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Courts tackle San Diego pension reform initiative

Lawsuits hit Supreme Court, local courts this week
Photos: Hearing for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh
Posted at 8:01 AM, Mar 11, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-11 11:01:41-04

SAN DIEGO, Calif. (KGTV) - Nearly six years after it passed, Proposition B will be in front of two courts this week, with the future of San Diego pension reform on the line.

Prop B was on the ballot in June of 2012 and passed with 65% of the vote. It promised to solve San Diego's pension crisis by giving new City hires a 401(k) style retirement plan instead of a pension. The change went into effect for all city hires except police officers.

Since then, it's been mired in legal challenges.

Shortly after it passed, union leaders sued, arguing that any changes to union employment agreements have to be negotiated first before they're placed on a ballot. They said that then-Mayor Jerry Sanders violated that rule when he openly campaigned for the Proposition in 2012.

In 2015, the State Labor Board agreed with the union claims.

That ruling went to the California 4th District Court of Appeals, who overturned the Labor Board's findings in 2017.

In 2018, the State Supreme Court reversed the 4th District's ruling. The Supreme Court sent the issue back to the lower courts to decide what an appropriate "remedy" would be to Sanders' improper campaigning.

"They did not say 'Overturn Prop B.' They could have," says Reform California's Carl DeMaio, who wrote Proposition B. "They said, 'Hey, district court, find out how you punish the City of San Diego for this violation.' What’s the punishment? A slap on the wrist, a speeding ticket?"

The 4th District will hold an open session on Monday, March 11 to begin that process. DeMaio says if the District Court rules to overturn Prop B, he plans to appeal that decision.

"Do you think they’ll actually overturn the citizens initiative? If they do, we will counter-sue on the punishment phase," says DeMaio.

Meanwhile, the US Supreme Court will also look into the Proposition this week. On Friday, they'll decide whether or not to hear a case based on the First Amendment. Supporters of Prop B say the California Supreme Court's ruling violated Mayor Sanders' First Amendment rights of free speech and his ability to openly support or oppose items on a ballot.

"The issue is whether for not elected officials have first amendment rights," says DeMaio. "Can an elected official actually give an opinion on a ballot measure? I think yes. Even if I disagree with that opinion, it is their constitutional right. He doesn’t lose his personal free speech rights to take positions once he's elected."

The US Supreme Court will announce their decision on Monday, March 18th.