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Theft and drug crackdown? Proposed measure to reform Prop 47 gathers last signatures for November ballot

Prop 47 reform measure likely to go on November ballot in California
Prop 47 reform measure likely to go on November ballot in California 03:20

SACRAMENTO -- It wasn't on the primary election ballot Super Tuesday, but a measure looking to crack down on crime likely will go before California voters in the November general election.

It's a bipartisan push to reform Proposition 47 that organizers say is gaining more momentum by the minute. The measure is called The Homelessness, Drug Addiction, and Theft Reduction Act.

"It is not a blue or a red issue. It's a Californian issue," Greg Totten said. "Here in California, the public is at a tipping point."

Totten is CEO of the California District Attorneys Association and is now retired from his longtime role as Ventura County district attorney.

The measure's stated purpose is to reform laws that have "dramatically increased homelessness, drug addiction, and theft throughout California."

Those laws were passed by voters in 2014 under Prop 47, or the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act.

Part of the original proposition, to reduce prison overcrowding and mass incarceration, lowered the penalties for many theft and drug crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, even on repeat offenses.

"The truth is that the only way to address the unintended consequences of Prop 47 is to go back to the voters," said Totten.

The proposed measure is gathering the last wave of signatures needed to get this on the November ballot. Organizers say they have already gathered more than 500,000 signatures backing it, predicting they'll hit the minimum of just over 546,000 signatures needed before their end-of-April deadline.

If the measure gets on the ballot, Totten said it aims to do three things:

  1. Restore accountability for repeat theft offenders
  2. Incentivize those who possess hard drugs to receive treatment and face stricter punishment
  3. Address the fentanyl crisis

California has been grappling with rampant retail theft for years now, as offenders who do not breach the $950 felony threshold for theft can steal just under that amount daily under Prop 47 without their repeated thefts ever adding up to reach felony status.

Critics of the law say this enables theft with no consequence. The proposed measure will address that head-on, Totten said.

"So if you are convicted three times of stealing from a store, on the third offense you can be prosecuted for a felony. It's restoring some common sense and accountability in our law," he said.

The ballot measure does not propose lowering the felony threshold back down from $950, instead opting to focus on repeat offenses adding up. It also adds a provision for smash and grabs, where sentences could be enhanced under the law for stealing an excessive amount of property.

The proposed amendments to Prop 47 also hone in on homelessness.

"Since Prop 47, homelessness in California has gone up 51%. The rest of the nation, it's gone down 11%," Totten said.

Totten added that help in the growing homeless crisis starts with the measure's focus on harsher drug penalties – again, for repeat offenders.

"Our goal is to incentivize them into treatment. So if they continue to possess drugs, they can be held accountable for a felony," Totten said.

Targeting the fentanyl crisis specifically, Totten said that under this measure, a trafficker who sells large quantities of fentanyl or is armed with a firearm and selling fentanyl can be held accountable in a more severe way than under existing law.

The measure would also give back some discretion to judges, which was taken away under Prop 47, to allow them to decide if certain serious drug and theft offenders should serve their sentence in state prison rather than county jail.

"We are ratcheting up the consequences to deal with those crimes," Totten said.

While there is a good amount of Democrat support behind the measure, Gov. Gavin Newsom has publicly said he does not support reforming Prop 47, saying he prefers to tackle some law change in the legislature instead of sending it back to voters.

For more about The Homelessness, Drug Addiction, and Theft Reduction Act and how to sign their ballot petition, visit this website.

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