Calif. Senate panel advances “poison pills” designed to kill reform of Prop. 47

Two Democrats objected to the poison pills being included on their bills, breaking with their party’s effort to combat Proposition 47 reform.

California Democrats have pushed forward “poison pills” in a number of public safety bills heard by the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday. 

But the decision wasn’t unanimous as two Democrats voiced their opposition to the amendments. 


The backstory: Last week Republican lawmakers pushed back against the so-called poison pill amendments that would kill a package of public safety bills if voters pass an initiative to reform Proposition 47 in November. 

  • Republicans argued that the amendments effectively force voters into a false choice between the ballot measure and the public safety bills. 

The big picture: The Senate Appropriations Committee supported six out of seven bills that are part of a public safety package proposed by the Assembly. 

  • Assembly Bill 1794 was pulled by author Asm. Kevin McCarty (D–Sacramento) because of the poison pill amendments. AB 1794 would aggregate the monetary value of stolen items under Proposition 47, meaning if a group of stolen items were valued at over $950 – instead of just one item – prosecutors could bring forward a single charge of grand theft. 
  • Along with McCarty dissension, Asm. Esmeralda Soria (D–Fresno) removed her name from Assembly Bill 1960, which she authored, due to the amendments. Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas (D–Hollister) took over the bill under his name. AB 1960 would create sentencing enhancements for property crimes. 

What they’re saying: “We need greater accountability in California against repeat offenders who continue to engage in theft and harm our businesses,” Soria said in a statement. “That’s the commitment I made to our community and law enforcement partners and it’s a commitment I won’t break. That is why I have removed my name from AB 1960.” 

  • McCarty released a statement after Tuesday’s hearing saying he can’t support the public safety package of bills because of the amendments. 
  • “Unfortunately, I can’t support the retail theft package, which contains my Retail Theft Accountability bill, AB 1794, with the poison pill non-operative amendments included,” McCarty said. “However, I am still optimistic I will be able to revisit AB 1794 as we continue to work out a solution with stakeholders by the 27th.” 

Congressional pressure: While some Democrats are breaking from their base in the legislature over the public safety package, California’s Republican Congressional caucus sent a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom speaking out against the poison pill amendments. 

  • The caucus includes Central Valley representatives Tom McClintock (R–Elk Grove), John Duarte (R–Modesto), David Valadao (R–Hanford) and Vince Fong (R–Bakersfield). 
  • “We have become aware of a legislative scheme to undermine this initiative, through unprecedented amendments to several pending public safety bills that would make those bills inoperative if the initiative passes,” the letter reads. “There is no rational basis whatsoever for such a provision; the merits of those bills are in no way related to the passage or failure of the ballot initiative. Indeed, because the initiative seeks to roll back provisions of a prior ballot initiative, its substance is by definition independent of any Assembly or Senate bill.” 
  • They added that it is clear that the only purpose of the amendments is to equip opponents of the Proposition 47 reform with a talking point. 
  • “Every day, California business owners, workers, customers, and citizens must deal with the effects of crime in our communities,” they wrote. “Californians have made their voices heard with an initiative to restore appropriate consequences for criminal activity and give law enforcement the tools needed to keep our communities safe. They should have the opportunity to vote on that initiative in November, and decide for themselves whether to set our state’s approach to public safety on a new course. Cynical political scheming designed to turn the initiative upside-down is an affront to every California voter.” 
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