Weekly Recap – Election News and Trends January 20, 2014

by Best Best & Krieger LLP
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Below is a recap of last week’s election law news and hot topics. The hot topic this week is a new bill to amend the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, which is in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial ruling in Shelby Cnty. V. Holder (2013) 133 S.Ct. 2612. This bill would, among other things, amend the Voting Rights Act to require states to submit voting changes prior to implementation if five or more voting-rights violations have occurred within the last 15 years statewide, or locally within the state:

Bill offered in U.S. Congress to modernize Voting Rights Act by Reuters

January 16 – The Voting Rights Act of 1965 would be modernized under a bipartisan bill introduced in the U.S. Congress on Thursday in response to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year that gutted a core part of the landmark law.

New Voting Rights Act Rewrite Would Revive Federal Oversight for Only 4 States by National Journal

January 16 – Seven months after the Supreme Court invalidated key sections of the Voting Rights Act for relying on outdated standards of racial discrimination, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill Thursday reasserting federal oversight of voting in some states. The bill, sponsored by Democrats Sen. Patrick Leahy and Rep. John Conyers and by Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, would amend Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act to require states to undergo preclearance changes if five or more voting-rights violations have occurred within the last 15 years in the state, or a locality within the state, with at least one violation being committed by the state itself.

…and in California Voting Rights Act news:

Visalia faces California Voting Rights Act lawsuit by ABC 30 KFSN-TV FRESNO, CA

January 16 – The City of Visalia is facing a California Voting Rights Act lawsuit to require it to switch from at-large to by-district elections.  Visalia’s population is 46% Latino but has only ever elected one Latino council member.

The City of Visalia is facing legal action from a group of people who claim the city is violating the California Voting Rights Act and doesn’t have enough Latinos on the city council.

…and with a declaration of drought state of emergency by Governor Jerry Brown, California federal, state and local politicians are looking for solutions:

January 17 – With California facing water shortfalls in the driest year in recorded state history, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. today proclaimed a State of Emergency and directed state officials to take all necessary actions to prepare for these drought conditions.

As California drought looms, political division could slow solutions to a trickle by Bradenton Herald

January 16 – State and Federal legislators anticipate the introduction of several significant water bills.

A California drought will soon test lawmakers’ ability to legislate. It’s a test they haven’t always passed. But as an official California drought declaration draws closer, members of the state’s often fractious congressional delegation are maneuvering once more. A freshman House Republican from the San Joaquin Valley has been quietly trying to write water legislation. The California Republican who leads the House water and power panel will be holding hearings. Democrats have formed a new water caucus, meeting for the first time this week.

Fresno Mayor Obstructs Initiative Process to Save Water Rate Hike by PublicCEO

January 16 – The City of Fresno refused to issue a ballot title and summary for a ballot measure to stop the City’s water rate increase, and then filed a lawsuit against petitioners, and thereafter an appeal to stay the trial court’s order to issue a ballot title and summary, alleging that a core public service cannot be subject to referendum.

Fresno residents could see their water rates double, and in the process, all Californians could see their petition powers diminished, if a state appellate court doesn’t act quickly on a lawsuit to stop strong-arm tactics by the city of Fresno.

…and new candidates and initiatives continue to emerge for the 2014 election year:

Rep. George Miller’s retirement could set off musical chairs by Los Angeles Times

January 13 – Congressman George Miller (D-Calif.) has announced that he will not run for re-election after 4 decades in Congress, setting off announcements for his seat from current California legislators.

The decision of Rep. George Miller to retire when his term ends could affect the political dynamic in the state Capitol. State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) said Monday he will run for Miller’s 11th Congressional District seat. If he wins, that is likely to trigger Assembly members from the area to run for his state Senate seat, including Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla (D-Concord).

Garamendi rules out a run in Miller’s district by The Hill

January 15 – Congressman John Garamendi (D-Calif.) will run for re-election in his current 3rd Congressional District, rather than switching to retiring Congressman George Miller’s district, which Garamendi partially represented prior to redistricting.

Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) poured cold water on speculation he could switch districts to compete for retiring Rep. George Miller’s (D-Calif.) safely Democratic seat.

“I will run for reelection in the 3rd Congressional District, and I will be honored to continue representing the people of this district for as long as I am able,” Garamendi said in a statement to the San Francisco Chronicle on Tuesday.

Proposed initiative would ban voter-passed bonds for Calif. high speed rail by News 10 ABC

January 13 – A proposed initiative seeks to ban the sale of previously approved bonds for the California bullet train project, as a recent Field Poll shows 56 percent of likely voters oppose the project.

An initiative process is underway that may put a red light on California’s high speed rail project. The measure seeks to ban the sale of voter-approved bonds for the bullet train system. Any unspent money would have to be used to pay off the debt.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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