Assembly Bill 438, written by freshman Assemblyman Das Williams, has gone from bad to worse for California local governments. What once could have been perceived as a shortsighted policy designed to placate the desires of special interests now openly undermines the authority of local government leaders and the needs of the communities they serve.

“At a time when local governments are reducing costs through innovation and creativity,” said Kyra Ross, a Legislative Representative for the League of Cities, “AB 438 handcuffs local governments by imposing mandates on how we can protect local libraries by contracting for library staffing.”

The bill had drawn the opposition of local government organizations before it was amended, and PublicCEO ran an article about it on April 6, 2011.

But AB 438’s potentially dangerous intrusions into local government affairs were dramatically heightened by a multi-page amendment that was added on the floor of the Assembly. As amended, the bill dictates the State’s specific demands before any local government or local official enters into a contracted partnership for library services.

In other words, the bill creates specific mandates that must be met before a city is allowed to exercise its own authority.

And yes, the correct verbiage is “allow.”

This new, brazen intrusion on local government autonomy is dangerous, counter-productive, and wrong.

The PublicCEO article, “California Local Governments May Face More Restrictions, Less Choice,” discussed the impact and proposed changes that AB 438 encompassed. In its original form, the bill “would require a city- or district-wide vote of the population before a city could withdraw from a county library system.” While it appears the call for a public vote has been stricken, it has been replaced with numerous requirements to qualify for state sanctioning.

The list includes:

  • four weeks of public notification in newspapers
  • cost savings, including salary, benefits
  • additional space, equipment, and materials
  • contractor costs
  • contractor wages must be at least at the industry level and not undercut any city or library district pay rates
  • the contract cannot cause the displacement, layoff, demotion, or involuntary transfer of current employees
  • the cost savings be “substantial”
  • the contract go through competitive bidding
  • and at least six other metrics and disclosure requirements.

  • According to Assembly Das Williams’ office, the requirements contained in the amended version of this bill were derived from Education Code Section 88003.1. According to James Joyce, Assemblyman Williams’ Field Representative in the Ventura Office, using the same language was a natural fit.

    “Library services are like education,” said Joyce. “They provide the cornerstone of our society.”

    But just because a rule exists for K-12 Education doesn’t mean that it makes good policy local governments. Schools and the state legislature share a different authoritative relationship than local governments share with the state.

    The bill legislatively ties local elected officials’ hands and prevents them from doing the job they were elected to do.

    AB 438 is an unparalleled intrusion into local matters, and it deprives cities the power to decide what is best for their community.

    Assemblyman Williams’ overreach is inappropriate and it is wrong.

    As a former local government official, perhaps Mr. Williams has forgotten that local officials are elected to serve local needs, just as he was elected to his new State position to handle state issues. 

    Cities don’t have the luxury of the State Assembly. Their budgets can’t be helped by slights of hand or accounting tricks. They rarely have enough money to function at full capacity. And recently, they have been forced to cut more often than not, in order to balance their budgets for another year.

    During these tough economic times, it is imperative that every option remains open to local leaders. That’s why it is absolutely essential the principles of home rule and local autonomy be protected from these legislative overreaches.