Final Notes on Props
By Jason KUROSU
Proposition 36 would make changes to California’s 1994 Three Strikes Law, reducing the severity of the sentences the law currently designates for third strike offenders. Currently, an offender’s second felony conviction or “strike” draws a sentence that is double what the offender would generally receive for that particular crime. A third strike results in an automatic sentence of 25 years to life in prison.
Proposition 36 would shorten third strike sentences depending on the nature of the crime. Violent offenders would continue to serve life sentences even if the third strike was a minor crime, but nonviolent offenders would only receive a doubling of their third strike sentence, just as they would receive with second strike sentences. Some prisoners who received third strike life sentences would also be able to apply for a reduced sentence of twice the usual term for their most recent crime.
The drafters of the new measure, entitled the Three Strikes Reform Act, believe Proposition 36 will achieve the “original intent” of the Three Strikes Law: punishing violent and dangerous criminals. The text of the proposition states that Proposition 36 would, in addition, “save hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars every year for at least 10 years” and “prevent the early release of dangerous criminals who are currently being released early because jails and prisons are overcrowded with low-risk, non-violent inmates serving life sentences for petty crimes.”
However, Proposition 36 opponents argue that dangerous criminals will not have early releases prevented, but rather the opposite, that some dangerous prisoners will receive early releases due to Proposition 36 reducing third strike sentences and allowing resentencing of some prisoners.
Proposition 37 aims to inform consumers of foods that are genetically engineered by mandating that such products be labeled. The labels would appear on either the product itself or the shelves where the items are available for sale. Additionally, it would be forbidden for such products to be labeled “natural,” “naturally made” or any similar terms. The Dept. of Public Health would handle regulation of the measure by performing periodic inspections to ensure food is properly labeled.
The proposed law does outline exemptions to the labeling, including food from an animal that was not genetically engineered but perhaps fed genetically engineered food or given drugs produced through genetic engineering, food that contains only small amounts of genetically engineered material, alcoholic beverages, food not packaged for retail sale, i.e. food at a restaurant intended for immediate consumption, among others.
The proposition will also allow consumers to file lawsuits against grocers who do not properly label genetically engineered foods.
Opponents of the measure take particular issue with this section, suggesting that it encourages lawsuit abuse. Those filing lawsuits “shall not be required to allege facts necessary to show, or tending to show, lack of adequate remedy at law, or to show, or tending to show, irreparable damage or loss, or to show, or tending to show, unique or special individual injury or damages,” according to the text of the proposition.
Opponents also lament perceived constraints the proposition would place upon grocers. In addition to obtaining labels, grocers would need to obtain special documentation for any foods not labeled but which may be genetically engineered. In order to avoid litigation, grocers would need documents asserting foods were not genetically engineered from the producer of the product or an independent party that certifies the food is not engineered. The necessity for such documentation, opponents argue, would place undue burdens upon grocers and open the door further for frivolous litigation.
Proposition 38 bears many similarities to Proposition 30, also on this year’s ballot. Both initiatives would raise income taxes and use the revenues to fund education, but other details differ between the propositions.
Proposition 38 would raise taxes for most Californians whereas Proposition 30 only does so for those earning over $250,000 a year, while also raising sales and use taxes which Proposition 38 does not raise. The propositions also allocate education funding differently. Proposition 38 would use 60% of its tax revenues (which would be part of a new California Education Trust Fund) for schools through 2016-17 and 85% annually thereafter, with the other 40% going towards Early Care and Education programs (10%) and paying state debts (30%). Proposition 30 would use 89% of temporary tax revenues for K-12 schools and 11% to community colleges.
But the two propositions are tied in other respects because the propositions could be found as conflicting if both measures pass. If both measures pass, the one that gathers the most ‘yes’ votes will pass and the other will not.
One key element is that if Proposition 30 fails, a series of “trigger cuts” will be made to various state programs, including education. Gov. Jerry Brown backed Proposition 30 as part of Brown’s campaign to cut the state deficit with its tax increases, but without the revenue Proposition 30 would raise, Brown’s plan to offset that loss would be to make those trigger cuts, which includes over $5 billion in cuts to K-14 education and $500 million to public universities.
Proposition 38 also carries other key provisions such as requiring school districts to spend funds at only the specific schools which generated those funds through student grants, requiring districts to create and publish online budget reports for each school and also requiring school districts to hear input from the public on how to spend funds raised by Proposition 38. These funds are also prohibited from being used for salary or benefit increases or from being used to replace state, local or federal funding.
Proposition 39 would change the way multistate businesses are taxed, requiring them to base their tax liability entirely on sales made in California. Currently, multistate businesses can choose between two methods for determining what amount of a business’ income is taxable. The “three-factor method” applies to a business’ sales, property and employees and the more of those three factors a business has within California, the more their income will be taxed. The other method is a “single sales factor method,” which only applies to sales within California. Proposition 39 would require all multistate businesses to use the single sales factor method.
Entitled the California Clean Energy Jobs Act, Proposition 39 would also put half the revenues raised into the Clean Energy Job Creation Fund (with a maximum of $550 million per year), which would fund projects aimed at increasing energy efficiency and expanding the use of alternative energy. Along with funding these programs, the measure would also fund job training programs related to energy efficiency and alternative energy. A nine-member oversight board would be created to oversee and evaluate how the funds are spent.
Proponents argue the measure will prevent multistate businesses from using a tax loophole that prompts them to locate jobs outside of the state. The proposition’s text reads, “Current tax law both discourages multistate companies from locating jobs in California, and puts job-creating California companies at a competitive disadvantage.” Proposition 39 supporters also identify the clean energy focus as beneficial for the environment and job growth.
Opponents argue the measure would deter multistate businesses from remaining in California entirely should they be faced with switching to the single sales method. They also identify Proposition 39 as an example of errant ballot box budgeting.
Proposition 40 calls for a referendum on California’s recently redrawn State Senate Districts. The new districts were drawn up by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, a 14-member panel comprised of citizens and made possible by Proposition 11 in 2008, also known as the Voters First Act. The intent was to remove redistricting power from politicians who could potentially draw districts that are more favorable for gaining votes.
If Proposition 40 passes, the districts drafted by the Redistricting Commission would remain the same. If Proposition 40 fails, the districts would be redrawn by those appointed by the California Supreme Court.
Proposition 40 is unique in that its creators intended for voters to choose “no” in order to have the current districts redrawn. Referendums require voters to affirm or overturn existing legislation with a “yes” or “no” vote. Since Proposition 40’s creators intended the referendum to overturn the established district lines, a vote of “no” would be required to achieve the creators’ intentions, leading to potential confusion for voters.
But in a stranger turn of events, the proposition has been all but abandoned by its original supporters since the California Supreme Court rejected a challenge to the Redistricting Commission’s power in July. Proposition 40’s creators have since dropped their campaign for the referendum (voter guides do not feature any sort of argument to overturn the district lines) and now accept the Redistricting Commission’s original district lines.