‘Assault Weapon’ Requirements Withdrawn by California DOJ

Assault weapon 2California’s Department of Justice has repealed “assault weapon” regulations it had submitted to the Office of Administrative Law for the purposes of enactment without public comment.

The NRA and the California Pistol and Rifles Association sent a letter to the DOJ which pointed out “flaws in the regulations” and pledged legal action if the regulations were not withdrawn.

According to NRA-ILA, “It is unclear exactly why the DOJ [recalled the regulations], however it can be surmised that the NRA-CRPA legal letter likely prompted the move.

NRA-ILA previously reported that the regulations were an attempt to piggy back more “assault weapon” requirements on the back of expanded “assault weapon” ban rules signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in July 2016. “The regulations were submitted to OAL as ‘File and Print’ only, meaning DOJ [claimed] that the regulations [were] expressly exempted by statute from public comment or OAL review.”

The regulations were compiled in a way that read “like a wish list” for gun control advocates. The regulations included:

Excessive personal information requirements for registering a firearm, requirements that individuals provide information on where they acquired their firearms, requirements that individuals provide DOJ with photos of their firearms, requirements for serializing firearms built from 80% receivers, expansion of the “assault weapon” definition to bullet-button equipped shotguns, and restrictions on removing the “bullet-button” once the firearm is registered as an “assault weapon.”

But the regulations have now been recalled. The prospect of a defending them in a pro-gun legal climate overseen by Attorney General Jeff Sessions was not appealing.

AWR Hawkins is the Second Amendment columnist for Breitbart News and host of “Bullets with AWR Hawkins,” a Breitbart News podcast. He is also the political analyst for Armed American Radio. Follow him on Twitter: @AWRHawkins. Reach him directly at awrhawkins@breitbart.com

This piece was originally published by Breitbart.com/California

Sacramento and S.F. Push for Police Reform at Local Level

Police tapeSACRAMENTO – The presidential campaign focused some attention on the long-simmering debate over policing and the appropriate uses of force, but as is typical with national campaigns, the nuances got lost amid ideologically charged soundbites such as “law and order” and “Black Lives Matter.”

Some advocates for police reform worry about what a new Trump administration will mean for these discussions given the president-elect’s expectedly different approach toward the matter than President Obama’s Department of Justice. But others argue the election will send reform back to where it really belongs: at the local level.

Two northern California cities, Sacramento and San Francisco, are good examples of the latter. They are currently plowing ahead with major oversight and accountability proposals for their police departments – the result of local policing scandals that have little to do with national political changes. Sacramento takes up the matter at a City Council meeting on Tuesday.

The Sacramento reforms were prompted by a video of two police officers in pursuit of a mentally ill homeless man, Joseph Mann, who was armed with a knife and acting erratically. As the Sacramento Bee reported, the video sequence shows “the officers gunned their vehicle toward Mann, backed up, turned and then drove toward him again, based on dash-cam video released by police. They stopped the car, ran toward Mann on foot and shot him 14 times.” One officer is recorded saying “f— this guy” shortly before they shot him.

The killing raised questions not only about the appropriate use of force in such situations, but about the city’s willingness to provide the public information about what transpired. Top city officials – the police chief, city attorney and city manager – didn’t release the video of the event until after the Bee acquired the footage from a private citizen. The shooting led to community protests and has been a source of strife – and council debate – ever since.

In September, the newspaper’s Editorial Board published this pointed editorial: “The city could have been upfront with Mann’s family about how many times he was shot and how long the investigation into the shooting would take. Instead, his brother, backed by enough activists to fill City Hall, had go before the City Council to beg for information. The city could have been clear about what training officers receive to handle people who are mentally ill. Instead, police still haven’t responded to a Public Records Act request for a copy of the department’s policy.”

Reformers argue that the proposed policy doesn’t go far enough, although backers argue that it is about as far as it can go given state law. Specifically, the measure would transfer power of the civilian oversight committee from the city manager’s office to the mayor and City Council – thus providing a more independent level of oversight given that the city manager also oversees the police department. Council members are at least beholden to voters.

The city’s proposal also does the following: “This resolution requires the city manager to ensure that all police officers of the Sacramento Police Department abide by council specified guidelines with regards to use of force. Key components of the resolution include the timely release of video after an officer involved incident occurs and the immediate notification of family members after an officer involved shooting.” That attempts to deal with the public-records issue.

Civilian-oversight commissions are still limited by the state Supreme Court’s Copley decision. In that 2006 case, the San Diego Union-Tribune tried to gain access to a disciplinary hearing regarding a deputy sheriff who was appealing his termination. As the newspaper reported, “The court ruled that police disciplinary hearings are closed — and the public has no right to learn about allegations of police misconduct, even when they are aired in a civil service commission.” Legislative efforts to roll back parts of the decision have repeatedly been stymied by police union lobbying.

In San Francisco, officials have been reacting to controversy following three officer-involved shootings and a scandal involving racist text messages that were allegedly sent by police officers. As the San Francisco Chronicle reported in April, “The messages are loaded with slurs and ugly stereotypes, and include one from an officer responding to a photo of a blackened Thanksgiving turkey. ‘Is that a Ferguson turkey?’ the officer asks, referring to the city in Missouri that saw widespread protests after police fatally shot an unarmed African American man in 2014.”

National politics plays a bigger role in the San Francisco case. That’s because the federal Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services department published a study last month looking at San Francisco’s police department. The mayor and former police chief had asked the department to review police practices following these scandals.

As the report’s summary explained, “Although the COPS Office found a department that is committed to making changes and working with the community, it also found a department with outdated use of force policies that fail the officers and the community and inadequate data collection that prevents leadership from understanding officer activities and ensure organizational accountability. The department lacked accountability measures to ensure that the department is being open and transparent while holding officers accountable.”

San Francisco officials have vowed to implement the 479 recommendations made in the Justice Department report. “We will continue to implement the recommendations for reform which will be built on the most current policing policies and practices, fostering an environment of trust and strong relationships with our communities,” said acting Police Chief Toney Chaplin.

In Sacramento, Mayor-elect Darrell Steinberg, who is inaugurated on Dec. 13, told the Bee “the public certainly has a right to know whether a particular officer who has been accused of misconduct continues to serve in the role of police officer. … There ought to be a clear presumption of openness and the burden ought to be on the city attorney and police to demonstrate in a compelling way why anything is not public.” There’s concern that a federal lawsuit by Mann’s relatives will allow the city to shut down public access to information about the shooting.

This much is clear: Whatever changes a new administration makes at the Department of Justice, local officials throughout California are on the front lines of the police-reform movement.

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

This piece was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Outrage over Private Prisons Neglects the Real Problem

Photo credit: Michael Coghlan via Flickr

Photo credit: Michael Coghlan via Flickr

In mid-August, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it would start phasing out its contracts with companies that run private prisons in light of disturbing reports of poor medical care, overcrowding and other abuses in their facilities. Although the issue has taken center stage in the debate over mass incarceration, it overshadows and distracts from the actual problem: the prison-industrial complex, which affects government-run prisons in a much more troubling way, and for many more inmates.

This has been clear in California, where the private prison debate has been particularly intense after the state decided to continue to contract with prison companies despite the DOJ announcement. With approximately 9,000 inmates currently serving time in private facilities, this decision has enraged the opposition, but, in the process, also inflated the role of private prisons in mass incarceration.

There have been several examples of this misplaced outrage. Senate Bill 1289, legislation currently on its way to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk, condemns private prisons and would prohibit immigrant detainees from being held in private facilities. Even the University of California faced enough pressure from Black Student Unions and the Afrikan Black Coalition (ABC) to sell off its investments in private prisons. Yoel Haile, the political director for the ABC, expressed the group’s opinion in an email, stating that, “It is morally corrupt for corporations to exist whose sole source of profit is the caging of human beings en masse.”

Haile’s comment demonstrates just how profoundly this overblown outrage over private prisons misses the point. Government-run, public prisons operate off the same perverse and monetary incentives to lock up human beings, but do so for more inmates and with much more at stake.

We don’t even have to leave California to get a glimpse of the perverse incentives at work in filling government prisons. The California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) represents approximately 30,000 California prison guards and parole officers. The union wields tremendous power over criminal justice policy, much more than private prison companies, and for nearly 20 times the inmates. While we are worried about private companies’ profit incentive to increase prison populations, shouldn’t we be infuriated about an organization that has job security, salaries and political influence hanging in the balance?

First, the CCPOA is interested in preserving jobs, generous benefits and salaries for the men and women working “the toughest beat in California.” The latest union agreement reached between the state and the CCPOA secured a 9 percent salary increase over three years. This might sound modest, but when you take into account that union members can earn more than $100,000 a year with overtime, it is a lot of money. Next year, union members will also count on the state to contribute $19 million to their vision and dental benefits, as well as pay them a fitness and clothing allowance.

Not only does CCPOA have 30,000 generous paychecks on the line, it also exercises tremendous political influence. This is shown by the vital role the union has played in passing the state’s toughest criminal justice laws, therefore exhibiting their shared incentive with private prisons to cage “humans beings en masse.”

Over the last 20 years, the CCPOA has contributed over $24 million to lobbying efforts and candidates. For comparison, GEO Group, a leading private prison company criticized for their role in increasing prison populations, spent only $5 million over the same time period.

And, the activities of the CCPOA are aimed squarely on tougher sentencing laws, therefore preserving the prison-industrial complex that allows them to exist. The union, for example, spent over $100,000 to implement the original Three Strikes Law. More recently, it spent $1 million to defeat Proposition 5, which would have reduced sentences for nonviolent crimes, shifting the focus to rehabilitation for nonviolent drug offenders.

While the case of private prisons gives public officials a contained and clean narrative to sell the general public about mass incarceration, it isn’t the whole story. Ricardo Lara, who introduced SB1289 to combat private prisons, pocketed contributions from CCPOA. If our goal is sensible criminal justice reform, we must look at the whole picture, which includes the state’s role in causing and perpetuating mass incarceration.

Katie Modesitt is the Development Manager at the Independent Institute where she works to promote individual freedoms and free-market solutions. She is based in San Francisco.

Recreational Marijuana: What Prop. 64 Will Actually Mean in California

California voters on November 8 approved Prop. 64, which is an initiative statute that legalizes marijuana and hemp under state law, with specified limitations. The ballot measure designates state agencies to license and regulate the recreational marijuana industry and it imposes a state excise tax on retail sales of marijuana equal to 15 percent of the sales price, as well as state cultivation taxes on marijuana of $9.25 per ounce of flowers and $2.75 per ounce of leaves.

In addition, Prop. 64 exempts medical marijuana from some taxation and establishes packaging, labeling, advertising and marketing standards and restrictions for marijuana products. The ballot measure allows local regulation and taxation of marijuana. Additionally, Prop. 64 prohibits marketing and advertising marijuana to minors and it authorizes resentencing and destruction of records for prior marijuana convictions under specified circumstances.

According to the fiscal estimate prepared by the Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance, the enactment of Prop. 64 will result in “net reduced costs ranging from tens of millions of dollars to potentially exceeding $100 million annually to state and local governments related to enforcing certain marijuana-related offenses, handling the related criminal cases in the court system, and incarcerating and supervising certain marijuana offenders.

“Net additional state and local tax revenues potentially ranging from the high hundreds of millions of dollars to over $1 billion annually related to the production and sale of marijuana. Most of these funds would be required to be spent for specific purposes such as substance use disorder education, prevention and treatment.”

According to the official ballot arguments, a YES vote on this measure meant: “Adults 21 years of age or older could legally grow, possess and use marijuana for nonmedical purposes, with certain restrictions. The state would regulate nonmedical marijuana businesses and tax the growing and selling of medical and nonmedical marijuana. Most of the revenue from such taxes would support youth programs, environmental protection, and law enforcement.

“Prop. 64 creates a safe, legal system for adult use of marijuana. It controls, regulates and taxes marijuana use, and has the nation’s strictest protections for children. It provides billions for afterschool programs, job training, drug treatment, and cracking down on impaired driving. Fix our approach to marijuana.”

A NO vote on this measure meant: “Growing, possessing or using marijuana for nonmedical purposes would remain illegal. It would still be legal to grow, possess or use marijuana for medical purposes.

“Proposition 64 purposely omits a DUI standard to keep marijuana-impaired drivers off our highways. California Association of Highway Patrolmen and Senator Dianne Feinstein strenuously oppose. Legalizes ads promoting smoking marijuana, Gummy candy and brownies on shows watched by millions of children and teens. Shows reckless disregard for child health and safety.”

According to a summary prepared by the independent Legislative Analyst Office, marijuana is generally illegal under existing state law – either to possess it or use it. In 1996, voters approved Proposition 215, which made it legal under state law for individuals of any age to use marijuana in California for certain medical purposes. Individuals must have a recommendation from a doctor to use medical marijuana.

In 2003, the Legislature legalized medical marijuana collectives, which are nonprofit organizations that grow and provide marijuana to their members. As a result of 2015 legislation passed by the Legislature, the state is currently adopting new medical cannabis regulations. Local governments will continue to have the ability to regulate where and how medical marijuana businesses operate in this state.

The LAO notes that, under federal law, it is illegal to possess or use marijuana, including for medical use. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that federal agencies could continue under federal law to prosecute individuals who possess or use marijuana for medical purposes even if legal under a state’s law.

Currently, however, the U.S. Department of Justice chooses not to prosecute most marijuana users and businesses that follow state and local marijuana laws if those laws are consistent with federal priorities. These priorities include preventing minors from using marijuana and preventing marijuana from being taken to other states. More than half a dozen requirements must be met under the DOJ’s “Cole Memo.”

In addition to California, voters in Arizona, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts also passed ballot measures to legalize recreational use of marijuana. Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska currently allow its limited use. Medical marijuana was also on the ballot in four states this year.

Due to the voters’ enactment of Prop. 64, California now (1) legalizes adult nonmedical use of marijuana, (2) creates a system for regulating nonmedical marijuana businesses, (3) imposes taxes on marijuana, and (4) changes penalties for marijuana-related crimes.

Specifically, Prop. 64 changes state law to legalize the use of marijuana for nonmedical purposes by adults age 21 and over. As a result, adults age 21 and over will be able to purchase marijuana at state-licensed businesses or through their delivery services (effective January 1, 2018). Businesses can generally not be located within 600 feet of a school, day care center, or youth center, unless allowed by a local government. Proponents claim that marijuana will have limited access and that these are the strongest protections for youth of any other states’ measures.

In addition, Prop. 64 changes the name of the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation to the Bureau of Marijuana Control and makes the Bureau responsible for regulating and licensing nonmedical marijuana businesses (it is obviously already handling the regulation of medical cannabis in this state). In addition, the ballot measure requires other state agencies to regulate and license different parts of the nonmedical marijuana industry (including Department of Food & Agriculture and the Department of Public Health). These state agencies will have responsibilities similar to the ones they currently have for medical marijuana.

Under the ballot measure, cities and counties can regulate nonmedical marijuana businesses. For example, cities and counties can require nonmedical marijuana businesses to obtain local licenses and restrict where they could be located. Cities and counties can also completely ban marijuana-related businesses. However, they cannot ban the transportation of marijuana through their jurisdictions.

The ballot measure imposes new state taxes on growing and selling both medical and nonmedical marijuana. The new tax on growing marijuana will be based on a dollar amount per ounce of marijuana, and the new excise tax will be based on the retail price of marijuana products sold.

The measure will also affect sales tax revenue to the state and local governments.

After initial spending, revenues will be allocated as follows:

  • 60 percent for youth programs — including substance use disorder education, prevention and treatment.
  • 20 percent to clean up and prevent environmental damage resulting from the illegal growing of marijuana.
  • 20 percent for (1) programs designed to reduce driving under the influence of alcohol, marijuana and other drugs and (2) a grant program designed to reduce any potential negative impacts on public health or safety resulting from the measure.

In addition, Prop. 64 imposes packaging and labeling requirements so that all marijuana sales will include a standard warning label. These cannot be targeted towards children and packages must be child-proof. While Prop. 64 allows for the advertisement of marijuana-related products, it cannot be targeted toward children.

Prop. 64 also changes state marijuana penalties. And, under the ballot measure, individuals serving sentences for activities that are made legal or are subject to lesser penalties under the measure will be eligible for resentencing.

According to the proponents, “Proposition 64 finally creates a safe, legal, and comprehensive system for adult use of marijuana while protecting our children. Marijuana is available nearly everywhere in California — but without any protections for children, without assurances of product safety, and without generating tax revenue for the state.

“Prop. 64 controls, regulates and taxes adult use of marijuana, and ends California’s criminalization of responsible adult use. How Prop. 64 Works:

  • “Under this law, adults 21+ will be allowed to possess small amounts of nonmedical marijuana, and to grow small amounts at home for personal use. Sale of nonmedical marijuana will be legal only at highly regulated, licensed marijuana businesses, and only adults 21+ will be permitted to enter. Bars will not sell marijuana, nor will liquor stores or grocery stores.

“Child Protections:

  • Drug dealers don’t ask for proof of age and today can sell marijuana laced with dangerous drugs and chemicals. 64 includes toughest-in-the-nation protections for children, requiring purchasers to be 21, banning advertising directed to children, and requiring clear labeling and independent product testing to ensure safety. 64 prohibits marijuana businesses next to schools.”

On the other hand, opponents of Prop. 64 argued the following: “Flaw #1: Doubling of highway fatalities. Flaw #2: Allows marijuana growing near schools and parks. Flaw #3: Will increase, not decrease black market and drug cartel activity. Flaw #4: Could roll back the total prohibition of smoking ads on TV. Flaw #5: Proposition 64 is an all-out assault on underprivileged neighborhoods already reeling from alcohol and drug addiction problems.”

Prop. 64 as a practical matter allows adults aged 21 or older to buy, possess or transport small amounts of marijuana for personal use. They can also cultivate up to six plants as long as it is not visible to the public. They cannot sell it. The ballot measure also provides extensive state licensing schemes based upon the work currently being done by a number of state agencies that are charged with implementing the medical cannabis laws. The ballot measure establishes standards for marijuana products and it allows local government to regulate and tax marijuana.

Major concerns from opponents of marijuana legalization have focused on the advertising restrictions and whether enough will be done to protect children; the failure to include a DUI standard (Prop. 64 provides funding to the California Highway Patrol to undertake the determination of this standard); and whether so called “on-demand delivery” will be permitted (which the proponents claim is prohibited).

As a result of the enactment of Prop. 64, state agencies will be tasked with creating a regulatory program for both medical and recreational cannabis usage in this state. Local jurisdictions will have to decide whether they want marijuana-related activities to be sanctioned within their jurisdictions considering the societal and revenue impacts of the products. And the state may be looking at $1 billion annually in new state revenues as a result of Prop. 64.

Chris Micheli is an attorney and legislative advocate with the Sacramento governmental relations firm of Aprea & Micheli. He can be reached at (916) 448-3075.

DOJ’s Operation Choke Point strangles businesses

A Justice Department fraud prevention program came under fire Thursday for allegedly morphing into actively pressuring banks to deny financial services to businesses for political reasons.

Operation Choke Point functions as a partnership between the Department of Justice (DOJ) and various other federal agencies which deal with bank regulations, specifically the Treasury and the SEC. The objective of the project is to choke-off fraudulent businesses from accessing financial services, in an effort to protect consumers.eric holder attorney general

The controversy, however, is over allegations that the DOJ is pressuring financial institutions to decline doing business with so-called “high risk” industries which line up squarely against the political leanings of the current administration. These businesses include ammunition sales, payday loans, pornography, fireworks companies, and others—24 industries in total, as listed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).

“Operation Choke Point is one of the most dangerous programs I have experienced in my 45 years of service as a bank regulator, bank attorney and consultant, and bank board member. Operating without legal authority and guided by a political agenda, unelected officials at the DOJ are discouraging banks from providing basic banking services…to lawful businesses simply because they don’t like them,” said William M. Isaac, former chairman of the FDIC.

Thursday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing focused on the legality of DOJ overreach. Letters have poured in from company owners in support of these suspicions, noting startling cases where the DOJ reportedly has directly strong-armed banks into dropping clients not engaging in fraud.

Virginia Republican Rep. Robert Goodlatte revealed that one of the more egregious examples sent in to the committee was a meeting between the DOJ and a bank regarding the continued provision of financial services to a payday loan company.

The DOJ official reportedly told the banker, “I don’t like this product, and I don’t believe it should have a place in our financial system. And if you don’t agree, there will be an immediate, unplanned audit of your entire bank.”

The Justice Department has now served over 50 subpoenas on banks, and Alabama Republican Rep. Spencer Bachus expressed considerable concern that dragging banks into a long and expensive process is just an underhanded way of encouraging banks to drop clients as an easy-out.

“Subpoenas are expensive to comply with and can bring unwanted scrutiny. The natural reaction from a financial institution might be to sever relations with the merchant and be done with it,” Bachus said Thursday in a hearing at the Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law.

Missouri Republican Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer brought forward the End Operation Choke Point Act Tuesday to curb the DOJ’s activities in this area. The act would provide financial institutions with safe harbor to serve customers engaged in legal activities, so as to cut out politically motivated attacks on businesses deemed undesirable by the Justice Department.

This article originally appeared on the Daily Caller.