BVID expects to shake federal Voting Rights Act oversight
Several Yuba County agencies are poised to get out from under a requirement for federal approval whenever they make changes for elections, annex land or appoint a new director or board member.
Browns Valley Irrigation District, one of at least six county agencies doing so, will be free from the federal Voting Rights Act preclearance requirement once a panel of judges issues its formal decision any day now, said district general manager Walt Cotter.
Complying with the requirement often requires considerable staff time and legal expenses, according to Cotter and other local officials, and being clear of it would save local dollars and other resources.
"More efficient, more timely, all of the above," Cotter said.
Four years ago, a US Supreme Court ruling gave agencies within a preclearance jurisdiction the ability to separately appeal for a waiver, or "bail out."
BVID, along with Wheatland, Olivehurst Public Utility District, Yuba County Water Agency and others began the process last year.
J. Gerald Hebert, a Washington, DC-area attorney who specializes in preclearance waivers, said he expects all Yuba County agencies who applied to be granted waivers within the next few months. "They want to work with local governments interested in a bailout," he said of the Department of Justice.
To do so, those agencies have to submit documentation of past practices to show no record of discrimination to the US Department of Justice. Department officials also visit the agency, as they did last month in Yuba, to verify and investigate further.
Cotter said going through the bailout process cost less than $10,000 in legal expenses. By comparison, going through preclearance each time can cost up to that amount, said OPUD General Manager Tim Shaw, though sometimes for as little as $1,500 if the agency has done it repeatedly.
In some cases, Shaw said, a neighborhood that might want to be annexed into an agency like OPUD might have to come up with the preclearance costs themselves.
Yuba County remains under the preclearance provision for its own activities, though county officials have expressed support for also pursuing bailout in recent years.
CONTACT Ben van der Meer at email@example.com or 749-4786. Find him on Facebook at /ADbvandermeer or on Twitter at @ADbvandermeer.