BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    ”



                                                                     AB 277


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          Date of Hearing:   March 25, 2015


                  ASSEMBLY COMMITTEE ON ELECTIONS AND REDISTRICTING


                           Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, Chair


          AB 277  
          (Roger HernŠndez) - As Introduced February 11, 2015


          SUBJECT:  California Voting Rights Act of 2001.


          SUMMARY:  Provides that the California Voting Rights Act of 2001  
          (CVRA) applies to charter cities, charter counties, and charter  
          cities and counties.  Specifically, this bill:  


          1)Expressly provides that general law cities, general law  
            counties, charter cities, charter counties, and charter cities  
            and counties are "political subdivisions" that are subject to  
            the CVRA.


          2)Makes the following findings and declarations:


             a)   The dilution of votes of a protected class is a matter  
               of statewide concern.



             b)   The provisions of the CVRA are reasonably related to the  
               issue of vote dilution and constitute a narrowly-drawn  









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               remedy that does not unnecessarily interfere with municipal  
               governance.



             c)   It is the intent of the Legislature that the CVRA shall  
               apply to charter cities, charter counties, and charter  
               cities and counties.



             d)   It is further the intent of the Legislature in enacting  
               this bill to codify the holding in Jauregui v. City of  
               Palmdale (2014) 226 Cal.App.4th 781.


          EXISTING LAW:  


          1)Prohibits, pursuant to the CVRA, an at-large method of  
            election from being imposed or applied in a political  
            subdivision in a manner that impairs the ability of a  
            protected class of voters to elect a candidate of its choice  
            or its ability to influence the outcome of an election, as a  
            result of the dilution or the abridgement of the rights of  
            voters who are members of a protected class.



          2)Defines "political subdivision," for the purposes of the CVRA,  
            as a geographic area of representation created for the  
            provision of government services, including, but not limited  
            to, a city, a school district, a community college district,  
            or other district organized pursuant to state law.

          3)Defines "protected class," for the purposes of the CVRA, to  
            mean a class of voters who are members of a race, color or  









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            language minority group, as this class is referenced and  
            defined in the federal Voting Rights Act (52 U.S.C. Sec. 10301  
            et seq.) (VRA).





          4)Requires a court, upon finding that an at-large method of  
            election violates the CVRA, to implement appropriate remedies,  
            including the imposition of district-based elections, which  
            are tailored to remedy the violation.



          5)Permits any voter who is a member of a protected class and who  
            resides in a political subdivision where a violation of the  
            CVRA is alleged to file an action in the superior court of the  
            county in which the political subdivision is located.

          6)Permits a county or a city to provide for its own governance  
            through the adoption of a charter by a majority vote of its  
            electors voting on the question.



          7)Requires a county charter to provide for a governing body of  
            five or more members, elected by district, at-large, or  
            at-large with a requirement that members reside in a district.



          8)Permits a city charter to provide for the conduct of city  
            elections.  Grants plenary authority, subject to limited  
            restrictions, for a city's charter to provide for the manner  
            in which and the method by which municipal officers are  
            elected.









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          9)Provides that a legally adopted city charter supersedes all  
            laws inconsistent with that charter with respect to municipal  
            affairs.

          10)Permits a county and all cities within it to consolidate as a  
            charter city and county. Provides that a charter city and  
            county is both a charter city and a charter county, and  
            provides that its charter city powers supersede conflicting  
            charter county powers.





          FISCAL EFFECT:  None.  This bill is keyed non-fiscal by the  
          Legislative Counsel.


          COMMENTS:  


          1)Purpose of the Bill: According to the author:


               Assembly Bill 277 ensures that voters in charter  
               cities are granted their fundamental rights and  
               protections as guaranteed under Section 7 of Article I  
               and Section 2 of Article II of the California  
               Constitution.












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               There are 121 charter cities in California. Charter  
               cities have authority over "municipal affairs,"  
               (California Constitution, Article 11, Section 5) which  
               supersedes state law in some areas, known as  
               "municipal affairs." This generally includes the  
               conduct of municipal elections. However, when a matter  
               is deemed to be of statewide concern, then state law  
               may be applicable.

               The recent case of Jauregui v. Palmdale determined  
               that integrity in the municipal electoral process is a  
               matter of statewide concern, therefore, state law that  
               addresses an issue such as racially polarized voting  
               applies regardless of charter status. AB 277 would  
               codify that decision and clarify all residents of  
               California have the same fundamental rights and  
               protections.

          2)California Voting Rights Act of 2001: SB 976 (Polanco),  
            Chapter 129, Statutes of 2002, enacted the CVRA to address  
            racial block voting in at-large elections for local office in  
            California. In areas where racial block voting occurs, an  
            at-large method of election can dilute the voting rights of  
            minority communities if the majority typically votes to  
            support candidates that differ from the candidates who are  
            preferred by minority communities. In such situations,  
            breaking a jurisdiction up into districts can result in  
            districts in which a minority community can elect the  
            candidate of its choice or otherwise have the ability to  
            influence the outcome of an election. Accordingly, the CVRA  
            prohibits an at-large method of election from being imposed or  
            applied in a political subdivision in a manner that impairs  
            the ability of a protected class of voters to elect the  
            candidate of its choice or to influence the outcome of an  
            election, as a result of the dilution or the abridgement of  
            the rights of voters who are members of the protected class.










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            The first case brought under the CVRA was filed in 2004, and  
            the jurisdiction that was the target of that case-the City of  
            Modesto-challenged the constitutionality of the law.   
            Ultimately, the City of Modesto appealed that case all the way  
            to the United States Supreme Court, which rejected the city's  
            appeal in October 2007.  The legal uncertainty surrounding the  
            CVRA may have limited the impacts of that law in the first  
            five years after its passage.  





            Since the case in Modesto was resolved, however, many local  
            jurisdictions have converted or are in the process of  
            converting from an at-large method of election to  
            district-based elections due to the CVRA.  In all, more than  
            140 local government bodies have transitioned from at-large to  
            district-based elections since the enactment of the CVRA.   
            While some jurisdictions did so in response to litigation or  
            threats of litigation, other jurisdictions proactively changed  
            election methods because they believed they could be  
            susceptible to a legal challenge under the CVRA, and they  
            wished to avoid the potential expense of litigation.


          3)Charter City and Charter County Autonomy & the City of  
            Palmdale: As noted above, the California Constitution gives  
            cities and counties the ability to adopt charters, which give  
            those jurisdictions greater autonomy over local affairs.  



          The Constitution provides that a county's charter may provide  
            for members of the governing board of the county (commonly  









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            known as the board of supervisors) to be elected by district,  
            at-large, or at-large with a requirement that members reside  
            in a district.  Notwithstanding these options, all 58  
            California counties currently elect members to the boards of  
            supervisors by district.  As a result, this bill is unlikely  
            to have a significant effect on the governance of counties,  
            although it could make a county subject to liability under the  
            CVRA if a charter county chose to move to an at-large method  
            of election for county supervisors in the future.

          The Constitution also gives a great deal of autonomy to charter  
            cities over the rules governing the election of municipal  
            officers, granting "plenary authority," subject to limited  
            restrictions, for a city charter to provide "the manner in  
            which, the method by which, the times at which, and the terms  
            for which the several municipal officers and employees?shall  
            be elected or appointed."  The Constitution further provides  
            that properly adopted city charters "shall supersede all laws  
            inconsistent" with the charter.

          Given the autonomy granted by the California Constitution to  
            charter cities and charter counties, questions have been  
            raised concerning whether the CVRA is applicable to those  
            jurisdictions.
            In July 2013, the Superior Court of the State of California  
            for the County of Los Angeles, Central District, found that  
            the City of Palmdale's at-large method for electing city  
            council members violated the CVRA (Jauregui v. City of  
            Palmdale (2013) Case BC 483039).  In the case, in addition to  
            denying that its elections violated the CVRA, the City of  
            Palmdale argued that the CVRA was unconstitutional as applied  
            to the city because it is a charter city, and Article XI,  
            Section 5(b) of the California Constitution gives charter  
            cities plenary authority to determine the manner and method in  
            which their voters elect municipal officers.  The court  
            disagreed, finding that "state law regulating a matter of  
            statewide concern preempts a conflicting local ordinance if  









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            the state law is narrowly tailored to limit its incursion into  
            local interest," and concluding that "[t]here can be no  
            question that the dilution of minority voting rights is a  
            matter of statewide concern."



            The City of Palmdale appealed to the California Court of  
            Appeals, Second District, Division Five.  In its appeal,  
            Palmdale again argued that, as a charter city, it was not  
            subject to the provisions of the CVRA.  The appellate court  
            disagreed, finding that the CVRA addresses an issue of  
            statewide concern, is narrowly tailored to avoid unnecessary  
            interference in municipal governance, and is reasonably  
            related to the resolution of statewide concerns of the right  
            to vote, equal protection, and the integrity of elections  
            (Jauregui v. City of Palmdale (2014) 226 Cal.App.4th 781).   
            Palmdale appealed to the California Supreme Court, and in  
            August of last year, the Supreme Court denied Palmdale's  
            request to hear the case.

            By explicitly providing that charter cities, charter counties,  
            and charter cities and counties are subject to the provisions  
            of the CVRA, this bill would codify the appellate court's  
            ruling in Jauregui v. City of Palmdale.
          4)Arguments in Support:  In support of this bill, Californians  
            for Electoral Reform writes:


               By codifying [the] holding [in Jauregui v. City of  
               Palmdale], [AB 277] will make it easier for plaintiffs  
               in CVRA lawsuits to achieve timely settlements with  
               defendant jurisdictions, and not have time wasted on  
               needless litigation as to whether or not the CVRA  
               applies in such cases.











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               In addition, by making it clearer that the CVRA  
               applies to charter cities, counties, and cities and  
               counties, it is our hope that they will be more likely  
               to consider proportional and semi-proportional  
               non-district remedies, such as single transferrable  
               vote, cumulative voting, and limited voting, as  
               settlement options.
          5)Technical Amendments Suggested:  Last summer, the federal  
            Office of the Law Revision Counsel reorganized various  
            provisions of federal law relating to voting and elections  
            pursuant to an "editorial reclassification" under which  
            provisions of law are relocated from one place to another in  
            the code without substantive change.  As part of that  
            reorganization, the provisions of the federal VRA were moved  
            to a different area of federal law.



          This bill amends an existing provision of state law that  
            includes outdated cross-references to the federal VRA.  In  
            order to correct those outdated cross-references, committee  
            staff recommends the following technical amendments to this  
            bill:

          On page 3, lines 9-10, strike out "42 U.S.C. Sec. 1973 et seq."  
            and insert:

          52 U.S.C. Sec. 10301 et seq.

          On page 3, line 13, strike out "42 U.S.C. Sec. 1973 et seq." and  
            insert:

          52 U.S.C. Sec. 10301 et seq.

          On page 3, line 19, strike out "42 U.S.C. Sec. 1973 et seq." and  
            insert:









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          52 U.S.C. Sec. 10301 et seq.
          6)Related Legislation:  AB 182 (Alejo), which is pending in this  
            committee, expands the CVRA to allow challenges to  
            district-based elections to be brought under the CVRA, as  
            specified.



          AB 278 (Roger HernŠndez), which is also being heard in this  
            committee today, requires cities with a population of 100,000  
            or more, as specified, to elect members of the legislative  
            body by district.
          REGISTERED SUPPORT / OPPOSITION:




          Support


          Californians for Electoral Reform




          Opposition


          None on file.




          Analysis Prepared by:Ethan Jones / E. & R. / (916) 319-2094











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