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SACRAMENTO — The state’s new domestic partners law was designed to give registered couples some of the same legal rights married couples enjoy. As it turns out, it’s giving those that hold office some new responsibilities, too. Registered partners who hold state or local office — whether it’s a slot on the city council, a judgeship or a state senate seat — must now disclose the business and financial interests of their partners. FPPC rules have long required lawmakers and their key staffers to file annual forms that list their — and their spouses — assets and interests. But the law also requires spouses who own more than a 10 percent interest in a business — including law firms — to list all clients paying the firm in excess of $10,000. “It’s going to catch people off guard,” predicted Steven Churchwell, a partner at Sacramento’s Livingston & Mattesich and former counsel for the Fair Political Practices Commission. After lawmakers passed the domestic partners law, AB 205, the FPPC late last year issued its own opinion and subsequent regulation essentially extending all of its reporting requirements to registered domestic partners. “We conclude that the term ‘spouse’ as used in determining an official’s economic interests for purposes of disqualification and disclosure � includes a registered domestic partner,” the commission said in an opinion dated Oct. 7. In December, that opinion was codified into a new FPPC regulation. Kate Kendall, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said the disclosure rules are just one of many issues raised by passage of AB 205. “It’s very much in play,” she said. The ruling itself came at the request of David Roberts, who at the time was contemplating a run for a Solana Beach City Council seat. Roberts, now on the council, wanted to know how the domestic partner law would affect his ability to vote on development issues in Solana Beach. Roberts’ partner, Wally Oliver, was then a property manager for a coastal condominium complex. “We currently had a city councilmember who couldn’t vote on bluff issues, and we didn’t want two members with a conflict,” said Roberts. He added that Oliver has since given up his job to avoid potential conflicts in the wake of the FPPC’s decision. “Our attitude was we didn’t care what the answer was, we just wanted to know what the answer was,” added Roberts. Most officeholders won’t really have to grapple with the new filing requirements until early next year since most file reports in March that cover the previous year. But in the meantime, legislative and FPPC staff — and lawyers in private practice — have been spreading the word. Kathryn Donovan, in Pillsbury Winthrop’s Sacramento office, said she has about 20 clients affected by the new filing requirements. “We have advised them, but so far nothing has come up,” she said. James Sutton, of San Francisco’s Sutton Law Firm, said he is advising his clients to include their domestic partners in campaign disclosure forms filed for the year. “For most of my clients, it’s no big deal,” said Sutton. The “spouse” definition also applies to FPPC rules that require lawmakers to recuse themselves whenever it is “reasonably foreseeable that the government’s decision will have a material financial effect” on the lawmaker’s economic interest. The formal recusal rules don’t often come into play, at least in Sacramento. But Scott Hallabrin, counsel for the Assembly Ethics Committee, predicted that recusals would probably be the area most affected by the rule’s new breadth. But the new disclosure rules probably won’t mean much to lawmakers like Assembly budget chair John Laird, D-Santa Cruz, whose partner, John Flores, is an artist and hair stylist. “We had a good laugh about the $10,000 [reporting requirement],” said Laird. “He’s selling a lot of art, but it’s not anything I believe will be reportable.”

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