California Democrats Push Last Minute Alternative to Crime Reform Initiative

By: Alex Trent | Published: Jul 01, 2024

On Sunday, top California Democrats announced support for a proposal that would ask voters to crack down on retail theft in the state.

The proposal would escalate the consequences of the crime of shoplifting for repeat offenders and directly compete on the November ballot with a similar, stricter effort supported by a coalition of business groups.

Last-Minute Plan

The Associated Press reports that this ballot measure push is being seen as a “last-minute plan” to compete with the other initiative supported by law enforcement, a coalition of businesses, and local officials that would crack down on shoplifters and drug deals.

An image of Gavin Newsom standing behind a lectern.

Office of the Governor of California/Wikimedia Commons

California Democrats hope to put the proposal up for a vote quickly and deliver it to Governor Gavin Newsom to sign before a Wednesday deadline ahead of July 4.


Previous Initiative

This latest initiative by California Democrats competes with the business group proposal already on the November ballot. This previous initiative would turn the possession of fentanyl into a felony which lawmakers think will disproportionately impact the poorest Californians.

A shop lifting sign featuring a pair of handcuffs.

Source: Katangais/Wikimedia

The Democrat proposal also increases penalties for shoplifting and fentanyl dealers but is less severe.

Proposition 47

At the heart of the dispute between the two proposals is the rolling back of Proposition 47. The business retailer proposal wants to roll back parts of the Prop 47 ballot measure passed in the state in 2014 that reduced some theft and drug possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors.

A silhouette of a person placing a piece of paper into a ballot box.

Element5 Digital/Unsplash

Democrats, including Governor Newsom, want to keep Prop 47 intact and have resisted pressure to put crime reforms in front of voters.

Political Considerations

According to AP, Democrats are also concerned about the tougher measure from retail groups being on the ballot because it may increase turn out for Republican and conservative voters in the November election.

President Joe Biden smiling while speaking at a podium with the American flag in the background

Source: POTUS/X

While California is firmly a blue state, an influx of conservative voters could affect the outcomes of contested House races and which party has control of Congress.

A Sham

On X, California Assemblyman Joe Patterson slammed the last-minute attempt of California Democrats to try to stop reforms for Proposition 47.

The image shows a stenciled representation of a surveillance camera painted in black on a weathered white background

Source: Tobias Tullius/Unsplash

“Democrats just intro’d their attempt to deceive voters. SB 1381 is @CAgovernor @GavinNewsom’s hellbent attempt to kill true Prop 47 reforms and intentionally confuse voters. a sham. It happened late on a Sunday, hoping you’re sleeping. Do #caleg Dems want you to be safe or not?” said Patterson.


Newsom’s Power

Ashely Zavala, a California capitol correspondent, posted on X how this move showcased how Newsom’s control over the state’s legislature.

Governor of California Gavin Newsom smiles in a photo with a blurry background.

Source: Bureau of Reclamation/Wikimedia

“Gov. Newsom’s power over CA Legislative Democrats- in the separate but equal branch of government- on full display. On July 4 eve, at 7:30pm-ish, they’ll vote on his last-minute, crime-related ballot initiative meant to compete with one he does not like,” Zavala said.


Majority Vote

According to Zavala’s reporting, lawmakers drew up the bill to only need a majority vote in the legislature instead of a ⅔ consensus.

The California State Capitol Building in Sacamento.

Source: Andre M/Wikimedia

“Multiple sources tell me Newsom spent weekend gathering up support for initiative, meeting with various groups of lawmakers between Friday and this afternoon. Because of the way this bill is written, it only needs a simple majority vote, instead of the challenging ⅔,” said Zavala.


What Happens If Both Ballot Measures Pass?

If both of the retail crackdown initiatives pass, only the one with the most votes will go into effect, giving an incentive for government Democrats to make sure that theirs is the one to win.

A retail setting with a female cashier assisting a customer at a checkout counter. The customer is using a digital device for payment

Source: Blake Wisz/Unsplash

There is also a chance that the retail business group-backed proposal could be invalidated by a court, in which case the Democrat legislature-backed effort would go into effect.


Deep Fake Reforms

California Assembly GOP leader James Gallagher criticized the move by Democrats to subvert the previous initiative that had broad support and received over 900,000 citizen signatures.

People wait in a voting line during the 2020 election.

Source: Bart Everson/Wikimedia

“Recall again that all year @GavinNewsom  and these same Democrats have said Prop 47 DID NOT need to be reformed.  They tried to stop the citizen initiative all year. Now they are doing their own Deep Fake Reform initiative at the very last minute with only 72 hours notice. The initiative was circulated for months and had well over 900,000 citizen signatures,” said Gallagher on X.


Confusing for Voters

If the legislature proposal passes Newsom’s desk, there will be two similar measures on the same ballot in November which could have the effect of confusing voters.

Gavin Newsom behind a lectern, with the US flag behind him.

Office of the Governor of California/Wikimedia Commons

“In an unbelievable move, Gavin Newsom and Democrat leadership have proposed a weaker crime initiative to compete with the one already on the November ballot. This is a blatant attempt to undermine the will of the people,” said state Senate Minority Leader Brian Jones in an X post.


Manipulating the Ballot Box

Jones accused Democrat leadership of trying to manipulate voters who he says have already sent a clear message about what they want.

A California flag on a pole next to an American flag.

Source: Drei Kubik/Unsplash

“Over 900,000 Californians signed the Homelessness, Drug Addiction, and Retail Theft initiative to fix the Californian Crime Crisis. The overwhelming support shows that this is what the people want,” said Jones. “Now, with only 72 hours notice, Democrat leadership is pushing a weaker initiative to confuse and manipulate voters at the ballot box.”