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End of Session Games Begin: Two Committees This Week Pass Bill that Silences Voice of Local Government

Cities Urged to Send Opposition Letters Immediately

August 16, 2013
The end of session efforts to rush through proposals backed by favored interests has begun now that both houses of the Legislature are back from their summer break.
 
SB 594 (Hill) was recently transformed via “gut and amend” into a new bill that while veiled as a “transparency” measure, would have the effect of limiting the ability of organizations representing local government to take positions and advocate on ballot measures and candidate elections. The California Professional Firefighters and other labor organizations and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association are SB 594 principal proponents. Typically bills with labor support move quickly in the Capitol. It was no different this week when SB 594 passed through the Assembly Elections and Redistricting and the Judiciary committees despite strong opposition from a quickly-growing coalition of local government, public safety and others.

The concerns of the opposition to this bill, however, are beginning to have an effect. Although the Assembly Judiciary Committee passed SB 594 on a 9–0 vote, it was only after several members, including Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento), Mark Stone (D-Scotts Valley), Luis Alejo (D-Salinas) and Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance), voiced concerns about the bill’s impact on local government. They also told the author that changes needed to be made to address the concerns raised by the opponents. The bill now heads to the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Aug. 21 for fiscal consideration. If it passes, SB 594 will be sent to the Assembly Floor for a vote of the full Assembly.  

The following is the vote breakdown in today’s Assembly Judiciary Committee:

Assembly Member Vote
Assembly Member Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) (Chair) AYE
Assembly Member Don Wagner (R-Palm Desert) (Vice Chair): AYE
Assembly Member Luis Alejo (D-Salinas)          AYE
Assembly Member Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento) AYE
Assembly Member Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) AYE
Assembly Member Jeff Gorell (R-Camarillo) AYE
Assembly Member Brian Maienschein (R-San Diego): AYE
Assembly Member Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance) NOT VOTING
Assembly Member Mark Stone (D-Scotts Valley) AYE

In essence, SB 594 prohibits a nonprofit organization from using, or permitting another to use, public resources from a local agency for campaign activities. The measure also significantly restricts a nonprofit organization’s ability to sponsor, support/oppose, or participate in a ballot measure coalition or support candidates if it receives public resources for operating expenses or services. 

It’s imperative that cities immediately contact their legislators to communicate their opposition. A sample opposition letter is available for cities. 

SB 594 Quick Facts 

SB 594 single-outs and silences the political voice of local government organizations (e.g. the League and the California State Association of Counties, etc.) by creating a special set of criteria that prohibits local government organizations from taking positions on ballot measures that affect their members.
 
The bill’s author, Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), claims SB 594 seeks transparency, when in reality it is an end-run effort to target organizations from expressing their policy positions on statewide ballot measures. SB 594 places unnecessary and significant new restrictions on nonprofit organizations that receive public funds and participate in campaign activities — primarily ballot measures. It prohibits local government organizations, their officers and employees from any form of communication advocating in support/opposition of ballot measures.
 
SB 594 creates a new mechanism to punish local government organizations for representing its members in the political process. The bill establishes a new system requiring the Attorney General audit local government organizations every two years to ensure they are in compliance with the measure. Should the Attorney General determine that a local government organization has violated the measure, as a result of an audit, local government organizations would be subject to stiff financial penalties. Given the vague language in the current version of this bill, local government organizations would not be able to sponsor or weigh-in on ballot measures impacting their members in order to avoid any potential penalties against their organizations.
 
SB 594 is based on unfounded allegations that nonprofit organizations are “co-mingling” public and private resources. The League’s practices have been validated by the Fair Political Practices Commission in response to a similar allegation made by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association against the League and others. Upon completion of one-year investigation, the FPPC ruled in November 2009 that there was “no evidence that public funds were used to make political contributions by the organizations.”
 
The current version of SB 594 excludes specific types of organizations from these restrictive provisions. If the Legislature wants to adopt broader disclosure policies, it should apply to all organizations active on ballot measures.
 
Opposition
 
In addition to the League, the growing coalition opposed to SB 594 includes:
  • Air Conditioning Trade Association
  • Associated Builders and Contractors of California
  • Association of California Health Care Districts
  • California District Attorneys Association 
  • California Police Chiefs Association
  • California Society of Association Executives
  • California Special Districts Association
  • California State Association of Counties
  • California State Sheriffs' Association
  • Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association of California
  • Rural County Representatives Association
  • Urban Counties Caucus
  • Western Electrical Contractors Association


 
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