November 09, 2015
Area(s) of Interest: Advocacy
CMA Capitol Insight is a biweekly column by veteran journalist Anthony York, reporting on the inner workings of the state Legislature.
The legislature may be out of session, but there is plenty of political intrigue swirling about Sacramento. With a new set of rules in place for ballot initiatives, thanks to changes passed by lawmakers last year, the calendar deadline to get final measures into the attorney general’s office for review is fast approaching.
Over the last two weeks, we saw a broad coalition (with the backing of Napster founder and former Facebook exec, Sean Parker) move forward with a plan to legalize recreational use of marijuana. The proposal hews closely to the recommendations made in a report issued by Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy, and seems crafted in part to try to attract Newsom’s support.
We also saw the latest chapter in a long internal battle between rival unions over who should author a statewide plan to increase California’s minimum wage to $15 per hour. A faction of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), United Healthcare Workers, had put forward a plan to raise the wage to $15 by 2021. But just last week, the union’s parent organization, SEIU State Council, announced its own proposal. The measure gets to the $15 threshold one year sooner, and also includes an expansion of the state’s paid sick leave requirements, from three days to six.
Speaking of rival proposals, it appears peace talks are at hand between groups who are looking to extend the state’s income taxes for upper wage earners. Two different proposals had been introduced – one backed by the California Teachers Association and other labor groups, and another with the support of the California Hospital Association. But the two sides announced this week that they, along with the California Medical Association, would engage in additional talks to come up with one compromise proposal that would provide funding for schools, as well as raise revenues to address the state’s health care needs.
The détente between the two sides is a sign that a new measure may be filed soon that would seek to essentially extend Proposition 30 before the income taxes for high wage earners roll back in 2018.
Gov. Jerry Brown has held fast to his earlier comments that he would not actively support a Proposition 30 increase. He sold the measure to voters in 2012 as a temporary patch to address the state’s budget problems, and has been reluctant to back any extension.
Brown, meanwhile, is getting ready to release his January budget, and a speech earlier this month indicates that criminal justice reform may be high on his agenda.
Speaking at a forum for federal judges, Brown said California's crime laws were due for a dramatic overhaul. The governor argued that sentencing laws have gone too far, and that inmate behavior should play a greater role in determining the length of a prison stay.
“Now the whole system is arbitrary," Brown said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "Instead of disadvantaging a small minority, we now cover the whole system...In this process we have 5,000 criminal provisions and there are 400 enhancements."
He offered no concrete solution, but suggested parole boards should be given "greater latitude" in deciding "When is it time to go home?" the Times reported.
Criminal justice reform may yet be the lasting legacy of the governor’s final two terms. In 2011, he passed a law that moved thousands of lower-level offenders to local jails instead of state prison. And, just last year, California voters passed Proposition 47, which reduces a handful of felony offenses to misdemeanors and allows people convicted of those crimes a chance to expunge their records.
The January budget and State of the State address may offer additional clues about how criminal justice reform will shape the governor’s 2016 agenda.