How does a law regulating emissions become a law protecting circumcision? In Sacramento, the practice is called “gut and amend” and it is a tactic commonly used to get urgent bills in front of the governor for signature. The regular legislative calendar requires that all bills for any legislative session be introduced by a certain date — this year it was Feb. 18. Of course, the world keeps on turning after that date, so sometimes someone has to take a previously introduced bill and make it a new, more important one.
In this case, Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, changed Assembly Bill 768 from some boring carbon-credit law into one that says no local government “shall prohibit or restrict the practice of male circumcision.” The law is aimed squarely at San Francisco’s proposed ballot measure to prohibit circumcision of males under the age of 18 unless there is an “immediate medical necessity” for the procedure.
San Francisco Assemblywoman Fiona Ma also is a sponsor of the law. This legislative session ends on Sept. 9, so the law needs to get through the Assembly and Senate by that date. If two-thirds of each house votes for the bill, it can take effect immediately. (A law passed by a majority vote in this session takes effect Jan. 1.) The governor then would have until Oct. 7 to sign the bill into law. According to Ma, “The goal is to get the governor to sign the bill before the San Francisco November election.”
But this isn’t the only effort under way to defend circumcision. Gatto’s former employer, Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Los Angeles, has introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that would prevent any state or locality from issuing restrictions on circumcision except those ensuring that “circumcisions are preformed in a hygienic manner.”
Note that initial statewide redistricting plans show Sherman’s district being consolidated with Rep. Howard Berman’s, D-Los Angeles, district, which means an impending fight over one congressional seat. Both men are Jewish, as is an important chunk of the proposed constituency. I think Sherman would have taken the same action regardless of the circumstances, but saving traditional circumcision certainly can’t hurt his popularity at this critical time.
Meanwhile, this Thursday, Judge Loretta Giorgi will hear arguments on the lawsuit to keep the circumcision ban off November’s ballot. Trying to prevent the ballot measure is a coalition of religious groups and fighting to keep it on the ballot is Lloyd Schofield, the official proponent of the measure.
Technically, the Department of Elections is also a party, but that is because any ruling to take the measure off the ballot will be an order directed to the department. The City Attorney’s Office represents the department and has taken the position that the proposed ban is unconstitutional and should be removed from the ballot. Schofield is thus on his own to legally defend the circumcision ban against the coalition, The City, the ACLU and the San Francisco Medical Society — all of which have joined to oppose the measure.
According to John Arntz, director of the Department of Elections, after Sept. 1 it will be tricky to pull items from the ballot before they go to the printers. Ideally, the judge will have issued a ruling by that date. And even if the law makes it to the ballot and passes, it will run smack up against an overriding state and/or federal law. In other words: there is basically zero chance of the circumcision restrictions ever taking effect.
Campaign finance rules could take a lawful turn
You may want to sit down for this bombshell announcement.
The Board of Supervisors will actually consider changing a local law to prevent costly and embarrassing litigation. Strike up the band, because this is a truly great day!
You may recall that the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that election systems in which money is doled out to publicly financed candidates based on the amount of money spent opposing those candidates is unconstitutional. (The theory goes: If I’m a private candidate, each dollar I raise should not result in additional money for my opponent.)
In San Francisco, above a certain threshold, we have a similar system of basing matching funds for our publicly financed candidates on the amount being spent to defeat them. Currently, a publicly financed mayoral candidate who can raise $575,000 will get $900,000 in “matching” funds — for a total of $1.475 million. This is the basic “cap” on the amount a candidate can spend. However, if candidate X can show that another candidate or group is spending more than that amount to defeat candidate X, the cap will be lifted in $100,000 increments and dollar-for-dollar matching funds are available.
In response to the Supreme Court ruling, last Tuesday, Supervisors Mark Farrell and Sean Elsbernd introduced legislation that would keep the current matching system in place up to the $1.475 million cap. If candidate X wants to lift the cap based on opposition spending and run out to do more fund-raising, that will be allowed, but no additional matching funds will be available.
To put it another way: Each candidate for mayor would be limited to $900,000 in public financing, regardless of opposition spending.
And yes, it would apply to the November mayoral election.
The proposed law won’t make our public financing system legally bulletproof, but it does remove the most obviously unconstitutional element. At City Hall, this constitutes progress.
SFO spending doesn’t make flying friendlier
The City’s fiscal year runs from June 30 to July 1, so financial reports are trickling in. A recent list of sole-source contracts (contracts for which there was no bidding process) from the Airport Commission caught my eye. Among the $10 million in expenditures:
-$20,000: For “maintenance and repair of armored telephones.”
-$1,748: For a “Radioactive Material License Fee.”
-$3,000: For “explosives used for training.”
And we still have to take off our shoes.