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California Democrats squabble over poison pills in anti-crime laws

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(The Center Square) – California Democrats are adding “poison pills” to block their package of anti-crime bills from taking effect if the newly ballot-qualified reform measure for Proposition 47 passes in November. Prominent Democrats have withdrawn their support for the anti-crime bills for the forceful addition of the poison pills, claiming the clauses are “political posturing.”

The measure, called the “Homelessness, Drug Addiction, and Theft Reduction Act” by its proponents, would significantly reform Prop. 47, a 2014 voter-approved measure that required serial theft of values less than $950 per theft and trafficking of hard drugs to be charged as misdemeanors, not felonies. The reform measure would allow offenders with two prior misdemeanor theft convictions to be charged with a felony, regardless of the value of the stolen property, for third and subsequent charges, though judges would still be able to use diversion programs at their discretion. State prison would be on the table for offenders with four or more theft convictions. The measure would also allow multiple thefts to be combined in value to allow an individual to be charged with a felony for stealing more than $950 more in property — as reported by the Washington Post, one criminal was caught using a calculator to make sure his theft was under the $950 felony limit.

The measure would also allow for enhanced penalties when two or more offenders work together to steal $50,000 or more. The measure continues the emphasis of Prop. 47 on keeping individuals out of prison by creating a new class of crime called a “treatment-mandated felony,” which would allow prosecutors to charge the crime to individuals accused of possessing “hard drugs” after two previous drug convictions upon their third or subsequent offense. A convict who “successfully completes drug and mental health treatment” would have the treatment-mandated felony charge “fully expunged” and face “no jail time.”

Should offenders refuse treatment, they would serve jail time for hard drug possession. Upon conviction for a second treatment-mandated felony, a judge would have the discretion to require jail time for hard drug possession. In addition to treatment, offenders would receive “shelter, job training, and other services designed to break the cycle of addiction and homelessness.”

The measure would expand the state’s list of “hard drugs” to include heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine, but not psychedelics such as marijuana, lysergic acid (LSD), and psilocybin mushrooms. It additionally would allow for stronger penalties for hard drug dealers whose drugs kill or seriously injure a user.

In response, Democratic Leaders announced they’d be adding inoperability clauses to 12 anti-crime bills that will render them moot if the Prop. 47 reform measure passes, drawing rebuke from lawmakers across the political spectrum. Among other proposals, the bills would create a system for enhanced reporting of theft, enhance criminal penalties for theft, and create a new wobbler for breaking into a vehicle with the intent to commit a theft or another felony.

“I am removing my name as co-author immediately from two retail theft bills that will be amended to make them inoperable if voters pass the Proposition 47 reform measure this November,” said State Sen Marie Alvarado-Gil in a statement. “I oppose the amendments to these two bills, and I was not consulted about them prior. Let me be clear – I do support the Prop 47 reform initiative and believe voters have the right to vote on this.”

California’s entire Republican Congressional delegation came out against the amendments, noting bipartisan support for the Prop. 47 reform bill from Democratic mayors Todd Gloria of San Diego and London Breed of San Francisco.

“It is clear that the only purpose of this novel legislative maneuver is to equip opponents of the ballot initiative with a talking point – to be used on the campaign trail, and likely even on the ballot itself – to confuse voters and undermine the will of the people of California,” wrote the 10 members of Congress in a letter. “This tactic could be used by legislators to defeat any unwanted ballot initiative going forward, simply by picking a popular piece of existing legislation and stipulating that if the initiative passes, that legislation will be repealed. This will defeat the entire purpose of the initiative process, which is designed to give voters a direct say on issues affecting our state.”

The Prop. 47 reform measure received 601,317 valid signatures and is sponsored by law enforcement groups and leading retailers such as Target and Walmart.

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