By Janice Bitters, Will Carruthers, Grace Hase, Josh Koehn
Issues proposed in California’s statewide ballot measures can sometimes be as opaque as they are varied, which is why our reporters decided to wade through the morass to help make voting easier. Below are breakdowns of the big decisions going to state voters on Nov. 3:
In 2004, California voters approved Proposition 71, which created and funded the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), a public agency that distributes funds to pay for stem cell research. The $3 billion allotted by Prop. 71 ran out last year and the issue is back in voter’s hands with Prop. 14 on this year’s ballot. If it passes, the state would issue $5.5 billion in bonds to fund additional CIRM research grants for years to come. While the pro-Prop. 14 campaign has spent $9.1 million in support versus $0 in opposition, critics, like the San Francisco Chronicle’s editorial board, argue that the CIRM funding pot contributed to the rise of “opportunistic quacks hawking stem cell snake oil.”
Today, all property taxes—whether it’s homes, office buildings or golf courses—are capped at the purchase price with a 2 percent annual tax increase. Prop. 15 would mandate commercial properties be assessed every three years and taxed at their current fair market value. The measure would not apply to residential properties. Proponents, including the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Working Partnerships USA and California Teachers Association, say the measure will apply primarily to large companies and generate between $6.5 trillion and $11.5 trillion for local governments and schools. Opponents, including the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, California Business Roundtable and California Taxpayers Association, say the tax increases will trickle down to small businesses and customers and push business out of California.
In 1996, California voters banned the use of affirmative action, but 24 years later a majority of state lawmakers are looking to bring it back. Prop. 16 would reinstate affirmative action, meaning universities and public entities could factor someone’s gender, race or ethnicity into admissions or hiring decisions. Supporters, who include Gov. Gavin Newsom, Sen. Kamala Harris and the state’s NAACP conference, say that it would level the playing field for people of color. Meanwhile, opponents like the California Republican Party, the Asian American Legal Foundation and the Chinese American Alliance say that it would legalize discrimination.
Prop 17 would restore voting rights for parolees with felony convictions. The current law on the books requires individuals to complete both their prison sentence and parole before being able to reclaim the right to vote. Supporters, which include the ACLU of California, Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Brennan Center for Justice, say that denying parolees the right to vote extends punishment and disproportionately disenfranchises people of color. But opponents, like the California Republican Party, Crime Victims United California and the Election Integrity Project California, say that parolees need to prove they can be rehabilitated before they can vote again.
If Prop. 18 passes, 17-year-olds will be able to vote in primary and special elections as long as they’re 18 by the time of the next general election. Currently, 18 states and Washington D.C. give 17-year-olds this right. Supporters, like Secretary of State Alex Padilla, the ACLU of Southern California and Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Cupertino), say that it will allow first-time voters to participate in the full election cycle and boost youth voter turnout. However, opponents, like the Election Integrity Project California, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the California Republican Party, say that 17-year-olds are still kids who could be easily influenced by teachers or counselors.
Prop. 19 would allow homeowners who are 55 or older, disabled or wildfire and disaster victims to transfer their primary home’s tax base up to three times, up from the one-time move allowed today. The lower tax base could also still be passed to children, but only if they plan to live in the home, or if the property is a farm. Proponents, including the NAACP, California Democratic Party and California Business Roundtable, say the measure would close “unfair tax loopholes” for out-of-state investors and offer older residents more freedom. Opponents, including Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the ACLU of Southern California, don’t agree with the provision mandating children live in the home to get the tax break.
California’s prisons were already bursting at the seams before the pandemic hit, and the overcrowding led to a wave of deaths that health experts and civil rights activists called preventable. Prop. 20 would lead to more women and men ending up behind bars by allowing some property crimes of more than $250, such as “serial shoplifting” and car theft, to be charged as felonies instead of misdemeanors. The law would also increase the rate of recidivism and create a DNA database for people convicted of other low-level crimes, such as drug possession, furthering the goals of conservative prosecutors and police unions who would rather see the carceral state flourish than work on other meaningful reforms.
Rent control is on the ballot for the second time in two years, and advocates hope the pandemic and economic downturn will push Californians to expand renter protections. Prop. 21 would allow cities and counties to pass rent control for more properties than currently allowed, including those built before 2005 and owned by landlords with more than two properties. Single-family homes would be exempt. Proponents, including the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Sen. Bernie Sanders and California’s public employees union, say the measure is key to tackling homelessness. Opponents, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, the state’s Republican Party and large apartment developers, say Prop. 21 would worsen the housing crisis by disincentivizing landlords from renting and developers from building.
When tech companies spend a couple hundred million dollars supporting an initiative, it’s an easy answer on who stands to gain the most from its passage. Uber, Lyft and other gig companies want the state to exempt them from treating their workers as employees instead of independent contractors, thereby saving the companies gobs of money. The passage of AB 5 last year threw a wrench in the way numerous industries compensate freelance and part-time workers, and Prop. 22 seeks to limit the amount of pay and benefits gig companies are required to cough up. A few concessions in the prop, such as strengthened rules on driver background checks, appear to be window dressing meant to cover up the fact that Prop. 22 would require a 7/8th supermajority in the state Legislature to amend, which would basically give control of any changes over to the Republican minority.
We are a nation going through a global health crisis, and access to safe and reliable treatment should be a priority for all of us, right? Prop. 23 would force kidney dialysis clinics to have at least one physician on site during operating hours to better respond during emergencies, and it would require data on infections to be reported to the state. The initiative would also stop clinics from discriminating against patients for their type of insurance. Dialysis companies oppose the effort, saying staffing levels are already adequate and the enhanced regulations would cut into their bottom line and force some clinics to close. California unions and the state Democratic Party support Prop. 23, and they’ve argued that dialysis companies are making serious bank so those profits should coincide with better patient protections.
The pet project of real estate investor Alastair Mactaggart, Prop. 24 would update California’s consumer privacy laws and create a state Privacy Protection Agency to enforce the rules. The initiative’s supporters, including a handful of elected Democrats, say it would increase user’s control over their personal data. Opponents, including the ACLU, Green Party and Republican Party, warn that the proposition was written behind the scenes and opens up new loopholes which companies can exploit. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) landed somewhere in-between. Declining to endorse or oppose the proposition, the EFF wrote that Prop. 24 is “a mixed bag of partial steps backwards and forwards.”
If Prop. 25 passes, it would uphold a 2018 California law that would end cash bail and instead use a risk-based algorithm to decide who gets out of jail while awaiting trial. Supporters, which include the SEIU California State Council, the League of Women Voters of California and Gov. Gavin Newsom, say that Prop. 25 would eliminate an unfair system for those who can’t afford to pay bail. Criminal justice advocates have been trying to get rid of cash bail for years, but many argue that Prop. 25 isn’t the solution. Opponents, like the California Black Chamber of Commerce and the ACLU of Southern California, say that the algorithm could create more biased outcomes for people of color. Bail bond groups, such as the American Bail Coalition, also oppose the measure, but for different reasons. They say that it would eliminate their industry, put public safety at risk and cost taxpayers more money.