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EXCLUSIVE: Leaked emails reveal Newsom's office will not negotiate crime bills, unless DAs pull 2024 ballot measure to amend Prop. 47

Newsom's office will not negotiate over 2024 ballot measure to amend Prop. 47, leaked emails show
Newsom's office will not negotiate over 2024 ballot measure to amend Prop. 47, leaked emails show 03:57

An email chain obtained by CBS News California Investigates reveals that the Governor's Chief of Staff would not negotiate to strengthen a Democratic package of crime bills unless a coalition of crime victims, retailers, and law enforcement leaders would agree to postpone thier ballot measure until 2026.

At issue is the proposed Homelessness, Drug Addiction, and Theft Reduction Act. It's intended to reform Prop. 47, which is the 2014 voter-approved law that reduced punishments for drug possession and thefts under $950.

The ballot proposal has been billed as a Republican-led initiative, but it's actually sponsored by a group of victims' advocates, business and public safety leaders -- including former prominent DAs.

Top donors for the ballot measure, which has now qualified for the ballot, include Walmart and Target. 

In an effort to address crime in California, without going back to voters to amend Prop 47, Democratic leadership came up with its own set of bills that lawmakers can pass, without voter approval. The Governor created this legislative framework to address property crime, as well as some of the limitations related to the Prop 47, but it does not go as far as the ballot measure itself. 

Democratic leadership has publicly agreed to negotiate with the initiative coalition to strengthen its package of bills. 

However, based on these emails – first obtained by CBS News California – it appears negotiations have stalled and the Governor's Office would prefer Californians not vote on reforming Prop. 47 this year.  

In one email, the Governor's Chief of Staff Dana Williamson tells the coalition's lead negotiator, Greg Totten, that leadership is willing to negotiate on its package of crime bills, which would take effect immediately, clarifying "As far as an initiative, we are open to something in 2026." 

Totten replies, "As I noted previously, our focus is on amending Proposition 47 on the 2024 ballot." adding, "If the administration is prepared to consider an amendment of Proposition 47 on the 2024 ballot, then we are happy to meet."

Williamson responds, "If that's your position then I agree, there's nothing to talk about. She adds, "It's really amazing how you are incapable of taking a win. And the consultants you're working with haven't won anything in a decade. Good luck."

Above: An email chain, obtained by CBS News California Investigates, reveals the governor's Chief of Staff did not want to negotiate with the initiative coalition unless they agreed to postpone their ballot measure until 2026.
Click here to open in a new window.

Following the breakdown in negotiations, Democratic leaders added a so-called 'poison pill' to their bills on Monday that would automatically repeal them if voters pass the ballot measure in November.

Several prominent democrats broke ranks with leadership, pulling their bills from the package, or pulling their names off bills, in light of the decision to move forward with the repeal clause. It's not clear now whether leadership will have the votes needed to get the package passed. 

Neither the Governor's Office nor the coalition was available for an interview on Monday. However, they issued the following statements. 

Greg Totten, CDAA / Californians for Safety and Justice: 

"While I'm not willing to comment on negotiations about the ballot measure, I can say that we've had one objective in pursuing this ballot measure: to address the unintended consequences of parts of Proposition 47, which have resulted in a surge in retail theft, fentanyl trafficking, and overdose deaths. Additionally, we aim to provide stronger incentives for getting hard drug users into treatment. Unfortunately, state leaders are prioritizing politics over public safety."

Governor's office: 

"We regularly engage with a diverse range of stakeholders from across the political spectrum. The California District Attorneys Association requested a meeting with our office but canceled. It appears their decision was based on a position that does not reflect the consensus of their broader coalition.

(This story was updated to add a response from the Governor's office.) 

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