.
We drafted the bill. Soon, we had great momentum. We found an incredible author in Sen. Connie Leyva and built a fantastic, committed team. We brought on incredible public interest organizations as cosponsors, including Public Justice and non-partisan Consumer Reports. Against all odds, and with fierce resistance from big business, the bill made it through all of its committees, and was on the Assembly floor as of Aug. 29. If it had made it off the Assembly floor, it would have went to the governor’s desk for signature and countless lives would have been saved.
SB1149 had even earned Republican support because it aligned with conservative values. In 2014, Sen. Lindsay Graham co-authored a similar bill at the federal level. His rationale was that the market should be made aware of bad products rather than letting governmental interference (via our courts) keep our markets in the dark.
There was one special interest that we would never get on board: Large corporations with things to hide.
And our local state electeds sided with them.
Before voting “no,” Sen. Scott Wilk and Assemblywoman Suzette Valladares never bothered to meet with our coalition (unlike most electeds on both sides of the aisle). They didn’t speak with Amy Cooper, who joined our team and has fought for this kind of legislation ever since court secrecy led to her son’s death from an OxyContin overdose.
Instead, they took their marching orders and voted “No.”
Our senator and Assembly member were elected to go to Sacramento and fight for our community. Instead, our electeds are doing the work of special interests at our expense. In this case, they literally put our families at increased risk of death and injury by siding with their donors.
I have no intention of giving up on this bill. In due time, we will fight again because lives are at stake. But in the meantime, we need elected leaders who will prioritize our community over the interests of their large corporate sponsors. We deserve better.