California further delays lethal injection regulations

As reported by the Associated Press:

California corrections officials are delaying their new lethal injection regulations by four months, officials announced Monday, pushing back this week’s deadline until late August.

The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation needs more time to update the proposed rules after an initial version was rejected by state regulators in December, spokeswoman Terry Thornton said.

The move drew immediate criticism from a legal foundation that sued to force the state to switch to a single drug to carry out the death penalty.

No inmates have been executed in California since 2006. The state now has nearly 750 condemned inmates, the nation’s largest death row by far.

Office of Administrative Law Director Debra Cornez granted the department’s request for a delay in a letter dated Friday but disclosed on Monday. …

Click here to read the full article

Californians Narrowly Vote to Speed Up Death Penalty Process

Death PenaltyA measure to speed up executions in California was projected to pass Tuesday night, according to the Associated Press.

Proposition 66, which aims to cap death-sentence appeals at five years, stands at 51.1 percent of the vote. While such a slim margin of victory would usually suggest the electorate is divided, a competing measure to end the death penalty altogether was rejected by 53.4 percent of voters (ballots are still being counted, so totals may change).

“California voters not only want to keep the death penalty intact but they want it to work as intended,” said Anne Marie Schubert, Sacramento County district attorney, who called Prop. 66’s lead “insurmountable.”

Prop. 66 speeds up the appeals process by expanding the number of courts and attorneys able to hear and try death penalty appeals to meet a five-year cap on the appeals process that currently takes decades. A court order could be sought when cases drag on.

Stance stands out

In a cycle when voters chose a cornucopia of liberal policies, like implementing a $2-per-pack tax on cigarettes, extending a tax on the highest incomes, legalizing recreational marijuana, placing further restrictions on guns and ammo and upholding a ban on plastic bags, the death penalty position stands out.

In fact, voters at the same time resoundingly approved a measure that would allow (but not guarantee) early parole for thousands of “non-violent” inmates, showing that Californians’ soft spot hardens when it comes to those considered the worst of the worst.

“Californians have long been a bit schizoid when it comes to the death penalty,” said John J. Pitney, Jr., a Roy P. Crocker professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College.

Pitney recalled Democrat Dianne Feinstein’s campaign ad from the 1990 gubernatorial race. Feinstein, who is currently a U.S. senator, but at the time had just finished a second term as mayor of San Francisco, pitched herself as pro-choice, pro-environment and “the only Democrat for governor for the death penalty.”

Good policy?

While some debate the morality of the death penalty, others argue it is an ineffective policy.

According to data provided by the Legislative Analyst’s Office, no one has been executed since 2006. The vast majority of Death Row inmates will die of other causes long before the state kills them (Prop. 66 will presumably speed this process up, although there’s still legal complications with the lethal injection process).

And it’s costly: The state spends $55 million each year on death penalty appeals, for both prosecutors and court-appointed defense attorneys.

Opponents use the inefficiency and cost of the current system as grounds for abolition of the death penalty. But that may have ultimately been their undoing, said Pitney.

“In recent years, opponents of the death penalty have argued that it is too inefficient and costly,” Pitney said. “That argument may have backfired, at least in this state. Instead of abolishing it, voters backed a measure to make it more efficient.”

Prop. 66 Looks to Speed Up Executions on Death Row

Death PenaltyTomorrow, voters will consider not one but two measures involving the death penalty — one speeds up the process while the other would stop it entirely.

If approved, Prop. 62 would repeal the death penalty and commute the condemned sentences to life without parole. On the other hand, Prop. 66 would speed up the process by expanding the number of courts and attorneys able to hear and try death penalty appeals to meet a five-year cap on the appeals process that currently takes decades. (If both measures pass, the highest vote-getter would become law.)

But failure to meet the five-year time frame would not commute the sentence or throw out the appeal, according to the proposed language. So what happens at the five-year mark?

“If the process takes more than five years, victims or their attorneys could request a court order to address the delay,” said Drew Soderborg, managing principal analyst with the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office. “Because it is unknown how often this would happen or how courts would rule on such a requests, it is difficult to know what the effect would be.”

A court order could pump a sense of urgency into whichever party or court is holding up the process — the violation of which could be punishable in some instances.

Is the system broken?

Proponents of both measures agree that the current system is broken. The appeals process takes decades at a tremendous cost to the state ($55 million annually), which has to prosecute as well as defend in many instances.

Because of legal complications with the lethal injection process, the state hasn’t executed anyone since 2006. In fact, only 15 inmates have been executed since 1978, while 100 have died while waiting, according to an LAO analysis of the measure.

Currently, there are around 750 inmates on Death Row. Some supporters of a total repeal of the death penalty argue it’s a cruel and unusual punishment, while others point to exonerations, which, while not entirely common, happen frequently enough to worry critics about executing innocent people. Since 1973, 156 people have been exonerated nationwide, including three in California, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Prop. 66 would reform the system in an entirely different way — by speeding it up. The measure would increase the pool of eligible attorneys qualified to represent condemned inmates by forcing them to do it. Many who are qualified don’t like to represent death penalty appeals because of inadequate state funding and the major time commitment.

The number of courts in which cases could be heard would be increased under Prop. 66 by sending one type of appeal (habeas corpus petitions) back to the initial court to see if any error had been made. As of April, there were 360 Death Row inmates waiting for habeas corpus petitions.

Critics say Prop. 66’s five-year cap is arbitrary. But proponents say it’s enough time in most instances.

“Prop. 66 limits state appeals to 5 years instead of allowing  convicted criminals to file appeal after appeal after appeal,” said Bill Bradley, a spokesman for Prop. 66. “However, the initiative does not impose a rigid deadline that must be met in every case as extraordinary cases may take longer. With that said, five years is generally sufficient to get through state appeals, even in the most complex cases.”

This piece was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Competing Death Penalty Measures Revive Emotional Feud

Death PenaltySACRAMENTO – Thirty years ago, California voters did something unprecedented (and not seen since): They bounced Chief Justice Rose Bird from the supreme court. Two other state high-court justices also failed to win reconfirmation to the court, following an intense political battle centering on the justices’ opposition to the death penalty.

It was easy for many people to understand the emotional nature of the issue during mid-1980s. Crime rates had soared by 276 percent over a 20-year period. They had begun to fall again in the late 1980s, but political angst often trails the data. Justice Bird rejected the death penalty in all 64 such cases that came before her and so became a lightning rod for those upset over crime. Crime rates crept up again in the early 1990s, but have been falling precipitously since.

Now, there’s been a recent spike in crime, and a debate over the role some recent incarceration policies have played in that uptick. For instance, some blame Proposition 47, the 2014 voter initiative that reduced some felonies to misdemeanors, and the governor’s realignment policy, which houses some prison inmates in county jails. Others say the data doesn’t back up those claims, and that crime rates ebb and flow for various reasons.

Whatever the case, crime rates remain relatively low – and the crime issue doesn’t come close to generating the emotions it did during the Rose Bird controversy. Nevertheless, voters on Nov. 8 are being asked to revisit the death-penalty issue in two competing initiatives. It’s a crowded ballot, with 17 initiatives overall, which explains in part why these measures have not garnered much attention. But they offer Californians two starkly different choices.

In Proposition 62, voters are being asked whether to repeal the death penalty for those found guilty of murder and replace it with life in prison without the possibility of parole. In Proposition 66, voters are asked whether to streamline the appeals process to make it easier for the state to execute convicted murderers. When initiatives are contradictory, the one that receives the highest votes prevails. An interesting showdown is in the works.

Ironically, Prop. 62 would put an end to executions that rarely happen anyway. The last execution in California took place a decade ago – all executions have been delayed because of legal challenges to the use of lethal injections. The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office puts the numbers in perspective: “As of April 2016, of the 930 individuals who received a death sentence since 1978, 15 have been executed, 103 have died prior to being executed, 64 have had their sentences reduced by the courts, and 748 are in state prison with death sentences.”

Those realities actually bolster the case made by the supporters of both initiatives. Backers of Prop. 62 argue that the state’s death penalty is a failed system because so few people are actually executed. The cost per execution, they argue, is $384 million as they languish on costly death rows. Instead of endless delays, they propose doing away with the penalty – something supporters say will provide “real closure” for families of victims. Instead of fighting in courts, convicted murderers will have a permanent sentence and will never be allowed to go free.

Backers of Prop. 66 say the solution to the lack of executions is to speed up the appeals process. “There are nearly 2,000 murders in California annually,” according to supporters’ official ballot argument. “Only about 15 death penalty sentences are imposed. But when these horrible crimes occur, and a jury unanimously recommends death, the appeals should be heard within five years, and the killer executed.” Both initiatives require these inmates to work.

Opponents of Prop. 66 raise concerns that speeding up the appeals process will cause innocents to potentially be executed, whereas supporters argue that their initiative will allow plenty of time to assure that innocent people aren’t executed. This proposition attempts to speed up the process by requiring “that habeas corpus petitions first be heard in the trial courts,” according to the LAO analysis. It also “places time limits on legal challenges to death sentences” and “changes the process for appointing attorneys to represent condemned inmates.”

The San Francisco Chronicle raises concerns about the attorney appointment process in the initiative: “Condemned inmates often must wait years for representation. The measure attempts to compel attorneys to take up capital appeals by excluding them from certain other defense work. This raises two serious concerns: One is the prospect that attorneys less steeped in the fine points of capital appeals — and it is a specialized part of the law — will be representing inmates with lives on the line. The other is the possibility of attorneys enlisted against their free will in these appeals.”

Contra Costa County District Attorney Mark Peterson, writing in the San Jose Mercury News, argued that “Defense attorneys refuse to represent death row inmates in order to thwart the process, so it takes an average of five years before a condemned inmate is even assigned an attorney.”

Proposition 62 is more straightforward than Proposition 66. The former ends the death penalty – even for those currently on death row – and replaces it with “life without parole.” The latter includes a series of complex reforms designed to “mend” the current system. For voters, however, the choice will come down less to the specific details and more to their overall outlook. If they want to end the death penalty, they’ll vote yes on 62. If they want to speed up its use, they’ll back 66.

A recent public-opinion poll from Sacramento State’s Institute for Social Research showed Proposition 62 losing 45-37 and Proposition 66 winning 51 to 20. So while the level of contentiousness over the death penalty is far different now than it was in 1986, it seems that public attitudes about it haven’t changed much in 30 years.

Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. He is based in Sacramento. Write to him at sgreenhut@rstreet.org.

This piece was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

These Are 4 Ballot Measures That Actually Deserve a “Yes” Vote

vote-buttonsMost of the oxygen in the room for this November’s election is being sucked up by the prolific and particularly vitriolic presidential showdown between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.  You may be focused on that race because of your desire to make everything great again, or just a morbid fascination with reality TV-meets-American politics.

That said, if you’re from California and you look down-ticket, you’ll quickly encounter “Ballot-Measure-Palooza” – 17 different measures waiting for you to do some ballot box governing.

My default on ballot measures is to vote “no,” unless there is a compelling reason to vote “yes.”  There are, in my opinion, four measures that are no-brainer “yes” votes – and so I wanted to run through them, and why I am voting for them.

Prop. 53 – The No Blank Checks Initiative. This measure would require that when state policymakers want to issue revenue bonds for a project that exceeds $2 billion, they must first have that approved by a vote of the people. This is a brilliant idea because, frankly, there is no adult supervision in the State Capitol.  Special interests own the place, and since they make big bucks from state spending, it stands to reason they love to see any new revenues.  This measure ensures a reasonable case for this epic amount of borrowing must be made to We, the People.  I wrote about this measure in detail here.

Prop. 54 – The California Legislature Transparency Act.  The primary component of this measure sounds simple, but actually represents substantial reform.  It would require that any proposed legislation in the State Capitol be made available to the public in its final form for 72 hours before it can be voted upon in each chamber.  Yes, this continues the theme of applying adult supervision.  I cannot tell you the number of terrible, horrible pieces of legislation that are jammed through at the end of session.  Tax increases, new regulations, new programs – most that would raise a hue and cry of concern, except by the time the public finds out – it’s too late.  Read more about it here.

Prop. 65 – Jam The Greedy Grocers.  A couple of years ago, after trying about a hundred times, the enviro-extremists in the legislature passed a law banning single-use plastic grocery bags, and imposing a ten cent tax on each paper bag.  The tax was set up in a way that the grocery stores pocket the ten cents. Before you scratch your head, let me explain further.  For years the California Grocers Association was part of the coalition stopping the bag ban.  But on this last go-around, they switched sides, as estimates pegged the grocers’ revenues from the bag taxes at hundreds of millions of dollars. Enough voters signed petitions to halt the bag ban, and it has been placed on the ballot as Prop. 67 – on which I am voting “hell no.”  But in case it passes, I’m voting “hell yes” on 65, which would take the revenue from the greedy grocers and instead repurpose it to state environmental programs – and leave the sell-out grocers holding the bag, so to speak.  I wrote about this here.

Prop. 66 – Fix The Death Penalty, Don’t End It.  This would address legal and administrative hurdles that have resulted in only 13 death-row inmates being executed since 1978, in order to make the death penalty work.  There is another measure on the ballot, Prop. 62, that would prohibit the use of the death penalty in California.  If your value system is such that you think that no matter how despicable or evil someone is, and no matter how heinous an act of violence they commit, that being put to death by the state for your crimes is a bad idea – you’d want to vote “yes” on 62, and “no” on 66.  On the other hand, if you think that the death penalty serves as both an important deterrent to some who would commit the most horrible of crimes – often cold blooded, pre-meditated murder – and also provides for justice for surviving victims, then “yes” on 66 is an important vote to cast.  Read more here.

As you peruse the other thirteen ballot measures maybe you will find one or two you think are a good idea.  Maybe you want more state bonds issued for school construction.  Or maybe you want to be able, finally, to make those pot brownies that you’ve been craving since your days at UC Berkeley.  I will let you sort through those decisions.  But I think you will find that higher taxes and more regulations are right there on the ballot, awaiting your blessing and vote.  As if California doesn’t have high enough taxes, or more than enough regulations.

Originally published in Breibart News/California

Competing death penalty initiatives could spur confusion

There will be a minimum of seventeen measures on the Statewide ballot in November.  San Fran is adding another 39 for their voters—and your city and county may have some as well.  You will be asked to legalize marijuana, repeal the plastic bag ban, vote to take away guns and extend a tax for twelve years, at a cost of $144 billion—transferred from your business and family to the government.

Also, on the ballot are two measures dealing with the death penalty.  One would outlaw the death penalty.  The other making it faster and less complex to complete the death sentence.  There are over 700 people on California’s death row.  Last week a prisoner filed to be let at of prison, because of the cruel and unusual punishment—he had been on death row for more than 30 years (he forgot to mention that is because of all the appeals he filed).  It is time to make a decision—do we support the criminals or the victims?

“One – Proposition 66 – would preserve the death penalty for the most heinous criminals by enacting critically needed reforms to the system.

The other – Proposition 62 – would scrap the death penalty, allowing criminals who kill cops or rape and murder children to live out their lives in the relative comfort of prison.

I cannot overstate the importance of supporting Prop. 66, and doing everything we can – no matter how small – to educate others about it. If Prop. 66 fails, and California scraps the death penalty, the kind of brutal criminals who ambushed and slaughtered five police officers in Dallas Thursday night would only face life in prison if they committed those crimes here.”

Death Penalty

Competing death penalty initiatives could spur confusion

Prop. 66 will preserve and reform the death penalty system 

 

By Michele Hanisee, Association of Deputy District Attorneys,  7/19/16

 

This November, California voters will be presented with two of the most important ballot initiatives in state history.

One – Proposition 66 – would preserve the death penalty for the most heinous criminals by enacting critically needed reforms to the system.

The other – Proposition 62 – would scrap the death penalty, allowing criminals who kill cops or rape and murder children to live out their lives in the relative comfort of prison.

I cannot overstate the importance of supporting Prop. 66, and doing everything we can – no matter how small – to educate others about it. If Prop. 66 fails, and California scraps the death penalty, the kind of brutal criminals who ambushed and slaughtered five police officers in Dallas Thursday night would only face life in prison if they committed those crimes here.

To be sure, the problems with California’s current death penalty system are by no means new, and they have literally transformed a death sentence into life without parole. Since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, the state has executed only 13 inmates. A quarter of the 700-plus inmates on California’s death row have been there for more than 25 years. The average death-row inmate has spent 16 years with a death sentence.

One of the primary problems is the endless inmate appeal process of their death sentences. Prop. 66 would fix this problem, and many more.

Among other things, it would require that a defendant who is sentenced to death be appointed a lawyer at the time of sentence, meaning the defendant’s appeal will be heard sooner. It would also allow the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to reduce the cost of housing death-row inmates, and make it easier for the department to enact an execution protocol.

As we said in earlier posts, failure to pass this initiative is not an option; not only would Prop. 62 eliminate the death penalty going forward, but it would apply retroactively to people already sentenced to death.

You can sign up for campaign email updates, and volunteer for and donate to the campaign, by visiting the Californians for Death Penalty Reform and Savings website and clicking on the links on the right side of the home page.

 

Michele Hanisee is President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys. The Association of Deputy District Attorneys (ADDA) is the collective bargaining agent and represents nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles. To contact a Board Member, click here.

17 Initiatives Qualify for November Ballot

Voting boothVoters have been warned for a while to be prepared for a seemingly never-ending series of ballot measures, and on Thursday the secretary of state released the final list of what initiatives qualified.

Seventeen total. And while voters will read and learn more as the campaigns unfold between now and Election Day, here is a quick reference guide to get your bearings.

Referendum to Overturn Ban on Single-Use Plastic Bags: This is as it sounds. In 2014, the Legislature passed a ban on single-use plastic bags. So a “yes” vote would uphold the ban. A “no” vote would overturn it.

To uphold the law would ban the use of single-use carryout bags, except for perishable items. It would also impose a fee of at least $.10 per paper bag or thicker plastic bag if the customer didn’t provide a reusable one.

The ban actually died on the Assembly floor in 2014 three days before it passed. What changed? A deal was struck between the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and Safeway creating the $.10 fee, which will be kept by the grocer/retailer.

Plastic Bags, Part II: If the plastic bag ban is upheld by voters, this initiative would divert the $.10 fees for bags to a state fund to pay for environmental programs. This would be in lieu of the money going to the grocers.

Campaign Finance (Poll): This is basically just an elaborate poll. It’s a non-binding measure that allows voters through the ballot process to log their approval or disapproval of campaign finance law in the country.

A similar measure got tied up in court in 2014, as opponents called it a ploy to drive voter turnout. But in January, the state Supreme Court ruled it was allowable, and so here it is.

Specifically at question is the 2010 Citizens United ruling where the U.S. Supreme Court allowed for corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited sums in support or opposition of a political candidate.

Guns and Ammo: This is Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s pet project. This would ban magazines of 11 rounds or more, require background checks for ammunition and require the state to share data in the FBI’s background check system, among other things.

However, a bill passed by the Legislature on Thursday but not signed yet by Gov. Jerry Brown would amend this ballot initiative (yes, it amends something that isn’t yet law) to further limit who can purchase ammunition to both persons whose data matches up with the Automated Firearms System and to those who have a ammunition purchase authorization. There are some exceptions.

Naturally, this sidestep of Newsom to amend his measure ruffled his feathers, dragging him and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, the bill’s sponsor, into a public disagreement.

“This last-minute, anti-democratic, poison pill sneak attack makes you wonder if the Pro Tem cares about himself more than he cares about doing the right thing,” said Newsom spokesman Dan Newman, according to The Sacramento Bee. “Is he someone who truly respects the will of the voters and wants to reduce gun violence or is he merely a self-serving cynic completely consumed with petty personal grudges?”

Death Penalty Repeal: This repeals the death penalty as the maximum punishment for murder and replaces it with life without parole, applying retroactively to those already sentenced to death.

This has a provision mandating those who’ve been sentenced to life without parole to work, with 60 percent of their income possibly going towards restitution to victims.

The Opposite of a Death Penalty Repeal: And for those who think the death penalty should stay as the ultimate sentence for murder, this measure would speed up the process by implementing a time limit on the lengthy appeals process, by assigning the superior court for the initial review and by limiting the number of successive petitions.

Like the competing measure, this would impose a work requirement for restitution to victims.

Drug Pricing: This would set pharmaceutical prices for any state agency to be as low as what the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs pays — the VA benefits from federally mandated cost controls.

According to KPCC, the measure would apply to “any program in which the state is the ultimate payer for a drug,” which includes: Medi-Cal fee-for-service plans, CalPERS (provides health benefits to current and retired state employees), prison inmates and people receiving AIDS drugs from the government.

Condoms in Porn: This may as well be called the Condoms In Porn Act, because it would require porn actors to wear condoms during the filming of sexual intercourse.

It also requires that producers provide testing and vaccinations for STDs. And for what it’s worth, producers would also have to post the condom requirements at the job site.

No Blank Checks Initiative: This would require any bond of $2 billion or more for a state project to go before the voters for approval.

As dull as that sounds, it could have a dramatic impact on Gov. Jerry Brown’s legacy, in that it would likely put funding for the bullet train and the twin tunnels water project up to a vote of the people.

School Bond: This would authorize $9 billion in bonds for school construction and modernization, supported by a coalition of school districts and school developers. Pretty self-explanatory.

The measure failed to qualify in 2014, however, amid opposition from Gov. Jerry Brown, who said at the time local school construction was best left up to local control.

Earlier this year, Brown reiterated his opposition, calling the initiative a “blunderbuss effort that promotes sprawl and squanders money that would be far better spent in low-income communities,” according to EdSource.

FYI: Blunderbuss is a “blundering person,” according to Merriam-Webster. It’s also an old fashioned, muzzle-loading gun.

Prop. 30 extension: This is a 12-year extension of Prop. 30, which was a seven-year temporary tax on earnings of more than $250,000 annually to bolster education funding, with the extension coming two years early.

Prop. 30 passed to stave of imminent sharp cuts in education. Now that the economy has recovered, proponents want to keep the money flowing and now hospitals want a cut too.

The extension would allow a quarter-cent sales tax that was part of Prop. 30 to expire, but would add up to $2 billion in funding per year for Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program.

As part of Prop. 30, the program was supposed to receive several layers of accountability, including a state-run audit of the fund that doles out the money to schools that still hasn’t happened. The controller’s office previously told CalWatchdog the audit would likely happen before voters have to decide.

California Legislature Transparency Act: The CLTA is a constitutional amendment requiring the Legislature to make available online the final version of a bill at least 72 hours prior to a vote on either the Assembly or Senate floor. It would also require all open legislative meetings be recorded with the videos posted online within 24 hours and would give permission to individuals to record and share their own videos of open meetings.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, is currently negotiating with CLTA proponents over changes proposed by the Legislature — but the negotiations are not going well.

Multilingual Education: This would repeal most of Prop. 227, which in 1998 placed heavy restrictions on bilingual educations for English learners in favor of English-immersion education.

Why would voters overturn their prior decision? Education Week framed the debate well. Proponents argue new data shows the value of bilingual education, native English speakers would be allowed access to a bilingual education (if they choose), and because we live in a different world with rapidly changing demographics.

Why would voters keep Prop. 227 on the books? Ron Unz, a former candidate for U.S. Senate and governor who pushed for Prop. 227, argued that an overall improvement over a year-period in standardized test scores shows Prop. 227 worked. And others would likely make a nativist argument: This is America, and residents should learn English.

Medi-Cal Hospital Reimbursement: This one is a little confusing. The federal government contributes to the state’s health care program for low-income patients, called Medi-Cal. In order to get this money, the state has to contribute matching funds.

In 2009, the state passed a law taxing hospitals to help contribute to the state’s portion of the Medi-Cal funding to get the money from the feds. However, the state was diverting some of this money into the general fund.

So, this measure amends the state Constitution requiring these funds go to where they are intended.

It would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to amend the fee allocation program only when the changes would “amend or add provisions that further the purposes of the Act.” It would require voter approval to repeal or replace the program with a “similar statute imposing a tax, fee or assessment unless that similar statute is either.”

Sentencing overhaul:  Jerry Brown’s baby. After surviving a legal challenge and rumored sky-high signature collecting fees, this bill made it to the ballot just before the deadline.

Brown’s measure would allow for some nonviolent felons to be paroled early in certain instances, require judges to hold hearings prior to determining whether to try juveniles as an adult, and develop a good behavior, parole-and-sentence credit system for prisoners.

Marijuana Legalization: This would allow individuals, 21 and older, to transport and use up to an ounce of recreational pot. It would allow individuals to grow as many as six plants.

If approved, California would join Alaska, Colorado, Washington and Oregon in allowing recreational pot.

Tobacco Tax: If this passes, smokers would pay a $2-per-pack tax on cigarettes, with a similar increase on other tobacco products and e-cigs containing nicotine. The money will go primarily to healthcare and anti-smoking/tobacco-related health programs.

This piece was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Debate Rages Over CA Death Penalty

Death PenaltyObliged by a court settlement to figure out a new method of capital punishment, California officials have exacerbated the state’s protracted debate over executions by settling on a different kind of lethal injection.

With a widespread shortage of execution drugs used in the now-familiar “cocktails,” officials have now aimed to “let corrections officials choose from four types of powerful barbiturates to execute prisoners,” according to KCRA Sacramento. “A choice would be made for each execution, depending on which drug is available. The single drug would replace the series of three drugs that were last used in 2006, when 76-year-old Clarence Ray Allen was executed for ordering a triple murder.”

“The plan to use barbiturates to execute inmates sentenced to die in the most populous U.S. state drew fire from religious activists, who called capital punishment grisly and anti-democratic at a hearing in Sacramento,” Reuters reported. “Law-and-order advocates urged its adoption.”

“If the new protocol is adopted by corrections officials and voters do not outlaw the death penalty next November, the state could theoretically begin executing 18 prisoners who have exhausted their appeals. Legal challenges to the lethal injection drug, however, could drag on for years.”

Opponents of the new plan insisted that it amounted to a trial-and-error approach. “The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California is suing to obtain at least 79,000 corrections department documents related to lethal injections,” KCRA noted. “It says the regulations may lack enough safeguards to prevent the state from using backdoor ways to obtain execution drugs that manufacturers never intended for that purpose.” Past cocktails have been harshly criticized for sometimes failing to execute inmates as quickly and painlessly as lethal injection was intended to do.

Languishing inmates

Much of the frustration around the issue stems from the unique backlog that has built up on the state’s Death Row. “It’s been 10 years since California executed its last death row inmate. Since then, the death row population has grown to 745,” KQED noted. “Since 1978, 117 death row inmates have died, the vast majority from natural causes and suicide.”

Although California’s Death Row has ballooned to an extraordinary size over the years, other states have found themselves burdened by court requirements in similar ways. Florida, second to California in the size of its death row population, recently faced a Supreme Court ruling that has thrown the status of its condemned inmates into question. “Death penalty prosecutions are stalled, and state lawmakers are hustling to write and pass a new death penalty law before their session ends in six weeks,” the New York Times reported. “Also in question is whether the 390 inmates awaiting execution in Florida will remain on death row or be resentenced to life in prison.” The predicament, which has gained the attention of reformers and activists across  the political spectrum, has contributed to the rise of execution reform as a hot-button issue around the country.

Divided opinion

California’s own controversy has strengthened amid a sharp divide in statewide public opinion over capital punishment. Voters, a new poll found, have “now equally divided between scrapping the death penalty altogether and speeding up the path to executing inmates on the nation’s largest death row,” according to the San Jose Mercury News. “The poll found that 47 percent of voters favor replacing the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole in California, up from 40 percent in 2014. But at the same time, the poll shows that 48 percent of registered voters would support proposals to accelerate the state’s notoriously slow system of resolving death penalty appeals to pick up the pace of executions.” Both those proposals were likely to wind up on this election year’s ballot in the form of initiatives.

Opinions have split even among Death Row inmates themselves. “Opinions vary, just like I’m sure they vary on the outside,” one inmate, Charles Crawford II, told KQED. “Some of us are against it, some of us not so much. Some of us, it’s like if they’re going to do it, do it and not have us sittin’ here for 20 or 30 years.”

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Conservative Death Penalty Activists Say Nebraska Is First Domino

The recent repeal of the death penalty in deeply conservative Nebraska surprised the nation, and now repeal advocates are saying this is just the beginning.

Nebraska’s legislature voted Wednesday to override Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts’ veto of a bill that would abolish the death penalty, making the home of Big Red the first red state to abolish the death penalty since North Dakota in 1973. This has given hope to repeal advocates in other conservative states that still enforce capital punishment.

Gallup polls show that in 1994, 85 percent of Republicans favored the death penalty. That number dropped to 76 percent in 2014. This coincides with the lessening up of a wave of a tough on crime mentality that swept America in the 90′s because of high crime rates.

Nebraska, in which 36 of 49 state legislature seats are Republican, voted for Mitt Romney by a wide margin in the 2012 presidential race which is why so many were surprised by the repeal effort being not only strong enough to pass but also to override a veto.

Heather Beaudoin is the National Coordinator for Conservatives Concerned About The Death Penalty. She says CCATDP, which was formally launched at CPAC in 2013, is the only national conservative group dedicated to this issue, and that their strategy is to win over fiscal conservatives and evangelicals.

“I think that the main reason that evangelicals are paying attention is because we believe in redemption,” Beaudoin told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “God has the ability to transform their lives and use them for good.”

Marc Hyden, National Advocacy Coordinator for CCATDP, travels the country trying to convince Republicans that true conservatism is about being pro-life, fiscally responsible, and having limited government, things the death penalty completely contradicts. Recent surveys have found that it is actually cheaper to imprison people for life than to execute them.

“I’m just trying to raise up new voices that are against the death penalty and let others know that traditional conservatism is completely inconsistent with the death penalty,” Hyden told TheDCNF. “If you boil it down to its lowest common denominator and ask any conservative if they support a program that doesn’t achieve its goals, may kill innocent people, and costs millions more dollars than the alternatives, nine out of 10 will say we need to repeal a program that dangerous and that broken.”

Currently, bills in Arkansas, Tennessee and Texas are being considered. Montana’s repeal bill nearly passed but failed on a tied 50-50 vote.

“We’re finding that a lot of people have been against the death penalty for years, they just didn’t have a forum where they could express their concerns,” Hyden told TheDCNF.

Another common tactic Hyden and Beaudoin use is to point out the arbitrary implementation of the death penalty. County prosecutors have great discretion on whether they seek capital punishment which leads to certain prosecutors pushing for death while others accept life in prison for more terrible crimes.

“Some victim’s family members are given the death penalty for their loved ones and the others are not so that says the murder of your family member was not heinous enough,” Beaudoin told TheDCNF.

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Originally published by the Daily Caller News Foundation

Rose Bird’s Ghost Will Kill CA Death Penalty

Given that Gov. Jerry Brown was just elected to an unprecedented fourth term, it’s not surprising an old controversy would come up: the death penalty. As the Los Angeles Times reported, his recent appointments of three liberal justices to the California Supreme Court give “hope” to those on the state’s death row.

Of course, families and friends of the victims the death-row inmates killed may have a different opinion of whether there is “hope” for justice.

But the state has been through this before under Rose Bird, the controversial state Supreme Court chief justice Brown appointed in 1977, and who served until 1987. During her tenure, she voted against the death penalty 64 times in 64 appeals of death sentences. As a result, in 1986, voters refused to confirm her position on the court, as well as two other anti-death penalty justices, Cruz Reynoso and Joseph Grodin.

The three were not, as commonly stated, “recalled” from the court, although justices can be recalled the way Gov. Gray Davis was in 2003. Rather, Bird and the other two justices failed a routine confirmation. As the Secretary of State’s office explains: “Under the California Constitution, justices of the Supreme Court and the courts of appeal are subject to confirmation by the voters. The public votes ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on whether to retain each justice.”

Ballotpedia notes: “Justices of the California Supreme Court and California Courts of Appeal face retention to 12-year terms in the gubernatorial elections, which are held every four years in November.” Moreover, the only non-retention of justices in California history was that in 1986.

Green mile electric chairBrown appointments

Of Brown’s three recent appointments, in Nov. 2014, two were confirmed by voters: Goodwin Lieu (67.1 percent approval) and Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar (67.7 percent). So they next will go before voters, assuming they continue to hold these offices, in 2026.

The third justice, Leondra Kruger, was appointed after the election. So she will face confirmation by voters in 2018.

Brown also can be expected to appoint similar justices over his last four years in office. He has stated he wants to remake the court in an activist mode.

Which means the death penalty is dead in California — even though Brown, sloughing off Rose Bird’s legacy, won office in 2010 by saying he wouldn’t impede the death penalty.

Meanwhile, numerous court challenges have prevented the death penalty from being imposed in California since 2006, leaving 748 convicted murderers on Death Row. And just 13 convicted killers have been executed in the state since 1978.

In 2012, voters barely defeated Proposition 34 by 52 percent to 48 percent, which would have banned the state death penalty. Brown supported it.

Potentially, California could get around federal court limitations on the death penalty by adopting the methods of Texas, where 72 executions have been carried out since 2010. But there’s no way the California Legislature would do that; nor would Gov. Jerry Brown sign any such legislation into law.

What likely will happen is that, once the Brown Justices become a four-member majority on the seven-member court, they will decide a case that finds the death penalty is “cruel and unusual punishment.” They will not be recalled. Nor will their future confirmations be denied.

This also means all the activism of pro-death penalty Californians over the years, believing the state was a democracy that followed the voters, was misguided, if not delusional. On this as on so many other issues, your vote does not count.

In California, the death penalty is dead.

This piece was originally published by CalWatchdog.com