Lawmakers have scrapped a last-minute push to make changes to state election laws amid criticism that the changes could undermine the state's new primary system and give elected officials more latitude in declaring residency as they jockey for newly drawn districts.
Assembly Bill 1413, by Assemblyman Paul Fong, D-Cupertino, included a provision stating that the residency of a member of the Legislature or Congress "is conclusively presumed to be the address indicated on that person's currently filed affidavit of registration."
The proposal came as a handful of legislators are facing the prospect of relocating to qualify to run under the state's new political maps. The timing also raised eyebrows in light of last year's indictment of Sen. Rod Wright, D-Los Angeles, who faces charges stemming from accusations that he lied about his residence to run for the state Legislature.
Fong, who chairs the Assembly Elections and Redistricting Committee said earlier today that the bill would not impact Wright's case, but was meant to "clarify the residency rules" for members ahead of the 2012 election.
"There's a lot of moving going on right now and so we just wanted to clearly define the residency... to be the domicile," he said.
But at least one good-government watchdog denounced the bill as an example of "end-of-the-year cloak and dagger tactics to make substantial changes to state law without proper public deliberation and input."
"We were told by Capitol staff that AB 1413's amendments were simple clean-up language and make only technical changes as a result of judicial decisions. However the contrary seems to be apparent," Phillip Ung, policy advocate for Common Cause California, said in a statement.
The bill also called for changing "party preference" language that will be used to identify candidates under the new top-two primary system to party "affiliation," a move that came under fire from sponsors of the 2010 ballot measure creating the new voting process.
While Fong dismissed the language tweak as a matter of "semantics,"Dan Howle, a member of the Independent Voter Project board of directors, said the proposed wording change was a "legal minefield" because of past court decisions related to a similar primary system.
"There's no reason for changing the terminology from party preference to affiliation other than opening the door for a legal challenge," said Howle, whose organization drafted Proposition 14.
Opponents of the top-two primary system had also taken issue with a third component of the bill that proposed deleting from the ballot the spot for write-in votes, which will not be counted under the new system. The issue is central to a lawsuit filed to block the implementation of the new election law.
The current language for Assembly Bill 1413 was inserted into an existing bill just one week ahead of the scheduled end of the legislative session.
But the effort was abandoned today, just hours after a scheduled hearing on the bill has been postponed, as supporters decided to hold off on action until next year.