Effort to Repeal California’s Prop. 47 Fails in Committee Partisan Vote

Effort to Repeal California’s Prop. 47 Fails in Committee Partisan Vote
Orange Police moniter a crime scene in Orange, Calif., on April 1, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Vanessa Serna

SACRAMENTO—As smash and grabs are reportedly up across California, the effort by some lawmakers to “make crime illegal again” by repealing the controversial Proposition 47 failed on March 8.

The party-line vote by the California Public Safety Committee made up of seven assembly members—with five Democrats and two Republicans—ruled against Assembly Bill 1599 proposed by Assemblymen Kevin Kiley (R-Rocklin), James Gallagher (R-Yuba City), and Jim Patterson (R-Fresno).

“Voters favor ending Prop. 47 by a margin of 2 to 1,” Kiley wrote on Twitter following the hearing. “Today the ‘Public Safety’ Committee choose to keep it by a vote of 5 to 2. Our government is beyond broken.”

Proposition 47, which was passed by voters in 2014, downgraded some crimes, such as simple drug possession, from felonies to misdemeanors and raised the minimum amount of stolen goods from $400 to $950 for a property theft to be prosecuted as a felony.

Under Proposition 47, inmates who committed felony-level, nonviolent crimes are eligible to apply for resentencing, in which a felony could be reduced to a misdemeanor as long as they didn’t have one or more previous convictions for rape, murder, or certain sex offenses, according to the Judicial Council of California. Those who are eligible and have already served their sentences for felony offenses can also apply for reclassifying a felony conviction on criminal record as a misdemeanor.

The hour-long debate on March 8 was filled with opposition to and support for Assembly Bill 1599, which allows voters to decide whether Proposition 47 should be repealed.

When arguing in favor of the proposed legislation, Kiley said Proposition 47 has eroded public trust in law enforcement and cited statements from retailers reporting a “significant and alarming” increase in theft.

“Part of the problem is that retailers avoid confrontation with shoplifters or don’t even file police reports because they know that nothing is likely to happen if they do,” Kiley said. “This has created a total breakdown in the law. A system where criminals feel wholly free to act outside of the law without fear of legal consequences.”

Law enforcement officers and representatives, along with a victim of a recent smash and grab in Northern California, were also present to speak in favor of Assembly Bill 1599, urging the committee to allow voters to determine the fate of Proposition 47.

“Law enforcement is not red or blue,” San Bernardino Sheriff Shannon Dicus said. “Law enforcement is about doing what’s right for our citizens. If we meet together ... we’ll be able to do something for the citizens in California.”

Those against the assembly bill included workers with the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization that works to end mass incarceration in the state and provides support for currently and formerly incarcerated individuals.

“Increased punishments of incarceration do not make our community safer but have had severe long-lasting effects on our communities,” said Chief Executive Officer of Anti-Recidivism Coalition Sam Lewis.

Lewis was a former prisoner who served a lengthy prison term due to what he said to be “legislation built on the fear of rising crime.”

Proposition 47 has allowed for sentence reduction to occur and for prisoners to have their felony records completely erased, which provides the opportunity for them to return to society with better employment and housing opportunities, he said.

A representative with TimeDone, a nonprofit that helps people with criminal records gain life stability and rejoin society, said, “I was personally impacted and have gone on to benefit tremendously from the opportunity to turn my life completely around.”

Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer, Chair of the Public Safety Committee, voted against the proposed legislation and advised lawmakers to collaborate on improving the efficacy of Proposition 47 instead.

“I’m willing to work with anyone that has different views on Prop 47 on a way we can make it better, not eliminate it, not get rid of it, [and not] demonize it,” he said.

Jones-Sawyer said the issues of Proposition 47 stem from the lack of infrastructure and money put into place to make the law work in favor of the people. He proceeded to advocate for housing, drug treatment, mental health treatment, education, and job aid for those incarcerated.

“It takes time to get people off of drugs,” he said. “This quick fix of felonies and just locking them up and throwing away the key, that doesn’t work. We need to come together to come up with ways that can protect the public, but at the same time solve the problem of crime in America, not push it into jails or mental institutions.”

The committee vote followed Kiley’s press conference early on March 7 outside of the state capital, where Kiley joined some of the 25 co-authors of the bill, crime victims, small business leaders, and law enforcement to call for the repeal of Proposition 47.

While Assembly Bill 1599 was largely supported by Republicans, Assemblyman Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield)—a Democratic lawmaker—also introduced in January Assembly Bill 1603, which would reduce the threshold of felony theft from $950 back to $400—the original California law prior to the passing of Proposition 47.

The bill is expected to be heard by the Public Safety Committee on March 22.