The Senate Judiciary Committee approved on a 3-1 vote Senate Bill 652, which would prohibit professional sports franchises in the state from signing a relocation agreement with another California city if they have outstanding debts to the home city or if the move would breach an existing financial agreement.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, who authored the bill, acknowledged that it is "no secret that the impetus for the bill was the proposed or potential relocation of the Sacramento Kings from Sacramento to Anaheim."
The Sacramento Democrat said while the team's current owners "have always paid their debts and been good stewards," the legislation is "intended to ensure that any sports team honors their financial commitment to their home communities."
"(If) anyone is seeking to make a cold business decision about where they want to relocate, public policy in California ought to be that the city from which they consider leaving is made whole before they in fact do leave," said Steinberg, who voted as a city councilman to approve the 1997 loan to the Kings.
Republican Sen. Tom Harman, the only member of the panel to vote against the bill, said he worried that questions over what would constitute a breach of contract would create "fertile ground for a frivolous lawsuit to be filed and delay a team that is trying to in good faith move." He also expressed concerns that the bill itself could be challenged on the grounds that it unconstitutionally violates contract protections. Steinberg, pointing to a committee analysis of the bill, said he did not think either scenario would be an issue.
Because the bill is slated to take effect immediately, affecting any agreement made after last Jan. 1, it will need to pass both houses by a two-thirds vote. It is co-authored by three other Sacramento-area lawmakers: Democratic Assemblymen Roger Dickinson and Richard Pan and Republican Sen. Ted Gaines.
The owners of the Kings face a May 2 deadline to decide whether to request permission from the National Basketball Association to relocate. NBA officials have been meeting with local and business leaders, with the league's relocation committee expected to meet this week on recommending whether the team should remain in Sacramento for another season or be allowed to move.
PHOTO CREDIT: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, speaks at the Capitol Bureau on Jan. 20, 2011. Hector Amezcua, Sacramento Bee.