Thursday, May 5, 2011

Stripped Down AB 1208 Advances

A heavily revised version - so heavily revised that it currently only exists in concept - of AB 1208 by Assembly Majority Leader Charles Calderon was narrowly approved Tuesday (May 3) by the Assembly Judiciary Committee after an extended, often passionate hearing.  Once the agreed-upon amendments are drafted, the bill will be sent to the Assembly Appropriations Committee for further hearing.

AB 1208 is the self-titled "Trial Court Rights Act of 2011" sponsored by the Alliance of California Judges, which as introduced would have substantially altered governance of California's Judicial branch of government by transferring new authority to local courts and away from the Judicial Council and Administrative Office of the Courts.  The bill was the subject to two presentations to the attendees at the CCBA "Legislative Day" in Sacramento in March (one by Assemblymember Calderon and one by AOC Director of Governmental Affairs Curt Child). The bill was supported by a range of courts and judges statewide, and opposed by a varied coalition including the Judicial Council, Consumer Attorneys of California, California Defense Counsel, Civil Justice Association of California, Bar Association of San Francisco, and various other California courts and judges.

The proposed amendments (in descriptive form only) that ultimately became the basis for the revised bill apparently were presented to Assembly Judiciary Committee Chair Mike Feuer and committee staff the day before the hearing, and are described at the very end (just before the listed support and opposition) of the Assembly Judiciary Committee analysis of the bill.  Only the first and third of the proposed amendments were accepted by the committee (and the third amendment revised to reduce the percentage approval needed from 75% to 67%), so the new bill should contain essentially the following provisions:
  • Clarify that, based on information submitted in the Governor's proposed budget, the Legislature shall continue to specify, in each annual Budget Act, funding amounts for programs of statewide concern to come from all funds appropriated by the Legislature for trial court operations prior to allocating funds to each local trial court.   
  • Allow Judicial Council and/or its designee to withhold portions of all funds appropriated by the Legislature for trial court operations for statewide information technology and administrative infrastructure expenses only after obtaining written approval from 67% of a proportional representation of all local trial courts, if such programs were not identified in the annual Budget Act.  
The consensus opinion is that the amendments were taken and the bill approved in order to keep it moving through the process while dialogue continues concerning the issues (principally relating to court funding, the CCMS system, and the size of the AOC) addressed by the bill.

See related column by Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters,  story from the Metropolitan News-Enterprise, related blog post (concerning one legislator's response to a comment made by Assemblymember Calderon) from the L.A. Times, and more recent (5/6) story from Sacramento Bee regarding further fallout over comment made about the Chief Justice.

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