Prop preview: From high-speed rail to vets’ bond

With a presidential race, 80 Assembly races, 53 Congressional races and 20 Senate campaigns to deal with, many voters are overwhelmed by the 12 initiatives on this year’s state ballot. Some, like the proposed ban on gay marriage and animal rights initiative, have received more attention than others. Some, like legislative redistricting, probably seem downright arcane to most voters.
What follows is Capitol Weekly’s cheat sheet on the November initiatives. Here, all 12 measures are broken down and explained to help guide you before you step into the voting booth.

Proposition 1A
High Speed Rail

This measure would allow the state to sell $9 billion in general obligation bonds to fund the first installment of the $45 billion high-speed rail system. This initiative was originally placed on the ballot back in 2002, but has been delayed as the state wrestles with deep budget problems.

The budget situation has not improved, but proponents have decided they could wait no longer. So now voters will be asked to put $9 billion on the credit card to build the first leg of the rail system from San Francisco to Los Angeles. When fully built, the train would run from Sacramento, through the Central Velley and Inland Empire, and on to San Diego. The train would travel more than 200 miles per hour.

The measure also contains $950 million for local rail and transportation systems to provide connetion sservice to the high-speed train. $190 million would be dedicated to intercity rail systems, and the other $760 million would be used for other rail connections.
The system has encountered opposition from some environmental groups, who worry the train would run through environmentally sensitive areas, and taxpayer groups, who argue the plan is a “boondoggle,” that will just add to an already maxed-out state bonding system.

Proposition 2:
Standards for Confining  Farm Animals

This initiative, sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States, imposes new rules on farms for housing and treatment of veal calves, pregnant pigs and egg-laying hens. Mainly, it would increase the amount of room each animal must be allowed, and would make many current systems for housing animals obsolete. But there isn’t much veal raised in California, and the pork industry has decided to sit this one out. That’s left the egg industry, which has poured in most of the $8.5 million contributed to defeat the measure. The No campaign, Californians for Safe Food, has been using this money to run a flurry of ads warning of more expensive food prices and less safe eggs coming in from Mexico. They Yes side has countered with their own economic arguments and an undercover video shot at one of the state’s largest egg-laying facilities. They’ll have their work cut out for them with California’s pro-animal and environmental voters, though. Most polls show Prop. 2 leading by a wide margin. If passed, it would not go into effect until 2015, in order to allow farms time to comply.

Proposition 3:
Children’s Hospital Bond

This is the second installment of a bond for children’s hospitals, the first of which was approved by California voters in 2004. That bond, Proposition 61, authorized the sale of $750 million in bonds for hospitals dedicated to treating sick children. Now, voters are being asked to fork over another $980 million for construction and expansion projects for these 13 hospitals statewide.
Proponents say the money is desperately needed for these under-funded facilities, while taxpayer groups say the increased bond debt amounts to an unnecessary tax increase on Californians.

An interesting note for Capitol denizens – the ballot arguments against Proposition 3 were co-authored by Flashreport editor Jon Fleischman.

Proposition 4:
Parental notification of abortion

The debate over whether a pregnant minor should be allowed to obtain an abortion without parental consent has been raging for decades in California. In 1953 a state law went into effect that said minors are entitled to the same types of pregnancy-related medical care that are available to adults should be available to minors as well. That law, coupled with later legal developments regarding abortion, has been interpreted to mean that minors can obtain abortions without their parents’ permission and without notifying them. In 1987, the Legislature approved and the governor signed a law that required minors to obtain their parents’ permission for an abortion. The state Supreme Court rejected that law in 1997. Under current law, a pregnant minor can obtain abortion without notifying or obtaining the consent of her parents.

Proposition 4 would prohibit a pregnant minor – except for those who are known as legally emancipated minors – from getting an abortion until 48 hours after the doctor notifies the minor’s parent or legal guardian. There are exceptions to the notification rule in cases of emergency, a court’s determination that the minor is mature or the abortion is in the best interests. Proposition 4 requires doctors to report abortions, and holds them liable for damages if they don’t. A yes vote seeks to change the constitution to require the notification; a no vote seeks to keep the existing law.

Proponents, led by children’s-rights and pro-choice groups, believe current law cloaks sexual predators, whose crimes can be cloaked by the secrecy surrounding abortions. They believe family members should be involved in a minor’s decisions. The believe Proposition 4 will reduce teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

Proposition 5:
Drug-treatment and diversion programs

Proposition 5 would provide $460 million to sharply expand and improve drug-treatment programs for people who have been convicted of drug and other offenses. A fundamental goal of the measure is to reduce prison overcrowding.

The measure limits the authority of the courts to imprison people who are convicted of certain non-violent drug-related crimes, or who violate parole or treatment rules. It shortens parole for nonviolent drug offenses, and increases parole for serious and violent felonies. It also divides the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation into two agencies – one for Corrections and one for Rehabilitation.

According to the legislative analyst, the measure would cost about $1 billion annually, largely through the expansion of offender-treatment programs.

Proponents, led by drug-policy reform advocates, say the state’s prison overcrowding will be safely eased, and that the state could save billions of dollars annually—perhaps $2.5 billion a year when the program is up and running. They contend that there is no adequate drug-treatment system for at-risk youths, and that families have nowhere to turn. They note that Proposition 36, a drug-diversion measure approved earlier by voters, has graduated 84,000 people and saved the state some $2 billion.

Opponents, including law enforcement and victim-rights groups, believe Proposition 5 will lead to high social costs for increased drug crimes, domestic violence, consumer fraud and other offenses. They believe Proposition 5 offers a free pass to drug criminals who are also involved in numerous other crimes, thus making their prosecution more difficult. It also weakens current drug laws by allowing offenders to continue using drugs while undergoing treatment.

Proposition 6:
Funding for law enforcement, crackdown on gangs:

Proposition 6 targets a number of law enforcement issues, including more money for state and local law enforcement, and a crackdown on criminal gangs and gang-related offenses.
The measure requires $965 million in state funding – directly from the state’s General Fund – for police and sheriff’s agencies, prosecutors, parole offices, jails and juvenile halls. The funding would be pegged to the Consumer Price Index, which means it could rise in future years.

It also adds time to prison sentences for some offenses, such as a 10-year enhancement for use of a possession of a concealed weapon by a convicted felon, in some cases, and adds to the length of sentences in some car-theft cases, and for possession and trafficking in methamphetamine. It requires the development of databases to target gangs, imposes a 10-year sentence increase on gang members for violent felonies and provides GPS gear to monitor gangs, sex offenders and others.

Supporters say the measure stems from the desire of law enforcement and crime victims’ groups to crack down on crime, especially gang-related crime. Proposition 5 puts public safety as the top priority – in accordance with the will of the governor, and the measure makes up for the lack of support that law enforcement receives from the Legislature, supporters say.

The opponents include the professional firefighters and minority-rights advocates, who say the proposition will spend money with little accountability, and that it will take scarce dollars from schools, health care, fire protection and other critical programs.  It will spend money on prisons and jails, but won’t assure that more officers are put on the street, they say, adding that Proposition 6 will expand the bureaucracy and duplicate efforts that already exist.

Proposition 7:
Solar and Clean Energy

This year features a pair of environmental initiatives opposed by most environmental groups. Of the two, Prop. 7 probably enjoys more environmental support—but it’s still being opposed by the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and scores of other groups. The initiative was put on the ballot with $7.25 million from Peter Sperling, the son of the founder of the University of Phoenix. The bad blood flowed early, with meetings between clean energy groups and the sponsors degenerating into confrontations. Prop. 7 would boost California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) requirements to 40% by 2020 and 50% by 2025. But opponents say it is badly written—for instance, excluding small-scale solar arrays, which should be one of the most scalable technologies, from counting towards the RPS. Much of the oversight of the process would move over from the Public Utilities Commission to the California Energy Commission. The main opposition group is Californians Against Another Costly Energy Scheme, a marriage of convenience joining green groups with huge utilities like PG&E, Sempra and Edison International, who have poured in nearly $30 million. The Yes side, in turn, has made the power company involvement a centerpiece of their campaign.

Proposition 8:
Eliminates the Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry

To a casual watcher of state politics, this might seem like the only initiative on the ballot. California became the second state to legalize gay marriage in June when the state Supreme Court ruled the ban on the practice unconstitutional. But this fight has been brewing for years, with several anti-gay marriage ballot measures active with the Secretary of State’s office at any given time just in case the court made such a ruling. About $50 million has poured in on both sides, with the Yes on 8 Protect Marriage campaign wielding an advantage of several million dollars. Polling in August and September showed a significant lead for the No side, led by the gay-rights organization Equality California. More recent polls, however, seem to have showed a narrowing or a slight lead for the Yes side. This is largely due to huge new contributions coming from Mormon groups, as well as ads claiming the initiative would force public schools to teach gay marriage—something the No side has accurate said is not true. The Yes side has also tried to say that Californians already decided the matter when they passed Prop. 22—a non-constitutional ban on gay marriage—with 61 percent of the vote in 2000. No matter who wins, this one still might not be over after election day.  

Proposition 9

One of several crime-related propositions on the Nov. 4 ballot, Proposition 9 seeks to improve the participation of victims and victims’ families in the fate of the criminals who committed the acts.

The measure would require officials to provide victims with notice about the criminal’s – or alleged criminal’s – passage through the judicial system. The victim would be notified, and allowed to offer input,  about bail, sentencing, parole, pleas and release from custody. The proposition places victim safety as its primary goal, and increases the number of people allowed to attend and testify on behalf of victims at  hearings. It also reduces the number of people that the prisoner is allowed.

Over the years, a number of victims’ rights groups have evolved in California, in part because of the perception that the judicial system deals too leniently with criminals. The measure was developed in part by Henry Nicholas III, a wealthy high-tech businessman, whose sister, a college student, was murdered years ago by her boyfriend.

Supporters of Proposition 9 say the measure will protect victims by alerting them when criminals are released, require judges to take victim safety into account, allow victims to prevent release of confidential information to criminal defendants, blocks the release of prisoners to alleviate prison overcrowding and curtails the number of prisoners’ parole hearings. The backers include the head of the National Organization of Parents of Murdered Children.

 Opponents note that Proposition 9 was financed almost entirely by Nicholas, who had personal reasons for putting the measure before voters. A number of the provisions of Proposition 9 already exist in California law, such as the rights for victims to be heard throughout the legal process, which was approved by voters earlier. They also note that California has some of the strictest parole laws in the nation. For example, they say the annual parole rate for those convicted of second-degree murder or manslaughter, for example, is less than 1 percent of those eligible for 20 years.

Proposition 10
Alternative Fuels

This initiative would authorize the use of $5 billion from the state’s general fund towards renewable energy research and promoting cleaner cars. But the main sponsor is Clean Energy Fuels Corp. (CEF)—a company owned by billionaire investor T. Boone Pickens, the man behind the “Swift Boat” ads that helped sink Democratic nominee John Kerry in the 2004 presidential race. If that wasn’t enough to sour environmentalists on their measure, many also say it would amount to a huge giveaway to the Picken’s company. Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) vehicles would get a huge subsidy under Prop. 10, even though many environmentalists say they won’t be a major part of the state’s path towards limited greenhouse gas emission. CEF, which is one of the leading suppliers of CNG vehicles and related technology, has given $3.7 million to support the measure. So far, there hasn’t been much organized—or funded—opposition. The Union of Concerned Scientists and other groups have been trying to draw attention to the measure. A No on Proposition 10 has formed and gathered $125,000 from labor unions and others.

Proposition 11

This measure would take the power of drawing legislative districts out of the hands of the state Legislature. This initiative, pushed b
y Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, is the spawn of the governor’s Proposition 77, which was rejected by voters in 2005.
But unlike that initiative, the map making process for Congressional districts is not impacted by Proposition 11. The legislature would still draw those maps, even if Prop. 11 is approved.

But map-making for the Legislature and Board of Equalization would be handed over to a new, 14-member commission. The commission would consist of five Democrats, five Republicans and four members not affiliated with either party. Commission members may not have been political candidates for any state or federal office, may not be lobbyists and may not have contributed more than $2,000 to any one political candidate.

The initiative would also return the idea of “nesting” two Assembly districts within one Senate district. But nesting would be done “to the extent possible, without conflicting with other criteria.”

Divisions exist over how much impact, if any Proposition 11 would have on legislative races and districts. Schwarzenegger maintains it would foster legislative competition, and lead to the election of more moderate members. Opponents say it is a Republican power grab that would lead to GOP gains in the Legislature. But even that claim is disputed by many Democratic-friendly groups, who have remained neutral on the initiative.

California voters have not been kind to redistricting proposals in the past, and recent polls indicate Proposition 11 faces long odds. But the governor has raised millions – much of it from out of state – to push the measure, and the under-funded No campaign will not be able to match proponents’ resources.

Proposition 12
Veterans Bond

This measure was placed on the ballot after unanimous votes in both the state Assembly and state Senate. Proposition 12 would provide $900 million for loans to help veterans purchase homes or farms.

The bond is the lastest in the Cal-Vet program, which first received funding from state voters in 1921. The bond money is used by the state Dept. of Veterans affairs to purchase homes, which are then sold to veterans. Veterans pay their monthly payments to the department, instead of a band.

Unlike other bond measures on the ballot, this one has wide support from Republicans as well as Democrats. The ballot arguments in favor of Prop. 12 were authored by three current and former Republican Assemblymembers – Mark Wyland, Greg Aghazarian and Tony Strickland.

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