Students help first-in-nation healthcare reform become law

The California State Capitol Building

Through their work in University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law’s Legislative and Public Policy Clinic, McGeorge alumni Eric Hoffman, ’21, and Alexander Pequinot, ’21, did something many lawyers will never have the opportunity to experience. The two saw the bill they worked on, California Senate Bill (SB 311), become law when it was signed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom in Sept. 2021.

SB 311, also known as Ryan’s Law, is a first in the nation law that requires health care facilities in California to allow terminally ill patients the option of using medical cannabis for pain relief instead of opiates. The law was named for Ryan Bartell, “a California native and Coast Guard veteran who died in 2018 after a battle with pancreatic cancer” as reported by the Times of San Diego. In his last days, Bartell’s family moved him to a facility that allowed the use of medical cannabis when the opioids at his original facility left him unable to communicate or be present with his family.

"Working on SB 311 was an incredible learning experience,” said Pequinot. “I learned about the legislative process hands on, and then I was able to use that knowledge to help pass a bill that will bring happiness and comfort to thousands of patients and their families." 

"The opportunity to work on a “first in the nation” piece of legislation that will provide comfort to thousands of terminally ill Californians as a law student was invaluable,” said Hoffman. “Our ability to work directly with the Governor’s administration, legislative staff, and other stakeholders in advocating for SB 311 was an incredible jumpstart to my career in policy that only the Legislative and Public Policy Clinic could provide.” 

Adjunct Clinical Professor Aaron Brieno, who teaches in McGeorge’s Legislative and Public Policy Clinic noted that Hoffman’s and Pequinot’s legal training was especially helpful to the coalition supporting SB 311.

“Through the legal research that Alex and Eric conducted, they were able to find that federal officials had never cited California healthcare facilities for the use of medical cannabis,” Brieno said. “This information was helpful when meeting with staff from the California Department of Health and Human Services to address concerns the department had with the bill.”

Since the Clinic began in 2013, students have worked on 11 bills that later became law. SB 311 is the twelfth. Bills worked on by students from prior legislative sessions that became law include legislation changing evidence rules to treat discredited forensic testimony as false evidencebanning the use of carbon dioxide gas for euthanizing animals, and increasing access to justice for survivors of domestic violence.