Assembly panel kills bill to shift costs of special elections away from taxpayers

Henry T. Perea left office early, giving the cost of a $500,000+ special election to Fresno County.

Henry T. Perea left office early, giving the cost of a $500,000+ special election to Fresno County.

A bill that would have shifted the costs of most special elections away from the taxpayers and onto the outgoing legislator died in committee on Wednesday.

Since 2013, counties have spent around $21.7 million on special elections, according to a recent investigation by CalWatchdog. That total includes more than $500,000 last week in Fresno County to replace former assemblyman Henry T. Perea, a Fresno Democrat who stepped down late last year to take a position with the pharmaceutical industry.

Perea still has more than $800,000 in his campaign account after making thousands of dollars in political donations as he was leaving office. Asm. Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, had been floating the idea for his bill since January, which would have required lawmakers who leave office early, triggering a special election, to use campaign funds to pay for the special election.

The bill had certain safety valves, like medical or family emergencies, which would have allowed for an exception. And the bill would not have required legislators to use personal funds if their campaign account was empty. But the panel was unconvinced.

“Since I’m not sure if this is a true solution and it can be somewhat onerous on those individuals who have to resign or resign for various reasons and find us, once again, holding folks in office who should be moving on, it becomes a difficult one to do,” said Shirley Weber, the chair of the Elections and Redistricting Committee. The San Diego Democrat noted there were other options floating around, like one focusing on mail-in ballots.

Patterson said legislators make a “contract” with voters when they assume elected office and there should be a “consequence” to leaving early.

“There’s nothing wrong with seeking greener pastures,” Patterson said. “But there is something wrong with sticking the bill to residents, taxpayers and the counties.”

The right-leaning Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association spoke in support of the bill, as did Fresno County and Tulare County, which have spent at least $1.3 million and $167,127, respectively, on special elections since 2013.

No groups spoke in opposition on Wednesday.

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