In November 2014, California voters approved Proposition 47, which lowered the penalties for a host of so-called “nonviolent offenses” from felonies to misdemeanors.
The measure, along with public safety realignment and 2016’s Prop. 57 – which increased sentence credits and parole opportunities – is part of an effort by Gov. Brown and liberals in the Legislature to undermine California’s public safety protections.
While Prop. 47 sounds like at first blush an inoffensive measure, it has resulted in individuals who have committed very serious crimes only being given a slap of the wrist for their deeds.
Immediately after Prop. 47’s passage, the extent of the loopholes became apparent. For example, possession of a date-rape drug was classified as a misdemeanor rather than a felony thanks to Prop. 47’s changes. Bipartisan legislation by Asm. Tom Lackey and Sen. Cathleen Galgiani to fix this was vetoed by the Governor.
Other “nonviolent offenses” include child sex trafficking and felony domestic abuse. Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, and Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert are leading an effort to try and close this loophole at the ballot box.
Another result of Prop. 47 has been the rise of theft against individuals and retailers. With significantly reduced penalties, thieves see no real deterrent. While observers will quibble over the numbers and the cause, we have seen anecdotally that in the years following its passage, property crime rates have risen in San Francisco, Los Angeles County, and other California communities. For example, there have been reports of significant increases in car break-ins in San Francisco.
Last year, Cooper tried to close this loophole with his Assembly Bill 875, which would have made stealing property worth $950 or more over a year a felony. Unfortunately, the bill was killed in the Assembly Public Safety Committee.
Following the vote, Cooper said that, “Emboldened thieves will continue to extort the law with no consequences, resulting in increased costs for day-to-day essentials for working-class families.”
Now it appears that liberals in the Legislature may finally be taking notice of Prop. 47’s problems. Assembly Public Safety Committee Chairman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, a liberal from Los Angeles, has proposed Assembly Bill 1065, legislation that would make it a wobbler for individuals to “work with others to steal goods or buy stolen goods.”
Cooper says the bill is little more than window-dressing and won’t affect the real problem. “AB 1065 ignores the damage serial theft is having on small business owners, especially on the small family owned stores that serve our most vulnerable neighborhoods,” he said.
He’s right, but the introduction of AB 1065 may be a sign that even Prop. 47’s most passionate defenders are now finally waking up after years of resisting any effort to close its loopholes.
Prop. 47 is negatively impacting families and small business owners every day. It’s long past time for the Legislature to have an honest conversation about its impact and work toward reasonable reforms to protect our communities.
Tim Anaya is communications director for the Pacific Research Institute.