California Democrats cry ‘hogwash’ on Republican criticism of retail theft bills, Prop. 47


California Democratic leaders on Monday pushed back against criticism from Republicans over their handling of a series of bills that would tighten penalties on retail theft crimes.

“To our Republican colleagues who oppose our public safety and retail theft solutions, I ask them this: What do you all stand for?” said Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas, D-Hollister, during a news conference. “What policy in our bipartisan package are you defending here?”

That followed an outcry from Republicans who were unhappy about amendments to some of the bills in the package. The changes would void a group of the measures if a ballot initiative changing Proposition 47 passes in November. The 2014 voter-approved initiative reduced some theft and drug crimes to misdemeanors and set a $950 threshold for shoplifting.

The 14 measures head to the Assembly and Senate Public Safety committees on Tuesday. However, Rivas and Senate President Pro Tem Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, have yet to explain which bills they plan to amend.

Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher of Yuba City and Senate Minority Leader Brian Jones of San Diego on Thursday sent the Democrats a letter expressing concerns about the amendments, saying they “set a dangerous precedent, forcing our constituents into a false choice between legislative reforms and necessary modifications to Proposition 47.”

Another urgency amendment would cause them to take effect as soon as Gov. Gavin Newsom signs them, potentially undercutting the ballot measure.

Conflicting retail theft plans

On Monday, Rivas and McGuire called Republican allegations that the amendments are a “poison pill” hypocritical.

They insist enacting the ballot measure and the bill package simultaneously would cause conflicts.

Rivas cited a Assembly Bill 1960 from Assemblywoman Esmeralda Soria, D-Fresno, that would add sentencing enhancements for those who destroy property while committing a felony if the loss exceeds $50,000. He said the initiative contains a similar provision, but it does not include an inflation adjustment.

“They don’t work together,” Rivas said. “It is our responsibility to address this now.”

McGuire called Republicans’ claims “hogwash.”

“They’re trying to slow down some of the most consequential crime bills that this legislature, this state has seen in years,” he said.

The leaders are at odds with Republicans and the California District Attorneys Association, which is backing the ballot measure.

McGuire and Rivas are racing to get the bills onto Newsom’s desk ahead of a June 27 ballot qualification deadline. Their bills are similar to many elements of the initiative and toughen laws related to retail crimes. The significant difference between the two is a portion of the ballot measure that would increase penalties for someone convicted of shoplifting with two or more prior theft-related convictions.

The Democrats and Newsom oppose changing Proposition 47, saying their bill package is better than the initiative, and they want to keep California from returning to the stringent sentencing regime of the 1980s and 1990s that resulted in mass incarceration. A panel of federal judges in 2009 ordered the state to reduce its prison population due to overcrowding, resulting in Proposition 47 and various other criminal justice reforms.

“The court basically said, ‘California, you have to reduce your prison population,’” Rivas told The Sacramento Bee on Monday. “Are we losing sight of that?”

The speaker said he is not engaged in any efforts to convince those backing the initiative to remove it from the ballot. He denied the amendments are related to the ballot measure.

“My focus is on what I can control,” Rivas said. “My focus is on the work we have here in this building, which is legislatively.”


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