Measures Taking Aim at Elections, Campaign Finance & Public Safety Greatly Impact Public Agencies
From a measure aimed to encourage public participation in the redistricting process (Assembly Bill 849) and one that extends the duration of a gun-violence restraining order (AB 12) to another addressing the gender equality of commissions and boards (AB 931), California lawmakers passed a number of laws last year that have an effect on how public agencies do business and serve constituents.
This two-part series takes a look at the most critical legislation that public agencies need to know about in order to be compliant. Below is a recap of these new laws, most of which went into effect on Jan. 1.
New Election Legislation Brings Changes to Redistricting & Referendums
Local agencies will see a number of changes to election laws designed to increase transparency and participation in the public decision-making process.
- Process for Redistricting Amended: AB 849 requires public agencies redrawing their electoral districts to hold additional public hearings and provide added public notice and outreach before adopting new electoral district maps. Public agencies are now required to hold a minimum of four public hearings with at least one held after 6 p.m. or on a weekend. The law also requires agencies to provide live translations of a hearing if a request is made with 72 hours’ notice.
- Petitions Must Include “Top Funders” List: With SB 47’s passage, local initiative petitions must include an “official top funders” list. The list can be incorporated into the petition itself or presented separately and presented by a circulator to each voter. If the list is not included within the petition, circulators must certify under penalty of perjury that each signer was shown a valid “top funders” list at the time the petition was presented.
- Petitions Can Include a Summary of Ordinances: Historically, a referendum petition in municipal elections was required to include the ordinance’s text in its entirety when circulating the petition for signatures, which, depending on the size of the ordinance, proved cumbersome. SB 359 allows proponents of a referendum petition to attach an impartial summary instead. The summaries are limited to 5,000 words and are subject to approval by the city attorney.
- Withdrawing a Local Referendum California law authorizes proponents of a local initiative to withdraw the measure before the 88th day ahead of a scheduled election, even if the measure was found sufficient and has qualified for the ballot. Under SB 681, this authority was expanded to also allow proponents of a referendum or charter amendment to withdraw a measure within the same 88 day time frame before an election.
Default Contribution Limits for City, County Candidates Take Effect in 2021
California counties and cities maintain the local authority to independently impose local campaign contributions, yet a vast majority of municipalities (two thirds across the State) fail to do so.
To combat corruption at all levels of government and reduce the frequency in which a candidate raises considerable campaign funds from a single donor, AB 571 establishes campaign contribution limits for county and city offices that are already imposed on candidates for elected offices at the state level.
The limits set by AB 571 take effect on Jan. 1, 2021. (Read more about the measure’s implications in the BB&K Legal Alert AB 571 Sets Default Candidate Contribution Limits for City and County Offices.)
Gun Control Bills Strengthen State’s Red-Flag Law
Last year, the Legislature passed 15 new gun bills, a third of which significantly expand and strengthen California’s red-flag law that was enacted after the 2014 mass shooting in Isla Vista that claimed the lives of six people near the University of California, Santa Barbara campus.
State law currently allows immediate family members and law enforcement officers to petition the court to issue a gun violence restraining order, or GVRO, that prohibits a person posing a significant danger to themselves or others from possessing a firearm.
The law is rarely used, but this could change after Sept. 1, 2020 when the following laws take effect:
- AB 61 broadens the pool of eligible GVRO petitioners to include employers and coworkers who have had substantial or regular interactions with the person for at least 1 year. Employees and teachers at secondary and post-secondary schools where the person has attended within the last 6 months can also petition the court. Consent from employers and administrators is required.
- AB 12 extends the duration of a GVRO from 1 year to 5 years and allows a law enforcement officer to file a petition under their agency rather than personally. Any GRVO extensions will be subject to earlier termination or renewal by the court.
- AB 164 increases the impact of an out-of-state court order. If a person is prohibited from owning or possessing a firearm in another state, it will now be a crime for doing so in California.
- AB 1493 authorizes the subject of a GVRO to file a “no contest” response with the court that relinquishes their firearm rights.
Additionally, AB 339 will require law enforcement agencies to develop and adopt written policies and standards relating to GVROs by Jan. 1, 2021. (These laws are further explored in a BB&K Legal Alert.)
Local Agencies See Changes to Financing Districts, Surplus Funds and More
The following five laws bring changes for local agencies that are aimed to facilitate the increased use of Enhanced Infrastructure Financing Districts (AB 116) and enable more local government funds to be invested with community banks and credit unions, among other legislative goals (AB 945).
- Voter Approval Removed from EIFD Requirements: When redevelopment ended in 2014, the Legislature created several “redevelopment-lite” tools for local agencies, including authorizing the creation of EIFDs to finance a variety of projects using future tax increments. The law originally required voter approval to issue bonds secured by tax increments. AB 116 removes this requirement and instead requires a forming agency to hold three public hearings.
- New Economic Development Subsidy Requirements: Cities, charter cities and counties must provide the public with specific information before approving economic development subsidies for warehouse distribution centers in its jurisdiction under AB 485.
- Local Agencies, Joint Powers Authorities Can Establish Public Banks: Under AB 857, a local agency, or joint powers authority composed of local agencies, can establish a public bank with the approval of the Department of Business Oversight and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. The DBO Commissioner is limited, however, to issuing two public bank licenses and authorizing 10 public banks in a calendar year.
- Measure Addresses the Gender Equality of Commissions, Boards: Public agencies have a decade to comply with AB 931, which goes into effective Jan. 1, 2030. AB 931 will prohibit cities with more than 50,000 residents from appointing an individual to a board or commission who has the same gender identity as 60 percent of a current membership.
- Cap on Certain Surplus Funds Investments Temporarily Raised: AB 945 provides a temporary increase, from 30 to 50 percent of a public agency’s surplus funds, that an agency may invest in depository institutions that use a private-sector entity to assist in the placement of deposits. The limitations differ for pooled funds.
Part Two of this series will focus on the recent legislation that brings changes to housing and land use, telecommunications and environmental law.
Best Best & Krieger LLP represents and advises public agency clients in the areas of environmental, municipal, special districts, employee benefits and telecommunications (among other areas of) law. The law firm has more than 200 attorneys representing clients out of 10 offices nationwide, including Los Angeles, San Diego, Irvine, Riverside and Sacramento. For more information, visit www.bbklaw.com.