Two bills that would largely reverse Proposition 47, a law that greatly raised the monetary threshold for felony theft, were introduced to the Assembly on Tuesday.
In 2014, Californian voters passed Prop 47 59.6% to 40.4%, increasing the felony threshold rate for theft in retail establishments from over $400 to over $950, and lowering misdemeanor thefts having jail time limited to a maximum of 6 months. Assembly Bill 1603, authored by Assemblyman Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield), would reduce the threshold amount for petty theft and shoplifting back down to $400 and would re-allow shoplifting to be tried as a felony again but only if the person who did it had prior convictions.
Meanwhile, Assembly Bill 1599, authored by Assemblymen Kevin Kiley (R-Rocklin) and James Gallagher (R-Yuba City), would more substantially eliminate Prop 47, repealing all changes and additions made by Proposition 47, except those related to reducing the penalty for possession of concentrated cannabis. Both bills also noted that, even if passed and signed by the Governor, California voters would have to vote to enact the bills language via another proposition.
Salas, Kiley, and Gallagher wrote their respective bills largely due to Prop 47 being tied to the recent string of high-profile “smash and grab” robberies, as well as being a major factor for major crime waves currently occurring in cities such as San Francisco. Specifically, the drastically increased felony amount and the sharp decrease in felony retail shoplifting cases has been cited by many lawmakers, citizens groups, and law enforcement organizations for incidents such as the Union Square robberies late last year and the continuing closures of retail chains in cities with high amounts of crime.
In a statement for AB 1603, Assemblyman Salas noted citizen frustration with criminals going unprosecuted due to their crimes not reaching felony level.
“Enough is enough, we need to fight back against the criminals who are stealing from our communities.” said Salas on Tuesday. “We have seen the unintended consequences of Prop. 47’s weakening of our theft laws and I believe California voters are ready to make their voices heard on this issue again.”
Assemblyman Kiley, in his statement for AB 1599, noted the same, specifically linking Prop 47 to crime waves hitting California.
“After years of failed policies and leadership, California is now experiencing an unprecedented surge in crime,” noted Kiley on Tuesday. “When you pass laws to legalize bad behavior and have prosecutors who fail to hold people accountable, this is the end result. It is time to end the failed experiment of Prop. 47 and give voters the opportunity to restore consequences and accountability to our criminal justice system.”
In a tweet on Wednesday, Kiley added that “I’ve officially introduced legislation to repeal Prop. 47. It’s a quaint notion but I think stealing things should be treated as criminal conduct.”
I’ve officially introduced legislation to repeal Prop. 47. It’s a quaint notion but I think stealing things should be treated as criminal conduct.
— Kevin Kiley (@KevinKileyCA) January 5, 2022
While no formal opposition has yet to be announced against the bill, both Governor Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta have both defended Prop. 47 in previous months. They said that Prop. 47 is not responsible for the rise in crime nor for the recent “flash mob” robbery wave. They have also pointed out the failures of recent efforts, such as Prop 20, that attempted to increase penalties again but were voted against in elections.
Supporters have noted, however, that crime statistics have drastically changed since 2020 in California, with crimes becoming more bold and serious.
“It was maybe an experiment. It failed. It’s time to change things,” said Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims on Tuesday about to the new bills. “Unfortunately, what happens is they become so emboldened, their crimes become more and more serious. Whether or not they stay in jail. What their bail amount is. The seriousness of the offense. Prior convictions. This could be very detrimental to someone who has a criminal history.”
Political experts noted that both bills, despite being similar in language, have very different agendas for their respective authors.
“AB 1599 with Kiley is on point,” said Clay Fitzgerald, a Kern County pollster, to the Globe on Wednesday. “Kiley has been tough on crime in the past, so this makes sense for him.”
“Now Salas and AB 1603 is where a lot of people are turning their heads. This is a Democrat going against the party, and this seems unusual until you look at this years election. Salas is going to be in a tight Congressional race against current Congressman David Valadao (R-CA) in Bakersfield, which is a swing area nowadays. Valadao won a squeaker there in 2020 and retook the district and Democrats want it back. That means that they want to court Republicans or right-leaning moderates, and that means being tougher on crime. So if that comes up during a debate or a questions in an interview, Salas can point to this. It’s obvious what he’s doing. That’s not saying he doesn’t want a safer state, but this bill in particular makes it clear what he is getting at.”
“But, even with Democrats being tougher on crime now if only for appearances, many others are angry about what is happening in their districts, so along with Republicans, they want a way to fight back. So we have this interesting scenario of some Democrats joining Republicans on repealing what was considered a crown jewel of California’s effort to fight crime in a more compassionate way and reduce things like profiling and arresting a disproportionate number of minorities It’s all in disarray now because this crime wave is affecting everyone.”
“And logic would dictate in any other year Newsom would outright repeal this bill if it was passed. But it’s an election year, and depending on what the crime situation is later this year, Newsom may not want to not sign something that would reduce crime that opponents could seriously attack him on in the run up to the Governor’s race. Same goes for any Assembly member or Senator who votes against the bills.”
“These bills are throwing a wrench into everything early on.”
Both bills are expected to be heard in Assembly committees in the coming months.