State Mandate on Predators Re-Established
May 28, 2020
County costs for hearings to designate someone a sexually violent predator (SVP) are once again reimbursable after a hard-fought, long-awaited decision from the semi-obscure, quasi-judicial Commission on State Mandates. This represents a big win for counties in an area that is often a cause for frustration.
The mandate in question requires counties to provide various services, including indigent defense, for civil commitment procedures to determine whether an offender should be designated as a sexually violent predator and therefore detained past the term of their prison term. The law imposing the mandate has been in place uninterrupted since the mid-90s, but the history of whether the state needs to reimburse counties is not so straightforward.
After the laws in question were established by a series of bills in 1995 and 1996, Los Angeles County filed a claim for reimbursement, which the Commission approved in 1998. However, in 2006 there was a flurry of activity related to SVPs, as they are called. An initiative, Proposition 83, commonly referred to as Jessica’s Law, qualified for the ballot and passed easily, although between the qualification and the vote the Legislature passed a bill nearly identical to it.
The Legislature, seeing their chance to avoid making the $20+ million reimbursements to counties, passed a new law that essentially allowed the state to file for a mandate “redetermination” when they state felt that an underlying change in law could get them out of the required payments. In 2013, the Department of Finance used that law to file for redetermination of the SVP mandate and later that year the Commission approved it, despite the fact that Proposition 83 made no changes whatsoever to the mandates on counties.
Several counties immediately sued. After several years of decisions and appeals, the California Supreme Court in November 2018 held that the redetermination was not supported—for essentially the same reasons counties opposed the redetermination when it was before the Commission—and ordered the Commission to revisit the decision. The Commission’s decision last week to deny the state’s redetermination request restores the reimbursability of the mandate and represents a hard-fought victory for counties. In particular, the San Diego county counsel’s office, who led the lawsuit on behalf of all counties, is to be commended for their commitment.
Counties will be able to file for reimbursement for the SVP mandate immediately, including for the last several years, although the reimbursements themselves will likely be delayed until at least next year’s state budget.