CSAC Bulletin Article

Commission on State Mandates Issues Win for Counties, Considers Other Important Measures

December 3, 2020

The Commission on State Mandates ruled that Elections Code 3010, which requires elections officials to provide prepaid postage on return envelopes for vote-by-mail ballots, imposes a reimbursable state mandate. This ruling applies to statewide general elections, statewide direct and presidential primary elections, regular local elections compelled by state law, and special elections called by the Governor or required by state law, as well as school and community college district discretionary elections required by state law when the election is consolidated with non-educational issues or elective offices. Essentially, if the local agency didn’t choose to have a special election, the return postage costs are reimbursable.

This Friday, December 4, the Commission will hear a request relating to SB 1437 (Skinner), which was signed in to law in 2018. The bill changed the law around how accomplices can be charged with murder by requiring that the prosecution must prove the defendant either played a direct role in the killing or had the necessary “malice aforethought” to commit the act. Under prior law, if a murder occurred in during certain other felony offenses, even if by accident or by a defendant’s accomplice, the defendant could be convicted of murder without the prosecutor having to prove that the defendant intended or had the state of mind to kill. Importantly, the bill applies retroactively to cases tried under the prior law and requires county district attorneys and public defenders to participate in the retrial, therefore increasing costs to counties.

The Commission staff has recommended that this does not count as a state mandate, and the Commission typically adopts staff recommendation. This recommendation comes despite the multiple counties and the California Public Defenders Association who have sent comments arguing that SB 1437 does not eliminate an existing crime, it merely modified the required elements.

In addition, the Commission has scheduled a tentative hearing on Los Angeles County’s Test Claim with regards to a 2016 bill which required the establishment of a new Citizens Redistricting Commission. After much ado around the administrative components of filing a test claim, the issue is tentatively scheduled to be heard on May 28, 2021. The Legislature’s passed, but the Governor vetoed, a bill in 2019 to require independent redistricting commissions for almost half of all counties. The outcome of this claim could inform future debates on that issue.

County officials should make note of any new mandates issued, whether by new statute, Executive Order, or regulation, and consider working with their auditor-controller or county executive office to file a claim with the Commission. Test Claims can be filed by any county, and function like a class action claim so all counties get the benefit should the ruling come down in their favor.

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