Postage paid voting, other laws take effect in 2019

Former California Gov. Jerry Brown officially left office on Monday to become a permanent Colusa County resident, after signing more than 1,000 new laws during his last term, many of which take effect in 2019.  

A number of the new laws dealing with gun control, juvenile justice reform, overtime for agriculture workers, choice of gender identity on driver’s licenses, and a restriction on plastic straws went into effect on Jan. 1.

Others, including the elimination of a cash bail system and the boardroom gender diversity mandate, will take effect later in the year. 

Among the new laws, Colusa County residents who vote by mail will no longer have to pay for postage, now that the cost to return a ballot has shifted from individual voters to the taxpayers.  

The new law works to ensure voting is free for all Californians by requiring that election officials include a return envelope with prepaid postage when delivering vote-by-mail ballots, election officials said. According to the legislative analysis, the new law is expected to cost about $5.5 million per election statewide. 

Colusa County Clerk-Recorder Rose Gallo-Vasquez said her department would soon begin working with postal officials to determine the best postal rate for prepaid postage, given that the county will not be able to utilize the same non-profit rate as an option for return ballots as they currently pay for outgoing ballots.

 

“We want to be as cost effective as we can, but not hinder voters’ right to get their ballot to us,” Gallo-Vasquez said Friday. 

Gallo-Vasquez said the county is currently looking at a USPS business rate for prepaid postage on the next ballots mailed out, which will be early February 2020, now that the new legislation moved up all presidential primaries from June to the first Tuesday following the first Monday in March. 

The county currently pays just 18 cents to mail voters their ballots. First Class postage by weight for voters to return their two-page ballot previously cost voters 71 cents, although the county historically picked up the difference for insufficient postage if voters used just one “forever” stamp to return their ballot. 

With 5,535 ballots already slated to go out in the next election, the cost to the county for regular postage would be about $4,000. 

Gallo-Vasquez said the county hopes to save significantly with a business rate.

Even with pre-paid return postage, Gallo-Vasquez expects many voters will continue to hand-deliver their ballots, either to the Colusa County Elections Department, in Colusa, or to any of the county’s voting precincts on Election Day. 

“Most people like to return their ballots in person,” she said. “They want the assurance that it was received.”

The new law also covers special district elections, including Proposition 218 tax increases, with the cost of prepaid return ballot postage shifting 100 percent from the voters to the districts. 

While the new law allows counties to seek reimbursement from the state, Gallo-Vasquez said she does not expect the state to reimburse the costs. 

There are also many other new laws in 2019 that will impact Colusa County residents. 

Under the new gun control laws, anyone convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence charge after Jan. 1 will face a lifetime ban on gun ownership, as would anyone committed to a mental institution twice in one year. 

Also effective Jan. 1, Californians who want a permit to carry a concealed weapon must undergo at least eight hours of safety training. The state also raised the minimum age to buy shotguns and rifles from 18 to 21. As of July 1, gun and ammunition dealers will have to check with the Justice Department before the sale of ammunition to make sure the customer purchasing a gun is not banned. 

Also, drivers convicted of two DUIs will be required to install breathalyzers, or an ignition interlock device, to start their vehicles. This law allows drivers to keep their driving privileges instead of having their licenses suspended.

Another law that took effect on New Year’s Day mandates all full-service dining restaurants to give out single-use straws only upon request of customers. Restaurants violating the law could be fined $25 daily for violations, or a maximum of $300 per year. Another law mandates that child meals in restaurants that come with a drink have a “healthy” beverage as the drink default option, such as milk, water, sparkling water, or flavored water with no added natural or artificial sweeteners. 

And regulations being phased in over four years will slowly increase the wages for extra hours (overtime) for all agricultural employees, starting Jan. 1, with changes for employers who hire more than 25 employees. ■