Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Court of Appeal Issues Ruling on Separation of Powers
Holds Legislature Cannot Force Mandates Commission to Reconsider Decisions
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The separation of powers in the state Constitution prohibits the Legislature from overturning specific decisions of the Commission on State Mandates or requiring the commission to reconsider its determinations, the Third District Court of Appeal has ruled.
The justices Monday overturned various laws directing that certain decisions of the commission be set aside or reconsidered. The California School Boards Association, the County of Los Angeles, and three other public entities had challenged the laws, which sought to impose on school districts and other local governments the costs of complying with open meetings laws, among others.
The commission was established by the Legislature in 1984 as part of a procedure implementing Proposition 4, enacted by voters in 1979.
In addition to limiting growth in government spending, the initiative amended the state Constitution to provide, subject to specified exceptions, that if the Legislature “mandates a new program or higher level of service on any local government,” the state must provide the funds necessary to comply.
Under the implementing legislation, the commission determines when Proposition 4 applies, and it is then up to lawmakers to provide the necessary funds or the mandate is suspended. The 1984 legislation also provided that costs are not reimbursable if the mandate was “expressly included in a ballot measure approved by the voters in a statewide election.”
A recent amendment to the legislation declares that the state need not provide reimbursement if “[t]he statute or executive order imposes duties that are necessary to implement, reasonably within the scope of, or expressly included, in a ballot measure ..approved by voters in a statewide or local election.” Yesterday’s decision holds that the amendment is unconstitutional.
In 1988, and again in 2001, the commission found that state laws that expanded public access to meetings of local government bodies—such as by requiring posted agendas, public comment periods, and public sessions to discuss matters approved earlier in closed session—imposed mandates for which reimbursement was required.
In 2004, voters approved Proposition 59, which enshrined existing open-meetings and open-records requirements in the state Constitution. After the measure passed, the Legislature enacted AB 138, which purported to implement the proposition by directing the commission to set aside the earlier ruling.
The commission complied with the statute, and also independently found that the prior determinations had to be set aside in order to implement Proposition 59.
AB 138 also directed the commission to reconsider a 1986 determination that the process imposed on local governments in order to obtain reimbursement for mandated costs was itself an unfunded mandate.
In response to AB 138, the commission issued a decision, citing a declaration of legislative intent, that the challenged process was necessary to implement Proposition 4 and thus did not constitute a reimbursable mandate.
Yesterday’s decision also involved challenges to legislation requiring the commission to reconsider its decision to require reimbursement of school district’s for the costs of preparing “school accountability report cards” mandated by Proposition 98, the 1988 initiative that sets aside a specific portion of the state budget for education.
Justice George Nicholson, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the Legislature had no authority to dictate to the commission with respect to issues that have already been decided.
“The Legislature’s direction to the Commission to reconsider or set aside its final decisions is an unlawful collateral attack on those decisions. Once a decision of the Commission becomes final and has not been set aside by a court pursuant to a petition for writ of administrative mandamus...it is not subject to collateral attack.”
The case is California School Boards Association v. State of California, 09 S.O.S. 1391.
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