- Voice of San Diego - https://www.voiceofsandiego.org -

Sacramento Report: A New Twist in the County Election Reform Saga

Tony Krvaric is chairman of the Republican Party of San Diego County. / Photo by Sam Hodgson

The fight to reform countywide elections isn’t over yet.

San Diego County Republican Party Chairman Tony Krvaric and Luis Vargas are asking a court to step in to stop a provision within a state budget trailer bill signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown from going into effect.

That provision included a retroactive fix that would have helped qualify a San Diego County election reform measure for the November ballot.

A refresher: The state budget signed into law last week included a fix to a 2017 bill written by Democratic Assemblyman Todd Gloria. That bill was supposed to pave the way for a ballot measure that would force elections for countywide offices – like district attorney and supervisor – to be decided in November, even if one candidate won more than 50 percent of the primary vote.

But Gloria’s original bill said that in order to qualify for the ballot, proponents of the measure would need to collect signatures from 10 percent of all San Diego County voters. The fix put into the budget trailer bill clarified that the measure should qualify with 10 percent of voters in the most recent gubernatorial election.

The challenge: Krvaric’s and Vargas’ lawsuit challenges the validity of the budget trailer bill containing the fix – mostly on the basis that it violates the “one subject” rule in the state’s Constitution, which, you guessed it, says legislation must stick to a single subject.

The lawsuit says the trailer bill is a “legislative gumbo” that includes “numerous unrelated subjects.”

The budget process as we know it owes a lot to a 1987 court case that established two basic rules: “Legislation is supposed to be limited to a single subject, and governors can only use their line-item veto when a bill is related to the budget,” according to the Los Angeles Times [1].

A 2010 voter initiative, Proposition 25, also had an impact: It said the budget and related budget trailer bills could be passed with a simple majority vote.

Over the last few years, “we’ve seen more and more bills that the Legislature declares are budget-related and that do things that a common understanding of the legislative process would say, ‘that’s a policy measure,’” said Fred Silva, senior fiscal policy adviser for California Forward and a former top legislative budget staffer.

Silva said the lawsuit presents an interesting question that courts haven’t much grappled with, because they’ve not been given a case that looks “back at the breadth of the budget-related bill. There’s never been a standard.”

If the court sides with Krvaric and Vargas, it could throw a major wrench in the legislative deal-making that currently goes into the budget process.

The suit, filed in the Fourth District Court of Appeal, asks the court to intervene by July 24.

The change to county election processes at the heart of the fight was pushed by Service Employees International Union Local 221, which represents county government employees.

“There’s nothing that Tony Krvaric is more afraid of than high-stakes, high-turnout elections and he’ll go to any length to make it harder for voters to be heard,” said David Lagstein, Local 221’s political director.

The lawsuit may also kill two union birds with one stone.

Not only does it seek to prevent the county charter change vote from happening this year, but the budget trailer bill also included part of public employee unions’ response to a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that makes it harder for unions to collect fees from nonmembers.

Before the ruling, even public employees who didn’t want to join a union had to pay some union fees – because they were still benefiting from salary increases and benefits that unions negotiated. The bill created a way for unions to collect fees from nonmembers who want to pay fees. The lawsuit argues that too should be thrown out. This raises the possibility that unions may attempt to intervene in the case to save that new law, too.

Gonzalez Bill Knocks Down a Barrier to Mail Voting

It’s been a quiet week in the Legislature, but some measures have been on the move – including Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez’s AB 216, which passed the Assembly and is now on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

The bill knocks down another barrier to voting by mail: postage. It requires election officials to provide mail voters with a prepaid envelope to return their ballots.

“Nobody should be disenfranchised because they forgot to put a stamp on their ballot, and nobody should have to spend $10 on a book of stamps simply to exercise their right to vote. Sending out ballots with pre-paid postage is common sense,” Gonzalez said in a statement.

During her time in the Legislature, Gonzalez has written several measures aimed at boosting voter turnout and lowering the barriers to voting, most notably 2015’s California Motor Voter law, which automatically registers eligible voters who obtain a driver’s license through the DMV.

That program launched earlier this year with some headaches [2].

Soda Taxes Are Dead, But Water Tax Isn’t

The new state budget came with a last-minute deal that prevents new local taxes on soda through 2030 [3] but doesn’t close the door to new taxes on drinking water.

Gov. Jerry Brown and others had been pushing to add a new $1 fee to water bills that would help provide safe drinking water to more than 300,000 Californians in mostly rural areas [4].

There wasn’t a “water tax” in the state budget, but some folks expect the issue could come back up later this year, in part because Brown continues to support it.

“There are a lot of powerful interests on the proponent side,” Glenn Farrel, a lobbyist for the San Diego County Water Authority, said during a recent meeting of the agency’s board. He noted that Coca-Cola, which pushed to ban taxes on soda, also supports a new tax on water [5].

Major urban water leaders hate the tax, which would help provide safe drinking water to mostly rural water districts, because it would add new fees to water bills that have already been rising for a variety of reasons [6].

Lawmakers have a variety of ways of imposing the tax, up through the end of the legislative session on Aug. 31.

“I’m planning to stay up until midnight on the 31st so we can celebrate knowing that that is dead – that’s what I’m counting on,” said Christy Guerin, a San Diego County Water Authority board member.

Ry Rivard

California’s Sanctuary Laws, Challenged by Trump, Mostly Upheld

A federal judge denied the Trump administration’s effort to block California’s so-called “sanctuary” laws [7] Thursday.

Trump was challenging three state laws limiting law enforcement interaction with federal immigration efforts.

The California Values Act, or SB 54, which limits cooperation between local law enforcement and immigration officials, and another law, which allows the California attorney general to inspect federal immigration detention facilities in the state, were fully upheld.

“The laws make enforcement more burdensome than it would be if state and local law enforcement provided immigration officers with their assistance,” wrote U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez [8]. “But refusing to help is not the same as impeding.”

“California is under no obligation to assist Trump tear families apart,” said state Sen. Kevin de Leon, who authored SB 54, in a statement. “We cannot stop his mean-spirited immigration policies, but we don’t have to help him, and we won’t.”

Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, a Democrat from San Diego, also said in a statement: “Today’s judgment affirms what I firmly believe – SB 54 was crafted carefully to protect public safety and to constitutionally exercise California’s right to enact laws that best fit our state. We’ve worked hard to bring our immigrant communities out of the shadows and into society because research shows it makes our state safer and more prosperous for everyone. We are on the right side of history.”

One of the laws challenged by the Trump administration, which imposes fines on private employers who voluntarily allow immigration officials into their workplace, was partially rejected by the judge, who said it “impermissibly discriminates against those who choose to deal with the federal government.” He left standing a provision of the law that requires employers to notify their employees when federal agents review their paperwork.

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors sided with Trump in the suit, but didn’t act quickly enough to submit an amicus brief in the case.

Maya Srikrishnan

Golden State News