California Initiative Would Amend Prop. 47, Strengthen Penalties for Theft and Fentanyl Crimes

California Initiative Would Amend Prop. 47, Strengthen Penalties for Theft and Fentanyl Crimes

A series of smash-and-grab robberies left stores with boarded up windows in San Francisco on Nov. 22, 2021. (Lear Zhou/The Epoch Times)

Travis Gillmore

Travis Gillmore

1/30/2024

Updated: 2/6/2024

Ten years after a controversial measure known as Proposition 47 was passed by California voters to change some drug and theft crimes from felonies to misdemeanors in an effort to lower prison populations, support is growing for a proposed ballot initiative to reform the proposition, according to organizers of the new proposal.
The group informed election officials that more than 220,000 signatures—representing nearly half of those needed to qualify for the ballot in November—were collected in the first 30 days of their circulating petitions.
Supporters said the pace of collections is fast because most Californians are in favor of amending the law to fit current needs.
Approximately 70 percent of Californians surveyed by the organizers in November 2023 said they were in favor of the proposal, according to the group’s website.
“We have seen a record number of voters seeking to sign the petition to place this measure on the ballot—sometimes waiting in line to do so,” campaign chair Greg Totten—also CEO of the California District Attorneys Association—said in a Jan. 25 statement. “The measure is commonsense and injects accountability back into our laws for repeat offenders of theft and for crimes involving fentanyl and other serious drug crimes.”
Known as the Homelessness, Drug Addiction, and Theft Reduction Act, the measure would increase penalties for repeat offenders of theft and certain drug crimes to counter criminal activity affecting the state.
“No doubt Prop. 47 has brought unique challenges to us,” Ron Freitas, San Joaquin district attorney, told The Epoch Times. “The California District Attorneys Association is working on this initiative to make this more workable for Californians and businesses.”
Another law enforcement expert and supporter of the new initiative said the measure is urgently needed because the Legislature has repeatedly failed to act on the unintended consequences wrought by Prop. 47.
Voters head to the polls at Irvine City Hall in Irvine, Calif., on June 7, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Voters head to the polls at Irvine City Hall in Irvine, Calif., on June 7, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

“The only way to fix Prop. 47 is by going back to the ballot through an initiative,” Jeff Reisig, Yolo County district attorney, told The Epoch Times. “Historically, the Legislature has rejected every attempt to reform Prop. 47, so there’s no rational reason to believe that the Legislature is going to address this.”
At least seven bills seeking to address issues related to the proposition over the past three years have been denied by the Legislature.
A bill recently introduced by Assemblyman Carlos Villapudua, Assembly Bill 1787, recognizes the challenges presented by the law and seeks to identify solutions.
“As well-intentioned as Prop. 47 was, we need to adjust to the reality that it has created in California,” Mr. Villapudua told The Epoch Times by email earlier this month when introducing his bill. “Businesses are shuttering, and employees and customers are being put in harm’s way during incidents of aggressive retail theft.”
Some point to the embattled proposition as also potentially contributing to the recent rise in homelessness, drug use, and property crimes.
They have also said that it allows thieves to operate freely because repeat offenders are subject only to misdemeanor charges, whereas previously, prosecutors could charge felonies for serial repeat offenders.
“That, in particular, has fueled this retail theft crisis where you see people walking out of stores with products day in, day out,” Mr. Reisig said. “Some of them are doing it multiple times a day, 10 times a week.”
With no consequences for thefts totaling less than $950 per occurrence, some criminals are taking advantage of the limited risks for stealing, he said.
“It all comes back to Prop. 47, which stripped all meaningful accountability out of the law,” Mr. Reisig said. “They’re given a ticket, at best, and most people don’t go to court on that ticket; they just continue to steal.”
The new measure would allow prosecutors to aggregate theft amounts to reach felony thresholds and would restore the right to charge repeat offenders with felonies.
Although proponents of the criminal justice reform law passed a decade ago point to data that suggest that crime is down from higher rates in the early 1990s, others say the statistics are flawed because many thefts are not being reported.
“Many of the retailers have stopped reporting because nothing happens because the laws are so weak and meaningless that they got frustrated,” Mr. Reisig said. “The data is no good.”
A disconnect between arrest data and the losses experienced by businesses is further contributing to a lack of understanding of the situation, he said.
A looter robs a Target store in Oakland, Calif., on May 30, 2020. (Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images)

A looter robs a Target store in Oakland, Calif., on May 30, 2020. (Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images)

“Believe your eyes,” Mr. Reisig said. “When normal people walk into stores and see things behind glass and new security guards, and they see videos of people running out with products, these are clues, these are all pieces of evidence that there’s a real crisis.”
He said the homeless, drug, and retail theft problems contribute to a “vicious cycle” that is negatively affecting communities across the state.
With drug charges dropping from felonies to misdemeanors, drug court options—usually used to incentivize treatment instead of prison—diminished because sentences were reduced to a point at which treatment options were deemed no longer enticing to those convicted, according to experts.
“That change has fueled the homelessness crisis, as well,” Mr. Reisig said. “Prop. 47 took away our ability to get those people into treatment.”
After three arrests for “hard” drug possession—including fentanyl, methamphetamine, cocaine, or heroin—felony charges would apply, although mandatory treatment would be an option and would result in expungement if completed successfully, according to the new initiative.
Also, fentanyl dealers would be targeted with increased penalties for possession of one ounce or more, with warnings of potential murder charges for all convicted of possessing the deadly synthetic opioid if their future actions result in death.
“Fentanyl is killing people at a record number in California, and currently there is very little penalty for fentanyl drug traffickers,” Mr. Reisig said. “And this initiative would expose them to significant prison time and penalties for selling fentanyl.”
Organizers told The Epoch Times that signature collection is well underway throughout the state. Approximately 560,000 signatures must be verified by June 27 to qualify for the November 2024 ballot during the statewide presidential election.
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Travis Gillmore

Travis Gillmore

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Travis Gillmore is an avid reader and journalism connoisseur based in California covering finance, politics, the State Capitol, and breaking news for The Epoch Times.

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