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California Lawmakers Take Aim at Retail Theft

California Lawmakers Take Aim at Retail Theft

Assemblyman Juan Alanis, vice chair of the Public Safety Committee, questions witnesses during a hearing at the Capitol in Sacramento on April 9, 2024. (Travis Gillmore/The Epoch Times)

Travis Gillmore

Travis Gillmore

4/12/2024

Updated: 4/12/2024

As retail theft crimes continue to impact businesses and consumers across California, lawmakers in the state Assembly are working to move forward a package of measures to restore order.
Some bills aim to strengthen penalties while others give police and prosecutors more authority to fight crime.
The Assembly’s Public Safety Committee heard 12 bills related to theft on April 11 and passed all but one.
“The Assembly takes seriously the issues of retail theft and wants to bring about real solutions that are balanced and fair and focus on accountability but don’t overreact,” Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, chair of the public safety committee, told The Epoch Times after the meeting. “So we passed about 10 measures today on retail theft, and I think it’s an appropriate response.”
He said the committee strives to balance compassion for all Californians with consequences for criminal activity.
“You can focus on fairness and redemption, but also have accountability, as well,” Mr. McCarty said.
The vice-chair of the committee commended his colleagues for their votes and said the hearing was a change of pace from recent years.
“I think we took a very large step today,” Assemblyman Juan Alanis told The Epoch Times at the conclusion of the hearing. “There’s a trend with other committee meetings, and we’re taking a different stance.”
The makeup of the safety committee changed dramatically after Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas replaced all but one Democratic member—including the former chair Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer—on the panel following controversial decisions related to a child sex trafficking bill and other public safety measures last year that resulted in significant public backlash.
“Constituents have reached out to their elected officials, their electeds are listening and saying, ‘Hey, we need to do something,’” Mr. Alanis said. “Maybe not go overboard, which they’re watching and making sure they’re not doing, but at least bringing back some consequences.”
Stakeholders also noticed the change in tone from the safety committee compared to prior years—with similar bills rejected under prior leadership that preferred a criminal justice reform agenda and routinely voted down most bills related to enhancing penalties or creating new laws to stop crime.
“Talking to my colleagues a year ago, I never thought we would be here,” Rachel Michelin, key witness for several retail theft bills heard by the committee and president of the California Retailers Association, told The Epoch Times after the meeting. “It’s a total change in conversation.”
Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, chair of the Public Safety Committee, listens to testimony at the Capitol on April 9, 2024. (Travis Gillmore/The Epoch Times)

Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, chair of the Public Safety Committee, listens to testimony at the Capitol on April 9, 2024. (Travis Gillmore/The Epoch Times)

She expressed gratitude for the change of approach while saying the retailers’ association will remain focused on seeing the bills make it through the Legislature without substantive amendments.
“There’s still work to be done, but this is a great first step,” Ms. Michelin said. “I think a lot of these bills you have to look at collectively, they build on each other, and when you see them all put together, it’s a complete shift change in the attitude toward addressing this issue.”
The one measure that failed to pass the committee, Assembly Bill 2438, sought to enhance penalties for organized retail theft and property destruction by making the crime a felony.
The bill’s author said that bringing back accountability and deterring criminal activity is important to restoring public safety.
“I think that we are seeing the fallout from a world with no consequences,” Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris told The Epoch Times after her bill failed to pass the committee. “It’s leading to chaos and terror in our communities, and people need to know there are consequences before they smash ... a Walgreens or rob a local jeweler.”
While her sentencing enhancement bill did not make it past the committee, other measures that she co-authored were approved by the group.
Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris presents her retail theft bill to the  committee on April 9, 2024. Hers was t<span class="NormalTextRun SCXW102806714 BCX0">he o</span><span class="NormalTextRun SCXW102806714 BCX0">ne measure that </span><span class="NormalTextRun SCXW102806714 BCX0">failed to</span><span class="NormalTextRun SCXW102806714 BCX0"> pass. </span>(Travis Gillmore/The Epoch Times)

Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris presents her retail theft bill to the  committee on April 9, 2024. Hers was t<span class="NormalTextRun SCXW102806714 BCX0">he o</span><span class="NormalTextRun SCXW102806714 BCX0">ne measure that </span><span class="NormalTextRun SCXW102806714 BCX0">failed to</span><span class="NormalTextRun SCXW102806714 BCX0"> pass. </span>(Travis Gillmore/The Epoch Times)

“Some good pieces of legislation, which I’m co-authoring, are moving to ensure that criminals know there are consequences,” Ms. Petrie-Norris said.
The day started with a press conference led by the Assembly speaker highlighting the retail theft bills.
“It’s a comprehensive package that seeks to strengthen public safety, protect shoppers and businesses across California, and assure that we deliver real, visible quality of life improvements to Californians,” Mr. Rivas said during the press conference.
He also pointed to his newly formed retail theft committee as proof that lawmakers are taking the issue seriously.
“I formed the Assembly Select Committee on Retail Theft because theft and retail crimes were having a chilling effect on our communities,” Mr. Rivas said. “That chilling effect still exists here in 2024.”
One former member of the public safety committee said during the press conference that legislators are looking to identify appropriate solutions to retail theft.
“Our pathway forward is with collaboration, with partnerships, with teamwork, with listening and putting all ideas on the table and selecting the best ones to move us forward that really give us solutions for our communities,” Assemblywoman Mia Bonta said. “This was a team effort, and I think it’s important that we continue to commit to that collaboration.”
The bills that passed will next be heard by respective committees, and if approved, will proceed to the Assembly floor for debate in the coming weeks.
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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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