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Good news! California Senator Scott Wiener, 11th Senate District, has introduced Senate Bill 532 (“SB 532”), which, if enacted into law, would provide an option to California school districts and other local governments calling bond elections to include key financial information in voter information guides rather than including the information currently required by Assembly Bill 195 (Obernolte) (“AB 195”)/Assembly Bill 809 (Obernolte) (“AB 809”) in the 75-word ballot question.
AB 809 was signed into law in 2015 and required new information to be included in ballot questions when a new tax is to be imposed or an existing tax rate is to be raised by a measure. Specifically, the amount of money to be raised annually and the rate and duration of the tax to be levied is to be included in the statement of the measure in such cases. (The statement of the measure is the 75-word ballot question voters see prior to voting.) As drafted, the requirements of AB 809 did not apply to measures placed on the ballot by a local governing body. The requirements of AB 809 only applied to initiative measures. AB 195 made the AB 809 requirements applicable to measures placed on the ballot by a local governing body, including bond measures. AB 195 defines a “local governing body” as “the governing body of a city, county, city and county, including a charter city or charter county, or district, including a school district.”
The additional information required by AB 195/AB 809 has proven problematic for bond measures because, among other things, the additional information confuses and misleads voters. Tax rates for property tax supported bonds, as well as the amount of money to be raised annually for such bonds, may vary significantly over the term of the bonds. Moreover, the duration of the tax is dependent upon many factors. To comply with the AB 195/AB 809 requirements, many school districts and other local governments use averages or other projections to present the required information. In reality, the actual tax rates and amounts to be raised might be significantly different than the averages in many of the applicable years. There are not enough words in a 75-word ballot question to adequately explain the information presented and how it may vary over the term of the bonds. As a result, the information provided is often over-simplified and can be confusing and misleading.
SB 532 provides school districts and other local governments calling bond elections the option to include key financial information in voter information guides rather than including the information required by AB 195/AB 809 in the 75-word ballot question. If the SB 532 option is selected, SB 532 requires that one sentence follow the ballot question: “See voter guide for measure information statement.” Those seven words would count against the ballot question 75-word limit.
The key financial information to be included in the voter information guide under SB 532 would include: (i) a description of the purpose of the proposed tax; (ii) a list of expected tax rates; (iii) a description of what would cause tax rate(s) to vary over time; and (iv) an explanation regarding the duration of the tax.
The following link will take you to the bill: https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=202320240SB532
SB 532 provides that “[i]t is the intent of the Legislature that elections officials prepare ballot materials for the March 5, 2024, primary election in compliance with this act.” In other words, the relief provided by SB 532 is intended to be effective for March 2024 elections, even though those elections will be called prior to the January 1, 2024, effective date of the bill.
Local governmental entities interested in bond measures can help support the passage of SB 532 as follows: