Redistricting Bills Move Forward, Mandates Intact
June 20, 2019
As the requirement for counties to redraw their supervisorial district approaches, the laws governing the process are drawing attention from state legislators. Two bills of particular importance are SB 139, which requires many large and medium-sized counties to create independent redistricting commissions, and AB 849, which increases transparency and outreach requirements.
SB 139, by Senator Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), would require each county with a population over 250,000 residents to establish an independent redistricting commission to re-draw the boundaries of county supervisorial districts, although the requirement for counties under 750,000 is only effective if the state appropriates funding for that purpose, funding that is not included in this year’s budget. CSAC, along with our partners at UCC and RCRC, has argued that the bill imposes unnecessary workload on county elections officials and is inflexible regarding the requirements of the makeup of the commission.
The author’s office and sponsors have made amendments that attempt to address those concerns, however, CSAC’s fundamental concern with this measure is lack of funding. The provisions of SB 139 render a clear mandate for which the state is constitutionally required to reimburse counties. However, as past experience has indicated, the state often avoids paying mandated costs by suspending the mandate, which makes the mandate optional, though the law still appears to require the activity. Under this circumstance, counties continue to feel pressured to perform the activities without reimbursement. What’s more, while the state used to provide funding for various election-related mandates and special elections for legislative seats, over the past decade it has stopped providing even this limited funding for elections.
As a result of the continued lack of funding, CSAC, UCC, and RCRC have moved from a position of “concerns” to “opposed.” County advocates continue to request amendments to provide full and appropriate funding to allow counties to meet the obligations set forth in the bill. This bill passed out of the Assembly Elections and Redistricting Committee on Wednesday, June 19. It now heads to Assembly Local Government Committee.
AB 849, as introduced by Assembly Member Rob Bonta (D-Alameda), would have revised California’s local redistricting laws and imposed unworkable, expensive, and unfunded requirements on local governments, including requiring up to ten public hearings, a number of which would have been required to be held on weekends and evenings, and public notice requirements that far exceed those in the Brown Act.
As this bill has moved through the Legislative process, CSAC — along with UCC, RCRC, and the League of Cities — has successfully advocated for a number of amendments that have reduced the number and magnitude of requirements imposed on local governments. However, CSAC has remained opposed to the bill, maintaining that the requirements outlined in AB 849 are burdensome, duplicative, and, most importantly, expensive.
Most recently, the author and sponsors of the bill have tentatively agreed to further reduce the requirements in the bill. This agreement includes amendments that will, among other things, transfer some of the responsibility to translate materials to the Secretary of State and give counties more flexibility for counties to schedule hearings and reach out to local civic groups, while still ensuring transparency and openness in the redistricting process.
When the bill is amended to reflect this agreement, CSAC will change its position on AB 849 from “oppose unless amended” to “neutral.”
AB 849 passed out of Senate Elections Committee on Tuesday, June 18. It now heads to Senate Governance and Finance Committee.