Date:October 17, 2017
California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed AB 313, which would have shifted the hearing process for certain water rights enforcement actions to a new Water Rights Division within the Office of Administrative Hearings. However, his veto Sunday left the door open for the potential future use of administrative law judges to help resolve such matters by calling for further review of the concept. Currently, the State Water Resources Control Board exclusively handles water rights enforcement actions, including hearings.
AB 313 by Assemblyman Adam Gray (D-Merced) was approved by the Legislature on the last day of the session. Under the present system, when the Board brings certain enforcement actions for certain types of water rights violations, the Board also conducts the formal hearings on the matters. In contrast, AB 313 would have required such hearings to be conducted by administrative law judges within the proposed new Water Rights Division. The Board would have had the authority to accept, modify or reject the recommendations of the administrative law judges. According to the author, the proposed new structure was designed to bring more objectivity and fairness to the system. The bill garnered both support and opposition.
In his veto message, Brown cited problems with the bill, but acknowledged that “administrative law judges can be effective in complex adjudicative matters, as evidenced in other state agencies.” Brown therefore directed the Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency to evaluate the potential for administrative law judges to function in the water rights realm and to provide a recommendation on improvements to the Board’s hearing process by Jan. 1, 2018.