September 21, 2011
By Dan Namowitz
California flight instruction providers who waited more than a year for relief from crippling regulatory burdens imposed under a 2009 education-reform law got the news they were waiting for Sept. 21, when Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill exempting them from its provisions.
“Since we learned a year and a half ago about AB 48 and its unintended devastating consequences on the California flight training industry, AOPA has been continuously working to convince the legislature that the health of aviation in the state is vitally important to the health of the whole state economy,” said AOPA California Regional Representative John Pfeifer.
“Working with our allies, the National Air Transportation Association, and many other organizations and individuals, we were successful. The passage of Senate Bill 619 provides the relief necessary to keep flight training alive in California. We are especially grateful to Senator Jean Fuller and her staff for carrying this bill forward to completion,” he said.
The California Private Postsecondary Act of 2009 was intended to protect the financial wellbeing of students who seek an education at a postsecondary school. The regulations posed unintended consequences for flight training providers by posing a financial burden that many flight providers would have been unable to bear.
The bill signed by Brown exempts from its provisions providers or programs that provide instruction pursuant to FAA regulations and meet both of the following criteria: The flight instruction provider or program does not require students to enter into written or oral contracts of indebtedness, and does not require prepayment of instruction-related costs in excess of $2,500.
Recognition and recovery
Following the 2009 act’s passage, AOPA’s state legislative affairs team actively worked to ensure that the law did not inflict potential damage on an already fragile training industry in a state facing a huge budget deficit and 12-percent unemployment, near the highest in the nation.
Working with AOPA’s allies in the legislature and aviation groups, Pfeifer shepherded the process of finding a fix for the problem. The first step was winning a delay of implementation of the postsecondary education law’s provisions for flight training businesses, and continuing with development and passage of a permanent solution.
Pfeifer’s testimony before numerous legislative committees was a key ingredient in the joint effort to inform lawmakers of the potential damage to California aviation training enterprises, and keep the bill on the legislative front burner.
On Oct. 19, 2010, AOPA and its allies succeeded in winning a delay in the education law’s implementation until July 2011while a permanent solution was fashioned. (A previous measure providing for the moratorium had been vetoed on Sept. 24, 2010 by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger because of unrelated provisions.)
Finding the solution
Having gained time to develop a solution, the effort next focused on preparing legislation to achieve that goal. It emerged on Feb. 18 as Senate Bill 619 sponsored by Sen. Jean Fuller (R-Bakersfield). On April 25, the Senate Committee on Business, Professions, and Economic Development passed the bill unanimously. Pfeifer testified that the postsecondary act “clearly stated that it was the intent of the legislature to ensure a regulatory structure that provides an appropriate level of oversight.
“I submit that onerous and expansive regulations that put flight instructors out of business even while there is no financial risk to the flight students is far from an appropriate level of oversight,” he said. Flight instructor Marc Santacroce, and Bridgeford Flying Services CEO Mark Willey also testified in support of the bill, which passed the Senate 39-0 on May 23.
The bill cleared another major hurdle June 28, when the Assembly’s Business, Professions and Consumer Protection Committee voted unanimously in favor. Pfeifer, who worked closely with Assembly Member Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) was present and testified in support of the bill, which passed the full Assembly Aug. 25. The bill, also co-sponsored in the Assembly by. Anthony Portantino (D-Pasadena), contained an urgency clause which would allow it to take immediate effect upon final passage.
On Aug. 30, the Senate passed the bill and sent it on to Gov. Jerry Brown.
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