By Isaiah Jurado
The six measures on California’s November 4th ballot cover a wide variety of topics ranging from healthcare to gambling, and as citizens of a democratic society, it is important to be well informed before approaching the ballot box. Whether you disagree or agree with an individual proposition, it is crucial that you shape your own well informed opinion and vote, because every measure that is implemented will affect our daily lives. At this moment, we have the opportunity to influence the laws that govern us and the direction of our government, and to avoid this responsibility is a disservice to our community and ourselves.
With that being said, there are two measures that caught my eye on the upcoming ballot due to their immediate societal impact. The propositions are Propositions 1 and 47.
Proposition 1 proposes a $7.12 billion dollar bond for California’s water system, which in the midst of a drought, sounds like money well spent. The measure was previously scheduled for the 2012 ballot, but Gov. Brown rescheduled it to the current 2014 ballot. Additionally, this bond has replaced Proposition 43 which was an $11.14 billion dollar water bond and one Gov. Brown described as “a pork-laden water bond… with a price tag beyond what’s reasonable or affordable.” Some of the highlights from Proposition 1 include: $1.495 billion for competitive grants for a multibenefit ecosystem, watershed protection and restoration projects, $725 million for water recycling and advanced water treatment technology projects and $2.7 billion for water storage projects, dams and reservoirs.
The bond will be funded by general tax revenue and has a projected repayment period of 40 years. As residents of Northern California, we are well aware of the status of our water system, whether it is a drought warning or the direct impact to our crops. The improvement of our water system is not only essential due to our geographical location, but also because of our growing population and essential farmlands. This proposition is promising as it addresses our immediate needs as Californians.
Proposition 47 on the other hand proposes the reduction of certain crimes from status of felonies to misdemeanors. Felonies are considered “serious crimes” and usually involve physical harm done to others with sentencing ranging from 1 year to life, while misdemeanors are “less serious” crimes and receive punishments such as probation or fines. Proposition 47 aims at redefining the crimes within each status: it reads “Mandate misdemeanors instead of felonies for “non-serious, nonviolent crimes,” unless the defendant has prior convictions for murder, rape, certain sex offenses or certain gun crimes.” The initiative would also include the resentencing of about 10,000 inmates who qualify for a misdemeanor under the new regulations. One of the perks of the measure is that it would create a Safe Neighborhoods and School Fund which would collect funds based on the states savings which is estimated at about $150 million to $250 million per year and distribute them to various programs and departments such as the Department of Education and the Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board.
A list of the crimes which would be restructured are as follows: shoplifting, where the value of property stolen does not exceed $950, grand theft, where the value of the stolen property does not exceed $950, receiving stolen property, where the value of the property does not exceed $950, forgery, where the value of forged check, bond or bill does not exceed $950, fraud, where the value of the fraudulent check, draft or order does not exceed $950, writing a bad check, where the value of the check does not exceed $950, and personal use of most illegal drugs.
Those supporting the measure claim that it will reduce state spending on an already impacted prison system and appropriate funds to victims and schools. Those who oppose the measure argue that it is an unnecessary proposition as the current system already accounts for nonviolent crimes in it’s sentencing and will allow dangerous criminals who pled guilty to lesser crimes to receive shorter sentencing. Overall, the importance of this proposition comes down to one stipulation within the bill requiring “a “thorough review” of criminal history and risk assessment of any individuals before re-sentencing to ensure that they do not pose a risk to the public.” There can never be a general or standard sentencing for a crime as each individual situation is different, but somehow I find no solace in the state’s requirement of a “thorough review,” which seems ambiguous at best.
Perhaps if the measure had a concrete description of the “review” process I could endorse the bill. Proposition 47 seems to have good intentions, but is ultimately driven by a desire to cut costs. Even though we are constantly looking for new ways to save money as a state, I don’t believe a somewhat generic and uncertain bill regarding the potential release of prisoners is the right way to do it.