Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Law and order activists, critics of California's drug laws and victims rights groups independently have loaded three separate crime measures onto the Nov. 4 ballot, and they're not making it easy for state voters to sort them out.
Together, Propositions 5, 6 and 9 cover 115 pages, would change scores of laws and would affect billions of dollars in state spending.
"My mom asked me if I have positions on all of them, and I told her I'm still working on it," said Assembly Public Safety Committee chairman Jose Solorio, D-Santa Ana, who presided over nine hours of hearings on the measures. "There's a lot to digest."
On Nov. 4, voters will decide whether to drastically change the way the state prosecutes drug addicts and the lower-level property crimes they commit, to the tune of diverting an estimated 18,000 offenders from prison into treatment programs. That's the basic thrust of Proposition 5.
They're also being asked to give local law enforcement more money, protect what funds they already get, and toughen laws aimed at street gang members, methamphetamine cookers and serious ex-cons who possess guns in public. Those are the basics of Proposition 6.
The third measure seeks to put victims at or near the center of the entire criminal justice process and give them a constitutional right to participate in plea bargaining and parole decisions. It also wants to make life-term inmates wait 15 years between parole hearings, stop early inmate releases and have counties build tent jails to handle inmate overflow. That's Proposition 9.
"The skies are getting crowded," UC Berkeley law professor Franklin Zimring said of the air traffic over the criminal justice system. "It's become a two-sided process, with the left using it as well as the right."
Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, whose office opposes Propositions 5 and 9 and has deep reservations about Proposition 6, said the ballot campaigns represent criminal justice policy-making at its worst.
"It only takes $2 million or $3 million to put any nice-sounding piece of junk into the constitution," Cooley said.
Big money is behind all three initiatives.
Billionaire financier George Soros contributed $1.4 million and three other out-of-state businessmen put in $2.6 million for Proposition 5. Soros and friends financed the Proposition 36 drug treatment initiative to victory in 2000. [Mark Godsey]